Tag Archives: Sex Addicts Anonymous

It’s Check-In Time!

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.

Continue reading It’s Check-In Time!

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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.

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:

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-21-22-13

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.

Checking in for 2016

Its high time I wrote an update, so here goes.

December was a rollercoaster, and it triggered a revisiting of my approach to recovery (including temporarily giving up on recovery altogether).

To give some context then, a quick look back at 2015…

Here’s my complete recovery chart for 2015, which shows the %age days ‘clean’ each month:

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 22.11.13

As you can see, it isn’t exactly trending in the right direction. Actually generating this graph just now to insert here was saddening as it was the first time I’ve really looked back at the year, and I didn’t realise who clearly the trend is going in the wrong direction. This actually reinforces my latest approach perhaps, which I’ll come on to.

Recovery approach in 2015

So how did I approach recovery in 2015?

Jan and Feb were 100% clean. This was the height of my recovery, where I was excited by it, engaged, learning new things, and perhaps riding on the novelty of it all. I also had a pretty comprehensive set of routines I followed, including:

  • Seeing therapist and attending SAA meetings weekly (but not doing 12 steps).
  • Included a lot of psychological work on my childhood, reasons for addiction etc.
  • Active on Twitter/Blog/Reddit in recovery groups
  • Experimented with meditation
  • Increased my cycling (20 miles a day commute 3 days a week)
  • Worked on self-awareness and productivity
  • Wrote in my journal every day

At the end of February, my daughter was born. This was an incredible time, but unfortunately it completely de-railed my recovery. Overnight I lost the ability to attend SAA or therapy as I had to rush home to look after the family. I then stopped doing my other recovery techniques – I was tired, and lost focus as I was 100% focussed on fatherhood.

So then I started slipping up; acting out to porn. At first I hoped it was a one off, but then it clearly became routine. I actually sort of gave myself permission to do this, due to the pressures of fatherhood (“I don’t have time or energy to dedicate myself to both, so recovery will have to wait”).

Slowly I re-introduced therapy at a reduced frequency and started trying to get sober again, but I guess it wasn’t enough as the sobriety didn’t really improve, and so eventually, around September, I admitted I needed to re-commit to recovery.

I returned to SAA in September, with a renewed commitment to change. I even accepted that I’ll give the 12 steps a go, something I had always been reluctant to do in the past. I got a sponsor and started Step 1. Unfortunately, nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. Part of the recovery required I re-implement the ‘blocks’ on my various devices, and for reasons I’ve covered at length on this blog, I really struggle with these. This is basically because due to my technical prowess and love of problem-solving, there isn’t really a block in the world that I can’t find a workaround to, and so the blocks actually heighten the excitement of acting out, as they extend the ‘hunt’. However, in good faith, I persevered and kept refining the blocks, closing the loopholes as I found them.

Crunch time

Something wasn’t right though. My sobriety wasn’t improving and I quickly lost motivation towards doing the step work, and that’s when it all came crashing down. In early December my sponsor directly challenged my commitment to recovery, essentially asking me if I actually wanted to quit. He implied that I needed to make some hard decisions and he may not be the right person to be my sponsor any more.

It hit me really hard, harder than I expected. It made me question everything. Initially it was that feeling of rejection. I had struggled with the concept of ‘someone being there for me no matter what’ for ages, probably as a result of the usual lack of self-esteem that is typical in addicts. Just as I was coming to accept that someone was willing to be that person in my life, that very person says actually they might not be. It wasn’t great news.

He was right to say it though. The thing is, my acting out had reached a point that could easily be considered ‘normal’ – once every week or two, with little to no tangible negative consequences. I wasn’t displaying any of the truly destructive tendencies from when I was in the depths of the addiction – I no longer take it out on my wife etc. But, I’m still addicted. When I do act out, it is from a compulsion to do so that I cannot control. It takes me over physically, and requires a lot of being sneaky and manipulation to get myself into a position where I can act out at home. These are not things I can accept and therefore need to stop.

As a result of this conversation with my sponsor, I took a break from SAA and recovery altogether. I was fed up with it, tired that nothing I did was working, despite feeling that I was putting in loads of effort. I was also moving house which was giving me enough to think about. Then I got ill with a sinus infection over Christmas for 3 weeks. I found more loopholes on my devices while I was bed-ridden, and acted out loads. Hence the big dip in December on the chart.

