How I broke the cycle of shame and addiction by Reflecting Forward

I had been stuck on spin cycle in addiction for almost two decades. My wife had been incredibly patient with me but wasn’t too far from leaving. I became super lost, unhealthy, and was letting my addiction take over.

I was about to lose everything.

To be able to move forward I had to go back to where it all began.

Where it all began

me as a dapper young chap, age 5 ish

When I was young I began to not obtain the emotional connection I actually needed. The problem is, I had no idea this was happening. I began a slow process of disengaging with friends and family. At first I didn’t think too much of it.

climbing in Moab , age 14

While my friends were working on their jeep stereos and playing team sports, I retreated to the outdoors hiking and rock climbing. Mostly by myself in my 1996 Saturn 4-door sedan. The most non-off road vehicle ever created.

self portrait at the summit, utah

I remember one time when I was 16 (15 probably) I left for a night and climbed to the top of an 11,000 ft peak in Utah. No one knew where I was. I didn’t tell anyone. While it looked like I was just out having an adventure, I was completely running away from trauma but had no idea.

You can imagine my heart ache and frustration because I didn’t realize this until age 36. For twenty years I believed my brain was broken, I should pray harder, I’m not good enough, and that I’m just an addict.

top of Mt. Rainer, age 18 — I found some strangers to climb with

High expectations and eternal consequences

I grew up in a Mormon (LDS) home. In a nutshell you’re expected to live and follow fairly high standards. Basically we’re taught, if you are good then you are blessed. If you’re bad, then you’re not. If you are bad, then you can repent and be good.

Simple.

rollerblades were my jam, age 8

When we make mistakes we are counseled to talk with a Bishop, he’s an unpaid volunteer who oversees a ward, a congregation of around 150–300 church members for an area. I had been struggling with viewing pornography for quite a few years and had spoken to Bishops before for help. Their counsel was basically:

  • Don’t take the sacrament for a few weeks
  • Keep a calendar and mark the days you look at pornography and mark the days you don’t. Over time, try to make the days you don’t more than the days you do.
  • Pray and read your scriptures
self portrait, age 15, no one else was around

I remember one visit very well as a teenager. I shared everything with the Bishop and how I was struggling. I hated the feeling of being ‘bad’ and wanted to be ‘good’.

I lost it emotionally. I was crying really hard. I tried to get myself together before I exited his office only to find 5–7 church members waiting their turn to speak with him. One church member, a man in his mid-40’s jokingly said in a loud voice,

“Wow. You must’ve done something really terrible! You were in there a long time!”

I couldn’t respond. I froze. Paralyzed. I was essentially marked as ‘bad’.

What I had hoped to keep between myself, the Bishop, and God was now on display in front of others. By some miracle it didn’t break me.

I seriously don’t know how this didn’t break me.

My Love for Coffee

Back in my day…when you were19 years old in the Mormon church men are commanded to serve a mission and women can when they are 21 but it’s not required.

My brothers and one sister served missions and I knew I always wanted to. But for years I had struggled with pornography so would I be able to go?

Shame set in.

About a year before I left on my mission I was living on my own and working a few jobs, one at a ski resort. I’d get up early and hit the gas station in prep for the 50 minute bus ride to the resort. I’d go for the hot chocolate but started trying the cappuccinos. Oh man they were so good.

My family stayed in a hotel once when I was 10 and my brothers and I tried making the coffee that was in the room. We totally messed it up (or maybe hotel coffee just sucks) but I had always wanted another wack at it.

As I found myself alone at the Chevron each morning I didn’t see the harm in drinking coffee.

Coffee brought this warm comfort that soothed my soul. I don’t really remember the caffeine being the drive for me but more of just the dark bold taste that woke up my spirit. Coffee became this friend who would just listen without judgement, telling me everything I wanted to hear, and always would be there. Right until the last drop.

Oh how I loved coffee.

Mormons can’t drink coffee BTW. Pornography I get, I don’t think that’s healthy. But coffee? I thought was fine and was quickly becoming my next vice.

I did serve a Mormon mission and didn’t drink coffee during the two years. But I’ve always wondered what made me tick and why I was reaching for things that we’re constantly crammed into my brain as bad.

I must surely be bad.

I must surely be addicted.

the only climbing wall in Korea, on my mission, age 19–21

I got engaged to my wife in 16 days of meeting her

No seriously, I did. While Mormons are taught to have big families and get married fast, for me I don’t think that was the drive. For me I was seeking companionship and a sense of home. I found it in my incredible wife and truly am grateful to have met her.

mountain biking in Moab, our 3rd date. 5~ days later I proposed and she said yes

I didn’t struggle with the addiction during or right after my mission. In some weird way I thought I had been cured. When you look at the daily routine of a Mormon missionary you’d understand why.

I also thought marriage would make my addiction completely go away. Makes sense right?

That’s a no. A big no.

The shame that I had been carrying since a small kid followed me. It was silenced during my mission and gave me a false sense of hope that I was fine. About a year into marriage the shame attacked me. It came out in full force as if it had never left.

My addiction had returned.

And to clarify, at this point I had no idea it was shame or trauma. I only thought ‘once an addict always an addict’.

The war I thought was over really had just begun

Oh this was an awful time. I began seeking help in any way possible. Like:

  • Put blockers on the computer
  • Attend addiction recovery classes
  • Meet with therapists
  • Continue to meet with Bishops
  • Seek help from friends

For years I did this. While these can help and it was nice to start to have some dialogue, they aren’t what helped me actually recover or gain control.

The best way I can describe this time was putting a few band-aids on little cuts on my body while not knowing there was a giant cancer yet to reveal itself.

I had to go find the cancer.

