addiction

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!

July Retrospective: The Elusive Wagon

Its that time of the month again! Into a new month so time to reflect on the month before.

Here’s my updated sobriety chart:

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July was basically the same as June. I had one long period of sobriety (11 days), and then after a slip the rest of the month was failing to get back to sobriety again.

My biggest failing of the month was my inability to re-commit do doing my daily routines. Mainly writing in my journal and reading my affirmation statements. These help me keep my motivational reasons for staying sober fresh in my mind, so I can recall them when triggered and use them as a weapon against the temptation to act out. If I don’t keep them up, I simply lose the strength to fight the urges when they come around.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve now finally got back on to the routines. I’ve started journalling again (3 new things I’m grateful for each day, and 1 detailed account of something positive that happened to me), and have started writing a new personal affirmation statement. I think this may become something I eventually record, and turn into a video, with photos and other snippets to be a short but concise hit of positivity and motivation. I’ll write more on that separately once it has progressed a bit.

So let’s see how I do in August. I hope that the routines will help me maintain my positivity. I’m still dealing with some stress around my dad getting re-married, which is actually less about his marriage and more about my relationship with him (or lack thereof), and the marriage is forcing me to be involved with him in ways I’d rather not be. Work stress continues but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Either way, stress is normal and I should accept it; it doesn’t mean I get to act out, which won’t really help the stress go away in any meaningful sense anyway.

I hope everyone else is doing well and keeping up the good fight!

Hello tiredness and stress my old friend

…I’ve come to deal with you again.

Its amazing how quickly I can go from being positive, connected and energised to acting out, and then dealing with the resulting bout of being tired, disconnected and unmotivated. I mean really, it can happen in the space of a few seconds. I can genuinely be feeling great, then be in a position where I can act out, I let me guard down, and then I’ve gone past the point of no return and I’ve ruined sobriety, and ruined the next few days while I climb back out of the post-acting out funk.

It really emphasises the importance of the tools of recovery. Simply being fantastically motivated isn’t enough, as forces outside of my control can overwhelm me at a moment’s notice. The tough thing is accepting this, as when I’m feeling good, I feel like I’m in control and I can do it. I have to accept that no matter how well I am doing, I’m never completely safe, and I need to always be following the routines I have set myself.

It is also probably not a coincidence that each of these times I act out coincide with periods where I’ve let the routines slip. Its the same old story for me – I have to maintain the consistency of the routines, but I’m really bad at it. Why? Because there are few big consequences to me acting out. I can act out and essentially ‘get away with it’, so there’s less incentive for me to maintain arduous routines every day. But I know they are worthwhile and needed, and I just need to keep focussing on them.

Meanwhile, I’m generally dealing with a lot of stress that makes it a bit harder. At work I’m dealing with a change in role that is exposing my areas of weakness, which in turn plays on my self-doubt and anxiety. My dad is also getting married, a few years after my mum died, which is a bit hard to get my head around, and my relationship with him is something I really struggle with, and I don’t think I’m dealing with it very healthily.

Anyway, I think I just need to relax a bit and allow myself to get back on track. Firstly I need to get some sleep, as this has not been happening (my daughter is ill and waking up early). If I can do that, then get back to doing the routines, hopefully the positivity will come.

Here goes…

Porn Addiction vs Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction, according to Wikipedia, has been around since the 1970s, but porn addiction (specifically internet porn) is a far newer concept, not least because of the relatively recent development of technology to make online porn so available and therefore powerful in its addictiveness.

During my early days of therapy for my porn addiction, I was quickly and eagerly referred to Sex Addicts Anonymous, or the more relationship-orientated Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. These programs follow the tried-but-not-that-tested[1] 12 step approach to recovery conceived by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Upon attending, it was immediately clear to me that my personal addiction was a bit different to the addictions of some of the others in the room. I was hearing stories of infidelity, prostitution, exhibitionism and worse. My habit was solitary masturbation to internet porn, and the more I thought about it, the more I came to think that not only was porn addiction different from sex addiction in the nature of the harm it causes to the sufferer and others, but also in the reasons why it is addictive.

