May this blog be a blessing to you as you seek to understand the why's behind addiction and where to go from here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Oh, the Shame!

Cusick's cycle of porn addiction
All too often, the cycle of porn addiction moves from preoccupation, to preparation, to acting out, to shame, and back round again. Michael John Cusick has written a really good book on this matter, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle. In it, he posits that the shame part of the cycle is the most opportune time to escape (his book contains many other devices and it's chock-full of information about why we look at porn, what it's doing to us, how to heal, etc. Great story teller, great book!). Covenant Eyes has an article, "Destroying Porn Addiction Starts with Destroying Shame", that looks at shame from another angle, in understanding how shame keeps the cycle going because we remain in isolation, hiding our sin in darkness so that it cannot be resolved.

Where Does Shame Start?
In the garden, Adam and Eve's disobedience to God's one law (do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge) "opened their eyes" and gave them a sense of conscience for what was previously considered completely natural - their nakedness. They made the lame attempt to cover themselves with leaves, but it was not until God spilled blood (a foreshadowing of Christ's atoning death) and covered them in the skins of animals that they were sufficiently covered. So, for the sake of this study, I'd like to call the sense of conscience "guiltiness", and the lame attempt to cover it up "shame". There is nothing wrong with the sense of knowing that you have sinned, a sorrow that leads to repentance but not to shame.

Many of us start with the shame cycle by realizing our guilt for having fallen short of God's perfect plan, having missed the mark (sin). Rather than turning our guilt over to God for the power of repentance (more below on this), we pity ourselves, focus inwards, become bitter, and begin to hide from God. Repentance is empty, with no accountability and no desire to bring the sin into the light. Without any boundaries, a person begins to form patterns of behavior, and with each successive venture into sin, the shame grows darker and we dig an insurmountable hole for ourselves. Unfortunately, what would have been an 'easier' initial confession becomes that much more difficult the further down the dark hole we venture.

Shame hides in the shadows when God comes around, and attempts to hide sin under a fig leaf.

How Does the Shame Continue?
Shame continues when we continue to hide ourselves from God. Without the redemptive powers of true repentance, confession, and putting to death the deeds of the flesh by cutting off the right hand that causes us to sin (setting boundaries), the sinner becomes a helpless addict, caught in a cycle of repetitive and darkly rewarding behavior, a counterfeit of the true joy that the Lord provides us with.

For many, life's pain is too much to bear without a healthy and dedicated relationship with God, and some sort of 'fix' is introduced to their life. Rather than seeking healing from God, a lack of faith and preoccupation with worldly ideals will lead this person to find an alternate to God. Some medicate their pain with alcohol or drugs, others depend on emotional and relational ties to buoy their souls, and some turn to porn to empower themselves when their relationships fail. There are an infinite number of addictions, an infinite storehouse of idols from which to choose.

Rather than being able to enjoy God and what He intended us to be, trading "...their glorious God for that shameful god Baal" (Hosea 4:7b), the addict fills the God-sized gap with a puny stand-in that curses rather than blesses them. We make our modern idols not from wood or stone, but fashion them in our minds from drunken hazes, euphoric highs, or human flesh. John Calvin once spoke of our hearts being idol-making factories, where we fall all too easily into false perceptions of life that become idols that we hold out to against God's true purposes. Certainly addiction is a matter of idol(s) that we hold dear in our lives, and shame is the shelf upon which the idol sits, indeed a cabinet within which we can hide our idols from others.

With each session that we worship the idol (our object of addiction that allows us to self-medicate) and reject God's ways, an addict (even a true believer in Christ) experiences more shame and their sense of self worth becomes more and more focused on their failure and lack. They continue to engage in the addictive patterns, and eventually grow  in their sinful activity. The addict increases the stimulation that they gain from sin, as the puny stand-in grows weary and boring with repetition, and the 'high' that they usually get from it grows stale. As the addict's heart grows numb to the sin, they allow for worse and more vile sinful acts. In the case of porn, for example, the addict moves from bathing suits, to nudity, to hardcore porn, to bondage and possibly illegal child porn or other more vile forms.