Recovery through Reflecting Forward

*Let me stop right here, Reflecting Forward isn’t some addiction center with horses in southern Utah. It’s just some generic term I came up with as I’ve gone through this experience. No, I’m not trying to sell you on some $30,000 recovery center experience.*

Mt. Engineer, CO, age 16. all I wanted to be was an outdoor photographer

What broke for me is when my health drastically declined right after my mom passed away. I experienced shingles and was two points away from being a type II diabetic.

I was completely crashing.

Finally I found a therapist who could offer help.

Actual help. Actual guidance. Actual solutions.

I remember sitting down with him the first time pouring out my story about my addiction. After he listened he said something I’ll never forget,

“I think I can help you but we won’t be talking about pornography much.”

At this point I was open for anything. I was intrigued. I was confused.

Either way — I was ready.

To go forward I had to go back. Way back. Back to age 4, 5, 6. Back to ages I didn’t think I had a memory of. What was back there? How did this impact the terrible addiction I’m having now? What does my childhood have to do with anything?

It has to do with everything.

I went back to what I thought were super insignificant experiences. Little jabs of trauma that culminated in massive blows to my soul and development.

rock climbing in Moab, age 17. I missed my brother’s wedding for this trip

I went back to interactions with girlfriends, parents, friends, siblings, teachers, co-workers, bosses, random strangers and on and on. It was sort of like entering this giant maze with thousands of different directions all headed to different destinations. I was required to visit each path and explore each turn.

It was an exhausting exercise.

At first I didn’t make the connection between these deep explorations and how it related to my twenty year addiction.

ice climbing in Ouray, age 17. I showed up alone, found someone to belay me. I had never held ice axes before in my life. What in the hell was I thinking…

Slowly it clicked. It came together. As I addressed the anger and shame I had deep inside from these past experiences, I was able to let go of things that I didn’t even know I was hanging on to in the first place.

This process took months and is still taking place. I’ve found incredible power from this practice that has helped me not just address the past but be able to propel forward.

This is a very intentional practice and choice. This is way past internet blockers and wives wondering why their husbands look at porn thinking they aren’t pretty enough.

To the wives out there that maybe reading this, pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you. And what I’m about to tell you could’ve literally saved a handful of marriages of people who are close friends:

Your husband being drawn into pornography has nothing to do with how you look or who you are and has everything to do with trauma from his past that is unresolved.

You may or may not believe it, that’s up to you but it’s the truth.

How can you get your life back?

If you’ve stuck with me this far you’re probably wanting a guide, steps, a cute little diagram to follow and get your marriage back.

I don’t have an ebook on this other than what I just wrote. Here’s what I will give you. This is a list of what I know about this addiction that has helped other men I’ve spoken with and may help you:

  • The drive to seek out vices maybe coming from unresolved issues and trauma from your past. I totally understand it could be coming from other places, you’ll need to seek professional help to fully understand what’s best for you.
  • Avoid identifying with yourself as an ‘addict’. That’s one thing I completely disagree with the LDS church on during recovery classes is that everyone has to sit in a circle, say their name, and say, ‘Hi I’m Adam, I’m an addict’. The deeper you identify with this label the harder it is to seek recovery.
  • Communicate what you’re going through with someone. Holding it inside only causes more damage and buries what needs to be revealed even deeper.
  • Make sure to get healthy. Being unhealthy makes you feel slow, gross, and unenthusiastic about daily routines much less tackling massive trauma from the past. I was hovering at a 28% body fat and was able to bring it down to 15%. I couldn’t imagine going through this process in the state I was in before.
age 37, 15% body fat, I feel good
  • If you are Mormon, just know that Bishops while well intentioned are not trained in this topic. They do not have the tools to help with long term trauma. Visiting with them is up to you but I can’t say this enough — you must meet with a trained professional who deals with trauma management. Of the 20+ Bishops I met with, only two really come to mind that offered sound advice, which was to meet with a professional.
  • If you are victim of narcissism know that I was also. This is so common and there is a lot of helpful information on this topic. As you go down this road just be prepared to setup very difficult boundaries that may feel completely unnatural. Know that these boundaries are also part of the recovery process.
  • That block function on your phone isn’t just for telemarketers. If there are a people in your life that drag you down, block them. If there are people that are pulling you away from your goal, block them. It doesn’t have to be forever but it should be intentional.
  • Know that you need to ask for help. You must deal with it and enter the crap storm. And when I say crap storm I mean it. It’s the absolute most difficult thing you will experience but will absolutely help you.
  • There are deeper meanings as to why men are addicted to pornography. While the podcasts and pundits out there claim ‘your brain this’ and ‘dopamine that’, they are completely missing the giant point of the deeper cause. Yes — when one looks at pornography dopamine does hit. But wouldn’t you want to know why you’re seeking it out in the first place? No one talks about this and it drives me effing bonkers.
  • Be ready to let go of pornography. Similar to coffee, it was like a friend that had stuck with me for so many years. As I’ve let go of it I actually mourned the loss of it. Crazy right? I also had to actually say that I enjoyed it to let go of it. Crazy right? That was definitely a weird few weeks but was an important piece to the puzzle.

(I’ll add more to this list if I think of more)

Disclosure

I am not a professional. Don’t read this and think this is the end all. I share this because I know there are men out there just like me and want a resolution.

I am still an active member of the Mormon church. The way that I have mentioned the church above probably sounds like I’m not active anymore. I am — I’m just more intentionally about it then I was as a kid.

oregon, age 36, no longer alone

I’m still figuring this out. The triggers still hit. The depression can smack me in the face. But the good days are really good.

Wherever you’re at brother, I’d just say what is ahead of you is absolutely worth the work.

Fight for it.

-Adam

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