Friday, December 23, 2016

Life After Porn Project, Day 5: What's Life Like Off Porn 6 Months?

From Gerald:

The best things are the freedom! Joy! Extra confidence! Inner peace! Greater satisfaction when I pray, study scripture, worship. Extra true happiness that comes into my life naturally because I'm not working so hard to suppress the addiction.

I've tried to kick my porn habit for years, and I could go three weeks, sometimes even up to six weeks... but at age 58, this is the longest I've ever been off porn since getting involved in it as a teenager.

Since I got it out in the open, it hasn't been as much of a struggle. Satan had me hoodwinked that I could get over this without sharing it with my wife. Finally, after so many years of struggling, I decided it was worth a try. Telling her was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

The next two months were some of the hardest of our marriage. We went walking for an hour every night from 10 to 11 pm. We kept talking about her feelings about it. With so little sleep I was a walking zombie at work during those months. But finally she was able to rest a little bit easier about it. It felt like a infidelity to her, and was very hard.

Now, six months later, it's not totally back to normal for us, but we're drawing closer and closer. If something is an issue for either of us, we're working through it. Learning to communicate earlier on about all of our struggles instead of leaving them buried and churning.

Before, if temptation got to a 1 or 2 out of 10, I'd entertain it just a bit, and it seemed pretty tame. But staying caught up in it blinded me to the momentum that was building. All of a sudden, 3-4-5 all the way to 10, and I'd be back looking at hard core images and I'd end up masturbating. Oh, crap. Then I'd be trying to get back on track again, hoping that I'd do better this time.

These days, I still get hits of temptation. But I address them when they're at a 1 or 2 by seeking support, being open with my wife, and knowing that other people are praying for me.

And one more thing: It's been good for me to go through my 12-step program. I attended for years, off and on, before I opened up to my wife. The momentum toward true recovery built slowly as I gradually made those ideas and practices a part of my life.

One of the most helpful parts was the fourth step inventory. I admitted to myself all my behaviors and cataloged them. It wasn't fun. It's not pretty, those five pages of actions I'm not proud of. It made me admit to myself how out of control my life has been.

But now, months later, I'm burning the list one page at a time. I'm free and not ruled by that anymore. And really enjoying life as a result.

Thanks Gerald. Love the way you put it: "extra true happiness". You've inspired us!

Could stronger relationships boost your recovery? Check out our free program: Love Heals Porn.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Life After Porn Project, Day 4: What It's Like to Be Off Porn 115 Days

From Clint:

Let me start by saying, "been there and done that!" It was just about a year ago I had a major reset/meltdown /relapse/bender, whatever you want to call it. I not only flirted with my old enemies, I embraced them and welcomed them into my home with open arms. I went down the deep, dark hole in a major way. 

I felt all the "normal" emotions of the addiction spiral: self-loathing, remorse, guilt, despair, and most devastating I believe, is lack of hope. I had no hope that I would ever be able to kick this awful addiction. I had no hope that I would ever be able to look my wife in the eye and tell her I was clean. I had no hope that I would ever be able to hold my head high and not be ashamed. 

I reached out to Mark shortly after that, because I was in the deepest pits of despair and I was desperate. I needed someone I could sound off to, someone I could share with and ask advice from. I went back to my Church's 12-step program, but to me, though I fully believe in the concepts taught, and believe in the healing power of a higher being (the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ), I didn't feel that I was learning the tools and techniques I needed to learn so I could overcome this addiction. 

Like I said, it was a dark time of despair and shame. 

Luckily, I had been able, by sheer will, to "white-knuckle" for extended periods of time, so after that dark time, I didn't keep using, and was able to put several months of "sobriety" together. Unfortunately, I didn't feel sober in my heart. I wasn't clear in my head, but felt like I had a fog in my head, and my mind was always in turmoil and conflict with myself. On the one hand, I wanted to be clean, and was trying to "work my program", on the other hand, I kept having the bad thoughts, and had to struggle just to stay "clean". 

Then, in my mind, a miracle happened. I actually had a "slip up". It was not a full on binge and as soon as it happened, I came clean to my wife about it. However, it seemed to have been the wake up call that I really needed. It prompted me to reach out to a therapist about a program I had heard him talk about, that was a group that he runs to give men the tools to overcome their addiction. 

That was the best decision I've ever made. I finally learned the tools and principles to help me get clean and stay clean for 115 days, now! But now I have hope and confidence that I can stay clean. 

I'm not saying that I don't have flashes of the bad thoughts, but now I know what to do when I have them, and how to negate those thoughts and feelings, and get back on a safe path. 

My message is, there is hope. Whatever you do, do not give up hope. Keep fighting, and one day, you'll have your "miracle moment" when you'll discover the right program that will help restore your sobriety and hope. 

Until then, Keep Fighting! 

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for recovery Clint--it's contagious! Sounds so nice to have reached a point of solid sobriety where every day isn't such a battle anymore. Clint was generous and brave enough to share his story in this post earlier this year about slipping back into porn after six years off it. Great cautionary tale for everyone. It's fun to celebrate with you now that you have a few months under your belt. It's clear that you've treated your setback as an opportunity and you've come back even stronger this time. And in a confident, peaceful way that is more sustainable. Way to go! 

Could stronger relationships boost your recovery? Check out our free program: Love Heals Porn.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Life After Porn Project, Day 3: What's Life Like When You've Been Off Porn 3 Years?

Noah Church at made my week! He's the first (of hopefully many!) to respond to my query: What's life like post-porn? He writes:

Since I have admitted my addiction to myself and others, purged porn from my life, and gotten clean, I now feel secure in the fact that I am living according to my own values, that I am strong enough to decide what's right and wrong in my life and stick to those values even when things get difficult. This means I'm not afraid to show myself. I'm not worried about anyone discovering my secrets or seeing who I really am because I'm proud and unashamed. This translates to a willingness to put myself out there and go for what I want, say what I feel, and try new things, not fearing failure but accepting it as a learning experience when it comes.

Relapse doesn't just happen. Something always leads up to it, whether its porn-inspired fantasies, procrastination online, loneliness, depression, etc. Learning to live without porn was a process of self-discovery, and I find that I am much more aware of myself now. I know the mental traps I can fall into that lead to relapse, and I'm mindful of my thoughts and feelings from moment to moment. Now, instead of habitually dealing with desires and difficult emotions with coping activities like using porn, I can live with myself in a more healthful way, directing my energy toward the things I know will actually make me proud, happy, and satisfied.

Now that I'm clean from porn, I feel free to really appreciate the people around me and all the little joys of everyday life. I'm present with people now. Instead of thinking about what I'm going to do later or what I can get from someone I'm talking to, I just want to get to know them. I'm genuinely curious to understand them. Women comment that I make more eye contact than other men, that it feels like I'm really listening.

When I was using porn, sex with real women was awkward, boring, disconnected--it felt unnatural. My brain was so wired to porn that it completely destroyed the magic of actual intimacy. Now that I'm free from porn's influence, a real sexual connection with a woman is far better than 1000 hours of using porn could ever be. I can feel that connection in my body and soul now, whereas before I just felt empty. There really are no words that can adequately describe it.

Thanks a million Noah. Even though there truly are, as you said, "no words that can adequately describe it," you've provided a great sneak preview!

For more insights check out Noah's book Wack: Addicted to Internet Porn.

If you've been off porn for a month plus, we'd love to hear your observations, too. Comment below and let us know what life's like for you now. If you have a lot to say, email me and I'll publish it as a post.

If you'd like stronger relationships to be a part of your recovery, check out our free program: Love Heals Porn.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Life After Porn Project, Day 2: If You’re Free, Shout It From the Mountain Tops

The above title is from Carl Jones, who wrote an essay for Relevant Magazine: 8 Things I’ve learned About Overcoming Porn Addiction.

This topic is # 7 on his list. I love how he puts it:

"If you are free from pornography, listen to me: you need to tell people.

"I had a guy sit across from me bawling his eyes out while telling me he had never met anyone other than me who was free from addiction to pornography. It broke my heart, not because I thought that was true, but because even the free are being quiet. You hold hope for so many. Help them."

You can provide that help in person of course, but you can also do it anonymously here. If you've been off porn for a month plus, comment below about what life's like for you now. One sentence. Or a paragraph. If you have even more to say, I'll publish it as a post. Email me: 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

LIFE AFTER PORN PROJECT: What's life like one month... ten months... four years after you're off porn?

