What can you expect as you work on overcoming this habit? Let's look at some basic ideas related to recovery from porn addiction.
Elements of recovery
What kind of help do you need to find freedom?
1. Individual Coaching
One-on-one, personalized support is essential.
2. Group Coaching
Having other men to learn from, and compare notes with, is also priceless.
3. 12 Step Meetings
This is a great backup to the other group. And they are available all over.
4. Couples Coaching
If you are in a committed relationship, you will need help to repair the damage.
You will need to find another coach for this, if you are getting one-on-ones with me.
At least, help your partner find a 12 Step group or personal therapist to help her cope.
Stages of change
Whether it is developing a prayer life, going to the gym or learning to play golf, changing ourselves is a process, not a one time event. It involves predictable stages. And each stage needs different resources to help us move on.
Think of any change you have made, like losing weight. At first, we may not have felt any need. Then, we started toying with the idea and weighed the upside and downside of dieting. This is starting the change process.
Next, we prepared for it, maybe learning about various diets and exercise, and getting things and support in place.
Finally we took action and plunged in. After some weight was lost, then it was a matter of maintaining the change.
Finally we took action and plunged in. After some weight was lost, then it was a matter of maintaining the change.
And if we got off track at some point and gained a lot of weight, we had to restart the process.
And so it will be with the task of overcoming a sexual habit. We will face different challenges and need different things at the various stages, and it’s helpful to understand all of this.
1. thinking about change
Once we are aware that we may need some kind of self-improvement campaign, we begin weighing the pros and cons of change. Is it worth working on this? Will the potential rewards outweigh the discomfort?
You might be here now. If so, when things get difficult, you naturally return to the debate in your mind: Do I really want to stop this habit? Is porn that bad? Or, is change possible? Is there a realistic route? And could I do it?
This is the time for learning about the benefits of change, and the damage done if you don’t change. And the ways to recovery that are available.
It’s also the time to voice your doubts. Don't be afraid to talk about your mixed feelings about recovery. Maybe I can’t always answer your doubts and fears—there is no getting around the difficulties—but having someone to vent to is helpful.
By the way, during the Contemplation stage, pain and the fear of pain tends to motivate most. In other words, staying stuck in the habit has to seem worse than whatever it would take to break the habit.
Also, it’s great to hear a success story where someone like you—or worse—was able to get free. Look for victory stories.
2. Preparing for change
Preparation involves collecting the resources and knowledge we need to succeed and to reduce the discomfort of change. You are trying to overcome anticipated obstacles and make the change as easy as possible.
If you were working on walking more, for example, you might get some comfortable shoes, find a walking buddy, figure out what route will be long enough and safe enough, and look at your schedule to plan good times during the week.
This is when we are most receptive to gaining information, learning techniques and skills, and getting assistance. This is probably the stage you are in right now, reading this!
(By the way, sometimes people skip this and plunge in recklessly but with good intentions and it usually does not go well.)
In this stage, the anticipated joy of change and freedom might be motivating you more than the present problems with the habit.
We are looking forward to the future, rather than longingly at the pleasures of the past, and so hearing about how great it will be is valuable now.
3. Making the Change
You have now begun your recovery regimen. You are getting individual coaching, and are part of a support group. Maybe you are also attending 12 Step meetings.
The Action stage has hope on its side to keep us motivated. It is interesting. Your friends and loved ones are encouraging you. You are beginning to see the payoff in one form or another. You feel more self-respect. You have more time to do what you want to do now that the habit is not stealing it.
After about 6 weeks or 40 days, the new behaviors are becoming easier. They require less focus. The change is no longer the center of your life.You are getting into the groove.
4. Keeping the change Going
This is the stage people are often unprepared for.
All the energy went into getting the change started, like a rocket trying to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. Once done, the maintenance stage is like being in orbit. It’s really different.
Or you can say that the Action stage was like the sprint to outrun all the opposition and achieve the change. Now the marathon begins, to keep it going. And it requires different muscles and skills.
We now need stamina, and resilience. We need to pace ourselves and figure out how to adapt to the unexpected rut and huge puddle and downed tree in the road. Or their painful cramps or blister on our foot.
One challenge now is to avoid complacency: “I’ve got this beat! I can afford to let up on my discipline and let my guard down.”
We start to skip connecting with our coach or group, let ourselves look at things online that we shouldn’t and put ourselves at risk of relapse.
Or we could be sticking to our program but end up facing a lot of stress and obstacles we were unprepared for. We slip back into the habit.
