I’m a passenger in my own life

Time for a check-in. I’m at a low point in recovery. Often what happens is that the acting out increases until I reach a certain point where the negative consequences start to become more obvious, and as a result I gain a glimmer of motivation to get back on track. It is an easy slope to slide down – initially the acting out is mild and not having any ‘obvious’ consequences, so it continues, getting a bit worse steadily until I’m not getting enough sleep, becoming distant from, and irritable with, those around me, and I start to feel really low.

Being ‘in addiction’ (the phrase used for while you are still acting out and not achieving any decent amount of sobriety) makes me feel like a passenger in my own life. I lose more and more control of my own actions and decisions. The other night, I was in the living room ready to go to bed, and I wasn’t feeling even remotely horny; I had no desire to watch porn. Despite that, because I’d been acting out the few nights before, I felt an ‘obligation’ to watch porn. An obligation to my addiction, or my inner addict, I suppose. It was almost with reluctance that I took my laptop to bed to watch porn. This is crazy. I understand that addiction might make me more likely to want to watch porn, and to give in when that happens, but to watch it despite not even feeling like I’d enjoy it, and not possessing any conscious desire to actually do so, is a stark reminder of how pervasive addiction can be.

I know relatively well what routines and activities keep me sober. It is when they slip that I get closer and closer to acting out. Things like daily meditation, going to bed on time, not taking devices to bed, reading my motivational text in the morning, writing my gratitude list in the evenings, not playing too many games, allowing myself to be distracted and not present, not going to SAA or speaking with other members. These all help, and currently I’m doing hardly any of them.

My routines have been severely disrupted by the arrival of my second daughter. Obviously I love her to bits but having two kids comes with a few challenges – for anyone, let alone an addict who relies on routine. I don’t get to go to bed on time. I stay up late on my own regularly as I feed the baby while my wife sleeps. I don’t get enough sleep. My wife and I have little to no quality time for each other (I can’t really remember the last time we had a normal conversation), I am up early to look after the toddler, so I don’t get time to meditate. In addition I’m on a ban from all junk food, chocolate etc, and limiting my daily calorie intake to try and shed the belly, so that’s another comforter I’ve lost.

My daily life is just a bit all over the place at the moment. There’s a few abbreviations to help an addict identify when they’re at risk, and one is the SHIT list – Stressed, Hungry, Irritable, Tired. Well, currently I’m hitting all of those every day! I’m not really grumpy all the time or anything, I love my family and we have a wonderful time together – none of that is in question and that’s all going really well. I’m just not getting the chance to perform the activities and routines that I need to keep me sober, and I haven’t found a way to adapt to my current life situation.

But, this post sort of represents a slightly refreshed view on this. Tomorrow I’m going to get up earlier, hopefully, than my toddler, so I can do 15 minutes of meditation (so far I’ve been doing 10 minutes but I want to try a bit longer). I’ll read my motivational texts, and I’ll write my gratitude list in the evening. Three things I’m committing to, just for one day. Let’s try and achieve that, then look to the next day.

I’m also sitting here alone having got the baby to sleep and put her down. For the last four nights, I’ve gone upstairs to bed and acted out. There’s even a TV with adult channels in the spare room which I really need to sort out. Anyway, tonight, I’m going to go to bed, read for a bit, and sleep. That’s it. One small commitment for the rest of today. Can I do it? It sounds so easy, but experience tells me that what I think in advance can very easily have no bearing on what I do at the time.

My Values for 2017

As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what recovery means to me and how I want to approach it. This is essentially combining some core, unavoidable principles of recovery with my own gut instincts of how I best operate, to build an approach that I can truly believe in and commit to.

To start with then, I took a step back from addiction and looked at my core values; the things that I consider to be most important, that I would like to live by. These are things that I want to take out into the world and practice, but I also acknowledge I need to learn to apply these to myself first. This is an important point, as I read once that “you cannot give to others what you do not have for yourself” (or something like that), and it really resonated with me – e.g. how can I offer love to others if I do not love myself?

So, here they are – my values as I see them at the current moment:

  • Acceptance (& unjudging)

  • Respect

  • Empathy

  • Listening

  • Kindness

  • Laughter

  • Calmness

  • Love

  • Discipline (& being present)

Whatever recovery programme I follow this year, I feel these must form a core part of it.