Image result for cairn zions on hiking trails
(photo credit: US National Park Service)

We're spoiled, living in Utah. We can wake up in our own beds and before sundown be relishing the serenity of a desert canyon hike. One of Jenny's and my favorite destinations: Zion National Park.

On some Zion hikes, there's no mistaking whether you're on the trail. In the narrows, The canyon walls on both sides help ensure you'll arrive at the Temple of Sinawava. And as you can taste just a bit here, you'll be so glad you did!

But staying on other trails can be challenging. In more pristine areas, there's not enough foot traffic to wear a rut in the sandstone. You could get lost among the hoodoos and fairy chimneys.

Fortunately, there are cairns, little stacks of rock like the one pictured above, marking the trail and showing the way. Many a time, I've gotten so caught up in the amazing scenery that I've wandered right off the path. It's quite a moment, that drop in the gut once you realize you have no idea where to walk next. Nothing in the entire orange and blue panorama to provide any sort of guidance. Yikes!

It may take a minute of looking around... Then, ahhh, what a great feeling! A cairn up ahead or way over to the left. You'll be able to get back on track and eventually back to civilization. The lift of the heart then more than makes up for the drop you felt moments ago.

I have "uh oh!" moments at work, too. Last Wednesday afternoon, when I talked to my new client, Kyle, 22, who can't yet string together three days without porn. My heart ached for him, as it did when I got an email from 27 year old Alexei, who hasn't tasted a porn-free month since he was 11.

But then I remember: all these men I know personally--and even more through this blog!--who have been off porn a month. Or more! And they can describe for Alexei and Kyle exactly what it's like much better than I can. The entire mix: the benefits and the angst, the sour and the sweet of it.

So please, if you've been off porn for a month plus, comment below about what life's like for you now. One sentence. Or a paragraph. If you have even more to say, I'll publish it as a post. Email me:

Your experience will give Kyle, Alexei, or someone else who's a bit confused--or completely lost--a point of orientation. Don't underestimate your contribution. What you write today about what you've noticed in your life might be the very cairn that gets seen by someone right when they're really in need. It might help them get back on track and keep going.

And then, ahhh, what a great feeling that will be to both of you!

Friday, December 9, 2016

5 Ways to Cope with Life's Letdowns Besides Porn (They're so Hard Some Folks Prefer to Stick with Porn)

These five practices are an essential part of porn recovery. Not surprisingly, they also seem to be ways to develop key elements of emotional maturity:

1) Tolerate Pain. It's a painful truth: there's no legitimate way out of legitimate suffering that doesn't entail suffering. One of my clients says that in emotionally painful moments he reminds himself, "It hurts. Let it hurt. Don't run from it. Keep letting it hurt. It won't go on forever, but for now... It hurts. Let it hurt. Don't run from it. Keep letting it hurt..." and so on.

2) Improve Life in Legitimate Ways. Working to actually make my life better is so much harder than wishing and hoping and fantasizing that a better life is just delivered to me effortlessly because I'm a great guy and I deserve it. Porn flies in the face of legitimate life improvement, giving me the illusion that, in exchange for no effort output on my end, I am the man who deserves the ultimate hold-nothing-back intimacy that in real life must be earned by cultivating trust, safety, affection, and deep investment.

But when I talk about real life improvement as a skill for coping with life letdowns, I'm not talking about building myself into the man of a woman's dreams. I'm talking about taking responsibility for my own emotional well-being. It could include making the afternoon a bit better by taking a ten-minute walk and enjoying the clouds against the snow-capped mountains. Or practicing the guitar both because I enjoy it at the time and because I'm working toward the goal of getting better at it.

Tip: You're probably engaged in wish/hope/fantasize/entitled-pleasure-recipient mode rather than legitimate life improvement if your way of making the day better includes spending too much, eating too much, or doing other activities in an out-of-balance way.

Another Tip: If you keep trying to make your case to someone else that they should make your life better in some way (like trying to convince your wife or girlfriend that they should have more sex with you), you probably have not yet fully settled into your powerful position as the creator and liver of your own life.

3) Seek Empathy. When we are suffering because life let us down, one legitimate way to deal with our hurt is to share it with someone who cares and who is willing to join us in our distress. If I'm stressed about money, my wife can do this by listening and being compassionate and supportive. If empathy is what I'm looking for, that will be a restorative and bonding experience. If, on the other hand, I'm hoping that she will see how stressed out I am and completely change her ways with spending or get a second job to make up for the shortfalls that stress me out, then I'm not seeking empathy, but influence. And the conversation probably will be stressful and might feel manipulative to her.

4) Rely on Spiritual Strength. This kind of reliance may come in various forms. Here are a few examples: a) Holding in mind my eventual goals--the reasons I am convinced it is worth it to delay gratification and suffer temporarily. b) Surrendering my pain to God and trusting that he will either provide relief or turn my pain into something good--at least eventually. c) Praying for and receiving from a Source beyond myself strength to make it though disappointment and challenges. d) Taking a new and higher view of some aspect of my struggle--a new (or freshly rebooted old) mental or philosophical twist that gives me strength to struggle on in my recovery efforts.

5) Surrender Control. Accept the limits of what we can make happen and allow life to be just as it is. Accept that it's not life's job to meet my needs, and so there will be lots of times when we experience it as something less than what we would prefer it to be. This differs from the first practice we discussed, Tolerate Pain, in that there can be a real serenity to this acceptance. We have stopped mentally fighting the fact that life isn't what we want, we have stopped lamenting it, and are willing to let ourselves feel serene and content in the midst of an imperfect, messy, emotionally unwieldy life.

Your turn: Do you take issue with any of these five practices? Any additional ones you would add to my list?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Share Feelings Daily to Relieve the Stresses That Can Fuel Relapse

During the last several months my seventeen year old client, Randall, has been talking to his parents at night about the emotional ups and downs of his day. I love how he described the effect: "It's how I dry up the gasoline that's been poured on my woodpile all day." He has discovered that leaving his distressing emotions unexpressed is like leaving a flammable puddle around the firewood of his life. It makes him much more vulnerable to relapsing to pornography and masturbation once he gets on the computer to do homework or goes into his room at bedtime. Since he started talking out his ups and downs, he's only lapsed to porn and masturbation twice. Back before he started, he was slipping up two or three times a week.

Helen and Brad, a couple I'm working with, are also making a habit of checking in and sharing their emotional "highs and lows"--or, as my nephew Tyler calls them, "happies and crappies".

Last night it went like this:

Helen: "How was your day?"

Brad: "Pretty good. I had to get all of the outlines turned in for the classes I'll be teaching next semester. It was a relief to get that step all wrapped up. But I found out there are a ton of new departmental requirements for the Environmental Design class. I basically have to start from scratch on a lot of the materials for that course."

Helen: "Ouch. I bet that was hard to hear."

Brad: "Yeah, that won't be fun. How was your day?"

Helen: "We were short staffed so we got behind early and never caught up. All it takes is to be one person down and we're off track all day. You feel apologetic to people. Mostly they're understanding about it. Only one patient left in a huff. But I got good news this afternoon: Carly had extra tickets to the play this weekend so Rochelle and I can go with them. It's Mary Poppins."

Brad: "Nice. You two will love that."

This interaction may not seem all that profound, but conversations like these are building Brad and Helen's sense of emotional intimacy and friendship like never before. In their thirty-two years of marriage, they've never been in the habit of regularly sharing feelings.

Brad used to ask Helen, "Good day today?" in a chipper voice. To Helen it always seemed like he wasn't really interested in how her day was, but just wanted a cursory positive response like, "Fine Honey, how was yours?"

Brad knew that Helen might bring up something emotional on her own, but it felt like a minefield to him. In response to her strong feelings he might say something wrong, make suggestions when she just wanted a listening ear, or they might get mired in an emotionally heavy conversation that went on and on.

To help them improve their ability to share feelings, a couple of months ago I gave them the following homework. Like most couples, over time Helen and Brad have adhered less and less rigidly to this step-by-step structure, but in the beginning they found it useful to have these guidelines to keep them on track and make it a habit:

1) Make time to share feelings. When you have five or ten minutes to talk, ask each other, "What were your highs and lows today?"

2) Empathize. As your loved one talks about an event or interaction that stood out to them emotionally, try to get a feel for what it was like for them to go through it. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how you would have felt, if you'd gone through that experience. But only use your imagined feelings as one reference point--remember the unique person they are with their singular personal history and distinct emotional response profile.

