Can you help me understand what goes through My husband's mind before, during, and after a slip? I can't wrap my mind around why he still gives in when he has been fighting so hard and winning for so long.
This is a GREAT question. It is the same question that your husband and I and every other man afflicted with this nasty addiction ask ourselves every time we feel the urge to slip.
The question is.. why? Why after months of strength does it suddenly feel too heavy to resist on this particular day? Why, after fighting so hard for so long, do I all of a sudden want to plot and sneak and indulge? Why after months of battling back, do I suddenly feel so overwhelmingly triggered by something seemingly innocuous to the point that I have chosen to act out? WHY!?!
I don't know the perfect answer… but having lived through the process several hundred times, let me take you through what I think is the ‘anatomy of a slip’.
I’ll set the stage by stating that I am a firm believer that Pornography is more than an addiction. It is mind altering and blinding.
The 90% Rule.(My totally made up statistic)
We each have free will. We have the ability to choose, however I think that for many addicted to pornography, when we reach those critical decision points, the decision is already 90% made for us in advance. I call this my 90% rule. It works like this. If you were to ask me to smoke a cigarette I will say no 100% of the time. I have no desire or interest in cigarettes at all, in fact I am totally repulsed by them. If you were to offer me a glass of wine or a beer, I would say no 100% of the time. I will never be interested in those things. I have trained myself throughout my life to reject those things. However If you were to offer a cigarette to a previous smoker, he may remember the taste, the enjoyment, or satisfaction he felt when he used to smoke. He will have a harder time saying no. In fact the Journal of the national cancer institute says that a former smoker who has been free of smoking for 6 months or less has a 40% chance of relapsing if offered a cigarette in a week moment. (resource http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/89/8/572.long)
This is similar to an addict of pornography, except, everything we know about pornography tells us that it is far more powerful and more addictive than almost any other substance. One addict was quoted as saying “I have been addicted to both crack cocaine and pornography. The crack cocaine was by far easier of the 2 to give up permanently. In fact I have not smoked crack for several years now, but to this day I still struggle with overcoming my porn addiction.”
For a porn addict, the draw is so strong that instead having a 40% chance of relapse, I think it’s more like 90%. Meaning, that its my belief, that 90% of the time we are presented with actual porn and have the opportunity to indulge, we will.
Sometimes the fight seems unwinnable. It's the feeling of being inches away from a slip all the time. That given the opportunity and circumstance, I will probably give in every time (I have no statistics to back this up, only my many observations and conversations with other porn addicts and my personal experience.) I have spoken with dozens of porn addicts and they all agree that when it comes to whether or not they will slip again it's not a questions of ‘If’ but feels more like a matter of ‘When’.
You may say, “I have seen drug addicts on the verge of giving in, I have watched the tv show ‘Intervention’, and my husband has never looked that strung out or eager for a hit. It doesn’t look like he is waging that kind of war all of the time”. True, but that’s because porn addicts are not feeding themselves an artificial chemical substance to get their high. Smokers, drug addicts, and alcoholics, if they are willing, are able to detox the chemicals out of their system. In most cases, their bodies can be clean of those addictive chemicals in less than 30 days. Porn addicts brains, on the other hand, create the the chemical for them. There is no need for an artificial, external chemical, when the ‘crack house’ resides inside your own head. When the porn addict lusts for a “hit”, he can easily conjure up the images or fantasies without you ever knowing and, since porn addicts are extremely adept at manipulations and dishonesty, you may never even notice that he is on the verge of giving in to the pressure of the 90% rule. For some reason, as we have mastered the deception process, we have also become experts at twisting guilt, gas lighting, and distracting. So, though it may seem all is normal, I still believe the 90% rule holds true for many addicts of pornography.
I know this from personal experience. I had fed myself a steady course of filth for so long that it was nearly impossible for me, who had pretty much made a practice of giving in every day of my life, to simply ignore the flood of endorphin's when a trigger presented itself.
Some men have spent their lives practicing and preparing to turn away from porn when it is presented. They were taught from a young age not to give it any attention and to run from it. For them, it’s not a draw and maybe never will be. I, on the other hand, gave it soo much attention, that it became second nature to let my thoughts run rampant when a trigger was presented. It is counter to everything I have always done to simply look away or push off the thoughts.
