Thursday, October 24, 2013

What If He Won't Quit Porn?

I take seriously any book recommendation from a client, but when Elizabeth raved about Victoria and Gary Prater's book, Love and Pornography, my interest was really piqued. 

That's because Elizabeth is a wonderful woman with a heart of gold and she's been through a hellish struggle over the last three years. 

It all started when her daughter discovered her husband Charles's pornography stash on their computer and showed it to Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth went numb, then she almost threw up. Into her mind reverberated something Charles had said to her in anger two decades earlier: "Our sex life is the pits! If it doesn't get better soon, I'm gonna get it elsewhere!" 

Since then she'd been terrified that someday she'd discover that he'd been unfaithful. 

That moment, there at the computer with her daughter, felt to Elizabeth like the realization of her worst fear. On the one hand, her mind knew that these were just images on the computer. But her heart was screaming, "He is getting it elsewhere! From these knock-out, anonymous women who freely offer their perfect bodies for his viewing pleasure. And he's not just viewing them! In his mind he's screwing them!" 

On the heels of those thoughts about Charles and his pornography, into Elizabeth's mind rushed this slam on herself: "I've failed. I don't satisfy him. I've never had what it takes. And look at me now, old and out of shape. I'll never be enough for him!" 

Elizabeth told Charles how hurt she was by the discovery. 

She thought they'd work through it the way they had another struggle years earlier. He'd come to her in a similar way with concerns about how much she was spending. She'd taken out some credit cards he didn't know about and he was very troubled by the added debt. And hurt by her secrecy. 

It was hard for her to change her spending habits, but when she saw how much it hurt him she knew she had to do it. She turned it around, became more frugal, and had never gone back to her old ways.

She could tell Charles felt bad about the porn. He felt even worse that his daughter had been the one to run onto it. And when he saw how much it meant to Elizabeth he quickly promised that he wouldn't look at it anymore. 

For a while, he didn't. But then she found evidence of it again. Perhaps it was just an isolated slip. She let it go.

A few months later she could tell his time on porn was creeping back up so she raised the issue again. He got angry and defensive. "I don't look nearly as much as a lot of other men do! What's the big deal?" 

She hasn't brought it up since even though she knows he's still looking. 

It's been excruciating for Elizabeth because it has seemed to her that "He doesn't care about me enough to get off it and stay off." She has wondered, "How important am I to him, anyway?" 

But then Charles is sweet and doting and accommodating and loving. They spend long weekends together, taking trips and relishing each other's company. "That is the guy I married!" she cheers silently to herself. "He's still the man I've always known and loved." 

But their relationship never seems to rest long in one position. She's gone back and forth between feeling like "It's worth it" to "I can't stand it anymore" more times than she can count. 

Three years in now, Elizabeth has come to terms with the fact that Charles is the one who has to decide for himself what role porn will play in his life. She's firm in her conclusion that she doesn't want a divorce even if he never quits. There's too much good in the life they've built together. 

But at times it still hurts, and she's always on the lookout for resources that help her make sense of what porn means to men and help her come to terms with her own strong feelings about the fact that her husband is so captivated by it.

Chapter five of Love and Pornography really hit home to Elizabeth. In it, the Praters take turns exploring the needs behind each of their pornography-oriented desires and behaviors. 

Gary starts the process. His exploration of the needs that drive his porn viewing is one of the most insightful I've ever heard. He goes beneath the obvious, beyond the fact that it turns him on sexually. 

In everyday life he sometimes feels like there's something wrong with him because of his pressing fascination with sex. That's when he's not viewing porn. But then, once he launches into a binge, that shameful feeling goes away. Suddenly he's part of a community of free thinkers who enjoy sex as much as he does. That sense of inclusion and acceptance is warmly comforting to him. 

And, of course, the fantasy of being approved by one attractive woman after another is exhilarating, too!

Gary also explores the exuberant feeling of freedom that goes along with surfing for porn. It's the complete opposite of the confined feeling he felt growing up in a home with strict parents and lots of rules. When Gary entertains the idea of giving up porn because it upsets Victoria, there awakens in him again that old sense of squelching and suppressing himself just to please others and conform to their opinion of what he should be.

Gary came to understand more fully that he has a deep and very important need to be in the driver’s seat of his own life. He determined that he would have to be the one to decide to get off porn, if he indeed decided to, rather than giving in to pressure from Victoria.

Elizabeth found Gary's insights very revealing. It helped her see that the needs and desires and struggles and choices that drive Charles' pornography viewing are arising from within himself, not from her perceived inadequacies or failures.

