Overcoming pornography addiction can be one of the most difficult trials that an addict will ever have to face. They can spend years trying to find the answers they need to finally triumph over the problem. These are 10 essential steps that I feel are necessary for this journey. Of course, these steps are probably not going to happen in the order they are presented (nor should they). However, I do feel they are all important and hope that those struggling with this issue can gain some insight into themselves.
1) Establish Effective Fortifications
- When an addiction develops in an individual, it creates patterns in the brain that are extremely difficult to rewrite. As a result, addicts are more susceptible to acting out when confronted with certain places, people, or things. One of the hardest things a pornography addict has to do is to give up those people, places, or things that trigger their addiction and lead them into a place they regret. Just like in war, if we want to protect ourselves from the enemy, we have to place fortifications around ourselves and our families to keep us from falling into the hands of the enemy. Sometimes these fortifications can be tedious and quite bothersome, but they are necessary for survival. An addict should be aware of those things that will lead them to a relapse. Some common examples of this are: smart phones, seemingly harmless websites, social networking sites, risqué television shows or movies, and late nights on the internet. Many addicts will attempt to rationalize some of these triggers, such as checking their email before going to bed or watching a movie without checking the content. However, no matter how much we think we need a smart phone to survive in this world, we have to decide what’s more important to us: a brand new smart phone or freedom from addiction. Don’t get me wrong, some people are capable of having their own smart phones or checking their emails at nights and still maintain recovery. However, what ever an addict’s individual situation might be, he or she knows what they need to give up to maintain recovery. They just need to stop lying to themselves to figure it out.
2) Find a Group
- Addiction creates isolation and loneliness, which in turn, fuels addiction even more. Going to a therapist run group and/or a 12-step group can be essential for lasting recovery. I am not saying that all addicts are absolutely “required” to attend a group to recover from pornography addiction. I do, however, feel that it is highly recommended and extremely valuable to recovery. Being able to meet with others who experience the same problems can help to heal the shame that binds addicts. It can also help individuals get some insight into their own recovery process. If you have tried years to overcome an addiction and you still haven’t kicked the habit, it is necessary to reach outside yourself for answers and tools that you may need to recover. In a large part, if you knew all the answers, you would be clean by now.
3) Learn to Manage Your Feelings Effectively
- At the core of addiction is the inability to manage emotions; especially shame. Overcoming pornography addiction to a large degree is learning how to effectively manage the feelings that come up. It is necessary to be able to understand what feelings and emotions are “running” in the background. A large portion of our emotions are unconscious or subconscious. Meaning, we aren’t necessarily thinking about them or realizing that they are there. Subconscious means we can access them if we want to. Unconscious means that we are completely unaware that they exist. Setting some time aside on a regular basis to assess our bodies can be invaluable to reaching and understanding our emotions. What this looks like is basically allowing five to ten minutes in our day to “checking in” with our bodies (i.e. feelings and emotions). Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What caused me to feel this way? What is the story that I am telling myself? Where does this story come from?” These are some of the questions that can help to understand yourself emotionally. Above all, make sure that you ask these questions after a relapse. It is essential to understand why you do what you do and what leads you to the relapse. This gives you more power over your actions rather than being a blind follower to your addictions.
4) Establish a Daily Routine Centered on Recovery (Dailies)
- I have heard many recovery addicts say that “Dailies” are what separates an addict with a recovery addict. They have given their success on the consistency of these routines. Dailies are divided into three main categories: Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional/Personal. Physical dailies are activities such as: regular or daily exercise, adequate sleep, and having a daily balanced diet. Eating junk food and watching tv until 2:00 am in the morning will just make you feel worthless which in turn fuels your addiction. Spiritual dailies are activities such as: prayer, meditation, scripture study, and service to others. These activities can give you the added spiritual strength that you need to stay in recovery every day. Emotional/Personal dailies are activities such as: recovery reading, making a phone call to reach out, music, positive affirmations, and journal writing. Taking on one or two of these activities per category on a daily basis can keep you in emotional, spiritual, and physical check throughout the day; especially if you use things as a replacement to acting out when you are triggered.
5) Accept What You Have Not Been Willing to Accept
- One of the hardest things to do as an addict is to accept the things that you don’t want to accept. This is called denial. Denial is basically using strategies or techniques to help avoid facing painful realities and feelings. Overcoming any denial is absolutely essential to recovery. An addict spends a large portion of the addiction cycle using denial tactics. One of the best things an addict can do is face these painful realities and feelings he has since long denied. Sometimes you can face these realities logically, but your body does a pretty good job at keeping itself in denial. For example, one of the hardest things a client of mine had to accept was that he enjoyed looking at porn. I believe he understood this on a rational level, but he didn’t fully accept this in his heart. In order to accept this, he had to accept that there was a part of him that didn’t want to change. A part that he wanted to pretend that didn’t exist. A part that he didn’t want to own. A part that wanted to do “evil” and destroy his family. Addicts have to face three painful realities: 1) I have a problem, 2) it is a serious problem, and 3) only I am responsible for my actions.
