How to develop accountability in your recovery

One of the factors that can make a huge difference in addiction recovery is the quality of support and accountability that you develop in your life. Many people who compulsively use drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or porn try for a long time to control or cease their behavior alone. They hide or minimize the problem with their friends and loved ones, ashamed to admit that they need help, even to themselves.

When you’re ready to recruit some help in freeing yourself from the addictive cycle you find yourself trapped in, here’s what you need to know.

What is an accountability partner?

An accountability partner, or AP as I’ll call them from now on, is someone whom you have trusted into your inner circle. You have told them what you’re going through, and they want to help. You have committed to telling them when you’re struggling or if you have relapsed, and they have committed to checking in on how you’re doing with this journey. They are not your therapist or coach, and it is not their job to guide you through recovery (though a coach or therapist can of course also be an AP). Rather, it’s their role to listen, support, and motivate.

Who can be an AP?

  • A friend
  • A family member
  • Other people in recovery that you have met through recovery programs or online support groups
  • A pastor or other church leader

You certainly don’t have to pick just one. The more good accountability partners you have, the better.

Who shouldn’t be an AP?

  • Anyone who thinks that porn use is not harmful for you or who will not adequately support you in your commitment
  • Another person in recovery who isn’t confident that they can handle triggers when seeing your accountability reports
  • Someone who will shame you rather than support you if you mess up
  • Probably your romantic partner, at least if they are hurting with feelings of betrayal or rejection due to your porn use. Using your relationship for accountability can turn toxic; I doubt you want to have a police-convict dynamic in your relationship. This doesn’t mean that you should hide things from your partner that they would want to know, but when you’re triggered to use and need support, it may come better from someone who doesn’t have such a personal stake in your recovery. That said, if you’re in the maintenance phase and it would help your partner to be seeing proof that things are going well, then it can be helpful to include them in your accountability reports (see below).

What tools are available to foster accountability?

Several different software options are available that will alert your accountability partners if you access sexual content on your devices. These go beyond content filtering (blocking access to sexual websites), though some of them do that as well. Filters/blockers always have loopholes. They can be useful for avoiding accidental triggers, but accountability takes it to the next level.

The one I usually recommend is Covenant Eyes.  The way Covenant Eyes specifically works is that it will take a screenshot of whatever is on your screen every minute or so, then use an algorithm to determine if what’s on your screen is sexual/erotic or not. If it thinks that it is, then it will send a blurred version of that screenshot to whomever you have selected to be your accountability partners. They can take a look and give you a call to check in if there’s something to worry about.

An example of a blurred image captured in Covenant Eyes’ software.

This closes a lot of the loopholes and offers great incentive to not look for anything pornographic, since you’ll know that your activity online is no longer secret and isolated. CE does a good job of protecting privacy, however. The screenshots are blurred so your partners won’t be able to read your messages/emails or whatever else is on your screen. And if you set one of your partners as the account administrator, then you’ll need to request permission from them to ever uninstall the software.

And what a whole report looks like.

There are a couple of downsides with CE, however. Because of how the software functions, you will not be able to use a VPN. If you have any work devices, you may not be allowed to install this software on them. And the screen accountability doesn’t play very nicely with iPhones, so on those devices you’ll be using the last generation of accountability that just tracks browsing activity.

The other two that I recommend checking out are Ever Accountable and Accountable2You, both solid options. Whichever you decide on, work with your APs so that you all understand how it works and you can close any loopholes you can think of.

With tools like this and the right accountability partners, you can not only have accountability after the fact, but you can have a great deterrent before anything happens that you’ll regret. To give you an example, my own accountability partners on Covenant Eyes are my best friend, my mother, and my sister. I know that if I slip up, that I’ll have to have some tough conversations with people I really don’t want to let down. That makes it easy to not even consider it an option.

How do I ask for help?

This is probably not something that you’re used to talking about with your friends or family, and you may fear rejection, disgust, or judgment. However, most of the time these conversations/confessions have much better outcomes than you might expect. And you can maximize your chances of a good outcome if you prepare properly, entering into the discussion with the proper mindset and resources. Here are some tips.

Ask ahead of time if you can set a time to talk about something personal and important to you. This prepares them for a more serious conversation and also gives them agency. They can say yes or no, and when they have already said yes, they’re going to be more invested in listening attentively and helping you out.

