The first part of my theoretical key ingredients to recovery is motivation, and part of that is having something I read every day that keeps me focussed on why I want to quit porn. It is surprisingly easy to lose sight of these reasons, and to trick myself into thinking that watching porn won’t matter, but obviously this is the inner addict speaking and so reading my “mission statement” every day helps remind me of the impact of my addiction.
A new month, a new post to look at progress.
This is what I wrote to myself after I last acted out. This list has always featured in recovery in various forms, this is just the latest incarnation that best reflects where I think I need to focus each day to stay sober. The idea is to read this every morning, and possibly again later in the day, to keep myself focussed on what’s important:
The “you” is directed at myself, by the way.
Be present– Don’t linger on your phone or procrastinate on the internet. Everything you do must be for a reason. This will make your day more worthwhile and help you be a better friend/husband/father/employee. Use Forest when with your family. Don’t be bored on the internet – this always leads to acting out – always stick to a plan, routine, or schedule.
Practice acceptance – Don’t judge others just because of physical / material reasons – you know nothing about other people to make a judgement and doing so only reinforces your own insecurities.
Empathy – Do something for someone else, because it is the right thing to do not because of the gratitude you will get, and don’t seek thanks or recognition.
Journaling – Write about something you are grateful for everyday, and how you are feeling, and something positive that happened
Plan for sobriety – be aware of vulnerable times in your day and make a plan that will keep you sober, even if that means just knowing what you will spend your time doing.
Do something from the to-do list – this keeps you mind and body busy, and aids discipline and reduces procrastination
Go to bed with [your wife], without fail
Appreciate every moment of your day, good or bad. You are lucky to be alive and the ability to experience life is precious and must be savoured.
Don’t dwell on urges or negative thoughts. Accept them and put them to one side. Practice the 3 second rule and stop button. You may not be able to control your thoughts, but you can control your actions. Think about the serenity prayer.
Take some time out and ask yourself how you’re feeling, and answer honestly, and take steps to protect yourself if you’re at risk. Am you in your SHIT list?
Also remember everything wonderful. Think about your family. Remember you are loved, and why you are in recovery. Remember the harm addiction can cause and what you want your future to look like. Do you want to be a passenger in my own life?
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.
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:
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!
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 🙂
A new month means a new monthly retrospective to see how the last month went.
Here’s the trusty chart:
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:
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.