Category Archives: Addiction

Being Healthy and Happy in a Sick and Depressed World

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

This is a long article. Here’s links to the CONTENTS:

Intro — Our Unhealthy Default Reality

Recently I’ve been reading a helpful and challenging book by Pilar Gerasimo that focuses on physical and mental health, but it has profound implications for our spiritual life … and for addiction and recovery.

Gerasimo was the founder, and for many years editor, of Experience Life, a health and fitness magazine. Her book is called “The Healthy Deviant.” As her background might suggest, her focus is more on physical health, but it also drifts into mental health (as those two are integrally connected). Her point in the book is this: “Currently, we live in a culture that produces exponentially more unhealthy, unhappy people than healthy, happy ones” … and therefore, the only way to be healthy and happy is continually and deliberately go against the grain of conventional wisdom and practice.

Here’s more of what she says in the book:

In fact, right now, the unhealthy-to-healthy ratio is arguably running about a hundred to one. … If you are currently a healthy and happy person in today’s United States of America (or in any one of a growing number of countries now following our lead), you represent a tiny and shrinking minority. You are, statistically speaking, an endangered species. …

In my mind these facts raise a rather captivating question: What kind of society makes being healthy and happy so difficult that only a single-digit percentage of its population can hope to pull it off?

The answer is self-evident: A sick society. And within a sick society—one where chronic illness, obesity, drug dependence, anxiety, and depression are rapidly becoming the prevailing norms—what does it mean to be one of the few who buck those unhealthy odds?

You might wonder about her assertion that so many of us are unhealthy. Are things really that bad? I dare you to get the book and read it. She backs it up with a lot of research.

But there are two things that are striking about this … and are very sobering to reflect on:

  1. Though it was published in 2020, she wrote this book in 2018 and 2019 … before the COVID health crisis, and lockdowns associated with it, made everyone’s physical and mental health worse.
  2. Although she mentions them in the quote above, she doesn’t really focus much on mental health issues. She’s able to make her case for how unhealthy and unhappy we are by pointing to physical health markers alone. She doesn’t even get into the numbers of people dealing with addictions, and mental health struggles like anxiety and depression.

This is not a criticism of the book — as I stated above, her background qualifies her to focus on the physical health side of things.  But it’s important to keep this in mind, because it makes her point in the book all the more important and pointed. If you were to add depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicides into the mix, the numbers look even worse.

This is Depressing … Why Talk About It?

I have struggled with writing this, because I don’t want to be negative. But this is important … and there’s a reason why we need to talk about what Gerassimo calls “our unhealthy default reality.”

Let me be clear from the outset about a core belief of mine, which makes it so essential to honestly face what Gerassimo and others are telling us:

The antidote to what ails us — in terms of physical, spiritual, or mental health — is not complicated, but it IS difficult, and we are easily discouraged or distracted away from it. Therefore, we need crystal clarity about the severity of problem we’re facing, and we need regular reminders about the seriousness of our situation … otherwise we won’t do what needs to be done.

This reality informs my writing and teaching, and how I work with people as a coach and recovery counselor. We will not do the work required for recovery unless we understand — and never lose sight of — the danger we are in. Continue reading Being Healthy and Happy in a Sick and Depressed World

How to Recognize SAFE People

It’s great to have casual friends, like the relationships we might have with neighbors, work colleagues, and acquaintances in our community. But along with this, we need real friends: close friends, people we can be vulnerable with.

As recent research has shown, loneliness not only lowers the quality of our lives — it affects our health, and therefore, the duration of our lives. It is now commonly understood that loneliness is a key risk factor for early mortality, having the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and even more dangerous than obesity.

Here’s the thing: casual friends, neighbors, and work colleagues do not end our loneliness. It that were the case, people in urban environments wouldn’t be so lonely. For many people today, their lives are filled with people contact, but not friends. We need real friends, not just associates.

As a pastor of a church, I’m very aware that one of the great benefits of being part of a spiritual community is the depth of fellowship that people can experience there. It’s what I see so many unchurched people missing. At the same time, I also see that too often, relationships in church can be insincere and fraught with conflict and various kinds of dysfunction. Over the years, I’ve come to see that one of the most important tasks of people in church leadership is to guard the integrity and health of relationships among members.

Let’s be honest: even in churches, there are a lot of people who are NOT SAFE. By that I mean, we intuitively sense that if we told them the truth about our lives — the whole truth — they wouldn’t know how to deal with it. They would judge us, try to “fix” us, look down on us, and maybe even distance ourselves from us.

