Unlock Addiction - Know Your Triggers

Guess what's in the safe?

I don't know but doesn't it make you want to press your face against the cold steel and listen for whatever safe-thieves listen for?

Riddles are fun until they keep you from getting something you really want and need.

One of my friends once locked his laptop to a desk and completely forgot the 4-number combination to unlock it.  He had to give a big presentation in about 4 hours and it was back in the day when thumb drives weren't around.  

Addiction is a riddle

Addiction is a riddle

Sweat started to pool on his brow.  The creases in his forehead deepened.  With chin in hand he puzzled over the riddle that faced him.

How the heck was he going to get this laptop where it needed to be in a few hours?

Go to a hardware store and by a bolt cutter?  Nope.  The lock is connected to the hardware of the laptop.  

Call the manufacturer of the lock to see if there's a way to open it without the combo?  Maybe.  Probably an unlikely fix.

Just leave it there and wing it.  Nope.  Too much detail to remember.

Aha!  Then, the difficult answer came.  But, it wasn't a "yes!" aha but a "oh, crap!" aha.  My friend realized that the best option would be for him to manually go through each number.  With 10,000 combination options at 3 seconds per combination tried, well that's at least 8 hours of trying.  But, he thought on average the number isn't going to be at the end so he could probably find it in 4 hours, maybe less if he's lucky.  


0001, 0002, 0003...0923, 0924, 0925...1109, 1110, 1111...

Then..."click" it opens!  

Why am I telling you this story?  Because addiction is a riddle.  Addiction is a laptop locked to a desk and time (read: life) is running out.  

There is no easy way out.  

There is just a lock staring at you with an invitation to be RELENTLESS until its unlocked.  Life cannot go on until every combination is tried and you won't know what will work until you hit that combination.  

Am I being dramatic?  I don't think so.

Time is running out for your marriage to be healed, your GPA to increase so you can get to college or for you to repair a broken relationship with your kids.  

Addiction locks away so many good things.  

We would like it to work like Ocean's 11 where we have some slick way of listening to the safe and then 'bam!' it opens.  But, recovery doesn't work that way.  

As one of my mentors puts it: "you didn't get this way overnight and it's not going to change overnight"

Recovery requires relentless, consistent effort until you find the right combination that can unlock all the things you really want and need.   

So, how do you persistently pursue the right combination?

By gathering tools.  By surrendering to the fact that with relentless persistence and with the help of God you will grow more and more free.

B.L.A.H.S.T.E.D is a recovery tool that can help you in your journey to find the right combination.  It helps you identify your "triggers" so you can interrupt addiction in your life.  It stands for:







Excited (sexually aroused)




These are what the addiction recovery community calls "triggers."  Triggers can be a real problem because they cause pain or discomfort.  It may seem obvious that pornography is a bad solution to your problems but your brain doesn't know that.  It just wants to get rid of the pain ASAP!  

For some masturbating and pornography are the preferred method for covering up the pain.  It can be anything though.  We humans are creative that way.

Last week I wrote about how to interrupt the addictive trance caused by triggers.  

This week I want to take it a step further so you can really begin to unlock the recovery process.  

So, let's go through these "BLAHSTED" triggers (pun intended).  

Hint: You may want to look at a careful reading and implementation of this post as your going through the "0001, 0002, 0003" process.

Boredom is dangerous for addicts

Boredom is dangerous for addicts

B is for "Bored."  Boredom can be an external and internal trigger.  There may literally be nothing happening, nothing you really have to do.  It's just down time.  Or, you may be procrastinating and not wanting to push ahead on something.  

If you are an addict though boredom can be painful.  

Your brain is use to a certain level of excitement and a craving for excitement can lead to looking at pornography.  

Tip: the chemical word for excitement is "adrenaline."  

Adrenaline gets pumped through our body when we are in fight, flight or freeze mode.  But, "what does 'fight or flight' have to do with pornography?" you might ask.  Well, there is the fear of getting caught by your significant other or your parents.  Just that by itself can pump you with adrenaline.  

But, you might also get an adrenaline high from watching aggressive or violent pornography.  

A study of widely distributed x-rated films (by Gloria Cowan and colleagues, professors of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino) found that physical aggression was present in 73 percent of the films, and rape scenes were present in 51 percent (1).

A real solution to boredom could be exercise.  Exercise is a great option for dealing with boredom because it can give you the adrenaline and dopamine fix your brain is craving.  Hitting the gym, playing a Wii game, skateboarding or going on a run could all do the trick when you are feeling bored.  Give a buddy a call to see if he wants to join! 

Run through pain, not away from it

Run through pain, not away from it

L is for "Lonely."  Loneliness can be a powerful trigger for those struggling with pornography addiction because it is often connected to other negative emotions.  Being alone is a good thing but loneliness can be really painful.  

