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

Monday, November 23, 2015

I think I'm Ready, But I Need to be Patient

For those of you who are separated from your spouse and family and want desperately to go home, this one's for you...

Boy, am I ready to go home and be with my wife. I may even fool myself into thinking I'm ready to do so. But I am glad that she has drawn a line to ensure that I am fully recovered from my addiction. I am not certain that I will ever be fully 'healed', but I am certain that I am going to have a great relationship with God, and that I'll have some great tools to combat my issues so that I won't slip back into habitual sin. I also want to make sure that I don't objectify my family members, and that I love them to a greater extent and in a Godly way.

I'm not ready.

I realize that there are some foundational issues that I have to meet head-on in my psyche, baggage that I just don't want to carry back into my marriage again. Although I have been clean of porn for a long time, and I am taking the sensuality and lust part of it very seriously now, I realize that I still stare at my wife's body like it was a ribeye steak. And I realize that I would hop in the sack with her in an instant if she needed a 'fix'. The problem with all of this obsessing with sex, even with my wife, is that it lacks intent, purpose, and discipline, things that I desperately need if my marriage and family are going to go well moving forward. I need to learn to never objectify my wife, to not treat her like a thing, to cherish and respect her as a co-equal heir of the kingdom of God. She is my sister in Christ and the mother of my children and the caretaker of our home and my friend before she is my scrumping partner.

Weird as that may sound to some guys, it has to be true. We have to be willing to submit ourselves "one to another" and "consider others as greater than ourselves" before all of the other relationship things can work. I have to desire her heart and her intimate thoughts before I desire her body. It has to be important to me to listen to her because I value what she has to say, not because I think it's going to earn me her respect or time in bed.

I'm working on it. I'm glad for this time, and I pray that God will continue to change my perspective so that I can come back home a more complete man, ready to serve and lead at the same time.

Thank you, Lord for the opportunities to spend time with my family and to serve them. Thank you for the ability to talk with my wife about what is important to her. Help me to value that talk more than sex. Help me to value my wife more for the whole person she is, not the fact that I find her body pleasing. I pray that I would be able to go home before too much longer, but that I would have embedded in my spirit the desire to respect, honor, and cherish my wife. Help me to value playing with my kids and helping prepare them for life in your kingdom above any other form of entertainment. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

He Has Delivered Me

I find it difficult to believe anything that can't be quantified - doesn't have evidence that I can touch, feel, or experience for myself. Like Thomas, who demanded to touch the wounds in Jesus' hands and side, I am somewhat of an objectivist. But God just laughs at that.

He has wanted my heart to be His, completely. And I have resisted most of my life, somewhat foolishly, because I am concerned about the God that I see that crushes the vain. I haven't trusted God and viewed him as a hard taskmaster, similar to the man with one talent that received nothing for failing to invest in God's kingdom. But I have learned, in my own vanity, that for those that He loves and for those that reach out to Him (if even infrequently and in the midst of their own consequences), He will make Himself known.

How do I know this? Because no matter how hard I have tried to leave the faith and give up on Him over the years, He has continued to reveal Himself to me in very profound manners, and has continued to draw me to Himself. Like an un-weaned babe, I have thrashed and screamed, desiring my own ways. And sometimes He has serviced me, allowing me to have the desires of my own heart even as He feeds me blessings. He has allowed me to meet the eventual consequences of my sin, even though He has always been there for me.

There is this consistent presence, this consistent "still small voice" that rings in the deep recesses of my head, sometimes stopping me in my tracks. There are the "leadings" that other believers have that meet me and challenge me where my needs are, where they are convicted that the Holy Spirit is telling them something about my hidden thoughts. Yet, for months and even years at a time, it seemed that God was not with me, as I begged to be released from addiction and shame.

And now, now when I am faced with deep depression and sorrow and wanting to end it all, now when I am ready to just give up again, He is there, corralling me into His embrace. God's presence washes over me in my deepest darkness, and He not only places a vision in my mind that I don't think I fully understand, but then seemingly pulls that glob of dark matter out of the gears of my heart so that they can move again.

