I recently responded to some comments in a discussion thread started with a request for help by a woman who was struggling because her husband (pastor and missionary) was into pornography. Should she confront him (again)? Along with this question was the concern about whether using web filtering software (in her case Covenant Eyes) was really helping. Here’s what I said in response:
Very good article, and thoughtful comments. I’m a pastor who’s dealt with this area of struggle, and for five years I took a break from church ministry and worked full time leading workshops and counseling men in recovery from sexual addiction. Now I’m back in a church ministry role. Out of my experience – and my work with other men in recovery (many of them pastors and missionaries – I would make the following observations:
1) I agree with those who’ve encouraged the woman who wrote in here to make this her last confrontation. Be ready to leave and/or go to those in authority over your husband. Men who are shielded from consequences by their spouse don’t recover.
2) It’s very hard to fathom the consequences — personal, professional, financial — of having your husband take a break to get help. Imagine the worst case scenario, and ask yourself: could I live with this? Could God help me face this? I know people who’ve lost ministries, friends, even their homes … and they were still glad they made the choice they did to get help.
I think the unhappiest people I know are those who continue to suffer in silence … not being willing to bite the bullet and make the changes they need to make … but hating their life.
3) I would be surprised if the ministry she is a part of does not offer some sort of ministry leave policy to get help. Experience and work with MANY pastors and missionaries have made clear a very important point to keep in mind: men who come forward and ask for help get WAY MORE GRACE AND HELP than those who are caught. Urge/force your husband to seek help … it will be much easier for him to get help, and stay in ministry if he seeks help now, instead of waiting and getting caught later. And he WILL get caught … always assume that it’s just a matter of time before the truth comes out.
I was teaching at The Bridge Recovery Community last night about Step 11 in the 12 Steps. In my prep for this talk, I came across some great information from the Hazelden website. I referenced some of this information in my talk, and people asked about it, so I thought I’d include the information here. Enjoy!
Step Eleven: Cultivating conscious contact with a Higher Power
In 1938, an alcoholic stockbroker named Bill W. wrote a prospectus for the One
Hundred Men Corporation. The name of this entity referred to the number of people who had gained sobriety through an obscure new program of recovery from alcoholism. Bill planned to make this program the subject of a book, but first he needed money to finance its publication. For this purpose he was soliciting investors.
The program that Bill championed was based on 12 suggested steps. It was also unabashedly spiritual. In fact, the One Hundred Men prospectus noted that the spiritual aspect of the program had to be so simple and so practical that one alcoholic could easily explain it to another. Bill’s yet-to-be-written book would show how.
Today there are over 25 million copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) in print. And Bill managed to distill the essence of spiritual practice into the 32 words of Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Continue reading Here’s Some Help with Step 11
In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the challenge of understanding addiction. This challenge is illustrated — and also shaped — by the fact that word itself means different things to different people. I pointed out how the word has been around for a long time in the English language, and that its emphasis has shifted.
Today we use the term in four distinct ways. Maybe it would be helpful to create subcategories. In his great book “The Globalization of Addiction,” addiction researcher Bruce Alexander does exactly that. In the book, he outlines four types of addiction, giving them the names “addiction 1” “addiction 2” “addiction 3” and “addiction 4.” I’m going to give them different names, which might help clarify the distinctions.
1. Chemical Addiction
The first of Alexander’s categories of addiction is the traditional view: “An overwhelming involvement with alcohol or drugs.” This is one of the most common understandings of the word, with its focus limited to chemical dependence — drug addiction and/or alcoholism.
The keyword here is “overwhelming.” This word is important — this is not simply involvement with alcohol or drugs, but overwhelming involvement. This is when drugs are a significant (and destructive) part of one’s life. Estimates vary today about how prevalent chemical addiction is in our society. Estimates are that 5-10% of Americans are addicted to alcohol in this way, and about 5-8% are addicted to illegal drugs, meaning 12-15% of Americans suffer this kind of addiction … chemical addiction.
2. Chemical Use/Abuse
This usage of the term addiction is more controversial. It refers to the ongoing use of “harmful” substances of any kind. This understanding of addiction is at play, for example, when a person goes to rehab for ongoing marijuana use. Some people say that since marijuana is illegal, a person who uses it at all must have a problem with it.
The challenge here is that the line between what constitutes the “use” and “abuse” of a substance can be very hard to determine. When does a recreational drug user become an addict? At what point does someone’s participation with a drug become “overwhelming?” In the minds of many people, some drugs are so destructive to users’ well-being that it’s best to treat even their occasional use as an addiction.
