I’ve been in and out of recovery for years, trying to get a grip on my porn addiction. I have not achieved any meaningful sobriety yet, but I do think I have an idea on what is needed in order or to do so, which I found myself scribbling into my notebook late one night recently, and I thought I’d share it.
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.
I recently discovered the sub-reddit r/NoFap. I did actually stumble across this a while ago but never gave it much thought, but actually I think this could be a really valuable resource for porn addicts in recovery. There appears to be a thriving and active community of users in similar situations, all willing to share their experiences and thoughts for the benefit of others.
Therefore I decided to write a post introducing myself to the community, which turned out to a be fairly lengthy background of my journey, where I am now and what I want to achieve. I’ve included the full post below:
Just thought I’d say hi here, as I think this sub-reddit could be really useful for me and I really like the community spirit that seems to exist here.
By way of introduction, I thought it would be worth giving a bit of background to my own personal journey with porn addiction.
My porn use started in my early teens when I was at an all-boys private school for ages 8-13 (magazines shared around secretly amongst the boys in the later years). This then quickly ‘went digital’ as I got access to a computer and internet at public school (also all-boys). It started with waiting half an hour to download a single image, slowly building huge collections on my computer of image sets, sorted by porn star. As bandwidth increased, I moved to videos, when ‘tube’ sites back then would release a free video in parts which you could join together once you had them all, one part a day. Then through to the digital porn experience we all know so well today – torrents and tube sites.
I’m now 31 and commonly my usage is daily or twice daily – often I will lie in bed in the morning waiting for my wife to go to work so I could watch porn before going to work. I usually get in 30-45 minutes late to work because of this on a daily basis (fortunately I have a pretty cushty job where my manager doesn’t care when I come and go). I’ll often not go to bed with my wife because I stay up watching porn. Its not every night, but very often. When left on my own at home, e.g. for a weekend, I’ll regularly go on porn binges, masturbating until I almost can’t any longer. I’ll download gigabytes of torrents which I instantly am bored of once I’ve watched them once. Fortunately I’ve never really moved on to harder/weirder stuff, and I’ve not had any problems with ED or anything like that.
So porn has been a permanent companion for all of my adult life. I don’t know life without it. I’ve managed to keep it a secret all this time, and currently I am married, with a newly pregnant wife, a mortgage and a good job and healthy work/life balance. Socially, I am actually pretty outgoing, but I have two extremes – I’m either the life of the party, able to talk to anyone, or I feel uncomfortable and just want to go home, often putting my foot in it when I try and talk to people. I haven’t quite worked out what makes me slip into which ‘mode’.
I think my porn use stems from a desire to escape – I love that I can switch off from the world and all my responsibilities and just disappear into this world of guaranteed, no hassle gratification. Funnily enough, I have the same thoughts about weed – once I discovered weed in my early 20s I was instantly hooked. It complemented my porn addiction well by encouraging me to get stoned in my room and stay up all night watching porn and smoking, and it aws another way to escape. I continued smoking daily for about 5 years or so until my girlfriend gave me an ultimatum to stop, which I did. Now I smoke occasionally when with friends – but I can’t own it – if I buy some, I smoke it constantly and lose all control over it – just like with porn. They both allow me to escape, but it must be more than that? I don’t know. I also happen to know that my dad has some sex issues – during my childhood I remember finding weird bondage porn mags and I’ve always suspected he’s got a dark side. I even found out recently he cheated on my mum many years ago with a prostitute and got an STD. I don’t know if there’s something in the genes therefore that could make me more inclined towards porn addiction? Who knows, this is something I’m interested to explore though.
So why am I writing all this? Well, I want to take control of my life. I am tired of feeling a slave to temporary impulses. I regret all the times that my wife is horny and I’m not because I masturbated earlier or the night before. I no longer want to feel down and de-energised because porn has sapped my energy. I want to stop being late to work because I’m watching porn. I want to stop having not enough sleep because I’m up late watching porn. I want to respect myself, my body and my family enough to take control over this. It is ridiculous to live as a slave to something so pointless and unreal.