I settled on a compromise that porn addiction must be a sub-set of sex addiction. It shares plenty of characteristics to sex addiction, but it also has some specific nuances that make it different. Without a specific place to go for porn addiction, it seems SAA and SLAA are still the best option for porn addiction sufferers.

Similarities

Let’s start with the similarities. Porn and sex addiction both share the same broad definition:

For an individual to be compelled to compulsively continue with certain sexual behaviours in spite of the known or unknown negative consequences that those behaviours bring to their life

That isn’t a formal definition I copied from somewhere; it is just how I perceive it and the two key elements are the compulsivity and the negative consequences. So by this definition porn and sex addictions are the same. I’ve related to all shares of others in the groups when they refer to the anxieties and struggles regarding the above – the destruction of self-esteem, the inability to say no, the self-loathing, the harm caused to others, to pick just a handful.

I think they are also similar in that the 12 step program is probably equally appropriate to each of them. Both sufferers will benefit from the introspection, self-understanding and life changes that the 12 step program encourages.

Differences

What I find to be the most interesting difference is in their actual addictive nature, or addictive properties.

(Internet) porn addiction by its nature only exists due to the prevalence of online porn and the technology available to view it. By providing a limitless supply of instantly-accessible visual stimulation, online porn does, in my opinion, something different and unique to the human brain. I’m always a bit wary when treading on the science turf as I haven’t researched it enough to confidently support or resist the claims, but my gut instinct is that this is true – that porn triggers dramatic, recordable chemical reactions in the brain similar to those well understood in other highly addictive drugs. For a bite-size overview, watch this video:

 

So it is this constant hit of sexual stimuli, tricking the brain into going into mating overdrive, that makes porn unique. I can’t see how ‘traditional’ activities that sex addicts suffer from activate the brain in this way, as experiences tend to be with real people and therefore far less varied in such a short space of time.

A unique approach

That is of course not to say that the end results aren’t similar, or even identical. The addict, regardless of the type of sexual behaviour, still ends up exhibiting the same compulsive and destructive characteristics. But, if we are to accept the premise that the nature of the addictions are different, does that not then suggest that we should take a more specific approach to the treatment and recovery of porn addiction?

Again, I’m not an expert in therapy or recovery so I can’t really answer that, but in my experience with both subjects, while I’ve seen huge benefits, I’ve also been conscious that so far I’ve received very little help that is specifically tailored to porn addiction.

For example, the use of internet blocks is commonly recommended in the SAA program, but the context is very different. For many sex addicts I’ve spoken to who act out ‘in person’, porn is not in itself addictive, and doesn’t tend to be included in their inner circles. They may fall back to it if the real hit can’t be achieved, but to them porn is more of a trigger or a prelude to the real thing. This means that for them, internet porn blocks are useful to help prevent journeying into their addictive behaviours, but they aren’t actively and directly preventing their inner circle behaviours.

For porn addicts, however, internet blocks are one of the most primary and fundamental tools to physically prevent an addict from acting out. This elevates the importance of blocks a huge deal, but this distinction is rarely made in recovery programs. Of course, blocking porn is only a way of helping to achieve sobriety, it is not the solution to recovery (which involves introspection and life changes), but that sobriety is a vital ingredient to recovery. It saddens me to see so many porn addicts ambivalent towards blocks. Blocks are, without doubt, not for everyone, but the implications of using or not using them must be considered by each individual before deciding on a recovery strategy.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into a debate about blocks, but the point is that there are distinctions to be made between sex and porn addictions, which I feel could be further considered by recovery programs and therapists.

So, do we need a PAA (Porn Addicts Anonymous)? I’m not sure… there are probably more similarities than there are differences so grouping them together makes a lot of sense, but I can’t help but feel a little under-catered for when I attend and share. For now though, I will continue to explore SAA and SLAA meetings, as they provide a unique chance to talk to others in my situation, as well as provide the potential for a more formal recovery program.