3) Tune in to your body and notice what you feel physically. Your gut and muscles and breathing may be responding right now a little bit like they would have then, if you'd been the one in that situation. If your loved one talks about feeling embarrassed, can you feel a little bit of a flush in your face as you imagine what it was like for them? If they were frustrated, can you feel a little clench in your jaw or tightening of the muscles in your arms and hands? If they felt discouraged, can you feel a little deflation of energy throughout your body and a collapse of your posture?

It's a challenge to really let ourselves feel what another person is feeling. It requires what M. Scott Peck calls the "bracketing" of our own feelings and experience--holding them aside for a time so that we can really let in someone else's in. Don't be surprised when your brain wants to jump from hearing about their day to telling them about your own. Accept that as a natural impulse, but catch yourself, remind yourself to slow down, really listen, and let yourself feel with them a little bit of what they were feeling earlier. Empathy is a skill. It may not come naturally at first, but with practice you'll get better and better at it over time.

4) Validate their feelings. If their feelings registered inside you, let them know it. You can word it however you want, but one simple phrase that works almost all the time with distressing emotions is, "Ouch, I get why that was hard for you." To validate a positive emotion, you may say something like, "Wow, I bet that felt so good (or encouraging or relieving)."

A simple phrase of validation can work magic: suddenly, you or your loved one are no longer alone in the emotions you were feeling that day. And, as Sue Johnson put it, "To suffer is inevitable, but to suffer alone is unbearable." When someone empathizes with us and validates our feelings, we are been spared the unbearable! All because they were willing to review a key event or two of our day with us and help us discharge the feelings that built up, feelings that were too much for us to fully cope with effectively on our own at the time.

Try out this sharing exercise with a loved one and see if you experience the same relief Brad and Helen do. See if it supports your recovery efforts the way it does for Randall. And of course, as usual, we'd love to hear how it goes when you try it out!

Monday, December 5, 2016

How Dealing With a Partner’s Addiction Changes You

Faye Reitman has written a great post on this topic over on the Compulsion Solutions blog. Here are some excerpts:

There is so much to process and take in, so many feelings and questions to parse out, and it’s somewhere in the middle of this experience that you realize you’re feeling and acting differently. You’re making decisions or taking actions that you might never have thought possible. These feelings make sense when you realize why they’re happening. When you take your whole life apart and look at it under a microscope, you gain something new: perspective.

We Start With “Why Me?”

The agony and the angst at the beginning of your process seem unbearable. Many women believe that they will surely buckle under the strain of it all. Yet here you are, still surviving. That feeling alone can cause a profound change in you, because now, you’ve gotten a chance to see what you’re made of.

As you work through your own healing process, you will find that you can replace those “why me” questions with something a little more like “why not me?” – meaning you’re actually beginning to prioritize yourself.

Your biggest responsibility right now is you. During this process, many women discover themselves for the first time. When you learn to take the focus off of others and consider your own needs instead, you might join the ranks of women who decide to go back to school, or pick up an instrument that’s been abandoned for years, or become more social with their peers, or who begin having actual, real-deal fun with their children...

Friday, December 2, 2016

How You Can Help Her Heal Her Hurt over Pornography

Your pornography habit is out in the open. She's dying inside emotionally because of it. You both still love each other and want to make it work. Where do you go from here?

At this point communication can be a real struggle, even with the best intentions and sincere effort on the part of both partners. She might try to put her pain behind her and move forward, only to find that she can't set aside her feelings so easily. She might feel an urgency to talk and talk about the issue, but pretty soon both of you can get burned out by the draining discussions that continue into the wee hours of the morning.

The following are some steps you might take to make your communication about pornography more productive and healing:

Step 1: When the wound gets reopened, see it as an opportunity. 

If the pain is awake again, that's a good thing in that it can only be healed at those times when she's feeling it. It's a chance for the wound to be cleaned out and for some healing to occur.

This healing occurs when she talks about it and you listen and try to be understanding and supportive.

There are a certain amount of healing time together like this that she needs--a certain number of man hours that will need to be put in sooner or later. It's a lot of time, and you might as well be working on it, rather than letting the pain fester under the surface because it is not being addressed.

Step 2: See if you can hold aside defensiveness or frustration.

It's completely normal to feel defensive: "But it wasn't that I loved porn more than you!" It's completely normal to feel frustrated: "When are we going to be able to put this to rest? I'm trying to put it BEHIND me!"

If you can hold those understandable and normal reactions aside for a time while you focus on empathizing with her, the process of talking things out is actually often quite helpful and healing. Men sometimes fear that talking about the problem over and over again will just mire them as a couple more deeply in the problem. Over the years I've seen that the opposite can be true, if the discussions are carried out in a productive way.

Step 3: Encourage her to talk about how she's feeling.

Sometimes during painful discussions she is the one asking him questions: "How can you say you really love me when I don't look anything like the images you searched out?" "You seriously were viewing porn then, which I thought was one of the best times of our marriage?"

It may be helpful for him to ask more of the questions:

"What was it like for you when you discovered I was on porn? How did you feel? How did it change the way you feel about yourself? How did it change the way you felt about me? About men in general? About sex?"

Step 4: Ask where she feels the distress in her body.

This one may seem odd or awkward to bring up, but it will both help her be aware of what's going on inside and it will give you a handle to hold onto as you try to get a sense of what she's feeling so that you can feel some of it for yourself.

Step 5: See if you can feel a little bit of what she's feeling.

To better empathize with her, see if you can let into your own body a little taste of what she describes feeling. And along with those bodily sensations, some of the emotion that she identified.

Step 6: Let her know that her distress has registered with you. 

Only take this step if, indeed, you were able to feel some of what she's going through. You may let her know by way of a simple statement such as, "Ouch, I get why that's hard for you."

Even if you don't register or her feelings or can't grasp why it's so hard emotionally, you might still let her know, "I want to better understand what you're going through and better support you in it. I'm not sure I get it yet, but I'll keep trying."

We'd love to hear how it goes for you as you put some of these pointers into practice. Were these guidelines helpful? What additional pointers or tips you have for other couples in your shoes, based on your experience?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Human Connection is Emotional Oxygen

Dave spent years thinking his wife would leave if she found out about his pornography habit. "I built a case in my mind for keeping this wall up that kept my porn viewing a secret, and kept my wife out of the nitty gritty details of my heart and mind."

Two months ago Nell found out about Dave's involvement in pornography. She was upset for sure. They'd raised three children together and now had seven grandchildren. He'd served in their church and in their community as a scout leader. He was a great guy, but she'd always been bothered by an emotional distance in their relationship. And their sex lives hadn't been good for a long time. Now that his pornography struggle was out in the open, she was hopeful that they could work on it together AND draw closer in other ways as well. She wanted him to rely on her for support when he was struggling. 

She encouraged him to open up to her about ups and downs of any kind, not just sexual temptation. Yesterday was the kind of day where he might have looked at porn in the past. Things weren't going according to plan with a building project. The customer was so demanding the project was consuming a ton of his time, and it was just in the beginning stages and wasn't even one of the company's more lucrative contracts. In the middle of trying to deal with the city building inspector and the bank and subcontractors about detail after detail, he kept getting calls and emails about other little fires he had to put out.

When he got home, Nell asked, "How was your day." Before Dave had always tried to be perfect in Nell's eyes, to show no cracks in his armor. "I tried to be self-sufficient and in control. Even my work at church was all about performing. I didn't think God was interested in someone who didn't measure up. But all of that pressure sometimes left me feeling like I was being crushed by life and all the demands."

Previously whenever Nell asked Dave how his day was, he always tried to be strong and put the best face on it. Yesterday when she asked, he simply admitted: It was lousy. "It feels so good to open up to her and just talk about how things are really going and how I'm really feeling. It's so liberating!" To Dave, getting rid of the wall he'd built up over the years felt "better than the Berlin wall coming down!" 

Nell had already been up to speed on Dave's stress because he had texted her a couple of times during the day. In the afternoon he'd texted her, "Feels like I'm getting smothered under an endless pile of details to take care of." She'd responded with a 😞. These were times when he would have previously started playing games on his phone for a break from work. They were his escape. "But eventually I'd get wound up so tight that even playing games wouldn't bring relief. That was when I felt like I would eventually need a pornography fix."

