“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
In a previous post on Addiction.com, my friend and mentor Rob Weiss wrote about working step one for pornography addiction, an act that generally occurs in a 12-step sexual recovery program such as Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) or Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA). Because Rob now has a number of other projects on his plate, he has asked me to take over his planned series on the 12 steps and their use in recovery from porn addiction.
As you may recall from the information Rob provided on step one, that initial foray into recovery is designed to help porn addicts break through the denial that justifies and supports their addictive reliance upon sexualized imagery. Step two is designed to fortify that knowledge and to prepare recovering addicts for the longer-term solution to come (in steps three through 12). In other words, step two reinforces the idea that yes, you have a problem with pornography, and it prepares you for the fact that if you want to overcome this problem, then you’re going to have to accept some help.
Filled to the Brim with Denial
Many newly recovering porn addicts quibble about the closing words of this step – “restore us to sanity” – because the wording implies they might be a few marbles short of a full bag. In particular, porn addicts who still have a job and one or two people who still talk to them sometimes struggle to see that what they’re doing online might look a little bit crazy to an impartial observer. They say, “Sure, if someone else was looking at this much porn and couldn’t quit and was destroying his or her marriage, family, career and the like, that person would be totally bananas — but I’m different. It’s not crazy for me to behave this way because….”
Does that sort of reasoning seem familiar? If you’re a porn addict, it likely does. It’s called denial, and addicts of all types are filled to the brim with it. If you find that you’re struggling with step two because of your denial — your inability to accept that your behavior is out of control to the point where you might actually qualify as insane — consider the “addict’s definition” of insanity: Insanity is doing the same things over and over but expecting different results.
Think back to the last time you looked at porn. What did you tell yourself before you logged on? I’m guessing it sounded something like, “I’m only going online for a minute or two, just to see if there are any new videos. I won’t lose track of time and forget to go to bed tonight. My wife won’t walk in on me this time. My boss won’t find out that I’m misusing my company issued laptop/smartphone again.” And on and on.
Well, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” (OK, what Burns actually wrote was, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” but, you know, 18th-century Scotland and all…) My point is that if you continually find yourself going online and looking at porn until the sun comes up or you end up in a fight with your wife or your employer reprimands you or whatever, then you probably have a problem with pornography. And if you think that this time you’ll only go online for 10 minutes and then you’ll saunter off to the rest of your life… well, I can only tell you that plans like that never worked for me (or any other porn addict that I know).
A Problem with “Power”
Interestingly, newly recovering porn addicts also tend to struggle with the initial portion of step two, in particular the words “power greater than ourselves.” Usually, this is because they interpret that phrase to mean “God” or “organized religion,” and for any number of reasons that can be a serious turn-off. The good news here is that “power greater than ourselves” can mean all sorts of things. In fact, for most recovering porn addicts this power involves a mix of 12-step recovery groups, supportive family members and friends, therapists, group therapy, and various other support networks — including a deity and/or a religion if the addict in question so desires it.
Frankly, in porn addiction recovery there are as many different meanings for “power greater than ourselves” as there are addicts. At the end of the day, the definition depends as much on each addict’s individual beliefs and experiences as anything else. As such, this step is less about God or religion and more about admitting that help is needed and will be accepted. So once again, step two is an admission akin to saying, “I’ve tried to stop using porn on my own and I’ve failed, so I think I’ll accept some help from people who know how to beat this monster.”
Step two is actually a relatively easy step to work. All you really need to do is start accepting advice and assistance. Generally, this process starts with a basic understanding of what you want from this power that is greater than yourself. To get started, you might want to write a “help wanted” ad describing the type and degree of support you are seeking. This is a task I did myself many years ago. In fact, I still have my listing of requirements:
Sought – A power greater than myself to help me overcome my sex addiction. Must be readily available and care about my health and well-being. Must understand the nature of the addiction I am struggling with. Must be nonjudgmental about my past and any slips I might have in my recovery.
Once I knew what I was looking for, it was relatively easy to fill the position. For me, it was a combination of a therapist who specialized in sex addiction, a therapy group that focused on sex/porn addiction and 12-step recovery. Over time, my power greater than myself has expanded, and it now includes a spiritual component. But that was hardly a prerequisite in my early recovery. In the beginning, all I needed was empathetic advice from a few people who were further along in recovery than I was. Recognizing that fact and accepting the advice they gave was the basis of my step two.