Relapse – a tool for recovery?

I want to preface this post by saying not all experiences are similar, and sometimes the generalizations made don’t apply to all individual circumstances.

With that said – I want to disclose that yesterday I relapsed.

I watched pornography and lusted through masturbation. It’s terrifying to admit this – to air my dirty laundry.

Also – you may be surprised at my use of the “m” word – usually forbidden in Christian circles.

I am convinced that taboo nature of masturbation has allowed that sin specifically to fester in darkness; nameless it devours as men and women say “I’m struggling with lust”.

Regardless – that’s what I indulged in yesterday.

The feelings started to innocent – anger at my girlfriend gave way to entitled thoughts. I said, “I was treated so badly – I deserve to look at this”…sick and twisted right?

This entitlement was paired well with lust when a long-time friend of the opposite sex reaching out through text – quickly giving way to a flirtatious conversation. All warnings signs and guardrails were blown through – my heart was set on medicating my anger. The illicit conversation turned quite sexual – and I used that conversation to get my release.

Immediately – shame and self-loathing arrived. They had been invited by their good friend Lust to join the party in my heart and mind. Caught up in my twisted desires – now burning with hatred for my own decisions – I wanted to give up. On purity, on my relationships, on my family, on my Lord. I don’t deserve any of them. I am wicked and twisted full of darkness. And I will never tell anyone of this moral wreck I had engineered.

As I lay in bed, I reached over for my book Unwanted. The chapter I was on (unknowingly) was specifically addressing vulnerability. The premise was simple – you deal a blow to shame when you choose vulnerability. You cannot be truly loved unless you decide to be truly known.

I was heartbroken as tears welled in my eyes. Here I was – hours after relapse, choosing to be my own God and follow my own desires – and God was speaking to me. He was pursuing me. He was loving me – even when I didn’t want to love myself.

I picked up my phone and left a friend a message disclosing what had happened. His response the next morning sounded something like this, “Hey man, thanks for sharing that. I want you to know this doesn’t change how I feel about you. I’ve been there, and I know there is freedom. Keep being honest and open about your struggles, and we will walk through this together.”

Wow. Did you feel it? Could you sense it? That’s the love and grace of God. God spoke into my life through my friend. I know my behavior is unacceptable and unbecoming of a Christian – but my God still loves me, still calls me His own, still holds me in His hand. There is a spirit within me that cries “Abba, Father”.

You see – this relapse started over a week ago – with one small interaction, one small feeling. I allowed this feeling of anger to pick up steam – as I dwelled on it, meditated on it. It started to pick up steam in my mind. Before long – I was amid an avalanche of my own desire, swept away by my fleshly passions, and after the rush was over, sitting in the mess and debris I had created.

See, this relapse sucks. It is a setback. But, it does not define me. The Lord defines me. If we take our relapses, instead of allowing them to beat us down, and examine them with curiosity (like a detective at a crime scene), we will discover the root of that relapse and setback. We can then address it and put guardrails in so that next time – we can stop that anger (or whatever it is) before the thought turns into an avalanche of desire.

If you have relapsed recently, or are struggling with your worth and value, I want you to join me in implementing the following.

Find community. A community that will build you up, give you grace, yet hold you accountable. We are called to carry the burdens of one another. How will someone help carry your burden when you won’t admit you have one?

Meditate on the promises of God. Every morning be speaking these promises of God over your life. Our mind will be filled – let’s choose to be intentional about what it is being filled with. That is something I stopped doing the past few weeks as I slowly gave in to my anger and sense of entitlement.

Use your relapses. God uses everything to bring about our sanctification – relapses are no different. Examine what led you to relapse with a curious heart – put in place extra accountability where you are weak. What if, instead of being filled with self-loathing and shame, we used setbacks as fuel for growth, learning and growing together through not only our victories, but also our mistakes.

If you found any of the previous helpful – please comment or share. I would love to get some feedback on agreements, possible disagreements, and how I can help you! Thank you for reading and God bless you.

Find Help here: Soul Refiners, Sexual Addicts Anonymous, Smart Help Recovery, Pure Desire Ministries

1 Thing You Can do to Finally Beat Pornography

Most think combating porn = trying harder, praying harder, working harder.

I’m here to tell you – this won’t work. If you’ve tried this before and failed – you know how discouraging that is!

In the last blog – I discussed the science behind porn addiction. I encourage you to go back and educate yourself on the neurological changes that occur due to pornography addiction.

If you’re struggling with pornography, and have been for years, your solution isn’t as simple as “try harder”.

