So . . . you relapsed (The Video Game Metaphor)

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?


Game over.

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.

Game over.


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.

Maybe “second” 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.


The Journey of a Thousand Miles

I once heard a very wise man say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step . . . so, watch your step.”

A thousand miles . . . that’s a long distance to drive, let alone walk.  I remember years ago when I headed off to graduate school and had a journey of nearly 2,000 miles to look forward to.  The distance seemed nothing less than daunting, especially for one anxious graduate student driving a car packed to overflowing with everything I owned, plus a Coke Zero and a bag of CornNuts.

Once on my way one mile turned into two, then three, ten, one-hundred, five-hundred, a thousand, until three days later I hit one-thousand, eight-hundred and eighty miles and pulled into my final destination.  Besides a full bladder and sore rear-end, I felt happy . . . as if I’d achieved something special.  I’d driven through two countries, seen breathtaking landscapes, had hours to myself to think and meditate.  But even more important, I’d set a goal—fixed a destination in mind—and even though I’d never been there before, I’d made it safe and sound.

In a way, recovery from pornography addiction is like a journey of a thousand miles.  To the addict’s mind the distance to a full-recovery seems insurmountable, the destination impossible to achieve.  All too often the very thought of recovery is enough to discourage someone from leaving the comforting glow of the computer screen.  The reward feels too far away, too intangible.  Feelings of self-doubt, discouragement, and despair are all too present, never loosening their stranglehold on hope.

You may find yourself in this situation.  Instead of an innocent curiosity, pornography became a trusted friend—something you could always count on during the hard times, the sad times, the boring times.  You may have asked yourself if you had a problem?  Maybe you even tried to stop on a few occasions only to be pulled back into pornography’s warm, jealous embrace.  There may have been times when you’ve asked yourself if recovery is even possible for someone who has fallen so far and messed up so many times.  If so, how do you begin that journey?

Answer: take your first step.

For each individual this first step will be different.  For one it might mean finally confessing to a significant other about his addiction; for another it might be throwing out old magazines and videos, erasing digital files or installing a filter on a computer.  For some that first step will mean recognizing they have a problem and feeling the desire to change.  Whatever that first step may be, all that matters is that you made it.  You did something positive to begin your journey.

As long as you stick with it, one step will turn into two, then three.  Then ten.  Then a hundred.  The day will come, somewhere far down the road, when you can look back and remember all of the places you’ve been, all of the experiences that you’ve had—both good and bad—and everything you’ve learned about yourself as you’ve fought against your inner-demon . . . step by step by step.  It may take more time than you like—maybe years . . . maybe even the rest of your life—but as long as you keep putting one step in front of the other—always being careful to “watch your step”—the time will come when you realize that even thought there were moments when you doubted, times when you messed up, wanted to give up and turn back . . . you didn’t.  You kept at it.  You persevered.  And suddenly you will pause and look back, and what you see will leave you speechless.  That insurmountable distance, that impossible journey, will be almost over.  And you’ll realize that it all started with that one first step.

May God bless you in taking your first step.

This is a very informative TED talk given by Gary Wilson, an investigator and presenter on the negative effects of internet porn. He also has a wonderful website with a lot of interesting information:


Discouragement and Hope

Never in my life did I think I would be writing a blog about something like this.  In the same token, there was a time in my life when I never imagined I would become intimately acquainted with the physical, emotional and spiritually ravaging side-effects of addiction.  And yet, here I am.

Before I begin I would like to introduce myself.  I am a thirty-something, normal guy, married to a beautiful, amazing woman and father of two wonderful children.  I have a steady job, a graduate degree, and a promising future.  I love spending time with my family, music, exercising, writing, reading, football (both kinds) and nerdy things such as superheroes, comic books, and fantasy novels.

I’m also addicted to pornography.


Of all the things I’ve done in my life, good and bad, pornography abuse is the one that has caused me the deepest shame.  What started off as an innocent curiosity and attraction to the female body, limited to mostly “soft” images and videos, eventually turned to viewing material more illicit in nature.   Between you and me, I’ve never liked  “hardcore” pornography.  It’s like a gruesome highway accident that you know you shouldn’t look at, but for some reason you can’t pull your eyes away.  The reason I couldn’t pull away was because, despite the disgust I felt both at the images on the screen and myself for having clicked the link, the scenes depicted brought “forbidden” feelings of excitement, titillation, and pleasure.  Notwithstanding the inner revulsion, the perceived physical satisfaction kept me coming back.

Pornography use was always something I kept completely quiet, fearing people would find out and think less of me.  I consider myself a very religious person and come from a religious community.  Amongst my peers and fellow church members I felt completely alone and isolated, as if I were the only person on the entire planet with the problem.  The last thing I wanted was to have a “scarlet letter” of shame printed on my forehead announcing to everyone that I was, indeed, addicted to internet pornography.

“Addicted?” I could hear them saying.  “That’s a copout, man.  If you don’t like how you feel after looking at the stuff, then just stop looking at it.  If you want to quit, then quit!”  There was also the added stigma of being a pervert or sexual predator.  I knew I was neither of those things, so I kept my mouth shut.