First steps into 2017 – DISCIPLINE

And so now I need to start applying this. One thing I’ve learned is that to achieve success, it is often best to start simple and evolve, rather than try to solve the entire problem in one go. Therefore, I have set myself three very simple commitments for January. They relate to one of the above values – discipline, which is the first principle that I want to focus on. The lack of discipline in my life is extreme – I am a slave to a wide variety of inputs in my life and I rarely take control of even those mundane decisions (see my last post about how I’ll even actively avoid doing things I want to do). I never do anything I say I’m going to do, I’m not productive despite having a to-do list, I get out my phone at the first opportunity to just kill time reading the news etc. I’m not present. Discipline to me means doing something because I’ve decided to, without being affected by mood or other variables. I think it is a muscle that needs to be trained, and will get stronger with use. If I can apply discipline to some small tasks, that will hopefully pave the way for applying it in other areas too.

So, at risk of setting myself up for failure, here are the three very simple commitments I’ve made for January in order to learn to practice discipline:

  1. I will get up at 7:30am every day and meditate. Meditation is something I’ve dabbled in and have really enjoyed, and something I’ve always wanted to do more of but never bothered to. This month, I’m going to meditate every morning, to exercise both the art of discipline and and also to give meditation a proper chance.
  2. I will go to bed at 10:30 every night, and only take my Kindle. I already do this, more or less, but I get sloppy and need to re-instate this without fail. As a dad to a second daughter, life it pretty busy and I need my sleep, and devices are banned from the bedroom as it is a prime acting out scenario.
  3. I won’t look at my phone to kill time. I will only use it when I have something specific I want to look at. Too often I sit on the phone when I could be spending time with my family, and I am allowing myself to be distracted to avoid being present. That needs to stop.

And that’s it. Those are the only commitments I’m making for January. Small changes to my daily life that will hopefully build a basis for further growth. I started today and it has been great. I meditated this morning and I’ve been focussed on my day and not distracted by my phone.

I fully acknowledge that stating intent is the easy bit – it is the doing that is hard. Time will tell how this goes, but I feel positive and motivated, and I have shared this with my wife so she can help support and encourage me.

Giving Myself Permission To Do Things I Enjoy

Something has been on mind lately, and that is the relationship between acting out and acting “in”. “In” being doing things that I actually enjoy and are rewarding/productive/fulfilling.

I’ve really noticed that when I act out, I’m very often doing it in the knowledge that there is something I’d rather be doing, but something compels me to watch porn instead. At the time, it feels like I just can’t quite face doing the thing I know I should be doing, even though I know I’d enjoy doing it. Doing that thing represents, at the time, embracing of my life, responsibility, being in control and making my own decisions, which all are things I use porn to escape from facing up to.

It is so much easier to withdraw into porn and pretend the real world doesn’t exist, than to live a structured, enjoyable and fulfilling life, even if I know those things would actually make me happier.

So as part of a refreshed assessment of what recovery looks like for me in 2017, I want to give myself permission to do the things I enjoy. I am entitled to it. I deserve it. I don’t need to use porn to punish myself; to ensure I live up to my feelings of disconnectedness, which are themselves only created by the addiction in a cruel vicious circle.

Struggling with the religion of SAA

Getting started with the Steps

I recently attempted to commit to doing the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous. For the last 2 years I have attended SAA meetings and met members, to gain benefit from talking about addiction with like-minded people, but I’ve never actually done the steps. After a month of unsuccessfully re-trying software porn blocks, I felt that I had run out of reasons (excuses?) not to try the Steps.

Therefore, in November I found a sponsor and advised them I’m ready to get started. I had a set of routines I was already following, so the sponsor’s advice was to simply carry on until I had 30 days of sobriety, after which I can start step 1. I was quite disheartened by this as the reason I was trying to start the steps was because I’m not currently able to achieve any decent length of sobriety, so I was presented with a catch 22 – start the steps once you’ve been sober for a month, but you might need the steps to help you achieve that.

I then had very little communication with my sponsor. As I found myself becoming distant from the programme, I was secretly hoping my sponsor would pro-actively reach out to me and pull me back in, but they never did. I suppose a principle of recovery is that it has to come from within us, but even so I was sure a sponsor was meant to take more of an active role and not just sit back and watch as I fell back into acting out.