Next in chapter five comes Victoria's exploration of the inner workings of her own pain, a pain that for a long time led her to keep pressing Gary to get off porn. 

As she considered the variety of human needs that drive behavior, she resonated on a very powerful, visceral level when she considered the need to matter. When Gary went on porn, it seemed to Victoria that he left her behind. Her, the real world, and the real love she offered. Giving it all up for a fleeting fantasy. 

Before, when her pain over his porn use would awaken, Victoria allowed it to drive her to try to persuade Gary to see porn for what it was in her eyes: poorly produced, trashy entertainment that exploits vulnerable people. And to try to persuade him to give it up. Such a simple solution, it seemed to her!

Now, instead of acting in that usual way, Victoria allowed herself to feel deeply what Gary's porn use meant to her. She stayed in the feelings that came up for her, stayed with herself as she felt them, rather than trying to take action to rid herself of those feelings in any way she could. 

As Victoria settled herself in the feeling of not mattering to Gary, it occurred to her just how familiar it was to feel like that. She remembered trying to get the attention and love she needed from her mother, who suffered from mental illness. Her mom was so deeply lost in her own struggles, she simply did not have that love and attention to give Victoria. 

So now, Gary's porn had reopened Victoria's deepest and most painful emotional wound. He'd get on porn and she'd be instantly transported to the most vulnerable state she'd ever been in. 

Although this was insightful to Victoria, as you can imagine she didn't feel any particular healing effect so far because of the work she'd been doing to understand. 

But then she had the amazing realization: the pain she'd been through back then and the feelings that came up for her now could matter and needed to her. She could be there for herself in a way she never had before, in a way no one ever had before. She needed to be there for herself. By staying with her feelings when she was in pain she was, in a way, doing just that: staying with herself. Right when she needed it most. She could keep turning her loving attention toward her own suffering, and thus send the reassuring message to the most vulnerable part of her that she does matter. 

This was very healing for Victoria. It was also a very powerful process for Elizabeth to witness because she related so closely to Victoria's experience growing up. "It's almost like she was writing about my life!"

You know a self-help book is doing its job when it seems like it was written for you--or could have been written by you! That's why I'm recommending Love and Pornography. It will facilitate growth, communication, and understanding for any couple who finds that pornography is an ongoing struggle that's hard to resolve. 

My client, Elizabeth, read it a year ago and was disappointed because she didn't like the ending: after a period off porn, Gary goes back to it. That was when Elizabeth was still convinced that resolution of this issue for her would require Charles to kick the habit.

Oh, if life were only always that simple. 

But Elizabeth hasn't given up on happiness. "Life is too short to stay miserable," she often tells me with a smile. So her quest for understanding and peace continues. And Victoria and Gary Prater are providing her wonderful, much needed guidance and perspective. 

Check out their book and then please let us know what you think.

Monday, October 21, 2013

You Know He's In Recovery When...

Wow, I'm impressed.

I just finished a therapy session with Karen. We've worked together over the last 2+ years. The process has tested her to the core, but she has survived her husband, Neil's porn addiction, his descent into real life raunch, and eventual infidelity. And their relationship has survived.

Even more amazing, it's now going well for her individually and for them as a couple.

Perhaps most women would have given up on the marriage... and been fully justified in doing so. No doubt she entertained the thought. But somehow inside she remained convinced that the man she loved was still there, deep down.

That guy was certainly hard to see because Neil had become so detached. It wasn't just that he was a sex addict living a double life. He worked almost all of the time and when he was at home he was almost always off by himself. The kids noticed it--how could they not? It happened gradually, but they essentially lost the dad they'd known and loved.

When Neil finally admitted his affair to Karen, he had all but decided to leave and go live with the other woman. Karen told him it was up to him, but let him know that she was open to working things out if he decided to.

He decided he had to move out in order to make the decision with a clear head. I was doubtful. Statistics show that separation makes divorce more likely.

It was remarkable to me at the time. I might have expected Karen to say, "You're the one who had the affair and now I have to work to convince you to hang in there and try to work things out? Talk about salt in the wound! Forget that!" But she refrained.

In time, living on his own, Neil realized that wasn't the path he wanted to take. He decided to move back home and work on recovering from his sexual acting out.

Fast forward two years. It's been a long haul for them, working and growing individually and as a couple.

But today as I talked with Karen I was struck by some of the things she's been noticing about Neil these days. To me they're excellent indicators that a guy is in recovery and on the right track--hallmarks if you will.

