I am always only a day or an hour away from the same old habit.

—Ed

L

ong after Drew, a thirty-five-year-old father, thought he was done with porn, he suffered an unexpected setback and started using it again. The experience was upsetting and took him by surprise. “I had three years of recovery with no real cravings or tempta­tions to use porn,” he said. “Then one night my wife was out of town, and I started looking at it on the computer. I ended up masturbating to porn basically all night. It was easier than before, because my Internet connection was so fast and I didn’t have any porn-blocking software on my computer. I fell right in.”

Corey was extremely distraught when he slipped gradually into a major relapse during the first year of his recovery. “I was surfing the Internet and ended up looking at the lingerie advertisements,” he said. “After looking at a few of those I thought, Well, this is just lingerie. Of course, I ignored the fact that it was turning me on. Then I went to a swimsuit site and figured, Hey, they’re just swimsuits. Feeling turned on, I kept thinking that I could masturbate to it because technically it wasn’t porn. Over the next five to six days I slowly wormed my way into looking at pornography again.”

Both Drew and Corey were shaken and disappointed in themselves when they relapsed. Although they knew from talking with other recov­ering porn users that relapse is often a normal part of recovery, they

didn’t expect that it would happen to them. Each felt ashamed and wor­ried about what his relapse meant. Was it a temporary slip-up? Were they headed back to using porn again? Fortunately, both men had good sup­port systems in place, and they were able to get help immediately and continue to move forward in their recovery. With guidance from their counselors and the other recovering porn users in their groups, they were able to evaluate and discuss how and why their relapses happened, and develop strategies that further strengthened their recovery efforts.

In this chapter we explore the phenomenon of relapse—what it is, why it happens, and how you can deal with it. Our goal is to give you the information and tools you need to empower you to avoid being pulled back into the porn trap. We’ll help you identify factors that trigger your desire for porn, find new ways to reduce your risk of relapsing, and show you how to move away from porn in time to prevent a relapse from hap­pening in the first place.

We’ll also provide you with constructive ways to cope if a relapse does happen to you. The fact is the process of quitting porn doesn’t usu­ally follow a straight line of progress but, instead, often involves a series of successes and setbacks. Keeping this in mind can help you face the re­ality of a relapse with a combination of self-compassion, forgiveness, and inquisitiveness, which will make you much more likely to stick to your recovery goals. When you remain kind to yourself and curious, you can learn important things about letting go of your relationship with porn. And by becoming proactive, you will be able to quickly rebound when a relapse occurs and get back on track in your healing journey.

To be successful at quitting porn, you’ll need to become an expert at effectively handling relapses and ultimately learning how to avoid them. With the right attitude and approach, you can then transform what could have been a potentially destructive relapse experience into an opportu­nity for strengthening your personal integrity and being able to stay away from porn for good.