Age 37 - The experience of someone two years porn free

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heart in the landscapeI'm in my late thirties, and just over 3 years into my journey of a life without porn. Nine months in, I had a brief hiatus where I dabbled in porn again for a few months, then quit again.

So I consider myself two years "sober"... That said, I'm a bit careful with words like that, as I'll explain.

I've been reading a lot of the posts here, and hearing so much of the pain and frustration of people struggling with this thing... I felt moved to talk about my experience: why I quit porn, what happened after I quit, why I went back to porn after being off of it for 9 months, and how I ultimately managed to leave it behind for good (at least for the last two years -- though I know for myself that it's forever).

Hopefully, this post will be useful to someone. Obviously (or maybe not obviously), the usual caveats apply: While there may be similarities, this is my experience, not yours. The reasons I did porn and the reasons I chose to quit may be quite different than yours, therefore, much or even all of this may not apply to you. Your mileage may vary, this is a stunt driver, do not attempt at home, I'm not a doctor or a lawyer, please do not sue me, etc, etc.

Here goes.

I was 34 years old when I decided to quit, after having done porn pretty continuously, and increasingly, from the age of 13 when I found my Dad's magazines in his bedside drawer. By the time I decided to quit, I was married (unhappily - though I wasn't totally conscious of that fact), and had a two-year-old daughter. I was a software engineering manager making a bunch of money, I had a big house in a posh neighborhood. I had all the outward signs of success.

I also cut out of work every few days (for a few hours at a time) to go to the peep show across the street. But I'd convinced myself by that time that that sort of thing was pretty normal. (The "convincing yourself that things are normal" thing doesn't happen all at once... It creeps up on you slowly, little by little, over years and years. I believe this is how seemingly normal people become capable of doing tragic things.)

By that time, I was starting to dabble in placing adult personal ads. Though I hadn't yet had a true physical affair with anyone yet, I was trying like hell to make it happen. And I was getting into some really sick, ugly porn content. Much of it I didn't even find arousing anymore... I was just so numb I couldn't get off unless I kept hunting for more extreme material. (The hunt was half of the process, as I'm sure you know.)

Underneath it all, I had some very painful but largely unconscious patterns of shame and self-punishment, carried forward from childhood, all of which I was numbing and avoiding through using porn and other hyper-stimulating preoccupations.

The first reason I found for quitting porn came when my wife-at-the-time discovered my habit, and she understandably freaked out. We already had some very deep problems in our relationship (she did lots of controlling behavior, condemning criticism, silent treatment, and I did lots of passivity, emotional absence, lying, etc). Our relationship problems were already bad enough that we were discussing separation before she found me out.

That was the day I accidentally left an adult personals ad I had just placed open on the home computer.

As an aside, looking back, I still don't know whether that was really "accident" or whether part of me wanted to be found out. Mostly, I think I had just grown over-confident and lazy. I was such a practiced liar that even I believed it. I had gotten away with it for so long that I thought I was beyond getting caught.

When she found the ad, things came to a head very quickly. She began to suspect there was more, and she insisted I tell her everything. I wish I could say that I laid it all out for her right then, but she had to drag it out of me bit by bit. Partly, this was because I was deeply ashamed, but it was also because of that habit of lying... It had caused me to actually forget many of the things I'd done over the years. It's amazing what we can forget if we try!

A few weeks after my wife's discovery, she staged an intervention, confronted me with evidence of the extent of my addiction (bank account statements, web browser history, etc.), and after a few days of thinking, I made the decision to give up porn and the rest of the stuff I'd gotten into. I went into twelve steps (SAA), therapy, and couples therapy, plus lots of self-help. I threw myself into the work. And things began to change. And then they starting changing even faster.

Nine months later, I made the tough decision to leave the marriage.

Why?