So I wanted to share with you her observations and my thoughts about them:
  • "Three days in a row I noticed him petting our cat. Really enjoying it. He said at one point, 'I sure love this cat.'"
Addicts aren't prone to enjoy the little things in life. It takes much more to ring their bell. In recovery, the little things that bring contentment and fullness to life start to pop out again. Life steadily becomes richer and richer until, as a fully sensitized being, you're able to delight in the subtler pleasures of life like the taste of a decent cheese sandwich or the sight of the gutter overflowing on a rainy day.
  • "He's way more engaged with our son."
For the addict in recovery, everyday interactions become more interesting and worthwhile. "I don't know, Charlie, let me think about it. How about you, which Transformer would you choose to be?" When you're used to having your system jarred into the pleasure zone by high-decibel sexuality, it becomes mission impossible to read your kid's favorite Berenstain Bears book to him for the eighth time. It may not be that much more fun in recovery, but it feels more doable. Life is easier all around.

And there's the recovery of our capacity for attachment in relationships. As we recover from the trance of addiction, there's room within us to apprehend the dimension and facets of the real people in our lives. We realize anew what loved ones mean to us. We discover again how good it feels just to be around them.
  • "He's gone from being never happy to almost always happy--or at least at ease."
Speaking of the hell of addiction, Carrie Fisher said, "The problem with instant gratification is, it takes too long. It seemed like an eternity to get from the front door of the place where the party was back to the room where the drugs were."

The more constant and intense the gratification, the less easily satisfied we become. Being in the throes of addiction makes us miserable most of the time.

Not every guy in recovery is relaxed, easy going, walking around sighing with a contented smile on his face. But an addict in the active phase of his addiction almost never is.
  • "They were getting ready for a huge product roll-out at his work. His entire team was working really hard, but they were also all sleep deprived, irritable, and picking at each other more. He didn't hide the fact that some of those interactions made him feel bad. He came home and opened up to me and we talked about it most nights during that hard time."
To me it's a key hallmark of recovery: a willingness to deal with life as it is, to deal with difficult feelings on their own terms, rather than to squirm and wriggle away and dive for the escape hatch of addiction. Facing emotion rather than always scrambling and bargaining for a way out.

These words of Karen's also remind me of an observation Patrick Carnes made about a key indicator someone's in recovery from addiction. They become more transparent and willing to allow others to see the process they go through. They don't keep all their struggles private, waiting to present only the finished product to others. They open up about their ambivalence and uneasiness. They let others see some of the messiness of their inner life. And as a result they're able to get support when they need it most, instead of having to struggle along on their own.

Seeing this progress has brought a tremendous sense of relief to Karen. "What a difference the last couple of years have made," she said. "The view from here is much improved. The past is becoming more like a bad dream that is almost forgotten, rather than the living nightmare that it was."

So now readers, it's your turn. As you've observed your own recovery or that of a loved one, what indicator would you add to this list?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Rebooters Make

This week one of my clients, Douglas, shared with me a great post over on Gary Wilson and Marnia Robinson's site.

"Underdog" is the guy who runs their "Rebooting Your Brain" forum. It's a great resource for anyone trying to kick the porn habit.

On the forum you can set goals, share them with others, track your progress, and journal about how it's going.

Douglas found it so helpful to see in people's journals their periodic hard patches.

He discovered he wasn't the only one who had really strange dreams as he's detoxing from porn.

On a down day he read the journal of a guy who had once been really depressed for a few days. It was a simple and yet profound thing for him to see that things turned around and were back to normal for that other guy after a few days. It helped Douglas keep his own suffering in perspective and gave him hope.

That's big.

Reading other people's entries and keeping his own journal on that forum is helping him view his recovery from the bird's eye view. That's huge, since addiction keeps its hold by blinding us to the big picture and keeping us locked in the moment. Addiction is all about instant gratification; taking in the bigger picture is a way back into recovery.

Douglas said that the articles on the "Reuniting" and "Your Brain on Porn" sites are "warmly written" and useful. One that really hit home for him was by Underdog: "The Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Rebooters Make." Check it out. I think you'll also love the great insights and practicality of Underdog's suggestions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"The Togetherness Project" Conference in SLC next Week!

This is a guest post by Jacy Boyack. Her organization, "The Togetherness Project," is hosting a conference next week in Salt Lake City. I know many of you will be interested--and hopefully able to attend and benefit from the support and wisdom that will be shared. 

