Whether you’ve relapsed in the past or not, it is important to develop strate­gies for preventing future relapses. Your recovery will have a much greater chance of success when you can identify that you are approaching or have just entered Trigger Territory, and you have reliable methods in place for

Preventing Future Relapses
getting yourself quickly and safely back into the Porn-Free Zone before you even reach the Relapse Zone. (See Diagram 3: “Preventing a Relapse.”) There are two primary methods you can use to prevent future re­lapses from occurring: knowing your triggers and respecting your limits. Let’s look at each of these.

Knowing your triggers. One of the best ways to understand what trig­gers your desire to return to porn is to look at past relapses and learn
from them. This can be difficult because memories of past relapses can bring up feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. However, if you can look at any past relapses as part of your porn recovery education, you can transform the experience of feeling bad about yourself into one of be­coming proactive and hopeful in your recovery.

Following his relapse back into porn, Corey scheduled a session with his therapist to try to understand how and why it had happened. After all the pain he had been through because of porn—his unhappy mar­riage, the sexual offense he committed, time in jail—he couldn’t believe he would slip back into using it again. “I knew if I didn’t figure out how I got there, I’d just go there again,” he said. With his therapist’s help, Corey created a timeline covering the period shortly before his relapse until after it was over. In his timeline he identified how he was feeling, what he was thinking, and what he was doing at each point in time. He wanted to identify what made him vulnerable to relapsing and might in the future indicate that he had entered Trigger Territory and was slipping into the Relapse Zone.

Corey figured out that his relapse had begun when he started play­ing mind games with himself when he was feeling lonely and sexu­ally frustrated. “First I convinced myself that I was only looking at swimsuit ads,” he said. “Then I began to look at catalogs that included lingerie. I tricked myself into believing all of it was safe and allow­able. By the time I got to the porn sites, my sexual excitement had kicked in and I was already so caught up, it didn’t matter to me what I was doing.” Corey learned that even though lingerie and swimsuit ads are not technically porn, they gave him the same rush he used to get from porn. He didn’t even have to masturbate or have an orgasm, just searching for those pictures and thinking of searching brought on feelings of euphoria. It became clear that it wasn’t what he was looking at, but why and how he was involved that mattered in terms of trigger­ing his relapse.

Analyzing her most recent relapses for clues to prevent future occur­rences, Marie discovered that what triggered her relapse back into using porn was feeling emotionally vulnerable and looking for something to soothe her feelings. “When I get really stressed out and feel like a failure in life, it’s like a little movie projector in my brain kicks on and starts showing the porn I’ve already seen to make me feel better. Then I get triggered into wanting to go buy and look at more porn. I’ve learned to pay attention to when I get stressed out and shift immediately into re­ducing stress and taking care of myself emotionally so that I feel better inside.”

Drew looked back on two prior relapse experiences for clues as to how he could prevent new ones from happening. “When I had my first relapse, my counselor thought it occurred because I was isolated and not committed enough to my recovery. She suggested I join a men’s recovery group, but I wasn’t interested. A few months later I had another relapse with porn. Taking my counselor’s advice more seriously, I got involved in a group. I’ve gone weekly to it for the last four years and it’s helped tremendously. I haven’t had another slip.”

You can draw on Corey’s, Marie’s, and Drew’s examples to start learning from your own past relapses. Take a closer look at a relapse you may have had in the past and construct your own timeline of events related to it. Identify how you were feeling, what you were thinking, and what you were doing at various points in your relapse process. What triggered you into the Relapse Zone? What could you do differently to prevent yourself from getting triggered in the future?

Another good way to know your triggers is to imagine in detail what type of situation could lead to a relapse. This visualization process allows you to identify a broad range of factors that could contribute to your being triggered into thinking about porn, acquiring it, or using it for sex. You can benefit from this healing strategy whether or not you have relapsed before.

The following exercise, “If I Were About to Relapse,” is designed to help you become aware of a wide variety of experiences that increase your vulnerability to relapse. It is a powerful tool in helping you to gain control over relapsing behavior. However, the process of contemplat­ing and answering the questions in the exercise can stir up some un­expected thoughts and emotional reactions. Therefore, you may want to do this exercise with the assistance of a counselor or other support person.