SAFE Acronym

How do you find SAFE people? First, let’s get clear about what we mean by “SAFE.” Let’s use the word as an acronym:

S – Sincere: SAFE people aren’t fake. They don’t try to present themselves as being different than they really are. You sense an honesty and openness about them.

A – Accepting: Around SAFE people, we feel a permission to be ourselves. They might not approve of everything we do or say. They might even — when it’s appropriate — express their concern about us and our behavior (see “forthright” below). But it’s always done with the awareness that our relationship is not at risk. They will love us and include us in their lives even if we struggle.

F – Forthright: We don’t have to guess what SAFE people are thinking and feeling. They will tell us. This means they might have to share a concern with us, but we know they’ll do it honestly, and in love.

E – Encouraging: SAFE people actively seek to build us up, not tear us down. They speak encouraging words to us, and we trust that they will not divulge anything we tell them to others. Continue reading How to Recognize SAFE People

Today’s Epidemic of Artificial Sex: Pornography, Sexting, Cyber Sex

Let’s call the problem “artificial sex,” or “techno sex.” Today’s technology is facilitating sexual experience in ways that make real personal connection irrelevant. Usually, the problem is simply identified as “pornography,” but the problem also includes sexting and various forms of cyber-sex (such as chat rooms or video game environments).

Here are some statistics from 2019, from Barna Research Group and Covenant Eyes:

  • 68% of church-going men and over 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis.
  • Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76% actively search for porn.
  • 55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.
  • 57% of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation.
  • The Barna Group discovered there is virtually no difference in the monthly porn use of non-Christian men (65 percent) versus Christian men (64 percent).
  • Sexting has become common for young people today. Estimates by researchers start at a low of 20 percent of teens and reach higher than 60 percent in some studies. Teenagers, however, believe that about 90 percent of their peers are sexting. This is an indicator that among teens, the behavior is considered normal, which has led to an increase in sexting behavior among this age group.
  • In 2019, the Freedom Fight conducted a survey of more than 1,300 Practicing Christian college students from over thirty different campuses across the country. The men and women we surveyed were involved in a campus ministry, and they considered their faith in Christ to be very important to them. 89% of the Christian men surveyed watch porn at least occasionally. 61% view it at least weekly and 24% percent watch porn daily or multiple times a day. 51% of these men said they were “addicted to porn.”

What about now, in 2021? What’s happening with these problems in the midst of the pandemic and shut-downs? I’m not sharing statistics about this yet, because estimates are all over the map, and I don’t trust that there’s reliable research yet. (If you know of any, please share it with me!) What everyone agrees on, however, is sobering: as bad as the problem with artificial sex was before the pandemic, it’s now gotten worse. And many people think it’s gotten much worse.

I’m also including cyber sex here, even though it may not be a huge issue … yet. Virtual reality games and environments are here, they’re getting more immersive all the time, and their popularity is growing. When you add the improvement of these  experiences, and combine that with high-tech sex toys,  it won’t be long before there are breakthrough “adult games” or “adult virtual meeting places” that take today’s web cam sites to a new level. Continue reading Today’s Epidemic of Artificial Sex: Pornography, Sexting, Cyber Sex

How the Church is Failing to Help People with Sexual Struggles … and what to do

I’m doing something a little different this time. Instead of an article, I’m going to link to a message I recently gave at Bethel Church in Princeton, MN. It was part of a series on Christianity and mental health issues.

I talk about some of the ways that the church has been failing people in this area, and then look at a Bible passage that offers hope and a way out. (Click on the image below, it’ll take you to the video of our full live-stream service, but starting at the beginning of the sermon.)

Help for starting–or supporting–a program for recovery from sexual struggles

In 2007, I developed a program to help people who were dealing with sexual struggles in their lives. Some felt comfortable calling these struggles an addiction, while others weren’t so sure about that label. It started out as followup, or “aftercare,” program for people who attended workshops I helped facilitate with Dr. Mark Laaser.

I think this program could help you, if you are wanting to start something — a group or ministry — to help others, or get more support for your own recovery.

When I created the Recovery Journey, I wanted to offer something different: I wanted to offer something that would work with — and help supplement — work people might already be doing with a therapist, or involvement with a 12-Step recovery group. I didn’t want to create something to compete against the many good programs already out there, or compete with therapists who do face-to-face work. I wanted to create something that would work with those other modalities.

