Editor's note: The following story deals with sexually-themed subject matter that will not be appropriate for some readers. Discretion is advised.
The first time Scott Allen's girlfriend found his stash of pornography on the computer, he laughed it off but silently vowed to hide it better.
The next time she found it, he agreed to stop watching.
"Instead, I increased," he said. "That's when I realized that I wasn't able to stop."
Their relationship crumbled, and Allen finally admitted he had a problem.
He started going to therapy, and for the first time, was able to address some traumatic issues from his childhood that had shaped the unhealthy ways he responded to stress and anxiety — disassociating and isolating himself — and had ultimately paved the way for his pornography addiction.
Today, Allen attends 12-step groups twice each week and works with a therapist who is trained in trauma resolution. He also begins each day with a spiritual meditation to remind himself of the importance of truly connecting with the people around him.
"We are highly interactive, relational beings," he says. "Isolating ourselves with artificial connections to others and fake, sadly crude and dysfunctional intimacy is not any way to live."
While there is debate within the mental health community that compulsive pornography use qualifies as an addiction on par with something like alcoholism or drug abuse, those who say pornography has had a detrimental impact on their lives have found a variety of ways to quit.
One of the most popular ways is through the implementation of a 12-step program— first outlined in 1939 as part of Alcoholics Anonymous. Allen said the program has helped him. He also said he’s had to make some changes in his life. For some, making changes means eliminating a cable subscription, ditching the smartphone or tablet, taking computers out of bedrooms, or installing a filtering software on all Internet-enabled devices in the home — including TVs, gaming systems and phones.
Filtering products even exist that will email an accountability partner if attempts are made to go around blocks.
External filters can be effective, experts say, but the most long-lasting changes come when an individual is willing to apply internal filters and commit to changed behavior.
Once an individual understands that addiction is a brain disease, it decreases the shame of relapses, says Dr. Raju Hajela, director, Region IX (International) of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
"We help people not live in the shame of having made wrong choices, but (learn) awareness of how the disease can be reactivated," he said.
The three main re-activators are re-exposure to the behavior, re-exposure to the environment related to the behavior and general stress. Thus recovery must target all three areas, Hajela says.
People like Allen say recovery is a lifelong process that requires a changed mindset and a renewed focus on positive behaviors, thoughts and actions. But ultimately, the decision to start down that path rests with the addict — not his wife, his mother, his friends or his therapist.
"Most people don't want to change until they have to change," says Allen,"(but) when your whole world crumbles and your life is pretty much a disaster, that's when the little whisper of conscience sits on your shoulder and says, 'You can really change if you want this.' That's when the sky turns blue again, the sun comes out, and these enormous changes begin to happen."
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