Neurons that fire together wire together

Discussion in 'Ages 40+' started by Wabi-sabi, Jan 1, 2014.

  1. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    I try not to have regrets or to make excuses. People that don’t make mistakes don’t learn anything, and I’m wiser for having been so dumb. (Just wish I’d figured it all out sooner. . .) What follows is an account of my self-sabotaging behaviour over the past few decades. . .

    As a teenager in the early eighties, it was far easier to get my hands on alcohol than drugs or porn. I was a good drunk. No fighting, crying or weirdness.

    Although I told myself it was glamorous, I realized I had an alcohol problem when I was around 25, but it took me two years to actually stop. I wasn’t drinking to be social, to have fun or to hang out with the boys – I was drinking to hurt myself.

    I quit cold turkey in January 1998. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most important. I’ve now been sober 16 years.

    What’s this got to do with porn? Everything. Addiction is basically the process of re-wiring your brain. When you repeat a particular action, you reinforce connections between neurons, or brain cells. And as they say, neurons that fire together wire together.

    Anything that creates a chemical change in your brain can be addictive; the more you release those feel-good chemicals, the stronger a neural pathway you are creating. The object of your addiction becomes your only source of pleasure.

    Porn is as addictive as alcohol or drugs. It’s all one big dopamine rush.

    My first month sober was a living hell. The days were bone-grating miserable, and at night I’d dream of alcohol. I’d wake up with the taste of the dream drink in my throat.

    The next two months were a grind, but once I was three months in, things got easier. After a year I never felt the need to get drunk; after a two years I was able to walk into a bar to drink soda and not give a damn what anyone thought. (This tallies with the claimed three-month process of breaking free from PMO.)

    But I got complacent. Putting so much attention to being dry, I started taking drugs. Cocaine “just once a month” became every weekend, and I very soon found myself smoking foilies right after work. Oh, and while I was at it, I set up my first home internet connection sometime around 1998.

    I quit cocaine the following year, ecstasy and pot by 2000 – without too much difficulty once I realized that I was using them in exactly the same way as alcohol. I never figured that late night internet sessions were just as dangerous. . .

    Surfing for porn seemed, when I was starting out, as innocuous as a few beers with the boys had been a decade previously, or my first line of cocaine. In the in-between time I got married, bought a house and started a family. But I allowed myself my online “treat” at increasingly regular times.

    I’d go a couple of weeks, sometimes three, and then have a long, late session, usually until 2am. And then another, a couple of days later. My worst probably ran between 9am and 3am the next day. But I’d never truly sleep immediately after a session. Too hyped up, I guess. Then I’d drag myself into work through self-hatred. Porn became another way of hurting myself.

    I would download pictures, and spent hours arranging them into files in between porn surfing binges. Categories and sub-categories. How is it that porn brings out the librarian in you? Although I am married, I’ve never been that much of a success with women, and finding and sorting their pictures into files and folders somehow made me feel like less of a failure.

    Outwardly I am a success – a family guy, with a nice house in an upscale neighbourhood. Behind closed doors, my PIED has developed into sexual anorexia to the point that I moved myself into the basement. I have no libido whatsoever.

    A few years ago I realized I had a problem – and it’s not just that my wife thinks I’m gay. I even told her that she could go get herself a boyfriend, if that’s what she wanted.

    I tried to stop surfing porn over at least three years, but always drifted back. Late in 2013 I read about the no fap movement, spent some time on, and I realized it was an addiction.

    I quit PMO sometime around mid-October. As far as I am concerned, I could not quit the P and keep on with the MO. It has to be all-round abstinence.

    I’m probably two-and-a-half months in. It’s working – well enough for me to get complacent and very, very nearly relapse last week. I come here every time I feel a relapse coming on. I'm starting to learn to recognize the triggers.

    I’ve also noticed enough positive changes in my life, which I’ll detail in later posts, that I am committed to make 2014 PMO-free. I’m not running a counter and I don’t intend my posts to be all that chronological, but let’s just say I’m 43 but feel like life is starting over again.

