“To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss.”
Big Book, Step 12
Entering recovery for pornography addiction was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I love sobriety and the clarity of thought I have now, but that’s not even the best part of the program. Once a week, every week, I get to hang out with a group of 20-30 friends who know the most intimate details of my life and are always willing to listen to my problems. I’ve seen the best of these men fail and lose sobriety – and show up again the following week. I’ve seen men come in the door full of anger and denial, forced to come by pastors and wives, who eventually learn to love our meetings. I’ve seen the haunted look of utter loneliness in the eyes of other men fade with time, as understanding and friendship grow through our program. My own bitter pangs of loneliness come less often than they used to, and do not seem to last as long when they do strike. I see men struggling with the same things I struggled with six months ago and know they have hope if they keep working the program. I see other men who have overcome the challenges I am facing today, and know that I have hope if I keep working the program.
It feels as though we are on an adventure together, growing up in our twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond.
I hate that I am a pornography addict, but I love the fact that I am in recovery. Yes, it bugs me that we never start on time and are forced to sacrifice fellowship and sharing time to compensate. It is true that when I arrive I often feel like I would rather be at home with my family. Sometimes I resent coming to meetings, but these feelings always disappear by the time the meetings draw to a close. Though I’ve been reluctant to go to meetings any number of times, each of those times I left refreshed and thankful for the opportunity to be in recovery.
I need the Twelve Steps and I love the feeling of camaraderie I share with the men in my group. We are all facing the same challenges and we have each bared our souls. There is no hiding left, only truth and peace.
I am so glad I did not miss this experience; I hope I get to enjoy it for the rest of my life.
Have you ever reached a point in your life when you wanted to give up? In my recovery program we call this “program fatigue”, and it means reaching a point of recovery exhaustion. You get so tired of working your program and following the 12 Steps that you want to throw in the towel. You begin to believe that giving in to your addiction would be better than another moment of sober hell. I’ve hit that point before; have you?
I’m dealing with a number of significant stressors in my personal life, and the force of these impending events is like a screw tightening down on me. I want a way out. I want to escape from the pain and stress, if only for a little while.
I want to escape the expectations of those who believe I’ll never relapse.
I want to escape the crushing responsibilities of being the sole provider for a family of five.
I want to escape the remembered pain of childhood and the unbearable knowledge that I’m never whole and never enough.
Everyone has these moments; everyone wants to give up. If you’re going through what I’m going through, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a flippant five-step answer to solve your problem.
The only thing I can do to help is to paraphrase Winston Churchill. He said that sometimes doing your best isn’t enough; sometimes you just have to get the job done. Today doing my best in recovery won’t be enough because my best will fail. And I can’t afford to fail.
Yes, it’s painful. It sucks. It’s not fair. It makes me sad and angry and scared to go through so much mental anguish. No amount of prayer or Bible study can cure this…the only thing that works is to grit my teeth and bear it. I would much rather act out; that would be so much easier! I would finally get a break from the fear and pain!
But like I said, I can’t afford to fail. I’ve reached my breaking point, and though I’ve given it my best shot, this time I don’t think my best is good enough. So I’ll just have to get the job done.
A reader recently asked me, “What does it mean to enable a pornography addiction?” Great question!
Miriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an ‘enabler’ as: “One who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.”
Here are three common ways people enable pornography addictions:
- Turning a blind eye to pornography use
- Changing core beliefs to accommodate a spouse’s pornography use
- Failure to enforce consequences regarding pornography use
Turning a Blind Eye
There are many men and women in denial about their spouse’s pornography use. For example, a woman might find pornographic websites on the family computer’s Internet browser history and convince herself that a recent houseguest, not her husband, is responsible. The challenge people often face with regard to their spouse’s pornography use is that other than using pornography the spouse is basically a good, decent person. Instead of accepting and confronting a spouse’s pornography use, people rationalize and deny the addiction that is destroying their relationship.
Changing Core Beliefs
Believing a spouse is basically a good, decent person with a ‘bad habit’ leads people to accommodate a spouse’s pornography use by changing one’s core beliefs. A wife might say to herself, “I know what the Bible says about adultery, and I’ve heard our pastor preach about pornography, but my husband is a great dad and a wonderful husband. I hate the fact that he uses pornography, but as long as it doesn’t directly affect me or the kids I guess I can put up with it.” With this rationalization people compromise those core beliefs which define who they are. One of my greatest regrets with regard to my own pornography addiction is that I hurt my wife this way. I forced my wife to compromise what she knew to be right in order to accommodate my behavior. If you use pornography you are probably hurting your spouse in the same way.
