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:
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.