Understanding the difference between trying harder and trying smarter belongs to the essential toolkit of recovery from addictions and self-destructive coping behaviours.
When I became aware that I had a real problem, I was quick to make commitments to stop self destructive behaviours like smoking, drinking and drugs. Unfortunately, other behaviours remained and they drove me to despair and hopelessness. I was trying hard to make it stop, but only when I tried smart did I start to see progress.
“If I just would get my act together.”John Theodore
Stuck in weekly cycles
My story begins a year after I gave my life to Jesus Christ and I was unable to stop watching pornography. I tried hard to stop, made commitments, felt bad about my behaviour and would read and pray more before seeking forgiveness with God. I was miserable.
At the time, I knew very little about addiction and trauma and I only knew that I wanted it to stop. I was sick and tired of this sin that was destroying my confidence and joy in life. I promised myself that I would get rid of it “by this time next year”, but this didn’t materialise. I started to despair and opened up a little about my incapacity to stop.
With that opening up, I doubled down on my efforts to deal with the problem. I read articles about porn addiction and the consequences of it on the brain, as well as a book on breaking free from pornography. I also installed blockers and accountability software on my devices. “Great!”
I was really in the battle! Now this, I thought, was going to help me right?
“I firmly believed that if I would just try harder I could make it stop, next time.”John
Sadly, I was wrong. I always found a way aroundthe softwares and relapsed into porn watching once a week while drifting into darker corners. It was a cycle of insanity. I firmly believed that if I would just try harder I could make it stop, next time.
On my best moments I made it to 3 weeks, but then the fall was even greater. Shame had a grip on my identity as a pervert, guilt drove me to try harder and humiliation made me feel miserable and a hopeless case.
It took a despicable event in my addictive life to wake me up to realize that I needed to admit that I was totally incapable to stop this and that I needed real help. I was out of control.
I had to make investments and needed to open up on a very different scale if I ever wanted to see myself break free from this evil. I saw that I was a sex addict and was desperate.
What does it mean to try harder
In my story, I tried hard for two years to overcome my self destructive sexual behaviour. I believed that, “If I just would get my act together”, “If I just was more disciplined”, “If I just read my Bible more, loved God more, would pray more” (fill in whatever phrase that fits your reality), then… I would succeed.
But instead of making progress, I would exhaust myself every week suppressing and fighting emotionally to not do the thing that I don’t want to do. The victories that I had were all thanks to staying connected to God, but as soon as I had a weak moment I would go right back to my old ways and beat myself up about it.
Trying harder is the method that we all use by default when we do not see any other options. Trying harder is the “go to” of every man and woman who is unwilling or unable to see any other option of dealing with a problem. We believe that “someday it will work” though we use the same method of dealing with the problem while expecting a different outcome.
Why it does not work
It is the story of the man who says to the doctor, “My head hurts”, but he has tried to get rid of it by banging his head against the wall every time. He thought that if he would just bang it enough the hurt would go away. It is insanity.
Now the doctor is going to tell him that if he would stop banging his head against the wall every day, then they could make some progress to see what the real problem is. And that brings me to the next point.
Trying harder is exhausting and only increases the craving for a “break” and for the good feelings of a relapse.
Many things can raise our feelings of pleasure (even if it is only for a second) and the brain knows where to find the pleasure, the arousal it has tasted before. And the brain will go for it even if it is harmful to you.
Trying harder perpetuates the cycle and strengthens the neurological pathways that are responsible to telling your body, “you need …” (fill in the blank with the feel good drug of choice).
When I finally saw that I had a real addiction on my hands and that I had crossed a line that was alarming to me, I made the step to join a Christian counseling program called the Conquer Series where I learned what had happened to me over the course of my youth.
I had to learn to try smarter in overcoming my self destructive coping behaviors. I was at a point of being ready to give up, I could not figure my way out of addiction by myself. I had to leave my isolation, hiding, lying, pride and shame behind and had to be courageous.
I had to be vulnerable and ask for real help in this battle. I had to trust God and others around me to lead me out of my addiction by surrendering to the process of healing from my hurt, trauma and self-destructive ways.
