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.
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?
Hello world, it’s me again. My last post was three months ago, yikes. That means things have been bad.
The unquestionable sign of when my recovery is going well or bad is when I am communicating about it with others, either online or in person. When I’m focussed on recovery, I’m talking to my wife, my friends, on twitter and writing and reading blog posts. That’s because I’m connected to recovery and it is a part of my daily mindset.
When I’m not doing so well, I don’t want to talk about it. I hide the fact I’m acting out. I don’t share about recovery with my wife, or anyone, and I don’t read or write blog posts.
Time for a check-in. I’m at a low point in recovery. Often what happens is that the acting out increases until I reach a certain point where the negative consequences start to become more obvious, and as a result I gain a glimmer of motivation to get back on track. It is an easy slope to slide down – initially the acting out is mild and not having any ‘obvious’ consequences, so it continues, getting a bit worse steadily until I’m not getting enough sleep, becoming distant from, and irritable with, those around me, and I start to feel really low.
Being ‘in addiction’ (the phrase used for while you are still acting out and not achieving any decent amount of sobriety) makes me feel like a passenger in my own life. I lose more and more control of my own actions and decisions. The other night, I was in the living room ready to go to bed, and I wasn’t feeling even remotely horny; I had no desire to watch porn. Despite that, because I’d been acting out the few nights before, I felt an ‘obligation’ to watch porn. An obligation to my addiction, or my inner addict, I suppose. It was almost with reluctance that I took my laptop to bed to watch porn. This is crazy. I understand that addiction might make me more likely to want to watch porn, and to give in when that happens, but to watch it despite not even feeling like I’d enjoy it, and not possessing any conscious desire to actually do so, is a stark reminder of how pervasive addiction can be.
I know relatively well what routines and activities keep me sober. It is when they slip that I get closer and closer to acting out. Things like daily meditation, going to bed on time, not taking devices to bed, reading my motivational text in the morning, writing my gratitude list in the evenings, not playing too many games, allowing myself to be distracted and not present, not going to SAA or speaking with other members. These all help, and currently I’m doing hardly any of them.
My routines have been severely disrupted by the arrival of my second daughter. Obviously I love her to bits but having two kids comes with a few challenges – for anyone, let alone an addict who relies on routine. I don’t get to go to bed on time. I stay up late on my own regularly as I feed the baby while my wife sleeps. I don’t get enough sleep. My wife and I have little to no quality time for each other (I can’t really remember the last time we had a normal conversation), I am up early to look after the toddler, so I don’t get time to meditate. In addition I’m on a ban from all junk food, chocolate etc, and limiting my daily calorie intake to try and shed the belly, so that’s another comforter I’ve lost.
My daily life is just a bit all over the place at the moment. There’s a few abbreviations to help an addict identify when they’re at risk, and one is the SHIT list – Stressed, Hungry, Irritable, Tired. Well, currently I’m hitting all of those every day! I’m not really grumpy all the time or anything, I love my family and we have a wonderful time together – none of that is in question and that’s all going really well. I’m just not getting the chance to perform the activities and routines that I need to keep me sober, and I haven’t found a way to adapt to my current life situation.
But, this post sort of represents a slightly refreshed view on this. Tomorrow I’m going to get up earlier, hopefully, than my toddler, so I can do 15 minutes of meditation (so far I’ve been doing 10 minutes but I want to try a bit longer). I’ll read my motivational texts, and I’ll write my gratitude list in the evening. Three things I’m committing to, just for one day. Let’s try and achieve that, then look to the next day.
I’m also sitting here alone having got the baby to sleep and put her down. For the last four nights, I’ve gone upstairs to bed and acted out. There’s even a TV with adult channels in the spare room which I really need to sort out. Anyway, tonight, I’m going to go to bed, read for a bit, and sleep. That’s it. One small commitment for the rest of today. Can I do it? It sounds so easy, but experience tells me that what I think in advance can very easily have no bearing on what I do at the time.
As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what recovery means to me and how I want to approach it. This is essentially combining some core, unavoidable principles of recovery with my own gut instincts of how I best operate, to build an approach that I can truly believe in and commit to.