    I hope I don’t make this sound too easy – I have to be honest and say that I’m an alcoholic first and foremost, and always will be (but a sober one) and quitting drinking was the toughest thing I’ve ever, ever done.

    I hope I haven’t given alcohol and drugs too much attention here, but I feel there isn’t much on this site comparing PMO with other addictions. I also hope my experiences of one addictive behaviour morphing into another can be useful to someone, somewhere. In short, never, never get complacent.
  2. Beowulf

    Beowulf Member

    Welcome to the forum - I've found this site an invaluable source of help and support (this isn't something you can confide in to friends etc I've found).

    I was very taken with how you linked alcohol, drugs and porn together... I'm dealing with a dual addiction (I think) to drink and porn.... Anyway thanks for such a detailed post, I can really relate to your issue of binges, then not sleeping properly, then low libido.... I'm in the middle of all of this but others much further ahead than me will be able to give you good advice. Just wanted to say good luck with it all...
  3. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    I fell from my very high horse, twice. . .

    I was too clever by half - figured that, because I'd been here before, it would be easy.

    And the minute you think you're cured, your guard is down. . . and you are back into the addiction.

    Let me explain. By January I was at 100 days, and, getting hung up on the counting thing figured I had nothing to worry about when I was getting turned on by [TRIGGER WARNING] lingerie pictures on Etsy. Someone had been talking about some kind of jewelery design or fix and I was looking for pictures to show them, as a how-to. I let myself get lead astray. A million neurons in my brain fired pleasure chemicals and I actually felt sick and dizzy with it.

    PMO to Etsy. Is this a new low for this forum?

    After this I fell big time in a week-long, round-the-clock PMO binge in March. Rock bottom, 2am-staring-at-a-screen-through-painful-eyes, self-hating, hell.

    I'm timing my new abstinence from April 1.
  4. 40New30

    40New30 Keep going

    We're addicted to images on a screen, it's very logical that you would relapse to lingerie pics. This addiction is insidious, and we have to cut off all the triggers. Surfing with images blocked is a great idea...really.

    I feel you on the binges, it's sickening. Feels great, of course...and then your mind crumbles.
  5. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Relapse, start again

    The human brain cannot remember pain. I have to write down how bad I feel like now so, in a couple of months time when I next have the urge to relapse, I can re-visit. (So it's taken me more than a year to figure out what this journal is for!)

    I was at that time between 80 and 90 days clean when I broke. Everyone talks about 100 days as if it's freedom, but I find that things get more difficult for me the further into it I am. I think this is the time I start to get the hornies again. . . possibly I need to build MO into my re-boot.

    I relapsed very nearly three weeks ago. At first, it felt wonderful. The buzz was better than cocaine. I was so high from all those pleasure chemicals sloshing around in my brain that I was even a nicer, more relaxed person, even when I wasn't in front of a screen. For the first couple of days, I figured I'd never come back here because I'd found happiness.

    Then I noticed I wasn't getting so high. Then I started to feel shit, so that I needed porn just to feel normal. I was using it just to get a good feeling, not to get turned on.

    Oh, and I lost eye contact.

    That's one of the thing I notice about re-booting: for the first two months you climb into your shell, but then you start to walk taller and notice people around you, make eye contact, and speak to your fellow human beings. (And it's when I start to feel good again that I decide to fuck up. I don't know why that should be, but I've seen it in myself before; I get everything together and start to make progress, and then get bored and pick a fight with the one person that can demolish whatever project I've been working on all these months.)

    Feeling terrible about my relapse wouldn't help me, but I feel bad enough to want to take re-booting more urgently this time - so I don't have to keep going through these insane highs and lows.

    So last night, sitting in front of my computer screen, I realized how bored I was of the whole porn thing. What a waste of time.

