by Jonathan Daugherty
Life is hard. Sin is real. Death is inevitable for us all. And for those in bondage to sexual strongholds, it is easy to feel alone, hopeless, and unworthy of anything good. It is often in such a state that the weary soul of an addict glances toward heaven and cries out the question so many in this world ask, "Is God really good?"
Because of the universal struggle that life is, it is common for us to try and define God through our cloudy lens of circumstance. When illness strikes, or resistance to the same temptation collapses for the 1000th time, we often make assumptions about God based on our brokenness and pain. But to do so is to miss two very important factors our heavy soul actually needs to deal with such pain: truth and hope.
Jesus said that God is good (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). Either Jesus was lying or he wasn't. If he was telling the truth, then God truly is good -- all the time. Our circumstance, no matter how painful or difficult, cannot affect God's goodness. But how does this truth help us in our pain and struggle with the very real challenges of life?
The truth of God's unwavering goodness brings hope to our daily struggle. Because God is good, he is trustworthy to do what is good, even if we can't always perceive it. And because he loves us (John 3:16), the good he does is for our benefit (Rom. 8:28), not our harm. This idea is best understood from the perspective of a loving parent.
My son recently came down with pneumonia. It really knocked him out. I love my son, and to see him in such physical agony ripped my heart out. In order to help him heal, we had to give him medicine that quite frankly made his whole face contort because it tasted so disgusting. He dreaded each application of the medicine, even asking to skip doses. As a loving father, would I stop his treatment because he didn't like the taste of the medicine? No! The medicine was the very thing helping him to heal.
God is our loving heavenly Father; a better dad than any human! He longs for our healing, and he knows the best "medicine" we each need. I'm not suggesting that every painful circumstance in life is God "giving us medicine," but I am suggesting that because God is good he has the best vantage point for knowing what we need at any moment of our lives, in any circumstance. And his goodness is worth celebrating, despite our hard circumstances.
Psalm 34:1 - I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
The practice of praising God "at all times" is the practice of a heart that knows God is good in spite of life's difficulties. And such a heart discovers another great truth about God: he is close to us in our suffering.
Psalm 34:18 - The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Life is hard. God is good.
Sin is real. God is near.
Death is inevitable. God is life.
May you find rest for your soul in the truth of God's goodness and love. While he may not remove you from your difficult circumstance, he will be with you through every moment of it -- like a good father caring for his sick child. Trust in the good hand of your loving Father...
by Jonathan Daugherty
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." -Chinese proverb
If you or someone you love are addicted to pornography or other unhealthy sexual activities, there is certainly sickness present. It may not be a physical sickness (although many porn addicts report they don't feel well most of the time). But there is always emotional and spiritual sickness in those who develop sexually addictive patterns. And if the one sick is to become well, healing must occur.
Before we dive into what it takes to heal from sexual addiction, we must understand the overall process and purpose of recovery. Recovery is a process of healing from compulsions and growing in our God-given identity, for the purpose of serving others with similar struggles. It is a lifelong process that invites a person to exchange their life of addiction (self-centered idolatry) for a life of purpose and meaning (selfless acts of service). With this in mind, let's dive into what it takes to heal from sexually addictive patterns.
Proper healing never happens without proper diagnosis. If you suffer from a head cold and a doctor inaccurately diagnoses you with bronchitis, whatever treatment is prescribed will have little effect on your actual illness. It is important to assess the problem carefully in order to develop a quality treatment plan.
When it comes to sexual addictions, it isn't as easy to diagnose as a head cold (or even bronchitis). There are many variables: family of origin issues, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual), trauma, sexual history, exposure to porn in childhood, religious beliefs, and more. This part of the recovery journey can benefit greatly from counseling by a qualified sexual addiction counselor.
Take your time in the diagnosis stage. Be careful not to get "stuck" in analysis, but also don't be too quick to rush to "solutions" before you have adequately unpacked all that has been bottled up deep inside. Secrecy is a big part of developing (and perpetuating) an addiction, so it is likely that it could take a while for everything that has been hidden to come into the light for examination. Be patient and keep bringing it all out. It will be painful, but it is pain with a good purpose: healing.