Bottom line, I was getting better. I had stayed away from porn, but more importantly, I was ending my patterns of self-abuse and self-hate, and I was learning to draw compassionate boundaries for myself, keeping agreements with myself and with others, learning to be authentic and honest, and learning to not accept abusive treatment from others or myself. I had accepted unacceptable treatment from my wife for years, and had been medicating my resentment and pain through pornography and sexual obsessions. Now I was finally standing up for myself and getting "sober", while at the same time taking responsibility for my actions.

My wife at the time, however, only seemed to be sinking deeper into fear, paranoia, blame, and extreme emotional mood swings -- but without self-awareness or the vulnerability to admit she needed help. Even our couples counselor could see what was going on and was trying to intervene, but it was no good. She wasn't willing to change, and I was changing fast, and so the machinery of our dysfunctional relationship (which thrived on our old patterns of her domination and my submission), broke down. (Of course, my ex would describe it differently... But I try to see things from her perspective as often as possible and give as fair an account as I can from my limited perspective.)

For me, leaving the marriage was absolutely the right decision. But something interesting happened shortly after leaving... I went back to pornography. I didn't do it unconsciously though. I needed to know: How much of my habit had been about medicating the pain of my marriage, and how much was about me? Did I just give it up for her, or do I really want this thing out of my life? Can I handle porn, and draw some boundaries for myself within it, or is porn my kryptonite?

Here is what I learned after going back to porn:

I can't draw boundaries around this stuff. I am in for a penny, in for a pound. If I do a little porn, then after not too long, I'll be doing a lot, and then I'll be doing really hard, weird stuff that leaves me feeling shaky, ashamed, and hollow inside. If I do ANY porn, I will not be able to predict what else I might be doing next. And that does not meet my needs for self-trust, integrity, or stability in my life.

Something else I noticed: Doing porn after a 9 month hiatus felt like I would imagine it would feel to shoot heroine while skydiving naked without a parachute, and having sex, all at once. It was the biggest rush I have ever felt. And simultaneously, it left me with this shaky, weak, unreal feeling... Like I'd drunk about two-hundred cups of coffee and I was floating somewhere above myself, watching everything happening, rather than actually being there.

And I realized that this was exactly the kind of internal separation that had allowed me to tolerate the pain of the last twenty years of my life, living with deeply ingrained patterns of thinking that led me to hate myself, and invite that kind of treatment from others that I had.

But I would never have realized any of this if I hadn't spent 9 months without using porn, then gone back to it. After using porn daily for years, my mind and body had gradually gotten used to it, desensitized itself to it. That was why I had needed to gradually "up the dose", seeking out more extreme material to create the same effect. Like the old story about the frog in a pot of cold water with the heat gradually getting turned up, I had no idea I was cooked until I was cooked. It was only after getting out of the water for nine months, then jumping in again all at once that I realized the physiological effects that porn had on me.

But of course, by then it was too late. I was hooked again and couldn't stop... That was until something else happened.

Three months after moving out (and still doing porn, plus getting back into other stuff like adult personals), I filed for divorce. And a week later, my ex started bringing my porn habit into the legal proceedings. She tried to limit my time with my daughter by claiming I was an unfit parent, and even an pedophile!

I think my head almost literally exploded. (If you could make your own head explode through thinking about it, it would have.) A whole lot of drama happened at this point... I might write a book about some day, but the short of it is that I was given a very clear choice by the legal system:

Choose one: Your porn, or your daughter.

Now, I'm not saying this was a fair choice, and I'm not saying that it was an unfair fair choice. I'm not saying that I was unfit parent, nor am I saying that I was truly the parent my daughter deserved. I'm not saying this was right or wrong or good or bad or that our legal system works or it doesn't.

What I'm saying is that the clarity of that choice gave me tremendous power to leave behind porn forever. Because I chose to see the situation as an opportunity, and not see myself as a victim, I was able to use the situation as a catalyst for creating a whole new life for myself. Ultimately, once I was sober, I found even better reasons to stay away from porn, which I'll get into shortly. But choosing my daughter was my first and best reason to leave porn behind without hesitation, without looking back.