Failure to Enforce Consequences
Some people overcome their denial about their spouse’s addiction and confront the fact that they have compromised their own core beliefs. They confront their spouses and demand that the pornography use stop. Threats are made; consequences are outlined or given in detail. At this point the offending spouse is often contrite and pledges such measures will not be necessary; he will stop using pornography today. However, several weeks go by and the wife discovers her husband is at it again (he is an addict, after all). At this point a significant choice faces the woman: Make good on her threats or let it slide one last time. Of course you and I both know that if she ‘lets it slide’ this won’t be the last time. But is it worth enforcing the consequences? Many women often threaten separation or divorce if a husband’s pornography use doesn’t stop, but later convince themselves they spoke in haste before. They don’t want to lose their husband (though they already have) and they don’t want their children to lose a father. They don’t really want a divorce; they just want him to stop using pornography.
What people in this situation fail to understand is that until an addict is forced to pay a price he is unwilling to pay, he will not change.
Are you enabling someone’s pornography addiction?
Since I cut my hair two weeks ago (for the first time in over 18 months; the bearded, pony-tailed guy was replaced with a clean-cut man) I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the amount of attention women give me, and I‘ve assumed it’s because of my new hairdo.
Maybe, maybe not.
I was at a happy hour function with a handful of coworkers last night and the subject of my haircut surfaced. I described the extra female attention I’m receiving these days and finished with something to the effect of: “It must be the hair.”
To which one of the women present responded, “No, it’s your personality.”
She went on to say that when I came back from getting my hair cut, my personality had changed dramatically; she said I was a ‘new man’.
When I walked out of the salon two weeks ago, I knew I looked good. I felt confident. I felt like smiling. It was as though I had forced myself out into the ‘wilderness’ of my soul and denied myself a return to the ‘promised land’ until such time as I was prepared to shed my old Self. I guess I was ready.
My whole world is suddenly changed.
I look younger but feel older and wiser. I feel ready to take responsibility for the rest of my life rather than drift along the currents, as I’ve done most of my days.
I can look people in the eye like no other time in my life; not in challenge but in curiosity and wonder that other human beings are all around me, each unique and wonderful and terrible.
For the first time in my life I feel comfortable in my own skin. At the same time, I’m eager to find out who I really am underneath my disappearing fears, resentments, and character defects.
I’m relatively unconcerned with how other people (especially women) perceive me, and I care less than ever about winning the approval of others. I can just be myself; some people will like me, most won’t.
The compulsion to give in to lust has all but disappeared, replaced with a desire to choose: Use pornography, or enjoy the thousands of other blessings in my life.
I feel as though powerful forces are coming together in my life, like the confluence of many rivers. I’ve got life right where I want it.
It’s funny what a haircut can do.
I need to make amends to you for some of my past actions. I’ve been guilty of carrying out a pattern of sexual sin and sexual misbehavior for the last 32 years. I’ve been working on my own personal recovery for the past 18 months. I’ve come to see that in order to live a sane life, and to restore my relationship with God, I need to live in a more loving and ethical way. There have been many times in the past when I haven’t acted ethically or in a loving way, and I know I’ve hurt you and others. I’m now in the process of going back to those I’ve hurt and attempting to make it right.
Specifically, I’ve hurt you by:
- Compulsively using pornography for many years
- Spending your money on pornography
- Interfering with your success at work
- Letting my character defects control your life
- Damaging your relationship with God
- Threatening your relationship with your wife and your daughter
- Holding you back from accomplishing your dreams
- Allowing my negative self-talk to berate you on a daily basis
- Stalling your emotional growth in adolescence
In all those actions I was selfish, inconsiderate, dishonest, self-seeking and afraid. I’m truly sorry for the deep hurt I caused you. If there’s anything I can do to make things right, please tell me.
One of the most common search terms that brings people to this blog is the title you see above: “Signs Of Pornography Addiction.” As a former pornography addict I suspect there are two main types of people who use this search term: 1) Men and women who suspect they are pornography addicts; 2) Those who suspect their significant other is a pornography addict.
If you fall into either of these groups, I invite you to read the four common signs of pornography addiction below so you can know for certain if you or your significant other is a pornography addict:
- You’ve tried to quit in the past: If you’ve tried to quit using pornography in the past but somehow keep coming back to it, that could be a sign that you are a pornography addict. Think about it: Have you tried quitting Twinkies but somehow keep finding yourself peeling the wrapper off those tasty golden treats? No? That’s probably because you’re not a food addict.
