Tag Archives: SAA

Struggling with the religion of SAA

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.

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Checking in – tough times

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:

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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!

Details of a slip

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 🙂

September Retrospective: Goal Accountability

A new month means a new monthly retrospective to see how the last month went.

Here’s the trusty chart:

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

 

A Powerful Meeting

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.

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.

Check in – Day 12 – Starting the 12 Steps

I thought it would be worth writing a post just to check in and put into writing a quick summary of where I am right now. TL;DR: clean for 12 days, got a sponsor, started the 12 steps.

I really struggled over the past month or so, and I’m not quite sure why. What I do know is that I never managed to maintain a daily routine; every time I did, something like a family holiday would come along and disrupt it, leading to acting out. Sometimes I couldn’t get past a few days at a time without acting out, and it really started to depress me. I knew that I had it in me to do better and I couldn’t quite work out why I was now so far away from that.

So, I put my mind to recovery and upped my game. I committed to going back to Sex Addicts Anonymous weekly, with a view to getting a sponsor this time and starting the 12 steps. Before, I attended the meetings and got a lot of benefit, but was always wary of doing the steps. But, if what I’m doing isn’t working, its time to try something new, so 12 steps it is.

I reached out to one of the fellow SAA members who I’ve had a good rapport with since I started going about a year ago, to ask if he’d be willing to be my sponsor. He said he had been thinking the same thing, which was nice. We met up outside the meeting and he talked me through getting started with the steps. This began with defining my outer, middle and inner circles of behaviour, buying A Gentle Path and reading it, and committing to some daily and weekly activities.

It has felt good to have some accountability. If I want to act out, I know that I’ll have to call my sponsor afterwards and tell him. Even if I’m in the middle circle, I will have to tell him. That’s a new incentive I’ve not had before – it makes me consider other people, which sort of bursts the bubble of enjoyment I’d get with acting out slightly.

Daily I am now writing my journal, reading my affirmations (positive statements you tell yourself regularly in order to retrain the brain) and doing some meditation. Twice a week I call my sponsor and also call other SAA members, and do some step work.

It feels good. It is still early days and even today I’ve been feeling a lot of urges (partly why I decided to write a blog post) but I am staying on top of it.

I think there is a lot of value to the 12 steps and SAA. A lot of people are cynical and even opposed to the idea, but as far as I’m concerned, if what I’m doing isn’t working (e.g. I’m not staying sober), then I have a duty to myself to try it.

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.

Becoming a dad

Last week I became a dad for the first time, to a healthy beautiful daughter. I never expected at the age of 32 to start feeling new emotions I’ve never felt before, but here I am, in a world of besotted love for another human like no other (and a level of enhanced love for my wife!).

I’m so glad I caught my addiction before she was born (I am 62 days sober currently). I can’t imagine how I’d be dealing with this if porn was still something I had in my life. How would I be providing my wife with the support she needed? How would I be caring for my daughter? The thought of ‘the old me’ having the responsibilities of being a dad scares the hell out of me!

I haven’t managed to make it to the last 2 weeks of SAA though, and I’m conscious that while I am in a good place with my sobriety, complacency is a dangerous thing and I need to remember that I am still an addict and the urges could come back any time. To that end, I’ve called a fellow SAA member to meet up next week for a coffee just so I can chat through all this and keep myself grounded. That was one of the biggest benefits of going to SAA – it was a weekly reminded that this addiction is real, and of the damaging effects of it.

I really hope I stay sober. For her. Right now I feel strong, but I know the urge is always there deep down, ready to come back if I let my guard down.

Milestone #4 – Telling my sister

This weekend I told my sister about my addition. To me this represented the 4th milestone in my journey of recovery. Those milestones have been:

#1 – Admitting I was addicted to internet pornography and telling my wife

#2 – Going to see a therapist for the first time

#3 – Going to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting for the first time

#4 – Telling my sister

Deciding to tell her

Beating my addiction has had surprisingly little to do with day-to-day practicalities (i.e. how to physically not look at porn – although these have been very important), and instead has predominantly been about self-evaluation – understanding who I am, how I got here, what my life is like and how I deal with and respond to it, and how I use porn in relation to all these things. That’s an army of blog posts in itself, but the one aspect that led me to telling my sister was the idea of removing secrecy. Addictions thrive in secrecy and shame, and it became clear to me that I wanted to unify my ‘secret’, porn-watching persona with the public-facing persona everyone knows, so that I’m moving forward with more honesty in my life. That meant embracing the fact that I am an addict, and not hiding it; living a unified self that includes my addiction without hesitation and reservation.

