Last week I started giving you a list of things I hate about my porn/sex addiction. I mentioned then that a lot of these items fall under the category "wreckage"— i.e. devastation my addiction has caused in my life and the life of others. This week I continue the list; but as I mentioned last week, this is not a definitive list.
Every sex addict I know carries trauma from childhood and/or other wounds that have made us vulnerable to sexual addiction. Trauma seems to beget trauma. The traumas of my childhood seem pretty small compared to the trauma that I have inflicted on Lisa.
I have frequently heard from people who subscribe to the "just get over it" school of management. But, in my experience, trauma just festers until it is dealt with. Fortunately, Jesus loves to come into our trauma and show us where he was and what the truth is.
My family didn't do big "negative" emotions like anger. I am coming to learn that anger is not actually a bad thing. It alerts us to things that are wrong. I needed to experience Lisa's anger to understand her pain. And, I need to find appropriate ways to express my anger at the traps I have walked into, and not just suppress it. I am slowly learning not to hate anger.
Guilt is the feeling that you have done something wrong. Shame is the feeling that YOU are wrong. Every addict I know suffers from shame. It is tempting to beat ourselves up in some effort to punish ourselves for the wrongs we have committed. But, it doesn't help us or the victims of our sin. Shame is selfish and turns us inward. What we need instead is to turn outward and grieve the harm we have caused (and suffered). And, after a time, we need to leave it behind and move forwards towards connection and, hopefully, joy. For an excellent book on this subject, I recommend The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson.
Depression is very common in recovering sex addicts. Sex addiction hijacks our ability to produce dopamine in healthy and natural ways. Without dopamine, we become completely unmotivated. Often it requires a period of complete abstinence to reset our dopamine production. I have seen men struggling to make it past a particular milestone as their dopamine bottoms out on them.
This ties in closely to the section on lies. When we have broken covenant and betrayed our wife in a fundamental way, trust is shattered and may never fully recover. The consequences usually include new boundaries that are difficult (see the book Worthy of Her Trust for advice for proactively offering boundaries to your wife). As awkward as the boundaries may be, the burden of vigilance and anxiety placed on the wife is far greater.
So many Christian men struggling with sex addiction hope for a miraculous healing. But, the reality is that we usually have to walk out the consequences of our choices. Pornography can have a serious impact on our brains, including shrinking our frontal lobe. SPECT scans of the brain show restricted blood flow in parts of the brains of addicts, including porn addicts. There is a reality to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:18 where he tells us that sexual sin is a sin against our own body.
When we choose sexual behaviors such as porn use and lusting, we develop deep pathways in our brains. It takes hard work to deliberately build new pathways in our brains. The following video by Paula Hall explains the process well.
To learn more about the effects of pornography on the brain, see this article by Dr Donald Hilton.
When a person wakes up to the realization that they have a sexual addiction, they also have to wake up to the fact that their emotional and spiritual growth has been severely stunted. Parts of us are often trapped in childhood or even infancy. We are often good at covering up our lack of maturity for a time, but we are like the seeds planted in shallow ground in Matthew 13:6. Our roots have no depth.
We have to grieve the lost time and accept that we have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to resume the maturing process.
To learn more about what a healthy maturing process looks like for men, I recommend James Wilder's book The Complete Guide to Living with Men.
The One Thing I Love About my Addiction
God never wastes anything. The one thing that I love about my addiction is that it has brought me to the end of my rope, and that is where God meets us in a way that is deeply transformative. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" Matthew 5:3. God builds our faith as he walks us out of the darkest chapters of our lives, never faltering, even as we stumble along beside him. We are truly blessed!
Next week we start our newest Ask the Experts Series!