Imaginary Friends

Do I believe in God? Really? Do I really think Jesus is near me? Isn’t he just an imaginary friend?

I fret like this about Jesus being real over and over again, but I never stop to consider how real these women are, these Ashtaroth. I just fall to my devotions without thinking.

The story about Dagon in 1 Samuel 5:1-5 resonates with me strongly:


1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.

Two things in particular strike me about this passage:

  1. This wasn’t a statue or an icon of Dagon that was being thrown about — it was Dagon itself.
  2. Even after all this happened, the Philistines continued their worship of Dagon.

Dagon was real: a lump of wood or stone you could stub your toe against, or break bits off. Dagon — the god — was imaginary: it had no power against the Lord. The power it had for the Philistines was entirely down to their own faith and adoration, their devotion.

Porn is real just like Dagon was real. The magazine on the table in front of me is real. The models and actors onscreen are real. Porn goes out of its way to show that “this is really real they are not just pretending”.

And porn’s power is as fake as Dagon’s was. The boost I get from porn is entirely down to my own adoration and devotion, my “faith” even. I have trained myself with masturbation to have self-fulfilling expectations. Before and as well as that, secular culture lays out plenty of temptations and signals. But even given all that, my devotion to porn, my turning to porn when I need … something … is my choice. The power porn has over me is given to porn by me.

And just as the Philistines kept returning Dagon to its pedestal, however much I learn, I keep returning to my pics and vids.

Porn is at least as much an imaginary friend as Jesus is, but my attachment to porn, and my doubts about my faith in God, make the fantasies seem as real as the paper they’re printed on.

“So, …, what?” as my business coach might say.

  • I hope this realisation will help weaken my attachment.
  • I remember that yoga is sensual pleasure as well as good exercise. That, and not masturbating, can be my sensual treat.
  • My wife is a sensual treat too, though one with emotional complications attached (eg risks of rejection). Perhaps I should take a few risks.

Worshipping the Ashtaroth

Sometimes I turn willingly to the Ashtaroth, purposefully
A sensual evening for less than one
Sometimes I turn happily to the Ashtaroth
Sometimes I don't
...
The editor blankly waits for my input
Distant clients set my pace
Data streams, accumulates, challenges
I am the learner, the investigator, the one who likes puzzles, the genius
The house overflows me with chores and tasks
The wife expects my support
The ripe day waxes, wanes and crumbles
I am the flexible one, the listener, ridiculous, cook and cleaner
Where am I apart from I?
...
I am the mirror of your affected desire
I am the mood of all your choreography
I am every body in this picture
Flood my palm
A blush of shock
               of pleasure
               of shame

Reset #pornfree

And they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

Judges 2:13

As predicted (or planned), my wife Sara was away for a week, and I have been worshiping the Ashtoreths. After day 117 of the streak, I reset the counter to zero, where it remained until Sara returned.

In that last blog post I had a few ideas for avoidance techniques — things to do that were “as” attractive as looking at porn. Well I didn’t do any of them. They were never really in the race.

I revisited the old haunt I mentioned, and got up-to-date. I dusted off an old twitter account. I toured a few other old haunts too.

I had set limits and rules, but of course in the heat of the moment such rules are forgotten or abandoned. However, I seemed to stick to the most important ones. I didn’t end up drenched in porn, didn’t have an eye on it during the day (the twitter account I ended up not using at all), or even every evening. I wanted it to be a treat and a relaxation, entertainment, and it has been.

Consequently, I have no feelings of shame or regret. I enjoyed the holiday.

What now? Perhaps now is the real test: how easily can I go back on the wagon? A voice will be telling me I don’t need to — if I can start and stop any time, why stop now? — but watching porn with one eye while the other eye is looking over your shoulder is not really a treat.

Porn and masturbation go back on the shelf, and I develop those other attractions that don’t require me to watch my back.

Assuming re-wagonning goes well, this will be the last post in the #pornfree category.

Counting the days #pornfree

I have stopped counting “days since” — in the sense that I am no longer using length of the “streak” as a motivator. Although I let my eyes linger over certain photos in the press longer than I should, there is no pull from the old ways. The habits are broken.