When they come, if I have not prepared myself to stand up to the attack, they will take over. When presented with an opportunity to fantasize, I have to fight with all my heart not to engage those thoughts. In fact, the pull to let my thoughts run, even for a few seconds, is still monumental. But when I am prepared to fight back, though it be a battle of epic proportions, I know I become stronger for engaging in the fight.
C.S. Lewis said it this way, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
Those in the throws of this addiction are not practiced at standing against the wind let alone an army. We are used to lying down. “Standing up to the wind” takes practice. Lots of it. Years and years of practice. With practice, we will get stronger, but until that time, we will continue to struggle. And not just sometimes…. but everytime. There is no quick path to recovery. It is long and continuous and filled with ups and downs.
Even the man who has been in recovery for years is still under constant attack. Every time he walks out the door he knows he is going to see something that will fire up the lustful desires he is trying so hard to bury. Over time, if we continue to work the steps and do everything in our power to battle it, it gets easier, but, as far as I can tell (so far), it never quite goes away.
It is with this in mind that I will attempt to go through what I think are the stages of a slip.
Before The Slip:
Tiny allowances over time make us ripe for the side show provided by the adversary.
- We have to be careful and constantly vigilant. Over time we can become confident in our recovery. Our confidence feels good. We are putting weeks and months and perhaps even years between slips. We may falsely believe we have this beat for good. But, Satan is patiently watching and waiting for us to offer any kind of opening. All it takes is a stray thought or an unexpected trigger for our brain to begin pumping out the endorphin's. Those endorphin's start the craving, the want, the desire, the hunger. And that is when the adversary strikes. Simple things such as going for a run, playing a video game, driving to work, walking through a grocery store or mall, watching tv or a movie, even listening to music with suggestive lyrics can all be filled with triggers. You may think that some of these things are tame and certainly your husband wouldn't find a trigger in such simple actions or activities. But you would be wrong. Especially if he is trying to eliminate pornography from his life. These ‘lesser’ triggers can become a feasting ground and a compromise for ditching the darker filth of our habit. Not intentionally, at least not at first, but they slowly begin to creep into our view and gradually overtime become an acceptable substitute for the ‘Real Thing’.
The inevitability of Defeat
- Satan is crafty, but some of his most useful tools are 1. a reminder of how much we craved those feelings before and (believe it or not) how good that craving felt. and 2. a constant feeling that we will ultimately, eventually lose this fight. It may sound strange to one who is not accustomed to addiction, but porn addicts have fought and lost and fought and lost and fought and lost the fight soooo many times that failure starts to become an expected part of the process. So, to the addict, there is often a feeling that relapse is inevitable. It's like a barely audible hum always there in the background. It gets louder whenever we cross paths with one of the ‘lesser’ triggers mentioned above. Even in recovery, many feel that someday they will eventually find access to those strong feelings again. Its because of this feeling that many addicts never fully turn their lives over to the Savior. Even after months and years of recovery, they may discover that they have left the door open a tiny crack waiting for that inevitable relapse. Satan knows this and uses it in his efforts to topple us when weak.
- It is at this point, when our lust is becoming fully charged by the flood of endorphin's, that Satan begins filling our head with suggestions. “Maybe just let your mind wander a little bit”, “ You have done so well, you have earned a little taste.”, “What can a small look hurt”, “You don't need to look at porn, just something soft core.”, “ You see that girl walking out to her car?, go ahead and look again.” ; and on and on. Remember that 10% resistance I spoke of before? This is where it dwindles to about 5%. We find ourselves overwhelmed by the want, the rationalizations, the influence of the adversary, the feelings of lust and somewhere in all of this, we hit what I term the Decision point. This is where we ultimately choose to give in.
