The Short Answer to Addiction

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“. . . The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:14b–15, NLT).

The Problem

As an addict, Chapter 7 of Romans speaks volumes. It describes St. Paul’s own struggle with desiring to do what is right, but inevitably committing what is wrong. I think that this perfectly sums up the dilemma of the addict. The addict has the sense of feeling trapped, but in what? The addict is trapped within something called the addictive cycle, which is part of a larger mechanism but that will be saved for another blog post. Essentially, I believe that what is generally taking place is the fallen/sinful nature of a person.

Did I engage in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting to try and overcome this addiction? Yes. Are these spiritual disciplines essential to the Christian life? Yes. Alone, were they enough? No. The fact is, being alone seems to be my problem. Because of family traditions in my growing up years, my own emotional immaturities, fear, and anxieties I did not know how to really connect with another person. Additionally, I did not know how to connect with God despite being a minister. I did not know how to connect because I did not realize that I was the one shutting both God and people out. Isolation affects a person in such a way, that it can drive them to seek for answers within their own self.

The Addictive Cycle

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The addictive cycle is a great visual representation of what is taking place on the surface of the addict. For addicts, this is where we live. This is where we go to unleash stress in an unhealthy way. Long ago, an emotional child wanders into this forbidden region searching for something to fulfill deeper needs; incorrectly perceiving this place as safe and controllable. Lies. You cannot tame that which has become your slaver, and once you realize your error you are snared.  You have escalated into a place that will perpetuate actions that eventually produce shame and guilt. THANK GOD for the feelings of shame and guilt, because you can actually feel them. They are the good indicators that require your immediate attention. They motivate the addict to achieve something more than their current status.

Let us take a brief run through of the addictive cycle. My desire is to also provide a few helpful considerations. Again, this is what the addict wrestles with on the top soil of their life, but there is still deeper-rooted issues taking place within. The addict will eventually need to go into the deeper system of their addiction, but it seems that acknowledging the surface area is where we tend to begin. Coming to understand how powerful this gear is within the whole mechanism ought to cause the addict to pause. Regardless, the addict seems to require an epiphany to eventually occur where she or he cannot face this power alone. They finally realize that their lives have become unmanageable and that they are powerless to their state of being. Until then they will rationalize and stay within the addictive cycle.

Fantasy –

  • A fantasy formulates in the mind. It enters suddenly and demands attention.
  • The fantasy wants to numb pain taking place deeper within. It is your own internal defense mechanism.
  • As addicts, we do not know how to deal with the fantasy in a healthy way.
  • Suppressing the fantasy does not help.
  • Being lost in the deadly vapors of the fantasy does not help.
  • Not knowing what to do we inevitably proceed to the next stage of the addiction cycle.

Healthy activities:

Helpful question for this stage: “What pain is the fantasy trying to push us to avoid or numb?” 

Journal it out. What could this fantasy be trying to point you to? Without getting lost in it, place the fantasy in a globe and ask what the main point of it is. Where is the pain? What has happened recently to you that may have been a hurtful experience in your relationships, job, or general state of being? When you address the pain you address the root of this issue. Look at your thoughts and especially try to find your feelings. That second part is easier said than done.

Prayer. How about prayer before you escalate further? Surrender here. Accept your current reality and need for a Higher Power.

Open up to another Human Being! Talk it out with another person in whom you can take the risk of vulnerability. This. Is. Difficult. And—yet—it is one of the necessary gateways to freedom. You need a safe friend. Not someone who will condemn you, but someone who will embrace you with love and remind (or inform) you that you are a good person and that you are lovable. Know that there are plenty of support groups out there. Get a sponsor.

Ritual – 

  • After the fumes of fantasy permeate us for a time, our deep pain still exists, thus we move to activities that perpetuate the addictive cycle.
  • Activities vary. Essentially, they funnel you into escalating to the next stage and likely involve a great deal of rationalizations.
  • Activities seem to consist of any manner of behavior with the goal to numb our pain and alleviate our stress. It could appear like a normal or healthy activity such as eating or working. It could be surfing the web and rationalizing that you will escape to certain non-threatening areas but inevitably turn to escalate to pornography.
  • Each addict has a ritual pattern, after thinking about it for a while you can quickly pick up on it.