One of the emotions that we are born with is "yearning."  

It's the desire to be connected to another.  If that yearning center is damaged or not being adequately met it can create that sense of chronic loneliness.  

So, how is masturbation and pornography a bad solution to loneliness?  

Oxytocin can bond you to others or to loneliness and isolation

Oxytocin can bond you to others or to loneliness and isolation

Masturbation and pornography release a chemical know as oxytocin.  Oxytocin is the "human bonding" chemical.  It's released when mothers are cooing with their babies, when a couple is holding hands or you've had a really connective time with a friend.  It's the chemical reward for human connection.  

If you begin to think about it, you can see how masturbating to pornography is the opposite of human connection.  

The characteristics of pornography addiction are isolation and dehumanization.  You may be tricking your brain into thinking you are having a human experience but the people on the screen don't know you and you don't know them.  

In reality they are pixels floating across a screen based on a certain algorithm of bits and bytes.  In essence, pornography addiction is bonding to loneliness instead of people.

A real solution to loneliness is first connecting with yourself and then with others.  Next time you feel lonely grab a pen instead of your penis and start journaling.  Even if you don't know why you are lonely reach out to some quality people in your life.  Even scheduling a meet-up in the future can get you through your loneliness trigger.

A is for "Anger."  One way of thinking about emotions is that they are "energy in motion", or e-motion.  Emotions can move us to action in a healthy or unhealthy way.  Anger tells us that one of our boundaries or values has been violated (or at least, that's how we perceive it).  Energy surges inside us to change the situation at hand.  Anger helps us stand up for ourselves, stand up for others or bring justice to a situation.  But, pornography can circumvent a healthy expression of anger. 

Pornography masks your true emotions

Pornography masks your true emotions

One way that pornography circumvents a healthy expression is through "masking."  

The release of dopamine from an orgasm can mask anger and cause you to forget what made you angry in the first place.  

Rather than change the situation or figure out what was going on for you, you may forget about it and move on.  

This may work for a little while.  

The trouble is that the situation that caused you to be angry will probably happen again.  And, if it does a reservoir of resentment can spill out in the form rage.  Rather than addressing the problem at hand you can end up making it worse.  

Rage can be dangerous by itself but rage and pornography combined can cause real neurological problems.  

The brain learns by associations.  

If sex and violence are combined over and over again it may feel unnatural to become aroused without aggression present.  This puts you at risk for watching illegal pornography or perpetrating against someone.

A real solution if you are angry is to do a breathing exercise or go on a walk.  A simple breathing exercise could be breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 3 seconds and breathing out for 5 seconds.  Try it for a few minutes and you will be amazed at how quickly you will calm down and have clarity on what would be a good next step.  This can help you become aware of the real source of your anger.  Then, you can think about taking the appropriate action with your anger and frustrations.

H is for "Hungry."  You ever notice how moody you can get when you don't eat?  One of my friends calls this being "hangry" (hungry/angry).  

Being well nourished is essential to recovery

Being well nourished is essential to recovery

If you are not eating consistent healthy meals the lizard part of your brain (aka "the limbic system") can get activated.  It's called the lizard brain because its common to most creatures including lizards.  It is the the part of the brain that has to do with our drives and survival instincts.  If it gets activated the part of the brain that has to do with wisdom and smart decision making shuts down.  

Then, you get 'hangry.'  

As a result its harder to resist compulsions that are already present, like a pornography addiction.

Being well nourished is essential to recovery.   

A real solution for avoiding hunger is to create a meal plan for yourself.  You should have a plan for eating 3 meals/day and having 1-2 healthy snacks.  You shouldn't go longer than 4 hours without eating and even less if you are physically active.  

Pornography is procrastination.  Pornography = more stress.

Pornography is procrastination.  Pornography = more stress.

S is for "Stressed."  Stress is another word for fear.  If someone says they are "stressed" about a project what they are usually feeling is fear--fear about not doing it in time, fear about how it will be judged or fear that it won't live up to their standards.  

Stress and fear can activate the lizard brain and cause you to feel out of control.  

Pornography acts as a bad solution because it masks the fear and gives a false sense of control.  

You may have control over having an orgasm or watching sexually arousing material but it doesn't solve your fear.  Nor, does it help you get your project done.  

It is a way of handling your internal dis-ease but in the end it just perpetuates your addictive disease.  And, that creates more stress!  "Did you clear your history?"  "Ah, crap!  Look at all the time I wasted"  are all thoughts that come flooding in.  

Pornography is procrastination.  Pornography creates more stress.  Don't be a procrasturbator.

A real solution to stress is journaling.  If you can identify the fears you have you can then figure out if they are realistic or not.  Often our fears can be exaggerated and seeing that can have a calming effect.  A good breathing exercise or a walk can help a ton too.  

