Take a deep breath. Feel. What you are feeling in this moment will always be OK. Know that pain is always an acceptable part of life. We cannot have the beautiful flower without the mud.
Hi everyone. I’m going to start making a series of posts based off my Identifying Triggers tool, each post will show the process I go through to identify, explore, and debunk a new ‘Trigger’. A trigger is any thought, feeling, image, or memory that causes you to want to look at porn. This tool is based off a behavior modification technique called cognitive behavioral therapy, and is a very powerful means to transform our addiction in a mindful and compassionate way. I hope this will be helpful for you.
This week: Happiness without porn?
Emotions: Bored, stressed, tired, frustrated
Triggers: “I’m so depressed, life is so boring. Why can’t we look at porn? How can I survive? Come on, we should go look at some porn to feel better. You’ll feel better with some porn. What do you mean we have to stop forever? I can’t get rid of this feeling without porn. I can’t live without porn.”
Main Trigger: “I will never be happy again without porn.”
Alternative Thought: I can certainly be happy and enjoy life without porn because I have memories of being happy that do not involve porn. There are many other things in my life that relief my depression and boredom. Things like playing sports, BBQs with friends, making love to my SO, painting, playing guitar, exercising, meditation, and non of these involve porn. I can choose any of these over porn at any time. Porn does not have a monopoly over my happiness.
Furthermore, porn actually does the opposite. Yes, it may bring some happiness in the short term, but in the long term it actually brings me more suffering. Looking at porn will only ruin my chances at recovery and sabotage any efforts to enhance my personal life and relationships, which is what will being me true and rich happiness.
Picture this: You’ve been addicted for decades. You use porn as your main outlet for intimacy and a pacifying mother in times of stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, anger, and general dissatisfaction with life. Always accompanied by a tendency towards isolation. Your emotional stability has become dependent upon porn, influencing your hobbies, habits, and attitudes. Now imagine someone took that away from you, your precious dependency, you would be left a thousand feet in the air with nothing under your feet. This is what happens when we begin the process of recovery. Recovery is not just the absence of porn, it’s also the beginning of a new and healthier life, a New You. A whole new set of activities in your life, like rediscovering old hobbies, or going out with friends more. Exercise and eating right. Finding time to laugh more and spending more time off the computer.
No body wants unpleasant emotions, but we all must deal with them or they build up in us, effecting our life. It’s OK, everyone at some point gets angry or lonely or sad, It’s a part of human nature. But if we don’t find healthier outlets to foster and cultivate in replacement for our dependency on porn, we may easily relapse. The good news is that these changes become very natural once we are on the road to recovery. We rediscover where those lost energies have been for our hobbies, passions, and exercise these last decades. We become more outgoing and have a greater joy for life. Incorporating any of these healthy outlets at any point in your life can be of great benefit, but to make a sound recovery I encourage these new outlets be cultivated and fostered, especially after decades of isolation and dependency.
Once we have begun the process of transforming our triggers in a healthy manner, creating new and healthier outlets for our loneliness, stress, and anxiety are key to our overall recovery. The importance of things like hobbies, exercise, meditation, and intimacy cannot be ignored. We need them in-order to create a stable recovery and build a happy and healthy New You.
Hobbies are excellent ways of dealing with stress, and when done with others a great way to enhance our connection and intimacy. They serve as an outlets for us creatively and energetically. People starting the process of recovery report suddenly picking up old hobbies they used to enjoy but have not touched in decades, or picking up a new hobby they never thought of enjoying before.
Some hobbies you might enjoy: Drawing and painting, playing an instrument, ice skating, model building, decorating, writing, creating a blog, gardening, cooking, photography, knitting, puzzles, reading novels, building, learning a new language, or become more active in existing hobbies.
Exercise is scientifically proven to transform depression, stress, and improve your health: Exercise is also a great way to get outside more often. Find an activity partner and enjoy encouraging each other on.
Some exercises you might enjoy: Jogging, swimming, rollerblading, hula hooping, yoga, strength training, walking, canoeing, kayaking, cycling or biking, Tai Chi, hiking, cross country skiing, rock climbing, golf, dance, or cardio class.
*Always consult your doctor before engaging in any strenuous and new activities.
“The Secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
This quote by Socrates is extremely simply, yet addresses a wide range of issues relating to habit and addiction. I’ve interpreted it into two related teachings, ‘not fighting the old’ and ‘building the new.’