Healthy Activities:

Helpful question for this stage: “What can I do to serve another person?”

Service. An addict is very self-centered. I allow egotism into my life when I feel extremely hurt. It seems only natural. It is, however, the unnatural course for those who are made in the image of God. Did not Christ, though troubled with it, eventually embrace the cross? Therefore, when you admit and notice that you are within this stage of your addictive cycle, try going out and serving someone. Get out of your own self and do something for another person whether it be going out to pick up trash outside or vacuuming the floor or fixing something for another that has been placed on the back-burner due to wounded-ness.

Journal. Write out how you felt once you began serving.

Prayer. Give a prayer of thanks and surrender. You are acting healthy by serving. Thank God for opportunities to move toward healthy living and also take the time to acknowledge that you are powerless against lust. You need Him. 

Another person. Talk it out with a trusted friend or sponsor. It is strange and unnatural to do this, but the addict has lived within isolation in their head and desperately needs to get out.

Acting Out

  • This is where the addict engages in sexual behavior, whether it be with themselves or another person.
  • At this point, it seems most difficult to think healthily.

Healthy Activities:

Helpful question: “Is this what I am willing to die for? If not, what am I willing to die for?”

Phone your sponsor. If you have a sponsor, such as in Sexaholics Anonymous, you should have phoned them well before this point. If not, phone them now. Talk it out with them. They survivors who have succeeded. They are the trailblazers you want to follow. They are in your corner. 

Journal. Take a moment to pray before journaling. Believe it or not, but God’s love is still present. Journal about talking it out with someone.

Prayer. I have found this prayer helpful:  Prayer of Serenity – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Your will, not mine, be done” (Twelve and Twelve, p. 41).

Shame and Guilt 

  • These are the feelings that will be experienced after acting out.
  • Like me, another addict will view these feelings as. . . negative.
  • These feelings are your life-preservers. Without them the addict would not know that there is something terribly wrong.
  • View shame and guilt as a gift.
  • View shame and guilt as a motivator to achieve a better life.

Healthy Activities:

Helpful question: “What are the consequences?”

Journal. If you are here, you are now feeling good consequences. Write out your thoughts and feelings. Consider the many consequences that have taken place leading up to this point. In example: “While being preoccupied with a fantasy was I zoning out during an important activity? Was I being negligent to family, friends, or work?”

Prayer. Thank God for these feelings. It is an indication that there is a part of you that wants to become what you were created to be.

Phone a sponsor. Talk it out. Your sponsor has been there. Your sponsor is not there to judge you, but to be a healthy support for you. Do not think they are going to strike you with comments of disappointment or lectures.

What then is the answer to this state of despair?

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“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. . . .” (Romans 7:24–25a, NLT).

The addictive cycle should teach us this: It is no wonder that we fail when we attempt to face a challenge that was not meant to be faced alone. Not to sound cliche, but Jesus Christ really is the answer. Another consideration here is the question, “How can the church (which you may not think highly of at the moment), practice its mission from God to mend if the addict isolates himself or herself?” Therefore, a person needs both God AND people.

If you have not guessed, I should probably mention that my Higher Power is Jesus Christ. I have taught lessons and preached on the necessity of Him and also on the essentiality of living in relationship with Him. These seems to be the main theme of most of what I have produced in public speaking. I want to believe that this theme has been due to my own deep thirst to be relational with Him. If this is the case, then how on earth have I rationalized my addictive behavior? I am a coward. In my cowardice, I chose to keep my addiction a secret. I then ignored such a healing scripture such as, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . . .” (James 5:16a, NLT). It is tough. Both the church and society has made it a taboo issue. Regardless, this is my own dilemma and I believe that Jesus Christ calls me to make myself vulnerable.