3. Behavioral Addiction
Behavioral addiction is “overwhelming involvement in something that affects one’s life negatively.” This obviously applies to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs (“chemical addiction”), but this use of “addiction” is more broad. The focus here is on processes or behaviors: things like food, sex, gambling… things that take control of a person’s life and become destructive for them.
The argument could be made that this type of addiction is still chemically-based. For example, in sex addiction, a person gets addicted to the chemical reaction that takes place in the brain during a sexual experience. This is the case with food, gambling, shopping, video games, work, and so on. But the key here is the broad understanding of the sources or objects of addiction. In this understanding, object of the addiction is not a chemical, it is an activity or behavior.
4. Positive Addiction
Addiction four is “strong dedication to a pursuit or cause that is helpful and constructive … but may become so absorbing that other aspects of life are neglected.” This goes back to the 1884 definition, “the giving over of oneself to some pursuit.” It might include things like being really into fitness or some sport, or hyper devotion to a certain cause. The activity or focus of attention is actually good and healthy, but it may be that our involvement with it gets to be so great that we are neglecting other things in life.
A positive addiction may seem similar to a behavioral addiction — the difference is whether or not the object is a good and worthy pursuit, and whether or not its pursuit is destructive to us. Think of the difference, for example, between someone “addicted” to pornography and someone “addicted” to running.
The lack of consensus on what addiction really is makes it difficult to help those who suffer from it. I feel that the most helpful and most accurate way of looking at addiction is the third definition, an overwhelming involvement in something that is destructive. This still leaves room for confusion and disagreement about what constitutes “overwhelming” involvement, but at least it gets us started.
What do you think?
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Author 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 Has Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality? An interview with Gail Dines
Getting clarity about an important – and often misunderstood – issue
What is addiction? In the church, in counseling, and even in the field of recovery, this deceptively simple question gets really confusing really fast.
Susan Cheever, in her wonderful book Desire, has this to say about the challenge of getting clarity about addiction:
“For all the definitions that have been written by the hundreds of addiction specialists and doctors, addiction is still mysterious and baffling. In many cases it’s hard to tell if someone is an addict or just a passionate amateur.”
In order to overcome addiction, we need to have a clear understanding of what it is, exactly. How is a doctor supposed to treat people for illness if she doesn’t know what these illnesses look like?
We dismiss it because we don’t understand it
Related to the confusion about what addiction is — and maybe in part because of that confusion — some people are dismissive of the concept itself. I’ve heard people complain that it’s a modern invention, compared to the (idealized) past, where people seemed to just “deal with” their problems. “If someone drank too much, they just stopped” (did that ever really work?).
If you are married, your spouse can help or hinder your recovery, but they can’t make or break it. They can make your recovery easier or harder … but no matter how helpful they are, you still have to do the work yourself. Conversely, no matter how difficult, dysfunctional, or stuck in anger your spouse is, you can still move toward health and recovery … if you really want to.
You can’t move forward in your recovery if you’re holding your spouse responsible for it. Some sexual strugglers think their problem would be solved if only their spouse was more sexually available or responsive. Others think their recovery is on hold because their spouse is angry about their sexual behavior and isn’t supportive enough of the efforts they’re making in recovery.
The list of ways that addicts turn the keys of their recovery over to their spouses is endless … and sad. It’s time to take the keys back, and keep the responsibility for recovery on our own shoulders.
In other posts on this website, we have made the point that the first step in the 12 Steps is to recognize our powerlessness over our addictive behavior … that we can’t control our sexual compulsion without outside help. But let’s be clear: that outside help Continue reading The role of your spouse in recovery from sexual addiction
THE BAD NEWS: Porn alters the brain in ways that inhibit arousal and detract from “in person” sex, creating an epidemic of erectile dysfunction
THE GOOD NEWS: When you stop porn use, your brain can (over time) heal itself
Check out this fascinating TEDx lecture by Gary Wilson. It’s well put together, and really needs no introduction.
Be forewarned: some people who read this site are easily triggered to sexual temptation, and very sensitive to the materials I put on here. So know that there is a brief picture of women in bikinis at one point in the lecture.
But I hope that won’t keep you from watching. It’s very thought-provoking, and I hope that every person who has access to the internet watches this video.
Let me know what you think in the comments. 🙂