The Single Biggest Mistake I Made When First Trying To Quit Pornography

A sign with the word epiphany on it..
In this article, I share the epiphany that transformed my pursuit of sexual integrity.

Some people use the term “porn addict” loosely to refer to anyone who struggles with pornography, while others reserve it for the most severe cases of addiction. I, for one, have never identified as a “porn addict.” I think identifying the problem is important, but identifying ourselves with the problem less so. Luckily for me–unlike many of my friends and peers–I did not get hooked on pornography at an early age. This was due primarily to a lack of easy accessibility and the presence of some parental oversight (link). However, I did struggle on-and-off with lust and pornography for years, beginning in my early twenties. I knew it wasn’t the right path for me, and I could identify early on the negative effect it had in my mind and emotions. At worse, it was a few times a week. At best, it was once every few months. And I regretted it every single time. In fact, looking back on my life, I have relatively few regrets, and pornography and lust are high up on the list.

That said, I tried quitting pornography almost as soon as it became a problem. I installed filters on my phone, established accountability relationships, read books, prayed, meditated, limited access to my phone, and resolved “never again.” I achieved some progress periodically, to be sure. However, I always felt like there was a part of me that had a need for some kind of outlet– a restlessness, a compulsion, an emotional discomfort deeply rooted within me.

Focused Too Hard On Quitting

I was prompted by some of the literature I consumed to focus more on becoming a particular kind of person rather than simply cutting a particular bad habit from my life. This insight was a game-changer. So much of my effort up until that time had gone into just not doing this one thing. However, I learned that if I could change who I was, the change of behavior would come naturally. Maybe, for once, it wouldn’t feel like I was constantly fighting an uphill battle.

But what you have to realize is a part of who you believe you are, a part of your identity is attached to your compulsive and addictive behavior with pornography. So if you don’t change yourself first—if you don’t start from the bottom up and change who you are and who you are becoming, then the quitting aspect is never going to be sustainable.

Frank Rebuild Your LIfe

Yes, pornography, like other addictions, bad habits, and compulsive behaviors, was having a toxic effect on my life. It was separating me from the root of my problems, and impairing my ability to cope. I needed to stop the activity to keep my situation from getting worse (see First, Do No Harm). However, I realized that unless I treated the cause, and not just the symptom, I would never be free. I would continue to find myself in a cycle of success-relapse-success. Or I would simply replace one bad habit with another.

I realized that unless I treated the cause, and not just the symptom, I would never be free.

I was carrying a lot of trauma and tension from my past. I was raised in a single-parent home by my mother. For years, I dealt with chronic pain and a number of health issues (testimony). Fear, anger, and shame were big players in my life, whether I liked to admit it or not. Often not at ease in my own body, my mind was constantly searching for some distraction, some remedy, some escape from the reality that something was broken inside of me.

I like to say, How we medicate our problems says a lot about our character. It is true that the correlation between pain and addiction is not inevitable. However, given our imperfect nature as people, we see this pattern repeated time and again. As we resolve some of our trauma and tension, we often find that our behavior improves–naturally and with no effort on our part. In the mean time, we don’t want to throw oil on the fire, salt on the wound, or add insult to injury. However, the ideal end state is one in which our person loses interest in the problematic drug or behavior.

Today, a big part of my strategy for “walking in integrity,” is building healthy relationships with other people, starting with God. It involves me being intentional about processing trauma from my past, and attending to my mental health on a regular basis. Last year, I also implemented dietary changes. No more added sugar and trash food (within reason), a resolution I have stayed true to quite nicely for almost a year and a half. I never had a weight issue. However, I envisioned myself becoming the kind of person who didn’t indulge in anything that wasn’t good for me, whether it was pornography, relationships, or unhealthy food.

Quitting pornography can be hard, especially early on in the process, as our brains begin to rewire, and as we develop processes, tools, and strategies to set us up for success. However, if quitting is still hard months or years later, that can be an indication to us that there’s some deep soul work we still need to do.

Let’s be patient with ourselves on the journey. But before we do that, let’s also make sure our energy and effort is going in the right place. Only then can we put our full trust in the process, no matter how long it takes.

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

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