- At some point in the battle described above we give in to the hunger and make the decision to indulge in one form or another. Now you may ask yourself, “Why can't he just stop at this point? Why doesn't he look around him and realize that he is about to sin? Why doesn't he think of his wife or his children? Why isn't the forthcoming pain of the repentance process enough to stop him from pursuing this choice?” I believe the answer is ‘Tunnel Vision’. Tunnel vision is the ability to forget everything of importance in our quest for feeding the lust monster. We shut out our wife, our children, our success thus far, and we lose sight of the Bishop, the commandments, even the painful process of repentance we have already been through. When the scriptures speak of blindness, they are talking exactly about this. It happens because all of a sudden, the endorphin's are pumping at full speed, old familiar feelings are engaged, and nothing seems more important than getting the drug. In this state of mind, everything else is blocked out until you feed the beast. Once you have made the choice to sin, the spirit is gone and the adversary is laying down full and complete coverage to make sure you don't see a way out. That is not to say we can’t change course and make good decisions in tunnel vision, however, once we have advanced to this stage of the slip, we rarely ever do. (I offer a more detailed explanation of tunnel vision in a previous blog post http://dearaddict.blogspot.com/2014/06/dear-addi-how-do-addicts-live-double.html )
- This is the saddest part of the process. Because it shows the lengths to which we will go to get to our fix. It reveals the level of desperation we have descended to once we have decided to partake. This is where we are in heavy addict mode. The addict knows he must be sneaky. He can't just get on any computer and start searching. Most addicts have already installed filters, watch dogs and devices to keep them from doing exactly this. And hopefully those protections will kick him out of his quest and he will use the 5% willpower he has left to stop himself. But for those that are determined, the plotting to find some way past, through, or around the filters begins. It is a sad state of mind to be sincerely out of control. Unfortunately with the plotting, comes the lies, the deceit and the cover up. The dishonesty is always connected to the relapse. It can be something as simple as hiding in the bathroom with his devices or staying up late to watch TV or internet shows that are inappropriate. Or it can be as devious as creating a false email address or getting a second secret cell phone. The weirdest part is that while in addict mode, these deceitful ideas seem to be justified. Why? Because we make a bargain with ourselves that as soon as we have completed the act, we will never do it again. We knowingly become totally dishonest and rationalize that it is to protect our loved ones from the pain of discovering our sins. It is absurd, It is absolutely maddening, and completely juvenile activity. But, tunnel vision keeps us from recognizing the truth in that moment.
During The Slip:
The quest for filth begins.
- This part of the process is hard to describe. I think it is obvious that one who is addicted to porn is going to have a few frequented sites or places in mind. For me, it started out simple. A search for something pretty basic that will feed the lust hungry demon inside of me. But it escalates quickly. I always felt that there must be more to see or partake of. Whatever it was I was looking at in that moment, was ok, but wasn't completely fulfilling. It gave me a taste of satisfaction, but, surely there must be something better, more exciting, more able to feed the hunger so… Let's follow this link and see where it leads. I could start in, what I believed to be a fairly tame place, and before 30 minutes had passed I would find myself searching one disgusting term after another, looking for something to heighten my lust even more. Lust leads me to believe that somewhere in my quest through porn I would eventually reach some sort of pinnacle. That is why we keep going back. We never seem to find it. And in truth, it is not find-able. Lust is a starving beast whose hunger will never… ever be satisfied. So for hours on end the porn addict will sift and search and watch and view leading himself deeper and deeper into simply wanting more. The problem is…. there is never enough and eventually, as was my case, in order to get even more, the porn had to jump from the page and land in reality. And isn't that Satan's ultimate goal? My experience has taught me that viewing Porn is simply practicing for adultery. If left unchecked it will always, eventually, lead off the screen and into real life.
- There is this weird out of body argument that seems to happen while one is looking at porn. Once you are in it, you have already crossed the line into sin, so the argument to turn away now seems fruitless. “I'm already here, I may as well feed on as much of it as I can before I turn it off,” I would tell myself. I can recall moments of such extreme want, that even with the Savior as my desktop image, with pictures and quotes adorning my walls, even when my wife would call me while I was in mid viewing, nothing could distract me from the hypnotic trance I was trapped in. There was one goal and only one goal and no matter the amount of spiritual influence, nothing was going to break my determination to forge on. It is a voluntary hypnosis filled with fantasy and filth. It is a warm and enjoyable quicksand that we willingly step into as it sucks us down to a suffocating death.
The first signs of guilt arrive
- In my case there was also, sometimes, a recognition of… “what am I doing?” and “how did I get here again” This begins to settle in as the addict is trying to get out of this current moment of indulgence. For most porn addicts… it ends with masturbation. What is the point of all of the hours of digging and watching and time wasting if it doesn't end with some form of climax. As we move into the final stage of the process, this is when the guilt begins to really settle in. I can recall reaching this point of the process and looking up at myself in the reflection of the monitor. I was so completely disgusted with who I saw there. There I sat reaping the rewards of my hours long quest, and thinking to myself… “you are the most disgusting filthy, worthless, weak, person! Look at what you have been reduced to?” My self loathing, self hate and shame were all I had left from my wasted day of indulgence.