For years I had a “dirty little secret” that I hid it from my parents, family, friends, and church for a very long time.  I did my best to justify pornography use, thinking about how many “experts” say that it’s use is healthy for one’s sexual development.  I did my best to convince myself that the women depicted on the screen were doing so willfully, and were all probably millionaires thanks to other addicts like me, so the real victim of the porn relationship was me.  Right?

However, every time I gave in, every time I got roped into clicking another link, another picture, another video—I felt dirty inside.  Like I’d eaten something that looked good on the outside but was rotten and decayed on the inside.  I hated myself for not “being stronger” and not having the discipline and willpower to just “not look.”  Every time I promised myself and God that I would never do it again.  Every time I would break those promises and find myself buried up to my neck in salacious filth.

One day I hit rock bottom.  When I looked at a woman—any woman, anywhere—all I saw was a pair of breasts and legs—like a poultry farmer reviewing his prized chickens.  They weren’t people with hopes and dreams, personalities and lives—they were only superficial body parts in my eyes.  A thought started plaguing my mind after so many unsuccessful solo attempts to quit, that the only way I would be able “shake the habit” would be to die.

That freaked me out.

What was wrong with me?  What was wrong with my brain?

I finally decided to talk to my parents about my pornography use.  It ended up being one of the best decisions I could have ever made.  As far as parents go, I’ve been very lucky.  I don’t come from a home that lacked in love or moral support.  My parents were always there—for anything.  This time was no different.  They listened, they cried with me, they were very supportive of my desire to change.  To this day they continue being my lifelines.

They urged me to talk to my religious leaders, which was a little more difficult.  However, they didn’t draw a scarlet P on my forehead.  Instead, they showed an earnest desire to help.  They didn’t all understand how deeply the problem was affecting me, and on a number of occasions I did get the “Well, just don’t do it” line of thinking.  But one of the leaders in particular was very concerned and met with me weekly to talk.  That helped, for a time.

He got me in contact with a counselor who works specifically with pornography addiction and with whom I met a handful of times before moving out of country. Even though I didn’t have many appointments with him, I started noticing that every time I talked to someone new, it got easier and easier to be open about my addiction.

Another thing I noticed was how many other people shared in my struggle.  After all those years I knew I wasn’t alone, something I should have realized when hearing about the multi-billion dollar earning the pornography industry enjoys annually.  The knowledge that there are others out there involved in the same battle against pornography as me has helped me to feel like I’m not alone in this struggle.

For years I experienced moderate, cyclical results.  Using a complete iron-will I could abstain by the skin of my teeth for months at a time.  But inevitably something would happen—generally something that made me question my own self-worth—and somehow pornography would always be there waiting with open arms and a strangulating embrace.  “Using” felt like “coming home.”  Superficially I would soar for a time, until the high wore off and I would crash land in fields of remorse and regret.

Like a wheel, the pornography/recovery cycle kept spinning.

The day came that I fell in love.  I was stupefied by how wonderful this girl was . . . and she like me?  Me of all people!  Our love progressed and we started talking seriously about marriage.  I had feared that moment for most of my adult life.  I’d heard the stories of how pornography ruins marriages, how it deadens a husbands senses to the attraction he at one time felt for his wife.  It wasn’t fair for her to marry into something like that.  So, after a few days’ worth of agony, I took her to a park and confessed I had an addiction to pornography.

The minutes waiting for her response felt like days.  I’d taken her off guard and she was having a hard time wrapping her head around my confession.  She asked me a few questions, but in the end said we were in this together and that she would help me do whatever was necessary to overcome the addiction.  To this day I am still grateful I was honest with her because she has been my biggest support in trying to overcome my addicti0n.

For about two years now I’ve been going to a psychotherapist to help me understand and deal with pornography addiction.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and addiction, things I hope to share with you through this blog.  What I write will have religious undertones, but I will try to keep it from being preachy.  Some of the things I’ve learned are harrowing but helpful, difficult to accept but worth every effort to put into practice.  (Below are but a few):

* Pornography is as addictive as heroin and easier to come by.  Imagine what would happen if drug addicts virtually had no obstacles to obtaining their drugs, not even money.  What would it be like if they could go to any store and have people shove drugs at them from every angle—or even better, all they had to do was hop online and their drug was available at the tap of a finger or click of a mouse.  That’s what it’s like being addicted to pornography.  It’s everywhere, and you don’t need something big to set you off.  Sometimes something as simple as how a woman at the store is dressed can set you off.

It’s been proven that the same neurological process that makes someone addicted to crack-cocaine or heroin happens in the brain of a pornography addict, which means they suffer the same highs and lows—even withdrawals—because the limbic system of the brain believes it needs pornography to survive.   (For more information see,,  Note: I am not affiliated with any of these pages.)