Disillusionment and religion

This all led me to feel a bit unenthusiastic about SAA, and I prompted me to start exploring more about it, and alternatives. I have always struggled with the religious terminology of SAA. The concept is that you have to “give yourself over” and pray to your “Higher Power”, often referred to as “God”. The literature goes to great lengths to say God can be defined anyway you see fit and doesn’t need to be the god of a religion, and says it can simple be a concept for what you get your strength and purpose from in recovery.

My issue with this is that I feel this is a compromise. SAA’s origins (via AA) are in religion, founded by members of a Christian fellowship known as The Oxford Group. They believed all the usual things religious people do, but also had a seemingly decent view on morality and values that they thought could be used to structure a support group for addiction. As the world evolved and AA/SAA spread, so the need to adapt for a secular audience became apparent, so clearly the existing religious terminology used was re-defined so that non-believers could also join in.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, and I know non-religious members who are fully embedded in, and benefitting from, the programme. What bothers me is the question of what a recovery programme would look like if it hadn’t originated in religion. What would the terminology be? Would there even be the concept of a Higher Power? Not only do I not like the compromise that has been made in broadening the definition of unavoidably religion terminology, but I suspect that these religious words are entirely unnecessary in recovery and only exist because of the religious origins of the programme.

Put it this way: I accept that I cannot recovery on my own, and that I need help. That help would come in many forms – contact with others; a set of daily routines; meditation and a review of internal emotions, history and pain to gain a more healthy and positive outlook on life, to name a few. That could be indeed be known as a Programme, and so far this is consistent with SAA. What I struggle to get behind is the need to take an addition step and start referring to this recovery approach as a sentient being – a Higher Power or God. Why the need to “turn myself over to” and “pray” to this set of routines? When things go well, that’s not my Higher Power “speaking to me” or “at work”, it’s just that I’m successfully following the programme I’ve set for myself and it is working.

Part of this resentment comes from my desire for responsibility and control. I completely admit that I need help and cannot do this alone, but I don’t feel comfortable absolving all responsibility and accepting I need to “turn my will and my life over to the care and will of God“. It is phrasing that is too religious for me to feel comfortable adhering to.

This leads me to question whether there are alternative approaches to recovery that don’t have their roots in recovery. What I’m learning is that it doesn’t matter how well a particular program can work, if you aren’t committed to it and believe in it, it won’t work. There are a few other approaches I’ve come across, which I’m going to do more research on, and try to find a way that works for me.

Why does it matter if SAA is religious?

It’s just a personal thing. When I talk about my objection to the religious aspects of SAA with people, they say that I just need to get over it and trust in the process, and I have tried (although no doubt in some eyes not hard enough). The fact is I can’t get past it. My views on religion are one of my strongest principles. Obviously I do not believe in a creator or any sentient being who has any interest in our existence, but that’s just scraping the surface – there is so much wrong with religion, and so much damage caused by it, that I simply cannot abide by something which is even remotely associated with it. Tolerance, respect for my fellow man, and a responsibility towards open-mindedness means I don’t mistreat other humans for their beliefs in any way, but I find the ongoing prevalence of religion in an era of such knowledge of our world bizarre and infuriating.

That is not to say, by the way, that I have anything against spirituality. Far from it. I’m very interested in the idea, and have read books specifically targeted on how spirituality can exist outside of religion. I want to start meditation and doing yoga again, and I firmly believe the mind and body should be treated with respect to one another to form a healthy whole.

So what next?

Right now, I know I need to a follow a structured and well-conceived programme to recover from my addiction. I don’t think the 12 Steps of SAA is the programme for me, due to its inherent conflict of interest with my views on religion, but I aim to find or create a programme that I can believe in (for lack of a better secular phrase!) and commit to. There are some core principles emerging that I feel are the key to my success, such as discipline, routine, mindfulness and being present, and these will likely form the pillars of my approach.

I always knew recovery would be hard, but I had no idea that the aspects I would struggle with would so often be the fundamental principles of what recovery means, and how I can find an approach that works for me.