It’s important to share the important facts, but not all the details. Some points you should probably hit (depending on what’s true for you):

  • Like many other boys and men, I’ve been regularly looking at porn for a long time.
  • At some point, I realized that what I thought was harmless entertainment was actually having a lot of negative effects on me (talk about whatever symptoms brought you to this journey).
  • I decided not to watch it anymore. But despite my best efforts, I kept going back to it for some reason, no matter how much I regretted it afterward. I did some research and found that like cigarettes, alcohol, or gambling, some people who use porn have a really hard time quitting, no matter how much they want to.  I had to admit to myself that I was addicted to it (using the addiction language is optional).
  • At this point it may be helpful to watch an informative video together like my presentation below.

  • Through what I’ve learned about quitting, I realize that I can’t do this alone. I need people like you to help keep me accountable. You’re someone I trust and respect. Would you be willing to help me out with this?
  • If they say yes, then you can tell them about how your chosen accountability software works and how they can best help you.
  • You can also offer to be their accountability partner with anything that they are trying to accomplish. Maybe it’s quitting smoking or sticking to an exercise program.

There’s no one in my personal life that I can turn to for this. Am I out of luck?

Nope! There are places where you can share your story and find other people on this journey to form a partnership with, such as NoFap.com and RebootNation.org. I also run a Support and Discussion Group through Patreon. You can learn about that option here. It’s a great way to form some healing-focused friendships and find accountability partnerships.

Anything else I should know?

You know all the basics now and I think that’s enough from me, but here is some more thorough and detailed advice from two experienced accountability partners in the Rebooter Support and Discussion Group.

Accountability advice from Rebooter #1

There is a lot of value on having accountability software installed in all our devices and it’s often suggested to have family members or good friends as accountability partners receiving reports of our internet use and checking on us. The thought that those we know will receive information about what we do online is very likely going to prevent us from a lot of relapses.

But from my experience, it’s not enough. A lot of people don’t really get what this is and don’t know how to help and react. It can be very difficult for the addict as well to share some of the intimate details that are necessary, and that can prevent a proper accountability. Sometimes the best support comes from someone that is going through the same thing and understands what this is about.

Getting help is most times necessary for an addict, but helping another person that is in trouble can be as valuable, if not more. When accountability is between two addicts, that is possible for both, and, even if the journey and particularities of each person are different, there is likely going to be a lot of common ground to share and talk about.

Reaching out:

This is the first step. An addict has to reach out for help, he has to specifically ask other person to be his accountability partner, and ideally, offer himself as AP as well. Not every one wants to do this and it’s fine, when the other person doesn’t want to do it, just to ask someone else, someone with whom you think you’ll be comfortable sharing. There are people willing to help and to be helped, so just keep asking.

Regularity:

Check-ins should be regular, weekly at least and sometimes even more, if both agree on that. There has to be a feedback between both, confirmation that reports are received and read. The report sent from the accountability software is a good starting point, but it doesn’t need to stick to that. If there is a period of time that is more risky, like could be weekends, vacations or whatever it is for the addict, some more checking should be good.

Encouragement:

This is a hard journey of growth and effort. There is no question that sport-men like cyclists or marathon runners that receive encouragement during their races perform better. We are human beings and the influence we receive from others around us is important psychologically. Things like encouragement to perform better and positive reinforcement for good choices are great, but sometimes we may also need a different approach to react, like a kick in the ass, metaphorically speaking. So those roles could be performed by the AP. It’s fine to ask the addict if what we are doing it’s okay for him, in case we are not sure.

Support:

Relapses are likely going to happen and they are not going to feel good. Sometimes the addict may feel very positive because he’s feeling the benefits of being porn free for a while, and rationalizes that one quick view is not going to hurt, but then ends up relapsing fully. It feels bad, it hurts. The addict knows he has failed, so there’s no point in the AP telling him that. He should provide support, remind him he is in a difficult challenge, the progress he has made, and the value that has how he is trying to get out of the hole for a better life. The bad feeling is temporary, that should be said too. The same goes for any down period, it may not be necessarily caused by a relapse.

Emergencies

There may be some times where the addict feels triggered or tempted to watch again. A call to the AP to get out of that mindset is a good idea. The AP should remind him why he decided to leave porn, that is not really what he wants, in fact takes from him what he really wants. He could remind him to put his systems and alternative plans in motion. He should tell him the urges are temporary and the more times the wins to them, the weaker they get. Although it’s possible in the beginning of the journey the addict still falls, precisely because the urges are still strong and because the addict is learning how to “ride the bike” yet.

Of course, the AP can’t be available 24/7 because of things like work, so the addict should be aware of that.