It is shame that breaks and eventually hardens our hearts and causes us to hide our sin further in the dark recesses of our lifestyles. Without realizing it, we put ourselves into the state of selfish penance, rejecting the cross for our own way. Pitying ourselves and mental self-flagellation seems so much more real to the wordly-minded than words on a page that tell us that some dude died 2000 years ago so that I wouldn't have to bear the burden of shame. It is shame that causes us to believe that we can never be loved and that Christ's death on the cross isn't strong enough to atone for our worst of sins, that we are fooling ourselves to believe that God ever loved such a wretched sinner like us. So we continue the addictive cycle of sin, refusing to believe that it will ever end. As Cusick says, "Wash, rinse, spin. Repeat."

Shame leads to further sin and a downward spiral that eventually leads to death of everything sacred in the person's life, if not their physical death. But there is always hope for the worst of sinners...

How Do We Break the Cycle of Shame?
You can kill the shame in your life. You can kill the sin in your life. But not on your own. The further down the path of sin you follow, the harder it will be to turn away from your sin and break the cycle of shame, but you will finally be free. No longer a slave to your idol.

Here is what God tells us we need to do:

  1. Take Responsibility - Own your sin. Realize that you have a problem. Desire the change that it takes to remove the problem from your life, realizing not only the damage that it has done to you and others, but also realizing that you can have so much more in Christ.
  2. Repent -  Turn away from your sin, and turn to God. Confess your sins to Him. Realize that our God is infinitely more powerful than your sin, and that He loves you and desires your dedication and then your healing.
  3. Confess - Once you have confessed your sins to God, you also need to confess your sins to others close to you. Believers in Christ. People that will react in a Godly way by loving you and desiring to pull alongside you to help you find your way back to a focus on God. Confess that you haven't allowed Christ's atonement to stand in place of your condemnation, and that you are free and a new creation as a result of what God did, nothing that you can ever do.
  4. Purge - Get rid of anything that would cause you to sin further. Break the bottle, flush the drugs, disconnect the computer, do whatever it takes to step aside and fast from things so you can re-focus.
  5. Set Boundaries - Be extreme. It's silly to say "don't be legalistic" when the sin you are committing is the very bondage that will lead to death. The improper reaction would be to only focus on the law and saying "just stop doing it", without re-dedication to God. Boundaries are important for the addict, because it helps you when you are weak, when your sin nature takes the wheel and you start to fall off the wagon. We are told to cut off the right hand that causes us to sin, and to "put to death the deeds of the flesh", and to dedicate our members for holiness. For the porn addict, for example, when you are feeling particularly hormonal and don't think you will be able to control yourself, you will be glad that the boundaries can help you to refocus. Alcoholics will want to find extreme ways to stay away from the alcohol stores, drug abusers should cut all ties to anyone doing or selling drugs, and porn users should install filters and accountability filters that help them avoid those impulse decisions to sin.
  6. Be Accountable - First to God, then to your accountability partners. There are a number of groups such as Celebrate Recovery that have chapters near you, and are full of people that would love to be your sponsor or accountability partner. These are people that you can call at 2 AM to let them know that you're suffering and don't want to fail. They pray with you, visit you, act as your internet filter partner, drive you places, pour themselves out in prayer for you all the day long. The most important part of this is to find someone that you can be continually and completely transparent with, even when you fail. Someone that will ask the difficult questions and get in your face when they think you're being deceptive.
  7. Rededicate - Spend Time with God, and either ask Him to be Lord for the first time, or ask Him to forgive you and wash you of your sins. You need to break all bondage in your heart by constantly dedicating yourself to meditation on His word, fasting if it helps, and praying without ceasing. God wants you to enjoy His presence, His glory. Find ways to understand it and worship Him because of it.
  8. Persevere - Learn to find ways to give your pain over to the Lord. Keep refocusing yourself on His power and grace, His ability to continue to heal you and uphold you. When you find that you can't handle it anymore, you can. There are plenty of resources on the websites that I link to on this page to keep you occupied with Godly thoughts. You are a warrior and a new creation, equipped already with all the weapons to defeat your enemy (see my other post about doing battle), you just need to learn to pick them up and be proficient at using them against the enemy. Lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ when you are weak. Run the race so as to win, because in Christ it has already been won.
  9. Help others - Just as Christ said, "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you", you should share yourself with others. Serving others is what God's kingdom in this life is all about. Learning to be more sacrificial and Christ-like in your every day life. Love those who hate you so that they may be won over by the gospel and be saved for eternity. Just as you were a starving beggar, now show every other starving beggar where to find the bread of life.

No comments: