Reflections at 60 days – On relapsing, habit, guilt. obsessive thoughts, and getting help.

I am writing this on Day 60 of my reboot process, following my worst relapse yet. Sharing what I’ve learned. Please let me know if you find anything useful or if you can relate to anything. Apologies for the rambling.

On Relapsing:

On a good day, the idea of relapsing seems impossible. I feel that I am no longer a slave to my computer. And when I relapse, I find myself racked with guilt and confusion about how I let this happen.

I’ve realized that from “the outside” (a time when I’m not feeling tempted) it seems that I am too reasonable to allow myself a 2+ hour relapse. But sure enough, every few weeks one creeps up on me. However, I never sit down at my computer and decide “Ok, I’m going to go watch porn for 2 hours and throw all my progress away.” It’s the slippery slope that gets me, and the only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that I avoid that first step. Sometimes it’s an image on tumblr and sends me down the wormhole just by clicking here and there, telling myself at each click that this will be “the last one”. Eventually it gets to a point where I realize that I’ve failed at avoiding porn that day, and therefore it’s ok if I just continue and “get it out of my system” so I’m not as tempted tomorrow.

I need to stop thinking of bad days/good days in terms of streaks. Instead of “I’m going to go as many days in a row without porn”, the mentality should be “I’m going to watch as little porn as possible for 90 days”. This way when I find myself relapsing, there’s no “giving up” just because I slipped slightly. Instead of “I’ve failed, I threw the past 2 months into the garbage” I need to think “In the past 2 months I’ve watched 2% of the amount of porn that I used to.”

On Habits:

My therapist recommended the book “The Power of Habit”. The way that habits work is amazing. They allow us to walk without having to think “left foot, right foot”. And to drive without having to think about how far to turn the wheel every time. But they also make quitting certain things extremely difficult.

A study was done in which a gorilla was shown a few colors on a screen, and by choosing blue he was given some sweet juice, triggering a rise in pleasurable brain activity. Eventually his brain started showing the pleasurable activity just by him seeing the color blue on the screen, but if he clicked it and the juice didn’t follow…he became very upset. You can probably recognize a similar pattern when you’re tempted to look at porn. Your brain thinks it’s about to get some of what it craves, and when it doesn’t, you feel bad.

When we do something that formerly led us to porn, such as sitting down at our computer, our habitual brain spikes and goes into ‘porn mode’ even if we aren’t planning on it. Breaking habits is near impossible, but replacing habits is very possible and perhaps the only way to break the cycle.

In every habit there is a CUE > ROUTINE > REWARD. If we encounter the cue of opening our web browser, or seeing an image that is tempting, we will consistently fall into our routine of watching porn unless we replace the routine with something that leads us to an equal reward. Until we find a way to replace the PMO routine, our brain will automatically bring us into a relapse.
Keep the cue (feeling down/horny/bored), provide the same reward (feeling good), but insert a new routine (exercise, cooking, reading).

On Guilt and Getting Help:

Quite possible the hardest part about quitting was being left with a lot of emotions that I did not have the skills to manage without porn. The strongest of these was guilt. I was suddenly confronted with memories of 10+ years of porn, and a sense of embarrassment. How would be SO ever look at me the same if they knew what I did when I was alone? I spent a good 30 days absolutely miserable and with uncontrollable anxiety that led me to miss so much work that I had to borrow rent money. I worried that my brain was beyond repair, I worried that my SO would leave me and I’d be alone forever, I worried that I would never beat my addiction and that it would escalate to a point where I did something illegal and ended up in jail.

I couldn’t handle this on my own, and I sought professional help. I found a therapist through Psychology Today’s website and began seeing him. I learned how to handle these obsessive thoughts, and now when I feel anxious I no longer have obsessive thoughts, I just feel the anxiety, accept it, and move forward. I also learned that my porn addiction was the result of a number of unresolved issues that I had never confronted before, and porn was a way to bury those negative feelings deep down. I am working on these issues now, and my life and relationship has significantly improved, even though I still struggle with the occasional relapse.

Book Recommendations:

  1. Feeling Good by David Burns – Known for being one of the most effective books for treating anxiety/depression. My therapist follows the approaches in this book. If you can’t afford professional help, spend $7 and give it a read. It has been the best change in my life so far.
  2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – One of the keys for changing myself has been to understand the way that habits work, and to understand why quitting porn is so much harder than just deciding you want to. Crucial information on how to change.
  3.  Breaking the Cycle by George Collins – A book on sex/porn addiction from a psychologist who deals mainly with these issues. A quick read. Wasn’t as helpful as the other books I mentioned but perhaps there is something in there that will help you.

LINK – Reflections at 60 days – On relapsing, habit, guilt and getting help.

BY – OneDayMore