After The Slip:
- The guilt is immediate. The regret is instant and the shame is heavy and thick. The long wasted hours of looking and searching and watching are suddenly meaningless wasted time. The self hate, and feeling of failure are intense. A hollowness and sense of worthlessness is ever present. And the feeling that I am never going to escape this secret compulsion that is my hell, is the overwhelming thought in our mind. Anger is present as well. Anger at myself for not being strong enough to withstand. Anger at this addiction that it is still so present in my life. If you ever wonder why your porn addicted husband lacks patience or is in such a foul mood all the time, it could just be that he is hating himself at the moment. I can recall several occasions after coming home from a long hard day “at work” and being in such a cranky mood that my wife would give me a wide berth and encourage the kids to ‘leave daddy alone for a bit”. The weird part is, being so accustomed to lying, I actually thought I was pulling off the cover up.
- The plotting begins again. Telling her the truth will only add pain to our current situation. She will think that I am never going to beat this. She will suspect me and think I am slipping all the time. I don't want to give her the feeling that this is a hopeless cause. I want her to believe she can trust me again...so… I must lie. As an addict, I can only assume that the accumulation of successful lies over the years begins to make us feel invincible. ‘I have lied and lied and never been caught before so… why shouldn't I continue?’ Lying is so second nature to an addict that sometimes we don't even consider the option of telling the truth at all. The lies extend into other parts of your lives as well… things that didn't need to be lied about but, since lying is easier than confrontation, why not? I found myself lying about whether I had run out to grab an unhealthy burger for lunch, because I knew my wife would prefer I not get one. Lying just becomes a way of life. It just seemed easier than disappointing her again. It is the most backward thinking of all…”I want her to trust me, so I guess I should lie to her.”
- With the lies already firmly in place and since I have gone undiscovered, perhaps I should continue to partake just a little longer before I say goodbye to this forever…again. And so, the cycle of stopping starts again. Most Porn addicts have tried to stop hundreds and hundreds of times. After every slip, we promise God and the reflection in the mirror, that this was the last time. And we mean it with all our hearts until tomorrow… when the hunger creeps back in. I can remember relapsing multiple times in the same day, each time believing with all my heart that I was finally done, only to relapse again within hours. The loss of control eventually gives way to the viscous cycle of addiction.
So, how then do we as addicts avoid slipping into and repeating this process over and over and over again? Well, as I said before, I believe it comes from practice. Change does not happen overnight. It takes months and more likely years but, It can happen. Remember that 90% rule? Well, just as C.S. Lewis stated, we can't get stronger unless we go to battle. But the more we go to battle, the better we get at beating the enemy. Perhaps we won't win every battle, but slowly, we win more and more. Slowly we learn his tactics and begin to recognize them from a distance. We become stronger and stronger… and 90% drops to 80 and then 70%. Before we know it, we are winning far more often. Maybe a few losses still creep in from time to time, but our victories out number our failures now. It takes time. It takes practice… but the tide eventually turns in our favor.
This is the process of finding a change of heart. Hearts can change, but they truly do take time.
I will close with this last story.
Following my excommunication from the church, My stake president, a dear friend of mine, who knew I wasn't going to jump ship and go inactive from the church, suggested I take a few weeks and let the dust settle before returning. So my wife and I, in an effort to heal, and talk, and answer some hard questions, went on a vacation for a couple of weeks. After some very difficult but tremendously healing time together, I returned to my home ward and attended church.
On my first Sunday back, I ran into a sister I had known my whole life. I had grown up with her kids. She is the sweetest kindest person I know. I don't believe she had any idea what my wife and I were going through.
I conversationally asked her “so how is your Daughter and her husband doing?”, She responded by telling me that her daughters husband had just received open heart surgery and that while they expected a full recovery, it was going to be a long process. Perhaps as long as a year for him to fully recover from the surgery. I was amazed as that seemed like a very long time for a recovery. She replied by saying “ I know, but I guess hearts just take time to heal”.
To me…. It was as if she was speaking directly into my soul. Her words felt like they had been prepared for me alone. Of course she was right. Hearts take time to heal. Miracles happen, but not in the time frame we want them too. That healing occurs in the Lord's time.
Over time, we can find healing to our hearts and minds. We can shift our wants and desires, but they need time to fully heal. We have spent hours and weeks and months and years filling our heads with filth and we can't expect to snap our fingers and have it all go away. Time heals all things, even our broken hearts and our broken, addicted brains...but not without effort on our part, a willingness to finally fight back, and faith in the Lord that with Him, all things are possible.