Fortunately Dave was developing the habit of reaching out for support amidst the stress. "It's not the same, it's not a quick fix. And sometimes it doesn't seem to help at all--the tension stays high. But I know it's better for me. And usually, fortunately, it is a relief. Connecting with Nell is like getting a shot of life back in me instead of keeping that darkness in. And instead of letting that web of control--the addiction--get stronger, reaching out loosens the bands somehow. Something inside me that has been getting tight and dark, and by reaching out you get a breath of air and it lightens and loosens."

Without knowing it, by staying disconnected from Nell, Dave had been starving himself of emotional oxygen for years. Emotionally he'd been breathing through a coffee straw. It was so good to see him being more real with her, reaching out for understanding and support, and enjoying all the benefits of that connection.

Our new website, Love Heals Porn, is designed to help you replace your porn habit with the habit of human connection. Sign up here and we'll send you 30 days of emails that each include a 5-10 minute lesson and a 2 minute action step that will help you make love, not porn, your new default. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

LOVE HEALS PORN - 30 Days to Greater Freedom from the Habit

The first time I met Greg he looked sharp in his starched blue shirt and pleated dress slacks. He was waiting for me when I arrived at the office ten minutes before our 7 a.m. appointment. He handed me a neat stack of the paperwork our office had sent him to fill out. Everything about Greg said here's a guy who has figured things out and has it all put together.

Porn, Compulsion, and Self-Hatred

As we talked about his life, a different story emerged. He'd been struggling for decades with a porn habit he'd never quite been able to kick. And he was super hard on himself about it, to the point of self-loathing. In fact, he said it straight up: "I don't like myself. How could I? I keep doing things I've committed not to do, things that hurt my completely innocent and amazingly supportive wife, degrading things that ruin my self-respect."

Over the years, my love for men like Greg has only deepened. And I know that love is exactly what they need to heal--but not from me. If someone else's love could heal them, the love of their wife, girlfriend, families, or other loved ones would surely have done the trick by now.

I'd enjoy nothing more than to access the hard drive of men like Greg, find every last line of code for self-hatred, and write over it, programming them to love themselves instead. But how do we reprogram the human heart?

Breaking the Code of Compulsion

After my mentor, Dean Byrd, and I published Willpower Is Not Enough twenty years ago, I started spending my early morning hours poring over psychology research in an effort to create a science-based program for kicking habits and recovering from addiction. Obviously, it's taken much longer than I'd hoped, but our new Love Heals Porn program is the result of that process. Along the way I've learned many things from the peer review literature on the topic, from other professionals who have mentored and taught me, and even more from the clients I see every day in my office.

Often, the research would tell me something ought to work, but field testing by my clients showed me it didn't. When my brilliantly designed and enthusiastically shared homework assignments not only failed to bring results but didn't get used at all, I was tempted to blame my clients. "They're resisting the process." "Deep down they don't really want to change." "They lack desire and discipline."

Desire and Discipline... Are Not Enough

However, you wouldn't have to spend much time with my clients to see that I'd be dead wrong to blame them. Look into their eyes as they describe how their porn habit crushes their confidence and self-respect and you'll see that they want nothing more than to change. Knowing how hard they work for their money and the amount my office debits out of their account every time we meet screams that they're eager, not resistant. And discipline? My clients have shown more passion and follow-through than I'd ever be able to muster. All the way from the academic and professional dedication it takes to become a surgeon, professor, or magistrate to the mental discipline it takes to be an airline pilot or on the SWAT team. Since I only lasted a half day of practice before I was barfing behind the bleachers and deciding I didn't want to be on the high school football team after all, I've been particularly impressed by those clients who've accomplished athletic feats and withstood physical challenges like the rigors of Navy Seal training, success as a professional athlete, and nailing V15 level rock climbs.

A heightened respect for my clients and their strengths didn't diminish my frustration when they wouldn't do their homework or, when they did but it failed to help them kick their porn habit. So in an effort to figure out what was breaking down, and based on the belief that I shouldn't ask someone else to do anything I'm not willing to do, I road tested these science-based homework assignments for myself. And discovered, to my chagrin, that I didn't complete most of them either. Once I was out of the office and living regular life, my autopilot routine took over and I dropped the ball. Sometimes I simply forgot exactly what I was intending to do differently. Sometimes the pull of old familiar behavior pattern was simply too strong to resist.

How to Have a Change of Heart

As we've created this set of interventions, we've thrown out more exercises than we've kept. Those that made the cut have been honed over the years, boiled down and condensed to their essential core. Each one will take you approximately ten minutes to learn and two or three minutes to apply. There are 30, so don't sweat it if they don't all work for you.

This program is about cultivating more love in your life, so please, please be patient and compassionate with yourself as you go through the process. Don't get down on yourself if you end up skipping days and the program takes you two or three months to complete instead of one. And don't get too anal, trying to stack each habit on the last until you've built yourself a tower of blocks that's bound to topple. Some of the tools you'll try only once, others not at all because they just don't resonate. Others will be great for you eventually, but too much of a stretch the first time you learn about them. In other words, just keep plugging along. Don't let yourself get so enthused that your motivation burns out too quickly... and don't let yourself get so discouraged that you stop midway through the program.

Be forewarned: sometimes all it takes is a firm resolve to take concrete, effective steps to make changes in an important area of our lives... for all hell to break loose. Chaos descends. Stress at work ramps up. Relationships threaten to unravel. Old fears rush back to haunt us again. Wavy mirrors and shifting floors populate the funhouse of our minds. It's almost enough to talk us out of trying to change. Would it be better to just accommodate this porn habit, perhaps tame it a bit, rather than keep trying to kick it altogether? If any of this happens to you--or all of it!--just remember the key message British citizens whispered to each other and plastered on their buses and shop windows during World War II: Keep Calm and Carry On. Because, to borrow two other slogans from His Majesty's Stationary Office from that period, "Freedom is in Peril’ and only "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory’. And, I might add, your love. Especially your love.

That, my friends, is how you will go about reprogramming your heart.

Do This

Take a few minutes to consider making this resolve today: "Throughout the coming month or so I will keep spending a little bit of time most days learning how to infuse more love into my life and learning about the difference that will make in my efforts to get free of porn. I will try out at least some of the ideas and tools and hang on to the ones that seem particularly helpful. I will trust that, with practice over time, they will naturally become more permanent features in the way I think and live. In the process, I will feel more love, both for myself and others, and that will be a potent boost in my efforts to kick my porn habit."

If you're willing and ready to act on this resolve, go to my new website, Love Heals Porn, and sign up for our new 30 day program. You'll get an email each day with a brief lesson (5-10 minutes) and an actionable step you can take now to apply that lesson in your life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Kick Porn with Love - A Nobler Way to Use Your Imagination

When he's traveling, it's always toughest on Ivan when he gets back to the hotel after a long day. His Rebel subpersonality says, "You're free! All of the usual responsibilities and obligations that tie you down--your wife and family, responsibilities at work--you can forget about those here! You're your own man now! Nothing's holding you back!

Planning for Success

Right before he went on his latest business trip, Ivan read this post on how to harness our imagination in loving ways as an antidote to porn. Instead of simply vowing to do better, Ivan leveraged his imagination to plan ahead.

He got online to see if he could find something wholesome he could enjoy in the area. Sure enough, he found a beachside pier within a half hour of the finance convention he was there to attend. Instead of waiting for hunter-gatherer to lock onto porn, he had busied it anticipating an agenda for the day that included some enjoyment. "It helped that I'd researched it before. It gave me something to look forward to."

Fantastic Follow Through

He took it even further later. Looking through the shops along the pier, he thought about each one of his kids, their personalities, and what little gift they might like. In the end he got a star chart for his son in junior high who loves science and a book for his younger daughter who just started reading chapter books.

Then he started thinking about his parents. Although he didn't buy them anything, he ended up texting them later that evening about a family reunion they'd been planning. His dad phoned back and after they talked about the reunion they shared with each other this year's plans for their yards and gardens.

Imagination: the Door to a Better Reality

The role Ivan's imagination played in his success on this trip reminded me of this quote from Oscar Wilde:

"Love is fed by the imagination, by which we become wiser than we know, better than we feel, nobler than we are: by which we can see Life as a whole: by which, and by which alone, we can understand others in their real as in their ideal relations."

How have you used your imagination in your recovery? Leave a comment below and tell us the story of how it helped.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Put Her over the Top: Let Your Love for Your Woman Help Turn You Away from Porn

Nancy husband Paul is a great guy who's made all of her dreams come true. Well, almost. "Every part of our relationship is picture perfect, except one. We're the best of friends, he's there for me, he always takes the burden and puts me before himself."

