Five years ago, I was in jeopardy of losing my marriage. Despite the countless promises I had made to my wife about change, I found that was unable to avoid relapsing into pornography. Though I could not acknowledge it at the time, this addiction had a control over me that I couldn’t comprehend. Today, I am porn-free and enjoying a healthier marriage than ever before. While I must continually guard my purity and my heart, I no longer struggle with relapses into this behavior. So what changed? Here are seven principles that I have found at work in my life and in the lives of many other guys who have walked this same journey.
Get Honest. One of the things we all do with behaviors we’re hiding is to minimize them. This means that we have spent a great deal of time convincing ourselves, and others, that porn really isn’t a problem. We use lines like, “all guys do this”, “no one is getting hurt”, or “I can stop anytime I want” to try and reduce the guilt or negative emotions we feel. Freedom begins by confronting these lies. Change will only occur when we say willingly and frequently to ourselves and other trusted friends, “I have a problem and I need help.”
Create Boundaries. When we are busy minimizing destructive behaviors, this keeps us from seeing how vulnerable we are to acting out. If we want to establish freedom for the long-haul, then we will have to make some major adjustments to how we do life. Creating boundaries means that we look at the places where we are most susceptible to accessing pornography and we deal with them. For example, I don’t have a smart phone, but that’s okay. I’d rather have a dumb phone and be a smart user! You will never regret setting your personal boundaries too high. You will always regret the ones that were so low they were easy to step over or ignore.
Join a Group. Especially for guys, we are guilty of thinking we can do just about anything on our own, if we but set our minds to it. But the problem with this thinking, when it comes to pornography, is that porn is a problem we got into on our own. It is through isolation and separation from relationships that this problem grew to the level of addiction. So, we cannot hope to find freedom on the same path. Freedom comes as we process our journey honestly and openly with others who are doing the same.
Commit to the Long Haul. When it comes to not looking at pornography, will power and sheer determination will never be enough. We aren’t looking to simply stop a behavior; we are looking to process life differently. This means changing our brains and the ways we react to certain stress or stimuli. Scientific research reveals that true and lasting brain change takes a minimum of 2 years and as long as 5! If we want to be free of porn for life, then we must embrace that this journey, and this change, takes time.
Proactive Check-Ins. One of the greatest faults with traditional approaches to accountability is the relationship where one person says, “Call me and ask how I am doing.” In this set-up, we are giving responsibility for our change to another person. If we really want to change, then checking in with others is something we take responsibility for, and we do it proactively. We commit to calling others a minimum of three times in a week to report on how we are doing and what steps we are taking to stay free. This move keeps us in charge of our own change.
Know Your Pattern. The problem for most of us with porn is that we know when we’ve looked at it (it’s pretty obvious) but we don’t have any clue why. Far too many guys think of a bout with pornography as an isolated, hormonally-fueled episode. But it’s not. Our brain works on a complex system of punishments and rewards, and if we keep returning to a behavior which we know we don’t want, it’s because our brain has associated it with a reward. We must learn to recognize our pattern, and then change how the pattern starts. If we only try to fight against viewing porn as we’re sitting alone in front of a computer feeling tempted, this will be a losing battle. Winning starts when we fight further up in the process.
Tell Your Story. Telling your story means you know where you have come from and what drives you. If we know the pain, turmoil, and the joy of our own past, we begin to unlock the secrets for what drives an addiction to pornography. Our struggle is rooted in the deeper issues of what we believe about life and ourselves. As we learn to see and tell our story accurately, we gain the power to change it. This is one of the primary roles of a group in our lives- a safe, supportive place to start telling our story.
I believe that if you were to remove any one of these principles from my story, I would quickly be back where I started. Much like the 6 or 8 cylinders of an engine must fire together in perfect sequence, so these principles function concurrently to create real and lasting freedom in our lives. Where do you need to begin? What principle have you been avoiding or ignoring? Take that step today, and trust that God will bring freedom you way as you do!