I also maintain that this resistance could be just another symptom of some damaged part of myself, and a way of avoiding giving up the illusion of control that I think is my strength but is actually supporting my addiction. It is entirely possible, and I remain open-minded to the outcome of this exercise. I may even find myself back at SAA; that is not ruled out by any means. I am simply following my gut instinct and seeing where it takes me. As a friend once told me, “no-one else will regret what you don’t do”, and I have always remembered it. Sometimes I just have to trust my instincts and do what I feel is right.

Checking in – tough times

I haven’t posted in a while, and I don’t really want to actually, as it is a way of facing what’s going on, which I don’t really want to do. Such is the dilemma of the addict.

It’s also a new month, so let’s look at last month in a month-by-month progress chart:

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-19-57-00

As you can see, I really dipped in October, after two months of increasing sobriety. I had the worst month in a very long time, both from a sobriety and also a mental health perspective. I was struggling so much with addiction and it was a really dark time.

It wil sound trivial to say, but one of the biggest contributing factors to this was the re-implementation of software blocks on my devices. I’ve blogged many times about blocks, and struggled with them whenever I’ve used them. Every time I’ve tried blocks, my rate of acting out increases. Primarily this is because using blocks makes me think that I’m staying sober because I can’t act out, rather than because I’m choosing not to. When I inevitably find a loophole, I immediately give myself permission to act out, because I’ve come to learn that I’m only staying sober because of blocks. I’ve not found a way to maintain my usual tools of recovery and motivation, and have blocks. Partly this is because the restrictions on what I can do are so severe when using blocks (to the extent I couldn’t even use my laptop), that I feel that they must be seriously effective and so I should rely on them.

Anyway, I don’t really want to write loads about blocks. Recently, I’ve had a good chat with my wife and we’re talking about moving away from blocks again. However, this has to come with the reintroduction of a healthy, committed and regular pattern of recovery activities. I’m still acting out reguarly, and I need to get back on track.

One thing I’m doing is getting a sponsor within the 12 step SAA group I attend. I don’t do the steps, and never really have, but I think I might give it a go. They clearly work, or at least help, for a lot of people, and I thnk I owe it to myself and my family to see if the steps could help me. A member of the group has offered to be a temporary sponsor for me so I’m looking forward to chatting to him further and seeing where this goes.

Anyway, that’s that for now. I hope everyone else is doing well, feel free to comment and say hi!

Details of a slip

I’m going to write in some detail about a slip I experienced yesterday. I hope this will help me process it, and by ‘making a big deal’ out of it (as I should), this should hopefully help me avoid minimising the consequences and the act, and therefore maintain focus on the motivations for staying sober and reduce my chance of further acting out. I also think blogging about some of the thought processes that I go through in the midst of acting out might be useful or interesting for others to read about.

Yesterday was day 8. That was a good achievement – I made it through the weekend. Pat on the back. But yesterday I was really triggered – lots of thoughts and images of porn. The morning was harder than the afternoon, then I went to SAA and had a good meeting. I knew last night was a danger zone though as my wife is usually in bed by the time I get home, and so I am on my own downstairs as I need to make some dinner at least before bed. This violates our primary routine which is that I must go to bed with her every night so I’m not alone in the evening – prime acting out territory. So I had planned ahead – I called her to tell her I was triggered and that we need to be careful.

Fortunately, she was still up, so we hung out and went to bed together. Everything was fine. I read my book in bed and she fell asleep. Then the inevitable thoughts started appearing in my brain. Thoughts of acting out. I then remembered the Kindle was on my bedside table, and that I can find erotica on it. This isn’t a good enough fix for me, but the addict brain doesn’t think that far ahead and it was, simply, ‘better than nothing’. I reached for it and downloaded some free samples, started touching myself, then realised my mistake, deleted the samples and put the Kindle down. My mind wandered about how else I could act out. I would hope that the next step would be to accept defeat and go to sleep, but then I realised my iPad was in a box by my bed. It is never usually in the bedroom (that’s one of our rules) but was there due to being unpacked from a recent trip and I hadn’t thought to take it downstairs. This was seriously unfortunate. Without even giving it a second thought, I reached for it and started watching porn. In bed, next to my sleeping wife. All the progress I made and positivity I had found unravelled in seconds.