Over my 13 or so years of porn addiction, I can’t count how many promises I’ve made to myself to stop, how many times I vowed to never return to those websites.

I’ve tried strategies and techniques. I’ve deleted all social media. I deleted girls’ contacts – but none of that seemed to address my desire for pornography.

Instead of address the outward action – lets look at what that outward action is disclosing about your heart.

When did porn start for you? What was going on in your life and around you?

See – pornography isn’t so much a lust issue – it’s an unaddressed wound issue.

“Unwanted sexual behavior is a direct reflection of the parts of our story we have not addressed”

Jay Stringer – sex addiction counselor

Somewhere deep in your heart – you’re hurting, you’re bleeding – maybe without realizing it.

But it’s there – that feeling of worthlessness when you Dad left.

That feeling of anger when your parents split.

The shame that beat you down after you were sexually abused.

I know you’ve put these things out of your mind – you never want to think about the day you failed your parents or felt alone and wanted to end your life.

It’s time.

It’s time to face those feelings. Your past must be addressed or else your past will keep showing up in your future.

“A heart with an ounce of kindness for your life story will accomplish so much more for you than a mind full to the brim of strategies to combat lust”

Jay Stringer

Porn isn’t about lusting – it’s about medicating. What are you medicating with porn?

I medicated my anger with pornography. See, I grew up in a Christian household and always said/did the right things. But secretly, I resented not having sex, not partying, not outwardly living for myself. So, I used porn. In trouble with parents – turn to porn. No verbal affirmation from my girlfriend – turn to porn.

The one thing you can do to beat porn is this:

Address your wound

We cannot settle for abstaining from porn – we need to pursue the “Why” behind our porn use. Why do you use porn? Seriously. Why? I know why I did – and it’s helped me address my addiction in ways I didn’t think possible.

It’s your turn. You owe it to yourself to find healing. Spend time in thought and prayer – see a counselor – seek wisdom and understanding.

You can try all you want. But until you address the underlying issue – you don’t stand a chance.

You can do it. There is freedom for you.

Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, life more abundantly.” -> It’s time to step into that life.

Jay Stringer – whose book “Unwanted” is an incredible resource – I highly recommend it!

Let’s not wait any longer – let’s pursue freedom. It takes courage, but it is so worth it.

The Brain Battle

Have you ever made the promise: “I will never watch porn again”?

Yeah, me too.

Somehow, no matter how hard I try, I am shamefully drawn back to the allure of pornography and lust.

Why??

I’ve tried to “pray more”. I’ve tried to “have more faith” – nothing seems to work.

It is key to understand the scientific WHY behind sexual addiction. Without knowing why we are addicted, we will not sufficiently prescribe a cure.

In this blog, I will take an amateur’s dive into looking at a brain that is sexually addicted.

It is important to understand the following:

  • Neurons that fire together, wire together.
  • Each time you repeat a thought or an action, you create neurological pathways in the brain, causing these patterns of thought to become subconscious and programmed in your mind.
  • These neurological pathways program your thought life and actions, so that they become second nature.
An example of neurological pathways in the brain

Okay – lets start with some (a lot of) definitions:

  • Dopamine: Type of neurotransmitter your brain uses to send chemical messages between nerve cells. Plays a major role in how we feel pleasure.
  • Oxytocin: Hormone known for the stimulation of the uterine muscle for contradiction and secretion of milk. Emotional bonding drug – It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm.
  • Amygdala: Part of the brain – responsible for the fight or flight response. Kicks in and creates anxiety and apprehension to protect. Ignited through association with our past.
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Part of the brain that controls our decision making, self-control, problem solving, etc.
  • Limbic System: Intricately involved in emotional and behavioral responses – especially when it comes to survival instincts. The Amygdala is part of the Limbic System.
  • Endorphins: Neurochemicals. Endorphins are involved in our natural reward circuits and are related to important activities like eating, drinking, physical fitness, and sexual intercourse. Endorphins also surge during pregnancy. They minimize discomfort and pain and maximize pleasure. 
  • Serotonin: Serotonin impacts every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It’s the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting.

Okay – now that we have those definition out of the way, we can talk about how Porn effects our brain (these definitions will be referred to frequently).

When orgasm occurs: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin chemicals are released in the brain (among others of course). These are the “firing of neurons” discussed earlier that form pathways, programming our thought lives.

-Dopamine gives a sharp focus and a sense of craving that says “this is what I need right now” and gives a great sense of pleasure.

-When Oxytocin is released, it helps lay down long term memories for cells. They bind a person’s memories to the object that gave him or her pleasure.

-Endorphins give a natural feeling that hits the body like a wave and gives a natural “high”.