* Pornography is not a “victimless” past time.  The men and women who look at pornography propagate an industry that makes billions of dollars a year by using and abusing the sexuality and bodies of women and men who work in an industry that chews them up and spits them out like undercooked meat, all for “entertainment purposes.”  On a more personal note, it takes men (and women) like me, who have happy marriages and families, and makes us commit mental adultery with every glamorized amateur or porn actress or actor we view while hiding in darkened rooms watching movies, looking at magazines, or surfing the web.  It isn’t fair to our significant other, and it isn’t fair to us.

* Pornography distorts a man’s view of womanhood.  Women play an essential role in society that cannot be filled by men.  They put their health and bodies on the line to bring children into this world.  It is a sacrifice, but one that most do with nothing but love in their hearts.  In most societies around the world, mothers are held with the utmost respect due to their influence as nurturers, educators, and protectors.   In pornographic materials women take on a very different roll—they are to be dominated; they are the “whore,” the “bitch” or the “slut”; they serve only one purpose and that is to physically gratify the male in any way the male sees fit.  In the course of a five, thirty or sixty minute video they are taken from “seductive and pure” (most of the time purported as “virgins” in order to relay a fake sense of innocence) and changed into objects meant for only one thing—to please men: both the man on screen and the man off screen taking it all in.

* There is a big difference, in my opinion, between “sex” and “making love.”  “Sex” is an action, something that is done.  “Sex” is what animals do to propagate the species.  There is no feeling, no commitment.  “Making love” is that same action but with care, affection, and commitment mixed in.  “Lovemaking” is when each partner tries to please the other, make sure the other feels cared for and loved.  “Lovemaking” is not portrayed in pornography.  Instead, it’s all about pleasuring oneself at the expense of the other.  The women are put in uncomfortable and humiliating situations, forced to do things unnatural and unsafe, all leading up to that “all important” and anticipated moment where the man ejaculates on the elated face of the woman he intentionally violated and debased like an object to be used and discarded.

But it’s all just entertainment, right?

The more I discover about the industry, the more I know that statement to be wrong.  Now more than ever I think of the women behind the “personage” on the screen.  How do they feel inside?  How do they deal psychologically with everything they are put through for other people’s “enjoyment”?  I’m sure there are some who say it’s “their job” and it comes with the territory, but I suspect the majority of them have deep, emotional scars as a result of their time in “the business.”  It sickens me to know that I have been involved in their debasement, even if only as a spectator.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned (and continue learning) that are helping me with my addiction:

First: I am human and humans make mistakes.  It’s been important for me to realize this in order to help let go of my crippling pornography habit.  I’m a perfectionist, so any time I would relapse and look at pornography I’d get pushed into a steeply spiraling decline that would drag me time and again into the same pit.  It seemed that any time I made a mistake or something went wrong, pornography became my crutch.  It was an instant high, a way to fleetingly feel good, but it has never done anything to fix the problems that pushed me towards it.

Second:  Become aware.  This applies on a couple of different levels—I’ve worked on being more aware of my emotions, aware of what pornography is doing to me and my family, and aware of how it affects those involved.  It’s amazing how often we go through this life on autopilot.  Some days you get up in the morning, go to work, drive home and are back in bed without remembering anything you did that day because it was all so routine.  Being aware means knowing how I feel and why I feel it.  It means knowing I have a choice, and that no matter how many times I fall, I can always choose to get back up and keep trying.

Third:  Change only comes when you want it.  If you don’t think you have a problem, you aren’t going to change.  Change is hard.  Just like the vast majority of people can’t go from zero exercise to benching their body weight in the same day, fixing a decade-long porn-habit in ten days is not a reasonable expectation.  It is a deeply ingrained habit, one you have to train yourself to not have any more.  That takes work and constant vigilance.  You’ll have to work on for a long time.  But, I sincerely believe there will come a time when it becomes increasingly easier and easier to abstain.

Fourth:  Relapses suck, but they aren’t the end of the world.  If you relapse while you are trying to recover—and you WILL relapse—you need to know how to lift yourself from the dirt and grime, dust yourself off, and keep advancing towards your goal of freedom.  Relapsing is a part of recovery.  Giving up is not.

Fifth:  You cannot recover alone.  You have to have other people’s help.  When you talk about the addiction, it’s almost as if the addiction loses power.  I’m not sure why this is—perhaps because your support circle grows?  If you have safe people you can talk to, they can help you when urges to look at pornography come on—but only if you let them.

Sixth:  Be honest.  With yourself and with your loved ones.  You don’t have to go announcing to the world that you are addicted to pornography, but you’ll never be able to hide it from them forever.  I have been lucky in that my wife has supported me from day one.  I know others might not be so lucky, but you gain nothing from hiding your addiction from the one you love.  It can only make things worse in the long run and you could probably benefit from their love and support.

I am still working towards full-recovery.  I go extended lengths of time without a relapse, and then, one day, it happens.  I’ll struggle for a time, but then I right my way and keep going.  You can do that too.  I know you can.  Find people who love you no matter what, share your story with them, take the power away from pornography and place it back in your own hands.  Find help.  There are a lot of options out there.  Do this.  Do it for you.  Know that I am praying for you.  We’re in this together.

My best wishes , thoughts and prayers are with you.