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
Since 2003, Be Broken Ministries has existed for a singular purpose: "Helping individuals and families move from sexual brokenness to wholeness in Christ." It is a simple mission with profound impact.
Our desire is to see every person desiring freedom from sexually addictive patterns to realize that desire through recovery. And we are delighted to say that we have seen many hundreds gain the freedom they desired.
Over the years, however, there have been many distractions to us maintaining focus on our mission. Trendy recovery methods might come along, enticing us to elevate form over function. Comparing ourselves to other similar ministries has, at times, caused us to think we were doing ministry "wrong" (or "right"). Opposition from those who disagree with our stance that porn and adultery are wrong can hurt and upset us. And there has also been just weariness, fears, and the struggle to persevere.
But time and again we return to the core values that God placed in this ministry from the very beginning: Grace, Honesty, Purity, and Community. These are the foundation from which we build every resource, every podcast, every workshop, every website, everything.
We believe for anyone who wants to effectively minister to someone sexually addicted, these are the core values that must exist. Therefore, let me share what these core values mean; to us, and to the process of recovery.
"No one is too broken to love."
When a sexual addict reaches out for help, the most important response they need is one of grace; the undeserved kindness of a friend. We believe this grace originates from God, who loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sin (including addiction) that we couldn't. God didn't wait for us to get "sober" or cleaned up or "on the right path." Instead, "...while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8b) That's grace!
Many addicts, however, are not greeted with grace when they finally decide to seek help. They are often met with condemnation, rejection, or rigid rules. This causes the addict to falsely believe that their worth is based on their performance, so if they just learn how to "behave" they will find the love and acceptance they long for. But that's not how grace works.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, you must lead with grace; extending compassion, kindness, and warmth even while they are still drenched in the muck of their addiction. It is a soft touch, not an iron fist, that draws the addict out of the dark and into the light of recovery.
"Everyone's full story is worth hearing."
Sex addicts (or any addicts) are excellent liars. They often have a history of not only telling lies, but also being told lies. In fact, every sex addict I have ever met learned to tell lies by being told lies, whether from a parent, older sibling, or the media they consumed in childhood. And lies beget lying.
The predominant teacher of lies for sex addicts is usually pornography. It teaches a young person a host of lies; about sex, about love, about relationships, about life. Once a kid has bought porn's lies, it becomes easy to travel down the road of deception -- of others and self. Eventually, this person wakes up in their late 20's or early 30's and realizes "I'm living a lie!"
Therefore, to help a sexual addict break free from a life of lies, you must introduce them to truth. Truth comes from God, for Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6a) For an addict to overcome their self-deception, they must encounter Jesus. This requires getting into His Word, the Bible, and reaching out to Him in prayer. As one draws closer to Jesus, the line between lies and truth becomes clearer.
But freedom for a sex addict doesn't just happen because they come to see the difference between the truth and a lie. Real freedom only begins when they honestly share their full story and commit to a life of brutal honesty. There is no true freedom if an addict never shares their whole story. All of it must come into the Light in order for them to experience total release and hope.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, create a safe place for them to share their story; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Encourage brutal honesty in a "shame-free-zone," reminding them that their worth is not based on their behavior, but on the God who loved them enough to send Jesus to the cross even before they ever acted out.
"A journey of better reflecting Christ."
No one is perfect, except Jesus. The Bible says, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecc. 7:20) It also says of Jesus, "For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21) Jesus was perfect in every way, without sin. In other words, He was pure. We, however, apart from Him, are not.
Certainly someone wanting to break free from sexually addictive patterns must take steps toward purity. After all, pure is the opposite of impure. However, these steps are not toward a purity that we can conjure up within ourselves. Remember, there isn't a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. Therefore, purity must come from the only One who is pure: Jesus.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:13-16)
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, lead them to a deeper dependence on Jesus for their purity. A life of sexual integrity is one that reflects the image of Jesus.
"Enjoying the fruit of healthy relationships."
