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Vicious to Virtuous V2V Free Recovery Programme Resources - Module 4 Image Banner

Vicious to Virtuous V2V Free Recovery Programme Resources - Module 4

Tools and guides for maintaining abstinence.

Module 4 of V2V provides recovering sex and porn addicts with tools to promote and safeguard their initial period of abstinence – the critical phase from 0 to 90 days.  You will find in here guidance on managing various forms of environmental and technological controls as well as an emergency toolkit to win the battle against urges and cravings.

This module follows on from the previous ones on the behavioural and dopamine-led spirals of addictive behaviours which should be read first to remind you why external controls are crucial to recovery.  In essence, will-power, motivation and commitment will ebb and flow depending on your mood and the presence of triggering events such as bad day at work or a row with your partner but if environmental and technological barriers are securely in place you will have safeguards to keep you safe.

Controlling Opportunity Triggers

In module 2 we looked at event-based and underlying triggers which are dealt with again in later modules when strategies to adapt behaviours in response to these are explored.  Opportunity triggers are different in several ways.  Firstly they are far more easily dispensed with by putting practical control measures in place unlike the event-based triggers and underlying triggers which require more sophisticated interventions such as therapy, sustained self-help and cognitive and behavioural changes.  For example, if your compulsive sexual behaviours are done online then controlling internet access is a simple and very effective control measure.  Many of my clients resolve to switch from smart phones to retro call and text-only phones for a period of up to 6-12 months.

What are opportunity triggers?

The key ones are listed below:

Being alone – compulsive sexual acting out is secretive and anonymous

Time – an important resource which sex and porn addiction erodes

Place –needed for both secrecy and access to some forms of acting out such as sex workers

Money – cash is needed for meeting sex workers or paying for an erotic massage while cards give access to many online activities

People – colleagues, neighbours or contacts on dating apps present constant risks

Technology – probably the biggest enabler of constant accessibility to sex and porn and anonymity

(See other articles in this resources section that cover these opportunities one by one and provide guidance on how they can be managed)

Hurdles form a protective barrier

Controlling opportunities is really a question of installing as many hurdles as practically possible so that your access to, say porn or online chat forums, is seriously hindered.  A good range of controls will form a protective barrier around your green-light GO activities and shut out the red-light STOP activities. With such barriers in place you will have thinking time, decision points in other words, when you can revert back to your commitment to abstinence.

FLOW experiences

Flow is a word used to describe an optimal or peak experience.  If you can master regular use of good flow experiences then you will have one of the most potent weapons against addictive behaviours on your side.  By achieving flow experiences you will boost your feel-good neuro-chemicals so that negative feeling states are less likely to occur and when they do can be managed with ease.

An important distinction has to be made between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ flow experiences before you start counting sex and porn experiences as peak and optimal experiences! Actually what we are talking about is that a ‘bad’ flow experience is really a fake flow experience – whilst it feels like it has all the attributes of a flow experience, it is quite distinctly different.  Firstly a ‘flow’ experience is by definition one which is good, beneficial and rewarding.  A fake flow experience may feel like flow but is not beneficial and more likely to be damaging – getting intoxicated on alcohol, high on drugs or escaping into the virtual world of porn might feel like optimal peak experiences but they are value-less in terms of long-term benefits.  Switching from fake flow experiences achieved from porn or sexual acting out to good flow experiences arising from fulfilling and rewarding activities is the essence of recovery.  Find your good sources of flow and you will have another formidable tool to win the addiction battle.

What makes flow?

If you are in a state of flow you are said to be experiencing the following;

·        Complete concentration and focus on the task to the exclusion of other things

·        Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback on accomplishment towards those

·        Distortion of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)

·        The experience is intrinsically rewarding and is an end in itself

·        Effortlessness and ease due to training, practice and familiarity

·        There is a balance between challenge and skills – the skills are well developed, enough to push the challenges within the activity

·        Actions and awareness are merged so there is less conscious thinking

·        There is still a feeling of control over the task – confident and semi-automatic


Examples of flow-type experiences

  • Participating in a competitive sport or game (squash or chess) or a challenging solo physical activity such as skiing or climbing.
  • Being engrossed in a hobby, interest or pursuit such as painting, model-making or home DIY
  • Learning a new skills such as playing a musical instrument or juggling
  • Becoming highly proficient in a skill or activity such as writing, drama, motor racing, water-skiing, sailing or a martial art.