Life gave me a reason to change when I couldn't come up with my own reason. But it only worked because I made it into MY reason. And the only sad part is, now I realize I could have done that all along. At any time, I simply could have decided: "Today is the day I choose myself, I choose to change everything." My biggest regret was that I waiting so long.

There are too many realizations and learnings I've gained over the last three years to record them all here, but reflecting back, here are some of the biggies that may be of use to others:

1 - My "porn addiction" was not really about porn. It was a strategy for numbing discomfort -- one of many. I was also overeating (40 pounds overweight), eating too much sugar and fat, drinking too much, and escaping from reality through writing and even creative pursuits. My addiction was not my real problem: It was a symptom. It was a signal that I wasn't aware of or responding compassionately to my real feelings, and I wasn't meeting my needs. What needs? All kinds of needs! My needs for integrity, honesty, presence with the people around me. My needs for self-acceptance, self-compassion, and dignity in what kind of treatment I accepted. My needs for fun, meaning, purpose in what I did for a living. My needs for relationship, intimacy, and deep connection with other human beings. In the end, in addition to giving up porn, I gave up most caffeine, lost 40 pounds, found a new and nurturing relationship with someone who accepts me, and started a new career that fulfills my needs for meaning and purpose (I'm still in the midst of that transition). I also have a wonderful relationship with my daughter, who is now about to turn five! The point is, I'm getting my needs through real experiences rather than simply medicating the discomfort created by ignoring and suppressing my needs. I used the exercise of giving up porn as a reason to re-examine everything: To really go after what I wanted in life.

2 - If I use something outside myself as my primary reason for giving up porn, staying away will not be sustainable. My first reason was my wife. Didn't work. My second reason was my daughter. And that wouldn't have worked, except it led me to my real reason: Me.

  • My advice: Choose yourself as your primary reason.

Choose radical self-fulfillment. Let quitting porn be the catalyst that propels you to re-examine your whole life, and demand more from it. You're worth it. This is not a dress rehearsal. Go after your dreams. And yes, sayings like these can get pretty corny... If you let them. Put things in your own words if necessary so they ring true, but don't let fear and cynicism undermine what really matters.

3- The reason I don't do porn is that it disconnects me from my experience of life. I have more fun when I'm actually in my body and I'm connected to my experience, even when that experience includes pain sometimes. I'm also more effective in my life when I make a practice of actually working with my emotional states rather than avoiding them. Porn puts me on cloud nine times ten, and that is WAY too powerful an experience for my brain to handle. It takes me completely out of the real world, and while I need a little escape from day-to-life as much as a the next guy, a nice Stephen King audio book does the job nicely.

5 - Porn limits how emotionally intimate I can be with my partner. As one great therapist I had said, "Every time I fantasize about someone other than my partner, I'm putting one brick in a wall between us, limiting how close we can be to one another." When I've desensitized myself by watching porn, it takes a lot more to get me going in the bedroom, and my expectations get out of whack. Maybe some people are not as sensitive to porn as I was, but it was so intense for me that it sent all my systems out of balance. It was just too extreme for my brain to handle, and using it over the course of decades, it started re-wiring my brain! I became hyper-sexual, seeing sex everywhere I looked instead of seeing human beings. I would follow random women around the grocery store because I couldn't stop staring at them... . Trust me, nothing limits intimacy like your partner not trusting you because she catches you gawking.

4 - More important than quitting porn, I quit thinking that I sucked. In fact, I quit thinking in such extreme terms of right and wrong altogether. I found that if I made porn into something forbidden and wrong, staying away from it would not be sustainable. I know now that if I shame myself for having extreme sexual thoughts or desires, staying away from porn will not be sustainable. If I talk cruelly to myself or think about myself in terms that imply I'm sick, broken or that there's something wrong with me, staying away from porn will not be sustainable. If I think about my actions in general in terms of right / wrong, good / bad, and other moralistic judgments, then staying away from porn will not be sustainable.

I've learned I can't stay away from porn by making it wrong, or "not okay". I'm too much of a rebel who is drawn to breaking the rules sometimes (and I see that as a strength now, as well as a susceptibility). Shame only fuels the fire that drives me wanting to escape in the first place. This realization about shame and right/wrong is now central to how I stay away from porn.