    I hope I can take that feeling of boredom into my recovery. It's when I start to think that I'm missing something enjoyable that I'm likely to relapse. Strangely enough, I think part of the fun of relapsing was re-building my porn collection. But then, if I don't delete the filth I've recently collected they will start calling out to me in around three months' time.

    If nothing, I'm becoming more aware of my triggers.
  6. 40New30

    40New30 Keep going

    I feel your pain, and I know your pattern, it's just like mine...clean for a long while then -- BAM -- major relapse. I wish I could give advice on how to break the cycle, guess we have to remember how painful our addiction really is even when our brain is telling us that it feels great.
  7. Caoimhín

    Caoimhín Winter's coming...


    It is really important to link all of the behaviours together because it is not the behaviour (PMO, alcohol, etc.) that is the problem specifically. The root is finding out why we tend to adopt addictive behaviours so readily... ie. what are we trying to escape in our life? Why is the reality of existence so painful and why is it that we want to avoid it? As your experiences have shown, you can easily replace one vice with another.

    Some behaviours that I've engaged in (besides the big ones of PMO and alcohol) have included drugs, television, Internet, puzzles... and there are more. What they all have in common is that my mind tunes out completely and I cut, temporarily, the links with the here and now.

    So, welcome to the forum and I wish you good excavations down into the cellar of your psyche.
  8. notnow

    notnow New Member

    So well written. And so informative. I learn from others that have come so far only to relapse. Bumps in the long road ahead. Self destructive behavior. Is that really behind our problems? What do we truly hide from? Everyone has their pain. Having been in love twice in my life only to be left behind.
    Is my fear abandonment? Over my 62 years I've known many guys that I smoked dope and drank and partied with.Chased girls for insignificant sex with. Almost all that I really talked with in those rare moments of honesty always spoke of some lost love. Some woman that had ripped their heart out in the past. Is it possible to rewire for love? Does anyone so hurt even believe in love like that anymore? I don't know the answer. I hope. I pray that it is so. I pray I can stay free of porn and do everything I can do to be really "here" should it ever happen again with some as yet unknown woman. Age factors in. How many good years are left? How to find something that remotely resembles love of the younger past at 62. It can be so empty in trying to put it all back together.
    And of course,the addiction calls out to me at times,saying,"what's the use"?
    But I iqnore those thoughts. I want to live on the other side of this horrible addiction. I want to know and feel what it's like to be free. It's worth the incredible journey.
  9. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Day 2.

    Thank you for your support, notnow, Caoimhín and 40New30.

    I wish I knew why I can get through the first two months of re-booting so easily, and then decide to relapse when the end is in sight. There has to be something behind my fear of success. A terror at the prospect of improving my personal relationships and having to communicate and make myself vulnerable?

    Possibly it's just that I'm the boy that refused to grow up. My wife treats me like I'm a child, which I hate. But then, I am cold and emotionally (and sexually) withdrawn from the relationship. She cooks, cares for the children and I hand over my paycheck.

    Around a year ago she was talking about her need for more intimacy and I told her that I wouldn't mind if she took a lover; she was furious. She told me that I have psychopathic tendencies, although personally I prefer to say I'm a loner. I don't need to have other people around me; I don't need to talk about my day so that I can portray myself as the hero or the victim; and I'm not too interested in listening to people go on about their feelings (lose ten bucks, feel sad; find twenty, feel great - yeah, don't your emotions make you such an individual).

    Possibly this explains why I sail through the flatlining part - I'm shut off from other people anyway. It's the bit that comes next, when you want to find sexual intimacy, that I find difficult. And, yes, the person I want to find this 'intimacy' with is not the person I'm married to, which is makes things so complicated that it's just easier to relapse, because when I'm using porn I have such an incredibly negative world view that women keep well away.

    Porn makes me numb, just like alcohol used to, when I was using that.

    I've just seen a connection!

    Writing this, although it might seem bleak, has made me feel a hell of a lot better. While I'm at it, I think this last relapse has helped me to understand things. I'm at Day 2 with more understanding than if I'd not relapsed and been at Day 92 and just forcing myself to keep away from the internet every evening.

