Pornography addiction recovery: ‘There is hope’

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This story is fifth and last in a series.

Resources for pornography addiction recovery in the BYU community provide hope for individuals seeking to escape addiction.

Avoiding pornography and recovering from an addiction is most likely to be successful when people develop regulatory skills at a young age, according to BYU professor Larry Nelson, of the family life department.

Part two of this series revealed that a young adult battling pornography addiction first used pornography in his early adolescence. Nelson provided one reason why young minds might be susceptible to falling into habitual pornography use.

“When young children want something, their desires and impulses tend to naturally be stronger than their self-control because the ability to regulate emotions, impulses and desires needs to be learned,” he said. “The younger the child, the less impulse control he or she has.”
Nelson, who primarily studies development, argues helping children learn regulatory skills in childhood might help them avoid behaviors that could possibly lead to an addiction later.
“Sadly, adults put too much focus on simply saying ‘don’t do this or you’ll get in trouble’ rather than on teaching young people, including young adults, the reasons for proper behavior and then equipping them with the regulatory skills needed to exercise self-control,” Nelson said.

Skills are the keys to addiction recovery, according to sex therapist and BYU professor Kevin Marett. An individual’s skill set in stress management, problem-solving and spirituality will determine how well they avoid pornography and escape addiction.

“You get those three pieces in place, and it just kind of sets up a fail-safe system for not having to go to the porn,” Marett said. “When I first started … we were treating the sexual component, and they were relapsing, and I was like, ‘Wait, what? We’ve covered this sexual stuff. Why are they going back?’”

After years of working with pornography addicts, Marett can now answer his own question.

“It’s not so much about the sex; it’s about the stress,” he said. “My basic premise is that it’s the stress that triggers the pornography addiction. Because they don’t know how to deal with stress, they can’t solve the problem; because they can’t solve the problem, they escape to pornography. Deal with the stress, deal with the problem-solving, and the desire for porn lessens dramatically; then, throw in the spirituality piece and it starts to eliminate.”

Marett’s methods for addiction recovery resemble principles spelled out in a 12-step recovery program provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Action items listed in the 12 steps include conducting a moral self-inventory, serving and praying. A website made by the LDS Church contains videos of success stories, study material for addicts and study material for family members of addicts.

The Church holds anonymous meetings for addicts and affected family members in multiple locations with varying schedules throughout Utah Valley.

One woman, who has asked to be called Katie, attends every week so she can better support her fiancé in overcoming his pornography addiction.

“You start going to the support meetings for someone else, but you stay because you need it just as much,” she said. “You gain a greater understanding for the application of the Atonement.”

Katie and her fiancé represent only two of hundreds of addicts, family and friends who have found support and hope by attending the 12-step program.

Marriage and family therapist and BYU professor Mark Butler emphasized that no two recovery stories will be the same.

“If you surveyed 10 people who had successfully made the journey of recovery, you would probably find consistent themes but remarkable differences in the details,” Butler said. “You’d be amazed at how unique each person’s path of recovery is.”

At the same time, Butler suggests most people’s paths of recovery involve four general dimensions: desire for recovery, individual will and work for recovery, relationships in recovery and grace for recovery.

Butler reiterated that an addict would have the greatest prospects for success by attending to all four dimensions of recovery work. He also said when people relapse they can usually find that the cause was a backsliding in one or more of the four areas.

“I’ve observed that humility is the virtue that developmentally links those four dimensions of recovery,” Butler said.

He explained as a person’s humility increases it facilitates each part of his or her recovery.

“If you’re humble, you will admit that only obedience to virtuous principles will keep you safe, and you’ll commit to recovery. If you’re humble, you’ll reach out for key relationship support and accountability. If you’re humble, you’ll recognize your need for a power greater than your own to change your heart and change your human nature,” Butler said. “Transformative change requires that we reach out fully and completely for the Atonement of Jesus Christ for recovery and repentance to be complete.”

Adam, a BYU student who asked to be identified by his first name, struggled with a pornography addiction through most of his adolescence, but he overcame his addiction before going on a mission. Six years later, he is now married and has a toddler-aged son.

On his mission, Adam met men who would attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week. He said he couldn’t understand why men who had been sober for years would keep going.

“As I started learning more, I realized they’re going because that’s how you stay in recovery,” he said. “Not that you have to go to meetings, but you have to exercise certain principles every day. Recovery, to me, is an everyday process.”

Adam said some people will consider their addiction 100 percent gone once they’re in recovery.

“I think that’s false,” he said. “I do believe the Atonement heals us 100 percent, but I don’t know that all healing comes in this life. I think some healing doesn’t come until the next life, and I think that’s true of addiction recovery.”

As one who has put his addiction in the past and enjoys the company of a wife and child, Adam spoke through tears to anyone with a pornography addiction.

“I know what it’s like where you feel hopeless,” he said. “I know what it’s like to mess up for the thousandth time and to feel like there’s no hope. … There is hope.”

Other stories in the series:

What about pornography? 

BYU student talks about his struggle with pornography

Pornography: A woman’s struggle too

Pornography impacts relationships

 

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