This exercise guides you through a process of imagining a hypotheti­cal relapse experience. It helps you think through the different fac­tors that could set you up for relapse.

Imagine that you are just about to relapse with porn. Answer each of the questions below based on what you envision. It can be helpful to reference to your past experiences when you’ve felt urges to use porn to guide you with your answers. Identify as many factors as might apply for each question.

Where are you likely to be (home, work, car, hotel, school, and so on)?

What porn delivery systems would be readily available to you (com­puter, television, porn magazines, cell phone, and so on)?_________________________________________________________

What time of day would it be (morning, midday, afternoon, evening, or late at night)?

Who would you be with (alone, friend, intimate partner, stranger, a group of people, and so on)?

What activities would you be doing (working, studying, eating, travel­ing, resting, relaxing, being entertained, exercising, reading, social­izing, and so on)?

How would you be feeling physically (tired, hungry, agitated, sexually excited, in pain, exhausted, sick, cold, overheated, disheveled, out of shape, fit, and so on)?________________________

What, if any, other addictive or problem behaviors would you have been doing (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, gam­bling, shopping, staying up late, overeating, overworking, and so on)?

What would have just happened (a disappointment, a rejection, an accomplishment, a reward or payment, an argument, a missed op­portunity, a physical parting from someone, and so on)?____

How would you be feeling emotionally (lonely, depressed, angry, anxious, frustrated, sad, happy, bored, disappointed, powerful, and so on)?

What unmet needs would you be feeling (the need for companion­ship, excitement, novelty, competition, friendship, recognition, love, validation, relaxation, comfort, and so on)?________

What core emotional wounds would be activated (feeling aban­doned, betrayed, rejected, incapable, unattractive, humiliated, pow­erless, inadequate, and so on)?____________________________

What types of sexually explicit content would you have inadvertently been exposed to (sexual image on television, sex scene in a movie, pop-up ad on the Internet, advertisement, billboard, magazine cover, written sexual description, and so on)?

In what ways might you be "pushing the envelope" by involving yourself in activities that are similar to or remind you of using porn (going online when no one else is around, channel surfing for sexual imagery, looking for sexual images in regular magazines, watching

R-rated movies, staying in hotels with pay-per-view porn channels, participating in chat room activity, being secretive about other be­haviors, being alone with free time, and so on)?____________

If you were in the midst of the relapse, what strategies for reversing it might you fail to take (stopping what you are doing and admitting you are in a danger zone, getting away from porn thoughts and materials, calming yourself physiologically and emotionally, reaching out quickly for supportive help, reaffirming your commitment to your recovery)?

Any of the items you have identified in this exercise have the poten­tial to trigger you into a relapse. Review your responses and think about changes you could make that would strengthen your ability to remain porn-free. Do you need to take better care of yourself physi­cally? Do you need to learn to better handle your emotions? Do you need to improve your relationships with other people?

It is not uncommon for multiple triggers to be linked together and to reinforce each other when activated. For example, being alone, exhausted, bored, and in front of a computer late at night, may combine to create a high-risk situation. Use the space below to write out the triggers that link together that you need to pay atten­tion to in order to avoid a porn relapse in the future:____________________________________________________

Finally, based on all that you have learned by doing this exercise, use the following space to list a number of healthy, constructive alterna­tives you could use to meet your needs when you are vulnerable to using porn:

When Jesse, a twenty-five-year-old married recovering porn user who had never gone into a full-scale relapse before thought about how it might happen, he pictured himself alone in his car parked in his garage after work before his wife got home. He imagined feeling nervous and insecure about his job. He saw himself stopping at a convenience store on the way home on the pretense of getting a cold drink and then impul­sively grabbing a porn magazine as he passed from the soda dispenser to the cash register. Jesse identified his unmet needs as being a need to physically relax and get emotional reassurance that he was doing well at work and was appreciated.

Jesse used these revelations about himself to devise a plan to avoid relapse. He started calling his wife, Megan, on his cell phone when he left work every day. This practice had an unexpected side benefit of making Megan more amorous toward him at night. If he wanted a cool drink or a candy bar after work, he shopped only at stores that didn’t carry porn magazines. He decided to cut back on his caffeine intake during the day so that he would feel less nervous and agitated. He gave himself permis­sion to ask Megan for a neck and shoulder massage at night to help him calm down. Making these changes has helped him cope with and manage his feelings in ways that don’t send him impulsively longing for porn.

It can be challenging to sit down and try to imagine yourself be­coming susceptible to a relapse. No one likes to admit the possibility of falling back into using porn or picture in detail how it might happen. However, recovering porn users who do this exercise tell us it works as a prophylactic measure, because after completing it they feel better able to recognize when they are vulnerable to using porn again and know what steps to take to prevent an actual relapse from occurring.

Respecting your limits. Another important skill in relapse prevention is to know your own limits and avoid putting yourself in situations where you could be pushed past them and fall back into using porn. Once you’ve gotten a better understanding of your triggers, you have an idea of where you need to draw the line when it comes to your actions and choices. “I’m learning to stay away from the cliff edge rather than seeing how close I can get to it without falling,” Kirk explains. “There are cer­tain things—some sexual, some not—I just don’t do anymore because I know they set me up for relapse. I pay attention to where I am and what

I’m doing so I can keep myself safe. I’m like the weather channel, con­stantly updating my situation.”

Here are some examples of changes other recovering porn users made to honor their personal limits and reduce their risk of relapse:

• Tom loves lifting weights and reading articles about it. But be­cause bodybuilding magazines also have pictures of half-naked women in them that he used to masturbate to, he doesn’t buy or look at these types of magazines any more.

• Justin doesn’t drink beer any more because he used to drink beer whenever he watched porn.

• Laura limits herself to PG-13 movies because the R-rated ones contain all kinds of triggers, like sex scenes, crude jokes, and vi­olence that could set her up for going back to watching porn.

Knowing your relapse triggers and knowing and respecting your limits are vital elements for preventing future relapses. Take some time to consider what you could do to modify your behavior to reduce or eliminate your cravings to want to use porn. Try these changes out for a while and discover for yourself if they further assist you in your goal of more consistently being porn-free.