Take a cue from this guy: take a nap when you are tired

Take a cue from this guy: take a nap when you are tired

T is for "Tired."  Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people sleep" - Albert Camus.  That's a funny quote but there is nothing funny about being tired.  

Being tired is one of the simplest ways to be miserable.  

It creates a sort of pain that is dull, persistent and pervasive.  It's also a problem for recovery from pornography addiction.  The part of the brain that makes smart decisions gets less blood flow, empowering the lizard brain to act.  

In the moment of fatigue looking at pornography may feel like an act of survival when all that is really needed is a nap.  

Part of breaking free from pornography and sex addiction is to learn good sleep hygiene.  You can learn more about sleep hygiene HERE.  

Sexual urges come and go.  Learn to ride the waves

Sexual urges come and go.  Learn to ride the waves

E is for "Excited."  By excited I mean "sexually excited."  We are sexual beings and its important to remember that sex, attractive people or sexual urges are not the enemy.  It can feel that way when you feel powerless to stop an unwanted behavior like pornography.  

But, it's important to remember that sex is a great gift in the right context.  

The struggle for those who are addicted to sex/pornography is that their brain tells them that they must act on every sexually exciting moment.  Their brain says that they will miss out or that it's unnatural not to follow through on a sexual urge.  

The reality is is that sexual urges come and go.  If everyone acted on every sexual urge they had the world would probably come to a halt.  

Recovery is about learning to ride the waves of becoming sexually excited.  It may take 2 minutes or it may take 20 minutes but the urge will pass.  

D is for "Down."  Feeling down sucks.  Whether its sadness, grief or depression feeling down is not where most people want to be.  

But, feeling down is part of life.  

There are lots of things that can disappoint us, discourage us or cause us grief.  The energy-in-motion (emotion) is towards stopping, slowing down and reflecting.  

Hugs really are free.  Go find one today

Hugs really are free.  Go find one today

One of the keys to stopping a pornography addiction is to reach out and talk with someone when you are feeling down.  

The pixels on the screen are a poor substitute for a caring friend, parent or significant other.  

For some the recovery process is about creating healthy friendships where you can be real and know that you will find the support you need.

Last Word

There were moments when my friend with the laptop thought he was wasting his time.  But, he realized there was only one option before him.  One thought you might be having is "wow, that's a lot of work figuring out your triggers and learning to do something different...what if it's all for nothing?"  I would say that is the voice of your 'addict' trying to discourage you from the life you were meant to have.  Hold onto this promise from God: "knock and the door will be opened; seek, and you will find"

Seek and knock by learning your triggers and asking God for wisdom about triggers.  Learning to be aware when you are being triggered and moving in the opposite direction of your addiction takes time.  

Take it one step at a time, one day at a time and you will get where you want to be.  

Recovery is about surrendering to the fact that we have to be relentless to become free.  I hope this post helped you work on the combination that will unlock your recovery just a bit more.

Are there people who would be helped by this article?  Feel free to share it.  If this article has helped you let me know by "liking" it.  


(1) Gloria Cowan, Carole Lee, Daniella Levy, and Debra Snyder, “Dominance and Inequality in X-Rated Videocassettes,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 12 (1988): 299-311 (306-307)




Alex Lerza

My goal as a therapist, speaker and writer is to help people experience the gift of sexual and relational wholeness. Currently I work at Christian Counseling Center in San Jose as a Marriage Family Therapist, Intern. Though I come from a place of faith I have treated clients from all creeds and orientations. I completed my Master's degree from Santa Clara University in 2012. Because I felt called to the area of sexual wholeness I became an Associate Sex Addiction Therapist in 2013. However, I quickly learned that trauma is the cause for a significant amount of sexual and relational brokenness so I also became certified in two trauma-reduction therapies--Affect Management Skills Training and Affect Centered Therapy (similar to EMDR). PSYCHOTHERAPIST. Trauma and Sexual Addiction. One of my passions is to help people break free from sexual addiction and heal from trauma. With hundreds of hours of training in trauma and sexual addiction, I provide clients a clear path out of addiction so that they may enjoy healthier relationships and lead more focused lives. Couples. I love helping couples discover the gift of a healthy marriage. I excel at teaching couples how to communicate, how to heal from betrayal and how to deepen their level of passion and intimacy. Teens. Being a teen is tough. I enjoy helping teens who struggle to connect with peers, have questions about identity or want to kick a pornography addiction. I also run a 10 week program for teen guys looking for a band of brothers and accountability with sexual compulsivity. Individuals. I believe that everyone has something to offer the world that no one else can. I hate to see depression or anxiety limit a person's ability to make their special offering come alive. I offer clients the compassion, tools and strategies they need to make their mark and fulfill their personal vision.