- You keep using pornography even though your job or relationships are jeopardized by your use: By definition an addiction is a compulsive activity that continues despite the threat of severe consequences. If your spouse has threatened to leave you if you don’t stop using pornography and you keep up the habit, you are probably a pornography addict. If you suspect that your significant other uses pornography and you want him to stop (and as a former addict I strongly suggest that you get him to stop) you need to confront him. Understand that his use of pornography makes your relationship abusive. Would you tolerate it if he hit you? No? Then you shouldn’t tolerate his pornography use either. If he continues using pornography despite your ultimatum, your significant other is probably a pornography addict.
- You keep your pornography use and purchases a secret: Many pornography addicts hide their pornography use and lie about the money they spend on their habit. If you stay up late at night or rush home from work to use pornography so your significant other won’t discover you, you are probably a pornography addict. If you spend money on pornography of any form and keep those purchases hidden from your spouse, you are probably a pornography addict. Think about it: Do you wait until your significant other falls asleep before you sneak into the living room to read your favorite novel? Or do you keep the fact that you bought groceries for your family a secret? No?
- There is a wide gap between your public opinion, and private use, of pornography: Not everyone who uses pornography is an addict (although one study revealed 90%+ of users are compulsive users) but many addicts experience significant cognitive dissonance. In other words, they secretly use pornography while publicly speaking vehemently against pornography and those who use it. If you see yourself as a “pretty good guy” other than your pornography use, you are probably a pornography addict. If your significant other reacts strongly to stories of pornography use or rails against the evils of pornography, it’s a good bet he’s an addict.
If only one of these signs applies to you, you may not be a pornography addict (though you are very likely a compulsive user). If all these signs apply to you, you are almost certainly a pornography addict. If that’s you, take heart: There is hope for you. For your sake and for your family’s sake, get help before you are asked to pay a price you are unwilling to pay.
Nearly two months ago I wrote about some advice my counselor gave me, here. In a nutshell, my counselor advised that one way to help me recover from my pornography addiction was to actively engage in conversations with women, especially women I ran into in public. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most people, but my recovery program advises against exactly this kind of behavior. Of course ‘one size’ never fits all, and while the authors of my recovery program probably have the right idea 80% of the time, my own issues in recovery are hindered by their advice.
Like some of you out there, I have a tendency to…well, not ‘obsess’ about women, that would be too strong a word…Let me put it this way: Growing up, women were an unknown to me; very mysterious and foreboding. I never felt ‘good enough’ around them and I viewed them with a sense of mystical fear. As I grew up (or I should say ‘as I got older’; I only started ‘growing up’ rather recently) this sense of mythical idolatry toward women grew in proportion to my use of pornography. Women ceased being female humans and became objects wielding a greatly desired but seldom experienced sexual energy and charge; women became sex objects thanks to pornography.
It is precisely because of this objectifying view of women that my counselor advised me to begin interacting with them. He wanted me to see that women are just people, like me, and like me, are not to be worshipped. So like a good patient I started conversations with dozens of strangers: On the bus, on the street, in my office building, etc.
Guess what? It worked. As soon as I walked into his office two weeks ago I delivered the good news: ”You ruined it!”
Here is a list of things I learned during my ‘experiment’ talking to women:
- Women really are just people. They look and act very different, but in the end they are just like me. They worry, dream, bite their nails and pick their noses.
- The saying “Hot ’til they talk” is quite literally true.
- While many women are physically attractive, many of those same women have habits that would drive me up the wall if I had to talk to them for more than 30 seconds.
- Many women who aren’t “hot” who are a lot more fun to talk to than those who are “hot”.
- A lot of the women I talked to seemed desperately lonely.
- “Bigger” women seemed to respond more warmly to me than their thinner compatriots…I’m not sure what, if anything, that says about me…
- There was no predicting how women would respond to my conversational overtures: Some of the most beautiful women I spoke to were very friendly, while some of the least attractive women were also the coldest, and vice-versa. In other words, looks and personality are not correlated.
If you struggle with pornography and/or you are self-aware enough to realize that you objectify members of the opposite sex, why don’t you try this little experiment and see where it leads you?
“Even our severest and most justified critics will frequently meet us more than halfway on the first trial.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 9
The shame and fear voices in my head which keep me from making amends are false voices. These ‘voices’ (really just my own voice of course, but they ‘talk’ to me as if they were separate from me) which tell me that I shouldn’t apologize to such-and-such a person because I really hurt them and they won’t want to talk to me, or they’ll yell at me, or whatever. These are just excuses, voices of fear and shame, and they are not real. What can another person really do to me in the process of making amends?
Let’s say for example (and this is a purely hypothetical example) I made amends to a former boss and acknowledged the fact that I used company time and resources to access pornography on the Internet. Let’s then say that boss somehow contacted my current boss and I was fired. Clearly that turn of events would be devastating; I’m not denying that. But at the end of the day that is the worst my old boss could do; and as devastating as that would be it is external to me. In other words, he has not done anything to me, only to my environment.
