I have battled my pornography addiction for over a decade now. I am only 28. I’ve completed my undergraduate degree and a postgraduate degree. I’m married and we have children. I have a good job in a respectable profession. I have a full and happy life.
However, as a direct result of my decision to look at pornography as a young man, unnecessary pain and struggle have constantly loomed in my life and occasionally flooded everything that is important to me. Knowing what I know now, I would have made some very different choices. However, with professional therapy, faith-based counseling, various addiction recovery programs, personal accountability, and the love of family and friends, I have still been able to find happiness and purpose despite the challenges that pornography addiction has added to my life.
I am sharing my story in the hopes that it will help parents better understand what their kids are up against and to give hope to anyone in a situation similar to mine. As my journey toward recovery progressed, I developed a system that works for me and I believe it could be helpful for others. I have outlined it at the end of this article.
How I Got Caught in the Pornography Trap
I was raised in a good Christian home with loving parents and siblings. However, I became fully addicted to pornography at about age 14.
It started with curiosity at age 8
My curiosity toward sexuality started much earlier. At the age of 8, I remember cutting out advertisements for women’s bras from the Sunday ads that came in the mail each week and hiding them under my mattress. When no one was around I would lift the mattress and review the photos of these women. As an eight year old child I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt aroused and it was an intense feeling I had never felt before.
Later, when I was 11, my family and I moved to Las Vegas. While getting acquainted in our new city, my parents took the entire family down to the strip. The experience was overwhelming. The sexual advertisements that surrounded us only boosted my curiosity.
Curiosity meets opportunity
At about age 14, I was part of a high performance choir and we used a computer program at home to assist in learning our parts for each song. There were a lot of songs to learn and I was nervous about having to sing my part, alone, in front of my instructor. For these reasons, I used the computer program a lot and my parents allowed me to occasionally have the computer in my room overnight.
At the same time, my friends and acquaintances at school were using vulgar language, gestures and hand signs that I didn’t understand. Confused, curious, and not wanting to be the naïve one in the group, I logged these terms in my mind. Late at night, in my room, by myself, after my family had gone to sleep, I searched these terms on Google and began exploring the world of hard pornography.
The computer had filtering software on it, but I quickly learned its many loopholes.
Dealing with pornography addiction as a teen
Although I only recall one serious, and awkwardly uncomfortable, conversation with my parents about sex, I knew that pornography was harmful and that what I was doing was dangerous.
However, I couldn’t control the impulses. The rush that artificially enhanced sexuality provided was beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. Despite justifying to myself that my exploration was normal and natural, because many of my friends were viewing similar material, I immediately felt an invisible burden endlessly weighing me down.
My addiction continued to progress over the next few years. I began exploring other forums, such as late night advertisements that showcased censored versions of pornographic DVDs for sale. I took unreasonable risks like viewing pornography while others were asleep in the same room.
Masturbating became routine for me, with or without pornography. Without understanding consent or genuine intimacy, I began exploring sexual relationships with girls. Regretfully, I treated each sexual encounter as a victory to be added to my trophy case rather than a natural expression of authentic, developing love.
My road to recovery from pornography addiction
Late one night while I was watching a late night pornographic advertisement, my mother walked into the living room. She called my name, but didn’t say much else. She asked me to turn off the TV and go to bed, which I did.
In the morning, after also checking my web history on the computer, my parents confronted me. I had no choice but to confess everything to them. My parents showed love, compassion, and disappointment. I will never forget embracing my father as we both cried.
Finding what worked for me
This marked the beginning of a journey of trial and error, and ups and downs, that has lasted over a decade. I’ve explored all types of plans and systems that aid those struggling with pornography addiction including the following:
- A religious-based 12-step addiction recovery program involving recovery groups
- A 90 day, intensive 12-step recovery program involving daily contact with a mentor
- Fortify training, including coaching and recovery groups
- Application of the principles from Maurice Harker’s book, “Like Dragons Did They Fight”
- Professional counseling with several counselors across three different states
- Religious counseling with several leaders across four different states
All of those programs are amazing and some work extremely well for some people; however, through it all, I had to figure out what works for me. If you have a child who has fallen into the porn trap, don’t get discouraged if he or she fails at the first program you try. Give your child a variety of resources and help him or her figure out what works best for his or her recovery.
Though I am still on this recovery journey, I have found that when I apply the acronym and practices described below, my recovery is at its strongest.
NOW, WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T THINK ABOUT A SURFING LEOPARD WITH POLKA DOTS
So what are you thinking about? A surfing leopard with polka dots? I’ve found this to be the same principle with pornography addiction. Yes, I need to understand my triggers, my brain chemistry, the addiction cycle, and the like. However, I found that focusing on building good habits is much more useful than focusing on preventing one single undesired behavior.
