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What about pastors in recovery?

RecoveryAnyone living in our culture today is vulnerable to addiction — including pastors. And anyone struggling with addiction needs recovery — including pastors. But recovery is hard for pastors; harder than it needs to be.

Recovery is hard for pastors for many reasons. Because of their position as spiritual leaders, pastors have a hard time admitting to problems in their lives, and reaching out for help. This is partly the result of pride, but it’s also the result of the system we have created in the church today. Pastors aren’t stupid: they realize that being too open about their problems — or open to the wrong people — could get them fired.

So they don’t get the help they need. And more often than not, when they do seek help, they do so in secret, and their fear and shame about discovery often hamper their recovery efforts.

Leadership Journal recently published a great article by Amy Simpson on Pastors in Recovery. She did a lot of research for this article, including reaching out to me, and I’m grateful to be included in the article. There is a lot of good stuff in this article!

Here are some good quotes:

Once an addiction is acknowledged and treated, another danger is naiveté. For churches that don’t understand the disease of addiction, it’s too easy to believe a course of treatment has cured the problem and everything can go “back to normal.”

There’s a tension between ministry expectations and what is necessary for ongoing recovery. “In ministry there’s so much pressure to smooth over one’s life story. But what recovery and what Christianity require are rigorous honesty.” It’s not easy for pastors to be honest about who they really are when their churches ask them to be something other than human.

Addiction lends itself to easy judgment, but it is not merely a moral issue. In fact, (Dale) Ryan says, addictions often start with a perfectionistic desire to do and be better. Seminaries are full of addicts in training, he claims, because seminaries are full of idealistic perfectionists. “Perfectionism leads to compulsive behaviors, and they don’t present themselves as problems initially because you get rewarded for them.”

Once again, here is link to the full article.

Just fix this addiction, but leave the rest of my life alone!

manpornPeople who want to recover from addiction often face the same roadblock that sabotages other kinds of emotional healing — and many kinds of physical healing:

wanting to fix one’s problem without changing one’s life

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We want to “fix” what we see as an isolated issue without getting at the real problem, which is deeper, and encompasses many facets of our lives. Not realizing how deeply rooted addiction is, we seek solutions that don’t involve drastic and multifaceted change in our lives.

People often come into the recovery process essentially asking: “Help me fix my problem, but don’t ask me to change other parts of my life. Leave the bulk of my life alone, and just take care of this addiction.” As if addiction is an isolated thing, and can be changed by small, isolated interventions!

A medical analogy

To use a medical analogy, we want to fix our addiction problem like we imagine we can fix a medical problem: taking a pill or getting a shot — without changing how we live our lives. The reality is that even with many physical problems, this won’t work. The physical intervention of medication won’t last, and if the person continues their unhealthy lifestyle, the problem (disease) will come back.

This happens in recovery from addiction all the time. And unfortunately, it also happens in recovery from physical problems too.

Take the person who has a very unhealthy diet, gets no exercise, and lives with chronic overwork and stress. They have a heart attack, and have surgery to repair a bad heart valve. They’ve “fixed” the problem, right? But you know what happens next. They go home from the hospital, continue with the same diet, no-exercise, and high-stress lifestyle, and in a matter of months they have more heart trouble.

Healing childhood trauma and heart surgery

This is the concern I have when people come to recovery who over-focus on healing from childhood trauma as the magic fix. They see the diagnosis and “healing” of this early life trauma as the equivalent to heart surgery that will fix their problem.

Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not trying to dismiss this important aspect of recovery. Do I believe that healing from early life trauma is essential for recovery from addiction (and also for happy living)? Absolutely. Do I think it’s sufficient for lasting recovery? Absolutely not.

Danger-Warning-1If our lives aren’t working — if we have unresolved spiritual/existential issues, if we’re in jobs that are overly stressful and/or unfulfilling, if we’re isolated and lonely, if our intimate relationships are filled with hatred, abuse, apathy, or neglect, if we’re living in perpetual financial crisis, etc., etc, — we will not find lasting recovery. I guarantee it. We will be like the guy who gets heart surgery and goes back to his old life and terrible habits. The problem will come back.

Then who can recover?

Maybe at this point you’re thinking: “Well then, I guess I can’t recover. My marriage and family life are in shambles. My spouse hates me because of the things I’ve done.” or maybe: “I can’t recover then, because I lost my job and now I’m working in a crummy job that I hate.” or “I can’t recover, because my spouse divorced me and now I’m living in a little apartment, and I’m super lonely.”