I admitted it to my wife about 3 years ago and while she was shocked, hurt and just didn’t understand it, she appreciated my honesty and that I was trying to do something about it. I started a blog and a twitter account, and for a few short weeks she helped me by making sure I got out of bed in the morning and other things like that. It didn’t last though and I know she found it easier to stop asking when she knew I was reverting. Since then I’ve tried numerous times to quit on my own without telling anyone but just lacked the motivation as there is no real immediate consequence of giving in.
But this time I’m going to make it work.
I am potentially going to be a father. I don’t want to be a creepy father like my dad, as much as I love him. I feel a renewed sense of motivation. I know that I am better than this, and that I can beat it. I’m scared of the prospect of seeking professional help as that would mean admitting defeat – surely I must be able to conquer my own life? Currently I’m only on day 6 of nofap, and I’m acutely aware of how hard it will be, but I’m putting everything into this. At some point, when I feel I’ve made significant progress, I will tell my wife again. I just want to be able to tell her I’m making progress, not just that I still have the problem. (She is aware of my healingmybrain online identity so could easily find this post if she wanted and I’m ok with that).
So I’m engaging more on Twitter, and now here, am keeping a journal and will hopefully write some more blog posts. Reading about others is really helpful and there must be so many more out there. I think strong mental positivity and re-affirmation of values is important so I constantly remind myself of why I’m doing this. I am taking pride in taking control over the urges. When I get an urge, I think of how I’m better than porn and I’m kicking its ass. I remind myself that the urges and fantasies are part of the old me, a mis-aligned brain that is now being repaired.
One thing I don’t believe is that porn is “evil”, “bad” or any of the other blanket statements that get applied to it. I think it is like any other addictive substance – dangerous if not controlled or used in excess, and requires education to ensure it is used responsibly. I dislike people, especially religious organisations, who jump on the porn bandwagon to proclaim it as evil and that it should be banned etc, usually just to promote their own beliefs and recruit others. It distracts from the core problem – a lack of education at puberty of the dangers of porn. No-one knew of the risks when the internet first came out, and like tobacco companies, we certainly can’t look to the porn companies for help. Our understanding is still evolving, so I encourage reasoned debates based in facts and science. While I am pleased for anyone that beats this using religion, as an atheist I see that as swapping one false reality (porn) for another (religion), but I don’t judge others if it works for them.
So there we go. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and generally get involved with the community, as together we can beat this thing.
It has been a long time since I’ve blogged or tweeted, and that only means one thing… I’ve been back on the porn. If I go silent, that’s what it means, as if I’m succeeding, I’m going to want to talk about it!
But I’m re-energised and re-motivated to try again. I’m engaging a lot more with people on Twitter, to keep the fight at the forefront of my mind. I am reminding myself to not get complacent. I am telling myself truths throughout the day to remind me why I’m doing it, that I’m a better person for it, and what to watch out for.
So far so good. Tomorrow morning will be 5 days in. Sounds like nothing, but feels like a lot. Its been ok so far though – I’ve been having plenty of fun with my wife so the physical urges are being kept at bay – I am prepared for when we don’t have sex for a while – that will be the hard part. But I’m ready for it. It’s time to take control of my life and stop being a slave to urges, routines and impulses. There are bigger things at stake.
Easier said than done perhaps. I have said this before.
We’ll see. I’m feeling mentally empowered. I feel counselling is close if I don’t beat this on my own, and that is a real sign of defeat, or at least a direct acknowledgement that I am unable to beat this on my own, and I hate that thought – the thought I am totally not in control of my life and need someone’s help. I MUST be able to do this on my own, surely….?
Previously I tried internet blocks etc. Those were distractions. They didn’t address the core issue of my desire to watch porn; they just made it harder, avoiding the problem and not dealing with it. This time there’s no blocks or anything. Temptation and gratification is just a few taps away all the time. Wherever I am, there is the potential for porn – such is the life of an addict in the 21st century.
The one thing I haven’t done is talk about it with my wife. It is so hard on her and she clearly prefers avoiding the subject. She must know I still watch porn and accepts it. That is the level of love she has for me and she deserves better. But I want to make progress on my own. I don’t want to tell her I have a problem; I want to tell her I have a solution. Or at least that I am addressing it and making progress. If I can get to 1 month, maybe I’ll tell her. She knows about this blog though but I have no idea if she reads it – I don’t mind if she finds out through here.