-Serotonin levels are increased, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation.

None of these chemicals are bad in theory. However, when used outside of marriage in the use of pornography, they can be devastating.

When dopamine floods the brain, the brain cuts down on other dopamine receptors (what trigger feelings of dopamine). This fixates the brain on only the few receptors producing copious amounts of dopamine – the porn receptors. Soon, usual activities that would release dopamine (being out in nature, intense workouts, hugs, etc.) aren’t enough to trigger dopamine. So when the body feels a need for dopamine, porn is the place to go.

This dependency on porn for dopamine release literally rewires your brain, as pathways for porn dopamine releases become strong, neural pathways for insufficient dopamine releases fade away. Porn literally rewires your brain.

Now, for the Limbic System (including the Amygdala) and the Prefrontal Cortex. When we fear, how anxious thoughts that come from association with our past – the Limbic System kicks in.

The Limbic System takes over our reasoning (Prefrontal Cortex) and makes decisions based on our survival. Simply, pornography decouples the Prefrontal Cortex from our decisions and floods the Limbic System with dopamine.

A brain that has struggled with porn addiction and a brain that has struggled with heroin addiction look the same on neural scans.

This is a dangerous, deadly addiction that will rob you of the everyday joys of life and hook you to a computer monitor for hours on end.

“Porn happens to be fantastic at forming new, long-lasting pathways in the brain. In fact, porn is such a ferocious competitor that hardly any other activity can compete with it, including actual sex with a real partner. That’s right, porn can actually overpower the brain’s natural ability to have real sex! Why? As Dr. Norman Doidge, a researcher at Columbia University, explains, porn creates the perfect conditions and triggers the release of the right chemicals to make lasting changes in the brain”

Fight the New Drug

So, what is there for us to do against such powerful chemicals? It starts with admitting there is an issue. You must be able to bring into light what you have hidden in the dark. Next, you need to join a support group (see my first post for options). I am not a counselor, in fact, I’m still in the middle of this struggle and not free from lust and pornography. However, I have committed to being honest and open and have joined a support group specifically focused on eradicating lust and porn from my life.

You can do it. We can do it. Together.

For more reading, try these resources:

1 Big Lie

It was between the ages of 9-10 that I was first exposed to pornography.

Never did I think at 23 I would still be struggling with the secret sin of lust and pornography. But here I am.

I was raised in a wonderful Christian home. I couldn’t be more thankful for my upbringing. However, because I was raised in the church all my life, I learned the great big lie that has secretly been choking out Christians and Churches alike.

Lie: Church is a place where healthy people go.

This lie is still embedded deeply in my mind. And it’s dangerous.

Because church is for the healthy -> you either don’t go if you’re sick (in the midst of struggling with sin) or you pretend you are healthy when you’re struggling.

This breeds secrecy. And in secrecy sin flourishes.

We have been tricked into believing a lie that silences us when what would help most is to call for help.

68% of church-going men and over 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis. Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76% actively search for porn.

Conquer Series

I encourage you. Read that quote again. Please.

If you struggle with pornography, whether male or female, you need to know:

You are not alone

I felt, for so long, that my secret sin of porn was so unusual, so peculiar that I couldn’t tell anyone. Just pretend.

What would they say if they knew? Could anyone really love me if they knew who I really was? These thoughts plagued me constantly.

This created a layer of shame I am still trying to break through.

There is a truth that counteracts the great lie identified earlier, one I am still trying to adopt for myself. Once understood and practiced, it will begin the healing process!

No one is healthy.

This may seem a little too extreme or generalized, but it is not.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Romans 3:10 – As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;”

Clearly, we can see there is no “hierarchy”. No one is better. We are all in the same boat. We are all sinners.

Once we realize this, it frees us to be honest and open with others.

When we bring our sin in to the light – healing can begin.

“…We lie under heavy obligation to do immediately whatever is necessary to remove the disguise and permit our real selves to be known.”

AW Tozer

We cannot isolate. We cannot keep putting on a mask and pretending everything is fine. We must come forward and say “I am not okay. I need help.”

Listen, we cannot buy into the lie that everyone around us is healthy. No one is.

When you are willing to come forward, you’ll be surprised by how many people will follow.

Church is not where “all the healthy people go” – Church should be a place where we go when we need healing.

If you need a support group, check out these hyperlinks: Soul Refiner, Sex Addicts Anonymous, 12 step programs

I want you to know – you are fully known and fully loved.

Thank you for reading. If this blog has positively impacted you, consider sharing it with others who could benefit.

Blessings to all,

-A Christian Porn Addict