I struggled with porn addiction for years before I realized that certain moments, thoughts, people, or places were triggers. These triggers, when encountered, would ignite my desire and drive my decision-making process.†
After years of encountering them – and failing in that moment – I learned to recognize them and be on guard against them. I’ve also learned that you can survive these triggers – even thrive in the midst of them, with a few steps and/or strategies.
A couple of the triggers and traps I’ve noticed through the years are:
- Seasons of life that are particularly demanding and/or taxing. I call this trap, The Trying Season.
- Transitions in life such as a new place of work or a new move. I call this trigger, The Teasing Season.
- Moments or days after I have expended a large amount of emotional energy on a task or project. I call this trigger, The Tempting Situation.
- There is a fouth trigger. This one is a combination of the previous three and is, as such, particularly challenging. I call this trigger, The Trap Day.
Any of the moments described above are potential triggers that can trick one into believing porn is a necessary escape.
I am not sure what your triggers and traps are, but I know you have them. So, I am going present four areas of potential triggers and traps, hoping to awaken you to and keep you aware of your own.
In my own journey, awareness of these triggers and traps has provided firm footing on which to stand and has enabled me to live a robust and wonderfully healthy post-porn addiction life!
Triggers and Traps
- The Trying Season. The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 70% of us believe stress has an impact on our physical well-being. I wonder if we realize the impact of stress on our mental and emotional health? While stress is the norm for many, highly stressful seasons of life are the experience of every one of us. I am posting this series at this time – during the upcoming Holiday season – because for many – if not most – the Holidays are extremely stressful. As such, every holiday season poses, for one addicted to or struggling with porn, a potential trigger or trap!
Consider two dominant areas of life experience:
- The relational ties we make in life.
- The work or education environment in which we live. This is the area of life that likely occupies most of your time. For those in a career, it means a job. For those who are students it means school work, life and all the activities that come with being a student in your typical academic setting.
In both areas, relationships and work, formation and deformation are happening all the time. For example: when you work hard and receive a promotion or pay raise, you experience formation. Your energies are rewarded and recognized by your colleagues, which gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment. The experience of pride and accomplishment help form our sense of personhood, plac’dness, and purpose in our world. In moments like these something sacred is at work.
In such moments, we experience joy and fulfillment. While these are beautiful moments that bring hope, they are also accompanied by subtle but certain stressors. Intuitively, we begin to entertain thoughts like these:
Wow, what is this going to do for my career in the long run? More success, more money, more stuff, more hours at work?
What’s my spouse going to think about this?
How will this impact my relationship with my colleagues?
Even in moments of joy and celebration, stress begins to build. Most of the stress is, of course, self-inflicted, but that’s not the point. The point is that stress begins to build during moments we would not expect it to build. If we don’t awaken to this reality, it will grow over time and become the dominate narrative from which we live. Soon, we are in the midst of a Trying Season and we aren’t quite sure how we even got there.
As stress builds, anxiety increases.
As anxiety increases, frustration takes hold.
As frustration takes hold, conflict – both internal and external – grows.
As conflict grows, stress becomes the norm.
When stress becomes the norm, we sense a growing need to escape reality and relieve the tension. When locked inside of a Trying Season, one easily falls prey to porn’s opportunistic pull. Once in porn’s grasp, one will eventually act out, if support mechanisms, reliable strategies and relationships, are not in place.
It happens quickly: we click that web page that offers total satisfaction with very little investment. But it leads to a dark place.
First it’s a soft-core sight. Next we find ourselves hunting websites like Backpage, in the hopes of finding that caring companion who will, for just a small amount of our hard-earned money, ease away the pain, if only for a while.
Some are tempted stroll into that massage parlor that offers more than back rubs. Simply seeking to receive solace that our stressed-out-lives fail to provide.
You get the picture. Porn’s power is weaponized in the midst of Trying Seasons and stressful realities.
For any who have struggled with porn, we know that this behavior eventually leads to shame and guilt, only adding to the stress we were trying to relieve. In the space of such self-created tension, we begin to lash out at those we love and they who love us.
First we lash out – internally – at ourselves, then take it out on our spouse, then we randomly and carelessly yell and scream at the kids. Finally, we retreat into an isolated island of self-loath and despair, wondering if we will ever be free. Hoping, really, that we would one day be able to at least put up a fight. Indeed, if we are not careful the Trying Season will lead to moments of self-induced, relationship-crushing pain.
Assess, Own, Ask, Alter
Take hope. This need not be the case. There are health-creating steps we can take before running to porn and compounding our stress:
- Awaken to and become aware of internal stressors. I do this is by pausing a few times a day to gauge my emotional well-being. It’s helpful for me to identify the emotions stirring within my soul. I have learned to asks myself questions like, “Am I angry?” Or, “Am I sad?” or “Am I nervous?” Or, “Am I concerned,” etc.? Such questions help me begin to search for the root cause of my emotional unrest. Once I get a sense of my emotional well being, the next step to accept responsibility for how I got where I am.
- Accept responsibility for my emotions. It’s easy for me to blame others for my feelings. This rarely helps. If I can accept responsibility for my emotions, then I can take positive steps to empower myself and direct my emotions back toward health. Blaming others, or blame-shifting, leads to self-preservation. Self-preservation leads to isolation. Isolation leads to acting-out. Acting out leads to shame, guilt, despair. It’s a slippery slope. Owning my junk – as painful as that may be – is the pathway back toward help and wholeness. Of course, this is difficult to do on my own, so I must have a trusted friend I can call at a moments notice!
- Ask a friend for help and/or counsel. The journey out of addiction is not a journey you can take alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, spouse, brother, sister, counselor, pastor, mentor, or coach. I remember the first time I confessed my problem to a friend. The moment occurred over twenty years ago. I remember it as if it were yesterday. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to leap out of my chest. My palms were clammy, my brow was beaded with sweat. My head, quite literally, ached at the thought of sharing this traumatizing addiction with a friend. Looking back now I see how utterly crucial that moment was. I encourage you – find a friend with whom you can share your pain! Then, the next step is one that begins to offer hope!
- Alter the trajectory of your thought life. This is crucial. You simply have to ‘get out of your head.’ That ongoing conversation of how everyone is against you is as unhelpful as it is untrue. Once you nurture and cultivate a toxic thought-life, you are setting yourself up for addictive behavior. Begin to speak truth and spend time with those who will speak truth to and with you! Each of the previous steps strategically builds toward this one step. As you “Assess, Own, and Ask,” you then get to a place where you can meaningfully Alter your behavior and thought patterns.
We experience life-giving and life-taking moments throughout all of our lives. That’s why being aware of and awake to The Trying Season is critical, if you are going to break free from porn’s pull. If you need help, check out the links at the bottom of this post.
I will, in following posts, reflect on three other realities that porn seeks to exploit and ways I have learned to live porn-free in their midst.
- The Teasing Sensation.
- The Tempting Situations.
- The Trap Day.
Disrupting To Renew!
I’d Love To Hear From You!
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†This series was originally written for and published on Men Against Porn‘s web site. All content is the intellectual property of the author.
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