Footnotes
1. I say “not that tested” because I haven’t yet actually read any studies on the success rates of SAA 12 step programs. I imagine this sort of data is extremely hard to collect due to the anonymous and secretive nature of 12 step attendees, especially for sex-related programs. This lack of validation of the success rates is a big contributor to my ongoing cynicism of, and reluctance to commit to, the SAA 12 step program.

Normality resuming, what about sobriety?

It’s been over 2 months since I last posted, and its time to check in.

In the last few months, I broke my ankle, moved house, changed job, my wife changed her job, our daughter started nursery, and we had decorators in for two months. Its been pretty manic to say the least.

I previously blogged that the broken ankle, and the resulting 2 months stuck on a sofa, was starting to affect my sobriety, which had started to improve. I am sad to report that it just got worse and worse, with last month being the worst month ever, sobriety-wise, since I started recovery almost 2 years ago.

What happened was that I basically started giving myself permission to act out. I had spent almost an entire year beforehand developing a routine that would keep me sober, and being sofa-bound prevented me from doing any of those things. My routine was out of the window, and I didn’t find the energy to keep fighting. So I basically gave up, and for at least one month allowed myself to act out freely. I found that it became more stressful to constantly try and resist, and deal with the inevitable constant failure, than to simply ‘postpone’ recovery efforts until I was better and in a position to be able to actually do something about it. Rightly or wrongly, it was a form of justification.

I haven’t passed judgement on myself for the above approach. It was a really difficult situation to be in as an addict, and I don’t blame myself for giving in or not finding the fight within me.

However, I’m now getting better. I am walking again without a crutch (albeit in pain), the decorators have left, my job is settling down and I’ve even gone part-time to look after my daughter two days a week. Life is finally settling down and it is becoming pretty great. We’re in a new town we love, I’ve got family around and even starting to make contact with some old friends. I’m getting to spend quality time with my daughter, and I have a job where I am respected and valued. In other words, I’m all out of excuses to not put my efforts back into recovery and get sober again.

So I have started recovery efforts again, but being honest I’m at about 40% effort. I need to get back to 100%. It is time to get serious about this again. I know I can do it as I’ve done it before.

The thing is, it has never been more obvious that I don’t need porn. I’m a subscriber to the belief that addictions are fuelled by more than the tangible addictive properties of a drug, but also due to deeper pain and lack of addressing subconscious issues or a lack of happiness/fulfilment, and I’m really at a point in my life where things are really great and there are very few reasons for me to still need porn. In fact, I’ve found that a lot of my acting out in the past month hasn’t been due to urges/stress etc, but due to habit, where I’ve just felt I might as well.

This makes me optimistic. I feel such elation on a regular basis. Be it staring out of the train at the rolling hills of the countryside (whereas it used to be a crowded London tube) or walking around the town with my daughter in the pram, free to enjoy our day as we see fit, I’m so regularly aware of how lucky and fortunate I am to have finally achieved a quality of life that I’ve been seeking for years. It brings a tear to my eye.

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Views I get to enjoy from my new hometown

So what can I do to really push through now and connect these two polar opposite perspectives of my brain? On one side, I have found so much natural and genuine joy in my life, while on the other my brain is stuck in a cycle of habitual porn-watching, even when it doesn’t enjoy or need it. I need to break the cycle and allow my actions to connect with, and represent, my feelings.

Some of the tangible steps I will take/have already started taking include:

  • Leaving phone downstairs at bedtime (only Kindle allowed in bedroom). Have re-instated this.
  • Writing journal daily (not doing this fully yet)
  • Engaging with recovery WhatsApp group (need to pluck up courage to do this)
  • Visit new therapist (I have contact details, now I am mobile I need to book this in, if I can still afford to)
  • Blogging more regularly
  • Reading addiction-related books
  • Possibly visiting a local SAA meeting
  • Possibly re-locking down my mobile phone (could be tricky due to work)
  • Finding an accountability partner

One significant thing I think I am lacking is another person who I can be accountable to. I’ve had sponsors and other people in my life in the past, but do not have anyone currently, and I think this is an important ingredient, so I will think more on how to achieve this.