Once the diagnosis is made, there must be a plan for treating the sickness. How would you like to go to your doctor with the head cold I mentioned earlier, and after he diagnoses your cold he stands up, shakes your hand, and dismisses you from his office? No prescription. No advice. Not even a "hope you feel better" as you head for the door. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't keep that doctor.
The same should be true in recovery. Too often people keep going back again and again to "doctors" (i.e. helpers in recovery) who do nothing more than tell the patient, "Yep, you're addicted to porn and sex. Good luck." What? Healing from a sexual addiction does not occur through diagnosis only. There must be a plan for getting well.
The combination of counseling and support groups can be very helpful when developing a plan for your specific needs. These are environments that are designed to give you the time and space you need to absorb new thoughts and engage in healthy relationships that motivate you to live in a different way -- free from addiction.
But a "prescription" doesn't fill itself. You ultimately have to "take your medicine."
"Take your medicine"
I remember being sick as a kid -- a lot! It felt to me like I was going to the doctor every week with a sore throat and fever. Every time I started to feel bad, I knew what was coming: the spoon. Yeah, I think you know what I'm talking about. The spoon that carried this liquid that was a color no one can describe. And the taste. Well, I'd rather not talk about it anymore. I'm not feeling too well...
I'm not sure why most medicines can't taste good, but it seems to be that way when it comes to the ingredients that make us well. The same is true in recovery. I wish I could say it "tasted" good to confess, to make amends, to humble myself before God and others, to resist temptation, to reach out for help, to set up boundaries at home and work, and much more. But what the "prescription" for purity lacked in taste, it made up for in effectiveness. This is what it takes to heal.
When you discover that the prescription, or plan, for your recovery is actually for your good, you won't be as likely to resist it. In fact, you will reach out for the "spoon" and drink the weird-colored medicine because of its healing effect. Over time you will even begin to "feel" better, not wallowing about in the cloud of addiction, loneliness, and shame. This is what healing looks like, and its the first step of the long, and rewarding journey of recovery.
For help in healing from sexual addiction, consider the following resources:
Gateway to Freedom (3-day workshop for men)
by Jonathan Daugherty
We rarely, if ever, put the idea of blessing into the same realm with pain. They seem opposed to one another, like trying to mix oil and water. But having worked in addiction recovery for the past dozen years, I have discovered uncanny links between them. And if we pay attention to these links, we might find that our pain can have a purpose that is good and redemptive.
Everyone who knocks on the door of our ministry for help does not like the circumstances surrounding their addiction. There are broken relationships, unfulfilled promises, histories of trauma and abuse, and too many lies of self-deception to count. In other words, they are drowning in pain. And they all want one thing: relief!
Of course, we don't like seeing the devastation of what their addiction has caused. It grieves us to see broken families, sexually transmitted infections, and all else that can come from a life of sexual addiction. But if we really want to help these hurting people find true relief, we need to guide them into a bigger understanding of pain's purpose. Otherwise, they may spend the rest of their lives only trying to avoid pain, rather than acquiring the rich blessings that can come from facing their hurt head on.
There are three primary blessings that I believe can come from pain, if you will allow it. And that's the key: to listen to your pain, and thereby receive the blessing hidden within it.
1. Pain ALERTS us of danger.
I previously wrote a blog post that addresses this idea of pain being a warning system, but I want to highlight it again here in the context of blessing. Imagine if unhealthy choices, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual were allowed to occur without warning. What an incredible mess of destruction would follow!
And what if horrible atrocities were conducted against humanity and nature without any feelings of hurt, anguish, or grief? What a sad existence. What a loss of hope for anyone suffering abuse. We need pain to alert us that something is wrong; something needs correction. This is a blessing, because without such pain, we might not even know what kind of trouble we're in.
2. Pain ANNOUNCES our weaknesses.
Similar to alerting us of danger, pain also (and sometimes in very demanding ways) announces where we are weak. I recall a surgery I underwent a couple years ago in which two major incisions were required across my abdomen. For several weeks after the surgery it was excruciating to move; simple actions like getting in and out of chairs became endeavors that required every ounce of energy and attention. The pain was a constant reminder of my weakened condition.
