Hope After Relapse

Relapse is a terrible thing. It forces you into isolation and secrecy. Even if the relapse only includes forays into Internet pornography, it damages self-esteem, your relationship with your spouse and most importantly, your relationship with God. Relapse of any kind is just not worth it.

I relapsed into Internet pornography a few months ago. I convinced myself that I could keep this activity a secret. I convinced myself that I was still sober since I had not acted out with anyone else or even myself, but I had filled my mind with lustful images. Once again, I had become emotionally and spiritually unavailable to those who needed me. It was not a good thing. When my wife found out about it, the damage was devastating. We are still in the process of rebuilding trust.

Thinking about going back to porn? I don’t recommend it. Count the costs before you do. Reach out to someone who can offer you support. Don’t have anyone? I’d be willing to talk to you. Feel free to call me.

Survey Says ‘50% of Pastors Use Porn’

hands-on-keyboardAccording to a survey conducted by Pure Desire Ministries (quoted in an ad in Outreach magazine), 68% of Christian men and 50% of pastors view porn regularly. Other research from Covenant Eyes returns similar stats. But let’s face it, statistics don’t change lives. If you are a pastor who uses porn, please know that there is hope for you to overcome this struggle. But it won’t come through greater knowledge, more self-discipline, or stronger will power. Victory is possible only through complete and moment-by-moment surrender to God and genuine accountability to someone who can be trusted to consistently ask the hard questions. This kind of accountability is hard to come by but it’s vital for sustained freedom.

The IED’s of the Soul

Have you ever thought about the effects of pornography on your soul? I was working on a gratitude list this afternoon and realized that now I seldom have sudden outbursts of anger, usually directed against unsuspecting loved ones. Back when I was using porn regularly, these were common occurrences. The anger always seemed to be seething just below the surface and when something or someone set me off, watch out! It was like stumbling on an IED (improvised explosive device). Someone nearby was going to get hurt.

Goodbye Jiminy Cricket!

Have you ever been caught? Most of us have. Maybe you’ve been caught doing something you are ashamed of like looking at porn or masturbating—or sexual behaviors with even greater consequences like having an affair or an anonymous encounter. Getting caught in such activities brings serious consequences: a broken marriage, loss of a ministry position, or even arrest. Even our most “minor indiscretions” can damage relationships and cause an almost irreparable loss of trust.

For a long time, I thought exposure was the worst thing that could happen to me and that the key to avoiding consequences was to not get caught. This way of thinking drove me deeper into hiding and forced me to great lengths rationalizing behaviors and justifying deception.

Own Your Own Recovery

I’m disappointed again. Someone I invited to a 12-step meeting didn’t show up. I know he needs to come. He knows he needs to come, or at least he says he does. I think he isn’t hurting enough to make attending meetings a priority. He came to one or two meetings at my invitation but has yet to come solely on his own initiative. He doesn’t yet own his own recovery.

As a pastor, I see the same thing happen with seemingly non-addicted people. They come to church…occasionally. And they claim they enjoy it when they do, but they don’t come every week or even very regularly. Some are CEO attenders–Christmas and Easter Only. Some just come once in a while–when the guilt piles up, when someone nags them enough, when they are facing a crisis with a spiritual dimension.

My friend in need of the 12-steps is like that too. I suspect he will come again someday–when the guilt piles up, when a loved one nags him enough, or when he’s facing a crisis in his sobriety (like a slip or a relapse).

I know I was like that once in my recovery. I sought just enough help to get someone off my back or to ease the guilt I felt over an undisclosed relapse. I didn’t make meetings a priority; I didn’t make program calls; I didn’t value the 12-steps. I only sought temporary relief. The phrase “half measures” certainly applied to my recovery, and just like the Big Book says, they availed me nothing.

I remember our counselor telling me I had to make recovery a lifestyle. He said I had to own my own recovery. Recovery would never work for me if I did just enough to get my wife, my boss, or my accountability partner (or even my counselor) off my back. He told me (actually twice) that I needed to do a 90/90 (90 meetings in 90 days). I didn’t see the point of that at first, but after all, we’d paid him big bucks to straighten me out. I really should take his advice. At first, I felt a little like Naaman taking a seven-fold dip in the Jordan, but then I started noticing that going to meetings was no longer the burden it was at first. Being sober, when I truly worked the program, was actually quite enjoyable. Between the 30th and 45th day of sobriety, I started noticing changes. People around me noticed even more changes than I recognized in myself. That was really encouraging. But I would have never experienced those blessings had I not owned my own recovery. Somehow, by God’s grace I began to surrender my self-will and all the half measures that availed me nothing. As the 12-steppers say, “It works when you work it!”

 

Defining Sobriety

The “S” fellowship I most frequently attend in person (as often as I can) and in phone meetings (2-3 times weekly) is Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). Of the 12-step groups, SA is perhaps the only one that specifies an objective definition of sobriety (Read “What is a Sexaholic and What is Sexual Sobriety?). Because I have embraced a sobriety definition very similar to SA, I often describe myself as a “recovering sexaholic.”

The counselor that my wife and I went to for our 3-day “intensive” and follow-up sessions instructed me to come up with my own sobriety definition more detailed (and restrictive, if you please) than SA. He used the analogy of a traffic signal to list red, yellow, and green light behaviors. Engaging in a red light behavior equals the loss of sobriety. Yellow light behaviors are dangerous to my sobriety and should be avoided as much as possible. Green light behaviors are healthy actions that contribute to recovery and protect my sobriety and important relationships.

The following are summary statements of my red/yellow/green lights:

RED: Breaking sobriety as defined by SA (sex with self or someone other than my spouse) and/or giving into lust in the avenues of media and personal interaction, seeking persons, places, and images that feed lustful desires or would lead to sexual acting out.

YELLOW: Any action or lack of action that endangers sobriety or feeds my addictions, sexual or otherwise, such as allowing isolation, self-absorption, resentment, and negative thinking to go unchecked.

GREEN: Actions, attitudes, and behaviors that build up important relationships and produce intimacy with God and others, reinforcing God’s purposes and plan for my life.

Each of these three areas began as lists of specific activities that I have distilled down to these summary statements. However, I still review the detailed lists of behaviors from time to time to remind myself of what sobriety really looks like in my life.