A friend recently sent me an incredible podcast by Rabbi YY Jacobson and Eli Nash “The Shame Around Porn Addiction” . It is a 3 hour discussion but well worth listening to regardless of your religious affiliation. Use the link below to access the podcast or the webinar version. This discussion caused me to do some reflection on my past and three of the points they raised were particularly interesting. I would like to share them with you as I have understood them and as I apply them to my own story.
- We need to thank our addiction.
This might seem like a rather insane thought. Why on earth would we thank something that has taken over our lives and in many cases destroyed relationships, cost jobs, brought trauma to others and ourselves and led to depression and sometimes suicidal hopelessness?
The point is raised that the addiction developed as a way of treating a trauma. While the fruit of the addiction is painful and damaging, in many cases it is the most obvious indicator that we have suppressed pain that needs healing, and we would not have begun the healing process if we had not first developed the addiction.
It may be an extreme perspective and one that is particularly difficult to process. However the basic premise is brilliant. What we see as the fruit of something in our lives is an indicator of something far deeper that needs to be dealt with and in the case of porn addiction, it is almost always rooted in a sense of broken or traumatised relationship/s.
A broken or traumatised relationship with yourself, with another person or persons and with God will result in a rooted pain that if not healed will seek soothing or relief in some other way. This is essentially true of any addiction.
Once we become alienated through a broken image of who we are in relation to anyone else, something will be missing and therefore we look for it in various ways.
The easy option is addictive behaivour because the burst of dopamine to our brains enforces a message to our minds that we feel good and therefore during that period, we don’t feel the pain. The more difficult option is through the painful process of addressing the pain and trauma that has taken up permanent residence in our minds and body.
When the fruit of the trauma is revealed (the addiction) we know what we need to address. The struggle is the consequences of the addiction is often the crisis management that is dealt with and in that time the shame and the brokenness that exists is magnified.
Without excusing the consequences, we need to always head to the trauma that has resulted in the addiction.
2. Nobody is immune to pain and trauma. Therefore nobody is immune to potential addiction.
We hold certain people to higher standards of morals and ethics. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. We should be able to be inspired by role models. However, even that pressure on the role model makes them susceptible to addiction. Sometimes our religious or community leaders have greater stresses on them which leads to a broken relationship with themselves and their community. Often leaders don’t get to deal with their own pain and trauma or are allowed to express what is really happening within them because of the expectations of the community. This is unhealthy and can set them up for a massive fall if they snap.
We should not judge others by a standard we ourselves do not want to be judged by. As the saying goes, “but by the grace of God go I”. And the response is “But for the grace of God, I would die”. If anyone exhibits any form of addictive behaivour, ask the question, what is causing them pain?
This question needs to be unpacked a bit. We might not realise that a successful person who shows hard work and dedication has any pain. But what is driving them? Is it a sense of fearing failure because of some trauma that they experienced as a child through their parents or someone else? That is a pain. The people pleaser who is the most helpful person around may be carrying the pain of rejection. The ripped person at the gym may be carrying the pain of being “the weak” child in a group and now looks like a body double for any one of The Avengers.
In all these cases the pain motivated the person to be the opposite to what they felt. They may appear to have turned their lives around, but if the pain is not healed, their success story is merely a cover for the pain and fear that still exists.
My own fear and pain covered by my strengths
In my own story I carried fear of rejection and the fear of not being good enough. The only part of life that I was confident in was my faith and the ability I had to teach. I was amongst leaders at school, in church, after school but never felt like I was a leader. I always felt there was someone better than me and that I would just stick to what I knew and was good at. I used what I thought I was good at to cover up the pain and fear that I was feeling.
The problem came in when I faced certain stresses that spoke to my fears. When the trauma of childhood was reinforced as an adult, the pain surfaced and I could not deal with it. I landed up using pornography as an escape. Why porn and not alcohol, drugs or something else? My pain was relational and porn spoke to the broken relational part of myself. A pain that I had carried all the way from my childhood, and into every situation and stage of life that I have been in. Never really feeling worthy, never feeling good enough and never feeling that despite the truth of God in my life, that I was ever more than what I thought.
I was invited into positions of leadership and that affirmed me. However, in hindsight because of the unhealed pain that was still sitting in my being like a dormant volcano, I never felt worthy because I always saw someone who was better than me. I was good at one or two things but that was it. My pain of not being worthy and not being enough, not being man enough, not being gifted enough, talented enough, good enough became an entrenched insecurity. And that made me susceptible to pornography.
While it served to numb my pain, it almost destroyed my life and those around me. The consequences of my actions still have ramifications. I have disappointed many and there are broken relationships and traumas that I have caused that others now deal with because of me.
But the addiction has shown me what really needs healing. For that I am grateful. God can heal me now without what I perceived as my strengths getting in the way. I pray too that God brings healing to those I have brought pain to.
- The first thing God said was not good, was that “It is not good for man to be alone.”
For those not familiar with the Judeo-Christian book of Genesis, when God created the world at the end of each day he looked over creation and said it was good. But then he looked at Adam, the first created human and God said it was not good that he was alone. So God created Eve and the first human interpersonal relationship was formed.
This is important because when it comes to sexual addiction, the root is broken relationship. The reality is that the antithesis of addiction is not sobriety or abstinence as much as it is community or healthy relationships.
What happens with a sex addict is that we need to go from unhealthy to healthy relationships. Pushing a person aside because of what they have done or because of their struggle does not bring healing, it enforces the addiction. It strengthens the need for that form of acting out. Obviously with regards to sexual crimes, the perpetrator needs to be separated from potential victims. This is not disputed. However isolating or expelling a person from community and healthy relationships will only strengthen the problem, not bring healing.
Every day I deeply regret the consequences of my actions and yet I am grateful for the healing that I have experienced because of it. I am also grateful for the community around me that have supported me through the darkness and made sure I was not alone. Primarily my wife, parents, sister and brother-in-law, close friends, my recovery support group and the counselors who helped me verbalise and address my pain. I hope that the grace that I experienced can help others and in that I am grateful that my story can have a better ending. While I still remember and see the reflection of my past, it stays in the rear view mirror as move away from it.