Yeah, that's right. Somehow I feel that He has set me free. And the vision that accompanied it was that setting where I was exposed to porn as a small child, where Jesus comes into my memory and takes me by my small hand and leads me away. What does that even mean??? I think I've found that it doesn't quite matter, and that I am glad that Jesus is working in my heart, drawing me toward Him. Satan has attacked me harder than ever before lately, and I've dwelt upon plans of suicide and all sorts of darkness, and yet I think God has gently pulled me away from it and placed me on solid ground. I've heard about the solid rock of God, and experienced some of the spiritual stability thereof, but this is the first time that I don't feel like a boxer against the ropes, and like God is in my corner - no, in the ring with me - giving me strength to battle on. Maybe I'll continue to have depressing days and think that I just can't win, but there will be this underlying understanding, I think, that I have been set free.

Wow. I guess I'll just never understand how He does things. Or why. But it's awesome.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Transformed Hearts

I've had some amazing things happen in the last few days.

I just got done reading "Surfing for God:Discovering the Divine Desire Behind Sexual Struggle" by Michael John Cusick. Wow. It is timely in that a number of things have hit the fan recently for me.

So first, the context of what is happening in my life. As I have mentioned, I have still been struggling in some areas of sensuality and with masturbation. When I reported this to my wife, she asked me what my patterns were, what triggers I was failing at, and it was the same old, same old - movies. She was angry and upset that I would keep trading in my family for a bit of entertainment, knowing full well that seeking those visuals inevitably leads to sexual sin in some manner (if even just lusting over fully clothed women on the screen).

Her anger sent me into a deep depression (yes, it's the same old relationship addiction and co-dependency causing me to be paralyzed by fear, and I realized that I needed to let go of that and re-focus on my walk with Jesus again) and I at first swore to myself that I would read more scripture, find tougher accountability partners, and get rid of all movies for the rest of my life. While those are simple fixes that can help in the short term to re-focus, I've already found that just asserting boundaries and "white knuckling" does not work for me. I need real and lasting change.

And that is the core theme throughout Cusick's book, that you have to allow God and other believers into your deepest darkest pits of despair and secrecy, that you have to ask Jesus to take those places and bring them all into the light, to transform your heart's household into a mansion of light. Jesus is in the business of healing the broken-hearted into people of courage, integrity, and faith. He wants to heal and transform our hearts, so we can be the amazing creation He meant for us to be. But He wants us to seek Him earnestly, to be still and listen to Him. This may take time and some repetition before we understand the abandonment and surrender that needs to take place for us to just sit and hear Him.

For me, I have realized that there is an abandoned, lonely, and scared little boy in me. I think back to all of the formative moments in my life, and realize that I left important parts of my psyche strewn all throughout my timeline, that I became more and more numb to the beauty of life with all of the disgusting things I went through. I later sold my inheritance for the stimulation of worldliness, and I feel that Jesus wants to give it back to me.

The book describes a man that had asked Jesus to connect with him directly and show him what was needed, asking what Jesus wanted to say and show him, asking time and again until it was revealed, and then continuing on this path of healing. About the third time that the guy prayed this, Jesus took him back to a moment when he was a boy looking at Playboy magazines, and told him that He loved that boy then, and he loved the man that he was, broken and disgusting as he was, and that he would always love him and be with him.

It struck me that this was something that I needed to do, and similarly to the experience that this other addict had, I was struck with a vivid demonstration of God's love when Jesus gave me a vision: when I was a little boy of 4, I was sitting in the hallway, already numb with abandonment problems, watching pornography on my mom's boyfriend's projector screen while they fornicated. Rather than the images being the predominant theme of this vision (as is usual when I think back to this instant), instead, the vision was one of Jesus taking me by my little hand and leading me away.

For many of you, this might seem like a silly thing, and certainly not earth-shattering enough to quit all forms of lust. But God is mysterious in the way that He works, and I think that this is just one of many moments to come where He will communicate His way and will to me for my life. He wants to deliver me from this burden and shame, and He wants me to help set the other captives free. It all starts with time - time just sitting with Him and meditating on His truths and asking where He wants to take me next, what He wants to show me and say to me next.

Praise your name, Lord Jesus, for you are my strength and my shield, my fortress and my rock! All true healing of the heart comes from you, and I want to place every facet of my life in your hands.