So what's the hangup?

"I've known since we got together that he watched porn, and has since he was very young. He never hid this from me. I tried to accept it as a part of the male need for visual stimulation, and a change from what he sees everyday: me. Logically, I could come to terms with it, and in fact, was very proud of myself for overcoming my female need to be the only woman he lusted over. But despite the fact that he never lied about it, I still relate entirely to the other women who've commented on this post who feel betrayed and less than the women in those videos. I'm outraged that men need that kind of woman in their lives, even if only in their fantasies, and it makes me want to scream at him to marry one of those females instead, since he can't appreciate the smart, attractive, loving woman he has right in front of him. He says it's a childhood habit, and doesn't reflect on his opinion of me at all, but how can that possibly be true? He doesn't want me, he wants them.... I feel ungrateful because aside from this one area he is so generous and good to me. But at the same time I wonder, if he loves me so much, why can't I be enough? Why will I never be enough for him?!"

Why Not Indulge? Why Refrain from Lust? 

It's natural to love the female form. When you catch a glimpse of a strikingly attractive woman, you're going to want to stop whatever else you're doing and drink in all her beauty. It's not accidental that we use the word "stunning" to describe a beauty who turns heads. Like a sea creature stunned by jelly fish stings, we may find ourselves feeling helpless to resist. But, unlike that sea creature, we don't have to let ourselves get sucked in and devoured by our lust. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we don't have to do the devouring, feasting on whatever visual lust bait we happen upon.

The problem is, ogling WOMEN is not the way to the heart of A WOMAN. If it's women you love and you want to keep enjoying them in all varieties, maybe porn is for you. But if it's your woman you love and want to keep enjoying (the one you have now if you're in a committed relationship or the one you want in the future if you're single) then you'll do best to govern your enjoyment of female beauty rather than let it rule you.

Consider Her Feelings

Marriage Therapist Lisa Lund describes commitment as "taking your partner with you wherever you go." Building on that, Zach Brittle of the Gottman Institute encourages this mental exercise: "Imagine what it would be like to intentionally take your partner with you--if only subconsciously--wherever you went. Would you go to the grocery store or the gym differently? Would you go to a bar differently? Would you relate to your friends differently? Would you relate to your co-workers differently?"

And I would add: Would you make different entertainment choices? Would you click around differently online? Would your gaze rest differently, whether you're looking at pixels or a real woman? Would it bounce quicker from images that promote erotic thoughts about women who aren't your wife, rather than lingering and drinking them in?

Forgo for a Purpose

I remember being struck by a comment from Carl to a blog post about whether porn is virtual cheating, as the subtitle of our book Love You, Hate the Porn suggests. "Men have NO internal reason to forgo porn. Those of us who refrain, it's for this reason alone: We don't want our woman to feel like $#&*."

I disagree with Carl's assessment in this regard: Turns out men have plenty of reasons to steer clear of porn that have nothing to do with their women. In fact, speaking of subtitles, here's the one from Brian McDougal's great book Porned Out: "Erectile dysfunction, depression, and 7 more (selfish) reasons to quit porn." The others include delayed ejaculation, involuntary sexual fantasies, bad memory and concentration, poor relationship skills, and sleep disorders. She doesn't have to be on your mind--heck, you don't even have to have a she in your life--to have probable cause to give it up.

Put Her Over the Top

But it turns out Carl's reason--not wanting our woman to feel like $#*&--might be the best one of all. Which brings us to the amazing part. If you really prioritize and deeply care about what goes on inside your woman, it won't just help her avoid feeling crappy--about herself, about you, about the relationship, about men in general, about life. It touches and moves her in a way nothing else can! When she feels completely cherished by a man who she knows could be taking the path of least resistance and indulging his lusts instead, his devotion elevates the entirety of her life.

You can focus on adoring your woman or let yourself lust indiscriminately. Which MO will you choose? The difference it will make in your woman's life is expressed eloquently by Karen Brody from her book Open Her: "I call a vast number of men in the world 'wide-net fishermen.' These are men who, for lack of confidence in themselves and a lack of understanding of women’s hearts, cast a wide net ... always on the lookout for that next lucky catch.... The problem is that when a woman feels she is one fish of many, she loses respect for herself and her attraction for you. No woman wants to be someone you dredged up by chance. She wants to be the one you found because you were looking for her. Every woman wants to believe she will belong to a specific man, and that he is looking for her and will find her. Like that one special seashell among millions of others washed ashore, you see her and you know. She’s the 'one.'... A woman wants to feel that you chose her from among all the women you could have, that you exercise that level of confidence and power. It fulfills her deepest desire to be seen and celebrated as a unique feminine being."

Do This

Spend a couple of minutes putting yourself in the mindset of your woman. If you're single, imagine how your future partner will feel. Let these feelings sink into your heart: What is it like for her when she knows you adore her? What's it like when she worries that your eyes are wandering? How is it for her to be seen--truly seen? How would she feel if she heard you raving about how gorgeous some celebrity is? What's it like for her when you notice that she's wearing clothes you love or has paid particular attention to her hair or makeup? How is it for her to feel lonely and left out even when she's sitting or walking right next to you? 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Stick with Little Labors of Love

When you set a goal to conquer a porn problem, you might shoot yourself in the foot by being too eager and ambitious. It may feel great to tell yourself, "I'm finally going to kick this thing once and for all!" Research shows that people get a high from making a firm and enthusiastic resolve to exercise greater self-control. However, that kind of energy fades and becomes next to useless in the long run. In fact, some people find that the higher they felt during enthusiastic moments, the further they fall the next time they give in to cravings. This is such a common phenomenon that researchers Janet Polivy and Peter Herman coined a term for it: false hope syndrome.

Recovery is a Coal-Powered Locomotive, Not a Rocket

There's a more helpful mentality and approach to recovery. See it as a gradual, step-by-step process. One of my clients, Timothy, calls it wall-building. He eventually wants a house of recovery that will protect him and his future wife and kids from relapse to his porn addiction. Rather than scurrying about frantically to try (and most likely fail) to erect the house in one day, he lays down single bricks and accepts that modest labor as enough work for the day. That bricklaying work may not seem particularly glamorous or exciting, but the effects of it definitely keep accruing and accumulating over time.

Timothy told me, "If I had cancer, I wouldn't expect it to go away tomorrow just because I ate healthy or got chemo today. If I planted a peach tree, I wouldn't expect it to bear fruit today. Expecting those immediate outcomes is denying the laws of nature. Well, we're part of nature, too. I can be happy with myself for taking today's steps on this journey, and not hold out my approval for after I've reached the final destination of complete abstinence and successful recovery."

Start Small and Build Slowly

These little labors of love may vary for each individual, but I've been surprised over the years how many of them relate to areas we share in common. Many of them are basic principles of healthy living. Often they relate to the three areas addressed by Tom Rath in his book, Eat, Move, Sleep. In fact, the subtitle of his book is "How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes", right in line with the topic of this post.

Timothy said, "It's a win these days when I get to bed on time. Instead of one or two a.m. on the weekends, I'm shooting for midnight. I'm drinking a green smoothie and at least taking a walk every day. If possible I take fifteen minutes or a half hour to work out." He said that he implemented these habits one by one instead of all at once by trying to make minor improvements in one arena of his life and then moving on to another little goal once he had the first well established.

It's How We'd Treat a Friend We Love

I complimented Timothy on how he was treating himself. "It's the way I would want to be treated by you if I were a friend you were showing around for a few days. The fact that you know I do better with more sleep and said to your other friends, 'Hey guys, I know you're still going to hang out but I also know Mark won't be at his best tomorrow if he's sleep deprived so we're taking off now so he can get to bed.' It wasn't the easiest conversation to have with them, so I would appreciate that you cared enough about me to have it.

"That's the way the in-need part of you feels right now: he appreciates that you recognize his needs and are taking steps every day to get better at meeting them. Same thing goes for what you're feeding him. Again, if I were your friend and all you fed me when I was in town was cheap junk food and fast food, I wouldn't feel very cared about. You taking the time to have shopped for organic vegetables and fruit and spend ten minutes blending them up for me? I would know I am important to you and that you care about my health and well-being."

