Stop the count!

Discussion in 'Porn Addiction' started by TheMathFolder, Apr 30, 2021.

  1. TheMathFolder

    TheMathFolder Fapstronaut

    When I made my first unsuccessful attempt to quit porn a couple of years ago, one of the few pieces of advice that I found in the porn addiction communities and diligently applied as part of my process was to monitor how long I was going without watching porn, by crossing out the days in a calendar night after night. I found this to be a good way to keep track of my progress and stay motivated, and I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that I got every night after crossing out one more day.

    However, after a while it got harder and harder to keep going. My motivation faded away and I even started to anticipate a relapse with excitement. I managed to cross out day number sixty, then relapsed on day sixty-one. After that, I completely abandoned the idea of quitting porn and went back to watching it just as abusively as I had before. The calendar ended up in the trash and I never really contemplated quitting again until a few years later, a time during which my addiction continued to wreak havoc on my life.

    By the time I resolved to quit porn again, I was watching it less often but suffering more than ever the consequences of all those years of addiction. I knew this time I could not fail, so I drew on as many resources as I could find and used all the tools that proved to be helpful. One of those tools was, once again, the calendar — only this time it felt different. While I was using it in exactly the same manner — crossing out every day that I went without porn — I was reading it with new eyes.

    The calendar was now a way to keep track of the overall recovery process, more than it was a way to keep the count for the current streak. I had embarked on a long journey and the calendar was my ship’s log. So, while I was still celebrating each day that I could cross out, the focus wasn’t so much on there anymore. The difference was more obvious after the first few times I relapsed: instead of becoming discouraged for breaking a long streak and having to start over, I would just mark that day in the calendar as a failure and keep going, knowing that I would still reach my destination if I kept moving in the right direction.

    As a matter of fact, I wasn’t using the calendar to count how many days I had gone without porn: I was using it to count relapses. My goal wasn’t necessarily to build a very long streak as much as it was to reduce the number of relapses over time, so that, when looking at the calendar for a span of a few months, the days marked as failures were as few and scattered as possible. With this goal in mind, I kept working on myself and making progress, until one day there were no relapses anymore. At that point, I had nothing left to count, so I just stopped and threw away the calendar.


    Day-counting seems to play a central role in the addiction recovery community, and porn addiction is definitely not an exception. Here in this forum, you can have a flag as a counter to keep track of how many days you’ve gone without porn and display it for the other users to see. It’s also very common to find posts celebrating a certain number of days "clean", and just about everybody seems to be on top of their current streaks.

    The prevalence of this approach can be easily understood if we think about the benefits it offers. Counting days is an easy way to track your progress. It can help you set specific goals, and it enforces a day-to-day mentality that is helpful in fighting urges. Having a concrete, numerical way of measuring your recovery can help you stay on course, at the same time it provides a simple way to share and compare your progress with others.

    For all the benefits it has, though, the approach can lose its effectiveness after a while and even be counterproductive in certain situations.

    For one thing, giving too much importance to the length of your current streak can sink you into despair after every relapse. It’s not like people should celebrate them, but relapses are opportunities to learn from your mistakes and improve yourself and your recovery process. And, whether you can see that positive side or not, the truth is that relapses will happen, and you should be mentally prepared for them. Oftentimes, focusing too much on your day count can make relapses even harder to deal with than they naturally are, because it feels like all the progress you’ve done was for nothing and you have to start over again.

    More importantly, counting days can make you lose perspective. Recovering from porn addiction is a path of self-discovery and personal growth, more than it is a race to achieve a long streak. Focusing just on the number of days is like Russell Westbrook’s triple-double seasons — you might reach shiny stats that you can brag about, but if you haven’t been improving your game in the aspects that really matter, those statistics will be nothing but empty numbers that won’t win you a championship.

    So focus on the real work that you need to do on yourself and your life. Know your triggers, find better ways to deal with your urges, identify what’s at the core of your addiction, remind yourself why you are doing it. Instead of celebrating that you went sixty days free of porn, celebrate how your self-esteem is higher. How you overcame your erectile dysfunction. How much healthier your lifestyle is. How you are more present during sex. If you concentrate on what’s important, that day count will increase without you even noticing it.


    Looking back at my own experience, it’s easy to see how counting the days was a double-edged sword for me.

    When I used it in my first attempt to quit porn, crossing out the days helped me stay motivated and reach the sixty-day mark. However, during that time I did nothing other than stopping myself from watching it by mere willpower — no introspection, no growth. As soon as I relapsed, the whole ordeal suddenly felt pointless and I completely gave in to porn again.