So, all of that said, November 15, 2015 is my first day of complete purity, and trying to seek a complete healing and wholeness in Christ. May I glorify Him more by serving His kingdom, and by being holy for His purposes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Emotional Anorexia

Emotional Anorexia is a seemingly new definition to the addiction scene, and it essentially means this: that you withhold love, affection, and/or intimacy from your loved ones. There are a number of symptoms that are evidenced with this issue, wherein the "withholdings" can vary over time.

I don't think I'd yet be able to provide the best explanation for this issue, so I'm going to send you over to an article at Transformed Hearts that gives it a complete treatment:

I will say that though one spouse (the one that usually plays the part of judge/jury/executioner) will moreso withhold love than the other, there will invariably be symptoms on both sides of an unhealthy relationship. For example, a wife may exhibit all of the symptoms toward a husband caught in an addiction, but the very addiction itself may be a way to escape the pain and frustration of one's own failures or the failed relationship itself, and the addict is withholding the love and affection that should be due their loved one as a result. Porn addicts, for example, lack the ability to engage in true intimacy with their spouses, because they don't need to navigate the possibilities of conflict, pain, or disappointment if they can select and control all of the fantasies they want in their own little world. So the true relationship suffers while they live for their own pleasure.

Addicts in general have a way of numbing and medicating their pain, avoiding the conflict that might arise from it in relationships. Without healing in the relationship, it will stagnate and die, so both spouses need to find ways to connect, and the folks over at Transformed Hearts have some advice on where to start.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Radical Amputation of Sin

Sigh. How stupid we can be. Or I can be.

One of Satan's primary methods to get us to doubt God is to say, "Did God really say that?" (Genesis 3:1).

It is certainly this way when we view the scripture that says, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off." God certainly didn't say that, did He? Well, yes, He did. And that was Jesus, not some old testament prophecy. That was the man (man-God) who as He hung on the cross said, "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

What I understand about my addiction is that when I leave any room at all for visual tastes to be fed on a regular basis, I eventually fall into sin. So, TV and movies should generally be left out of my repertoire. Hard to do when your new roommate (while you are separated from your wife) has cable TV (though ratings locked) and you have a computer on which you can watch movies (not ratings locked, though filtered for Covenant Eyes). Hard to do, I say, but not impossible. You have to WANT it.

I recently approached some of the more aggressive gentlemen in my 12-step recovery program at Celebrate Recovery, and one of the first things that they said is that I need to engage in "radical and aggressive amputation", that I need to rid myself of any patterned behavior that may lead to sin, even if I have to quit my job, move, etc. The next thing that they said is that I need to fill my life with prayer and worship, and work to get delivered from each and every image that the Holy Spirit convicts me of.

They recommended that I place a reminder/alert on my cell phone for every hour to remind me to pray and worship God. This has helped me set a new daily thought pattern, and it has definitely set new levels of faith and confidence in my heart. I feel more ready to meet God than ever before, and I have a lot less anxiety. They also recommended that I change the spiritual atmosphere around me by playing an audio bible or worship music throughout my day.

When my wife reads this, she's probably going to smack me upside the back of my head, because she has been saying things like this for our whole marriage. The big difference now is that I have burly men that are willing to pull alongside me to hold me accountable, and I actually WANT it now. I know that there may be frustration on her part that the ruination of our family has not caused me to want these things, to want to be completely free. I can't explain why that didn't dissuade me from my sins, except to say that the Holy Spirit has seized hold of my heart and given me a desire for Him.

Whatever you want to call these things that lead to sin... triggers, gateways, footholds, strongholds, etc. You've got to utterly destroy them in your life. You have to cut anything and everything from your life that is going to directly allow you to sin. And you have to WANT it.

Lord, please work in my heart to destroy every last shred of the pornographic spirit, release me from its bond on my heart, from the sexual sins of the past, every woman that I have ever been bound to, and set me free! I know that Jesus died for all my sins, I know that He died to set my free, and that I am free indeed. I pray that I would live for your glory, and to honor others greater than myself. Please let me honor my wife and never harm her again in these ways. Please let me have an increased respect and love for my family, to treat them with the care that Jesus gave to His church. And help me to WANT it.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It's All Porn

I presented a definition of the word "porn" to my wife when I recently informed her of my fight to fully avoid pornography. This was mainly because as an addict, the power of the addiction often times causes us to be deceptive with ourselves and our loved ones, and in the past I had often deceived her with a tangle of word-woven lies. It is this deception that I'm hoping to unravel even now, for myself and for all of you.

