Am I the only one?

 

distressed-manI swore that I would never do it again. I really meant it with all my heart. Why do I keep falling like this?

Once again, I have broken my promises . . . broken the heart of someone who loves me. More than that I have traded my relationship with God and those I love for a cheap thrill. Can my wife ever forgive me . . . again? Can my marriage be saved? Can I ever forgive myself? Will God forgive me . . . again?

Maybe you are here because you have this secret. Or at least you hope it is a secret, and you sincerely want to climb out of that the dark place you are in and you may need some help.

You may be here because your life is being consumed by sexual desires, and it is affecting every aspect of your life. Family, finances, faith, and future are all being sacrificed because of this habit.

Could this be your story? Or perhaps someone you love? In reading this, you have made the first step to finding healing and wholeness and the restoration that Jesus Christ offers.

Am I the only person who struggles with this?

Congratulations on your courageous decision. Today is the first day of a new life.  You are not alone in your struggle as the number of people addicted to pornography is growing at an astounding rate because it is so easily and readily available.  Whether from a magazine, a computer screen, a smartphone or tablet, porn is now readily available. And with that accessibility, there is now an epidemic of both men and women who have fallen into the sexual addiction trap.  For some, it is just porn.  Others, to feed these addictive desires, have escalated into riskier behaviors

But no matter where you are at, you do not have to remain a prisoner of these desires.  It will require some hard and meaningful work, but you can be free.

 

Why do I keep failing?  I’ve tried a million times to quit. I feel utterly defeated.

 

First of all, don’t give up.  Remember the Word of God promises:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ( Philippians 4:13)

 

Extensive research reveals that total healing is possible. “If you have developed an attachment to porn or adopted some of the attitudes and behaviors it promotes, you can… undo and unlearn them. It will be well worth the effort.”[1]

Have you tried unsuccessfully to quit on your own? Remember that pornography and sexual addiction create a neurochemical high that rivals illicit drugs (crack and heroin).[2] However, that does not mean it is impossible to overcome, or that you cannot know victory over your struggle.

 

“We do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Looking Deeper

Let’s start with four basic thoughts; then we can explore further.

Men’s brains are wired for visual stimulation. Dr. William Struthers’ book offers a fantastic explanation (from a Christian perspective – and not in an effort to “make excuses”) of how the male brain is designed to be captivated by the sight of the female’s body.[3]

Internet pornography offers unlimited access to sexually stimulating content, within the context of an anonymous and affordable environment.[4]  In our current age of constant access to wireless technology, where the Internet is increasingly porn-saturated, in order to not view sexually explicit content, deliberate protective measures must be taken. It’s no longer necessary for a person to intentionally seek out pornography; nowadays, pornography will come to you. “One study reports that 93% of boys are exposed to Internet porn before the age of 18.”[5] How protected we are from the onslaught, how prepared we feel for the battle, how anchored in accountable and meaningful relationships, and how equipped we are with healthy coping skills may all impact how we respond to pornography.

Advanced brain imaging scans now show us that viewing pornography creates a neurochemical high in the brain that compares closest to the high of using Heroin. The pleasure centers of the brain are impacted. Neurochemicals are firing (i.e., norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, testosterone, endogenous opiates), and connections are made that reinforce the desire to repeat the behavior.[6]

The chemical “high” of arousal, pleasure, and euphoria all serve to strengthen the false message that porn is an easy escape.

The Pathway to Pornography

The pathway to pornography addiction is varied. For some, it starts with early, unintentional exposure. For some, earlier psychological scars play a significant role in their porn use. If they grew up in an environment where they experienced or witnessed abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual, or sexual) or neglect, the chemical high of viewing pornography may have offered a ready escape from fear, chaos, loneliness, powerlessness, rejection, hurt, or anger. Perhaps pornography became a way to numb pain, forget a problem, or escape a situation by providing a quick, cheap substitute that promised instant gratification or immediate reward. The problem is that pornography satisfies incompletely, and only briefly. And then that painful feeling returns, and so does the need to medicate again, and again…

 

Sometimes, even though pornography brings a reward (for example, the chemical high produced in the brain during sexual arousal and release), it also brings shame (for example, those whose value system says that viewing porn is wrong and displeasing to the Lord and their spouse). Then, sometimes that very (porn-produced) shame drives the person to want to “medicate” again, by viewing porn.

 

Mark W. Gaither of Redemptive Heart Ministries[7] explains that part of the addictive cycle is attributed to experiencing “toxic shame,” or the belief that one is horribly broken and beyond hope. Normal shame would result in feeling that one has done something wrong that has broken your relationship. Toxic shame results in believing you are unlovable, and fearing that if you allow another to draw close, they will notice your flaws and lose respect for you. Thus, it feels “safer” to turn to the always-willing, always-happy girls of porn. Viewing pornography can result in feeling like even more of a failure, feeding into his toxic shame, which causes the cycle to continue. Eventually you may build up internal justifications and defenses (i.e., It’s my spouse’s fault; everyone else is doing it; it’s no big deal; at least it’s not an affair, etc.) so that you no longer have to experience the shame.