I hope all of you are doing great in your journeys, be they recovery-related or otherwise. I’d love to hear from you in the comments, so let me know how you are doing!

The opposite of addiction is human connection

One of the biggest themes for me in my recovery, and in fact my life, is human connection. All the work I do on recovery and all the things I think about and have to deal with, all come down to it. It is the inescapable truth that lays the foundations for everything else. To many this is obvious, but to an addict like me, stepping back and remembering some fundamental truths about how we should live our lives and what is important can be difficult, so I don’t take anything for granted, no matter how obvious it may seem in hindsight.

What I am talking about is perfectly articulated in the following quote, from Johann Hari’s must-read for any addict: “Chasing The Scream“:

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.

There are hundreds of quotes of equal lucidity in the book, but this stood out to me.

Without going into too much detail, the book solidifies my existing understanding of the reason for addiction; that it is not simply because someone overdid it with an addictive substance/activity for too long, but that the addiction is a way to deal with pain, loneliness or other fundamental psychological state. In other words, addiction is not simply the result of a chemical or physical dependency, but an antidote for a more fundamental psychological lacking in an individual’s life.

To give one example, a test was carried out by scientist Bruce Alexander (detailed in his book The Globalization of Addiction), interviewed in the book, where he gave rats access to morphine (which acts like heroin for rats). Some rats were put is isolation, and became addicted. Other rats were put in a lush environment with other rats, food, toys etc, and they didn’t become addicted, despite the same access to the heroin. The scientist was able to show that if the addicted rats were placed into the lush environment, despite continued access to the drug, they lost their addiction.

This is amazing. It corroborates the theory that the chemical cause of addiction is only one part of the full story – that the causes of addiction exceed the boundaries of a simple physical or chemical dependency on the drug, and instead relate to some far deeper psychological need for fulfilment in the addict’s life.

It is consistent with my own experience of recovery – both my therapist and the guidance of the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous cover how simply abstaining from acting out is not enough to recovery – the addict has to address the reasons for their addiction, by taking a long hard look at their family, childhood, friendships etc, to understand what they are using addiction to compensate for.

For some, this might be childhood trauma, abuse, neglect etc. I.e. things that are easy to spot. For others (like me), it is harder to spot. I didn’t, on the face of it, have a hard childhood, but when I look harder I can find instances of loneliness and disconnection. As I grew up and went through school, gap year and university, I see an increasing trend in how I slowly interacted with people less and increasingly used cannabis and porn to spend more time alone. Even when I was being social, I would pride myself on being the resident cynic, never quite engaging with people and always being slightly on the edge of social groups.

I’m still working out why this trend happened. I found more comfort in computers and porn during puberty than I did with friendships, and when I discovered cannabis it accelerated the isolation. Interestingly, during my gap year when I discovered weed, I used it socially and it actually increased my sociability (despite my still-growing my porn addiction), but once I went to university I really withdrew. There may be something to do with the fact that university was prescribed for me whereas my gap year was my choice, and I have issues with authority, so this is an area I’m spending more time thinking about.

Anyway, back to the point: human connection. To fully recover, I need to rebuild my connection with the world and with other people. I have lost touch with most of my friends, whose friendship groups have endured throughout school and university without me. I have prided myself in spending time alone rather than going out. That all has to change. I can’t magically rescue lost friendships or instantly create new ones, but I know now that if I live my life in a new way, according to my values and with empathy, sympathy and compassion, hopefully in time I will form better bonds with people than I have allowed myself to in the past.

So for me, blocking my access to porn and remaining sober is probably the smallest factor in my recovery, as without the self-assessment and implementing living a better life as a better person, the sobriety will be temporary, or the addiction will probably replaced by something else.

To finish with another quote from the book:

“Addiction” he said, “is a disease of loneliness.”

Helplessness

One of the key concepts of the 12 step recovery program is the acceptance of helplessness. I.e. that you accept you are helpless to beat this addiction on your own. Or at least I think that’s what it means – it is quite complex I think and can be interpreted in different ways according to the individual and what best suits their situation and personal journey of recovery.