For a long time I felt ashamed and guilty about that hiatus two years ago when I went back to porn -- I called it a "relapse", and thought of myself as a failure. Then I realized that the word "relapse" had become another tool in my arsenal of shame and self-loathing. I had made my self-worth dependent on my sobriety! I had even co-opted 12-step terms like "addict" and "sobriety" and the whole framework of "addiction" as new false identities -- new ways of building myself up, then beating myself back down again. What it really came down to was this cycle: My mind had these deep, repeating patterns of shame and ego, highs and lows. It needed to identify me as SOMEONE, even someone bad, so long as it has some identify to grab onto. It kept grasping for identities and new ways of imagining myself -- self-projections of myself as an "addict", or as a wise "sober guru", as a this or a that.

I finally realized that I was none of those things. I could never really know myself--not like that, not as thought. I was trying to boil myself down to a concept, and the primary concept I chose was shame: I'm not enough, I suck, etc.

Shame was the real fuel for my pornography habits, and had been all along. From the beginning, porn for me had been about finding substitutes for meeting my own needs for self-acceptance. Seeing porn models reveal themselves to me was a substitute for feeling accepted. And at the same time, it reinforced the shame -- the idea that I would never deserve that kind of acceptance in the flesh -- because these were perfect women on a screen, too beautiful to be "haveable" in real life. I believed I was not really "manly", not "good enough", unless I was in the fantasy that I was with these women.

I finally broke this cycle through help from mindfulness practices from The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, and self-empathy work from Marshall Rosenberg (mentioned below), plus material from lots of other teachers (ask me if you want names). I can honestly say that the experiences I had because of teachers like these changed my entire life, and my relationship with myself. That said, you may find your empowering beliefs come from elsewhere. This much I know: empowering and self-compassionate beliefs are crucial, no matter where you get them. If you believe deep down that you suck, quitting porn is not going to work for long: You are trying to change a cause by twiddling with an effect.

5 - How do I think about life if I don't think about it in terms of right and wrong, good and bad? How do I stay away from porn if I don't think about porn as bad? Corny though it may sound, I stop listening to my thinking, and instead, get connected with my feelings and needs. I notice what my body is telling me. I stay away from porn because it doesn't meet my needs. It doesn't meet my needs for integrity, for self-trust, for intimacy with my partner, and connection with myself and others. It doesn't meet my needs for predictability, sustainability, health, groundedness, and presence. It doesn't meet my needs for wholeness. And none of those words really do it -- they are all cheap proxies for what I'm really talking about, which is too beautiful to put words on.

I learned how to get connected the real thing behind these words mainly thanks to an awesome guy named Marshal Rosenberg, and other people trained in his amazing process called Nonviolent Communication. You can find some great videos of him on YouTube to start out if you're interested. That said, please try to ignore that name "Nonviolent Communication" -- it is a terribly named practice, in my opinion, and I believe it is less useful as a communication technique than it is as a way of re-programming how you think. It is the word's best kept secret-mindfulness-technique disguised as a corny way of talking ;-) (Many pieces of it can be an extremely powerful communication technique too -- just don't get too dogmatic with it. Extremes suck.)

It all comes down to this: Once I'd done the work to learn how to respond to my inner states, and stay away from these hyper-extreme experiences that my brain wasn't really evolved to handle (things like extreme violent and pornographic content, extreme judgmental thinking like hate and self-hate, extreme substances, etc.), it allowed me to get reconnected to my body and my experience, and a miracle happened:

I got sensitized again, the way I was when I was a child. I could really appreciate a sunset, or just holding someone's hand, or being silly and whacky, just for the hell of it. I could make love again, not just fuck or dominate (but I can still do that sometimes, too, thanks to a strong and trusting relationship ;-)

And then, when I turned inward with this re-sensitized perception, and I perceived myself ... Well, that's the scariest part.