Do This

What's one labor of love you could take a couple of minutes today to initiate? Go cut up some vegetables and snack on them? Clean out the back seat of your car? Take a walk around the block to get some fresh air? Erase old messages so there's room again in your voicemail?

One of my clients who recently took this action step simply stopped drinking caffeinated beverages. (Okay, so maybe that's not quite as simple as it sounds.) Another started putting her "Guidepost" magazine on her toilet tank cover so that she could read part of an article every day, something she really found uplifting during an earlier time of her life.

There are lots of little labors of love you could pick from, activities that both feel good and are both good for you. What one thing will you can initiate or carry out completely in the next couple of minutes? Please comment below and let us know how it goes!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Keep Anchoring Back to Love

Your deeper sense of self, who you are as a human being, both body and soul, can be a profoundly helpful anchor when the brain starts hankering for superficial and inappropriate sex. My friend George Collins suggests a simple way to facilitate this anchoring in his book, Breaking the Cycle:

"As a start, just put your hand on your heart, close your eyes for a moment, and feel the essence of you. Experience that stillness deep inside yourself. Although this may sound strange, I'd like to you try it anyway. Time and time again I've seen the simple act of experiencing stillness lead clients to discover how to live their lives in new and more satisfying ways."

The Value of Anchoring

We experience so many tugs and pulls amidst everyday life that we can start living in reaction to that urgent thing over there and this interesting thing right here. We end up spending our days like a pinball, bounced from one superficial reaction to another, having completely lost our connection to who we are deep down. Unfortunately, all these other little bounces prep our mind to be bounced to porn.

But it didn't start with porn. The pinball got rolling as we let our lives become a series of mini mental hijackings. We let ourselves get riveted for a minute or two by the news on our smartphone of some politician's snafu of the day and go right from that to the caramel brownie that looked so tasty behind the glass at the dessert counter that we just couldn't pass it up. We are no longer in the driver's seat of our lives, having let our minds and bodies be driven by the daily tsunami of media and marketing.

How to Anchor

Pausing what you're doing throughout the day and placing your hand on your heart is a way to encourage your mind to slow down and pay attention to what's deeper: your essential self. With your hand on your heart and your mind oriented inward, you may start to feel more in touch with yourself or a quiet sense of peace.

Conversely, you may become aware of some unease that you hadn't noticed before. Although it might be a relief to settle yourself for a minute and get in touch with what's going on deeper down inside, it's not always pleasant in that way. The goal is not to feel better but to get in touch so that in the future you can better stay in touch.

What Flows from Within Will Look Different

When we're in touch with ourselves it changes the way we live. Our lives become beautiful as we act in ways that are in coherence with our values. And we're beautifully balanced, integrated body and soul. We freely manifest various aspects of ourselves, flashing with greater ease from one facet to another, be that sensuality, spirituality, playfulness, learning, or socializing. This is how we get our fill of a broader and more balanced panel of the soul nutrients we require to thrive.

Specifically, you may find yourself walking slower and enjoying the scenery more. You might smile and have more meaningful conversations with loved ones--or even strangers. And when people ask what you want, you'll have an easier time answering from the heart, because you're used to turning inward instead of being so caught up in what's out there.

All of this is and more is what's coming as you learn to stay in touch with yourself. For now, here is the action step you can take to start practicing:

Do This

Take a couple of minutes and put your hand on your heart. Turn your attention from all the action that's going on "out there." Listen below the surface winds and waves of thoughts. At first it might seem unclear exactly how to go about this. What is my essential self, really? How will I know if I'm in touch with my essence? Rather than worrying too much about all that, simply quiet yourself and attune inwardly in a respectful, loving way. Adopt an open mentality, perhaps with a hint of curiosity.

Approach this the way you would go into the forest to catch a glimpse of a species of animal you'd never seen before. You'd find an area they frequent, make yourself inconspicuous so as to not spook them, and sit quietly and wait. Even if you don't see the animal in the process, your appreciation for it and your overall reverence for nature gets a boost in the process.

It's not necessary to talk to yourself, but if I had to put the mentality into words it might be, "I'm right here. I'm listening now. Inner self, you may be used to me tuning you out, but I'm open now. I'm aware that you're there. I'm shining the light of my attention and interest in your direction."

Let us know how it goes as you practice placing your hand on your heart and anchoring to your deepest, most true and loving self.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Track Failure with Care to Foster Future Success

How's this for quick results: most people start noticing benefits within a month of starting to keep a simple record their porn-related thoughts and behaviors. Here are some questions I recommend you consider answering every day, but feel free to adjust this to make it fit your needs. Keep your record somewhere that it will accrue and compile over time so that you can eventually see big picture patterns you've never noticed before. These kind of insights and revelations come even to my clients who have struggled with this habit for decades and thought they were acutely aware of all its nuances and permutations.

P: Did I view porn today?
L: Was I lust-prone today?
M: Did I masturbate today? (Capital M = to climax, lower case m = self-stimulation w/o orgasm.)
C: Contributors--what went on in my day that might have helped fuel my success or failure in these three areas?

How It Looks in Action

If you had no issues today, your entry might look like this:

3/30/16: P L M C: Great weekend, rejuvenated, so not particularly susceptible.

Recently one of my clients didn't masturbate to ejaculation but spent more time than usual sudsing up his genitals in the shower because he was loving the stimulation. He didn't look at porn but found his gaze lingering on the cleavage of the women in the photos accompanying the suggested links at the bottom of a couple of the news articles he read. Here's how his record for the day looked:

3/13/16: P L m C: Weird weekend. Wanted sex and resented my step-kids being at the house for so long so we didn't have alone time. Frustrated and lonely even though around people.

Bonus Extra Credit Journal Topics

I am hesitant to include these because I don't want record keeping to become such a big task that you start out strong but then fail to follow through for days at a time and eventually drop altogether the habit you're trying to develop. Go ahead and try adding these if you think they'll help, but it's okay not to, especially early in your record keeping. Some clients who go most days without giving in to temptation reserve these bonus questions for digging deeper into failure on the days they slip up.

O: Other--what other unwanted habits did I indulged? (Procrastinating, losing my temper, overeating or unhealthy eating, skipping exercise, slacking on chores, oversleeping, not getting to bed on time, etc.)

T: Thinking--was my self-talk healthy and constructive or did I let it deteriorate into resentment, negativity, or unproductive brooding?

And Now, for the Most Productive Topic of All...

E: Emotion--what feelings--enjoyable and distressing--did I experience throughout the day today? What thoughts, events, or interactions spawned those feelings?

Even though it takes more practice to become conversant in the arena of emotion than it does to simply record your behaviors, over time you'll find it to be the most fruitful exploration of all. One of my friends who has been in recovery from sexual addiction for decades now once told me that he attributes his success to "the Feelings Journal I started keeping early on in my recovery and have kept ever since."

Put It All Together

A journal entry a clients shared with me today encompassed all of these elements:

P, L, M
C: Not sure why I was susceptible to lust today. Mainly it was over some Spring Break photos on Facebook
O: Stayed up late. Tried to study but didn't get much done after about 11. Binged on Instagram.
T: Worried I might not do well on my Anatomy and Physiology final.
E: Some feelings of failure, discouragement. Hard to keep believing in myself when I can't seem to kick my porn habit and struggle semester after semester in school.

Do This

If you're not already keeping a record--or if you've started and then stopped again in the past--I would encourage you to commit today to start keeping a simple, basic daily record of your recovery efforts and your successes and failures. Then, when you do fail, I beg you to approach that failure in a loving, patient, attentive way so that you can extract all the wisdom you can from it.

Please share below what you've learned from your failures or what role record-keeping has played in your recovery.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Resolve Now to Start Loving Failure

Failure can be amazing! (Even though it's not very fun.) It's how we learn what went wrong and how to get it better next time. And the power of failure never expires, even if the experience itself gets old. Each next failure is equally fantastic. It's going to either put an exclamation point behind our last lesson or teach us something else altogether that we may not have seen before. Providing that we approach it in the right way.

Love Failure At Least Enough to Learn from It

Looking in an interested, clear-eyed, honest--and I would even add loving--way at failure is how the elite become the elite. Tom Brady goes over game film again and again watching every little detail of what went wrong. He's not beating himself up for it. He's extremely invested in success, so he's scrutinizing failure.

Think about how you succeed at a video game. You hate it when you die, but you also tend to remember particularly well what happened right before you died. That enables you to see that same danger coming the next time. And your second time in that situation you live... or you learn even more about exactly how to die--and by extension how not to die in the future.