Either way, right now I feel helpless. I continue to act out on a regular basis (once or twice a week) using internet porn. Despite all the things I have done, habits I have changed, blocks I have installed etc, I still manage to find a way to act out. I have reached the point where I just don’t know what to do anymore, and that has led me to thinking about this idea of helplessness.

I accept that I cannot do this on my own. I accept that I may have to make drastic changes to my life in order to beat this. For me, accepting that I am not able to beat this on my own, i.e not in my control, is hard to do. I am generally a control-freak – I like knowing I am in control of things and I if I am going to beat addiction, I’ve always felt I need to be responsible for that and be the one to do it. Helplessness, to me, represented the giving up of that control; accepting that I can’t do this and I need more help than perhaps I was willing to admit.

But I’m there now. I have started going back to SAA, and I’ve spoken with a fellow member who may be willing to act as a temporary sponsor for me, getting me started on the 12 steps.

Something needs to change. Just to recap, if only for my benefit, here are the things I am doing:

  1. Going to SAA once a week and seeking out a temporary sponsor to help me get started on the 12 steps.
  2. Installed content blocks on all my devices that my wife has the password to.
  3. No devices in the bedroom.
  4. Always going to bed with my wife and not staying up on my own.
  5. Increasing therapy from once a month to twice a month, and possibly even going to once a week (that’s how often it used to be during my best period of sobriety)

What is incredibly frustrating is that despite the above, I still acted out today. Acting out really drains the motivation. It creates a little seed of depression and desperation inside me that is just bursting to grow if I let it. It wants me to give up, it wants me to accept defeat and stop fighting. It wants me to think I am worthless and that there is no point in trying to live a better life. The periods after acting out (like what I am in now) are hard, and I need to stay strong and motivated.

Here’s to the fight.

A Re-Commitment to Recovery

This post is copied verbatim from today’s journal entry

Day 1

I wonder how many times I have written “day 1” in my journal? It is probably not worth counting – too depressing? But here we are again, and like many times before, I’m hoping this time will be different, and here’s why.

I achieved my longest streak of sobriety by a country mile in January and February this year, before slipping up and slowly returning to a cycle of weekly acting out to porn. At the end of February I became a dad, and so my strict routines of recovery came to an end – I could no longer go to SAA or counselling as I needed to be at home to look after my daughter after work, lack of sleep meaning I wasn’t on good form, things like that.

For a while, the disruption to my routine due to fatherhood was ‘justified’, in the sense that it was kind of explainable and acceptable. But after a while, my sleep and evenings returned and the excuse grew thin. But I didn’t restart my recovery. Instead, I told myself I could do this myself without things like SAA and so I set to work trying to achieve sobriety through my own actions, like willpower, writing my diary, going to bed on time, turning off devices in bed, etc. All these things I tried at various different times as I thought was required to get sober, but every time I tried something new, I still slipped up. Looking back through the past few months, it is clear none of it has made any difference.

Something has to change.

Clearly what I’ve been doing, however well intentioned, is not enough. I came to realise that what is missing is a lifestyle change, like what I was achieving at the beginning of the year in my peak of sobriety. Back then, I was clear about my goals. I was applying empathy to situations and those around me. I was going to SAA and therapy weekly. Things were on the up, and that’s what I need to get back to. I need to live recovery, not just think it.

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A Day One chip for a fresh start

On Monday I called a fellow member of SAA I used to have a connection with. We had a great chat and during the call I decided to go back to the SAA group I used to attend, which I did last night. I even collected my first “day 1” chip to represent a fresh start and a fresh commitment to recovery. I went for a meal with the SAA guys afterwards and continued to have good conversations. It was a great feeling to be back and talk openly again.

I guess what I’ve learned is that it is crazy how easy it is to slip back into the grip of the addiction, without even realising it. I thought that I was being productive in my recovery, but in fact I was just putting in half-hearted steps that always left room for acting out.

One thing I was asked was “why do you want to quit”, and whereas I usually have a solid answer for that, this time I stumbled. And that made me realise the addiction had regained its grip on me – I had allowed myself to forget why I even wanted to quit. If you don’t know that, you have no way of recovering.