You might be wondering how "announcing our weaknesses" is a blessing. Well, it is a blessing because we were not made to live independent of our Creator, or one another.
Genesis 2:18 - Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him."
Galatians 6:2 - Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Our weakness is opportunity for fellowship with God and one another. When we admit our weakness, it opens us up to the grace of God more fully. We recognize that we don't have to carry the burdens of this life alone. We can't carry them alone. We need help; our frailty in body and mind regularly confirm this.
3. Pain ARMS us for compassion and service.
When you travel the difficult road of heartache, or illness, or addiction, or persecution, or fill in the blank with whatever pain you have faced, you are being trained for compassion and service to others who are in similar pain. Your pain does not have to be seen as a "waste of time" or meaningless.
I started my journey out of secret sexual addiction in August 1999. At that time I couldn't see any good coming out of what my life was up to that point. I was selfish, angry, depressed. I hurt everyone who loved me -- I betrayed them all. I was living in pain, and I had inflicted untold pain on to others. How could anything good come out of something so bad?
Through recovery God started to show me how He could redeem what I had destroyed. He could remake my life, rebuild my relationships, restore my innocence, and even give me a purpose in all of it: to help others who were carrying the same burden.
Believe it or not, when people ask me if I could change anything about my past, I actually say, "No." Why? Because there is no way I could help sex addicts recover like I do today if I had not walked through "the valley of the shadow of death" of my own addiction. The blessing I receive when I look into the tear-stained eyes of a broken man as he embraces hope for the first time just because I shared my story with him is worth all the agonizing tears I shed on my own journey. I could not have the compassion I do for sexually addicted men if I had not lived that pain myself.
What have been your "valleys of death" on your life's journey? What pain have you endured? Are you heeding the alarms your pain might be sounding? Are you allowing God and others to share your burden, acknowledging where you are weak and need help? Will you allow your pain to be used for the good of others, as compassion grows for those with similar weaknesses and struggles?
There is blessing in the pain. May you have the courage to embrace it...
by Dorothy Maryon CMHC
In most cases, there is nothing that can prepare you for when you find out your spouse has a pornography and sexual addiction. To be on the receiving end of addiction leaves many women dealing with a deep sense of betrayal, uncertainty, and hurt. Addiction hits at the core of a woman’s relationship, often at the center of her soul, and damages the marriage. After learning of their husband’s addiction, many women have reported their relationship feels false and empty and many find themselves asking, “who can I trust?” and “who will be there for me now?”
As the betrayed spouse, women often don't know where to turn and often struggle with the deception alone. This type of trauma shatters the internal world of the spouse of an addict and affects all aspects of her life. The betrayal disrupts her ability to function with the day to day aspects of her life, alters her sense of self, and can have a huge impact on her spirituality.
What many fail to realize is the experience of pornography and sexual addiction falls into the category of trauma for the spouse. Responses to trauma can vary widely, and may include any of the following symptoms:
Partners are sometimes surprised that reactions to the trauma last longer than they expected. It may take months or even years to fully regain a sense of balance and equilibrium. You may feel you need to just “get over it” when in reality you need a strong support system to get through the hard and challenging times. Research has shown that one of the key components of successfully navigating through trauma is the level of support an individual has.
Most women feel isolated when confronted with their spouse’s addiction. The statement, “when an addict comes out of the closet his partner goes in,” rings true for many dealing with addiction and because of that, it is important for the spouse to find a safe place to talk about her feelings.
Self-care is another tool to use while navigating through the trauma. Self-care involves finding helpful, coping strategies that assist in nurturing oneself at a very difficult time of life. Some examples might include:
Just like anyone who has been through a traumatic event, it is important that you treat yourself with gentleness and patience. If possible, try not to make major life changes at this time, as thinking and judgment may not be as clear as usual. And again, seek support and information about sexual addiction as this is a very difficult experience to navigate by oneself.
About the Author: Dorothy Maryon CMHC, is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who specializes in partners' issues associated with sexual addiction in marriage. She has worked as a counselor in the LifeStar program for 15 years, focusing on addiction and relationship issues. She is in private practice and has presented at several conferences on addiction, codependency, creating safety for partners, and grief and trauma issues.
by Gerard Terry
I struggle to find my woundedness. Jonathan and other deep thinkers teach that many men struggling with porn are coping with a childhood woundedness. I can’t find mine. Sure, I grew up with disappointments and discipline, but I had a great childhood. From motorcycles to going hunting, life was great.
