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Checking in for 2016

Its high time I wrote an update, so here goes.

December was a rollercoaster, and it triggered a revisiting of my approach to recovery (including temporarily giving up on recovery altogether).

To give some context then, a quick look back at 2015…

Here’s my complete recovery chart for 2015, which shows the %age days ‘clean’ each month:

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As you can see, it isn’t exactly trending in the right direction. Actually generating this graph just now to insert here was saddening as it was the first time I’ve really looked back at the year, and I didn’t realise who clearly the trend is going in the wrong direction. This actually reinforces my latest approach perhaps, which I’ll come on to.

Recovery approach in 2015

So how did I approach recovery in 2015?

Jan and Feb were 100% clean. This was the height of my recovery, where I was excited by it, engaged, learning new things, and perhaps riding on the novelty of it all. I also had a pretty comprehensive set of routines I followed, including:

  • Seeing therapist and attending SAA meetings weekly (but not doing 12 steps).
  • Included a lot of psychological work on my childhood, reasons for addiction etc.
  • Active on Twitter/Blog/Reddit in recovery groups
  • Experimented with meditation
  • Increased my cycling (20 miles a day commute 3 days a week)
  • Worked on self-awareness and productivity
  • Wrote in my journal every day

At the end of February, my daughter was born. This was an incredible time, but unfortunately it completely de-railed my recovery. Overnight I lost the ability to attend SAA or therapy as I had to rush home to look after the family. I then stopped doing my other recovery techniques – I was tired, and lost focus as I was 100% focussed on fatherhood.

So then I started slipping up; acting out to porn. At first I hoped it was a one off, but then it clearly became routine. I actually sort of gave myself permission to do this, due to the pressures of fatherhood (“I don’t have time or energy to dedicate myself to both, so recovery will have to wait”).

Slowly I re-introduced therapy at a reduced frequency and started trying to get sober again, but I guess it wasn’t enough as the sobriety didn’t really improve, and so eventually, around September, I admitted I needed to re-commit to recovery.

I returned to SAA in September, with a renewed commitment to change. I even accepted that I’ll give the 12 steps a go, something I had always been reluctant to do in the past. I got a sponsor and started Step 1. Unfortunately, nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. Part of the recovery required I re-implement the ‘blocks’ on my various devices, and for reasons I’ve covered at length on this blog, I really struggle with these. This is basically because due to my technical prowess and love of problem-solving, there isn’t really a block in the world that I can’t find a workaround to, and so the blocks actually heighten the excitement of acting out, as they extend the ‘hunt’. However, in good faith, I persevered and kept refining the blocks, closing the loopholes as I found them.

Crunch time

Something wasn’t right though. My sobriety wasn’t improving and I quickly lost motivation towards doing the step work, and that’s when it all came crashing down. In early December my sponsor directly challenged my commitment to recovery, essentially asking me if I actually wanted to quit. He implied that I needed to make some hard decisions and he may not be the right person to be my sponsor any more.

It hit me really hard, harder than I expected. It made me question everything. Initially it was that feeling of rejection. I had struggled with the concept of ‘someone being there for me no matter what’ for ages, probably as a result of the usual lack of self-esteem that is typical in addicts. Just as I was coming to accept that someone was willing to be that person in my life, that very person says actually they might not be. It wasn’t great news.

He was right to say it though. The thing is, my acting out had reached a point that could easily be considered ‘normal’ – once every week or two, with little to no tangible negative consequences. I wasn’t displaying any of the truly destructive tendencies from when I was in the depths of the addiction – I no longer take it out on my wife etc. But, I’m still addicted. When I do act out, it is from a compulsion to do so that I cannot control. It takes me over physically, and requires a lot of being sneaky and manipulation to get myself into a position where I can act out at home. These are not things I can accept and therefore need to stop.