So, what now, for 2016?

Anyway, now, I am recovered from the illness and ready to get back to the game of recovery. Again…!

I’m constructing what approach I think I will take now, and the main difference right now is that it will almost certainly not involve the 12 steps, and possibly not even SAA. That topic is probably a whole post in itself, but deep down I have felt unable to mentally connect with the SAA approach, and I just don’t think it is for me. This is not for lack of trying!

So I’m heading back towards an approach that stems, funnily enough, from what inspired me to start recovery in the very first place in 2014, and that is to blend an understanding of the specific physiological nuances of porn addiction with leading a healthier, more positive and productive daily life. While the delving into my childhood has been really interesting, I think there’s an element of just needing to be present and get on with things, rather than over-thinking how my actions are influenced by my past. I also intend to tailor my approach specifically to the challenges of porn addiction, rather than the more general ‘sex addiction’, which I have found to be one of the things that distanced me from SAA.

Starting simply then, I’ve started re-implementing some of the original activities:

  • Reading my ‘pillars of recovery’ daily
  • Write in my journal daily (including one thing each day I am grateful for)
  • Reading porn addiction-specific books (e.g. currently Your Brain On Porn)
  • I will probably contact a new therapist in my new town
  • Reduce my gaming to max 1 hour a night
  • Start learning the piano
  • Ensure I remain present each evening, including doing at least one productive thing that contributes to my home/family life
  • Write a post here twice a month
  • Return to and engage with Twitter and Reddit porn addiction communities

In honesty, these are feel a bit loose and not that structured yet, but that might actually be a good thing;I want to find a natural way that I believe in. Also, the blocks will stay on my phone and tablet as they are actually pretty solid now, but my laptop is fully unblocked and always will be due to the inherent insecurity of computers that I can workaround.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed that despite putting in what I thought was a lot of hard work, I didn’t really make any progress in 2015. I’m still doing brilliantly compared to 2014, where I experienced my ‘rock bottom’ moment of being kicked out of the house, but I’ve failed to break through to the next level of sobriety.

I’m also disappointed that SAA hasn’t worked out. I have been aware of a disconnect I’ve felt with it since the beginning, and I think that just grew until I couldn’t ignore it. I will write more about this probably in my next post.

It would be a stretch to say I’m feeling optimistic, and in fact I’m quite nervous that I may be doing this all wrong and I just need to do SAA, or something else similarly rigid, whether I like it or not.

The thing is, a few times in my life when faced with a decision or challenge, I’ve felt something in my gut, and I’m slowly learning to listen it. I remember times when I consciously didn’t and I regretted it, and right now my gut is telling me that SAA isn’t right for me. I think I fit into a different box, and I’m going to give that a go.

If you got this far, thanks for reading! Sorry it was so long; brevity is not my strong point. I hope you all have a fantastic 2016!

One Month Sober – Reflections

Today, February 1st 2015, marks the first full calendar month that I have stayed sober from pornography. Throughout my efforts to quit last year, the longest I ever went was 13 days, and that was once – generally I would relapse on average after about 7 days, so I’m pleased to have made it to one month. Here’s my progress month-by-month since July 2014:

 

 

 

 

 

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The first chart is from a Google Sheet with a simple table containing each month, number of days in each month, number of days clean that month, and what that is as a percentage. The second image is from my Google Calendar, into which I mark each day with a red X or a green 🙂 depending on whether I acted out or not. As you can see, January is all green!

Ironically, this milestone comes at a period of time when I’m feeling a bit down and unmotivated. I’ve had a tough few days over the last week, in terms of urges, and it has left me feeling a bit embattled, so I thought it would be worthwhile as a motivational tool to reflect on the positive changes I’ve seen over the last month.

Before I start, two caveats:

Firstly, I’ll tell you now that this is not going to be a revelatory-filled I’M LIVING A NEW LIFE-type experience. I’m actually a bit put off by the expectation set by many ex-porn addicts that you should settle for nothing less than a total revitalisation of your life, a fresh view on the world, spiritual enlightenment, etc etc. I think it is slightly irresponsible to be preaching these things without proper context – everyone has different experiences and is at different steps of the journey and I’ve definitely felt disappointed with my progress when compared to these ideals. So now I’m learning to be content with the progress I’ve made in relation to my own life and goals.