“Not fighting the old”
Once a seed has sprouted, no amount of wishing will ever put that sprout back into the seed. Similarly with our mind, once a thought, memory, fantasy, feeling, or emotion arises, we can’t put it back where it came from. They are here now. We can try to force it to change, declare war upon it, consider it an ‘enemy’, or ignore and deny it’s existence, but doing so would only cause us anxiety and repression. Making us weaker, more emotionally unstable, and more likely to loose control over our actions. Which is the opposite of what we want. It’s like silly putty, you push it down and it comes out the sides. Or like trying not to think of a pink elephant with purple spots. How well does that work out? The more you fight with your own emotions the weaker you become, and you create a vicious cycle of relapses.
What Socrates is point out to us is that by trying to forcefully control our emotions, we lose control over our actions. Sounds paradoxical right? But this is one of the biggest causes of relapse I see today. This is evident by the over use of military terms like fight the cravings, the war on pornography, and conquer your addiction. So what do we do then? We are still getting the thoughts and cravings, and we still need to stop them some how.
The “old”, the thing we are trying to change, are the triggers: the habitual thought patters, memories, fantasies, and emotions that drive us to view porn over and over. The way we react to these triggers is the important part. And the only intelligent way to do anything about these triggers what-so-ever is to use acceptance and understanding together with mindfulness and compassion. To work WITH the triggers, become friends with them, and then most importantly learn from them.
This combatant mindset is directly opposite to a mind of acceptance and understanding. Unfortunately our society is saturated with this military mindset, in our language, movies, and TV, making the natural inclination towards them very foreign to us. So we must learn a process that cultivates these mindful emotions and mental actions. A more complete description of this process can be found outlined in Identifying Triggers.
The more we can accept these feelings with compassion, while slowly working with understanding to learn from them, the less power they will have over us. This work is slow and tedious, but it truly transform our inner addict: the habitual thought patterns and emotions that come from our own mind. Don’t fight; Stop, feel, listen, breathe.
“Building the new”
Now that we have begun the process of transforming our triggers in a healthy manner, we can work towards… whatever we want.
What is it you would like to be doing with your life right now? Working on custom cars? Making new friends? Painting murals? Starting a youth group? Training dog? Spending more time with family and friends? Loosing 35lbs? Just relaxing and being content? Life is open to you now. Now, we have this vital energy. Now, we need a goal to work towards in life.
What Socrates is trying to tell us here is to focus on what you want to bring into your life, what is it you would truly like to be doing with it? Put all your energy and time into that which you could not do, that which the pornography and masturbation addiction did not let you. You’ve spent years or decades pacifying your drive for life with this addiction, chasing a false sense of intimacy and accomplishment. Now it’s time to actually DO something with the time and space in your life created by quitting porn. To have some real intimacy with other or goals to work towards or a hobby to enjoy. Learn a new instrument, play some basketball with friends, play hide and seek like you were kids again, love more, worry less. This is your life, enjoy it.
Intimacy is what drives us, we will do and put up with almost anything to achieve intimacy in our lives. We go to porn because it gives us a false sense of this connection with other real people. So quitting the porn means more then just dropping the habit, we need to fill it in with the REAL DEAL, a connection with others. This is part of ‘The New You’ we are building, and it’s called friendship, relationship, family, and reuniting. Focus on your family, Start a local food drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen, do the grocery shopping for a shut in, drive the elderly around the city, start a how-to course, play with your kids, helping out others with the same struggles as you, start a youth group, get involved with people somehow, take your wife out to dinner.
The key is not so much to keep yourself busy, but to use this new energy and time created for something that was held back by the addiction. Something to pour your heart and soul into. Your new life starts here.
I wish you all the best of luck on your recovery, please take care.
Some Key Terms
Acceptance: To receive willingly without hatred or aversion.
Understanding: To explore and gain insight into the subject or matter at hand. To intellectually or experimentally comprehend.
Compassion: A sympathetic or empathetic understanding of yours’ or others’ suffering together with a desire to alleviate it and to not cause more harm.
Mindfulness: To hold a thought, feeling, or emotion in your mind’s awareness without distraction.
So you have enough CDs and DVDs to hold up your coffee table, or enough downloads to warrant buying several new disk drives. You’ve spent hundreds of hours collecting it and hundreds of dollars purchasing it, some videos dating back to before your children were born.
But, you’ve decided to go porn free, no more looking back. You have begun to realize the long hours of obsessing, downloading, and organizing your extensive porn collection was never worth it. You have seen the destructive patterns in your life, seen the suffering it has caused family and friends, and you are thinking- enough is enough. Congratulations, this is a very important and key step in your recovery. It’s important to understand you’ve gone to this collection in times of pain, anxiety, and stress to relieve your suffering for years, sometimes decades. It can be hard to let go and say goodbye, but this crucial step is sending a clear message to the inner addict that your ‘foot is down.’ No more games. It’s a message that says “I’m here now, and I’m taking control of my life and my destiny.”