Soon my wife stirred, realised I was on my iPad and rightly demanded I give it to her. She probably knew I was looking at porn but that wasn’t the point – the point is I was breaking an agreed rule of no devices in bed. I tried to avoid handing it over but she was insistent so I did. This is when things got even worse. I was left in a very agitated state as I had already been watching porn, and all I could think about was how to carry on. I knew I had to either get my iPad back or go downstairs to use the laptop, but simultaneously my recovery voice was telling me I mustn’t. This conflict resulted in some weird behaviours where I would try and manipulate the situation to get my wife to pro-actively suggest I go downstairs, so that it wasn’t my idea, and maybe that would make me less responsible for the resulting, inevitable acting out. I started deliberately fidgeting, picking my nails and moving about, to make her want me to leave the room. Then when she finally did suggest I went downstairs, I would then resist, saying I didn’t want to! This was my way of vocalising my desire not to act out. I.e. “Don’t make me go downstairs because if you do I will act out”. I’m simultaneously appearing to be in control of my addiction, while giving myself permission to act out if my hand is forced, despite the fact it is me creating this situation in the first place. It is actually quite impressively clever. It felt like two brains working against each other – one wanting to act out, the other trying to prevent it, and put together they create some really confusing, manipulative and destructive actions.

And all the time, my brain did not even consider it an option that I could just lie there and go to bed and that the urges would subside. It hardly crossed my mind.

After a long period of deliberately annoying my wife to the point where should essentially ‘give me permission’ to put myself in a situation where I could act out, I eventually went downstairs and did exactly that. Even then, I wouldn’t go all the way, holding on to some hope that perhaps I could still walk away. At one point I stood up and tried to, but quickly sat back down again. An hour or so later I gave in. I then went upstairs and slept terribly.

In the morning, I was far from out of the woods. I had had only a few hours sleep and my addict wasn’t satisfied. After my first acting out after a period of sobriety I always tend to act out for a few days in a row before I get clean again (this is a common thing in addicts I think, sometimes known as the chaser effect), and this morning I was compelled to carry on. I went downstairs while my wife was still in bed (she was lying in and going to work late because she was so tired, because of me) and quickly watched and finished to porn again. Then the day, and the resulting mental collapse, began.

I immediately felt terrible. I wrote a long explanation on the WhatsApp group I am part of for my SAA group. I explained what had happened with honesty. I was quite emotional, and quickly felt demoralised that I didn’t really get any acknowledgements or sympathy in response. It brought up loads of feelings of insecurity that are part of my addict brain – “do they not care?”, “did they expect this?”, “did I say something I shouldn’t have?”. These thoughts are part of a trend of insecurity and lack of self-esteem that has been part of my addiction, so it was interesting to feel these feelings arise again in my post-acting out weakened state.

Later in the morning I started making calls to SAA members to try and talk to someone as I was really struggling to focus on my day as I was still reeling from the night before. Unfortunately I didn’t get through to anyone which only emphasised the feelings of insecurity and doubt. Are they not answering me deliberately? Did I say something wrong?

But I did eventually get a call back from two people, a a text back in the evening. I had a good chat with one, and a WhatsApp chat with another. It was all really helpful. They told me that I’ve done well to increase my length of sobriety, and that reaching out making calls, and being honest with my wife, are both really important things to be doing. Themes surrounding powerlessness and higher powers came up, to which I have varying degrees of comprehension of (I don’t do the 12 steps… yet?) and everyone was sympathetic, un-judgemental and supportive. It is really great to have such a warm and welcoming support network to call upon.

On the way home I bought my wife some flowers and profusely apologised. I explained the steps I had taken during the day, and reminded ourselves of the rules about devices in the bedroom. She is pleased I am taking it so seriously, and I think we can move on.

There are a few blocks I can apply on certain devices I haven’t done yet so I will do that (I can get round them so not having access in the first place is the priority, the blocks just make acting out a bit more annoying). I am also going to retire my kindle and stick to paper books. And of course, ensure no devices end up in the bedroom!

Well there we go. Its the end of the day, I’m knackered and deflated, but I’m really grateful that my wife continues to support me, as do those in the fellowship. I’m confident I’m on the right path, and I just need to keep at it. My new goal is 10 days. I did 8 before, time to increase it.

As they say, “you’ve only failed when you’ve stopped trying”.

