No, I’m not simply guilt-ridden or lacking willpower

LEAVE THE CHAINS

“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will.” Elder Russell M. Nelson (1)

 

Yesterday I started reading Patrick Carnes’ Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. He’s amassed decades of clinical and empirical research. His insights are helpful.

I frequently face the temptation to get caught up in self-pity while going through recovery. It often sounds like this: “No one understands me. I’m alone. They don’t understand how hard this is. They’re judging me. They don’t want to understand.”

In the interest of combating my own self-pity and attempting to address my feelings of loneliness in a world that commonly advocates sexual exploration with concern only for the inherent physical health risks, and in a Christian culture that often lacks understanding concerning the slavery of addiction, I’d like to share something.

I hope I’m not appeasing my own self-pity by doing so. I think this is a sincere and honest attempt to bring awareness and tell the little red Loneliness devil sitting on my shoulder to can it and go away. If this is, however, a moment of weakness, then please forgive me and enjoy Mr. Carnes’ insights nonetheless.

“To view sexual addicts as people who are simply guilt-ridden because of sexual behavior is to completely misunderstand the nature of the addiction. This viewpoint assumes that addicts need to be more free and enjoy sexuality and that they feel bad because of unhelpful scruples and misinformation. An example is masturbation, which is now generally accepted as a developmental phase and a natural expression of personal sexuality. For the man who masturbates so often that he has at times severely injured his penis, it is no longer just a question of accepting his desire to masturbate. His masturbation is seriously affecting his life and bringing harmful consequences to his body.

“Sexual addicts feel the pain and consequences. They recognize the personal emptiness. If they are lucky, they may have some sense of the exploitation and harm to others. They wrestle daily with the fear of discovery of their compulsivity…

“… Were [one] to experience periods in which he repeated the behavior frequently with damaging results, he clearly would have an addictive pattern. Many addicts describe their experiences as episodic—that is, they occur in periodic binges that have severe consequences to their work, relationships, and self-esteem. Between binges, they may experience extended periods with no problems. Being able to stop for a period of time provides the illusion of control, which makes it more difficult for the addict to acknowledge that there is a problem. As years pass, however, a pattern of bingeing reveals an unmistakable addiction. For some addicts, the bingeing becomes so frequent that the behavior is almost constant.”

Carnes, Patrick J. (2009-06-21). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

(1) in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7.

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Moving Forward

You don't have to be alone anymore

 

Nearly five years ago I had a loving Bishop who met with me often concerning my addiction. I didn’t know I had an addiction at that time, but he gave me the love and encouragement I needed at that point in my life. He was a good leader and friend.

He often used a phrase at the end of our meeting together. He’d say, “Let’s move forward.” He said it so often that I now think of him every time I hear it. For me it has significant meaning. Not only did I hear it as an invitation, but I also received it as a promise of hope—eventually.

“Move forward? You mean there’s a way out of this hellish pit?”

I remember feeling hesitant to believe him… to give in to my desire to believe him. I’d failed so, so many times. Even wanting to believe that I could be rescued felt more like a burden simply because the idea carried so much fear of failure and of breaking my wife’s heart again. I couldn’t stomach the thought of it. I thought it best that I suffer alone… I couldn’t change what I’d done, but moving forward felt so distant and elusive.

I don’t remember when I felt willing to believe in hope again. It wasn’t a singular event for me. I think it happened gradually. I do know that it didn’t happen until I’d been attending pornography addiction support group meetings for a few months with a good friend of mine. Talking with him and interacting with those men restored a faint hope in my mind and heart that I could change permanently, that I could be healed, and that God would heal me. The men in those meetings gave me courage to believe that I could move forward.

This weekend has challenged my faith and resolve. I’m not talking white-knuckle resolve, although I started down that kind of hopeless thinking on Friday. I’m talking about the days and feelings that force me to either dig deep and decide to completely rely on God and others, or take a break from digging and isolate myself.

My wife went out of town for five days and she’ll return tomorrow night. The last time she went out of town I relapsed. I relapsed bad. It was a heavy binge that lasted for nearly a week. That was almost two years ago. I remember the moment she left the driveway… my adversary wasted no time. Immediately I felt overwhelmed by stress, loneliness, and cravings galore. Back then I still believed I had to muster strength and willpower on my own. “I got myself here, so I need to get myself out.” Didn’t work.

This time around I felt the stress and loneliness building in my heart and mind. My body began craving disgusting amounts of junk food and I gladly supplied it (often a precursor to my acting out). I felt the river of my addiction rising. Its power over me was about to sweep me downstream and back into my hell of pornography and pain, depression and despair. After a full day of doing nothing but idly passing time on the couch and white-knuckling, I went to bed exhausted, grumpy, lonely, and completely drained. Somehow God gave me the faith to journal and pray that night. I’m so grateful He did that for me.

Saturday morning I woke up with a clear head. I knew I couldn’t repeat the previous day’s efforts and end the day sober. My heart was filled with motivation to reach out for help, to do something productive, to spend quality time with my daughter, and to surrender to my God. Somehow in my heart I knew that I was receiving this blessing because of the loving and faith-filled prayers of my friends and family, especially my wife and sponsor.

