I am now starting my fifth month without using porn. To my recollection, this has been the longest I have gone without looking at porn since I first started using when I was thirteen. In that last year and a half since I decided that I definitely had a problem with porn, I have had some rough spots. Even within the time that I was actively struggling against using, it was common for me to relapse about once a month.
Now, I am happy to report that it has been getting easier all the time. My cravings are far less common, and in times when I do think about porn, I find it much easier to direct my focus towards something else. My interest in porn is much less, and I am far more firm in my conviction that I will not allow images to pollute my brain any more.
I have mostly been “going it alone”, which I do NOT recommend. I am sure that I would have had an easier time if I had stuck with a counselor, found a recovery group, or started my own. Whatever my reasons are for not seeking a greater level of support, do not let that deter you from seeking help from others. That being said, it CAN be done alone. It is difficult, and you will almost certainly have some setbacks. Whether you are working with a group, a counselor, or going it alone, I hope that you will find these suggestion insightful.
One of the most important things that I have learned: Treat every setback as a lesson. Don’t beat yourself up. Try to understand what the factors were that contributed to the relapse, and make plans for how you are going to do things differently next time. IMMEDIATELY reaffirm your commitment to stop using pornography. I feel pretty terrible after any time I find myself looking at porn again, so it isn’t hard for me to reaffirm that commitment. I journal after every relapse, so I can develop a greater understanding of my obsessive behavior.
I have identified multiple factors that contribute to me thinking about porn. Because most of my experience with porn has been with internet pornography, spending a lot of time on the computer has been a significant trigger for me. Factors that cause you to think about porn may be somewhat different.
The emotions present when I start thinking about porn are usually:
- Feelings of powerlessness
Arousal sometimes plays a factor, but often only secondarily. Usually my reasons for wanting to look at porn have less to do with lust than with a desire to entertain and distract myself. Other times it has mostly to do with temporarily regaining a sense of power. Some times just want to make the cravings go away. When I am having strong cravings, I tend to feel itchy, anxious, and obsessive. Even if I have not eaten enough and am very hungry, I find it difficult to eat. I feel restless and unable to sleep, even I am tired and it is late at night.
STRATEGIES FOR QUITTING
The most important strategy for reducing these cravings has been to gain a greater separation from the computer, especially from the internet. I completely gave up the idea of becoming a computer programmer and decided to spend significantly less time on the computer. Nowadays, I prefer to write with a typewriter or using a journal rather than on the computer. I even downloaded optical character recognition software, so that I could scan typewritten poems or short stories into my computer and then convert those PDFs into a text document. This technology allows me to easily edit on a computer writings that I originally create on a typewriter.
Fortunately, I moved into an apartment close to my college. Whenever I want to use the internet, I go to the campus computer center, or to another public space where I would be embarrassed to be seen downloading or viewing porn. When my room mates asked me if I was interested in pitching in money for an internet plan, I decided to opt out.
Not being able to use the internet in my apartment makes it much, much easier for me to stay true to my commitment to not looking at porn. Don’t think of this as cheating, think of it as creating the space you need. Believe me, lack of private internet access has been a dream come true. Try going to the library, a cafe, or some other public place to surf the web. (Oh, and don’t bring headphones!) If you are going to a website where you are especially worried about stumbling on pornographic or somewhat pornographic-looking images, consider going into your internet preferences to turn off all images temporarily. On my browser, go to Edit, Preferences, Privacy & Security, Images, and select “Do not load any images”. (These settings will not block videos, however.) [See Get Rid of Images and Banner Ads.]
Furthermore, I have found that when I feel physically and emotionally well, I am unlikely to use porn. I can’t overstate the important of regular sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise. You don’t have to join a martial arts studio or create an intensive fitness regime—unless you feel that you would benefit from greater discipline. It can be a simple as jogging or walking with a friend. Find something you enjoy, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Having a healthy, fit body makes it far easier to regulate your emotions.
Speaking of emotional health—Don’t overload on stress. Staying connected to friends and family has also been essential, since it has helped me to break out of patterns of isolation and greatly improved my emotional well-being. My girlfriend and I even made a New Year’s resolution together: She wanted to stop using smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and I wanted to be able to go the entire year without using porn. In times of difficulty, I reminded myself that I made a commitment to her.
For my vocation, I feel that the stakes are higher than ever. I want to become a high school teacher. Many of the students that I will be working with are the same age as the young women and girls that I have watched in pornographic videos. If I were to begin looking at pornography once more, I would not be able to look my students in the eye. In order for me to maintain a sense of integrity as a teacher and as a human being, I can’t go back. I don’t worry about the future. It is comforting for me to know that a life without porn is my only option.
At times, I have tried to negotiate with my addiction to pornography. I have tried using pictures instead of video, or looking at erotic comics rather than looking at internet porn. I have even tried to set limits on what kinds of pornography I thought it was, and was not, acceptable to look at. For example, trying to limit myself to only “alternative” or “feminist” pornography. I was not able to maintain any of these limitations. In retrospect, I think that these tactics only served to justify my continued use of something that was still damaging to me.
Trying to create minor limitations to your porn use is like trying to negotiate an abuse relationship. You are being used by porn and you need to break off the relationship, even if it is painful. If you have still have a collection of porn somewhere, throw it away, delete it, cancel your membership, uninstall your torrent software—do what you have to do to stop using.
Trying to install internet filtering technology on my computer also turned out to be a dead end. I actually ended up looking at a lot of porn as a result of trying to figure out whether or not the software was working. Even if I could have got it working, I would have known the password to get around it, so there would have been no point anyway. Maybe if someone had managed to successfully install internet filtering software on my computer, that might have succeeded in blocking SOME of my favorite web sites. But as a person well-versed in the ways of computers once told me, “Internet filtering software does not work, has never worked, and will never work.”
So, to summarize:
- Seek mentors and allies.
- Study your addiction and take notes.
- Create barriers between yourself and the possibility of using porn.
- Take care of yourself.
- Stay connected to people you care about.
- Hold yourself accountable to other people and to yourself.
- Remind yourself of that damage that porn has done to you.
- Think of all that you have to gain.
- Don’t make compromises.
You are not alone. You can do this.