Pornfree in the Pandemic ~ How to maintain recovery in quarantine

Many of you right now in April 2020 are likely having a tougher time staying pornfree and optimistic given the global pandemic lockdown restrictions that most of us are living under. As one recent client put it:

How can I survive the urge during this quarantine time? No gym, No people outside. I thought I have very little desire for porn anymore, but it comes back when I become self-isolated. Why is that?

This lockdown has knocked many a rebooter off their path. So much of recovery is about getting yourself out into the world, pursuing your purpose, exploring, socializing, etc. Now, many of us are stuck inside, out of work, disallowed from socializing in person, and on the Internet more than we should be. The cravings can return in force during this time because addiction is a dysfunctional way of fulfilling core needs that are going unmet. When we actually meet those higher needs for purpose, passion, and connection, we experience true satisfaction. When we don’t meet those needs, there’s an emotional vacuum within us that screams out to be filled with something.

So how can we stay the course of recovery during this pandemic? I’ll answer that by responding to a letter from a one-time client who went pornfree for nine months, cured his porn-induced erectile dysfunction, and enjoyed a satisfying romantic and sexual relationship. However, once that relationship ended he found himself back in the relapse cycle of pornography use, and ever since he has struggled to maintain sobriety. Most recently I reached out to see how Anon was doing.

The full text of Anon’s response is below in italics. My comments are in bold.

I’ve lost motivation since the quarantine and have been relapsing constantly. I feel like shit.

The thing is, I’m just so tempted to give up. Yes, I always feel better when I quit porn. My mood improves, my libido improves, my attraction towards real life women skyrockets, I’ll notice attractive women at the gym and even be able to work up the nerve to talk to some of them more, I don’t feel like a zombie, I don’t feel like I’m hiding something every time I turn on my phone, the benefits almost seem endless. And no matter how many times it seems like I’ve finally given it up for good, I end up relapsing.

Back at the beginning of the maze.
Back at Start. Was that wasted energy? No, you learned one way not to do it.

You, my friend, have gotten a good taste of what freedom from porn is like. You know that it’s worth whatever challenges you have to face. You know it’s about living life to your fullest potential–not just recovering from a sexual dysfunction. But you’re losing faith in yourself because you’re confronted with evidence time and time again that you are the type of person who fails to resist porn when things get tough. Does that sound about right?

What happened in the past does not have to be repeated ad infinitum. If that were so, humanity would never invent anything new or progress in any way. You can have a dramatically different life from what you have now. I know from my conversations with you that you have faced loss and pain that most people your age have not had to endure. I don’t in any way seek to diminish the gravity of those experiences. But tragedy is a force that we can either allow to knock us down or harness in order to propel ourselves forward.

Many “successful” people can look back in their lives to a tragedy that helped set them on the course to their current success. Many lonely, poverty-stricken addicts can also look back to a tragedy that set them down their path. What separates those two groups? Is it faith? Is it luck? Is it opportunity? Is it the right guidance and support? Is it some inborn “grit” or toughness?

All of these factors matter, but what I really believe it comes down to is a simple (but not easy) choice.

a) I choose to embrace my life and all of its inherent challenge and imperfection.

b) I choose to turn away from my life, because it’s easier right now to escape than it is to stand and fight.

Read my Pornfree Mindset for Lasting Recovery for a more thorough look at the choices we make in the beginning of recovery that will determine everything about our journey.

The longest I’ve ever gone is 9 months and a big part of what helped that was dating my girlfriend at the time. We were sexually active, and so despite me abstaining from all forms of masturbation, she was a sexual outlet for me and provided release on an almost daily basis. Now…. I’m single and I relapse every few days because I just don’t even see the point anymore. Porn has been a part of my life since I was 11 and I’m almost 22. It’s been ingrained in my memory, I use it not because it makes me feel good, because it always makes me feel worse, but because I don’t know what to do without it. It helps me escape, it helps me feel like I can actually get beautiful women, I imagine that I’m the guy in the videos, and my life seems better for a little while. I’m desperate to give it up for good. I really am, but I almost just don’t care anymore. Giving up and accepting my porn addiction seems like the best option, pretty much every day.

I hear you, brother. We all have that voice inside telling us that it’s too hard and we should just give up and give in. And there are things that we should give up: shame, the need for control, regrets, envy, etc. But there are other things that we should never give up on. When things get too hard, that’s not life telling you to give up on your goals. That’s life saying that you need to try other ways of achieving them. Banging your head against a barrier that lies between you and your goal is not the best way to knock it down. Maybe pick up a tool like a sledgehammer instead. Maybe ask your friend to help. And hey, who said you even need to knock it down? Maybe you can climb over or go around. Maybe there’s even a door in that barrier that you just need to learn how to open.