Thanks for listening 🙂

September Retrospective: Goal Accountability

A new month means a new monthly retrospective to see how the last month went.

Here’s the trusty chart:

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A slight dip in September compared to August, but both months still above 70%, unlike June and July which were below 70%. I think very slowly there is an improvement taking place, even if that is just the achievement of some sort of rhythm or stability.

From looking at my acting out, there were two obvious pitfalls:

  1. Weekends.  I acted out 3 out of 4 weekends in September, mostly just on the Sunday. There’s something about Sundays/weekends that gets me. Perhaps I have increased desires to have some ‘me time’ after being with the family all weekend (I get that escape, I suppose, at work during the week)? Perhaps there is some resentment that the week (and therefore work) is upon me again and so staying up late is a great way to postpone that. Probably a bit of both.
  2. Chaser. The “chaser effect” is the increased desire to act out the days following the initial acting out. This got me three different times in September, often acting out for two more days following the initial one, before getting my head back in the game and getting sober again. Of the 9 days I watched porn in September, 4 of them were chaser days – nearly 50%.

So what have I done in September to address the above and try and obtain more sobriety? Well, quite a bit actually. In no particular order:

  • Re-instated a non-negotiable rule that I go to bed with my wife when she does. No staying up on my own, ever. Staying up late was almost 100% of the times I acted out, as the rule would keep slipping. My wife has agreed not to let me try and talk my way out of going to bed!
  • Re-committed to my routines:
    • Read my personal motivational statement twice a day (morning and evening)
    • Read the daily affirmation from Answers In The Heart every morning
    • Write in my journal every evening
    • Go to bed with my wife when she does, without fail
  • Asked my wife to write a short statement about why she thinks sobriety/recovery is a good thing, which I have added to my daily reading (she wrote something really touching I will include in a post at some point)
  • Set myself a sobriety target of 90 days. This effectively ties in to when my second daughter is due to be born. I suppose I always have a target of “never again”, but there’s something different about having a specific target to work towards. I also told this target to my wife, therapist and SAA group, out loud, so lots of people know it now. I found that made it more real and made me feel more accountable. I actually didn’t want to tell people about it initially because I knew it would make it harder if I did act out – which is the whole point!
  • Being more acting in the WhatsApp group for my weekly SAA meeting. Everyone is great, friendly and supportive and so keeping some communication going on a daily basis keeps my head in the game.
  • I also told two new friends about my addiction. One is my old housemate who I see occassionally now I’m living back in that town again, and the other is a new friend I’ve made at my new job. Both women (as are everyone I’ve told, interestingly). I find telling people reduces the secrecy and shame of the addiction, and very subtly adds to my accountability (if I’m tired at work, my workmate might now suspect why). I also quite like the sort of people I feel like when I tell people – I’m being honest, with no secrets, and no ego. It is showing vulnerability and being proud of it, and I like that.

So all in all, despite September not being quite as good as I’d hoped, I’m happy with the progress I am making. I’m still working hard at it, learning more about it and engaging with people. The aim of the game now is just to keep staying sober and build up my sobriety, to give my brain a chance to adjust.

Hope everyone else is doing well, whether you are in recovery or not!

 

A Powerful Meeting

I’m getting settled in to the weekly SAA meeting I go to now in my new home town. It has a nice vibe to it, everyone is really friendly, open, honest and supportive. I even met up with some of the members beforehand for a coffee.

Tonight’s meeting was powerful, and has given me some things to think about. It reminded me of the damage that addiction can have on individuals, couples and families. It reminded me how the addiction can drive otherwise caring and well-meaning people to do selfish and harmful acts, and not even realise it until its too late. It reminded me how so many different aspects of our lives, beyond those we anticipate, become affected by addiction. It reminded me how destructive this addiction is, and how intensely difficult it is to beat. And it reminded me that no matter how long your sobriety, you can still slip up any day.

Hearing others talk about their experiences also helped me realise the reality of my latest acting out, where I was deliberately manipulative of events at home in order to leave me alone in the house so I could act out, while my wife was left to look after our daughter elsewhere. I should have been there with her, sharing the parenting and savouring every minute of my daughter’s life, but instead I was upstairs watching porn in the bedroom, counting the minutes I would have before her return.