A flow experience is achieved through a combination of focussed concentration, intense enjoyment, deep immersion in the activity and a lasting sense of achievement.  In a flow experience time becomes immaterial and other things seem to have either stood still or moved on more quickly.  Importantly, flow experiences have a positive effect on the neuro-chemicals linked to feeling-good states – dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and so on, and unlike sex and porn they provide these as a bonus on top of the sustained enjoyment which comes from the accomplishments associated with flow experiences.

To safeguard your long-term recovery, find one or two flow-giving activities that will captivate, fascinate and motivate you, not just whilst you’re involved in them but in their planning and post-activity reflections and satisfactions.

Emergency Toolkit for Cravings

The following MIDAS toolkit is for immediate application when experiencing cravings, urges and triggers related to compulsive sexual behaviours.  If you follow MIDAS you will not give in and act out.  Using MIDAS you will be able to cope with withdrawal symptoms, the ‘flat-line’ period associated with abstinence from dopamine-led addictive behaviours, and unexpected triggers such as difficult events which give rise to emotional challenges.

Combined with your work on boundaries using the Traffic Lights Re-wiring Plan (V2V Module 3) and Opportunity Controls (above) the MIDAS toolkit will keep you safe and confident to achieve complete abstinence.  You must commit to using MIDAS, learn its contents and purpose and practice using it on a regular basis so it becomes second nature.  Over time, the behaviours promoted by the MIDAS tools will become automated and work as barriers to sexual acting out.

Mindfulness – by being in a constant state of alertness about your emotional and psychological condition you can pre-empt triggers which have led in the past to sexual compulsions to regulate your ups and downs.  For example, by being aware of a feeling of rejection you can reassure yourself that it is just a fleeting or irrational response.  If the feeling takes hold then you can apply the next step in the MIDAS toolkit – distraction.  You can assess your natural disposition for mindfulness by completing the MAAS – an assessment tool which is publicly available online.  If you score low this is something that you can work on to build up as mindfulness is an antidote to impulsive and compulsive behaviours, helps you to ‘live in the moment’ and relax, as well as understand better what ‘presses your buttons’ so you can self-regulate your reactions and negative feeling states.

Instant distraction – when you notice cravings, triggers and temptations to turn to sex and porn compulsive behaviours the simplest trick to turn them off is to distract your brain’s attention. This is like manually re-directing your neural focus onto something else.  Switching to a different activity, focus of concentration or another place will be a sufficient interruption of the automated addiction ritual to keep you safe from relapses.  Repeated use of the instant distraction technique will in time permanently re-wire the brain to a new way of responding to triggers and cravings.  Rather than moving into the planning and preparation stage of the addiction spiral you will seek out your preferred distraction activity.

Don’t distort – this part of the MIDAS toolkit is the subject of the next module as it deserves more attention.  For now it is enough to know that your brain during early abstinence will be working ferociously to re-ignite what was a regular supply of dopamine from compulsive sex and porn behaviours.  Part of the brain’s strategy is to distort your perception of reality in order to justify sexually acting out.  This is called cognitive distortion and it’s a common and pernicious aspect of addiction that you need to understand and control.  Everyone distorts in this way, probably many times every day, to justify certain behaviours (“I’ve worked hard today so I deserve that bar of chocolate/drink/cigarette etc.”) Mostly, this is not a problem – except where the behaviours are unmoderated and ultimately damaging, like sexually acting out so that it affects a marriage or drinking too much so our health is affected long-term.  Be aware, until you have explored the next module, when you distort reality to permit giving in to cravings – such as saying, “well, all men look at porn so it’s normal and not therefore a problem” so that you can begin to challenge them.

Adverse Consequences (aftermath) – reminding yourself when fighting cravings what the consequences of compulsive sex and porn behaviours have been or will be is a powerful disincentive to giving in.  Look at this list and indicate which you have experienced:

·        Damage to or loss of relationship, marriage and family

·        Loss of or diminishing of reputation, image and respect from others

·        Threat to or loss of job due to breaches of protocols or reduced performance

·        Financial loss

·        Actual or threatened police action

·        Sexually transmitted infections or the worry about them

·        Loss of time and reduced achievement in other areas of life

·        Lowered self-esteem and self-respect

·        Constant weight of shame, guilt, and remorse

Self-validation – it is important to build up your self-belief, especially on achieving periods of abstinence. A stronger self-belief will help in the self-regulation of difficult emotional states.  In particular, a more robust self-belief coming from the achievement of abstinence will help to orientate your neural pathways towards new and healthy sources of self-gratification and self-fulfilment. You can consider rewarding yourself occasionally with a favourite activity or indulgence, perhaps on achieving a week of abstinence and then 30 days and so on.


Next V2V Module 5 explains the influential and unconscious process of cognitive distortion in addiction and how you can notice and control them.


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