 

Pornography also offers a fantasy world where men can imagine themselves being desired by eager and seductive women. Pornography is compelling because it offers a (seemingly) simplified version of sex, that’s not nearly as difficult as navigating an authentic relationship. As he watches porn, virtual sex can easily become more appealing because it does not require any of the difficult work that real relationships and real sex require.[8] Pornography is entirely focused on his desires and his pleasure. There is no requirement to invest energy in smoothing things over after the argument earlier in the day, so that his spouse will be likely to feel more romantically-inclined towards him later in the day. There are no risk of negative feedback or rejection in any way; and no need for pleasing a spouse; etc.

 

For more answers to complicated questions about your use of porn, Covenant Eyes provides a free e-book called Your Brain on Porn, and The Porn Circuit.” It provides concise yet comprehensive answers. In addition, we recommend the following books:

  • “Wired for Intimacy: How Porn Hijacks the Male Brain” by William Struthers,
  • “The Porn Trap” by Maltz and Maltz
  • “LIFE Orientation Guide for Men” http://www.freedomeveryday.org/store_cm/cat_browse.php?catID=2
  • “LIFE Guide for Men” http://www.freedomeveryday.org/store_cm/cat_browse.php?catID=3
  • “Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction” by Mark Laaser,
  • “Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus” by Russell Willingham and Bob Davies (sound, biblical treatment of sexual addiction)
  • “Pure Desire” by Ted Roberts
  • “False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction” by Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg
  • “Betrayal Bond” by Patrick Carnes
  • “Out of the Shadows” by Patrick Carnes
  • “The Shadow Christian” by Al Cole,

 

Here are eight essential action steps that can help get you started.

 

Confession prayer and repentance

 

Ps 32:3-5

3 When I refused to confess my sin,

my body wasted away,

and I groaned all day long.

4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.

My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

 

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you

and stopped trying to hide my guilt.

I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”

And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

NLT

 

Tell God about your sin just as though He didn’t know.  Admit the severity of your sin and take responsibility. Acknowledge your failures and helplessness in this area.  Come to Christ for cleansing and surrender yourself entirely to Him.  Repentance means turning away, being willing to walk away from these temptations.

 

 

 

Find a “safe” person to share your heart with

Deb Laaser defines safe community this way: “It is a place where you can open your heart, admit your inadequacies, own your mistakes, share your anger and grief, or just vent. You can be you, with all of your flaws, and still be accepted and encouraged and loved. In return, safe women will also share their stories, be vulnerable, and not try to fix you. They will listen to you, comfort you, and encourage you. That is safe community.”

Melissa Haas notes that during this time, most family members are probably considered “unsafe” because they will often, either blame you or try to eliminate your pain. They might potentially encouraging you to leave the relationship immediately.   Melissa shares the following indicators of safe people and unsafe people:

 

Safe People Unsafe People
  • Accept and love me unconditionally
  • Condemn me or blame me
  • Are Comfortable with grief.  They don’t try to lighten the mood or distract me or do something to stop the tears.  They offer a shoulder, and they cry with me.,
  • Deny or minimize my sin.
  • Don’t gossip about me or my spouse.
  • Try to “fix” me or “fix” my spouse by suggesting things I should or should not do.
  • Don’t try to fix my problems or offer solutions. They simply listen, encourage me, and pray.
  • Give unwanted advice.
  • Don’t need my love or approval to be okay. They can handle my angry outbursts and stormy emotions because they know who they are in Christ.
  • Cannot keep confidences.
  • Are aware of their own brokenness. Humility and integrity are the hallmarks of their character.
  • Only stay in a relationship with me when I am happy and hopeful. They are too uncomfortable with or embarrassed by grief and anger to allow me to feel negative emotions and to mourn.
  • Are more concerned about relating to me and loving me than about giving me advice.
  • Are arrogant and self-righteous.
  • Are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s work in my life.
  • Are unable to see the Holy Spirit at work in me. This would apply both to non-believers and immature believers who walk more in the flesh than in the Spirit

 

Attend Counseling and get involved in a treatment program

This step is absolutely essential. In individual counseling you will work with a trained professional who understands the dynamics of these issues. There are several good Christian counseling centers in the metropolitan Atlanta Area some of which charge on a sliding scale fee when needed.  Together you will discover what underlying cause may brought you here in the beginning and also what may be keeping you stuck here.  They will also help you to understand “triggers” and set up safeguards to help you when these “triggers” appear.

 

See our counseling referrals here. The more elements you involve yourself in, typically the better chance you have for healing. Individual counseling, couple counseling, and group therapy or a support group are so vital to complete recovery.