The truth of the matter is that I use pornography when some other underlying area of my life is deficient. I need to treat those underlying conditions, by properly taking care of myself, before the symptom of pornography use will subside. In addition, I need to build emotional strength and mental capacity each day so that when the desire to look at pornography does resurface, I have the tools and resources to respond in a healthy way.
My recovery from pornography addiction is based on C-H-A-N-G-E-D daily habits
Here’s the formula for success that I have found works for me. I hope it works for you or your child, too. The acronym I use is “C-H-A-N-G-E-D. ” Each letter stands for a different activity that I track on a daily basis using a basic habit tracking app.
C – Connect:
Connect with another person. With all of the technology and media we have in our faces every day, it is easy to ignore, or fail to appreciate, the people around us. Human connection is powerful and will enrich our lives.
- Let a loved one know how much you appreciate them;
- Have a nice conversation with a co-worker or classmate;
- Smile at someone at the grocery store;
- Participate in your community in a meaningful way.
H – Headspace:
Get yourself into the right mental state. Motivation waxes and wanes. Take some time each day to allow the distractions and demands of life to fade. Engage with your own thoughts and recognize what it is that you really want in your life.
- Take a walk;
- Reflect by writing in a journal;
A – Accountability:
Record your success or progress. Simply tracking behaviors will help us become more aware of them and allow us to intentionally improve.
- Use a habit tracking app to track these activities;
- Use the Fortify tracker or a paper calendar to track your progress in recovery;
- Share your success or failure with others.
N – No Pornography or Masturbation:
Don’t use pornography or masturbate. Although being hyper focused on this single element can be unproductive, tracking this as one element of many is still important. We need to have an honest reflection of what is and is not working.
No examples needed.
G – Grow:
Participate in some activity that helps you to become a better person. It’s important that, on a daily basis, we participate in something that develops positive attributes and will improve our lives.
- Read a self-improvement book;
- Listen to an uplifting audio book;
- Set goals or check your progress toward a goal in a journal;
- Read scripture .
E – Exercise:
Daily exercise is vital. Get active for some period of time. The boost this will provide in your day, physically, mentally, and emotionally, is one of the best things you can do for your recovery.
- Go for a twenty minute run;
- Do as many pushups as you can in two minutes;
- Try strength training at a gym;
- Do an at home workout through one of the many programs available.
D: Digital Responsibility:
Take responsibility for your digital actions. There is a lot of non-pornographic content that is still unhealthy due to its oversexualization, violence, or other harmful nature. Recognize whether or not you are using media in healthy and beneficial ways.
- Use social media in a healthy way;
- Don’t binge on too much junk media;
- Develop Habits that encourage you to use technology in appropriate ways and places;
- Don’t view non-pornographic content that is still oversexualized and could trigger or encourage pornography use.
Abiding by these simple principles has drastically improved the quality of my life. When I give proper care and attention to each of these areas I feel whole, my desire to view pornography fades, and I feel more confident and capable of dealing with the urges and desires that do arise.
As an example of what this looks like in practice, below is a screenshot from my habit tracking app.
Be flexible and find out what works for you
I recently felt quite overwhelmed by life. I started a new demanding job, committed to writing this article, took on new responsibilities at my church, found out that we’re expecting our next child, and the county we live in implemented additional COVID-19 restrictions.
With all of this storming around, life became quite chaotic and stressful. I became very discouraged and stopped tracking my habits because each one of them, though small, seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. I was struggling and anxious.
Finally, based on something I had previously read in a self-improvement book, I decided to make a change. Instead of demanding that I accomplish each of these tasks every single day (which felt overwhelming to me and prevented me from accomplishing any of them) I decided to narrow my focus.
I chose to focus on just one habit that I thought would provide the most benefit to me in that overwhelmed and anxious state. I committed to myself that I would do, and track, just this one activity for the next seven days.Then, as I felt more capable, I would build in the remaining practices to rebuild my habits. It worked! By narrowing the focus and just mastering one single practice, I felt encouraged, energized, and capable of adding more.
I do want to emphasize that this does not need to be a one size fits all system. Take from this what you think will be useful to you or your child. Adjust it to fit what you know or believe will be most helpful to your recovery. And most of all, remember that recovery is possible, always. Despite the challenges that pornography addiction brings, it does not need to define who you are. Put in the work to enrich your life and accomplish what you really want and you will find happiness in the journey.
This post was written for Protect Young Minds by a man who wishes to remain anonymous.