I am also considering finding a sponsor and doing the 12 steps. I was hesitant before because I was assessing so much of myself anyway through therapy, but that’s kind of stopped now and I think I need a way of maintaining a level of conscious self-assessment so I don’t take my eye off the ball, and I think the 12 steps might provide that. Besides, I am in no position to be setting boundaries for what I am prepared to do to recover – I must be willing to do anything, whatever the cost, and if the 12 steps might help, I have a duty to myself and those around me to try it.

I will be trying to blog once a week from now on, no matter how long or short, and writing in my journal (this post is a copy of today’s entry) daily, as well as attending SAA weekly and I am also going to start Yoga on a weekly basis. Add to that increasing my therapy frequency (currently its down to once a month) and reaching out to the SAA network, I hope I am setting in place some steps that will really make a difference to my recovery.

I hope you all are doing well in your recovery, and remember you are not alone. If you ever want to get in touch, for any reason at all, please do.

The Struggle Continues

It is time for another blog post.

March has been a really tough month. Becoming a dad has changed everything, and unfortunately those changes haven’t all been supportive of an addict’s recovery.

After 66 days of sobriety since 1st January 2015, I have relapsed 3 times during March. After my first relapse, I assessed the reasons, and these are mainly still true – not enough sleep and not finding the time to continue with the tools of recovery I had spent January and February putting together.

Unfortunately, while I was able to logically see why I slipped up and what to do about it, actually putting those steps into practice has been harder than I thought.

I’ve found that the constant tiredness from fatherhood has not only sapped my ability to focus on the steps required for recovery, but it has allowed significant negativity and depression creep in – I’ve regularly felt completely demotivated and depressed. I’m acutely aware of some of the aspects of my life that have resulted from my porn use, such as the fact I essentially have no close friends anymore, and the a feeling of loneliness has strongly arisen in me.

To feel more acutely lonely is on one hand strange considering I have such a new purpose now in my daughter, but also understandable if you think that most of my home life is now occupied with caring for both my daughter and wife, with very little time left for ‘me’. I desperately want someone else who I can call just to say hi to who knows me (I believe these are called friends!), and the fact there is no-one I can call is really getting me down.

The problem is, that isn’t going to change any time soon. I can’t magically create overnight the sort of connections with people that take years to make, so I need to focus on living my life the way it needs to be lived.

So I’m slowly trying to focus on and commit to doing the steps I need to do. Reading my pillars every day, meditating every day, writing my journal every day, and most importantly, waking up in the morning and remembering that I am better than this addiction, that it is behind me and that I am going to accept myself, embrace the day and the live the life I deserve to.

In addition, I’ve also suggested to my wife that we abstain from sexual activity at least for one month. I have noticed that my acting out over the last month has been heavily related to sexual excitement and anxiety relating to when I think we may next have sex or other sexual activity, which is sporadically unpredictable due to the fact we have a baby! Eliminating the possibility will hopefully allow me to avoid sexual distraction and focus on the tools of recovery.

Day 67 – Relapse

Yesterday, after 66 days sober of compulsive porn and masturbation, I relapsed. This post is to allow me to get into writing what happened, why it happened, and what I can do to prevent a future re-occurrence.

What happened?

Either the day of the relapse or before, when browsing the ‘controversial’ filter of my reddit homepage, a pic of a model appeared. The pic itself wasn’t nude, but the comments section contained plenty of links to nude images (and I knew they would). I was in a state of mind where, with 66 days of sobriety behind me, I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to handle triggering images, but later on I came back to the post and clicked one of the links. It was a bit of excitement, just to see the forbidden fruit and ‘test’ myself. At the time, I remember feeling that it didn’t actually do anything for me – I didn’t really get turned on, in fact I remember feeling the opposite – I felt “this is behind me now, this is an artificial representation of female sexuality and I don’t need it anymore”.