Will I Ever Be Happy Again?
Can I be happy without porn? The inner addict in me screams “NO!” But if I really question myself, I know that I’ve had almost all of my happiest memories while not on a computer watching porn. Sure when you were younger, finding porn for the first time, it was exciting fun and new. But those times are long ago and you are much older now, left habitually following a pattern of porn viewing years after the fun has worn off.
If you can list 3 things, right now, that you find fun and do not involve viewing porn alone in a dark room, then you can safely say there is happiness after porn. Examples include: Playing base ball, dancing, making food, writing a love letter, receiving a love letter, reconnecting with long lost friends, playing foot ball, dressing up for Halloween, entertaining guests, long drives on the highway, volunteering your time to help others, helping a neighbour, going to the movies, playing with your children, flirting, listen to music, watch your favourite movie, taking a bike ride, drawing and painting, calling up a good friend, gardening, ice cream with friends, flying a kite, etc.
Castles in the Sand
Some hesitate and object simply because they have deleted their porn in the past, only to relapse and spend hours reconstructing their porno fortress. Searching and recollect all their favourite porn stars and hentai, sometimes several times, takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and sometimes money. Believe me, I know. So why bother deleting if I will just re-download or re-purchase anyway?
This, to me, is all backwards, It’s the wrong question and a terrible excuse. The real excuse should be “I won’t rebuild my porn stash because it takes hours to rebuild.” and the real question should be “Why bother collecting if I will just re-delete it anyway?” Like castles in the sand, they were always doomed to be destroyed. Because there is no worth in porn.
Mark this: If you are truly serious about recovering from this addiction, destroying your porn once or a thousand times makes no difference. All that matters is that you delete it every time you start collecting again. Remember, this recovery is a process, not an event, and you will have falls along the way just like the rest of us. Be kind, be patient, every time you delete your stash, you send a strong message to your inner addict that you are serious about your future. The periods between relapses will become longer and longer, and soon, you will never recollect again.
Secure File Deletion
I’ve found myself trying recovery methods on more then one occasion to retrieve deleted porn from my hard disk drive. To make sure your stash is totally deleted, for privacy and for your own sake, use proper software for the job. For Windows, Eraser is a free and easy-to-use solution that will ensure your data is unrecoverable. There is also an option for Mac OS to permanently delete files beyond recovery. This method may take up to 7 times longer to delete, and it matters if you have 300GB, but it’s worth it if you are serious about your recovery.
Destroying Physical Porn
CDs & DVDs: Place them in a plastic bag, put some gardening gloves on, and snap them in half one by one, then place that bag into the garbage. DO NOT: Throw them in a lake or river, leave them at a bus stop for someone to find, or put them in the microwave. Believe me, I’ve heard some stories. Magazines and video cassettes could be put into a BLACK plastic bag and put directly into your garbage, preferable the day of or before garbage day.
Is It Really ‘Porn’?
Say you have photos from a photo shoot that you yourself took. Or illustrated art that boarders on NSFW. How about your own art work? What about all those old Sport Illustrated calendars you keep around to remember past dates with. What if you do nude figure drawing as part of your school program? Is lingerie and swimsuit models really porn anyway?
This is a tough question and is up to each individual. Sometimes it’s best to chuck it, sometimes it’s best to keep it in a zip file, with the promise to keep a distance, only accessing them when needed for professional or obligatory purposes. If it’s a part of your job or school program then you may want to re-examine the way you interact with it or minimize your exposure. The bottom line is, if it disturbs you, if it leads you to look at progressively more pornographic material, chuck it. If your vice is feet, chuck it. If your vice is swimsuits, chuck it. Know yourself and know your limits. This is not a time to be making excuses to keep yourself entertained by a smaller collection instead of a large one. If you have one porn, you have all porn, because it’s destructive nature is inherent in each piece.
Health Ways to Transform Stress and Anxiety
Learning healthier alternatives to manage life’s difficulties is key. We go to porn as a way to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, discomfort, and even boredom or fatigue. I will briefly mention a few healthier ways to deal with the stress and anxiety that drive us to pacify ourselves with porn.
- Relaxation Practice
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Female Faces
- Talk with a friend, pray, exercise, spend time with friends and family.
