I recently had an enlightening conversation with *John, an athletic trainer for a local junior college football team. He opened up about his battle with pornography, and shared with me a few helpful tips on staying true to your goals when youre away and out of your comfort zone.
To be honest, I love my job. I’m one of the lucky guys who not only eats, breathes, and sleeps college football, I even get paid to do it. The problem is the travel. Not the actual travel itself, the cities and the people, that part I like. It’s after the games, alone in my hotel room that gets me.
I’ve been involved with sports in some way for as long as I can remember. I played football and wrestled in high school, though by the time I got to college it was obvious I wasn’t destined to become the next Jerry Rice or anything. While in school, I met and married an amazing woman who supported me as I worked my way through various fitness training and conditioning coach positions before getting my degree and going into athletic training. My wife is beautiful, wicked smart, an incredible mother to our three kids, and somehow manages to put up with me through the football season and everything that comes with it.
However, to say that the time spent away from home has put a strain on our marriage is putting it mildly. Half the time I feel like Spider-Man, trying to maintain normal family relationships while constantly being pulled away by outside obligations. Only without the super powers.
To make matters worse, I don’t always make the best choices when I’m away.
The Perils of Being Alone
Really, the only time I’ve ever watched porn during my 8 years of marriage, is when I’m on road trips. I’m happy in my marriage, I feel like we have a good sex life, and I’m hardly ever left with the privacy that porn watching demands. That’s not to say Im not tempted, but when I’m home or at my office, watching porn wouldn’t make sense; there’s just too many people around.
Away games are another story. I’m alone in a hotel room, and after an intense game, I’m usually still worked up with enough energy to keep me wired for hours. I usually chat with my wife for awhile, but she’s often busy putting kids to bed, or trying to maintain control of the chaos that comes with parenting alone.
What it boils down to is this: On away games I have too much down time, I’m feeling alone, and I want something to fill up the void that the time and loneliness has created. Its so easy to fall into the trap of using pornography to fill that void.
From Mistake to Habit
Those first few times, I can chalk my porn use up to a dumb decision. As I mentioned before, I was lonely, worked up, and bored. Not that that’s a good excuse, but its the truth. But after a few times, things started to slowly change. Rather than scrolling through Twitter for an hour and playing time wasting games on my phone like I used to when I got back to the hotel, I just went straight for the porn websites. It was becoming something I not only looked forward to, but something that I expected to do. The conversations with my wife got shorter, and I was less patient with her while she talked on and on about things that were going on at home.
Habits are all about what we repeatedly do. In sports, the more you work a specific play, the stronger the movement gets and the easier it is to get the results you want. Unfortunately the same is true for bad habits. What started out as something that I did occasionally when was alone, became something I thought about often. I relied on my post-game ritual with the same consistency that some reserve for eating overpriced hot dogs at a baseball game or watching Die Hard on Christmas.
The Wake-Up Call
The guilt was always there, a low undercurrent that I tried to ignore in favor of immediate gratification. I consider myself a pretty religious person, and I am active in my church. Watching porn is more than just frowned upon, and I knew it. But it was so tempting, and so accessible. I shoved the guilt and shame down as far as I could and tried to justify my actions to myself. Until one night came where I realized I just couldn’t keep doing this.
It was a really hard loss. We were on the road, and had just been blown out by a team that by all accounts we should have beaten. I was upset, both as a member of the staff and a fan of the sport. After a long session of re-hashing the mistakes that were made in the game with one of the assistant coaches, I headed back to my hotel room, feeling angry and full of pent up energy. After skipping my usual call to my wife, I went straight to my pornography ritual. Afterward, I felt horrible. even worse than before. This habit I’d made didn’t make me feel better about the loneliness, it made me feel worse. The thought came to me, What am I doing?
I spent the rest of the night googling information on how to quit porn, and wrestling with the knowledge that I absolutely needed to talk to my wife.
Having “The Conversation”
Telling my wife that I habitually looked at porn while on the road did not go the way I’d expected it to. I expected the Incredible Hulk, and was, surprisingly, met with mild-mannered Bruce Banner. There was no throwing dishes or screaming, she was visibly upset of course, but she was more concerned on how best she could support and help me than angry about what I’d done.
In hindsight, being honest was by far the best way to approach things. If she had caught me in some way, if I’d been careless about erasing my browser history maybe, I feel like the Hulk would have appeared.
After many long conversations about how to handle this speed bump in our relationship, we came up with a few plans that have been instrumental in changing my habits, and putting me on the path to the husband and father I want to be.
Handling Alone Time
The first problem was what to do with all that alone time on the road.
My wife and I made a plan to do video chats with each other and with the kids if they were still awake. Seeing their faces helped to remind me what my priorities were, and how important my relationship with them is.
Next, I had to find something else to do to fill up my time. Going straight to sleep was rarely an option, and as I mentioned before, I had too much energy. If it wasn’t too late, I’d try to stay around people as much as possible. Whether it was chatting with one of the coaches about the game, the latest in NFL scores, or even upcoming comic book movies, it just helps to be with someone.
Finally, I started loading up my phone with audiobooks and bought a cheap little sudoku book. Listening to books kept my mind occupied and the sudoku book kept my hands busy on something other than my phone while I wound down from the football game. Not only that, I got the chance to read books I’d been meaning to for a long time.
Looking toward Next Season
I’m still working through this, and I know I couldn’t do it without the loving support of my wife. If I can share just one piece of advice from my own experiences, it’s be honest. What could have been a marriage-ending disaster has become something that we are working through together to make our relationship stronger. While I don’t want to say that I’m completely ”cured” or anything, I do feel like working on these new habits to replace the old ones has been helpful.