The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements is a powerful recommended book on leaving behind the stories and agreements that are holding you back.

My point is that you’re telling yourself a story: “I’m doomed, I’m weak, there’s no way out.” That story, if you believe it, becomes your reality. It’s my job to show you that it’s just a story and that you can choose to tell a different tale.

If anyone reading this is having difficulty staying sober and pornfree during this pandemic, start by examining your recovery mindset. Read mine, and then brainstorm and draft your own. Hold this statement of choice closely; look back to it frequently. This is your foundation, and without it the following tips will merely be ornamentation on quicksand.

Now, let’s look at some specific tips for how to manage this quarantine. Keep in mind that these are tips and not a comprehensive recovery plan. For that, start by reading my book, or look into ways to work with me personally.

These tips are ways to continue feeding those core needs of purpose, passion, and connection even while out of work and living in isolation.

Purpose

Answer this journal prompt: What is my purpose in this world? If you have no idea, explore the question in writing. If you can, try to distill your statement of core purpose into one sentence or short paragraph that can stand alone, then expand by describing it as much as you like. If you can’t distill your purpose, just come up with a list of things that might describe your purpose.

Do you normally live in accordance with your purpose or not? Is your career path in alignment with your purpose? Either way, brainstorm ways that you can continue to progress in your purpose during this quarantine period, and extend that plan into the next five years. What do you want to become and accomplish during that time? How can you get there? Take some of this mandatory downtime to reexamine  and plan your path.

Passion

Passion can and should be entwined with your purpose, but unless you’re one of those Elon Musk types that’s just completely obsessed with your purpose and can’t think about anything else (not sustainable or healthy for most people), you should also have hobbies that bring you joy. Most of us in our busy lives and with access to unlimited distractions are less skilled and creative than people in prior generations who had to find ways to fill the time without a Netflix subscription. Maybe you’ve left hobbies behind long ago that deserve your attention again, or you can try something new. Some ideas:

Exercise is essential. Don’t let the gym being closed be an excuse to do nothing; there are plenty of great workouts you can do at home. A couple of good calisthenics programs are the r/bodyweightfitness Recommended Routine and Convict Conditioning.

You don’t need a gym to get a good workout in.

Cooking, while considered a chore to many, can be loads of fun and give you a lifetime’s return on your upfront investment in the time and energy it takes to learn a few things. You should start by understanding what foods will benefit your health and build your recipes repertoire from there. And contrary to popular belief, healthy can be delicious. I recommend starting with NutritionFacts.org.

And for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it’s gardening season! If you have the outdoor space for it, this is the time to grow some of your own food, herbs, etc.

Music is an excellent creative outlet and teaches you knowledge and skills that you’ll never regret learning. It’s never too late to pick up an instrument or start singing. I didn’t start until I was 30. I’m only a few months in and already see huge progress and the potential for a lifelong hobby. And picking up your instrument for an hour or two is a great way to redirect your energy when you’re feeling cravings.

I could keep going forever, but the core message is to Cultivate and Create. Improve your health, develop a skill, build a piece of furniture, paint, write, read some books, learn to juggle, etc. Follow your passions and become a more interesting person (to others but also to yourself).

Connection

This is probably the hardest need to meet during this time of mandated social distancing. I for one miss parties, restaurants, meeting strangers, hugs, and dates quite a lot. But social separation is important in combating this pandemic; it is our civic duty and should be taken seriously.

So we have to get creative in staying connected. Fortunately, we have more tools to do so than ever before in human history. We can set up online gatherings to play games with friends, support each other, or just chat. We can join online support groups for addiction recovery. We have 10,000 ways to send video, image, text, and audio messages in our pockets.

Of course, even before this pandemic these tools didn’t necessary help us be less lonely–too often technology has the opposite effect. But we can take advantage of this power in more meaningful and fulfilling ways. Instead of seeking surface-level interaction and validation, really connect with people. Be a leader and organize online game nights using something like PlayingCards.io. Give family and friends you haven’t talked to in awhile a call and spend some time catching up. Combine connection with passion by making artistic gifts for loved ones. Get off your screens entirely and write physical letters to send in the mail (just wash your hands first).

Lastly, I find that when you’re getting down about how bad you have it, it helps most to realize how other people around you may be suffering and then do what you can to help them. You may find that that’s the best way to help yourself. So give your lonely grandma a call, you ingrate.