I found out I was more beautiful than I dared imagine. I found out that everyone is.

I found out that we are all power houses with the capacity to enrich life in amazing ways for ourselves and the people around us... But we get crowded with these lousy belief systems and over-stimulating experiences, and then we disconnect from it all. We just say, "fuck it". We believe the hype that we're all just cattle or something. We buy into beliefs that "all this truth and beauty shit is too corny and lame", and so we run away from our courage, and we can't sustain the experiences that could finally carry us out of our misery.

The world we've created for ourselves doesn't make it easy for us to have this experience. It desensitizes us by offering us constant opportunities to flood ourselves with stimulation. Fast food, fast-paced movies, casual sex, porn, gambling, cigarettes, alcohol, sugary caffeinated lattes, video games, smart phones... We eat it all up like candy (hell, candy is one of the stimulants, too!). And our attention span shrinks and shrinks.

But attention is what we need to get back to in order to have this "realer" experience I'm talking about. It takes patience, attentiveness, presence, openness, gentleness, surrender. It takes some silence, some stillness .... It takes giving up, witnessing your stream of thinking, realizing it is not who you are, and letting the thoughts chatter away themselves away until you can find your true self beneath all the noise. It's the simplest thing in the world, and one of the most difficult.

I can't really explain what happens once you do this.. You have to have the experience for yourself. It is incomparable. It's the real deal. I also can't tell you which stimulants to cut back, or how much. Only you can decide which substances and activities are "your kryptonite", and which you can moderate. We're all sensitive to different things in different ways. And I can't tell you that the withdrawal process is any fun. Feeling un-felt feelings is scary and raw and messy, and it took me over a year to get the hang of it. And I STILL have my days.

But I can tell you this: It's so worth it.

There is so much more I could say, but this is already a novel, so I'll just end with this:

If you've read this far, and you're still wondering whether or not it's worth it, there is no way you'll know until you try. My words cannot substitute for your experience. That said, my advice is this: If you're trying to quit porn and struggling, it may be because you're thinking too small. I'm betting porn isn't the root problem (at least, it wasn't for me.) Why not make this an opportunity to reboot your whole life? If you wait for others to give you a reason to re-examine your life, then it's not likely to happen on your terms. So why not just make up your own reason right now?

You have that power. You are, in fact, the only one with that power.

Or are you still waiting for someone else to give you a reason?

Anyway, that's my experience. Hope it helps.

LINK TO POST - The experience of someone two years porn free

by  OutBeyondIdeas


 

UPDATE

The experience of someone two years porn free - Part 2: THANK YOU.

Wow.

Over the last month, I have been just blown away by the response I got to my first post ever to Reddit:

http://www.reddit.com/r/pornfree/comments/23os97/the_experience_of_someone_two_years_porn_free/

147 upvotes, and 88 effusive comments like:

  • "Best post ever."
  • "Thank you. This is the single best thing I have ever read on Reddit."
  • "Amazing, wow that's just... Wow!"
  • "I'm not sure how I can thank you enough, but thank you."

And it just went on and on, until I was just sitting here, reading in tears.

I was even gifted a Reddit Gold membership, though I don't know by whom. (I didn't even know what it WAS until I read about it!)

So, to that person, to everyone who commented, and to all of you who are out there reading this:

THANK YOU.

Thank you just for being here. Thank you for taking the time to read posts here, to interact, to contribute to your own well-being... And thank you for contributing to others well-being through the amazing support you give here everyday. Thank you for reaching out and being a part of this world. It makes a difference. It's not corny.

Thank you for giving a shit.

My heart has just been overflowing over the last month, as I continue to feel grateful for all your gratitude, and read the accounts of personal pain, triumphs, questions, and support, encouragement, and love from every corner... I've just been marveling at it all. I'm filled with the compassion for all of us on this journey, as we work to find freedom from pornography, and help each other find freedom. It's such a hard road sometimes, and it touches my heart to see people who are getting to the very core of this issue, and uncovering their long-lost true selves along the way.