Honesty:

The accounted person has to be honest, has to inform about his relapses. He has to tell if he uses substitutes for porn that may not appear flagged in the reports (extremely important), what are relapses for him and what behaviors are risky. The accountability partner should question about it respectfully, if he suspects that the other may not be sharing everything.

Trust and respect:

There’s gotta be a trust between both. The addict should feel safe to share those intimate matters without feeling judged for them. Sometimes we can offer suggestions and advice, but it’s the addict the one that has to decide what systems and methods work for him in the end. Some things work well for some but not for others. At the same time, the addict should be aware that some things are better seen from the outside, so he should be open to hear what his accountability partners have to say and even ask for it.

Camaraderie:

The struggles are similar, and some of the goals may be as well, staying away from porn for start. It’s likely this can create a bond between guys. It can feel like going to war against a common enemy. Emails and text messages are good, but periodically, real talking, hearing and seeing each other can be great too, even with distance that’s easy with technology now. It doesn’t have to always feel like we are policing each other. Sometimes it’s good to leave this subject and the drama aside and talk about other interests and experiences.

Beyond porn:

I think it’s important that accountability goes beyond abstaining from porn. Both accountability partners could share what goals they have short and long term, other struggles, what books they are reading, how their love life is going, share about their exercising habits or anything relevant in their life. So there can also be a tracking of good habits between each other. Checking when we maintain them, when not and providing support about that too.

Accountability advice from Rebooter #2

Regular check-ins

Establish an accountability regime: what is going to be accounted for, and how?

Co-struggler (enlist a fellow addict as your AP)

Openness: close any loopholes

Vulnerability: admit to slips and relapses

Educate yourself on the reboot process and accountability

Rapport: establish a personal relationship with AP if they are a stranger

 

R: Speak regularly to your AP. Be proactive, not reactive. An AP should not just be someone who checks an accountability report once a week, or someone you admit a relapse or urge to: dialogue should be ongoing, so any necessary tweaks and adjustments can be mind. Regular communication ensures that an AP is aware of potential triggers and pitfalls. This ensures that potential relapses can be avoided

E: This sounds like a strange question: after all, it’s obvious what is being checked and accounted for, right? P! Well, not so fast. P addiction is a complex phenomenon, and can manifest itself in any number ways, most prominently via the use of various substitutes: non P activities which deliver a similar neurochemical high, such as chatlines or browsing racy Instagram images.

Also, recovery from P addiction often coincides with wider self development goals, so you may wish your AP to monitor some of these. For example, screentime, exercise, reading, daily habits, rules and routines.

C: Co-struggler – In my experience it is best to enlist a fellow recovering addict as your AP. This is largely related to the points below. A non-addict may not be aware of potential loopholes. They may not even take the idea of P addiction seriously. This, combined with the feelings of shame and guilt surrounding P, may make it more tempting to conceal slips and relapses.

O: As we have established, P addiction can present itself in A  number of ways, and many of these  may be too subtle to detect. P does not necessarily just refer to p—graphic  video content or even racy pictures: outlasts which, at first glance, may appear benign (social media, comics, forums) or are otherwise undetectable (telephone chat lines) may be an addict’s preferred outlet. If there is no effective way do monitor these behaviours, then an addiction can escalate unnoticed.

More worrying still, accountability software is not fully compatible with certain devices. Iphones are a case in point: CE only takes screenshots within the CE browser itself and, although explicit domain names are detected and recorded, other triggering apps and websites – for example, Instagram and booty shaking videos on YouTube – can be watched with impunity. So, you need to explain these potential loopholes to your accountability partner and consider ways to monitor them.

Here is what I do as an iPhone user: aside from the usual precautions, I send my screenstats to my AP, so they can see the apps and browsers I have been using, and the amount of time I spend on each, every Sunday. I also have a problem with chatlines, so I send a weekly screenshot  of my phone bill, so any additional premium rate spend is flagged. This may sound onerous and time consuming but if you are serious about rebooting, closing any potential accountability loopholes is crucial.

As such it is essential that you know an addict’s outlets and find ways of monitoring them.

V: Vulnerability – do not be afraid to be vulnerable. Openly admit mistakes. When you slip or relapse –as you inevitably will – do not conceal it. Honesty is a crucial part of the accountability process.

E: Remain educated on the reboot process. CE and Ever Accountable have a wealth of information you can  view which will help you become a better AP. Similarly, if there is info you can give to your AP about how they can do their job better, share with them! This relates back to the point of regular check ins and communications.

R: Establish a bond with your AP of they are a stranger. Get to know each other. Often, you can find friendship as well as accountability. And authentic human connection is a vital part of rebooting. One of the principles of addiction is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.