Porn Addiction: Overcoming Your Triggers

Porn Addiction: Overcoming Your Triggers

In a previous post to Addiction.com I wrote that the cycle of porn addiction is set in motion by triggers – usually some form of emotional or psychological discomfort. For instance, boredom, anxiety, stress, anger, depression and loneliness are all common triggers. (Positive emotions can also be a trigger.) I also stated that the cycle of porn addiction is most easily broken shortly after the addict is triggered. If porn addicts can intervene in healthy ways before they enter “the bubble,” they can stop the downward spiral of addiction in its tracks, maintaining their sexual sobriety and enabling the process of long-term healing.

But how does one “intervene in healthy ways”?

Porn Addiction: Overcoming Your TriggersIn truth, there are any number of ways in which porn addicts can interrupt the cycle. Depending on the addict, some techniques work better than others. Typically, finding out what works best is a matter of trial and error. A few of the more commonly utilized tactics are outlined here:

  1. Talk About It. When triggered, the most effective way to halt the addictive cycle is to talk about what you are thinking and feeling by sharing at a 12-step meeting, calling your sponsor or therapist or reaching out to a friend in recovery. If you choose to go to a 12-step meeting, be sure to talk openly about what you’re experiencing not only during but before and after the meeting. Remember, triggers tend to lose their power when exposed to others. Plus, you are likely to receive useful advice from your support network, many of whom have likely gone through something similar.
  2. Consult Your Outer Circle. Most recovering porn addicts see their sexual boundary plan as a list of things they should not do (the inner boundary) and things they should approach only with caution (the middle boundary). They tend to forget that there is also an outer boundary, listing healthy activities they can turn to instead of pornography. A few of the items discussed in this post (such as reaching out to others in recovery) are likely to be listed in your outer boundary, but you probably also have other options – planting a garden, going to the gym, reading a book, watching a movie, playing with your kids — pretty much any activity that keeps you away from porn will do in a pinch.
  3. Implement the Three-Second Rule. Porn addicts cannot stop sexual thoughts from entering their minds. They don’t, however, need to indulge those thoughts once they become aware of them. One good way to get rid of them is to turn away from them within three seconds. Usually, porn addicts choose to turn these thoughts over to their Higher Power, asking that power to please remove the unwanted thought. This is effective even for porn addicts who struggle with the Higher Power concept, primarily because the act of asking for help breaks through the addictive thought. In other words, the simple act of thinking about something else, even for a moment, usually does the trick. Sometimes the three-second rule helps only for a short while, with new sexual thoughts cropping up relatively often (or old ones sneaking back in). The good news is that the three-second rule does not lose its potency over time. In fact, it tends to work better as you practice with it.
  4. Get Grateful. Most triggers involve negative thoughts and feelings. And one of the best ways to combat this “stinking thinking” is to create a 10-item gratitude list. Many porn addicts swear by this, noting that it’s impossible to be unhappy and grateful at the same time. Most gratitude lists start out with the same item: “I am grateful to be sober at this moment.” Gratitude lists can be difficult for many porn addicts, especially those who are new to the process of healing. In such cases, there is nothing wrong with getting down to basics: I am grateful that I have enough to eat, a bed to sleep in, clean air to breathe, etc.
  5. Use “HALT.” This is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are four of the most common triggers for all types of addiction. As such, porn addicts, when they find themselves wanting to look at porn, should ask themselves if they’ve forgotten to eat, if they’re irritated or annoyed for some reason, if they’ve been isolating and if they need a bit of rest. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the situation should be rectified as quickly as possible – a candy bar, a quick phone conversation, a 10-minute nap, etc. Otherwise the trigger will stick around, priming the pump for relapse.
  6. “Bookend” Potential Triggers. Oftentimes, porn addicts can see triggers on the horizon. For instance, a stressful yet unavoidable family event is an obvious potential problem for most. Rather than just gritting your teeth and hoping for the best in these situations, you can reach out to your sponsor, therapist or a friend in recovery both before and after the event. In the “before” conversation, you can commit to sexual sobriety and discuss the ways in which you might be triggered, along with how those triggers might best be handled. In the “after” conversation, you can let off steam by discussing what happened and the feelings that came up, and you can talk about what you might want to do differently if and when a similar situation presents itself in the future.

Needless to say, the six items listed above merely scratch the surface of ways in which porn addicts can intervene with the addictive cycle. Prayer, meditation, reading recovery-related literature, journaling, going for a walk, thinking it through, being of service to another recovering porn addict, volunteering at a local food bank and hundreds of other activities will also work. That said, talking to another recovering addict is the most surefire way to stay sober when triggered. (See items 1, 5 and 6 in the above list.) As such, the porn addicts most likely to stay sober are those who enter into the sexual sobriety community wholeheartedly – participating in 12-step sexual recovery meetings, becoming friends with others in sexual recovery and being of service whenever possible.

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