However, clearly there was more going on in my head asI came back to the links a second time later on, and looked at a few more. Then, my wife went to bed and I was up on my own. I clicked another link, which went to a non-porn video website that had associated videos which were softcore porn. I put my phone down to resist, knowing full well the territory I was now entering. But a few minutes later I came back and watched a few of them. Then I put my phone down again. By this point the prospect of watching porn was getting pretty real in my head but I was still resisting. Then something gave way, I opened up my laptop and watched porn – “edging” (where you watch and masturbate to porn but don’t orgasm) for about 45 minutes. Then by chance my wife called me to bed and I closed my laptop and went upstairs.

I was battling in my head about whether what I had done counted as a relapse, as I hadn’t climaxed. Deep down, I knew it did, and that my counter of 66 days needed to be reset, but I was trying to think of a rational way of not resetting my counter and not counting it as a relapse. I knew that I would have felt very differently (both physically and emotionally) had I actually climaxed, but I also knew that whenever I discuss this topic with other addicts, my opinion is consistent: edging is relapsing.

My wife then got up to breastfeed our newborn daughter, and I suggested I go to the spare room to get some sleep (we each take turns to do this so we aren’t both tired at the same time). Probably about 10% of me knew I was suggesting this as way of putting myself back in a position where I could look at porn again, and perhaps finish off what I had started. This is known as a cognitive distortion – justifying putting yourself in a situation where you know you may watch porn.

I went to the spare room and almost instantly started watching porn on my phone again. I quickly decided that I had clearly relapsed and that I needed to get it over and done with. In my experience, edging then stopping leaves me in a weird state of emotions for days (usually leading to more edging and an eventual climax), and I usually only get back on track once I have actually climaxed as there is just too much going on in my head. In the past, I have often just decided to climax once I’ve found myself edging, just to get it out of the way and back to recovery (this has been a valid technique in my experience, not an excuse).

So I watched porn. For hours. Climaxing three times, getting about 2 hours sleep. This is known as binging. The preferable method of relapsing, if there is one, is to watch porn briefly only once then get back to staying sober, but so often when I’ve watched porn once, and I know I’ve failed for that day, I tell myself I may as well watch more until the night is over as it won’t make that day any more ‘failed’ than it already is. Again, a cognitive distortion.

In the morning, I told my wife. I have never lied to her since I started my recovery in earnest, and so I explained briefly why I think I did it (see below) and what I need to do differently. She was very upset, not just because I had relapsed but because she is suffering from extreme tiredness and felt hurt I had been given the gift of a solid 6 hours sleep in the spare room (something she’s not had since the birth) and I just used it to watch porn. She also was hoping since the birth that the addiction was in the past. She had a cry, we talked a bit more, had a hug, and we’re ok now – we’re in this together.

Why did it happen?

I think this one is quite easy to answer. About 1.5 weeks ago I became a dad. Since then, sleep has been a thing of magical fantasy, as has ‘me time’. I’ve been constantly on duty for 10 days – changing nappies, cuddling the baby while my wife sleeps, supporting my wife, cooking etc.

I had started to feel a bit claustrophobic and constricted – ‘cabin fever’. I hadn’t seen any of my friends (the few that I have), but had played host while my wife had plenty of her friends round, and I hadn’t really left the house. I needed to vent; an outlet just to give myself some time to myself. Nothing serious, I don’t want to escape from my responsibilities or anything like that, but I started to feel like I just needed to give myself some time to explore my own mind a bit and relax. My wife recognised this days ago and encouraged me to do so, but I didn’t do it. I think the addict in me knew that if I didn’t give myself some time, I would continue to get more worked up and increase the chances of watching porn, so I resisted doing something ‘wholesome’ for myself (e.g. read a book, go for a cycle, play guitar etc).

In addition to not devoting time to myself, since the birth I had stopped doing all the recovery activities that I had put in place. This included:

  • Writing my journal each night, including listing 5 things I am grateful for or have achieved
  • Reading my pillars
  • Going to SAA meetings and therapy
  • Meditation
  • Healthy activities (cycling, guitar, reading etc)

These are all activities that I have added to my life in order to counteract specific aspects of my addiction. Since the birth, I’ve completely stopped doing all of them. Why? Well, a mixture of being too tired and distracted by new routines, and also a bit of hope that I’m over porn and I don’t need to anymore. Clearly that isn’t true.