I explained in detail the above process in the meeting, and saying it out loud made the reality of my actions hit home. When left only in my own head, it is possible to rationalise even the most extreme addictive behaviours, as the addict in me is able to dilute the perceived impact of my actions and convince me there’s nothing serious going on.

In fact, yesterday’s acting out was not only a relapse from sobriety, but a relapse from being a better person. I have prided myself in the last year or two of eradicating the outwardly harmful results of my acting out – such as how I would manipulate situations or behave nastily – so that all that is left is some occasion porn watching, and this has been an ‘acceptable’ level of addiction between my wife and I, so long as I continue to seek help and fight to get even better. Yet yesterday I reverted back to a type of behaviour that I thought I had banished, and not only that but I didn’t even realise how bad it was until today.

It is a never-ending, constantly evolving struggle. There is no room for complacency. I still feel I am yet to uncover the key to longer periods of sobriety, but it is possible as so many others have succeeded. I’ll keep fighting, for me, my family, and my future, and I’ll figure it out.

Thoughts on Keith Vaz, by a sex addict

This week UK politician Keith Vaz was outed by a tabloid newspaper for paying two men for sex, and offering to pay for their drugs and take some as well. The paper had met the escorts in advance and encouraged them to film the meeting, and gave them advice on how to do it, obviously in return for the tapes (and in exchange for a financial reward no doubt). It was entrapment pure and simple, although the paper denies that on some legal technicalities. A few days later Vaz resigned amid the usual media carnage.

My initial reaction was of sadness. The man has a wife and kids who will now have to go through hell understanding what he did and why. I just felt sad for him and his family. Their lives have been upended because an individual ‘journalist’ wanted to make a name for himself. I really don’t understand how some people sleep at night.

Glancing at the various articles about this on the web and from the news sources, I was actually encouraged by the amount of articles that took the stance that what a politician does in their private lives should remain private (after all, paying for sex is not actually a criminal offence in the UK so he broke no laws).

On the other hand though, there are the usual suspects exclaiming how shameful this is – “shame MP”… “sex shame politician”… etc. I thought that was an unnecessarily cruel (if predictable) portrayal, utterly lacking in empathy for another human being’s wellbeing, and propagates a judgemental and unsympathetic approach to the topic of private sexual activity. What on earth about what Vaz did was shameful? He had sex with sex workers… so what? Is that a shameful activity? As an addict, I obviously know too well how the feelings of shame can rule one’s sense of self-esteem and motivation, and much of the dialogue around recovery revolves around the abolishing of this sense of shame. It is therefore a pity that media outlets continue to throw this phrase around with no sense of understanding of, or care about, what it really means.

Then, regardless of opinion about his actions, there’s the topic of conflict of interest. By engaging in prostitution, is Vaz able to maintain his political position in charge of a committee who were conducting a review of prostitution and drug laws? Most people are saying that his position was untenable and he was right to step down. But his actions were legal… so so what if he has a bias? Everyone has a bias, and all that can be asked is that when representing a company or public body, they make their decisions publicly to be accounted for. We surely do not know the bias of all public officials who are responsible for law-making, and I’m sure plenty out there have done far worse than Vaz in their private lives. If a politician cycled to work instead of driving, should he be prevented from being involved in any decisions regarding transport because of his ‘bias’? Of course not.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s assume he was biased and shouldn’t remain in his job on that basis. Think then, what do we know about addiction? What if he was suffering from a compulsive sexual habit – we know full well that our acting out as addicts often runs completely contrary to our values. We know this but we still do it. When we make decisions with a clear mind, we are true to what we believe; it is only when under the control of the addiction that our values go out of the window. So what if Vaz was struggling like us; would we expect his decisions as a politician be influenced by his private behaviour? Probably the opposite! Not only would I expect him to make decisions according to his true values, unaffected by his private affairs, but it is more than possible that his convictions against his own actions would be even stronger, as he would have the ability to ‘fight’ his addiction through legislation. When of a clear mind, would he not actually try and make his private acting out more difficult, not easier? I know I’ve gone to great lengths, when of clear mind, to make acting out harder for myself.

