So, you tried really hard to stay away from pornography—you threw away your magazines, deleted your hard-drive, tossed out your movies, and installed a heavy-duty filter on your internet. Using sheer will and teeth-grinding determination you changed the channel on the television when “one of those” programs came on, you walked away from your computer when an inappropriate, sneak-attack pop-up caught you off guard, and kept driving instead of going into that adult book store. You were faced with myriad opportunities to relapse, but you stuck it through, did your best, stayed away . . . until that one moment of weakness.
You relapsed . . . even after all you did to try and avoid it. Now you find yourself in the moment after, filled with remorse and questions like “why did I do it?” and “why can’t I just stay away?” With everything that is going through your head in this very moment, there is one question that needs to be answered right away: what now?
After every relapse you find yourself sitting at a crossroad and you have two choices: do you give up and follow the path of self-defeat that keeps you trapped in your addiction? Or do you stand up, dust yourself off and continue down the path to recovery?
I’m a perfectionist . . . a character trait that can be very detrimental to a recovering addict. During the years I have worked towards my recovery I’ve relapsed many, many times. After each relapse I would be crippled by a stifling feeling of shame, which only served to push me ever deeper into an uncontrolled spiral of pornography use. When all was said and done, and I would finally sit back and survey the damage, I would often think, “That’s it. I lost. Game over.”
Game over. I’ve seen those words thousands of times while playing video games. I remember when I was young and my parents brought home the original Nintendo Entertainment System with its classic, defining platformer: Super Mario Bros. The game blew my mind—and for a six year old who had limited gaming experience, it was a challenge, but one that kept me coming.
One of the things that frustrated me the most about the game, however, was you had a certain amount of lives. During the first few levels that was no big deal, but the farther I advanced in the game, the more quickly I would lose those lives. Every once in a while I would get to a certain part of the game where I would get frustrated—for example, the water level.
I remember one day when I finally reached the dreaded water level. I probably had about twenty lives by then, and I don’t know if the buttons on the controller were sticking or if it was my own incompetence, but Mario kept swimming face-first into those stupid fish and I could not avoid them to save the life of me!
At first I hunkered down, determined to fillet those dang fish. After dying a handful of times I started feeling desperate. Feverishly I would hit the button, trying to avoid hearing that all-too-familiar Mario death music. But it would happen, time and time again. I’d scream, cry, whimper, curse (Mormon cursing, mind you: “Dang it! Oh . . . my . . . GOSH!”) and eventually hit the point where I was so out of my mind that I would purposefully swim Mario into the fish until all of my lives ran out. I couldn’t beat the level, so . . . why even try anymore?
Have you ever felt that way with pornography? Have you ever thrown your hands up in frustration and figured, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? I’ve been there. As a perfectionist I figured that once I decided to stay away from pornography for good, that that’s exactly what would happen.
It was the first time (besides Mario) that I told myself time and again, “You can do this, you can do this,” only to discover that in actuality . . . I couldn’t. I was addicted. Like Mario in the Water World I would swim headfirst into relapse after relapse. At first I felt determined to change, then I would get frustrated and angry, and finally I would give up and not even try to not run headfirst into the one thing I wanted so desperately to avoid.
The thing about Mario was that once your lives ran out, if you wanted to keep playing you always started on the first level. I probably played that first level at least a million times before I turned seven years old. The level became so easy that I could speed through it in less time than a kid hopped up on pixie sticks can recite the ABCs. But I never conquered the entire game, mostly because it frustrated me how no matter how far you gotten, you always had to start from the very beginning.
I used to view my addiction like that. It didn’t matter how much I learned, how long I went without looking at pornography, how many battles with temptation I won . . . that one time I’d give in and relapse, it was like losing all my lives and having to go back to the very beginning.
Modern day video games are very different. Aside from the fact they are visually stunning, much more technical and intense, there is one aspect about them that I absolutely love—you can save your progress. Not only that, if you get to a certain point that seems impossible, there are no worries—if you die, you don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning, only to the last save point.
Best . . . idea . . . ever.
One of my favorite games of recent years is Batman: Arkham City. First, Batman is my favorite superhero. I’ve always loved the fact that he strives to do what he believes is right, but struggles against his dark side. (Kind of like me and pornography addiction.) Second, the game is challenging, but makes good use of the “going back to the last save point” principle.
There was a particularly difficult boss on one of the levels that for some reason I could not beat. I played the level a couple of times, each time getting my batarang handed to me (so to speak). It didn’t seem to matter what I tried, the boss seemed invulnerable to my attacks. All seemed hopeless. As soon as my frustration hit a certain level, I saved the game and turned it off to play another day walking away with a shred of dignity. (I’d stopped throwing controllers as a kid.)
The next time I played, I died again . . . but with one difference. I noticed before the boss attacked, he would pause for a split-second leaving himself vulnerable to a certain attack.
I had an idea.
The next time he paused I did that special attacked, and it worked! Then I died. I did it again and got farther the next time. Even farther the next. Pretty soon I had figured out all of the boss’s secrets and had beaten him soundly . . . thanks, mostly, to the fact that I got so many do-overs.
Today I choose to view my recovery more like Batman instead of Mario. Instead of giving in to the defeatist mindset of “once you die you have to start over again,” I prefer to view my recovery as “if you die, you start over at the same point and do it over and over again until you beat your foe.” It may sound stupid, but as soon as I started viewing my life in that mindset, things started to change for me. I started thinking of my addiction in a way I never had before. Some days I cruised along, beating temptations and urges like a pro. Other days I would have setbacks and struggle. On other occasions I relapsed. But instead of seeing the words “game over” flashing above my life, I would see the words “try again?”
And those words have always brought me hope.
So . . . you relapsed. What now? You are standing at a crossroad that divides two separate paths, one that reads “Game Over” the other that says “Try Again?” Are you the kind of person who gives up after every mistake and returns to the start menu? Or are you the type of person who will replay the level, figure out where you need to make improvements, and keep trying until you finally beat your foe?
Either path awaits you. The one you take is up to you.