Porn addiction and sex addiction don’t have a Christmas break!

We’re taking a break from our current series of blogs on addiction and mental health because it seems ‘inappropriate’.  That may seem like an odd thing to say but as I started writing about the common links between addiction and anger I found myself feeling like we really should be getting in the Christmas spirit and not talking about this heavy stuff. And as I thought about it more deeply, I was struck by how grindingly hard addiction is. How relentless it is and exhausting, physically and emotionally.  And frankly (I mean no offence here) but how boring it is. If you’ve been struggling with an addictive or compulsive behaviour for a long time, in between the devastation of the lows of broken promises to self and others, and the hope-filled highs of brief pockets of sobriety, it’s a long, hard, tedious drudge of just trying not to f*** up your life. And you don’t even get Christmas off! In fact seasons of celebration can make it worse. 

Apparently Christmas is the season to be jolly, but if you’re struggling with a compulsive sexual behaviour, you may be as far from feeling jolly as it’s possible to be. Let’s look at some of the reasons for that and, more importantly, what you can do about it. 

Triggers and porn addiction 

The Christmas season is also ‘the party season’. And party season usually means wearing less and making yourself look as attractive as possible. For people struggling with sex addiction or porn addiction this can mean even more visual triggers than at other times of the year. You might decide not to attend the office party to avoid unwanted challenges, but it’s much harder to avoid these visual temptations in public places. Just this morning a client described how hard it was not to stare at the woman in the very short skirt ahead of him in the coffee queue. Learning to manage these visual cues is an important part of recovery and it starts by having compassion with yourself. To find other people attractive is human nature and not something that you should feel bad about. But it’s important to recognise the difference between ‘noticing’ someone attractive and ‘staring at them’. Or as is often said in the fellowships – look but don’t lust. Another common strategy is the 3 second rule.  1-2-look away – and no going back for a second glance. It takes practice, but the good news is that the more often you succeed the easier it gets. But sometimes there’s something else at play here that makes looking away harder, and that’s FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

FOMO and sex addiction

One of the justifications people give for allowing visual triggers to dominate their vision is that they’re missing out if they don’t. The internal dialogue goes something like this:- “Everyone else is going to a party and I’m not. Everyone else is allowed to stare at beautiful people but I’m not. It’s not fair, I’m only looking, it’s not hurting anyone. It’s OK for me to look because this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being with someone who looks like that”. Any of that sound familiar?  The problem of course is that it is hurting someone, it’s hurting you. It’s making sobriety much harder to maintain and it’s making getting into full recovery impossible. This FOMO thinking is based on resentment. Resentment that your life is not what you wished it was and a fear that it never will be. The truth is that it’s your compulsive behaviour that’s holding you back, not anything else. As I’ve said in many earlier blogs, sex addiction and porn addiction thrive in secrecy and shame and the longer that continues the harder it is to throw yourself into the world and build the life you want. Bottom line – if you feel like you’re missing out, rather than feeling resentful about it and using that as a justification for continuing to stay stuck in your unwanted behaviours, switch off your social media feed, stop comparing yourself with everyone else and commit to recovery. (More on that later)

Isolation and addiction

While Christmas is the season to be jolly, it’s also well recognised as a time when many mental health problems are worse. Often that’s because the expectation of happy families and peace and goodwill for all mankind, simply aren’t the reality for everyone. You may be alone this Christmas for a whole variety of reasons. You might be someone who’s been struggling with anxiety or depression for many years, and it doesn’t magically disappear just because Santa is coming. For many, Christmas is a time when isolation is more real, not just because of all those feel-good TV adverts, but because they are literally more alone. Work places may be closed, social activities and clubs close, friends leave to see their relatives. If you’ve been bereaved or a close relationship has ended, this might be your first Christmas alone, or without somewhere to go. 

Why Christmas can be harder with addiction

In addition to a lack of usual distractions and social support, Christmas can also be a difficult time for other reasons. Alcohol may reduce your inhibitions and make it harder not to act out, leaving you feeling shame and guilt and even worse about yourself. The cold weather and darker evenings make it harder to get any feel-good-factor from being out in nature and of course your social media feed is full of everyone else having ‘the best time ever’. For many of us this year, finances are a particular concern. With the current cost of living crisis, some people will find it difficult to heat their homes, let alone make plans to buy presents or go out socialising. And if you’re in the UK, the current public sector strikes might make travelling impossible and increase anxiety about any health concerns. I think we would all agree that we’re living in especially difficult times. Just as we were emerging from the challenges of Covid and beginning to get our lives on track and BOOM! – we’re hit by more international fear and uncertainty. 

Surviving Christmas

So what’s the solution to all this? Well the first thing to say is that it’s temporary. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but Christmas is just 1 day, or a handful if you include Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. The shops may have been telling us it’s Christmas ever since the end of October, but it is all done and dusted within a week. Routines and events will return to normal in the new year and friends will return from their travels. And thankfully the internet can be used for much more than acting out, so it is still possible to reach out and connect with others in a positive way. The most important thing to do over Christmas, like any other time of the year, is to maintain perspective and practice good self-care. Focus on what you ‘can’ do, not on what you can’t. Plan ahead to avoid being alone for long periods, make a list of activities you can enjoy and look forward to. Give yourself some treats but don’t go too crazy on the Christmas food – you know the saying, healthy body = healthy mind, so eat, sleep and don’t get too merry!! 

Help for sex and porn addiction

If you want to do more to get yourself into recovery, then do check out our services at the Laurel Centre. We provide individual counselling, couple counselling and recovery courses that have been proven to be effective. If money is a struggle for you right now, then do also have a look at Pivotal Recovery who provide a low-cost, self-guided course developed by yours truly, Dr Paula Hall. 

This is our last blog for 2022, so I really do hope you manage to have at least a happy(ish) Christmas and see you next year!

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