As a result of this conversation with my sponsor, I took a break from SAA and recovery altogether. I was fed up with it, tired that nothing I did was working, despite feeling that I was putting in loads of effort. I was also moving house which was giving me enough to think about. Then I got ill with a sinus infection over Christmas for 3 weeks. I found more loopholes on my devices while I was bed-ridden, and acted out loads. Hence the big dip in December on the chart.

So, what now, for 2016?

Anyway, now, I am recovered from the illness and ready to get back to the game of recovery. Again…!

I’m constructing what approach I think I will take now, and the main difference right now is that it will almost certainly not involve the 12 steps, and possibly not even SAA. That topic is probably a whole post in itself, but deep down I have felt unable to mentally connect with the SAA approach, and I just don’t think it is for me. This is not for lack of trying!

So I’m heading back towards an approach that stems, funnily enough, from what inspired me to start recovery in the very first place in 2014, and that is to blend an understanding of the specific physiological nuances of porn addiction with leading a healthier, more positive and productive daily life. While the delving into my childhood has been really interesting, I think there’s an element of just needing to be present and get on with things, rather than over-thinking how my actions are influenced by my past. I also intend to tailor my approach specifically to the challenges of porn addiction, rather than the more general ‘sex addiction’, which I have found to be one of the things that distanced me from SAA.

Starting simply then, I’ve started re-implementing some of the original activities:

  • Reading my ‘pillars of recovery’ daily
  • Write in my journal daily (including one thing each day I am grateful for)
  • Reading porn addiction-specific books (e.g. currently Your Brain On Porn)
  • I will probably contact a new therapist in my new town
  • Reduce my gaming to max 1 hour a night
  • Start learning the piano
  • Ensure I remain present each evening, including doing at least one productive thing that contributes to my home/family life
  • Write a post here twice a month
  • Return to and engage with Twitter and Reddit porn addiction communities

In honesty, these are feel a bit loose and not that structured yet, but that might actually be a good thing;I want to find a natural way that I believe in. Also, the blocks will stay on my phone and tablet as they are actually pretty solid now, but my laptop is fully unblocked and always will be due to the inherent insecurity of computers that I can workaround.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed that despite putting in what I thought was a lot of hard work, I didn’t really make any progress in 2015. I’m still doing brilliantly compared to 2014, where I experienced my ‘rock bottom’ moment of being kicked out of the house, but I’ve failed to break through to the next level of sobriety.

I’m also disappointed that SAA hasn’t worked out. I have been aware of a disconnect I’ve felt with it since the beginning, and I think that just grew until I couldn’t ignore it. I will write more about this probably in my next post.

It would be a stretch to say I’m feeling optimistic, and in fact I’m quite nervous that I may be doing this all wrong and I just need to do SAA, or something else similarly rigid, whether I like it or not.

The thing is, a few times in my life when faced with a decision or challenge, I’ve felt something in my gut, and I’m slowly learning to listen it. I remember times when I consciously didn’t and I regretted it, and right now my gut is telling me that SAA isn’t right for me. I think I fit into a different box, and I’m going to give that a go.

If you got this far, thanks for reading! Sorry it was so long; brevity is not my strong point. I hope you all have a fantastic 2016!

One Month Sober – Reflections

Today, February 1st 2015, marks the first full calendar month that I have stayed sober from pornography. Throughout my efforts to quit last year, the longest I ever went was 13 days, and that was once – generally I would relapse on average after about 7 days, so I’m pleased to have made it to one month. Here’s my progress month-by-month since July 2014:

 

 

 

 

 

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The first chart is from a Google Sheet with a simple table containing each month, number of days in each month, number of days clean that month, and what that is as a percentage. The second image is from my Google Calendar, into which I mark each day with a red X or a green :) depending on whether I acted out or not. As you can see, January is all green!

Ironically, this milestone comes at a period of time when I’m feeling a bit down and unmotivated. I’ve had a tough few days over the last week, in terms of urges, and it has left me feeling a bit embattled, so I thought it would be worthwhile as a motivational tool to reflect on the positive changes I’ve seen over the last month.