And I wanted to offer something that helped facilitate a practice that I’ve come to believe is essential for long term sobriety:

Doing a little something every day
to support your recovery

As my sexualsanity.com website grew, I started to get people in the program who hadn’t gone to a workshop, and I found it worked just as well — if not better — for them.

Over the years I continued to tweak the program, and for some time now it’s been known as “The Recovery Journey,” and hundreds of participants have gone through it. I wish I had exact numbers. At this point, I think somewhere close to 400 people have gone through the program: about 300 sexual strugglers, and 100 partners of strugglers, who’ve gone through the companion program.

To find out more about the Recovery Journey, 

or sign up for it,

go to the website:

http://recoveryjourney.com

Here’s a little about the program, and a little about what I’ve learned:

1. Set a specific length of time. I decided to focus on a specific span of time, to make it something that people could dedicate themselves to going through as a transition time … even though we all know that recovery is a lifelong journey. With a nod to the recovery tradition of focusing intensively for 90 Days, I eventually set up the program to run for 90 Days.

I recommend this as a way of starting something with other people. Have a group meet for 3 months. Have everybody make a commitment to faithful attendance for that set amount of time. Then, if it goes well, you can decide towards the end of that time if you want to keep going.

2. Include some teaching to solidify a deeper understanding of addiction and recovery. I set up the program to include a short teaching segment, along with an action step to take each day (I’ll say more about the action step below). In my work with people in recovery, I came to see how essential it is to maintain focus on one’s recovery commitment. I came up with the principle that we need to do “a little something EVERY DAY” to remind us of our commitment, and help us move in the right direction. Continue reading Help for starting–or supporting–a program for recovery from sexual struggles

Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction: the differences, the overlap, and the treatment (part 1)


Reports of celebrities, politicians, and newscasters being ousted because of sexual abuse and harassment charges continue to dominate the news. Good!

Conversations about the problem of unwanted sexual advances — and the abuse of power to exploit people sexually — are uncomfortable but really important. When the #metoo social media posts went viral it was a stark reminder of how widespread this problem is.

For a number of years I worked in the recovery field — specializing in sexual addiction — and I’ve had the occasion to deal with these issues a LOT. Hearing the stories in the news lately has brought up a lot of thoughts. Let me share some of them …

First off, let’s get clear about the terms

SEXUAL HARASSMENT — Webster’s dictionary defines sexual harassment as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate, such as an employee or student.” Guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have formed the basis for most state laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines state:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  • submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,

  • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or

  • such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

SEXUAL ABUSE — Sexual abuse goes further than harassment in that it involves sexual contact (not just words) with someone unable to give consent (eg. a child, or someone with dementia) and thus involves some form of “forcible compulsion.” When force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The American Psychological Associate (APA) defines sex abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”

RAPE — According to Wikipedia, “Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.”

Why these distinctions are important

Distinctions matter because there is overlap between these problems, and these overlaps can be confusing. Sexual harassment is different than sexual abuse and sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are sometimes used interchangeably, although the term “sexual assault” might best be used to describe unwanted sexual contact that does not involve penetration, reserving the term “rape” for unwanted sexual contact that does involve penetration.

Continue reading Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction: the differences, the overlap, and the treatment (part 1)

The spiritual word for “hitting bottom” — we hear it less but need it more than ever

In recovery, “hitting bottom” is a core concept. To be willing to do the work required to overcome addiction, a person has to reach a point where they see that their life is not working. This happens when we experience suffering as a result of our addiction.

Hitting bottom happens differently to different people. What might cause someone to hit bottom might not be enough for someone else. In the early days of AA, the only people trusted to really “be in recovery” were those who’d lost everything to alcoholism. It was assumed that, unless someone had lost it all, they hadn’t hit bottom, and wouldn’t be ready to fully participate in the program.

It didn’t take long, however, for them to find that newcomers to the program had “hit bottom” in other ways. They’d experienced enough pain from family relationships, even if they hadn’t lost their family; or they’d experienced enough negative consequences in their work, even if they hadn’t been fired from their job.

“Hitting bottom” happens whenever you decide it happens. Actually there is no “bottom.” You can always lose more. I’ve seen people “hit bottom” when they were confronted by a teary-eyed loved one. I’ve seen others Continue reading The spiritual word for “hitting bottom” — we hear it less but need it more than ever