To start with then, I took a step back from addiction and looked at my core values; the things that I consider to be most important, that I would like to live by. These are things that I want to take out into the world and practice, but I also acknowledge I need to learn to apply these to myself first. This is an important point, as I read once that “you cannot give to others what you do not have for yourself” (or something like that), and it really resonated with me – e.g. how can I offer love to others if I do not love myself?
So, here they are – my values as I see them at the current moment:
Acceptance (& unjudging)
Discipline (& being present)
Whatever recovery programme I follow this year, I feel these must form a core part of it.
First steps into 2017 – DISCIPLINE
And so now I need to start applying this. One thing I’ve learned is that to achieve success, it is often best to start simple and evolve, rather than try to solve the entire problem in one go. Therefore, I have set myself three very simple commitments for January. They relate to one of the above values – discipline, which is the first principle that I want to focus on. The lack of discipline in my life is extreme – I am a slave to a wide variety of inputs in my life and I rarely take control of even those mundane decisions (see my last post about how I’ll even actively avoid doing things I want to do). I never do anything I say I’m going to do, I’m not productive despite having a to-do list, I get out my phone at the first opportunity to just kill time reading the news etc. I’m not present. Discipline to me means doing something because I’ve decided to, without being affected by mood or other variables. I think it is a muscle that needs to be trained, and will get stronger with use. If I can apply discipline to some small tasks, that will hopefully pave the way for applying it in other areas too.
So, at risk of setting myself up for failure, here are the three very simple commitments I’ve made for January in order to learn to practice discipline:
- I will get up at 7:30am every day and meditate. Meditation is something I’ve dabbled in and have really enjoyed, and something I’ve always wanted to do more of but never bothered to. This month, I’m going to meditate every morning, to exercise both the art of discipline and and also to give meditation a proper chance.
- I will go to bed at 10:30 every night, and only take my Kindle. I already do this, more or less, but I get sloppy and need to re-instate this without fail. As a dad to a second daughter, life it pretty busy and I need my sleep, and devices are banned from the bedroom as it is a prime acting out scenario.
- I won’t look at my phone to kill time. I will only use it when I have something specific I want to look at. Too often I sit on the phone when I could be spending time with my family, and I am allowing myself to be distracted to avoid being present. That needs to stop.
And that’s it. Those are the only commitments I’m making for January. Small changes to my daily life that will hopefully build a basis for further growth. I started today and it has been great. I meditated this morning and I’ve been focussed on my day and not distracted by my phone.
I fully acknowledge that stating intent is the easy bit – it is the doing that is hard. Time will tell how this goes, but I feel positive and motivated, and I have shared this with my wife so she can help support and encourage me.
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.
Getting started with the Steps
I recently attempted to commit to doing the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous. For the last 2 years I have attended SAA meetings and met members, to gain benefit from talking about addiction with like-minded people, but I’ve never actually done the steps. After a month of unsuccessfully re-trying software porn blocks, I felt that I had run out of reasons (excuses?) not to try the Steps.
Therefore, in November I found a sponsor and advised them I’m ready to get started. I had a set of routines I was already following, so the sponsor’s advice was to simply carry on until I had 30 days of sobriety, after which I can start step 1. I was quite disheartened by this as the reason I was trying to start the steps was because I’m not currently able to achieve any decent length of sobriety, so I was presented with a catch 22 – start the steps once you’ve been sober for a month, but you might need the steps to help you achieve that.
I then had very little communication with my sponsor. As I found myself becoming distant from the programme, I was secretly hoping my sponsor would pro-actively reach out to me and pull me back in, but they never did. I suppose a principle of recovery is that it has to come from within us, but even so I was sure a sponsor was meant to take more of an active role and not just sit back and watch as I fell back into acting out.
Disillusionment and religion
This all led me to feel a bit unenthusiastic about SAA, and I prompted me to start exploring more about it, and alternatives. I have always struggled with the religious terminology of SAA. The concept is that you have to “give yourself over” and pray to your “Higher Power”, often referred to as “God”. The literature goes to great lengths to say God can be defined anyway you see fit and doesn’t need to be the god of a religion, and says it can simple be a concept for what you get your strength and purpose from in recovery.
