In the last several weeks I have begun to understand---with the help of this site and others, books, and the support of my wife of 28 years and my therapist--that my 35-year (I'm 51) habit of masturbation with porn 3-5 times per week is unhealthy for me for two reasons (familiar to all here, I suspect): 1) I use it to self-medicate, dependent on the regular injection of dopamine and other brain chemicals to address life-long loneliness and anxiety; and 2) I use it to distance and protect myself from others--in this second aspect, the secrecy with which I've kept the details of it from my wife (she's always know that I have used porn since my teen years) is something I just know I don't want to do anymore.
On the suggestion of my therapist, I've been abstaining from masturbation for about 10 days--that hasn't led to severe withdrawal symptoms, although I find that at the regular times of day that I used to masturbation I now go "right, now I'm not masturbating; I can do something else with this time" and I do feel my old familiar anxiety and loneliness from time to time (I respond by gardening, listening to or playing music, or having a health snack, all of which work to make me feel better and understand the feelings better in a good way).
I have three questions that I hope readers might be able to help me with:
1) After signing off the porn site I long subscribed to and disposing of all my cached images (since my teen years, it's always been just images for me, fairly softcore), I recently discovered two files on a hard-drive backup that I just can't move myself to throw away. I find I feel very attached, not so much to the images contained in the files, as to the experience of having virtual sex with them--I've read a lot about the brain-chemistry involved and I know, on an intellectual level, what some of that attachment is about. But knowing that hasn't enable me to hit "delete" yet; I plan to dispose of them before Valentines Day, but I have the urge to keep just them for longer, store them in a safe place for just occasional access, and the like. It's driving me nuts that I can't just let it all go--in fact, I thought I had let it all go the first time I loaded it all in the trash and hit delete; that felt great. Then I found these two files undestroyed and now letting go seems much harder! What should I do?
2) What have others found with erotic/pornographic stories? I have a cache of stories that I collected over time, mostly from Literotica, that I also used for masturbation some times. I didn't destroy these because my wife and therapist said they might not be as problematic as the images and the fantasies they enabled, with on the whole reinforced feelings of being less-than, being undesirable, being unacceptable. I like the idea of the stories still--that is, they don't give me the "yuck" response and very mixed feelings that the images do--the fantasies the stories address are different from the negative, unhealthy ones I associated with the images and are about consummated loving acts that I can share and have shared with my wife. Right now, as part of my recovery approach, I'm not reading them and haven't been tempted to. But I wonder what, if any, place they have in my future, porn-free masturbatory life. Do others have insights that can help me on this issue?
3) Finally, where do people eventually find that healthy masturbation fits in their life post-porn? I've always had a part of my masturbatory life that is porn-free, mind-image free, and mind-narrative free--just masturbation with a focus on the physical feelings. That was what I first did of course, and I've never completely stopped even if porn-enabled masturbation has become a more common mode for me. I'm wondering what others find about their long-term masturbatory patterns. I'm not anxious right now to get back to it--I'm learning a lot about my feelings and fears and expression of sexuality with my wife during my current vacation from masturbation--but I'm curious as to what healthy masturbatory practice looks and feels like to other. I feel like I've never known what that's about: thoughts?
Thank you for any help!