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?