So, the combination of not having enough sleep, feeling mentally constricted by not giving myself any space, and not performing any of my recovery activities, led to an unmanageable build up of stress and anxiety, leading me to watch porn to self-soothe. I did it as I needed an escape, and porn is the most efficient escape I know. Funnily enough, I wasn’t really feeling ‘triggered’ in the usual sense – I wasn’t full of urges to watch porn. I just wanted to have some time to myself. This is something I have identified a while back as part of my addiction, hence the need to introduce healthy activities to replace porn, but as these were not being done, porn became the go-to solution.

What does this mean?

I asked myself how significant this relapse was. There are those on the internet that think that a sober ‘streak’ is all that matters, and totally berate themselves for slipping up. I am not in that camp. Statistically speaking, my measure of success has so far been monthly trends of % clean. I started at 68% sober in July 2014, slowly rising until I got to 100% in January and February 2015.

It is really easy to lose faith and motivation from a relapse, but it is very important to avoid this. There is an inner voice of desperation that I hear when I relapse, which tells me to give up and stop trying to quit because I never will be able to. I have to silence this voice with determination and positivity. Therefore, my stance on this relapse is that I did amazingly well to get to day 67 and have made so much progress not only in abstinence but in understanding who I am and how to reconnect with my life. Having assessed why I slipped up, I feel I can accept this relapse on the basis that a) it is understandable given the change my life is going through becoming a dad and b) I am going to learn from it and commit to putting in place steps to try and avoid a recurrence in similar situations.

If anyone reading this is now thinking that I’m giving myself an easy ride, you may be falling into the shame trap. Addictions are fuelled by shame, self-doubt and negativity. Dwelling on a relapse, kicking myself, telling myself how much I’ve failed, are all logical reactions but entirely counter-productive to recovery, so I will not be doing any of these things. But, make no mistake, inside I am saddened by my relapse and it is not easy to re-motivate. But I will.

What will I do differently / what can I learn from this?

So, now what? Based on the reasons for my relapse, what I will do now is:

  • Re-instate a program of healthy recovery activities that I had unwittingly abandoned, at a level of regularity that fits in with my increased levels of responsibility and duties as a father. I haven’t yet defined this specifically, but something along the lines of:
    • Perhaps a nightly journal is too ambitious and I should reduce this to weekly.
    • Re-dedicate 10 minutes a day (or every other day?) to meditation (I started using www.headspace.com – “meditation for dummies”)
    • Try harder to replace my unhealthy time-filling activities (mindlessly browsing reddit etc) with healthy ones like reading, playing guitar or exercise. Going back to work from paternity leave will re-introduce the exercise as I commute on a bicycle.
  • Learn to identify when I’m feeling too constricted and need time to myself. I’ve identified that sometimes, due to feelings of urges, I may not be pro-active enough to make myself do an activity, and so I’ve asked my wife to remind me of this and essentially force me to go and do something productive.
  • Learn to reach out for help. When I’m struggling, there are so many people I can call upon, but I don’t do it. I’m not quite sure why not, but I need to try.

What am I not going to do differently?

Whenever abstinence from porn is discussed, the topic of content restrictions and blocks must always be considered, but it is something I’m not yet prepared to go back to. My wife and I tried it for one month last year and it was the worst month of my entire recovery – trying to break the blocks became more of a game than actually watching porn, and I felt that I was training my brain to rely on blocks rather than self-control. So for now I’m going to continue to use reddit etc, as I believe the risk of stumbling across NSFW content is worth it compared to the myriad of troubles (and lack of success) I experienced with a content blocking approach.

Fin

So there we go. There’s my account of my relapse, what it means to me and what I’m going to do to try and avoid a further relapse under similar situations next time. Maybe this will be interesting to others, but it at least serves as a reminder and documentation to myself.

As they say in the 12 step program, “we seek progress not perfection“.