It really works to watch game film and take in the details of how our video game character dies. Unfortunately, these processes have nothing in common with the way we usually respond to failure in our self-control efforts.

Our Usual Unloving Reactions to Failure

After relapsing to porn, one of my clients used to beat himself up for a day or so, feel miserable--like a loser--for a day or two more, and then on about the third or fourth day after a slip try to pick himself up, dust himself off, try to forget about it and go on with his life, vowing to "try even harder from now on" not to give in. And hoping against hope that he could keep that resolve later when cravings were strong again.

What a waste of a failure! Fortunately he learned to track his failures in a more loving way so that he could learn from them.

Another client, after lapsing to porn, used to tell himself "Wow, I was doing so well but fell back into it. I guess I'm never going to get over this. Maybe that's how it is for all of us who are into porn! That guy at the 12-step meeting, he had to be in his seventies! Apparently none of us ever get over this problem, do we! I guess we're all hopelessly addicted."

What a waste of a failure! Fortunately, he too is learning to track the details of his failures so that he can learn from them. It's the most loving thing to do.

Adopt a More Loving Mentality

Think about the way Jane Goodall approached her work studying the chimps she lived among. She was a curious scientist, but when you watch footage of her in their midst, there's no question that she loves them. Watch the way Augusto Odone, played by Nick Nolte in the film "Lorenzo's Oil", responds to his son's deterioration from ALD. It's obvious that he hates the disease his son has, but he loves his son and that fuels his fascination with the human body and chemistry to the point where he spends hours in the library and dreams about molecules and ends up helping to discover a cure.

I have some experience in this arena. I've had a "bad back" since my early twenties. For the first fifteen years I bemoaned the fact that it kept going out, regretted my genetic vulnerability to back pain, and spent a pretty penny on straps, braces, and cushions for bed, my chairs at home, the chair in my office, and the driver's seat in my car. All the while noting very little progress in my back pain.

Then fifteen years ago I decided to take a different approach. A therapist I admire said that pain is the best teacher, and we can treat pain as an opportunity to have a learning experience.

Loving Attention Healed My Back

I decided to learn more about the back and spine. I studied the anatomy and physics of the human body. Among other things I discovered that if you have tight hamstring muscles, when you bend down your back muscles must stretch even further to make up for the lack of give in your hamstrings. But since lower back muscles aren't as strong as the hamstring, they're the ones that give out. I learned about yoga stretches that loosen the back and hamstring muscles.

I learned about the importance of core muscles and learned some core-strengthening exercises. I started keeping a journal of the times my back went out and discovered that, sure enough, it was typically when I'd slacked off on my yoga and ab-ripper routines. That provided more motivation to stay consistent.

Over the last several years I've gradually had fewer and fewer back "tweaks" that leave me listing to the right for days at a time. In fact I can tell you exactly from my "back tweak journal": It happened four times in 2013, three times in 2014, and once in 2015. Okay, so I've already had a minor tweak in 2016... but in the last few years these "tweaks" affect me less and less each time because I'm more limber and my core is stronger.

Do This

This affirmation may help you adopt a different attitude toward failure. Feel free to ponder or meditate on it.

"I am becoming someone who accepts failure as a part of life and eagerly learns from it. I am interested in failure and curious about its causes. I accept myself as someone who is human, and thus fails regularly. I also accept my aversion to failure--it's only natural. But I will no longer let that aversion keep me from from facing my failures and sifting through them for jewels of wisdom. I am grateful for everything I've learned from my past failures and for the strength and determination I've gained by getting back up whenever I have failed."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Narrow Your Love Down to One Woman

[Photo credit:]

Quinn made this thought-provoking comment about yesterday's post:

I am a recovering addict, but I completely empathize with Jeanie [who feels so bad about her husband's lusting and porn habit].

I get what she's saying, and yet, I don't want to let go of noticing other women, of feeling that rush of excitement and novelty. In fact, my mind rushed to defensively say "dude, we're biologically not made to be monogamous, it's a societal choice most of us make and yet, we're not entirely happy with being with 'just' one woman for the rest of our lives."

Perhaps it's the addict in me speaking, or guilt ... that would make a lot of sense, actually. Perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye and it all boils down to choices:

#1 we either enter a relationship and forsake all others in body and mind. And that can go at least two ways:
1.1 we're entirely happy about our choice.
1.2 we're not sure/miserable about our choice. (that's where I'm at, not sure if I can do this, not sure I want to do this just yet, although in most aspects, I have a great partner)
#2 we change partners for as long as we can and hope to have somebody care enough for us to share their lives with us when we're old and frail.

Wow Quinn, you make so many great points here!

I don't think it's just "the addict in you speaking." I've never been addicted to porn or lust and I would agree that the male brain (okay, at least your brain and mine) does seem to respond to our noticing beautiful women with a feeling almost of "Thank you!!! THIS is what life's all about. That other routine crap you deal with all the time? Barely worth your while! Thanks for getting back to doing what you were made for!"

Even as I write this, I find myself wondering how women who know me, whom I respect immensely, might feel reading it. Would they think, "So he's one of the creepers!" I know my wife won't have a problem with it because, given my profession, we've talked about it a lot. Early on she asked, "What is it about men who have such a big issue with lust?" My answer: "You say that as though there are some of us who don't."

Now a few men might react to this by saying, "Don't lump us all in there!" But most of us can relate to those who struggle with porn, even if we haven't personally. One friend I really respect sincerely claims we can get to a point where we have no more reaction to a beautiful woman than we would when we look at a blank wall. And I trust that he and others may have arrived at that point.

The fact that I personally have not doesn't stress me out or seem to diminish the quality of my life. To the contrary. The facts are that female beauty abounds in the world and I have the privilege of carrying around a noggin that lights off of little bursts of fireworks when it detects that beauty. Please don't misunderstand here, I'm not talking about undressing women with my eyes or always being on the lookout for sexiness. Sparks of appreciation fly when I hear an angelic alto voice behind me at church singing "Sweet Hour of Prayer". When, driving by, I catch a glimpse of a mom struggling to get a stroller out of the back of her SUV and notice a daughter giving mom a hand by holding the baby on her hip. When I see an elderly woman lying in her sick bed, skin thin as paper, her body weak and wrinkled but her eyes still sparkling and spirit beaming. And at times a feature, a curve, or a feminine movement strikes me in just as profound a way. I would no sooner deny these latter forms of beauty than I could the former.

However, whenever I grab after what I notice, letting my mind cling to it as though it will somehow meet my needs, there's a slight and distinct diminishment in my level of contentment and clarity. Fortunately, I have a choice. I don't have to get caught up in entertaining my attraction. I can also keep myself moving on with  life. I can stay with my life on its own terms rather than dwelling on the things I could covet about my neighbor's wife (or daughter!) or getting enticed down into the rabbit hole of lust. When I'm managing to stay on the higher plane, female beauty is one of the most amazing and uplifting facets of life, and one that only adds sparkle to all the others.

But this doesn't seem to be a destination to which I can simply arrive once and then forever abide. It's more a sweet spot to keep finding and developing the discipline to better maintain. Two factors come to mind that I personally find helpful. One for the heat of the moment and the other more as a preventative.

1. When I catch my brain starting to drink in female beauty like a smitten puppy or wanting to feed on lust with the tenacity of a Rottweiler, I've found that scolding myself doesn't work worth beans at putting out the fire and it also makes me feel like crap.

It helps me to think of my reaction as a natural one, but from a part of my brain that's not fully up to date on exactly what life is like for me now. My testosterone fueled brain reactions can't be expected to be up to speed on the other more important and rewarding things to which life is simultaneously calling me. So I give that woman-crazy part of me a mental nod and smile, as if to say "Oh, so it's you again huh old friend?" I don't usually talk under my breath to myself to "him", it's more a feeling, but if I had to put it into words it might be:

"Hi there mate-seeking brain. Glad to see you're still alive and well. And since you're here I do want to thank you again for the amazing job you did for me 28 years ago. I have it pretty good thanks to you. So do my kids. But I can see you're not about to opt for early retirement and go quietly into that dark night. That's okay. I can live with you. Your job is to point out potential mates to me; my job is to stay rooted in reality. And frankly, if I were to actually pursue any of the candidates you nominate, the results would make more for bad comedy than sweet romance. So don't expect me to buy into any of your sales pitches. And by the way, my wife could go looking, too, you know. Let's spend more time worrying more about how pleasing I can make myself to her than who else might please me. To keep trying to win her over is more fun and more productive anyway! And I feel great after pondering how to keep courting her and acting on the ideas, instead of feeling empty, dissatisfied, or sheepish."