    This first experience was a perfect example of how counting the days can make you lose perspective. Those sixty days were a completely empty statistic, because behind it there was no real progress. Since the count was all I cared about, the whole process collapsed the very moment I relapsed. If you find yourself in this position, you might want to reflect on what your streak means to you and what role its length plays in your recovery process.

    This time around, I was able to redefine the way I keep track of my days clean. By downplaying the importance of streak lengths, I was able to focus on other aspects of my recovery. I still kept a daily record of my progress for a while, but I developed a broader way to look at it. In my calendar, a relapse doesn’t restart anything. It’s a day marked in black, but it does not put the other days in the shade. If you think about it, relapsing only once in a whole year is a great achievement, whether that day was six months ago or yesterday — your overall progress is what really counts.
  2. luckydog

    luckydog Fapstronaut

    So well said. I remember reading up on the age-related forum (in my case Ages 40+) and in the Reset and Relapse Reports of men here with years of history, going back to their original posts, and after every relapse there would be a post where it basically only said "I relapsed today. Resetting the counter sucks. Back to basics." And then another string of daily successes, and then another relapse with another report of relapse without much insight, learning, resolve to change, or really any detail.

    What was the original plan? Was there any written plan? "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail" is a time-worn saying, but it nonetheless holds true. No idea where to start? Why not start here. (Listen to the video, enter an email address and access a PDF with a simple plan to actually write out.)

    Relapses, or resets / slips, are additional data to learn from. To strengthen the weak places, to identify the dangerous places / times / emotions, takes work. Otherwise you just head back to the familiar comforts of pornography, masturbation, and the thrill of orgasm. It is such a powerful craving, for that high, to escape whatever it is you feel - you need to counteract that with powerful habits, routines, and accountability.
    Motivation only lasts so long. It has been only a little over 30 days for me, already I've restored an enormous amount of trust from my spouse, so the motivation to get PMO-free has been relieved a bit (she threatened, and was serious, about leaving me and a marriage of over 20 years). Without that fear hanging over my head, why do I remain porn and masturbation-free? I could go right back to living a double life, a secret life, with all the familiar justifications, all the familiar rationale, all the good "I do this in secret and no one needs to know and it really doesn't make a difference" reasons in my head.

    No, I am pornography, masturbation and orgasm-free (that is, orgasm from masturbation and pornography) for LuckyDog's own reasons, and not just the threat of divorce. That was the kick in the head to make those first crucial steps in the first week (chronicled here FWIW) and the biggest change was the direct involvement of others in addition to my spouse - accountability partners, regular group calls, individual therapy. Now that I'm reaping many of the benefits of being PMO-free (i.e. healing of sexual health, crazy clarity of mind at work, willingness to change other areas of my life) I feel like I am on 'the other side' of this addiction, where I am hooked on what Matt Dobschuetz calls The Good Stuff.

    Yes, this exactly. The good stuff. Being more present during sex, it is taking time to let go of those porn-induced fantasies. But progress is there, undeniably, and something that I'm fine with seeing the fantasies fade.
    TheMathFolder likes this.
  3. OhWhenThe

    OhWhenThe Fapstronaut

    The thing is, if you're truly addicted and beating this is of utmost importance then whether you're keeping some kind of calendar/counter or not, you're still all too aware of what day you're on anyway. Maybe when you get further along you might not know exactly what day you're on but you'll still roughly know how far along you are. For me personally I've not noticed much difference in streak length whether I've been actively keeping track or not.

    Also the other point about learning from relapses. Maybe for someone just starting they are necessary to identify reasons and triggers for failing but for most who have already relapsed many times what is there to learn? That you shouldn't have done it?
    TheMathFolder likes this.
  4. kropo82

    kropo82 Fapstronaut

    There's always something to learn, some new technique to try, some piece of introspection. Eventually they will all stack up and you'll win.
    Last edited: May 1, 2021
    TheMathFolder likes this.
  5. TheMathFolder

    TheMathFolder Fapstronaut

    Thank you for such a detailed reply.
    I agree with your overall view of the recovery process. I think this kind of mentality is what's required to make the actual changes that an addict needs in their life, and have a better chance to overcome the addiction.
  6. TheMathFolder

    TheMathFolder Fapstronaut

    The way I see it, the fact that you relapsed proves that you still have things to learn.
    Even if it's just an old lesson that you need to reinforce.

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