Before I start, two caveats:

Firstly, I’ll tell you now that this is not going to be a revelatory-filled I’M LIVING A NEW LIFE-type experience. I’m actually a bit put off by the expectation set by many ex-porn addicts that you should settle for nothing less than a total revitalisation of your life, a fresh view on the world, spiritual enlightenment, etc etc. I think it is slightly irresponsible to be preaching these things without proper context – everyone has different experiences and is at different steps of the journey and I’ve definitely felt disappointed with my progress when compared to these ideals. So now I’m learning to be content with the progress I’ve made in relation to my own life and goals.

The second caveat is that many of the things I’ve noticed are not directly because I’ve stopped watching porn, but more because of the self-exploration I’ve been taking myself through. This month I’ve really focussed on revisiting my childhood, my parenting, my schooling and other factors throughout my life that have led me to be who I am today and led me to addiction. Exploring these, and exploring how I deal with emotions and other daily life events, has been the single most significant factor in improving my life and achieving success with sobriety in the last month.

So, here’s what my wife and I have noticed about my behaviour over the last month:

  • I’ve started to face up to my responsibilities. I’ve stopped thinking they are things to avoid at all costs, no matter how trivial, and started to embrace them. My wife is pregnant and I’ve been very slow in stepping up to the duties to take care of her, but she’s noticed a marked improvement now – she no longer notices resistance when she asks me to do something!
  • I’ve started to become more aware of my emotions as they happen, and therefore been able to take appropriate action to ensure I respond to them in a healthy way rather than my default negative self-soothing and destructive behaviour. For example, if I’m feeling especially tired on the cycle home (I commute about 10 miles on the bike) and I can feel grumpiness setting in, I make a plan to eat food and consciously relax as soon as I get home, and don’t allow my stress to get the better of me.
  • As a consequence of being more aware of my emotions, I’ve been able to stop taking out my withdrawal-induced frustrations on my wife. Many times in the past I would blame her (in my mind) for the anxiety I’d feel when the urges struck, simply as a way of deflecting responsibility, but now I have been able to rise above that and not allow my own struggles to spill over as resentment, anger and frustration directed towards her.
  • In line with my recent appreciation of the importance of empathy in the recovery process, I’ve been trying hard to think about others and not put myself first. Also trying to do more selfless things – actions which help others at no benefit to myself, in order to learn how to connect better with others.
  • I’ve been going to bed with my wife nearly every night, when in the past I would stay up playing games/watching porn almost every night of the week.
  • I got to a place of understanding where I felt confident enough to tell my sister about my addiction.
  • I’ve noticed similarities to porn addiction in other behaviours, such as mindless computer gaming or other means of escapism. I may not be ‘addicted’ to them, but I still use them for the same purposes as porn – namely avoidance, reclusion and escapism. I’ve stopped playing games for hours just to pass the time, and instead limit my time so I’m only conducting these behaviours for shorter periods, with a healthy mindset (i.e. not trying to escape!).

It has been a really pivotal month for me. It has also been really hard. A self-conducted character assassination, whereby I pull apart as many elements of my personality as I can and explore where they came from and how they fit into addiction, has been a pretty intense activity, and sometimes leaves me feeling a bit deflated. It can be hard to know what areas of myself are just normal fluctuations of an average personality and how many have strayed too far from the norm into unhealthy or addiction-tempting realms. It has also led to some less than favourable appreciations of the role my parents have played in my life, which has led to its own set of challenges as I still have a strained relationship with my father to put into its place in my new ‘healthier’ life.

I’ve also had some incredible support from others, without which I probably wouldn’t have made it. I’ve been going to weekly Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and spent time before and after each gathering meeting fellow addicts, sharing stories and getting inspired by their tales. I’ve connected with loads of fellow addicts on twitter, such as @MattNoFap, @Neverfap and @NoFapCyclist, who have all shared their experiences and motivations and together we’ve become a pretty good team!