2. I recently heard world-renowned marriage expert John Gottman give an amazing presentation on the science of trust. He emphasized that happily monogamous couples don't necessarily feel so content and infatuated with each other that they naturally act all lovey-dovey. Rather, activities like snuggling, texting now and then throughout the day, conversing at the end of the day, and gazing into each other's eyes produce in our brains and bodies more oxytocin. This hormone deepens the sense of attachment we feel and strengthens the bond we share. Which, in turn, keeps sex exciting. (In Gottman's book on the topic he shares research that debunks Esther Perel's opposite view on this topic). In other words we don't have to keep wondering whether we picked the right woman. Instead, we can do these things with the woman we've already chosen: wonder how she's doing and check in to find out, snuggle for twenty minutes most days, talk together about how the day went, and spend some of the time you do these and other activities together looking into her eyes. Every week you live this way nudges your needle in the direction of contentment with your wife and away from feeling the need to wonder whether you've made the right choice.

I personally find this approach to be very compelling and helpful. However, I don't know if my perspective on the topic is very representative because, to put it bluntly, I'm spoiled rotten. I married one of the greatest women on the planet. Either that, or this process has worked wonders in my life. Then again, maybe it's some of both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love Heals Porn: The Role of Empathy In Healing Sexual Addiction

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Men may be prone to lust, but what makes the difference in whether we indulge our lusts or forbear from doing so? Our capacity and willingness to empathize seems to play a huge role in determining which course we take as individuals.

Noticing vs. Tracking

In his book Husbandry, Stephen Fried has a humorous way of describing the way men notice attractive women: "At my regular half-court basketball game, if a woman wanders from the workout area onto the far end of the court, the guys gape even though most of them can't even see that far without their glasses (or with their prescription goggles). So they can't really tell if the woman is twenty or ninety or attractive or an alien life form. Wives shouldn't be bothered by this any more than they should be bothered by channel surfing. It's not about sex. It's about the complete and utter distractibility of men. We have trouble staying focused on anything for very long--regardless of whether it's a TV show, something you're trying to tell us, a song on the radio, some really, really important thing you're still trying to tell us, or simply a pretty woman walking by. Just give us a moment and we'll switch back to our regularly scheduled wife, already in progress."

To Fried, having an attractive women catch your eye comes with the territory of being a guy. But he differentiates between noticing women and tracking them: "I started thinking about tracking at a 76ers game. I was there with a friend who, like me, is a very happily married. It was just us two guys, so there was no reason why we shouldn't track to our hearts' content, especially because some of the women at professional basketball games are really only there to be tracked, dressed in their best and most revealing Girls Gone Wild outfits. Still, when my friend started tracking to the point where his head almost did an Exorcist spin, I found myself becoming self-conscious, maybe even a little judgmental."

How to Refrain from Lusting

So what helped Fried draw the line in his own life between noticing and tracking? And what has kept him, throughout decades of marriage, on the "honor my wife even when she's not around to see it" side of that line? Did she catch him and scold him for tracking? Is he super self-restrained, avoiding tracking so that he'll avoid lusting so that he'll avoid indulging his lusts all-out (like by binging on porn) so that ultimately he'll avoid cheating on his wife? No, that doesn't seem to be his take on it. Here's what he says about it:

"I don't ever track women like that, even when I'm just around other men. I don't want them to catch me looking, either. I've conditioned myself to do this over the years, the same way one is conditioned not to use the f-word in front of children. It's like I don't want to be the stereotypical 'normal guy' even though I am allowed to be him. I suspect that this all goes back to my childhood and family vacations at the beach. My dad, like most men of his era, did a lot of gaping as bathing suits got more and more daring. And my poor mom--the only woman in a family of a father and three sons--would often openly comment about how 'built' the women were that he was looking at, as if talking like one of the guys would make her feel less left out. I never wanted to put any woman through that."

Empathy as An Organic Motivator

What a powerful motivator: "My poor mom... I never wanted to put any woman through that." Fried felt for his mom. And then he imagined how other women would feel--his wife included. His imagined version of that hurt was enough to hold him back from behaviors that would unleash it on a woman and burden her that way. And he apparently hasn't been chomping at the bit to go over that line. He hasn't been exercising a supreme amount of willpower to pull it off. He gets how women feel about it, that holds sway in his heart, and his behavior follows naturally.

Bottom line: a man's empathy for women in general and for the one he cares about most in particular is a key factor that helps keep him from letting his lust go whole hog in feeding frenzy after feeding frenzy. Entertaining lust may be the most natural thing in the world. But, as M. Scott Peck says, so is crapping in our pants, and most of us keep working at it until we eventually get good at no longer doing that. 

A Medicine that Never Loses Potency

I'll never forget what a client of one of my colleagues said when he was asked what kept him on track now that he was five years into his sexual addiction recovery. "First, if a flight attendant is nice to me, I recognize that she's just being nice to me instead of assuming she's flirting, like I would have years ago. But mainly I guess the difference is this: I've now found that I can can no longer interact with a woman in a way that I would not interact with her if my wife were sitting right there between us."

That's so powerful to me: that this man carries around a virtual version of his wife in his heart such that he can no longer have a potentially risky interaction with another woman without the imaginary version of his one-and-only plopping herself down between them and smiling up at him. "Go ahead," she seems to be saying, "say whatever you want to Honey. Do whatever you want. Don't mind me." And he does say and do exactly what he wants. It just so happens that, nowadays and for the rest of his life, what he wants to do and say is always in keeping with what she'd be comfortable witnessing. He doesn't have to "mind her" or "keep her in mind" anymore, she has become a permanent fixture there. The image of her no longer has to be summoned. His little inner version of her barely has to be consulted. He automatically feels what she would feel were she to witness something he's about to say or do, and if it doesn't pass muster he thinks better of it and takes a different tack. 

Empathy is not psychobabble for some ultra-challenging feat of advanced Olympic husbanding. It's really not that difficult a process and it makes makes a huge difference in healing sexual addiction and promoting healthy recovery. So let's take a few minutes to cultivate it.

Do This

From everything I can tell, popular dating coach Evan Marc Katz is a great guy. He's an adoring husband and doting father of two very cute kids. He also shares the opinion that "Men can watch porn, fantasize about other women... go to bachelor parties, go to a strip club, and still be great husbands and fathers."

Many agree with Marc on this topic, women included. But I hear more often from women like Jeanie, who left the following comment to the blog post where Katz made these assertions. As you read how she feels about the topic, do what you can to empathize and really let into your heart what she's feeling, both the hurt and the anger. If your own feelings--perhaps shame or defensiveness--come up, that's okay. It's natural. Just be aware of it, pause briefly from reading, and take a moment to hold your feelings aside. (Personally I find it helpful to touch my chest with my hand as though I'm actually taking a hold of my own feelings and then extend my arm out at a right angle from my body, as though I'm actually suspending my own feelings out a ways from where they're usually ensconced so that I can better let in someone else's.) Then keep immerse yourself back into what it must feel like to be Jeanie and read on.

"I am 60 yrs old and have been married for 30 yrs. I totally get the point of this article. My husband has been looking at other women & fantasizing about them for about 25 yrs. now. He is a wonderful husband & father. But you know what? It has always affected me & made me feel like less of a woman, even though I did my best to not let it bother me. I was never quite happy, though I really did my best to smile & make light of his attraction to other women. Now that I’m much older, the pain has become much worse. My husband is still looking at 20-30 yr olds, when I’m 60. C’mon, how much self esteem can a 60 yr old woman have when she compares herself to a 20 or even 30 yr old? You know what I say? Grow the #&%$ up men! Your wife who u have chosen for life, deserves for u to only have eyes for her. I think a grown up, loving man can make that sacrifice for the woman he claims to love. It is not love to perpetually hurt your wife & destroy her self esteem. And it is a rare woman who can deal with your wandering eye with a smile upon her face. I wish I either waited for a man who only had eyes for me, or never got married at all. I was a pretty hot chick in my day, & still my self esteem suffered to the point where I am today. Love means forsaking all others, not just in body but also in mind, heart & soul. Your wedding vows should have told u that.

How did you experience this process? Please be sure to leave a comment below!