However, I have noticed that I am counting “days until”. As the lockdown rules are easing, there is now a real prospect of either me or my wife Sara spending a few days away (on business, or family responsibilities) — in other words, of me having a few evenings to myself.

I find myself looking forward to revisiting a particular old haunt. I feel confident that I’ll be able to indulge while S is away without losing self-control once she has returned. I’ll be able to start a new streak!

Who knows? I have surprised myself in the past when I have not taken advantage of this kind of opportunity.

How to avoid? Have other goals that are “as” attractive:

  • creative writing: write a story, or begin one
  • yoga blowout: do morning and evening sessions every day for sensual overload
  • prayer challenge: pray out loud

(I do know the “days since” count ofc, and log it in my diary: it’s 87.)

Day 54 #pornfree

It is now 54 days since I have looked at any porn or masturbated. That’s less than two months, and the new state doesn’t feel entirely secure, but I think this is the longest time I have Gone Without since the late 1980s.

I shan’t crow about this very frequently, but this battle is one of the main points of the blog.

In general, I feel much more clear-headed and directed — though life’s ups and downs are as daunting as ever. Perhaps the biggest change is that I’m more careful that my downtime is nourishing rather than draining.

I’ve never stopped lusting after my wife Sara. The challenges of showing affection, and of encouraging shows of affection, remain.

I have not been good at avoiding pictures of attractive women. Quite the opposite. At times I am leaning heavily on the narrow definition of pornography and going looking. That is a weakness I want to put a stop to. Perhaps find something else mildly attractive, engaging and addictive instead (eg do a quick Duolingo exercise).

The real test will be when either Sara or I go away for a few nights, and I have some evenings alone. I can easily imagine spending some of those evenings “catching up”. … but that day can worry about itself.

In the meantime build my strength and enjoy my freedom.

37/30 #pornfree

past

I have completed XXXChurch‘s “The 30 Day Porn-Free Challenge”! [emoji here] Day 30 was Tuesday 16th Feb, and I am continuing the porn-free streak making today day 37/30.

The “30 Day Porn-Free Challenge” is based around an ebook of 30 blog posts (let’s not mince words), which were often quite thought-provoking and challenging. I was surprised by that, and I think that helped keep me on the wagon. I also did a “10-day challenge” by XXXChurch’s partner site LiveFree, which was basically the same idea, but

  • delivered as emails: so, that extra nudge. They were also a bit shorter and punchier than the “30 days” blog posts;
  • each concluded with a few pointed questions, prompting me to really interact with and respond to their content.

All highly recommended. I was intending to blog some responses but quite early on all those “urges” seemed a distant memory. Of course 37 days is actually not that long. If I fall back, I’ll come back to these challenges and respond to their challenges more fully.

present

When I’m not thinking about something specific, my head feels kind of empty. Around day 21, at these times my mind would obsessively fill will sex fantasies. Not entirely unpleasant, but ultimately annoying. I seem to be out of that obsessive phase, but those kind of daydreams are never far away. I need to find something else to occupy my mind when it’s idle.

Avoiding pornography is relatively easy — and breaches are easy to identify. Avoiding pictures of attractive women is not really possible (before the Covid lockdown I would just have said avoiding attractive women is not possible). I’m starting to notice more, and question, my lingering attention when online, or even reading the business press.

future

The LiveFree site is based around a private social network — LiveFree.app, themed around “porn abstention”, which looked very good — as well as the direct use-case, it is a network of male Christians so useful there too. However,

  • subscription is $5/month (fine) and they can only accept credit cards, not paypal (bad). I have contacted them about this but had no response.
  • As with blogging my “porn abstention journey”, I already don’t feel the need any more for this kind of support.

By coincidence, the 30 Days Challenge has led me straight into Lent, giving me an excuse to lengthen, and deepen, the streak. By deepen I mean things like:

  • find new ways to occupy my idle mind and keep sexfantasia at bay
  • be stricter, and more honest, with my attention

Procrastination being what it is, Lent has already started, and I am working on these two.