And so it became clear to me that I needed to start telling people. Not immediately, hurriedly or insensitively,  but methodically and in a considered fashion that is conducive to my recovery and mental well-being. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I could tell. My wife already knew, so I started thinking of friends and family. I don’t have a lot of (any?) close friends these days so I couldn’t think of anyone that would share this journey with me – I didn’t want to just tell a friend and then move on and not see them again for 6 months; it would be a waste and wouldn’t really benefit either of us. I wanted to tell someone who was a significant enough part of my life that they would share this journey with me, for better or worse.

Last week, once I got home after a long evening with members of a London Sex Addicts Anonymous meet-up, I had a period of clarity of mind where it became clear to me that I should tell my sister. I had actually initially thought of telling her and my dad at the same time but due to the fact my dad has his own sex-related issues (totally unacknowledged but suspected by my sister and me), I decided to treat him separately – he may be in early stages of denial and so I’d need think of a very tailored approach to talking about this with him. So, putting my dad to one side left my sister. She is family, and she needs to know what I’m going through.

The call itself

I texted my sister: “So, I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Do you have an hour for a chat sometime?”. She lives in a different town so doing it in person wasn’t an option, and I couldn’t wait ’til we next met up. We agreed a time, and yesterday she rang me and I sat down on the sofa to explain the biggest secret of my adult life.

I told her that I’ve been assessing my life (we’ve talked about it quite a bit recently) because I’ve realised I’ve not been dealing with it in particularly healthy ways, and in one way in particular – porn. I explained how I had started looking at porn at school, and how 15 years later it was so woven into my daily life that I didn’t even realise there was a problem until I tried to quit, at which point it occurred to me I might have an addiction. We talked about the steps I’ve now taken to quit – seeing a therapist, going to SAA meeting, involving my wife, assessing my life. We talked about my childhood, our parents, my schooling and how my experiences may have led to porn, and we talked about porn addiction – what it is, what it isn’t etc. I recommended a film to watch (“Thanks for Sharing“) if she wanted to get an idea of the SAA meetings.

It couldn’t have gone better. Due to her slight resentment of my dad and his sex issues (he’s recently admitted to infidelity in his earlier days), I was worried she may have associations and not respond well. I couldn’t have been more wrong – she was totally unfazed, completely supportive and made it clear she was proud of me for opening up and that she thought I was really brave for telling her and for the general steps I am taking in my life. It was an incredible thing to hear – that this thing I’ve been doing that I’ve held on to so secretly is now known by someone and they don’t mind – she hadn’t fallen off her chair in disgust, she hadn’t disowned me – she was just supportive and encouraging. My sister is a very inquisitive person, and so she started asking loads of (non-intrusive) questions about addiction etc, which I was happy to discuss. Not that I had any doubt, but this call demonstrated a maturity of character in her that was awe-inspiring – I had handed her a piece of my self – my weakness – and she handled it perfectly and with such compassion and I was/am so grateful.

The call lasted an hour. I ended it by making it clear this is not a taboo subject. I encouraged her to ask me (as long as she is comfortable doing so) how it is going whenever she wants, and to not feel like she shouldn’t talk about it – it is important we all face this openly as the secrecy is the most dangerous aspect. I welcome questions and discussion, and I asked her to tell her husband who I get on well with, so at this point, a day later, he too now knows about this.

How does it feel?

It does feel like a weight has been lifted, but not the usual storybook type weight you’d imagine, just a feeling of reassurance that I’ve made a little (or big?) step further into recovery. The most significant thing I feel is that by each step like this I take (e.g. the milestones above), I feel like I’m putting my old acting out days further behind me, and putting more of a space between the old addict-me and the future in-recovery me. Each step makes it harder and harder for me to imagine slipping back into dark days of my addiction.

The next milestone?

What’s the next milestone? I think probably telling my in-laws. That’s going to be harder – they are emotionally attached to their daughter, are of an older generation, and are extra-protective of her right now as she is pregnant. Telling them that their daughter’s husband is a porn addict may be tough for them to hear, so my wife and I are mulling this one over to figure out the best way. We think they need to be told something because my wife is finding it harder and harder to hide the fact I’m going to SAA and therapy – she is close to her mum and she doesn’t like hiding things. We could perhaps tell them I’m getting help for an addiction, or just personal issues, but not be specific, but for me that’s just more secrecy so I think we’d have to go all the way. Watch this space.

So there we go. My wife, my sister and my brother-in-law now know about my addiction – that I am a recovering sex addict (specifically porn, but I think sex addict is the correct term as porn addiction is just one form of sex addiction). I feel more people are going to find out soon enough. I’m excited and scared at the same time, but I know I’m doing the right thing.