The ultimate vision we have for sex addicts in recovery is "True Lovers in Joyful Community." We believe God made us to be great lovers, not great lusters.* And the environment for developing as a great lover is in community. We desire addicts to one day adopt the very heart of God, a heart which loves.
It is hard for anyone to get close to an addict. They hide and lie and naturally push people away with their self-absorbed lifestyle. Everything about them points inward, to their brokenness, their pride, their lust. In essence, their lives are always and only about themselves. Not only do they not engage in real community, they can't because their eyes never look away from their own image.
When a sex addict finally has the "rock bottom" experience that jolts them awake to the reality of their self-centered life, they must (re)learn to connect with others in healthy ways. This involves telling the truth, listening, exercising empathy, serving with proper motives, and accountability. This is no small task for someone whose life has only been focused inward, but it is still the path to total freedom and joy.
If you want to effectively minister to a sexual addict, welcome them into a loving community where the truth is told in love and faithful friendships can blossom. The eventual place an addict needs to arrive for their freedom to be realized is a place where giving and serving others is of higher importance than receiving anything in return.
The greatest joy in recovery is investing these core values into a weary addict just looking for help...
*(thanks to Stephen Cervantes for coining this phrase)
by Jonathan Daugherty
What is the goal of recovery from a sexual addiction? Most would say purity, and they would be right. But too many assume that reaching this goal is something that happens at a point in time. This, however, is where they would be wrong. Purity is a process; one that takes a lifetime of refinement.
A favorite Bible passage of mine is found in a tiny little book in the New Testament: Titus. This was a letter written by the apostle Paul to one of his converts, Titus, giving him instructions on various subjects related to life in Christ. In the middle of this short letter, Paul highlights grace as the means by which we are transformed. It is in this section that we also discover a process-orientation regarding this transformation.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14; emphases mine)
Jesus' sacrifice was for our redemption and our purification. He bought us back from the shackles of slavery to sin in order that we might be purified for God's possession. What Jesus did over 2000 years ago is still affecting our lives today. We are part of this centuries-long purification process. God wants to adorn His kingdom with purified vessels.
I took some time recently to look up the process by which gold is refined. I quickly discovered that I'm not the person one would call if they wanted to have gold refined! It is a precise and dangerous process that should only be conducted by experts in gold refining. But I at least understood the concept. Gold, if it is to be pure, must undergo an extensive process of removing all imperfections. This requires heat, and lots of it.
When gold is originally mined it is not pure. There are all sorts of imperfections attached to it; dirt, other metals, rock, etc. While much of this can simply be chipped away from the gold, the junk that is woven into the gold itself cannot be removed without melting the gold. This requires high temperatures (roughly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit!) in order to separate the pure gold from the imperfections. This takes time, patience, and precision.
Recovery from sexual addiction takes time. There is lots of junk (i.e. imperfections) that get woven into our lives. But God, the Great Refiner, digs through all the garbage and mines out our lives from the dark caverns where we dwell. At that moment, we are a mess. It's hard to even imagine that there is anything of worth in such a mess. Yet God sees what we cannot, because He sees us through eyes of love. It is by His grace that we are saved.
Then begins the process of refinement, which takes patience. The same grace that rescued us from our dark cave of addiction is the same grace that will transform us into vessels of pure gold in God's kingdom. But for some reason we think this should happen quickly, even immediately -- and on our terms. But God is the Refiner, not us. He is the expert, the one with the skill and wisdom to know precisely what is required to turn us from a dirty lump of imperfect metal into a sparkling object of pure gold.
So, back to the passage in Titus 2. Do you see the words that I highlighted? Training, waiting, to purify? Did you notice that these are not terms of completion, but rather terms of process? We are being trained by grace to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. We are waiting, and continue to wait, for the second coming of Jesus. God, in Christ, is refining us ("to purify") to be a people eager for good works. We are in process for a lifetime. And God is the One doing the refining.