Day 8/30: Rewire Your Brain #pornfree

I have signed up with XXXChurch and am working through their ebook “The 30 Day Porn-Free Challenge”. More on XXXChurch later. Working through the ebook (reading a chapter a day, and avoiding porn) is going quite well — more on that later too. Each day’s reading has quite good ideas. I was going to review at the end, but the backlog is already burdensome. So:

DAY 8: How To Rewire Your Brain And Body From Addiction

Actually the concrete suggestions in today’s reading (practice and patience, connect daily with a community, turn troubles over to God) are fairly predictable (nothing wrong with them, but no surprises). But the title gave me two ideas.

I am a real creature of habit. The bus driver has the ticket printed for me before I fish out my wallet. At one of the places I like to go for breakfast, one morning the waitress brought me my order before I’d ordered it.

The key is not to much to attack old habits, but to create new habits that can become stronger, more attractive, than the old. I need habits to replace what I get from porn (not so much porn itself as the activity that goes with it).

  1. New source of sensual pleasure

    Establishing a daily yoga practice is one of my Harmony goals for this quarter. I love yoga but when I think, “I must do more yoga!” I think of it as exercise for health and fitness. But while I’m doing it, and afterwards when I can feel the effect, it is a sensual pleasure. It’s not as intense, but it can over-ride tensions and stress, it is enjoyable in its own right, and it can be what I turn to for sensual pleasure. (I don’t rule out turning to my wife for sensual pleasure but I’m not setting that as a target this year.)

  2. New fantasies

    Already after just a week, the sexual fantasies I habitually turn to — or which “pop up” alost unbidden — are less attractive, in that they hold my attention less strongly. But I don’t have anything else so my mind at those times often feels empty, or it can skitter into anxiety/worry fantasies.

    I recently read an article in HBR about someone who would catastrophize. Their coach suggested that, every time they catch themselves doing this, they should give themselves a day drawn in the opposite direction: the interview/demo/launch is wildly successful, the boss is overjoyed, promotions, world game, etc. So I am going to try that.

Lonely

I think I am lonely. This might be completely obvious to readers of the blog (and perhaps to people I meet IRL). It is only just dawning on me.

It feels like a cousin of boredom, a kind of boredom directed inwards. A restlessness, aimlessness, valuelessness inside. Possibly a result of outward boredom: finding nothing of value in the objects of my activity, that lack of value is reflected within. I don’t feel lonely when I’m not bored.

Except when I experience joy — inspiration, success, fulfilment, discovery — and want to share it. Outside of narrow domains (work colleagues will share relevant joys), there is nobody.

My wife is generally not interested in, or is even antagonistic to, many of the things that excite me. I have to think three times before sharing anything in that direction — and indeed I am always on the lookout for things I can and should share — that makes the whole exercise more instrumental and less spontaneous.

I think that loneliness is (at least partly) what drives me to porn. Pretty women smiling at me and welcoming me in the 1980s/90s “top-shelf” softcore images I’ve started browsing (nostalgia in there too of course). Women being bent to my will in the more modern hardcore videos I watch (all mainstream stuff I stress!). Loneliness brings yearning and self-pity and a confusion of darker emotions.

I think loneliness is (at least partly) behind my twitter “addiction”. Searching for a glimpse of a kindred spirit.

Realising this has reduced the tidal pull, although it hasn’t removed the urge completely.

So, what to do about it? What to do about it “as a Christian”?

Boredom and loneliness could easily be described as sins. As well as their superficial sinfulness (There’s plenty to be done! There are plenty of people to befriend!), boredom and loneliness — like shame — lead only to a weakening of the spirit. Indulging loneliness — with porn or social media — doesn’t cure it or lead anywhere. There’s a brief wave of superficial excitement — at best — then less than nothing.

Loneliness is not a “natural” response to … anything. Like shame: I shouldn’t succumb to shame, not because I haven’t done anything shameful — I have, but because Jesus loves and values me, and my sins are washed away in His love. [I should take Baptism more seriously.]

I don’t need to be lonely — even if I “have no friends” (not quite true) — because I have Jesus with me — and sometimes I do feel that. I can tell Jesus the exciting things I discover or read in prayer or in my diary.

Most of all I can learn to love myself and celebrate myself in the way that Jesus loves me. Jesus treasures me for a reason, and He wants to see me grow and thrive.

If I love myself, celebrate myself, enjoy myself — truly, in the way that Jesus loves me — then I thrive, become stronger, fuller of joy, and my love will be stronger, more joyful.