Addiction will bring all kinds of chaos and pain into our lives. Much of this chaos and pain comes into our lives as direct consequences from our behaviors. Some of this chaos and pain comes into our lives for no discernable reason other than that we live in a fallen world. Bad things will happen. We will face aspects of our lives that aren’t working.

But here is the point: Our recovery has to involve facing all these areas our lives, and working to fix the ones that aren’t working. Recovery has to involve dealing with the variety of aspects of our lives … because if we are addicted to something, it is certain that there are a variety of things in our lives that are not working. Often we don’t realize this in early recovery, because our addiction is distracting us and numbing our pain.

Gerhard Adler on magical thinking in therapy

Listen to what psychologist Gerhard Adler says about this in his book “Studies in Analytical Psychology”:

It happens only too often that the patient expects at the beginning of an analysis that the psychotherapist will, by some magical means, simply rid him of his symptoms without ever touching the rest of the structure of his life, with which he is quite satisfied. The analyst is only too often supposed to be a kind of ‘medicine man’ who will make the symptoms disappear from the outside.

The truth is that nobody can be cured unless he is prepared to accept the need for a more or less complete reorientation of his life. To put it in a nutshell: the healed person is not the original person minus a symptom, but a newly oriented person in whom, through the new orientation, the necessity for the symptom itself has disappeared.

I’ve often said in workshops and talks I give about recovery that if we are in full-blown addiction, we will not find lasting recovery unless we are willing to do a major overhaul on all the aspects of our lives. Work, church, friendships, hobbies, things we read, how we parent, what we read, where we live … everything needs to be looked at.

People hate to hear that.

I’m not saying that it all needs to be jettisoned or blown up — the “change” might be in how we function in that setting, or relationship. We may not change our job (although we might), but we will change how we think about it, and how we do it. We may not sell our home and move to a new community (although we might), but we will change aspects of our home and community life. And so on.

Are you willing to do that? Not right away. Not all at once. But to apply “rigorous honesty” (a term from the Big Book of AA) to all your life, not just your addiction?

What do I need to change?

I was speaking at a recovery conference not long ago, and one of the other speakers was a woman who had decades of sobriety from alcoholism, and now runs a treatment center for women. She put it this way:

What do we need to change if we want recovery?

Just one thing:

Everything.

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If you are struggling with sexual addiction … I invite you to take the Recovery Journey with me for the next 90 Days. The recovery journey is a 90 Day Home Study course designed to give you a deeper understanding of the inner dynamics and spiritual issues of the path towards recovery.  (There’s also a program for the partners/spouses of sexual strugglers.) Just click on the link below:

CLICK TO LEARN ABOUT THE RECOVERY JOURNEY PROGRAM

Is Sex a Struggle but not an Addiction? Here’s what to do

strugglingOver the years in my work with sexual strugglers, it became clear that there is a spectrum of struggle … some people simply fight a battle with sexual temptation (and periodically lose), and others would fall into the category of sexual addicts. The line between the two is not always clear — it’s more like a spectrum, not a simple either/or — and many people struggle to honestly face the extent of their problem.

I have come to call this group of people — who fall repeatedly into sexual temptation, but don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for addiction — “sexual strugglers.” Often people in this category don’t have the patterns of emotional and sexual trauma from early life, and they don’t give evidence of other problematic addictive behaviors. But for some reason, they still struggle with behaviors around sex — often related to Internet pornography.

I believe that sexual strugglers need to focus on four things. If they keep these four things in place, they will do well. Also, at the end of this article I will give you an easy, sure-fire way to tell where you fall on this spectrum. So here we go … the four things strugglers need in order to deal with their struggle:

1. Vigilance

Sexual strugglers need to maintain an awareness of their vulnerability to sexual temptation, and realize that this will be an ongoing challenge area for them. Many people who are dealing with sexual temptation at this level try to downplay its importance, or view it as a temporary thing. They may tend to blame other people — especially their spouse — but the problem is internal, not external. If they were in a relationship with someone different, they would likely still struggle sexually.

Often sexual strugglers downplay the problem in their lives, because they are able to go for certain periods of time without falling into behaviors. But inevitably, if left unchecked, their sexual struggles will come back, and they will get into some kind of problematic behavior again if and when the circumstances allow. In other words, they can stop, but they can’t stay stopped.

The solution is a bitter pill for some people to swallow: recognize that this is an ongoing issue, and it won’t go away. We need to keep vigilant. How? Read on …

2. Boundaries

The sexual struggler needs to establish new guidelines or safeguards around his or her behavior. This is the flip side of the first principle, the need for vigilance. Sexual strugglers need to be aware of their vulnerabilities — and do something about them. They need to put filters on their computer, establish guidelines around safe conversations with members of the opposite sex, establish plans for business travel, and for time spent alone (like when their spouse goes away on a trip and they are home alone).

