Does a relapse erase your porn addiction recovery progress?

Unfortunately, despite people’s best intentions, relapses and slip-ups are very common in porn addiction recovery. That makes sense since the definition of porn addiction includes “an inability to control porn use, despite negative consequences of continued use.” While some people can go cold-turkey on their porn use relatively quickly, others who struggle with addiction often end up slipping up many times before finally achieving sustainable results. So, does a relapse erase all of your recovery progress? The short answer is “nope” – and we’ll explain why below.

Not all setbacks are the same.

The word “relapse” is often overused in the porn addiction recovery community. Relapses are more serious than slip-ups. The main difference is that a relapse is an intentional abandonment of your recovery plan. On the other hand, slip-ups could include short bouts of porn use, inadvertent porn use, or not reaching other recovery goals. For more about the differences between slip-ups and relapses, check out our article on “What is a ‘relapse’ for a recovering porn addict?

Keep in mind that if you do experience a setback in your recovery, it could always get worse. Experiencing a slip-up isn’t a free pass to binge on porn videos all day. Every time that you go back to problem porn use, you’re further “wiring” your brain to pixels instead of a partner. An analogy that often floats around the recovery community is that a slip-up is like picking at a scab, but a full-blown binge session is like ripping the scab off.

The key is to keep on moving forward.

No matter how bad your relapse was, every relapse is also an opportunity. “Every setback is a setup for a comeback.” Instead of getting too upset about it, try your best to learn from what happened. Consider journaling about what led up to the relapse so that you can prevent the same relapse from happening again in the future. Thomas Edison was famously quoted as saying “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Consider focusing on the positives. You can’t accurately base your entire perception of your recovery on a “day counter.” Saying that you are on “day zero” after reaching 50-days porn-free can be unnecessarily harsh. If you went from using porn for many hours every day – but are now using porn a couple of days per week – that’s progress, even if you aren’t yet reaching your long-term sexual health goals. Many porn addicts start to experience significant improvements with their porn-associated negative effects through a reduction of porn use.

If you experience a slip-up, try not to slip-up the same way twice. For example, if you slipped up because you were tired, use it as a herald to prioritize more sleep and self-care. Properly addressing your core needs and desires in life is often an important component of recovery. If you could use some additional support after a relapse or have personal questions, you might want to consider seeking out the services of a porn addiction therapist in your area. NoFap® also offers peer-to-peer support on our forum and weekly accountability group calls.

We aren’t going to sugarcoat it. While they’re very common, slip-ups aren’t beneficial for recovery. But you certainly don’t lose all of your progress. Even if you temporarily give up on recovery, you have gained valuable life experiences that you could use to enhance your recovery in the future should you decide to pursue it again. If you are aware that you have a problem and are taking steps to try to address it, you’re on the right path.

A common theme I see in a lot of posts here is the tendency to, after a relapse, go on a binge for the next couple of days. The mentality that if you’ve already failed you might as well take advantage of it to the fullest. In doing this I think what a lot of us fail to realize is that, even though we’ve relapsed, it doesn’t mean that all our effort during the past days or weeks were in vain. Our brain is very plastic and has a remarkable ability to quickly change itself. Even if you haven’t gone the full 90 days, you’ve still given your brain a lot of time to rewire itself. One relapse does not completely reverse that. I know that some of you out there have some serious issues with PMO addiction and can’t possibly go more than a couple of days without relapsing, but remember that even if you manage to go only 3 or 4 days without it, it’s still a huge improvement over doing it once or several times a day. For every day and every hour you abstain, you’re giving your brain precious time to heal… See it not as a failure but as an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself further. See it as a chance to come back stronger and wiser than before. Remember, we all fail. It’s our ability to pick ourselves up and continue going that in the end determines our success.

A NoFap® User

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