If I was to give any advice to others in the same boat, trying to hit their own sobriety targets, I’d say:

  • Connect with other addicts and non-addicts as deeply and honestly as possible, be it on the internet or face to face. Everyone’s journey of public admission is different so only do what you feel comfortable, but don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised what you might find.
  • Understand why you use porn. What pains or realities is it helping you to deal with? I can’t stress enough how important this is. Just abstaining from porn but not learning about yourself achieves only sobriety, not recovery.
  • Listen to yourself. Learn to respond to your own emotions in a healthy way. Spot when you get stressed, tired, annoyed etc and make sure you do something healthy in response.
  • Think about others and try putting them first for a change. Ask how others are. Pro-actively offer help without having to be asked.

I remember when I simply couldn’t imagine staying sober for a month, so I’m really grateful to all those who have helped me get here – thank you all of you, you amazing people – but also to myself, for putting in the effort. It is certainly a rewarding feeling. Now for month 2! I’m certainly not complacent about my ability to stay sober another month but I know it is possible – if I put in the work I can do it.

Here goes!

Facebook doesn’t want anonymous accounts

Addictions are hard to discuss in public and to be open about. Recovery is a long, multi-step journey, which may or may not include admitting the addiction publicly.

The internet has the potential to be an invaluable resource to those battling an addiction, in order to communicate with others in similar positions and seek help from professionals, but it requires even greater care with regards to personal privacy when using it for these purposes. Some sites seem to, perhaps indirectly, acknowledge and support this. Others, like Facebook I have just found out, less so.

For me, I have carefully created anonymous (I hope) Twitter, Reddit and WordPress accounts for this very purpose. I can blog, tweet, share thoughts and tips, ask questions, get motivation and seek support about porn addiction, all without worrying about sharing with the public who I really am!

One of the people I follow on Twitter (Feed The Right Wolf) linked to his Facebook page in order to invite people to join a proposed support network he was setting up. Sounded like a good idea, but I wasn’t going to connect using my real Facebook account now was I!? So I set up a new account, and I was required to enter my real name. Facebook even has some rudimentary fake name detection so it instantly rejected my attempt to use my “Healing My Brain” alias, however it did tell my I could change my name to an alias after my account is set up. Knowing Facebook’s track record in privacy, I wasn’t taking any chances so I entered “Dave Matthews”, a favourite musician of mine. Once in, I went straight to my account page to change the account name to purely Healing My Brain, only to be met with the message “you can only hide your real name after 60 days“. Thanks for telling me that after I had created my account Facebook.

Thank god I didn’t use my real name, as it would now be listed on Facebook against my porn-related posts.

The reason why social and other advertising-based websites want you to use your real name is that it increases the value of the profile they generate about you, which they sell to marketers and advertisers to fuel their business.

However, Facebook is of such a scale that it can serve a higher purpose. Those of us who can hugely benefit from its service but must do so anonymously are currently not supported by Facebook. This is a real shame. I am effectively breaking Facebook’s terms of service by using a fake name, and I suppose they could shut my account down if they really cared, but I’m going with it anyway – do they really care about my details that much? They are already gaining all the info they need from my real account, so why not allow me to have an anonymous account that I can use to help beat my addiction by connecting with other organisations who are already active on the network? Its easy for these organisations to be public, but much less so for the addicts who are making their first tentative steps into the world of admission and support. Forcing people to do it with their real names is going to seriously reduce (or totally eliminate?) the numbers of people who will willingly seek support under their real identity.

Of course, the question of whether porn addiction should be such a taboo that people don’t want to share their identities is a whole other topic. Ideally we live in a world where porn and its risks are talked about openly, but we are not there yet, so let’s not force people down a path that society hasn’t even accepted yet.

Here’s a link to my new Facebook profile page, if you’re interested!