Jesus Christ still remains the answer, but I have avoided the journey into the depths of my addictive system. The addictive system is protective of itself and seems to formulate locks on the doorway to my heart. I cannot feel him, because I am shutting him out. I really am my own worst enemy. I failed miserably at rigorous honesty.

Since the process of confession began in my life, I have progressively experienced Jesus Christ more and more. I have cried often. I am beginning to feel again. Admittedly, I still have trouble opening my heart. Once, though, I asked Jesus to open my heart for me because I did not know how. He actually responded. I now know this fact about Jesus: He presses on the doorway of my heart seeking to enter but it has always been my own walls and barriers that have kept Him at bay.

To the wandering addict, imagine if Christ moved into the center of your very being and gently spoke, “Peace.” Imagine then a rippling effect taking place because the sensation of being wanted courses throughout you. Fear and anxiety falls. You are now within a surreal, spiritual experience. There are tears of joy. There is revelation. There is hope. You have a moment of connection.

Welcome to the journey of recovery. You are in a desert. Moving from oasis to oasis. You will struggle and wrestle with life. Here you will grow up and reap the benefits. The hope of eventually ‘arriving’ keeps you moving forward. Until one day, the promise becomes a reality. The prodigals return home, and the Father runs to meet them with immeasurable love.  — David Travels

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“When I was you…

“When I was young, I set out to change the world. When I grew older, I perceived that this was too ambitious so I set out to change my state. This, too, I realized as I grew older was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town. When I realized I could not even do this, I tried to change my family. Now as an old man, I know that I should have started by changing myself. If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state—and who knows, maybe even the world!”

 – Hasidic rabbi on his deathbed

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Left Alone

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A Child Left Alone with. . . Mario?

I really hate writing this sentence but before addiction to pornography it was addiction to video games. I hate thinking this because it is difficult to admit that a friend will hurt you. Yes, I said friend. Video games became such an important coping mechanism in my childhood that it was a friendship. I even went so far as to write an argumentative paper in undergraduate college to defend my bosom buddy!

I think that we tend to try and protect that which we distortedly perceive as a helping hand. With video games, I was able to enter into an artificial world and ignore my real loneliness that I was experiencing.  I  did not have to address the pain deep within me while being lost in the cliché of a hero’s story from underdog to victor. It further gave me a place to be both challenged and entertained.

I still remember walking into the living room one day in my growing up years and seeing my mother sitting in front of the television. I ran over to see what was so interesting! She was playing a classic video game, Super Mario Bros. I wonder if I was around 5 or 6 at this time. This marks my precipitating event for video game addiction, and I was hooked. From that day on I collected games and gaming consoles that existed from the nintendo era (1985) to PlayStation 3 (2006). I cannot fathom the hours that I have wasted being lost in another world that was not the real.
I should probably mention at this point that I am a preacher’s kid. That does not make me special and there are plenty of other families who suffer from the same dilemmas within their family relationships. Loneliness, not having a voice and being unheard, and not knowing what it means to be crazily loved.

Yes, I have anger and resentment; however, I desire to forgive. The pain of living with anger and resentment is beyond belief and I cannot fathom how the depression that I feel does not somehow connect with gravity itself and drive me straight through to the earth’s core. I do not believe that my body was not made to exist under these emotional conditions, so in childhood I learned how to numb my feelings through video games.

Social Isolation

From Pre-K–12, I went to my church of origin’s school. It was expected that I go there, because if the pastor’s kid does not go then it will not encourage other church kids to go. This gives me the sense of being used. I think this idea of being used and a feeling of anger and resentment attached to it become a common thread in my personal recovery story.

I was the “pastor’s son.” Let me just insert here that I am thirty-one now and when thinking of this phrase it gives me the sense of feeling trapped. I feel trapped by the unrealistic expectations that are attached to a person who bears this title. I feel angry because there is a loss of personal identity. Your identity becomes engulfed by the parent who is the “pastor.” I imagine that there are similarities in the emotional struggles that take place with being the “pastor’s wife.” I think people long to be seen and appreciated for who they are and what they uniquely bring to the table of life, but I digress.