An important step for sexual strugglers is to look back on the times they have fallen into inappropriate sexual behaviors and pinpoint the areas of vulnerability that were in place that led up to his behavior. Then they need to decide what kind of limitations or boundaries need to be put in place. People often resist this because it creates limitations and hassles. But the alternative is more acting out, and further movement on the continuum of sexual health towards addiction.

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Has Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality? An interview with Gail Dines

dinesAuthor Gail Dines says today’s pornography looks nothing like it did 15 years ago — and it’s damaged our ability to have intimate relationships.

I’m including an interview that Sonali Kohatkar did with Gail Dines in its entirety, because it’s a great interview, and contains a helpful overview of the problem or pornography, how the business is run, and the effect it’s having on its users. This is a sobering interview. I completely agree with all that Dines is saying, but I want to add one additional point — about another aspect of pornography that she doesn’t address. I will do that in italics at the end of the interview.

Here is how Kohatkar set up the interview with Dines:

A new book by scholar Gail Dines asserts that society’s over-consumption of pornography and the ridiculous extremes of today’s mainstream pornography have greatly undermined our ability to have meaningful sexual partnerships. In Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, Dines traces the history of the porn industry from Playboy and Penthouse, to today’s brutal fare that resembles nothing less than the videotaped sexual assault of women.

Not only does Dines go to great lengths to research the depth of porn’s standard fare, but she also details how the porn industry is consumed with profits, and the effect this has on its male viewers. Says Dines, “The pornographers did a kind of stealth attack on our culture, hijacking our sexuality and then selling it back to us, often in forms that look very little like sex but a lot like cruelty.”

Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Boston’s Wheelock College, where she researches the hypersexualization of the culture.

Sonali Kolhatkar: I have to say it was very difficult to read your book, and I had to skip parts where you describe mainstream pornography. This is not your father’s Playboy or Penthouse magazines and videos. What we’re seeing in porn today, and mainstream porn, is completely bizarre. I mean, how do you handle it in your research?

Gail Dines: Well, what’s interesting is that I, like the viewers, get desensitized over time. I mean, obviously I couldn’t have the visceral reaction I had in the beginning to it. But I put those descriptions in because often people say to me, you know, why are you getting so upset by images of naked women? And what I want people to understand is that pornography now looks nothing like it did 10, 15 years ago — that it is now brutal and cruel and is absolutely based on the degradation of women. So this is why I walk people through the porn industry. Also, often anti-porn feminists are accused of picking the worst of the pornography. What I wanted to do was go into the mainstream pornography that the average 11-year-old would get once he put “porn” into Google. Continue reading

Six Great Articles to Read about Recovery, Sex Addiction, and Codependence

In my continual quest to help give you the best information about recovery, healthy marriages, and sexual struggles, I’m including some links to articles I have read recently. Please note: Just because I recommend some article or podcast doesn’t mean I agree with everything that’s said in it. As they say in 12 step circles: “take what you like and leave the rest.” Check them out!

1. Good article about what it means to “do the next right thing

2. Interesting short article: Why Is It So Hard To Stop Acting Out? (Breaking Up Is Hard To Do)

3. Great article on the biology of anxiety, and implications for recovery

4. Extended interview with M Scott Peck from the 90s, touches on therapy, codependence, religion, and recovery.

5. Very interesting read: Exploding myths about recovery. Not for 12step purists, but it will make you think

6. Series of video podcasts, interviewing various experts about pornography, addiction, and recovery. About half-way down the page, check out the interview with Tamara Robinson about EMDR, a great therapy approach for dealing with trauma.

Hacking Recovery: How to Improve 12 Step Groups (part 2)

Why do 12-Step programs work? What makes them effective? If we can figure out why AA and the 12 Steps work (what the “active ingredients” are) we might be able to improve them. In part 1 of this two-part series, I explored several factors that behaviorists suggest contribute to the success of 12 Step programs for treatment of addiction. In this article, we will look at three suggestions for improving 12 Step Groups.

Our inspiration comes from an article by Brendan Koerner that was featured in Wired magazine. Koerner cites a number of studies over the years trying to determine how effective AA is, and concludes with some suggestions for how to improve 12 Step groups. Their suggestions are interesting and instructive. Not surprisingly (given that it’s the techno-centric Wired magazine), two of the three recovery hacks involve better technology. I’ll list them, along with my added thoughts:

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