I learned 4 key things through this program and it will help you get a glimpse and headstart to surrender to a prpcess of recivery by trying smarter.
- Know the love of God : God is the source where you want to go to. The highest good and highest love. Daily time alone with God is vital to recovery. He is the source of everlasting life and love, who knows all your troubles and all your weaknesses and who never changes. We all need him fundamentally and without him we will just replace one addiction for another. What helped me was to know that I am who he says who I am. It is ground breaking. I would meditate on the promises and my identity while doing self-care or self-stewardship : taking a long bath/shower, taking a walk, listening to my favorite songs, taking a nap, practicing gratefulness to God, calling a friend to talk about how I am doing today. You may find other ways of self care and taking care of your true needs.
- Know the battle is in you mind : Neurological understanding about how our brains work and how porn (and any other dopamine inducing drug) changes the structure of your brain will help you understand why you can’t simply stop and also how you can begin the healing of your brain. Transforming your brain happens while you question your beliefs that have caused you to relapse and to replace them with the promise of God or truth of God about yourself and your future in Him. It is reality checking. Are the things that drive me to watch porn real or are they just a figment of past intrusion or an imagination.
- Know your triggers : Become aware of what triggers your sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, stress, etc.. Triggers usually come before a relapse and can be all sorts of things depending on your past experience. Knowing these can help you make conscious healthy choices to avoid them or when you realise you have been triggered. The most well known are HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
- Look at and own your story : This is a major point that demands great vulnerability and courage, but it is so important that you know who you are in the light of where you come from and all that has happened in your life. This is where you have an honest look at your family of origin, your experiences at school and your life disappointments and failures. Embrace your story and realize that God has the ability to turn all things from darkness into light. This can be a very heart wrenching endeavour depending on what you have experienced in the past and it is wise to seek support and counsel from either your Pastor, a Biblical counsellor or (if the previous is not available) a psychologist.
Tools that I use to help me being smart in recovery?
The 3 most important do’s of my recovery that helped me were Journaling, 3 week reflection reports (Crash analysis) and accountability to several committed friends and church leaders.
- The journaling I do over Daylio, a quick and easy mood tracking journal. I still use it every day and it helped me see patterns in my relapses, figure out what made me happy and sad, could help me track healthy habits and help me establish in depth reports about relapses. I bought it and track my mood 4 times a day.
- The “3 week reflection reports” flow from the idea that a relapse never happens suddenly. Usually we have been exhausting ourselves emotionally over the past few weeks and made compromises on vulnerability (i.e. isolation), self-care, commitments (Breaking promises to self and others) and integrity. The reports help to take the time and see how the relapse came about, to see triggers and to make new decisions to avoid compromising your own journey to freedom and going forward.
- Finally the must have a group of committed intimate friends who know your struggle. If you do anything then do this. The Church of Christ, the community of believers, is the single most important weapon against isolating and addiction. Everyone needs grace and truth. We need friends who accept us where we are and intimate relationships who care enough to call us out and show us our blind spots. This is where we will know that we are valued and loved for who we are as God created human being rather than by our performance and trying harder.
We all need love and belonging. We all need new hope in times when everything seems to go backwards. The ideas that I shared with you are not a one size fits all but they are part of a whole course, a lifelong journey that I had to accept into my life in order to see the power of their effectiveness.
It starts with accepting God’s love in Jesus and then opening up to trusted people of your community around you who are able and willing to support you on your journey while you surrender to get to know yourself on a deeper level so that you know who you are, discover where you are going and what your purpose is in God’s greater plan for mankind.
Great news there is hope
This is a lot of information condensed into a few paragraphs. It took time to implement and surrender to these new habits in order to see the benefits over time.
If you would like to know more about the process and how I grew over the past years or
if you would like to share your own journey, tools and story with me or
if you just want to hang out to talk, I would love to hear from you and chat.
Let me know what you think.
Learn more about the author on the Simple Man page.
King James Version (KJV)
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.