Of course, we have no idea about the context of Vaz’s indiscretion. Does he have a sexual addiction? Is he struggling with psychological issues that he has found escape from in sex? Is he just a gay man who hasn’t yet found the courage to tell his wife? Who knows – the above is not to impose my own interpretation on him, but more as a thought experiment to apply what we know about addiction to how we treat people whose actions touch on this realm of sexual activity that so many of us struggle with and sympathise with.

I hope Keith finds the right path forward, and I wish his family strength and fortitude as they unravel what will no doubt be a complicated and painful story for them all.

Acknowledging my relationship with porn / saying farewell

The other night I acted out, but this post isn’t about that. I became aware of something… a feeling… while and after the fact, that I don’t think I had really acknowledged before.

What I felt was, for lack of a better word… friendship. I realised I have feelings for these porn stars. Not in the typical sense that we would use the word when referring to ‘real’ relationships, but there was something there that I have built up over the years, that I think is bringing me back to porn, and I feel I need to acknowledge and understand it in order to deal with it and move on.

Think about it – I’ve been watching these people for almost 20 years. It is impossible that I haven’t built up some form of connection with them. I have watched them do different scenes, with different actors and production companies. I know how some of them have progressed, or retreated, from the industry. I might have opinions about whether they should have got that boob job, or whether that particular production company’s style is flattering for them or not. I’ll know which positions, techniques or other activities they are better or worse at, and I’ll know all of my favourite scenes of theirs. Some will even give the appearance of glimpses into their personality through their ‘acting’, which I slowly have started to become familiar with. Perhaps I even think I understand them, or know them, a little bit.

I started to realise that there is a huge amount of emotions going on when I watch porn that I hadn’t acknowledged. If these sorts of connections exist in my mind, then it makes sense that if these are lacking in my life, I would continue to turn to porn. This further emphasises the theory that the opposite of addiction is human connection.

I wonder if what I’m saying sounds crazy. As an example, imagine your favourite actor, or singer. You’ve never met them, but you have opinions about them. You might even feel some sort of connection to their acting style, or feel that somehow they operate on an emotion level that connects with you and that you relate to. Why would it be any different for me with pornstars? I’d just never though of it that way before. I always knew that watching porn was a comforting activity for me, but I never quite fully understood the extent of why that is. Perhaps I’m getting the sorts of emotional energy from it that most people would get from friendships and relationships; things that have hugely suffered in my life as my addiction has continued. Its like I’m swapping one type of human connection for another, just where the replacement isn’t real.

Which leads me to the second part of this post, which is to somehow try and obtain closure. I need to accept the relationship I have with these porn stars, and I need to accept that it has come to an end. Until I do that, I will no doubt continue to seek them out.

So, here goes…

I acknowledge that I have feelings for these pornstars. Not in the usual sense, but feelings nonetheless, and I acknowledge that these aren’t real and they don’t bring me any real satisfaction or emotional security. Not only that, but continued acting out will only serve to further draw me away from regaining connections with real people in my life.

So I accept I will put an end to this, and I won’t watch them again. I won’t know what scenes they do anymore. I won’t know who they act with. I won’t watch any of my favourite scenes to ‘get back in touch’ with them. I won’t care who is knew to the industry. I am leaving it all behind. I am acknowledging that I am ending my relationship with them, and that is not a bad thing – it is a positive thing. I am moving on with my life. They have served a purpose, but now I am seeking a new purpose. I won’t miss them, and I won’t regret. I am taking positive steps to improve my life, and I am going to have such a brilliant time in the process, despite how hard it may. If I seek comfort in porn, I am forgetting everything I know to be true. I may not even know how to recreate that level of self-soothing yet, but I will in time, if I allow myself the freedom to find out how.

I will allow them to fade into the past, and slowly I will forget them. This will free up space in my mind for new, healthy, enjoyable and rewarding emotions, relationships and memories.

Farewell, porn, and farewell to my old pornstar friends. I wish you all the best, and I hope you life out a healthy life and don’t live to regret your decisions. You unknowingly contributed (and continue to contribute) to a great deal of pain in a great number of people, but I don’t resent you. I don’t know your life, who you are, or why you do what you do, and I don’t need to. All I know is that my happiness is no longer tied to you and to porn. I am now separate and free, bearing all the risks, scariness and joy associated with that.

Here’s to a new, porn-free life!