I think it is time to embrace a process-orientation when it comes to recovery and a life of purity. This reframes everything. The next time the "heat" gets turned up in your life, and you feel like your soul is melting, don't panic; you are being refined. When you stumble and fall on the journey, but are reminded of the unfailing love of Jesus, you are being refined. When you are afraid to tell your story because of what others might think of you, you are being refined. Whatever happens along this road of recovery, you are in the process of refinement; the imperfections are being melted away by the grace of the Master Refiner.
Will you let God do the work of refining you? The process may be painful (and hot!), but the results will be spectacular. I don't know about you, but I want to become a prized possession of pure gold in the presence of my King. That, my friends, is worth the heat...
by Jonathan Daugherty
There is an assumption in this question that I don’t believe is far fetched: there is chaos in recovery. If you ponder this assumption for a while you begin to see its validity. Let’s take a look at a sex addict, for example, who is trying to overcome his addiction.
The paradigm of sexual addiction is self-centeredness, seeking to please oneself without regard for consequence to himself or others. Oftentimes, along with this selfish pursuit of pleasure is a high degree of secrecy, shame and deception. This pattern of isolation and disconnection from healthy connections to pursue sexual acting out leads to tremendous strain on all the addict’s relationships, at home, work, and socially. Eventually, the addict finds himself living a double life.
With that picture of the addiction lifestyle firmly in place, now imagine that same addict coming to a place of emotional and spiritual brokenness over his addiction. He finally reaches a point at which he recognizes his inability to overcome his addiction alone and reaches out for help. Contrary to what he initially imagines as a smooth process of ever-upward growth in purity and healthy relationships, he soon discovers that the recovery process is filled with pain, fear, anxiety and guilt. It’s no cake walk to come out of sexual addiction. This is the chaos of recovery.
When a recovering addict discovers this chaos, he can make one of two choices. He can either bail out and return to the medicating behaviors of his addiction or he can press forward and practice new habits of purity and health. Even for those who press forward, the chaos doesn’t immediately disappear. Relationships are still strained or shattered, temptations are still present, and a history of shame lies still swirl around in his head. So, does this chaos ever stop?
Unfortunately, chaos is part of life. But the intensity of it can change and lessen dramatically over time. As one learns to engage the 4 Pillars of Purity all the pieces of chaos can be sorted out and a new hope is realized for writing a new chapter, one marked by peace, purity and true intimacy. And even as the unpredictability of life is ever present, the healed addict is no longer a prisoner to it. The chaos of recovery is overcome by the peace of God; which surpasses all understanding.
If you’re in the chaos of recovery right now, press forward. Get help from a qualified counselor and plug into a good support group. Don’t hide any longer behind an image of perfection. Instead, be real, confessing your struggles and weaknesses, and rest on the assurance that God’s grace is sufficient to guide you through the difficult valleys of chaos. Then one day you will stand firm, unswayed by temptation or trials.
by Jonathan Daugherty
"Little Whiskers" died last week. He was only 15 months old and the news hit our family hard. My youngest, Megan, took the news especially hard, just crying and crying over the loss. The truth is we all cried and grieved. It was a sad week in the life of our family. I dare say that there may never have been such love ever bestowed in all of history on one so cherished as Little Whiskers, our hamster.
I realize that many of you reading this might have chuckled at the conclusion of the previous paragraph. I too was slightly amused (and amazed) at the depth of emotion my children poured out over the loss of this little tiny creature (hamsters only live about 1-3 years, so grief comes often to those who own them). And I would be lying if I said I wasn't also sad when Little Whiskers bit the dust, but I saw something truly remarkable as I observed my children's grief. I saw the heart of God.
God created Little Whiskers, and Jack (our dog), and the squirrels that dance in the trees outside our house, and all the other creatures that crawl and buzz and swim on this planet. God takes great delight in His creative nature, a sort of divine pleasure in His ability to bring something out of nothing. And even though this natural world of plants and animals also suffers because of sin, the imprint of it's Maker is still found throughout it all. Little Whiskers died, and with his death we were given another small reminder of how broad the consequences of sin are that have fallen on all creation.
