A majority of American men access pornography on a daily or weekly basis. For the lucky few who recognize this habitual usage as the addiction it is, five stages of recovery from pornography addiction ensue:
- The “I Don’t Know What Else To Do” Stage: Like all addicts, pornography users eventually hit bottom. Maybe a man’s wife leaves him or he gets fired for using at pornography at work. Regardless of what it looks like, “bottom” is a place no one ever wants to be. And no one just plummets straight to the “bottom”; it is a long, slow, steady decline that destroys lives and leaves people looking for a way out. They try prayer and meditation, reading books, maybe even counseling, but eventually every pornography addict realizes the only way to recover is to enter a recovery program. At this stage, guys don’t want to be at meetings and they do the bare minimum of whatever is required. Nothing else has worked for them, and they secretly doubt (and hope) the program will help either.
- The “Huh…It’s Working…” Stage: Anywhere from a few days to a few months after joining a recovery group, the pornography addict starts to realize that somehow the program is working. Maybe he’s still using pornography, but it is getting easier to say “no”. Or maybe he was able to stop using pornography immediately and he has noticed a growing sense of peace in his life. At this stage the recovering addict will become more open with other members of the group and will participate more during group sharing. He completes assignments, not because nothing else has worked, but because it appears it may be working. The addict is still ‘learning the ropes’ of recovery, however, and has to take many cues from his mentor and other men in the group. He frequently slips up and may relapse.
- The “OMG…It’s working!” Stage: Six to nine months into his recovery program, the pornography addict is now certain that the program is working in his life. His relationships with others are improving, he is afraid and angry less often than he used to be, and he even has some significant sobriety built up. The recovering addict in this stage eagerly follows any advice his mentor and other men give him; the program is working and he wants to keep that ball rolling! The addict is highly involved in group sharing and other group activities, and may even volunteer for group support positions. He resembles a recently converted Christian who loves his new sense of freedom and can’t wait to share that feeling with others.
- The “Yeah, yeah, it’s working…” Stage: Disillusionment sets in for the recovering addict. Whether he relapsed after 9+ months of sobriety or had a few close calls, the addict in this stage realizes that he’s not bulletproof after all. “Yeah, the program works,” he would tell you, “If you work it.” And if he were honest, the addict in this stage isn’t altogether sure that he wants to keep working his program. It is a LOT of work! The addict has probably forgotten how bad life was before recovery. Compared to his faded memory of lustful bliss coupled with agonizing psychological pain, the recovery program begins to seem like a burden too heavy to lift. “Is this worth it?” he asks himself, “Isn’t there an easier way? Would going back to pornography be all that bad? I don’t remember things being as tough as they are now. It seems like I’m worse off now than I was before!” If he were to ask his recovery group, however, they would tell him from experience that it is never worth it to go back to pornography. The addict in this stage experiences ambivalence about recovery in general, and his program of recovery specifically. He may resent the homework given to him, the phone calls he is supposed to make, and the tasks he is required to perform during group meetings. Much like the man in the first stage, the addict in this stage works the program because he has to, not because he wants to, and he may frequently bend or break boundaries.
- The “It’s my program” Stage: If the addict works hard and pushes through Stage 4, he will arrive in a marvelous place. God will open his eyes to see that the choice to stay sober and gain progressive victory over lust really is his choice to make. No one is going to force him to work the program, and no one will judge him if he fails. This is the stage when recovering addicts start to take ownership and responsibility for their recovery programs. They work when things go well, but not because things are going well. They work when things go badly, but they don’t give up because things are tough. They work; not because of circumstances, feelings, spouses, bosses, or mentors, but because they are choosing to be a certain kind of man. God brings them to a place where they can finally choose to ‘grow up’. A recovery program at this stage is like a marriage that has sailed through its giddy early days, fought its way through the ‘seven year itch’, and one day finds that joy and peace come through the hard work involved, not in spite of it.
What stage are you in?