At school, I was not able to make a connected friendship with my fellow students. I felt like there was a wall between us. My association with my father meant that I was not someone who was safe to be openly vulnerable. But as a child, this was alright on the surface because I still had  my video games to go to when the school day ended. I could go home and get lost in a story where I could be a hero and appreciated.

As a consequence of my addictive behavior, I grew up very shy and anti-social. I learned to isolate myself from society. My family took this as part of my personality make up and so I did as well. Being withdrawn and depressed was explained away in my family by personality theory. Personality theory is likely great when utilized correctly, but right now I think I would advise against a parent to use it to diagnose their child’s unsociable behavior. It was therefore normal in my family that I withdrew to play video games.

Escalation in Addictive Behavior

I had a video game magazine subscription. Each month, I would receive the newest tips and tricks on the latest games. I think I was between the ages of 9–11 (my memory is still in recovery), but one magazine that came in had something different to offer. There was an advertisement for a video game based pornography site. At first, I rejected it. I knew it was not right to go there. However, I never forgot the web address. This became another precipitating event that escalated my addictive behavior.

Suffice it to say, there is a great potentiality for multiple addictions to be present in an addict’s life but the same underlying issues are present.  Eventually, one addiction is no longer satisfying and then the person is compelled to find something new to address the pain that is deeper within them.

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Finding Purpose in the Storm

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There are layers of purpose to this blog. First, to provide a place to chronicle the journey of my recovery from pornography addiction. Here I will place my thoughts, struggles, and theological wrestlings. Second, it may be of benefit to those who suffer from the same problem.  My hope is that this blog offers strength and that it gives voice to many who consider themselves deeply alone. Third, perhaps this blog will provide some insight to those who have suffered from being in relationship with a porn addict. To this group, the fact that I exist may be offensive to your ethical structure. I wish to be sensitive to this group, and you are welcome to comment. That being said, if you are within the stages of anger and resentment then perhaps a different blog concerning spousal recovery would be a better fit. Finally, the ultimate goal during the course of this journey is to achieve holistic health: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

When facing recovery, I began to slowly realize the enormous damage that was caused within my internal and external structures. From feelings to sensing the world around me to relating to God and others. Addiction does a marvelous job of desensitizing senses, and I am referring to the broad spectrum of addictions. That is its purpose after all. To numb reality. To escape.

One major contribution to my learning thus far is that the problem is not the problem. In other words, the problem that I think is the problem is only a symptom of the problem deeper within me. Yes, addiction to pornography is a symptom to deeper issues. In example, when I begin to fantasize it is helpful for me to ask the question, “What is happening in my world right now that is triggering this fantasy?” I wish I originated this type of question but I read about it from a leading Christian counselor on the subject, Dr. Mark Laaser:

“I have found that it is better to ask what the fantasies are trying to teach us about pain. I believe that every fantasy is an attempt to heal a wound from the past. In the fantasy a person will create ways to stop the memory of harm or ways to get the love and nurture that was missed. To turn off a fantasy will miss the message in it. If addicts will ask themselves what the fantasy means about their past, and if they will seek healing from the wounds it seeks to deal with, the fantasy will go away. The addict doesn’t need it anymore to bring the message. 21 Ralph Earle and I describe how therapists can help addicts interpret their fantasies in our book The Pornography Trap.”

(2006-05-10). Tim Clinton, Archibald Hart, and George Ohlschlager. Caring for People God’s Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief, and Trauma (Kindle Locations 5754-5759). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

This can be difficult to answer and it is important to not take this journey alone. I have gone to counseling, and I am also in a SA (Sexaholics Anonymous) group. Fear may strike you at the thought of this, but the rewards are worth it. There are many groups out there that can help and I intent to provide separate pages to my blog to help spread the information. That being said, a SA group happened to be available in my area and I am happy with it. To be able to share the true self is both priceless and necessary in the Christian life. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, NLT).

May this blog be of service to the marginalized. Welcome to the world of the wounded traveller.

photo credit: jcbwalsh via photopin cc

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