My definition of porn to her was "the nude image of a woman other than my wife". Although that is a good start, I think that I am realizing that the porneia spoken about in the bible doesn't just stop there. Porneia is sexual immorality, and while the word usage normally centered upon the prostitution associated with the temples during that age in Greek society, there is ample evidence from other Greek literature that the use of the Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) word porneia ventures into all forms of sexual immorality.

If a man masturbates while watching porn, the hormones and neuro-chemicals that he releases are actually causing his mind to be mapped to the images in front of him; so much so that addicts are continually drawn to the undulating images and are patternistically drawn to particular genres of sites, porn actresses, etc; maybe particular hair colors, maybe particular activities. The point being, a man will continue to find affinity with the characters represented in the pixels, and his soul will be bound to the "prostitutes" on the computer screen equally as much as if he had fornicated with a real prostitute at the local temple of some deity.

The bible is pretty strong about avoiding adultery and fornication, as a believer joins the Holy Spirit with the prostitute, which is an evil act. You are actually subjecting the "new creation", the eternal being at the core of your soul that is inexorably connected with God via the Holy Spirit, with sin. Since this is clearly an abominable sin according to scripture, and other parts of scripture make it clear that we should be "making a covenant" with our eyes to not look at women (Job 31:1) and that it is adultery to look at a woman with lust (Matthew 5:28), I'd say it's clear that anything that you set your eyes upon with lust is sinful adultery, and somewhat synonymous with fornication (in fact, the same Greek word for sexual immorality, porneia, is also used for fornication).

It's easy to see that the nude form of women is porn. But what about all of the other readily available images of women in our society? Each man needs to answer that question for themselves - HONESTLY.

Watching or surfing for things that are deeply sensual is likely going to get those same hormones running, and I doubt that any man looking at cadres of swimsuits or lingerie or other states of skinful undress is not going to lust. Certainly if your desire is to masturbate or get the exciting pop that you might when surfing porn, you've gone too far. The "looking after another woman in lust" certainly doesn't mention any manner of undress of the ladies you are looking at. You need to avoid any situation that would cause you to lust after women.

If you look at a fully clothed woman and allow yourself to undress her with your imagination, whether out in society or on TV, you need to do something about what you are viewing. Not watching TV would be a good start, if it constantly leads you to lust. Avoiding places filled with scantily clad women when you are out and about is a must. Window shopping at the mall is probably a bad idea, for example. Limiting your exposure to people in general might be wise, especially as you begin to build your strength against temptation.

I myself continue to struggle with masturbation and the occasional viewing of sensual material. I am realizing that these things are a part of the same spiritual bondage that I want to escape from, the pornographic demon that I want off my back, permanently. I am realizing that I need to pray specifically about these things and practice the continued exit strategies that will help me to "flee sexual immorality". Every stolen thought or look is a chip away from my manhood, as well as a nail in the coffin of my relationship with my wife. I need to be removing those nails and building back up my confidence in who I am, not constantly trading the real life interactions (as difficult as they may be) for false control structures.

I hope this helps you to realize the compromise that you may have been making as well, and I pray that you will learn to fight against every modicum of lust in your heart.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Falling Off the Opposite Side of the Horse

When we fall in our areas of addiction, it's easy for us to say, "I fell off the wagon" and many will say, "get back on your horse, man." It's easy to see how we've fallen when we go in that direction; but what about when we act in the opposite and equally wrong manner toward sin? The answer is that there are two sides of a horse to fall off of.

On the one side of the horse is licentiousness, where we have questioned God's ways ("Has God really said...?"). It's easy to see that we fall when we question God's word, His ways, and eat of the forbidden fruit. When we commit idolatry, refuse to worship, conceitedly use God's authority and name, dishonor our elders, hate or murder, lust or adulterate ourselves, steal, bear false witness, or act out because we are discontent with what God has given us, we are breaking God's original 10 commandments. There are many offshoots of what it means to honor God and falling short thereof, but the most important of all is the acceptance (or, in sin, rejection) of the good news that Jesus has died for our sins and we are no longer condemned before the judgement seat of God - this is the only unforgivable sin, committed over a lifetime and carried to the grave.

