Many equate being “in recovery” from a pornography problem with being completely free of the problem. If they blow it and have a slip, they conclude that they’ll be back on track only after they’ve gone a few weeks–or perhaps even months–free of porn again.
This is an overly simplistic view. Think about how discouraging this perspective would be for someone who is just starting to try to get on the right track after viewing porn daily.
Better Indicators to Show Recovery
There are better indicators of whether we’re in recovery or not. Either way, we might relapse, possibly at the same rate to begin with. Whether we’re in recovery or not, we will likely regret that we lapsed, want to make a better choice next time and fully intend to.
However, here’s where a key difference emerges: when we’re in recovery we do something distinctive after we lapse.
We probably won’t be overly dramatic about it. We’ll simply keep working our program. We may take notes on what we learned in enemy territory. We may report back to our bishop, therapist, sponsor, group or a supportive loved one.
Most importantly, we’re more able to take a slip in stride because we have a plan that takes it into account.
This is very different from someone who’s not in recovery. They can’t take a lapse in stride because their plan was to quit porn and never go back. Simple and straightforward, but unfortunately not very realistic for most people. Far from a twelve-step program, they’ve put their faith in a one-step program.
Working Within a Recovery Program
I strongly advocate working within a recovery program over simply trying really hard to quit and never go back.
The Mental Redo is one example of a very powerful post-slip practice, and it takes just a few minutes to implement.
First, rewind and determine one point (or two, or three) where you could have made a choice that would have led in a different direction. Then mentally practice, again and again (four or five times), taking that better route.
A Client Using “Mental Redo.”
My client, Melissa, is 17 years old. She last lapsed when she was feeling lonely, frustrated and angry one afternoon while alone in her room. She battled the urge for a while then finally got on her phone to watch porn.
As she sat in my office, Meslissa identified the moment the urge first hit as the best potential turning point if and when she faces that situation again. I had her go back to that moment in her mind and imagine handling it differently. She closed her eyes and said, “I’m there. Okay, I know I shouldn’t try to stay in there alone and win. So I get up off my bed and walk out of my room. I put my phone down on the kitchen counter and go find someone in the family to chat with. Yeah, I tell my brother about my bad day. He’s always great when I reach out, I’m just reluctant to. So then we chat for a while and maybe watch something together. Wow, I did it! Give myself a high five.” She clapped her hands together and smiled.
I had her run through that same imagined way of handling the situation again in her mind. Then I assigned her to mentally do it again on her own three times later that afternoon.
The Brain–Imagination and Reality
Some key, very powerful parts of the brain don’t know the difference between imagination and reality. In fact, both Melissa and I got the chills as she imagined aloud handling things better as though it had been a real victory. And in a way, it was — her mind was getting the hang of it, leveling the mental jungle to make way for a different, better path.
A tennis player may curse themselves for missing a shot. They may hope they never make that error again. But it’s also helpful to take a moment right after the error to mentally practice hitting the ball exactly the way they wish they would have. Swing the racket once or twice the right way. Let the body get the hang of doing it correctly. That’s the same principle you’re putting into practice when you implement a mental redo for the sake of your pornography recovery.
© 2013 Mark Chamberlain