6) Find an Accountability Partner
- The best way to heal from shame is to share it with another person. It is important to get into the habit of doing this on a daily basis. It is necessary to find someone who we are willing to be accountable to when we relapse or are tempted to relapse. Sometimes people will use their ecclesiastical leader as an accountability partner. However, an ecclesiastical leader does not or should not be a replacement for this position. An accountability partner should be found in addition to your leader. Furthermore, other people will use their spouses as an accountability partner. However, spouses should NEVER be put in this position. Please don’t misunderstand, you should always be accountable to your spouse if you relapse into pornography or other sexual behaviors. Regardless, an accountability partner should not only know of your relapses, but they should know of the specific details of your relapse and how you went there. They should also know of your triggers and any feelings that need to be surrendered to them throughout the day. As a rule of thumb, I usually tell my clients, you need to be accountable to your spouse if you relapse in any sexual manner. Your accountability partner should know all the rest.
7) Learn to Surrender
- Surrender does not mean that you should just give up and succumb to your addiction. It means that you can’t overcome this problem by yourself. As human beings, we like to feel powerful. We like to feel like we can do anything if we just put our minds to it. Because of pride, an addict continues to succumb to his addiction because he hasn’t learned that what makes men and women strong is not always fighting harder but learning to let go and rely on others for strength. An addict needs to surrender in two ways: 1) our surrender to God, and 2) our surrender to others. Your surrender to God depends on your willingness to not put God on the back burner any longer. It requires to have God as an essential part of your recovery process. You are essentially saying to God, “I am in this pit and I keep on falling down. Could you extend a ladder to help me get out? Also, if I can’t climb the ladder, can you come down here and help me?” Your surrender to others depends on your willingness to be vulnerable and share your true feelings with them. Others can consist of family, friends, or just people we want to connect with. It is essentially saying to people, “I need you. You are important to me. I need to feel important to you too.”
8) Deal with the Underlying Causes of the Addiction
- Addiction always stems from a loss of attachment. In its most basic form, pornography addiction is designed to replace connection with people. We are hard-wired to connect. If we were raised in situations that made it difficult for us to obtain a healthy attachment (based on love, trust, and complete emotional safety) we seek to obtain this connection in other ways. Most addicts who begin their recovery say that they turn to pornography because it “feels good.” However, it is much more than that! As you start to learn about your triggers, relapses, and addiction cycle, you will learn how strongly connected your addiction is on your desire to be loved. Desires that weren’t fully met with important people in your life. Whether these are parents, siblings, or peers, it doesn’t matter. All are essential for building a healthy attachment and confidence in yourself. Sometimes it might be difficult for you to really understand the underlying causes of your addiction. That’s why it might be necessary to seek professional help to deal with the trauma that is associated with the problem.
9) Embrace Vulnerability
- Vulnerability is much more than just admitting to others that we need help. It is embracing who we are as a person. We can spend hours a day as human beings trying to be something or someone for other people. We feel that doing this will make us feel loved, which in turn, will help us to love ourselves but it never does. It just leads to more shame, sadness, anger, and fear. If you want to feel worthy of the love of others, you need to be willing to love yourself first. Vulnerability by nature builds stronger connection, but you should not be vulnerable in order to obtain connection from others. You should be vulnerable for yourself. Vulnerability to others is another way of saying, “This is who I am and I am okay with it! Are you?” The more you can embrace vulnerability, the more power you will have over your addiction.
10) “Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up”
- Overcoming addiction requires a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it can take years for an addict to learn the things they need to learn about themselves to be free from addiction. Unfortunately, this is a painful truth. As a result of this, you might lose faith in your abilities to change. You might look back on all the years that addiction has been a part of your life and feel tempted to give up hope. However, no matter how many difficulties or relapses you face, as Churchill once said, you must “never, never, never, never give up!” Relapse is part of the recovery process. I am not saying this so you can use it to rationalize your next relapse. If you did, then you are not really in recovery, are you? You might need to go back and look at the denial step again. I am simply saying that you must never give up hope no matter how many relapses you have. Addiction recovery is possible for any one that is willing to put in the work. One of my favorite things I hear from clients that have come to a place of consistent sobriety is, “I would never change anything. The things I have learned about myself was worth every pain….every relapse. I needed to go through it to learn what I need to learn and to stay clean.”