As my kids grieved Whiskers, even burying him in the front yard and creating a tombstone memorial to the little 6-ounce creature, I saw in their grief God's compassion for even the smallest of His creation. I saw the tenderness and care that the Maker has for all He has made and that not even a sparrow falls from the sky (or a hamster from his wheel) without His knowledge. My kid's reminded me that God cares about life - in all its forms, great or small.
As I witnessed my children channeling this divine care for such a tiny animal, my mind shifted to thinking about how much greater His care and concern is for people, the crown jewel of His creation. God tells us that His care for us is infinitely greater than all else in creation, so much so that He breathed life into us, giving us in some manner the "essence" of Himself. While His fingerprints are on everything else, His very breath is in us! What immeasurable value this brings to all humanity. Life is precious...
How easy it is for me to forget how fragile and precious life is, even as I spend my years in full-time "ministry." People carry problems, sin, opinions, and all other sorts of "issues" that can make it more difficult to see the value and worth of the person tucked behind all that exterior mess. They whine and complain about the smallest, most insignificant things and become irritable and angry when life doesn't go their way. (Notice my strategic use of "they" and "their," as if I am not part of this circle of humanity. Rest assured, I am...) And it is this sin-stained humanity that sometimes makes it difficult to see the "breath of God" flowing through every person on the planet. Life is precious, no matter how much pain and filth is piled upon it.
One of the most obvious arenas in which I see the beauty and value of life diminished is in the world of pornography and sexual sin. Porn reduces a person to an object, devoid of God's divine breath, nothing more than a product to be consumed. As I think about the people who are used and abused in the porn business, my heart is broken, my eyes fill with tears, and I grieve their death of innocence and purity. They are people in whom God's breath resides, a precious image bearer of the Creator of everything, yet this infinite worth is being veiled and crushed by sin.
For those who consume porn or engage in other sexual sin, they too are experiencing the suffocation of life within, confused as to why the thrill and pleasure of sex isn't fulfilling their deepest desires. A death more potent than the physical is what takes place in the one devouring the lies of lust. Anyone who has feasted on sexual sin knows what I am talking about. It feels as if a noose has been securely placed around your neck and with each image or encounter the noose tightens. Eventually, your inner person is dangling lifeless, unable to access the "air" needed to survive.
The good news, however, is that you don't have to go the rest of your life suffocating. God can breathe new life into any person "dangling" in their sin, whether you put the noose around your neck or someone else did. He made you, He knows you and He can revive you. All you have to do is ask in faith. Believe that the One who declared you valuable enough to die for is able to free you from the noose of your secrets and sin. God weeps for you, grieving the death you are experiencing. "Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you."
Life is precious. God made it so by breathing it into you. Let us not waste this precious gift by inhaling the lies and pollution of sin. We were meant to live on the breath of our Creator. Anything less is smog. Breathe the fresh air of purity, peace, and purpose today. And as you breathe, share the air. Every person is worth it. The heart of God might just be found in the very air your breathe...
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
by Jonathan Daugherty
The devil isn't creative, just persistent...
I have come into contact with thousands of sex addicts over recent years. I myself was bound up in sexual addiction for 13 years. In all my interactions with the issue of sexual lust, I have come to realize one fundamental characteristic that is common to its nature: lies. There is never one moment in which lust tells you the truth. And it is this key insight that can actually help you break free from the chains of lust...for good.
In this brief article I want to share with you some of the primary lies that your lust will tell you. These probably won't shock you (especially if you've been believing them), but my hope is that by exposing them you will become more aware of the moments in which you are drifting toward their appeals and take the corrective action to flee to the shelter of truth.
Lie #1: Lust will bring contentment
The bedrock of the lies of lust rests on the idea that God, and whatever he can offer, just isn't enough. This is the lie that ultimately led to the original sin. When Satan tempted Eve in the garden, he planted the seed of doubt in her mind that God was actually good and all that she needed to be content. He enticed her mind to begin entertaining thoughts that God was withholding something from her that she needed. This seed of doubt traveled from her mind to her will, eventually appealing its case to her senses when she "saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye." This captures the moment when lust was born in the heart of mankind.