To everyone out there who is still struggling, there is so much more I want to share with you about how to find the way out. I so want for you to experience the kind of amazing peace and joy that I know is absolutely possible. I want this for everyone on the planet, but I especially want it for people on our path.

I think porn addiction is one of the least understood and most stigmatized problems in the country right now, and thanks to the internet, I fear it may be silently becoming one of the most prevalent addictions on the planet. The need for empathy and healing is HUGE, and only getting bigger.

That leads me to one thing I left out of my first post. Over the last year, the career transition that I mentioned has been specifically toward helping people transform their addictions to pornography and other disempowering sexual habits.

On the side, I've been working with groups and individuals doing coaching and classes, and it's been fricking amazing. What a joy to discover what I was put on the planet to do! As one of my heroes, Marshal Rosenberg says, "I believe we're here to have fun... And contributing to enriching life for others is just about the most fun game in town."

So I wanted to thank you all for filling my heart with gratitude, and use this as an opportunity to add one more tip for quitting pornography to my previous, strangely-numbered "novel" of a reddit post:

7: Instead of porn, the most decadent, indulgent, juicy treat you can ever give yourself is to GIVE TO SOMEONE ELSE.

There's just nothing more fun that I've ever found, especially when you take the time to soak it up. Don't say "it's nothing", or just shrug it off. IT'S NOT NOTHING! Bathe in it a while--milk it! Feel how beautiful it is to help someone! And it's so much better than porn, because the high actually lasts, and it feeds you all the way to your core.

You don't have to have any degrees or qualifications. (I don't.) You don't even have to have a certain number of days of "sobriety". You can certify yourself right now to be qualified to touch someone else's life and make it more wonderful.

How?

Just listen.

Listen deeply to someone else who is in pain -- give them all of your presence, be with them completely, and empathize without judging. They will receive your gift just by the way you look at them. (You can even do this through writing here on Reddit - it shows up in your words. Presence is kinda magic that way.)

I believe this is the greatest gift we can give another person -- presence. And the best part is that it's not just a gift to them, it's a gift to you too!

How do you think I managed to get two years porn free?

I started replacing porn with the best juice I could get my hands on: Giving.

This stuff is the magic sauce, like a perpetual motion machine, or generating energy for free or something.

See, if you can really soak it up, then the act of giving to someone else is a gift to you. And if they realize that it's a gift for you to give to them, then THAT's a gift to them too... And around and around we go, creating joy like we're printing money.

It's pretty f'ing cool!

As a final note, I wanted to let you all know that your amazing comments to my first post inspired me to bring what I've been doing with people in person onto the web, so that I can help as many people as possible without "geographic limitations" (I literally live on an island, by the way, so I am definitely "geographically challenged".)

Tonight, I'm launching my website:

http://steppinginward.com

Now I want to tread carefully here because I don't want to come across as spam. I want to be clear with both you and the mods that I don't plan to make a habit of using Reddit as a marketing tool. This link to my own website is a one-time deal.

But I really wanted to share the news with all of you because you are a part of this.

You were all, in fact, a HUGE part of what gave me the courage to build and launch this website... And if it ends up helping people, I hope you pause to reflect that you had a hand in doing that too.

Your being here on this board and helping people "one comment at a time" is a BIG deal. It is what gives others the encouragement and support they need to do things like this, which can have an untold positive impact on humanity. You make a difference, even in the smallest of actions you take -- they all ripple outward, add up, and affect the world in ways you can scarcely imagine.

So here is it, one final time:

THANK YOU.

 

Comments

This is the best personal report Ive readh so far. Thanks a lot

--

You're welcome! I had no idea it had been posted here, so sorry if I was slow responding :-)

Thank you for your story, it's very informative and helpful! One thing I would like to ask, did you go just pornfree, or abstained from masturbation also?

In answer to your question, mostly I changed the way I masturbate. I still masturbate occasionally, but only to fantasy of my wife, or to nothing at all except focusing on the sensations. I don't fantasize about other people, and I'm strict with myself about that.