What Do You Need to Let Go in Order to Break Free?
“This is it. This is the year I’m going to break free. No more. I’m done.”
If I were to read back through my journals (I have about two dozen), I’m sure I would find that sentiment scribbled out at the end of every December or the beginning of every January.
For years, my New Years Resolution was “stop using porn.” For years, I failed.
I would wake up January 1 with fire and determination. The same fire that makes people sign up for gym memberships or college courses. This is it. Starting now. From this point forward. No more.
Guess what. In my experience, that actually doesn’t work. That goes for all of it- breaking free from porn, getting in shape, eating healthier.
You want to break free from porn this year? Great. Good goal. I fully support this, but let me encourage you that it isn’t that easy.
Jessica, how is that encouraging?
Because expectation management is vital to this process. Much has been said and studied about human habits. (For some really good stuff about habits, check out these articles written by actual psychologists.) A common theme though is these things take time to change.
But, Jessica, porn isn’t a “habit.”
Actually, for most people, it is. Even if it crosses into addiction territory, the same processes can help in your journey toward freedom. In either case, you are retraining your brain. The difference is the level of need your brain perceives.
Which means we can tackle a struggle with pornography similar to how we would tackle a habit we wanted to change.
What’s important to realize is it’s not about the pornography.
If it were just about breaking free from pornography, you would have done it already. But breaking free from pornography or lust or compulsive sexual behaviors is about more than just the behavior. The change has to happen deeper than action and will affect more than one action.
Think about the goal of “getting in shape.” What exactly does that mean? You might have an end result of being a certain weight, able to lift a certain weight, or even running a marathon, but the road to that end is not straight. These goals involve lifestyle changes. You might have to start getting up earlier to run, or stop eating fast food. The main goal hinges on letting go of other smaller things.
The exact same thing is true when overcoming pornography.
We make a mistake when we fail to see how pornography and the patterns that lead to it are woven throughout our lives. It doesn’t have to look like pornography to lead you to it.
So, if you want to break free of pornography this year, there are some other things you may need to let go.
When it comes to breaking free from pornography, or any struggle, really, this one has to go, and it has to be the first to go, in my opinion. As long as you are operating under a crushing weight of shame, you cannot walk in freedom. We sometimes act as if we’re supposed to find freedom while also carrying shame. The two can’t co-exist. You can’t be free of a ball and chain while carrying the ball and chain.
So the first thing you might have to kick to the curb is that condemning voice says you are dirty, useless, unworthy of love, etc. Replace shame with the truths of grace.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 (ESV)
But, Jessica… what if I can’t stop?
Perhaps, like me, you heard this growing up: “If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t keep doing it.” That kind of thinking can really leave us trapped, because addictions and habits can’t always be broken right away. But, that line of thinking that “sorry” is one-and-done isn’t Biblical. Far more Biblical is a God who stands ready to forgive, restore, and set free.
Oh, this is a tough one. There are two aspects to this. On one hand, you might be in a “pornographic” relationship. Perhaps you have a boyfriend who has asked for nudes, or a fiance who encourages you to watch pornography. Obviously, you have a choice to make. I can tell you that it will be nearly impossible to find freedom from pornography if your heart is being held ransom by it. Do not fear losing a relationship if it means your healing and your freedom.
On the other hand, there may be a toxic relationship in your life that serves as a catalyst for your porn use. Do you have a “friend” who talks casually about his or her own porn use? Or maybe you have a friend or family member who constantly puts you down and you turn to pornography to medicate? This is what I call a “trigger.”
If a person in your life is triggering your use in any way, you may need to let go of that relationship. If it’s a relationship you really want to keep (ie. a marriage) then you should fight to reform that relationship. Seek the help of a licensed therapist or counselor experienced in the relationship dynamic you’re hoping to save. Whatever it is, if a relationship is driving your porn use, it either needs to go or needs to change.
This one might be a “new years resolution” for completely different reasons. Anyone else practically fed up with social media? In and of itself, I guess it’s not bad, but it is a definite time waster. This past year I spent countless hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook on my phone.
That kind of “brain dead” time is dangerous for someone trying to break free from pornography. Add to it the fact that pornography is so pervasive on social media and you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m not usually one for the concept of “radical amputation” but if you find that ‘checking Facebook’ or TikTok or Kik or Twitter (*shudders*) either leads you to pornography or emotionally drives you to it, then get rid of the social media. The same goes for your Netflix account or Disney+ or whatever it is.
Basically, take Matthew 5:29 and rewrite it, substituting “social media” for “eye.”
“If your [Facebook] causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose [Facebook] than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
The Desire for Instant Perfection
As you endeavor to break free from pornography this year, there’s one thing I want you to understand, this is going to take time. People constantly e-mail asking for the “steps” to break free, and I wish it were that easy. It’s not. That’s not fun, and I get it.
My name is Jessica, and I am an impatient perfectionist. I am notorious for setting lofty personal goals and trying to accomplish them all in one day.
Couch potato on Monday and then frustrated when I can’t run 5K on Tuesday, so I give up and sulk on the couch for the next week until I get an app that promises I can run a 5K in ten weeks, but when I miss one day of that, I quit, and it’s back to the couch, but this time with “healthy” snacks so I feel like less of a slouch. Anybody else? Just me?
In most of life, I enjoy the process. I love cooking. I love creating. But when it comes to me personally, I have no patience.
I like being grown; I don’t like the process of growing. I like being healed; I don’t like the process of healing.
It’s clumsy, awkward and uncomfortable. It’s like being in a state of perpetual puberty, with lanky limbs, horrible social skills, and frizzy hair. I do not like it.
So, when I used to pick New Years Resolutions, I would expect to accomplish them all in their completion on January 1. I will be free of pornography. I will lose 10 pounds overnight. I will suddenly be fluent in French and will know how to cook soufflés. With no effort, that’s all going to miraculously happen at midnight. Like Cinderella in reverse.
But that’s not how this works.
We make the mistake of believing that we can be wildly out of control on December 31 and then suddenly develop self-control when the clock strikes midnight. But that’s not how self-control works. Self-control is something that has to be developed, and developing takes time.
If you want to break free from pornography, give yourself time.
Why? Because you are retraining your brain. You are essentially unlearning something.
In that time, you are going to fail. That’s not an excuse to fail; it’s a reason not to give up. Celebrate your progress and keep going. It took me years to understand this one. I tried to quit pornography so many times.
I might make it a week, maybe even a month, but eventually I would fail. I would log on to the sites, watch the videos and then, in my head, the entire year was shot.
Don’t do that. Be patient with the process of freedom knowing that there’s a lot going on. There are wounds that are healing. There are patterns of toxic thinking that are being undone. There are relationships that are being remodeled. You are growing, developing new coping mechanisms, and getting stronger.
Get rid of what you need to- the shame, the toxic relationships, the social media, the expectations. Understand that this may take a while, and don’t get discouraged in the process.
“…stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us… ” Hebrews 12:1b (AMP)