So I will cultivate this garden:

  • I have bought a new Moleskine. I’ll write down the Psalms & other Scriptures I’ve learnt & am learning (& other poems — Shakespeare, Hopkins, …). I’m writing down prayer commitments to cultivate an intentional prayer life too.
  • Love others by loving myself: do something every day that increases my power.
  • Love myself by loving others: serve well, acknowledge the gratitude, and offer it up to God (this morning: getting my 94-yr-old M-i-L into her pressure stockings after she didn’t trust the nurse).
  • Root out the weeds … [that stings like James 4:8b stings]
  • Recognise the weeds as weeds — attractive but draining and invasive. Yes, invasive.
  • Hopkins said immortal diamond. Invest in and treasure that gem which is my immortal soul.

Addiction and Revulsion

tl;dr

I am not repulsed by the object of my addiction. That might be an inconvenience but I don’t think it’s a problem.

I don’t think revulsion is helpful. The point is to look forward: find a way back to the right path and, while on the path, focus on the goal ahead.

comment

I’m not entirely convinced that describing my bad habits as “addiction” is useful, but I did used to smoke cigarettes (most of the 1980s, sometimes quite heavily; haven’t smoked at all since mid 1990s). Smoking cigarettes is uncontroversially an addiction so that habit gives me a comparison.

Recovered or recovering addicts sometimes talk about feeling revulsion for the object of their addiction & how their craving overcomes their revulsion, or how they still indulge in the activities that revolt them.

I’ve never felt that revulsion. e.g. with cigarettes, I never stopped enjoying smoking. I did have several failed attempts at quitting.

Towards the end of an episode when I’ve over-indulged and I’m sated I feel some revulsion bu tI think that’s different. That’s like the revulsion we feel when we’re given another bowl of trifle when we’ve already had four.

I do feel revulsion at myself (mild with smoking, stronger with pr0n) when I relapse — but that revulsion is linked to my weakness of will (or my strength of will in the wrong direction). It’s not linked to the object/activity, which I enjoy.

Enjoying the fast

I have been fasting for just over a week now. Actually since midday Wednesday 20th March 2019. I want to write about it because it’s starting to waver and I need to give myself a bit of a boost. I am starting to waver I mean.

enjoying

Fasting (from sin) is not just avoidance of certain activities but is a positive activity in itself. Success of the fast depends — as much as or perhaps more than it depends on will-power in resisting sin — in enjoying and even celebrating the fasting.

Part of that can be enjoying the feeling of exerting power over myself. Enjoying the feeling of my exerting power over my weaker sinful side. Loving and guiding power of course put power nonetheless. There’s a danger of Pride creeping in here, so I must identify the side of me exerting power — my true self if you like — with Christ and the Holy Spirit. The side of me that loves Christ, finds refuge in Christ’s love, draws inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

My weaker side is not really to be vanquished but loved and reconciled to Christ along with the rest of me. I went through a phase of thinking of sins and sinful desires as demons possessing me, but now I think I should “own” these desires myself. These sins are things I do, these sinful desires are desires I have. I must weaken these desires and replace them with more wholesome joyful desires.

Celebrating the fast can also include chronicling successes and failures here and on twitter. This might be tedious or cringe-inducing for the reader.

Inspiration for this section came from Stuart L. Tutt‘s posts:

the fast

For Lent (from 6th March) I was (and still am) on an easy (but still worthwhile) fast — no social media apart from what is necessary for work (my Christian social media use is exempt: it is lightweight and it earns its keep). It was (and still is) going well.

On 17th March I read Fasting for Spiritual Wellness by Sarah Geringer. The post is about fasting from sugar and it talks directly about cravings and how to tackle them during a fast. I found it inspiring and couldn’t help but think about my cravings — not my twitter-fast-related cravings, there weren’t any, my bad-habit-related cravings which are there all the time even when I’m not fasting.

I found Sarah’s post inspiring and, boosted by the success of my easy fast, I started thinking about a more ambitious fast from my remaining bad habits. By Tuesday 19th March I had made up my mind and the fast was on.

Actually, not quite. All this sustained attention on the issue led to a long binge Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (wife was away). So the fast really started after that.

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