I remember sitting alone in the stillness of my 1989 tri-level home.  I looked around the room, tears falling freely from my eyes. I gazed emptily into the family pictures that were crowding every shelf, and every wall. I had never before felt so broken as a human being. I had never felt such defeat as a woman, wife, lover, and friend.

One day earlier, just 24 hours prior, the smiles and the kisses were real, and the picture-perfect life was my reality.  I was living my dream and no one, nothing, could have ever prepared me for what I was about to discover. No one, nothing, could have ever prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on.

It only took one 45 minute conversation to change everything.


Atomically blasted.

I didn't even know what had hit me. All I knew is that I found myself flat on my face, spinning, confused, and totally disoriented. Because behind the happy smiles that I thought were genuine and accurate candids of our life, there was a secret. An addiction I had no idea was festering. A game-changer I had no idea was waiting on the sidelines.

I sobbed.

For days.

For weeks.

For months.

I didn't know one person could produce so many tears.

In absolute dismay, with a heavy heart that was literally broken in half, and with more shock and denial and emotional pain than one can imagine, I pled:

Why me?


I don't understand.

God in Heaven, I don't understand.

How could this have happened?

How did I not see it?

How could I have been so blind?


Please take it away. Take it away! I am not strong enough to handle this. I don't know how to handle this. I don't WANT to handle this. Can I handle this? I want my life, OUR LIFE, to be what it was. Please, take this away.

No matter how much I pled, it never did go back to "how it was", and it was never normal again.

Trying to understand sexual addiction and infidelity became my "new normal". Trying to overcome the devastating blow of betrayal became my "new normal". Weekly and bi-weekly visits to a therapist's office became my "new normal". After 7 months of processing the information, legal discussions with an attorney and going through the divorce process became my "new normal". Being a single mom became my "new normal".

Everything that was NOT normal, became my "new normal".


This was over three and a half years ago.

While I am proud of my recovery skills and my ability to overcome, I still have the very fresh and pink scars to prove that I was hit by that truck. I still trigger. I still feel confusion and grief and sadness when I reflect that time of my life and I feel physically sick to my stomach if I stay in that place for too long. But those times of raw and unimaginable heartache are becoming less and less invasively painful. 

Because something within me has ignited. Something bigger. Something I cannot deny any longer.

A movement is happening! Something is organically brewing and its powerful force is gaining momentum minute by minute, hour by hour.  I am in awe to see how many women are reaching out, how many women are genuinely trying to heal and become better people, and how many women are becoming less and less afraid and ashamed, as they search for love and hope and openness and healing.

Whether it be by just looking in the mirror and actually believing this has no reflection upon you, whether you are opening up to a trusted friend and telling them what is really happening in your life, whether you are joining the Hope and Healing forum, whether you are starting a blog (anonymous or not), whether you are attending your first 12-step meeting, whether you are writing letters to your church leaders telling them to pass your information along to other women in your shoes, whether you are emailing women as support, or writing a book, or doing interviews, or speaking out in your communities, we are part of a MOVEMENT!

We are overcoming the shame and taboo and secretive nature of this big, ugly, brewing beast and we are stepping into light. And this is the why The Togetherness Project was born: to create a place where we can come together and share our trials and our triumphs and our spirits as a sisterhood- face to face.

As of right now, women from all over the United States are coming to be apart of this day!

Women from 10 different states!

This is why I BELIEVE in the project as much as I do. Because there is an undeniable NEED. Every single day our numbers are growing in great measure... and those numbers will continue to grow because this plague is spreading like wildfire. It can be horrific, and, yes, there are times we wish it would be "taken from us" so that we could go back to normal and pretend it never existed. But this is not our reality. And the truth is, out of the despair and anguish and life-changes, there is so much strength and courage and GOOD, too. There is light and there is hope in this new found life and there is love like you would not believe. I know because I have witnessed it with my own eyes and I have felt it deep within my soul. I have been blessed with this contagious love I speak of, and I know many of you have, too. 

It is REAL and it will undoubtedly be present the day of the conference.

So no matter where you are in your journey, it is my hope that you will consider coming to this very unique day. Because this resource was created for women like me... it was created for women like you... it was created so that we can all come together and heal together.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." ~Martin Luther King Jr.

You are not alone.

All my love, 

Jacy Clemons Boyack

*Registration ENDS this Thursday October 10th. Find all of the information you need about the project HERE

Thursday, October 3, 2013

See Thoughts as Just Thoughts

Ideas can seem very potent when they're infused with lust.

"Check out those legs!"