    A bump on the road to self knowledge.
    Boxer17 likes this.
  10. Caoimhín

    Caoimhín Winter's coming...

    Wabi-sabi wrote:

    That's what it seems to all be about: shutting down our emotions. The problem is, I've spent most of my life perfecting the emotional shut down. Keeping numb. Avoiding. I don't seem to be able to work my way out of it easily. But I think the fact that I spent 40 odd years working at stifling emotions, if I can stop avoiding them and start letting them in, I will gradually be less like a stone.
  11. notnow

    notnow New Member

    you're welcome. I suspect as stated earlier, that fear of pain,fear of really giving ourselves comepletly to someone may be at least part of the withdrawal into addiction. I like the word numb. Nice bump. We're all "first cousins " here are we not? When one gets pinched we all scream. When one advances we all draw energy.
  12. 40New30

    40New30 Keep going

    Once you start feeling good you're inner addict siddles up and says -- a little PMO won't hurt you at all. It seems to make perfect sense, and one PMO turns into 10, turns into full time PMOing, because we're addicts.
  13. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Once again, thank you notnow, Caoimhín and 40New30 for continuing to point me in the right direction.

    Day 3.

    Feeling better than I have the previous two days. Two nights of sleep, and my eyes and shoulders no longer hurt (yeah, I have poor porn binge body posture). Still feeling negative and empty - but I know it's possible to be through this, and feeling good again.

    Last night I picked up Battles Men Face by Gregory Jantz, and started reading. I really am impressed. I've found self-help books I've skimmed in the past to be about a bunch of esoteric fears of self-obsessed women, but this actually addresses real life things men do to themselves. It's about doing things - it's something I can relate to.

    I like the fact that Jantz looks at a range of issues - pornography, anger, emotional withdrawal, consumption of food/alcohol, and so on. It's helpful because, to be honest, I get to tick a couple of the boxes - It's not just porn addiction. I am also emotionally withdrawn and have a surprising amount of anger ready to break out.

    The introduction and porn addiction chapter is available online as a pdf

    He gets straight in to the key porn-use question - "What are you afraid of?"

    I think I should ask myself what I'm afraid of:
    1.) Getting caught and having a bunch of people getting angry at me;
    2.) Being drawn to sites that use voyeuristic/stolen pics of women to humiliate them - the fappening was the worst thing to happen to me in years;
    3.) Compulsively downloading pictures and sorting them into folders, as if I am gaining control over women;
    4.) Looking deeper, my abject failure with women throughout my twenties (and when I married, it was because her biological clock was sounding - my wife would not have looked at me in her twenties - but why does this even bother me?);
    5.) Now I'm in family and professional environments, being required to discuss emotions and not even having the language to do so. Am I just hollow? I don't feel things;
    6.) Anger.

    Porn use, then, is either a symptom of my underlying problems, or else is one of a range of interconnected issues that probably feed each other. But hey, I'm only at Page 65. . .
  14. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Day 4.

    Feeling more positive today than at any time over the previous four weeks. (I'm catching up on sleep, and haven't started to flatline yet.)

    I'm still working through Battles Men Face. Funnily enough, the most difficult chapter so far was the one on emotional withdrawal. The porn chapter stung a bit, but I already knew I have to stop using porn - it's the idea of talking about feelings and stuff which scares the crap out of me.

    It's helped me become more aware of the family dynamic. My wife has a lot of anger, which she uses to get things done. The book quotes the emotional withdrawal guy saying: "I don't try to defend myself any more. She's better at prosecuting than I am at defending. I mean, she brings up stuff I did or said three years ago - like I even remember - and uses that against me."

    For example, yesterday she started on at me because I'd left the toaster oven plugged in all day and the house might have burned down. When a guy comes out with crazy talk like that you just say "Fuckin' didn't, did it?," and that would end it all there. But with a woman, it's 20 minutes of what might have happened, and you can't win that one. You have two choices - shout back or shut up. (And, yes, when she's yelling at me about the toaster over it's not really the toaster oven she's angry about.)