This lust has burned in our sin nature from the very beginning of the fall. And the enemy has used this greatly to his advantage when it comes to sexual lust. Our sexual lust is aroused whenever it reaches the line dividing what God has said is right and pure for our minds and bodies and what sin demands in opposition. We hear the whispers of the father of lies telling us that God is restrictive in his requirements regarding our sexuality, and that the fruit of our lust will complete us and make us whole, fulfilling our truest, deepest desires. When we begin to spin these lies in our mind, it isn't a far journey to looking and seeing that such forbidden fruit is "pleasing to the eye."
Lust, however, only produces more discontent. Lust is perpetually dissatisfied. That is the nature of lust, constantly demanding more, promising that what is just outside your reach is what will ultimately satisfy. But each time you believe the lie, you are left craving more because you came up terribly empty. Lust never satisfies...never.
Lie #2: Lust will not hurt anyone
Harmless fun. This is what we are led to believe when we begin to listen to the lies of lust. Even as our discontent grows and the evidence mounts up that lust can't give us what we need, we dive in deeper because we are certain that we aren't hurting anyone. After all, what you do in the dark when no one is looking can't possibly affect others, right? Wrong.
Pornography is the most common avenue by which this "lust-won't-hurt-anyone" thinking derives. Millions of men (and women) each week gaze lustfully at the nude images portrayed through porn and quietly tell themselves, "I'm not hurting anyone. These are just pictures. It's not like I'm actually having an affair or fornicating."
Have you ever stopped for just a brief moment and given a thought about the women (or men) in the porn? That is somebody's daughter or son. That is a REAL person being abused through the exploitation of the body God fashioned around their soul. They are made in the image of God and they are being hurt. Lust lies when it deceives you into thinking that it doesn't hurt anyone.
Lie #3: Lust will enhance your sexual relationship
Welcome to 21st century broadcast television and the dysfunctional world of Hollywood! The sexual message espoused by the media and our culture is this: monogamous sex in marriage isn't enough. And our flesh craves this lie of lust.
Countless couples, whether married or not, believe that bringing porn or some other sexually stimulating material into their bedroom will enhance their relationship. But the fundamentals of lust's deception don't change. Adding to God's design will never cause improvement. The design God established for sex (one man with one woman in marriage) was designed perfectly. It cannot be enhanced, improved upon, or added to. Whenever we try to improve what God has already declared good, we most certainly have entered into the realm of deception and sin.
The sadness of this lie of lust is that it causes individuals to believe that sex is merely a physical act, devoid of true intimacy and attachment. But sex is more than a physical act. It is emotional, spiritual, and even a bit mysterious. God made it this way because sex was to be a picture of the depth of intimacy we could share in our relationship with him. It is deeply personal, uniquely vulnerable, and permanently bonding. To believe that sex is just bodies connecting is to miss the whole point. And that's exactly what lust desires.
God, however, desires that we live free from the suffocating chains of our lust. He also provides the means by which we can live such a life of freedom. Jesus promised that after his resurrection and ascension into heaven that he would send a helper, his Holy Spirit, and that he would lead us into all truth. As a believer in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit in us and therefore we have the power to live free from the lies of lust. We are even promised in Galatians 5:16 that as we "live by the Spirit... you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." As we grow in our dependence on God's Holy Spirit to life his life through us, we are promised that lust will not dominate us.
With such a great promise given to us, we would do well to focus our attention on what it means to "live by the Spirit." And thankfully, God doesn't make that complicated for us. To live by the Spirit is to know Truth (i.e. Jesus) and follow him (John 8). Knowing truth comes by knowing the Word of God, the Bible, and interacting with him through prayer. Moment by moment we live connected to our Creator, through faith in Jesus, so that his life may live through us. This is living by the Spirit. And it is pure peace, comfort and joy!