Today, however, I can identify daily wounds which come from a lifestyle of excess work and stress. Being in a fiercely competitive business, I frequently work twelve hour days and keep my guard up to always be a step ahead. In a real sense, my customer’s lives are greatly impacted by my expertise or my mistakes. After over twenty years doing this, I’m exhausted and wonder if I’m a burned out or a workaholic. Porn makes me feel good, if only for a moment.
Step One: Soul Searching to Find Our Wounds
We should all do a present-day soul search to find our recurring wounds of today. While I understand long-term historical wounds, unhealthy behavior like overeating, drugs, drinking to excess and pornography use can also be caused by recent or reoccurring daily wounding. Who in their right mind would hurt themselves and the ones they love only to feel better for a moment? Woundedness is another concept for being “injured” – having something broken on the inside. We are complex beings and it doesn’t take much to injure our emotional or mental state.
I recently heard a Pure Sex Radio podcast where Jonathan identified characteristics accompanying porn use to include stress and tiredness. I am right there. You may have others on the list which included boredom, hunger, anger and laziness. How about low self-esteem from a critical wife or boss? Consider the long-term effects of a mundane factory job or the loneliness of an over-the-road truck driver who can’t build relationships? These can all wound and injure men.
Step Two: Prepare Your Defense
Step two dictates dealing with the triggers in our lives in advance of negative compensating behaviors. We need to find tools to reduce stress like working less, exercising, participate in rewarding hobbies or leaving work when tired. I need to trust God that He can take over after I work a reasonable schedule. The lonely among us need to be intentional at making friends and hanging out with encouraging people. Consider joining a bowling league, billiard club or professional network to avoid isolation. Even having a dog (not a cat – cats won’t work) at home to greet you can provide some relief. Personally, I enjoy motorcycle riding and can feel the stress draining from me when traveling down a twisty road.
So, to answer the question, I would say “yes”, we are all wounded or injured – either from today or from years past. Counseling can be very helpful to identify causes of your woundedness and suggestions for changes to make. The bottom line is that life is difficult and we all want relief where we can find it. The secret is finding healthy ways to compensate for the difficulties we will encounter.
The following is a letter a wife wrote in response to her husband’s sexual addiction. It is rich with insights and hope for any woman facing similar betrayal and heartache. If you are a wife struggling through the discovery of your husband’s secret sexual sin, please contact us for help.
His addiction has left me empty, cold, and bitter. Totally exhausted. I study myself and question myself constantly. I am not pretty enough, I am not thin enough, I am not sexy enough. Fun? What is fun? I used to have fun going to the mall or going out to dinner or the movies. I used to want to get out and do things, but now when I am in public with my husband it is a sort of dread and anguish for me. Questions and thoughts run through my head. I scan the room to see which of these women is my husband lusting after? Who is my competition?
Women used to be my friends, now they are my competitors. I used to feel pretty, I used to feel sexy. Now I just feel that I am the consolation prize. I don’t even know if it is possible to feel pretty and sexy again. Mental exhaustion is a way of life. Trying to remember to take the laptop with me when I leave, hiding the Kindle Fire, checking the cell phone. When I get home, and he has been home alone, I look for clues. Asking questions 5 different ways to make sure he is not lying to me. Paying close attention to details, checking the bank account for miscellaneous charges. Wondering when is he going to go so far that I will have to make a decision to leave.
I am thankful that my husband went to Gateway to Freedom and I believe that if he works the program and if I allow God to heal me of deep hurt then I do believe there is hope for us. I want to trust my husband again, I want to forgive him and I will, but I don’t want to be a fool. I am willing to walk this walk with him but, he will be required to to work this program harder than he has worked anything in his life.
He will have to be honest, no secrets. He will have to answer the questions that I have and understand that it is going to take time for me to trust him and believe what he says. I want him to work this program just as intently as he sought his porn. He coddled it, he protected it, he fed it, he hunted after it. He defended it. I, on the other hand, also understand that I need help. I need to be restored by the Restorer.