In the end, it all comes down to you, and the porn. You must let go, you must say goodbye. Even if you’ve spent thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours each year, and countless late nights, it’s all for not. Because this illusion of pleasure and security will always come back to hurt you. The security blanket you call your porn is nothing more then an attempt to put a band aid over a unhappy life. We must wake up to our lives today, take the warning signs we see seriously, and take control while we can.
Be still and touch those feelings of attachment and desperation, what are they saying? Remember it’s ok to be feeling this way, no guilt or shame. Let go of the porn, and take back and your life.
One thing that has been a sure craving buster for me since the very beginning is the power of the smiling face, and smiling female faces in particular. For me and others in recovery, they can transform our feelings of lust and cravings into admiration, love, compassion, and caring. It’s been known to advertisers for a long time that a smiling face sells almost anything. That the Mona Lisa’s popularity is credited largely to her smile. And that generally people with a great smile radiate a warmth that draws others to them naturally. It’s also interesting to note that many people in recovery report noticing women’s faces more often now that they are porn free.
Take a look at these videos. Just focus on the faces and relax, allow any emotions of caring or love to enter in while watching.
Another great source of smiling female faces is Google image search. Relax and focus on each face for a few seconds, allow any feelings of joy and love to come up.
Alone in the woods, Red Riding Hood walks the path.
In the distance, two eyes gleam in the darkness, the wolf is near.
It’s OK to travel here, all the while aware of the wolf, and all its tricks.
Like a ghost or shadow, I know you are there, and I accept you for what you are.
Goodnight sweet Riding Hood, goodnight sweet wolf.
A poem about porn addiction by me.
“Look, you relapsed again, you are so bad at this! You might as well just give up, you are worthless. You can never do anything right.”
It happens to all of us, if you are in the process of recovery, you will inevitably experience a relapse. It is actually more likely you will relapse again, and less likely you correct the addictive habits, if you are constantly berating yourself with shame and guilt. In Buddhist psychology the major cause of self-harm (addictive habits) is the unhealthy self-loathing and lack of understanding that we hold on to. These mental states actually paralyze us from making meaningful change in our lives while causing us to repeat unhealthy patterns. The more we accept ourselves for who we are in this moment and understand our real situation, the better our chances are of making meaningful change and recovery. We do this by cultivating acceptance, understanding, and compassion.
First, Know that however you are feeling in this very moment, be it guilt, shame, disgust, anger, or hopelessness, it is OK, and perfectly acceptable. They are simply different facets of human experience that deserve our respect, patience, and mindful attention like any other. No body is perfect, life is full of pains and pleasure, ups and downs. To have a life with all pains or all pleasures is simply impossible. You cannot have the beautiful lotus flower without the mud, and vice versa.
An emotion is only an emotion.
It’s just a small part of your whole being.
You are much more than your emotion.
An emotion comes, stays for a while, and goes away, just like a storm.
If you’re aware of that, you won’t be afraid of your emotions.
‒ Thich Nhat Hanh
Understand your brain is currently physically wired for porn. What you have done over many years by using highly stimulating porn, is create and reinforce certain “neural pathways” of unhealthy behavior and coping mechanisms. Physical neural connections that can cause you to act in ways you might not want to anymore. Also, a relapse has nothing to do with you as a person being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Your personality and your addictive habits are two parts of the same brain, one is voluntary and the other involuntary. To take a slip personally is like blaming the bullet for pulling the trigger. Once you become more mindful of these “pathways,” you can start choosing healthier habits. Give yourself forgiveness.
Because of these strong connections in your brain, the process of recovery inevitably includes relapses. And the recovery process is just that -a process, it is not an event. Many quit due to slow progress, never understanding the fact that slow progress is progress. Recovery is about learning to be OK with failures and more concerned with an over arching, long term goal. Failure and success are relative, what’s most important is that we continue our recovery process when we relapse. Give yourself patience.
From this understanding, realize that you were causing suffering on yourself for no reason. That in this situation forgiveness and patience are called for, not guilt and shame. And that guilt and shame destroy our ability to make real progress in a recovery process. With these realizations I say: My I not suffer now or in the future from addiction, guilt, or shame. I accept that I have relapsed, and I vow to cultivate understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and patience.
From this new fertile stage of understanding, mindfulness, honesty, and compassion, we are strong, willing, and capable to create meaningful change in our lives. Simply by getting this far we have already cracked a link in the chain of addiction. It’s up to you now to take the necessary actions toward meaningful change.
You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
‒ Albert Einstein
To understanding the neuroscience behind the addicted brain in more depth, please check out Gary Wilson’s TEDx talk – “The Great Porn Experiment”.