Today I respond to a subscriber who commented on my YouTube channel with the story of his secret porn addiction. The shame of this secret was eating away at Anon and helping to trap him in this vicious cycle of addiction. After hitting rock bottom and not being able to stomach his own actions anymore, Anon took a risk and confessed everything to his partner.
The full text of Anon’s story is below in italics. My comments are in bold.
When I met my girlfriend I told her about my porn addiction and how I wanted to quit. Shortly after we got together I swore off porn and told her I had quit. A month in the relationship I relapsed. I swore to myself this was never going to happen again and I didn’t tell my girlfriend because it would hurt her and, as far as I knew then, I was over my porn addiction.
Oh boy, there’s a lot to unpack here. It sounds like you started off well, being open and honest with your future partner about your struggles with porn and your desire to quit. It obviously wasn’t a deal breaker–she very well may have been attracted to your honesty and your desire to overcome your demon and better yourself.
But you made two big mistakes: One, you didn’t practice recovery, and two, you didn’t remain open, honest, and communicative with your partner.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you’re addicted, there is no getting “over” it. In recovery your addiction doesn’t have to control your actions, limit the quality of your life or relationships, or plague you with frequent urges, but it doesn’t ever just go away either. Once an addict, always an addict. Your wiring for compulsive porn use can be made to go dormant, but it will always be there waiting to be reactivated if you get complacent and lose your way. Wondering if you are addicted? Take a look at the Porn Addiction Test.
This is why it’s so important to actively practice “recovery” every day. What that looks like is complex and individual to each one of us, but it involves:
- Honesty with yourself and your loved ones, especially your romantic partner.
- Building and maintaining a consistent guidance and support system for yourself, potentially including friends, family, support groups, and a coach, counselor, or therapist.
- Learning how to face and process difficult emotions and stressful circumstances without turning to escapist compulsions.
- Discovering your core emotional needs and seeking to fulfill them in healthy ways.
- Developing purpose, passion, discipline, and structure into your daily life.
- Understanding the entire chain of emotions, actions, and events that leads you back to porn so that you can cut that chain early.
- Making your home and work environments safer places and creating safety nets that make it difficult for you to use impulsively relapse in moments of weakness, such as installing accountability software like Covenant Eyes onto your devices.
My highest streak after that first month with no porn was a week. After a while of relapsing week after week I sort of just gave up. I’d half-ass a “recovery” and then when I wanted to relapse I’d lie to myself, professing “this is the last time!”
No one is better at lying to themselves than an addict. I well understand this cycle from personal experience. We want to believe that we will be stronger, freer versions of ourselves in the future, but right now we want to give in and get swept away into our pleasurable compulsions, so we rationalize (bullshit ourselves) into somehow thinking that it’s OK to use “just this once.”
Try this journaling exercise if you know you have this problem: Make two columns. In one column, write down every lie and rationalization that you have ever told yourself in order to convince yourself that it’s OK to use porn “just this once.” Now, next to each of these lies in the opposite column, write the corresponding truth. For example, if the Lie is, “I don’t have much of a streak yet anyway since I relapsed anyway last week. I might as well use porn now, because it’ll hurt more to relapse on a long streak,” then the Truth would be, “If I keep choosing to relapse like this, I’ll never have a long streak, much less become permanently pornfree. I should act today like I want my future self to act every day, because he is me.”
After almost 2 years of lying to myself, one night I went on a binge of pornography all night long. Afterwards, at 3 am, I felt this huge wave of guilt, self-loathing, and general psychological pain just wash over me. I started crying, thinking about all the times I lied when she asked if I was still using porn, all the times I lied that I had work to do so that I could be alone to watch porn. I realized I couldn’t keep doing that anymore, I couldn’t keep lying. Every time I lied it dug a hole in my chest, which by this time was a gaping pit. I told myself that morning that as soon as she wakes up I’m confessing everything, even if that means she wants to break up.
With the possible exception of sociopaths, politicians, and other such outliers, lying goes against our natural human inclination towards love and integrity. The more we lie, the more we hurt ourselves. If those lies are about important things and/or we are lying to people we love, it hurts worse. Don’t get me wrong. People can become accustomed to lying and even think that they’re good at it and it doesn’t bother them, but eventually they realize that in becoming a liar, they have lost important pieces of themselves. The truth yearns to be free.
Addiction is a disease of isolation, lies, secrecy, and shame. Many of us fear rejection and resist opening up and asking for acceptance and help, so instead we try to go it alone. We think, “I can handle this on my own, and once the problem is solved I won’t have to lie anymore. Maybe I can even come clean later, but only after I’m better.” Often it takes years of failing along this route for us to realize that we cannot go it alone and shouldn’t try.
So that’s exactly what I did. When she woke up I confessed everything. I was crying and filled with so much shame and remorse as I told her everything. But as I did, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulder. That was 21 days ago and I haven’t relapsed to porn since. My girlfriend knows that I’m 100% committed to never watching porn again. Right now I feel a lot more love for myself because I’ve stopped lying and I feel a lot closer to my girlfriend because I’m a lot more open and honest with her. I also feel a lot closer than I was to being the man I want to be.
There is no replacement for living without shame. The feeling you get when you’re proud of yourself and have nothing to hide is priceless. You can walk out into the world with your head held high, at peace with yourself and your actions.
You’re on a better trajectory now, Anon, but the work isn’t over. Don’t make the same mistakes you made before. Don’t get complacent. Don’t give into your temptation to hide or lie. Stay true to the lessons you have learned. Seek always to grow and develop. Remember every day to be the kind of man you always want yourself to be.
And instead of committing to never watch porn again, commit instead to actively build upon your recovery every day. That commitment would say a lot more to me about your chances at a permanently pornfree life.
Looking for guidance along this journey?Learn how to get my help here.