 

Interestingly Group counseling has proven to be as important in recovery as individual counseling so please don’t resist your Therapist’s suggestion that you pursue it.

This may seem like a difficult step in the beginning but in the end you will be so glad you did.

 

Create a porn-free environment.

We encourage (borrowing a phrase from a colleague) “radical amputation.” Radicalmeans doing absolutely everything in your power to make it difficult for you to access porn.

 

Some important steps that may help you live a porn-free life:

  1. [Delete all porn files and burn any tangible copies of porn.] Cancel all subscriptions to porn (Web site, magazine, cable, cell phone)
  2. Change to a family-oriented Internet service provider.
  3. Install cyber controls on your computer, phone, tablet, IPod, game system, etc. Move your computer to a public area in your home. Cancel internet service altogether. Buy a new hard drive or computer.
  4. Use the computer only when someone else is nearby and can see the screen.
  5. Subscribe to television programming packages that are completely porn-free or get rid of your television, VCR, and DVD player altogether.
  6. Block out all television channels that carry porn.
  7. Avoid driving by adult bookstores and strip clubs. (Plan alternate routes.) Avoid stores that sell porn magazines and other porn products. Avoid video stores that carry x-rated movies.
  8. Avoid anyone you used to watch porn with or who enabled your porn use.
  9. When staying at hotels, call ahead to make sure they don’t subscribe to channels with sexual content. If they do, require that these channels not be available to you in your room when you check in. Or demand that they remove the television from your room.
  10. Change your email address. Tell friends, relatives, and coworkers not to send you porn or links to porn.[9]

 

Since it is not possible to avoid all pornographic triggers and images, you’ll need a plan to shut it out as quickly as possible. Your counselor can help you with some practical skills like “thought stopping” and other methods for healthy coping.

 

 

Establish twenty-four hour support and accountability.

We cannot stress enough how important this step is.  Become involved with a local accountability group that will be there for you, but also be firm enough to hold you accountable.

 

Take care of your physical and emotional health.

Eat healthy, get adequate sleep, try a little exercise, attempt some new hobbies, practice stress reduction skills, and again… attend counseling.

 

Start healing your sexual health.

It will take intentional work to retrain your brain – to deprogram some of the beliefs you have adopted and to learn new approaches that focus on experiencing meaningful, intimate connection with your spouse. Your brain is moldable and adaptable! Through your individual and couples counseling and intentional work, and with the Lord’s ability to work restoration and renewal, you can have the life you were created to experience.

 

Pray and meditate on scripture.

Come to the Lord with your struggle, rather than trying to “fix yourself” before you come to Him.

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and I will give you rest for your soul” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).

 

Ask the Lord for help in giving Him all the pieces of your life (not just the ones you feel good about giving Him).

“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him… Every day I review the way God works, and I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together and I am watching my step. God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes” (2 Samuel 22:21-25, The Message Translation, emphasis added).

 

Pray for discernment as you begin to seek Godly counsel for your next steps. Pray that He would give you wisdom to know when, how, and with whom to share.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

 

We should be mindful that we were made to be in meaningful community; pray that the Lord will help you find at least one person to assist you in your journey towards truth and healing.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Prov 27:17

 

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:11

 

Ask  the Lord to help you begin to see the pain you are causing yourself and those you love. While praying against “toxic shame” (the crippling sense that you are completely unloveable); ask the Lord to soften your heart to the reality of your unhealthy sexual beliefs and behaviors.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 22:23-24

 

 

[1] Maltz and Maltz, The Porn Trap, 2009, p. 24

[2] All of the following books address the neurochemical piece of pornography and sex: Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers; The Porn Trap by Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz; The Invisible Bond by Barbara Wilson; and Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe S McIlhaney Jr. and Freda McKissic Bush

[3] Dr. William Struthers, Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain

[4]  Dr. Al Cooper, a psychologist who studies Internet Addiction has named “The Triple-A Engine” that makes “Internet pornography so dangerous:  accessible, affordable, anonymous.” As cited by Dr. Mark Laaser during “Healthy Sexuality and Sexual Addiction” lecture 9/28/13 Atl. GA.

[5] Sabina, Wolak, and Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth.” For more statistics about children and the Internet, download “Parenting the Internet Generation” at CovenantEyes.com/ebooks.

[6] The following books address the neurochemical piece of pornography and sex: Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William Struthers; The Porn Trap by Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz; The Invisible Bond by Barbara Wilson; and Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children by Joe S. McIlhaney Jr. and Freda McKissic Bush.

[7] Lisa Eldred, ed, “Porn and Your Husband; A Recovery Guide for Wives” 2012, e-book from Covenant Eyes, p. 4.

[8] Lisa Eldred, p. 8

[9] Maltz, p. 173-4