    I use emotional withdrawal to hurt her back. I also use porn when it's stressful at home - again, to hurt her. I don't actually tell her I'm off to spend an evening searching the internet for women that are prettier and slimmer than her. . . but she knows. She doesn't mention it, because she also knows that when I'm on a binge I frankly don't care what she thinks about it.

    This is not to blame anyone but myself for the things I choose to do. But I'm starting to understand my previous relapses. PMO is a symptom of bigger problems - my own personal hangups, and the moderately dysfunctional relationships I've built around me. I can't just quit porn without making other changes in my life, to remove the toxic stuff that pushes me into wanting to blot everything out into numbness.
  15. Caoimhín

    Caoimhín Winter's coming...

    I have become an expert at withdrawing emotionally. The problem with this habit is that it is very difficult for a man who has become very, very withdrawn emotionally in Western societies, to learn another way. Society does not support this... but, strangely supports the idea that porn and masturbation (plus drugs and alcohol) are reasonable outlets for men.
  16. 40New30

    40New30 Keep going

    Wabi, I can easily relate to what you're written, there's a lot of anger and wanting to be alone inside a lot of us.

    One thing though, you can definitely focus on beating porn before moving onto the other issues, get your brain on steady ground and you will have the strength to manage the other shit. With an addict's brain we get a dysfunctional environment.
  17. LTE

    LTE Master Of My Domain

    You are a few steps into a great journey. You have a direction, away from porn, towards a porn-free existence, but at this point all of the landmarks are new. You will find yourself visiting and revisiting the history of your life and seeing this history in a different light. You will pass through periods of self-recrimination and periods of self exculpation. You will see your wife in a harsh light and you will see her side of all this with greater empathy than you could have ever imagined.

    How do I know this? Well, 800 + days into this journey and I've done all of this myself, except I've had to evaluate more than one ex wife. If I wrote the history of my life today, it would be completely different than the history of my life if I had written it three years ago. The ex wife I barely remembered has risen in my eyes to near sainthood, the ex wife I thought of as the love of my life has become the least favored among love interests in my life's history. Perspective . . . it changes drastically as you drag yourself out of a swamp, onto dry land, and then ascend to higher ground and a broader point of view.
  18. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Thank you all for your support - it's the sense of community that will get me through this.

    Day 5.

    A day of family activities - spending time with the children. And thinking a lot. Doing family things makes me want to get better, and become a more involved human being again.

    Last night my wife was angry at me, saying some stuff that had clearly been building up for some time. I didn't have the heart to be angry back, because I could see she really had a point. She said I needed counselling, which I agreed to. The thought of it does, however, fill me with dread - having to sit in a room and talk about my feelings and all that stuff. . .

    According to Battles Men Face, addictions are based on fear. It's usually the fear that you are unlovable. I dropped the book when I got to that line. Fear robs you of joy, so you then turn to short-term highs like porn or alcohol because it seems these will give you an immediate boost - they feel good at the time but ultimately make you worse than ever.

    I've got a bunch of stuff to think through. I'm not sure about beating porn before looking at the other stuff, like 40New30 suggests - my history is that I tend to relapse after around three months. I'm thinking about trying to improve other aspects of my life in the in between time so that I have more resources to hand when I'm tempted to relapse. I should probably take counselling before I relapse. . .

    And, exactly as lte wrote, I'm seeing my life in a new light. Basically, since age 18 I've been hiding from my fears - alcohol, briefly drugs and then PMO.

    I need to break out of this spiral. I'm worth it. (Which is a new concept for me.)
  19. LTE

    LTE Master Of My Domain

    Anyone that has studied addictions will quickly discover the concept of trading addictions. It happens all the time.

    The point is to rid yourself of self-medication. It can be liquor, drugs, porn, food, you name it; you have to learn to live without self-medicating.