My issue with this is that I feel this is a compromise. SAA’s origins (via AA) are in religion, founded by members of a Christian fellowship known as The Oxford Group. They believed all the usual things religious people do, but also had a seemingly decent view on morality and values that they thought could be used to structure a support group for addiction. As the world evolved and AA/SAA spread, so the need to adapt for a secular audience became apparent, so clearly the existing religious terminology used was re-defined so that non-believers could also join in.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, and I know non-religious members who are fully embedded in, and benefitting from, the programme. What bothers me is the question of what a recovery programme would look like if it hadn’t originated in religion. What would the terminology be? Would there even be the concept of a Higher Power? Not only do I not like the compromise that has been made in broadening the definition of unavoidably religion terminology, but I suspect that these religious words are entirely unnecessary in recovery and only exist because of the religious origins of the programme.
Put it this way: I accept that I cannot recovery on my own, and that I need help. That help would come in many forms – contact with others; a set of daily routines; meditation and a review of internal emotions, history and pain to gain a more healthy and positive outlook on life, to name a few. That could be indeed be known as a Programme, and so far this is consistent with SAA. What I struggle to get behind is the need to take an addition step and start referring to this recovery approach as a sentient being – a Higher Power or God. Why the need to “turn myself over to” and “pray” to this set of routines? When things go well, that’s not my Higher Power “speaking to me” or “at work”, it’s just that I’m successfully following the programme I’ve set for myself and it is working.
Part of this resentment comes from my desire for responsibility and control. I completely admit that I need help and cannot do this alone, but I don’t feel comfortable absolving all responsibility and accepting I need to “turn my will and my life over to the care and will of God“. It is phrasing that is too religious for me to feel comfortable adhering to.
This leads me to question whether there are alternative approaches to recovery that don’t have their roots in recovery. What I’m learning is that it doesn’t matter how well a particular program can work, if you aren’t committed to it and believe in it, it won’t work. There are a few other approaches I’ve come across, which I’m going to do more research on, and try to find a way that works for me.
Why does it matter if SAA is religious?
It’s just a personal thing. When I talk about my objection to the religious aspects of SAA with people, they say that I just need to get over it and trust in the process, and I have tried (although no doubt in some eyes not hard enough). The fact is I can’t get past it. My views on religion are one of my strongest principles. Obviously I do not believe in a creator or any sentient being who has any interest in our existence, but that’s just scraping the surface – there is so much wrong with religion, and so much damage caused by it, that I simply cannot abide by something which is even remotely associated with it. Tolerance, respect for my fellow man, and a responsibility towards open-mindedness means I don’t mistreat other humans for their beliefs in any way, but I find the ongoing prevalence of religion in an era of such knowledge of our world bizarre and infuriating.
That is not to say, by the way, that I have anything against spirituality. Far from it. I’m very interested in the idea, and have read books specifically targeted on how spirituality can exist outside of religion. I want to start meditation and doing yoga again, and I firmly believe the mind and body should be treated with respect to one another to form a healthy whole.
So what next?
Right now, I know I need to a follow a structured and well-conceived programme to recover from my addiction. I don’t think the 12 Steps of SAA is the programme for me, due to its inherent conflict of interest with my views on religion, but I aim to find or create a programme that I can believe in (for lack of a better secular phrase!) and commit to. There are some core principles emerging that I feel are the key to my success, such as discipline, routine, mindfulness and being present, and these will likely form the pillars of my approach.
I always knew recovery would be hard, but I had no idea that the aspects I would struggle with would so often be the fundamental principles of what recovery means, and how I can find an approach that works for me.
I also maintain that this resistance could be just another symptom of some damaged part of myself, and a way of avoiding giving up the illusion of control that I think is my strength but is actually supporting my addiction. It is entirely possible, and I remain open-minded to the outcome of this exercise. I may even find myself back at SAA; that is not ruled out by any means. I am simply following my gut instinct and seeing where it takes me. As a friend once told me, “no-one else will regret what you don’t do”, and I have always remembered it. Sometimes I just have to trust my instincts and do what I feel is right.
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 🙂