"Is that really a video of...?!"

"Wow, what an image!"

When we buy into ideas like these, we fall into the trap of temptation. Even if we only entertain them briefly and don't go completely off the rails, we've shifted momentum back in the direction of compulsion and addiction.

In an attempt to steer clear of the risk of succumbing to lust, we may fall prey to a complementary hazard. To make doubly sure we don't give in, we put up a big fight against lust-infused ideas.

"Arghh! No! I was doing so well!"

"Oh my, that's intense. Better brace myself!"

"Hold on! Hang on! Don't give in!"

Unfortunately, we may then become like the driver who jerks the wheel to avoid the telephone pole on the right only to swerve into the lane of oncoming traffic on the left.

The problem is, by ratcheting up our mental resistance, we give our urges and cravings even more energy. Our tug-of-war with temptation keeps escalating into a full-blown nuclear arms race.

Perhaps you're saying, "Sure, that sounds familiar. But if I'm going to stop gearing up for all-out battle against lustful thoughts, what else can I do? How should I handle them? I can't let temptations go unchallenged. I don't want to take a casual approach to dealing with them. I've tried that before and seen where it got me--giving in more often than ever!"

Here's what I suggest instead: work to develop the ability to simply see thoughts as just thoughts. Practice pulling back from them far enough to recognize them for what they are. They're not power-packed, dangerous things. They're simply ideas, and they don't have much power over us, in and of themselves.

Once we see a thought as just a thought, we're less likely to buy into it. We can simply notice it and let it go. After all, that's what the vast majority of our thoughts do: they go the way they came. Pop in, drift out. Good, bad, and ugly thoughts; useful thoughts and useless thoughts, that's what they do. After they come, they typically go. And when we don't buy into them they tend to go on their own without our making a big fuss over them. Even the most unproductive, unsuitable thoughts ultimately remain inert unless we get caught up in them--or caught up in fighting them.

So here are three ways you can help yourself see your thoughts as just thoughts:

1. Dialogue with the less mature part of your mind that generated the thought. 

One afternoon Richard was driving past the high school on his way from work to pick up his daughter. He noticed a strikingly beautiful young woman. He smiled and said to himself, "Ah, there you are again fifteen-year-old mind. So you think that might be someone you could really hit it off with, huh? Interesting idea, for sure. And it might be a good one, if I were actually still 15 and looking for a sexy young girlfriend my own age. But remember, I'm 36. Yes, an interesting idea. But not very useful, thank you."

2. Personify your thought generator. 

See it as a slick salesman; a fascist dictator; one of the judges on beauty pageant panel; a radio announcer who's always yammering on about the same, tired topic; a master storyteller; or a bully.

Jared was late getting home from work. He was exhausted but not yet very sleepy, and everyone else in the house was already in bed. It occurred to him that he could easily go check out some porn and get a delightful sexual fix before he hit the sack. That would be such a relief. "Oh," he shrugged, "there's that same old talk show host making his case again on opportunity radio. Hello old friend. Still on the air, are you? Still going on and on about how great porn is, huh? Sometimes I pick up your prerecorded, ever-looping show, sometimes I'm tuned in to other stations, but I know you'll always be broadcasting, either way. Thanks for your untiring efforts. Thank you, but no thank you."

3. File your thought in a folder your mental filing cabinet. 

On a news website, Paul saw a link promising a scandalous photo of a celebrity. "Shoot, I really like her music," he thought. "She seems like a decent person. I can't believe that even she has stooped to that level. I wonder how bad the picture is." Then, realizing where his mind was going, he imagined opening the drawer of a filing cabinet and pulling out a folder labeled CURIOSITY. He imagined a piece of paper with the celebrity's face on it with this caption: "You gotta check out just how raunchy she's let herself be." Other papers in that folder had captions like, "Whoa, is that something I shouldn't look at?" and "Just how bad is the trash they allow on mainstream websites these days?" Other files in the drawer had labels like, NOT PORN, JUST LINGERIE; YOU'VE WORKED HARD AND NEED RELIEF; YOU'VE ALREADY BLOWN IT, SO WHY NOT GO ALL OUT? Some of these files were bulging with papers. There were still plenty of folders, empty and unlabeled, to be filled as he discovers new angles lust takes to try to draw him back into justifying unwise behavior.

Try out one of these techniques and see if, over time, it helps neutralize some of your seemingly supercharged thoughts.

And, as always, if you find that this way of handling your thoughts makes a difference in your recovery, we'd love to hear from you!