    Porn can be addictive in and of itself. You don't have to have a weakness for addiction or some sort of deep emotional problems in order to get hooked on porn. Porn is a stimulant, and the quantity of porn available due to high speed Internet makes it a super stimulant. Super stimulants are dangerous and it's easy to get hooked on them.

    Since rebooting I have uncovered other erroneous behaviors that have surfaced. I don't have an addictive personality, drugs have never appealed to me and, while I drink on occasion, I don't drink to excess or drink to self-medicate. If I'm really unhappy I'm actually less inclined to drink than if I doing well. Liquor isn't a monkey on my back. But sexually stimulating material has been a weakness since childhood. I can remember trembling at the prospect of seeing soft-core photos in Playboy, years before I reached puberty.

    Porn and masturbation were waiting for me and the moment I reached puberty I found myself hooked. Being a middle class kid from a second ring suburb, I wasn't able to find porn, and when I came of age I was afraid to be seen anywhere near a porn shop. I grew up in a Christian family and the prospect of being observed walking into a porn shop served as a great restraint. to me. The first time I went into a porn shop it was away from the town I lived in. [Trigger Alert] I was shocked by seeing a grainy 16 mm movie of some poor hooker being used by a bunch of men, but the adrenaline rush was enough to compel me to do it again. [End Trigger Alert] Most of the handful of times I went to porn shops I wanted out almost as soon as I got there. I'd watch a couple of clips and get out ASAP. it was probably a combination of self-preservation and guilt; porn shops tend no to be in the best part(s) of town.

    After my last divorce, I went to porn shops and spent hours. I didn't care about guilt, or anything else. I watched entire movies that were several hours long, then I'd go up to the counter drenched in sweat and pay to watch another movie. I probably spent between 4 and 6 hours at a time watching porn movies at a porn shop in a nearby town. I only did that a handful of times, but these were full on binges and I'd come out of the shop drenched in sweat. In retrospect, it was obvious addiction. This was a few years before high-speed Internet and the porn that came with it. Once I got over the initial grief of my divorce my porn use declined considerably, but the advent of the tube sites allowed me the occasional porn binge in the privacy of my own home. It wasn't continuous, by any means but it happened at times of stress. During one of those times I found Your Brain on Porn and things are much better now, and I feel in control for the first time in my life.
  20. Wabi-sabi

    Wabi-sabi Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete

    Day 6.

    Thank you, lte, for your detailed and compassionate reply.

    I've been self-medicating with things that were making me worse since I was a teenager - every time I realized I had a problem I just switched substances.

    I've never once addressed the underlying fears and self-hating behaviour that was driving all this. A couple of failed re-boots have shown me that it's not enough to just tell yourself the reasons for not looking at porn, and that you've got to be strong, etc. Even if that worked for me, I'd just find something else to get addicted to.

    During previous re-boot attempts I found myself obsessively buying crap I didn't need on eBay. The warning sign is when my addict brain tells me "At least it's better than. . ." Well, I'm not lying in the gutter shooting heroin, which that part of my brain uses to validate any kind of negative behaviour it can picture. (That and "They are doing it so why can't I?")

    One of the things in Battles Men Face that scared me was an exercise in which I was supposed to list the reasons for changing my life - without being allowed to talk preachy stuff about doing it for other people (". . .[Y]ou've got to come up with a reason that starts with you and loving yourself.") I couldn't, at the time. I just felt empty. But by looking at my fears this last couple of days, I'm starting to feel stronger and able to list the good things about myself.

    Shining light on my dark places makes them recede. I've spent the past 30 years too frightened to do that, in case I'd be putting them in the spotlight.

    I looked at other things to fill the void.

    At this point in previous re-boots I was in a bunker mentality, thinking that just going the 100 days would be enough. This time around, I feel more positive - and stronger.

    Again, thank you to all the commentators who are helping me see this. I wouldn't be here without you all.

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