I am committing to pray for my husband daily, to ask God for wisdom for my husband, for strength. I will ask God to restore our marriage and my husband as a Godly man, for direction for our family. I will work daily not to condemn my husband, but to ask God to show me how to help keep him accountable. I also commit to spending more time in God’s Word, allowing Him to love me, define me and heal me. I will get involved with other women who have dealt with the same pain I am dealing with now and commit to help other women when God restores me.
by Jonathan Daugherty
Recovery from sexual addiction is difficult. (How's that for an understatement?) It's a messy process that requires fundamental changes to a person's life that previously had been left unchecked and unaccountable. Now there must be openness and honesty and community and self-examination and my goodness I'm getting exhausted just writing about it! But what I often see work it's way to the top of the list of frustration in recovering sex addicts is that how to recover becomes more important than what needs recovering. Let me illustrate.
A guy comes into my office (let's call him Guy). He has developed a deep sexual addiction over the past 20+ years. He was recently caught in an affair and began going to counseling and plugging into a weekly support group. It has been six weeks since he was caught, and now he sits in front of me to tell me his story and see what I have to say to him. This might be how a portion of that conversation would go.
"So, Jonathan, my wife wants to separate, my employer is weighing legal options since the affair was with a co-worker, and I'm hoping none of this leaks out to anyone in our church; my reputation would be shattered. How can fix all this?"
"What do you think needs fixing?" I ask.
"Are you serious? Have you been listening? My wife wants to leave, my job is on the line, and if this affair and the history behind it get leaked to my church, we could lose all our friends. What do you mean 'what' needs fixing?"
"Well, you have been married for 15 years, right?"
"You have been at this company for 10 years, even getting high praise and promotions along the way?"
"You are a prominent member and supporter in your church and have a reputation as a selfless person."
"So, I'll ask again, what needs fixing? It appears like you have it all together."
"Maybe for now, but it's on the verge of collapsing."
"And if you can keep your job, stay married, and be the 'good guy' at church, everything will be fine? There wouldn't be any need for significant, fundamental changes in your life as a man? Are you serious?"
"I guess I see your point, but how do I change?"
"Guy, you need to first focus on what needs to change before you can even consider how to change it. Let's start peeling that onion back and see just how deep the pain, secrecy and selfishness that led to secret sin goes. Then we can talk strategies for change. Are you willing to start this journey of discovery?"
"I hope so."
This is just one small example in thousands where well-meaning people who desire change get the cart before the horse. You cannot effectively map out strategies for recovery ("how") until you have thoroughly identified the brokenness ("what"). But even after you uncover what needs healing in your life, you must continue to remain focused on what God wants you to do about it rather than how to do it. In fact, God emphasizes what over how a lot!
Here are just a few examples of "what emphasis" in the Bible:
You shall not commit adultery. (Ex 20:14)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Eph 5:3)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)
And there are many others; pray for each other (James 5:16), carry each other's burdens (Gal 6:2), walk in the light (1 John 1:5), this is love for God: to keep his commands (1 John 5:3), My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12). These are the "what's" of recovery and faith. But God is generally pretty silent on the how's. Why is that?
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to drift from emotionally and spiritually connecting with someone when the relationship becomes more about "how" than "what?" It's like the "system" of relationship supercedes the importance of authentic presence, interaction and, well, relating. Life becomes an endless list of boxes to check off, ensuring to everyone watching that how you live is the model of perfection (and you usually don't mind the accolades that follow). In essence, you become a lifeless, empty image-builder; shining and spectacular on the outside, but void of any real substance or beauty on the inside.
As Jesus bluntly put it, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt 23:27-28)
Please don't misunderstand me to say that how we live is unimportant or that God doesn't value how's (just read Leviticus sometime!). But the greater value must be placed on what needs healing and what we are called by God to be. You can never engage a healthy "how" until you have plunged to the deepest depths of humility and honesty before yourself and God. Then, out of the brokenness of the real you, a new life emerges, ready and able to follow wherever (and however) the Lord leads.
So, what needs healing in your life & what is God telling you to do about it?