If we handle that constructively, we can just get back to where we were and keep going.
If we don't, and the new challenges we face are more complicated, we might return to the Preparation stage briefly to bone up on what we need to handle the new challenge. Then we return to the Action and Maintenance stages, a little wiser and better prepared.
If we relapse and don’t respond well, then we can get deeply discouraged and go back to the Thinking stage. We question whether change is possible for us, and whether it is worth trying again. (Maybe you have been there, right?)
The path to recovery
Porn and related addictions are more than just a problem of self control.
There are often issues with old inner wounds, unmet love needs and skills not yet learned. And some immaturity is involved.
Total freedom from the habit means not just gaining self discipline but also healing and learning new skills.
Real recovery actually means "outgrowing" the problem, getting to the point where we are just not much interested anymore, and building a more satisfying and effective life.
slips & relapses
When learning any new skill or behavior, inevitably we slip up once in a while and revert to old habits. This usually happens during times of high stress--we just go without thinking back to what is familiar and comforting.
This slip up can be minor--like grabbing a donut when on a diet--and we can quickly get back on track. Or it can start a rapid downward spiral back into our full-blown habit, called a relapse.
Getting smart about these lapses and relapses is vital to long term success.
The first point of wisdom is not to be surprised by them. Yes, you try to prevent them. But at the same time, we have to anticipate them as part of the learning process.
A lapse happens when our new coping behaviors get overwhelmed by too many stresses at once, and we backslide to what soothed them in the past.
The key is to know how to pick ourselves up and get back to our prior self-control, without missing a beat. And to learn from the lapse.
Let’s look at cultivating constructive thinking. The classic bad response to a lapse is all-or-nothing thinking: “Oh, I blew it. What’s the use of trying? I might as well give in all the way,” and they let themselves binge and give up.
A more reasonable response is to think, “I messed up. But I did very well, since I had been porn-free for 8 days before I caved in,” or, “I looked at porn but I didn’t masturbate.”
We need to learn to resist false thinking and to train our thoughts to be constructive, nurturing and based on the truth and how people learn and grow
Also it is crucial to see any backsliding as a useful learning experience. The key lesson comes from taking note of what kinds of situations you find hard to handle.
Was it being tired, hungry and stressed? Was it after a fight with your spouse or parents or other important people?
A related question is: What was the crack in your defenses? Did you get overconfident and let your guard down when facing this tempting situation? Could you have anticipated this stress and prepared for it better?
Did you neglect taking care of yourself through exercise, sleep, recovery readings? Did you let yourself get too lonely? What excuses did you fall for?
The point is, lapses and relapses are predictable and should be exploited to help make yourself stronger, wiser and more prepared to achieve and maintain the freedom you want.
What is the goal of recovery we are aiming for? What is the opposite of a porn addiction? Is it to be free of the habit of watching porn and masturbating? Or is it more?
I recently had a minor bicycling accident. I was riding in town and was surprised by a bus door opening, and smashed into a parked car. My shoulder got injured and was quite painful.
Recovery from this injury as defined by the doctors and insurance company involved two things: Receiving medical treatment and physical therapy. One was for the immediate trauma and pain and the other was for reversing the damage and restoring original function.
So recovery from a porn addiction involves two things:
- Ending the bad habit and its immediate pain and dysfunction—getting porn free. This is measurable in terms of behavior.
- Working to reverse the damage caused by the habit—the bad training of sexual arousal and the brain, and the false ideas picked up. As you could imagine, this takes longer than the first part.
And this second aspect of recovery also involves restoring original function. This means achieving a deeper level of sexual integrity and sexual wholeness. It is less behavioral and measurable and has more to do with the mind and heart.
It means living in harmony with your values and commitments, with your heart and conscience. You respect yourself. And if you are married with a family, you are honoring your spouse and children.
Recovery as a Lifestyle
What does full recovery look like? Expect it to become a lifestyle.
People who have lost weight successfully usually say they didn't just temporarily diet. They set up a new way of life, full of new routines, new pleasures and preferences and often new friends and associates.
A porn addiction is more than just the actual abuse of porn and masturbation and the like.
This habit tends to affect a lot of our daily life: How we spend their time, effort, money and what we do and don't do. It stands to reason then that change would have to involve many parts of our life, too.
Any major change like this means adopting new and healthier behavior. It means instinctively avoiding triggers to the old, unwanted behavior. And developing new friendships, and repairing the damage to ourselves and others over a long period of time.
This may seem intimidating right now. Don't worry about it, but it is something to keep in the back of our mind.