The second caveat is that many of the things I’ve noticed are not directly because I’ve stopped watching porn, but more because of the self-exploration I’ve been taking myself through. This month I’ve really focussed on revisiting my childhood, my parenting, my schooling and other factors throughout my life that have led me to be who I am today and led me to addiction. Exploring these, and exploring how I deal with emotions and other daily life events, has been the single most significant factor in improving my life and achieving success with sobriety in the last month.

So, here’s what my wife and I have noticed about my behaviour over the last month:

  • I’ve started to face up to my responsibilities. I’ve stopped thinking they are things to avoid at all costs, no matter how trivial, and started to embrace them. My wife is pregnant and I’ve been very slow in stepping up to the duties to take care of her, but she’s noticed a marked improvement now – she no longer notices resistance when she asks me to do something!
  • I’ve started to become more aware of my emotions as they happen, and therefore been able to take appropriate action to ensure I respond to them in a healthy way rather than my default negative self-soothing and destructive behaviour. For example, if I’m feeling especially tired on the cycle home (I commute about 10 miles on the bike) and I can feel grumpiness setting in, I make a plan to eat food and consciously relax as soon as I get home, and don’t allow my stress to get the better of me.
  • As a consequence of being more aware of my emotions, I’ve been able to stop taking out my withdrawal-induced frustrations on my wife. Many times in the past I would blame her (in my mind) for the anxiety I’d feel when the urges struck, simply as a way of deflecting responsibility, but now I have been able to rise above that and not allow my own struggles to spill over as resentment, anger and frustration directed towards her.
  • In line with my recent appreciation of the importance of empathy in the recovery process, I’ve been trying hard to think about others and not put myself first. Also trying to do more selfless things – actions which help others at no benefit to myself, in order to learn how to connect better with others.
  • I’ve been going to bed with my wife nearly every night, when in the past I would stay up playing games/watching porn almost every night of the week.
  • I got to a place of understanding where I felt confident enough to tell my sister about my addiction.
  • I’ve noticed similarities to porn addiction in other behaviours, such as mindless computer gaming or other means of escapism. I may not be ‘addicted’ to them, but I still use them for the same purposes as porn – namely avoidance, reclusion and escapism. I’ve stopped playing games for hours just to pass the time, and instead limit my time so I’m only conducting these behaviours for shorter periods, with a healthy mindset (i.e. not trying to escape!).

It has been a really pivotal month for me. It has also been really hard. A self-conducted character assassination, whereby I pull apart as many elements of my personality as I can and explore where they came from and how they fit into addiction, has been a pretty intense activity, and sometimes leaves me feeling a bit deflated. It can be hard to know what areas of myself are just normal fluctuations of an average personality and how many have strayed too far from the norm into unhealthy or addiction-tempting realms. It has also led to some less than favourable appreciations of the role my parents have played in my life, which has led to its own set of challenges as I still have a strained relationship with my father to put into its place in my new ‘healthier’ life.

I’ve also had some incredible support from others, without which I probably wouldn’t have made it. I’ve been going to weekly Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and spent time before and after each gathering meeting fellow addicts, sharing stories and getting inspired by their tales. I’ve connected with loads of fellow addicts on twitter, such as @MattNoFap, @Neverfap and @NoFapCyclist, who have all shared their experiences and motivations and together we’ve become a pretty good team!

If I was to give any advice to others in the same boat, trying to hit their own sobriety targets, I’d say:

  • Connect with other addicts and non-addicts as deeply and honestly as possible, be it on the internet or face to face. Everyone’s journey of public admission is different so only do what you feel comfortable, but don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised what you might find.
  • Understand why you use porn. What pains or realities is it helping you to deal with? I can’t stress enough how important this is. Just abstaining from porn but not learning about yourself achieves only sobriety, not recovery.
  • Listen to yourself. Learn to respond to your own emotions in a healthy way. Spot when you get stressed, tired, annoyed etc and make sure you do something healthy in response.
  • Think about others and try putting them first for a change. Ask how others are. Pro-actively offer help without having to be asked.

I remember when I simply couldn’t imagine staying sober for a month, so I’m really grateful to all those who have helped me get here – thank you all of you, you amazing people – but also to myself, for putting in the effort. It is certainly a rewarding feeling. Now for month 2! I’m certainly not complacent about my ability to stay sober another month but I know it is possible – if I put in the work I can do it.

Here goes!