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)