Now, the good news: The people I make amends to are probably not going to react in the worst possible way. It is much more likely they will ‘meet me halfway’ in my amends. There are any number of reasons for this…Other people are not as selfish as I am and their reactions are different from what I might expect. It’s possible that people will be so shocked at my attempts to make amends because it is so contrary to my own past behavior that they will be motivated to respond generously. Or perhaps they will be reminded of their own part in any trouble in our relationship and by owning my sin they will be motivated to own their sin as well. Whatever the reason, I am hopeful that those people I am most fearful of approaching will, in the end, be much more receptive to my amends than I expect.
Is there someone in your life you need to make amends to, but you have put it off because you are afraid of their ‘expected’ reaction?
“Or we may be tipped over in the other direction when, in rare cases, we get a cool and skeptical reception. This will tempt us to argue, or to press our point insistently. Or maybe it will tempt us to discouragement and pessimism.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 9
I wrote an amends letter to an old boss of mine several months ago while I was in Step 4. As I compiled my list of harms it occurred to me just how wrongly I treated this man while I worked for him; the way I left his employment was even worse. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to write that letter, and I’m so glad He did. I wish I’d saved a copy of that letter so I could read my bold words over and over again. I’ll need that courage again as I enter my ‘official’ Step 9 amends. The quote above reminded me of the letter because I expected a “cool and skeptical reception” from my former boss; that’s why I wrote a letter rather than meet him face-to-face.
He was a difficult man to work for. He professed no faith and had what some might call a ‘sharp tongue’. At the time I wrote the letter I imagined going into his office and saying something to the effect of, “Sir, I know that while I worked here I was not especially productive…” And that’s about as far as I feared I would get. I assumed he would jump in with a caustic remark, perhaps even throw me out of his office before I had the chance to finish my amends.
I face the same fear as I enter Step 9. There is one name in particular on my list of amends which I am quite concerned about. A part of me wishes I could simply write this man a letter because I’m afraid I won’t get to say everything I need to say, and because if I do get the words out I’m afraid they will fall on ears listening only for the break in my speech as the signal to ‘pounce’.
The thing which gives me courage is, ironically, my failure to meet my former boss face-to-face back in Step 4. I sent that letter instead, and while it felt great to confess my sin to this man, I missed the opportunity to see his face. I didn’t get to look him in the eyes and finish the rest of that earlier thought:
“Sir, I know that while I worked here I was not especially productive …
…I spent a lot of company time taking care of personal business and I was always out the door exactly at 5pm because I was more concerned with my own selfish needs than the success of this company. You hired me at a difficult time in the economy, when no one else would take a chance on me, and I repaid your good deed with a poor work ethic. I also know you heard me gossiping about you, and I want you to know that I realize I was wrong, and I am sorry I hurt you. Please tell me what I can do to make things right.”
In my mind the look on my old boss’ face would be priceless at this moment. Whether or not he gave me a “cool reception”, I would know I had faced my fear of making my sin known to the one whom I sinned against. Both in looking back, and looking forward to the rest of my amends, I am beginning to see that it really doesn’t matter what reaction I get from those I make amends to. The value of the Step 9 process is in what it does to me, not what it does for others.
I’ve been working through Step 9 over the past week and I can feel the co-dependent urge to want to make others feel better through my amends, which is of course not the point of Step 9 at all. Step 9 is about cleaning up ‘my side of the street’ by making things right through owning my sin. Step 9 is NOT about cleaning up ‘both sides of the street’. It is not about making things right by doing whatever it takes to make other people feel OK about my sin. If that were the goal of Step 9 my work would never be done because others would never feel ‘whole’ as long as I was trying to manage their emotions. That’s another thing Step 9 is not: It is not an opportunity for my controlling nature to take over and manage how other people think or feel.
As a byproduct of Step 9 I am beginning to sense where I ‘end’ and where the rest of the world ‘begins’. In my old, co-dependent view of the world there are spider webs of emotion connecting me to everyone else around me. For example, if my wife is angry, the thread connecting her and I starts vibrating and soon I am angry, too. Then I try to make her feel better so that I can again feel OK.
In my new and emerging view of the world (and this is difficult to describe) it is as if the thread connecting my wife and I passes through a ‘glass wall’. This wall filters my wife’s emotions before they get to me. It also provides a clear line of demarcation between my wife and I; it separates our personhoods so that it is easier to feel and understand that she and I are different people and can exist in different emotional states simultaneously. Thus I am becoming my own person by eliminating co-dependency through Step 9!