Even after receiving this surge of faith, I nearly fell into lazy mode that morning, but then I started cleaning our home. Oh boy, did we clean! I think Isla, my daughter, was moderately concerned by my sudden behavior shift, haha. She cleaned and worked with me and we got a lot done.

Then we played just as hard we worked! At her request and to my blissful enjoyment we snuggled on the couch while eating lunch and watching Frozen. After that we went to a nearby fast food restaurant so she could run around in the play place. As we were leaving I pointed out the Y on the mountainside above BYU and Provo. She said, “Oh! Look at that letter! Let’s go up there and touch it!” So we did. We made it to the Y just as the sun began to set. It was the best hike I’ve ever been on. Then we held hands and ran down the mountain together. Yeah, pretty much perfect.

We spent some of the highest quality and most quantity time we’ve ever enjoyed together. My heart was filled with love, joy, and gratitude. Why did that happen? Because I chose to surrender my loneliness, laziness, and stress to my Savior, who in turn gave me more recovery and another twenty-four hours of sobriety. Had I not reached out to my friends and had my wife and sponsor and others not prayed for me, I would’ve had a much, much different day. I wouldn’t be sober.

So, reaching out, asking for help, having friends and loved ones to help me move forward in recovery—it all works much better than trying to handle things on my own. I think that’s why moving forward used to scare me so much. I was thinking of moving forward alone.

You’re welcome to contact me if you like. I can always use more recovery friends. I think we all can.

Quote

Abide with me!

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

Click here to hear the music.

Text: Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847

Music: William H. Monk, 1823-1889

Running with a Friend hurts less

I’m working Step 4. I’m writing down my entire life… everything I can possibly remember and all that the Lord wants me to recall… all my pain, sins, mistakes, fears, achievements, strengths, weaknesses, and wounds. Everything, for the purpose of building “a framework through which [the Lord] could help [me] sort out [my] past honestly” (LDS Addiction Recovery Manual, p.31).

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Doing step 4 hurts. Fragile is the best word I can think of to describe how it makes me feel. It’s a painful experience.

A few weeks ago I went for an early morning run in the mountains. After a few miles I turned to head towards a canyon. At the mouth of the canyon I ran into (not literally) another runner. He was from out of town and asked if he could run with me so that he wouldn’t get lost. I’ve found that trail runners are often friendly people.

We started up the canyon together and soon noticed that most of the snow on the trail had been packed into ice. I also realized that I had forgotten to bring my trusty ice spikes. Don’t ask me why we didn’t turn around right then and there… mountain running makes me feel invincible (maybe I can blame the altitude? :-) ).  We settled into a steady pace running up the canyon while we talked about races, favorite trails, and our families. We slipped and nearly fell frequently but we kept going. I was enjoying the run.

After a couple of miles we came to a fork in the trail. I told him where I was headed and he said he wanted to explore the other direction, so we shook hands and parted ways. I took a drink of water and then started running up the trail again.

Suddenly my legs were very angry with me, haha. They hurt! The terrain hadn’t changed at all. Why the sudden pain? I did a mental body scan to check my running form. No problems there that I could identify but experience told me it was time to end the run. I turned around to head back down the canyon. I immediately slipped with my first step and fell onto my back and elbows. Another mental body scan… I wasn’t seriously injured. My water bottles had broken my fall and burst open in the process. Better than a broken bone! I took my new friend’s earlier advice and ran down the dry river bed instead of the trail. Much safer.

I only considered it a running experience, one in which I had earned a few cuts and bruises (badges of honor, as my mission president calls them). About a week later I learned a wonderful principle about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I was having a rough day. Life happens. I prayed for strength. I prayed for the Lord to carry those burdens that I couldn’t and to help me carry the rest. He then reminded me of my run up the canyon with my new friend. I had felt pain all the way up that canyon. I even felt fear upon discovering the treacherous terrain. But the pain and fear were pushed into the background of my mind by the companionship of my friend. His company allowed me to focus on something other than the pain. Running up that canyon still hurt, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Because of his company, I was able to endure—and in some ways enjoy—a painful experience.

Upon reminding me and teaching me in that moment, the Lord relieved me of the burdens of the day and week. I felt peace and love from Him. I was able to continue my day and focus on my work. The pain was still there, but it was no longer the only thing on my mind. It had been pushed into the background because the Savior was now my companion.

I felt His companionship and grace again today.  I just read the following from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual:

“Even as you feel the pains of your own rebirth, remember that His suffering, not yours, ensures your redemption from sin. Your sacrifice is only a humble reminder of His ‘great and last sacrifice’ on your behalf (Alma 34:14)… Your fear of change will diminish as you realize the Lord understands the pain and hard work it requires” (p.41, 35).

I’m learning that my life can be a similar experience to that of my run in the canyon. I’ll have more rough days like today, but I won’t have to face them alone. The Lord is my friend and is walking the path of recovery with me.