In other words, falling off the left side of the horse is the transgression of God's law. But one can fall off the other side of a horse, as well.

On the other side of the horse is pharisee-ism. The Pharisees of Jesus' age were like the Orthodox
Jews of today, gathering around themselves all kinds of rules and traditions to keep themselves from breaking any part of God's Old Testament law. Unfortunately, in their self righteousness, they became the judge, jury, and executioners of what they thought was God's will. They were all too willing to point the finger of condemnation at others and yell, "AH-HA!!!!" They were often seen stoning others to death for their sins.

When Jesus came into this world, He ate dinner with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. Sometimes he ate with pharisees, as well; when those pharisees muttered against other sinners present, He rebuked them. When He was preaching and He saw the leaders of the pharisees, or those that were sent to cause Him to stumble, He called them "the blind leading the blind", "white washed tombs filled with dead men's bones", and "pit of vipers", among other descriptions. In fact, He was more vehemently against their sins than those of the transgressors surrounding Him. These ultra-self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus' time on this earth could not do much else other than stand in judgement of others, and the extra rules that they gathered about themselves became a code of conduct that went above and beyond God's law, and gave them extra fire power to condemn others. They were harbingers of death, and all they did was threaten and cajole with the penalty of death hanging constantly over their words. They put burdens upon other's souls and made it more difficult for sinners to deal with their sins.

So, if licentiousness is falling off the one side of the horse because we are not following God's ways, we need to realize that falling off the other side of the horse (the right side?) is equally sinful, by judging others and condemning them... some things to keep in mind about this...
  1. A continuous pattern of looking at others in self-righteousness should be a red flag to ourselves, that we are judging unduly. Though a recognition of sin is healthy, we should have a sorrow for others caught up in sin, and truly desire for them to turn to God.
  2. Though it is good and holy to point out other's sins for the purpose of helping them to heal from their pain and to bring them into a better fellowship with God, it is not good to knock them down by continued confrontation and self-righteous anger over their sin.
  3. If we do not forgive, it will not be forgiven us. This is an important part of what Jesus did on the cross. Though many wounds are unbearable and may take time to heal, if we do not release the person from the condemnation that we think they should have because of their sins - if we hope for hell, punishment, suffering, or we refuse to fellowship with or love a believer or family member, then we are saying that Jesus' death on the cross was not enough to pay for their sins, and we demand condemnation that goes beyond what is due a sinner. We should be willing to re-establish relationships when a sinner is truly repentant, and we should welcome them with love, as 2 Corinthians demonstrates. Granted, an unrepentant sinner should take time to prove their changed heart, but forgiveness is given long before trust...
  4. For the unrepentant sinner, Matthew 18 describes a calm and controlled process by which the unrepentant one is disfellowshipped - not in a legalistic and angry manner, but in a manner that continues to work to win over that brother in Christ. They may be handed over to Satan for sifting, but the hope is that they return back to Christ and repent of their sins. A demonstrated change in behavior over time should allow them to be brought back into the fold, as 2 Corinthians demonstrates. Though they might not be trusted for a time, and extra steps may be taken to keep them walking in holiness, love should never be withheld, nor forgiveness. 
  5. Though we should be aware of others' triggers and pathways to sin, we should continue to warn them in love of their path, prayerfully helping them as brothers and sisters in Christ to divert their paths and seek God on a regular basis. As addicts, this is important, because recognition of those things we know will bring us into habitual sin is important, and we can only help each other if we don't use a voice of condemnation and self-righteousness as we do so.
  6. If you empower yourself over others by pointing out their past sins or their weaknesses in an area of sin, this is a matter of condemnation and a lack of forgiveness. You are putting yourself in the place of authority over that person in an unjust manner. Essentially, you are playing God over that person.
  7. Pride has no place in God's kingdom. As I've said elsewhere, we should always realize that we play the part of a beggar, showing other beggars where to find the bread and water of life. No sin is worse than another, as far as what Jesus paid for on the cross, and if you think that it is your constant job to pull the splinter from your brother's eye, you need to remove the plank from your own eye first.