A simple sensory awareness exercise can help you shift your atten­tion away from what you’ve been thinking about and on to some­thing else in your environment. Begin by saying the phrase, "Now I’m aware of. . . ," and then complete it by stating something you see in your environment. For example, "Now I’m aware of the sun coming through the window." Repeat and complete the phrase "Now I’m aware of. . . ," until you have identified five different things that you see. Continue the exercise stating five different things you are aware of hearing, then five things you are aware of touching or feeling in­side your body. This exercise can help center you sensually in the reality of your present environment and take you farther away from the fantasy world of porn.

No matter where you are at any given time or how sexually aroused you might feel, you have many choices for changing what you are think­ing about, looking at, and doing. Shifting her thinking and her behavior helped Marie stop herself in the midst of a relapse. “I drove all over town one day with this big plan how I was going to buy porn maga­zines, take them home, and read them from cover to cover. I passed different stores where I used to get porn and I stopped at one place to make a purchase. When I got to the checkout counter, I suddenly thought, This is really stupid. I saw that I was caught in some kind of a little ritual thing. I left the magazines on the counter and walked out of the store.”

3. Calm yourself physiologically and emotionally. While shifting your attention away from porn is essential, you also need to deal with the fact that you may have already been stimulated by your thoughts or actions. Just thinking about using porn can trigger certain physiological reactions, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, genital blood flow, and pupil dilation, which can set you up for a full-blown relapse. In addition, anticipating using porn can trigger the release of dopamine and other pleasure-related chemicals in the brain that can also propel you toward wanting contact with porn. These physiological and brain chemistry changes start to subside and your body can begin to return to normal when you stop thinking about using porn or break off con­tact with it. In the meantime, you may feel some discomfort while your body readjusts to the lack of stimulation from porn. This is why it is so important to figure out how to calm yourself, both physiologically and emotionally, once your sexual energy has become activated.

There are a number of ways to calm yourself after thinking about or beginning to use porn. Sitting or lying down in a resting position, breathing slowly, and resting a hand over your heart can help lower your heart rate and lull you into a quieter state. Breathing slowly and deeply through your left nostril for about five minutes while blocking off your right nostril can facilitate relaxation. Another helpful approach is to massage the outer area of your ears, a spot that can induce relax­ation and calm. Massaging your feet can also quiet your agitated mind and body by helping move your attention and energy away from sexual excitation and toward feeling good in a non-sexual way. Some people find that quiet prayer or meditation helps create feelings of calm and relaxation, while still others prefer burning off excess agitated energy through vigorous exercise, such as jogging, lifting weights, or riding a bike.

4. Reach out for supportive help as quickly as possible. One of the

most effective ways to handle a relapse is to contact someone for support. Calling on a counselor, accountability partner, friend, church leader, or intimate partner who is aware of your recovery goals and efforts can help you pull away from porn again. Pastor Jim Thomas explains, “When you notice you are relapsing, that’s a good time to make a phone call, reach out and make connection, and intercept the relapse process. Make con­tact quickly so you don’t get pulled further in.”

By reaching out to his pastor, Mitch was able to pull himself out of a Level Two relapse. “One day I got on the Internet and started going to the old sites,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t deal with it right away I would bury it, nobody would know, and I would act like I was okay. I called my pastor immediately and said, ‘I want to come in and see you as soon as possible, and I want you to pray for me. I want to confess it, renounce it, and rebuke it in my own life.’ My pastor helped me recognize that in spite of the slip, I had made progress. Before I wouldn’t even worry about being there, but now I’m very concerned about it.”

Reaching out for support during or after a relapse is not without its challenges. Brad had to overcome his habit of wanting to hide. “When I relapsed, I instinctively wanted to go back into hibernation—hiding from others and being secretive,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I had failed. There were all these guys from my recovery group to whom I was ac­countable, to whom I had committed, and I failed. I wondered, How on earth can I face them?” When Brad did return to his group and disclosed his relapse, he discovered that all the men were compassionate and un­derstanding, were familiar with the relapse process, and had very helpful ideas on how to prevent future relapses.

Alex turns to his wife when he finds himself on the slippery slope of relapse. “If I see something that is sexually stimulating for me, I tell her. She likes that I turn to her. It definitely helps knowing she’s a partner in this with me and a part of my recovery.” It is important to remember, as we noted in chapter 8, whether or not a partner can be relied on for sup­port and accountability is something that will differ among couples.

Whomever you reach out to for support in handling a relapse, it should be someone you feel will understand your challenges, hold you accountable for your actions, and offer positive suggestions and contin­ued encouragement in your quest to quit using porn.

5. Reaffirm your commitment to your recovery. Once you have stopped your porn-seeking behavior, shifted your attention away from porn, calmed yourself, and reached out for help, the final step in revers­ing a relapse is to firmly reestablish your commitment to become porn – free. This important strategy involves remembering why you wanted to quit porn in the first place, and what you are striving to accomplish by no longer having porn in your life. When you refocus and recommit to your recovery goals, you will find yourself back on a trajectory toward the Porn-Free Zone.

A good way to reaffirm your commitment to quitting porn is by reviewing your responses to the exercises in chapter 7 for strengthen­ing your motivation to quit porn. Remind yourself of the problems that come with being involved with porn, how it can keep you separate from others and feeling bad about yourself, put you in danger, and limit sexual learning. Go over your values and goals to re-familiarize yourself with what really matters to you and the kind of person you want to be.

Just as you did when starting out in the recovery process, it’s impor­tant when you relapse to take responsibility for your own behavior and to take concrete steps to no longer be involved with porn. For ideas and direction to get yourself back on track with your recovery, look over the six basic action steps we presented in the previous chapter. Identify any steps that you may have ignored or have not been following through on sufficiently. Brainstorm how you can move forward more successfully with taking those steps now.

Some recovering porn users find it beneficial to create a ritual or habit they can turn to that helps them reaffirm their recovery when they find themselves in or close to relapse. Ken, a forty-year-old married man, didn’t like how he would get automatically triggered to return to porn whenever he saw a particular type of attractive woman. With the help of his counselor, he developed a ritual to quickly recommit to his recovery. The ritual consisted of immediately touching and looking at his wedding ring. Touching his ring reminded him of his love and devotion to his wife and his interest in keeping porn completely out of his life. After several months of using this reaffirmation ritual, Ken was only rarely troubled by thoughts of wanting to use porn again.

T

he five strategies—stop, get away, calm, reach out, and reaffirm— give you a proactive and effective way of getting out of a relapse. Next, we’ll see how through greater self-awareness and building addi­tional skills, you can learn how to keep yourself securely outside of the Relapse Zone.