What is an addiction?
An addiction is a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance. Compulsive describes a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will. Addictions are characterized by tolerance and physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. This means that if you find yourself needing to push through for a “higher high” or a “bigger buzz” or, in the case of sex, you find yourself searching for something more taboo to turn you on, you may be struggling with an addiction. The simplest way to discover if you have an addiction is this: try stopping. Your reaction to going without something will show you the depth of your dependence on it.
How are addictions formed?
We all know that addictions are destructive, so why do so many still turn to them for relief? It’s quite simple. Pain has a voice. It says, “Do whatever you have to do to make this stop NOW.” It’s a voice we are wired to pay attention to; after all, it’s natural to protect ourselves. An addiction is a way to help ease or avoid discomfort.
Addictions often begin as coping mechanisms; an addiction meets a need in a person’s life, if only for a moment (ex: the escape of drugs, the comfort of binge eating, the release of an orgasm). They help ease discomfort or offer an escape to an unbearable emotional, mental, or physical experience. This could include abuse, trauma, loneliness, insecurity, high levels of emotional stress, or pain.
Addictions abuse our God-given design. Our bodies were created with the ability to experience intense pleasure and release. When we misuse our body’s pleasure functions by constantly pushing them into overdrive, we build up a tolerance to our “drug of choice,” be it a chemical substance, risky behavior, an unhealthy sexual relationship, etc. This tolerance means that what used to do it for us, doesn’t do it anymore.; we have to go further, push harder, to get the high we’re looking for. This is how people fall deeper and deeper into addictions.
Is it possible to be totally free from addiction? What are the signs of freedom?
Yes, it is possible to be free from addictions! One sign of victory is an empowered lifestyle; you have the ability to choose your actions, and are no longer chemically or psychologically drawn to something against your will. A sober person (one who is not acting out, but is still drawn to their addictive behaviors) may still feel a strong pull toward their addiction, but can refrain from giving in. A free person will have control of their life and know how to, and choose to, get their needs met in a healthy way so that the old behavior is longer attractive. A sober person is often still learning to make good decisions, but experiences a lot of difficulty in doing so.
A free person is a whole person. He or she has healthy relationships, consistently gets their needs met in healthy ways, and learns how to process their negative experiences in such a way that there is no need to turn to an addiction to meet them.
Is it normal to have slip ups or relapses during recovery? How should I handle a relapse?
When people try to get free from an addiction, they often try to ditch the unwanted behavior without understanding how they got addicted in the first place. As we mentioned above, many addictions are formed because of unmet needs. If a person begins their recovery but doesn’t find a way to meet their underlying needs (physical, emotional, spiritual), they are at risk of relapse. Even those who understand what they need may need time to learn how to get their needs met in a healthy way. Because of this, we should understand that “slip ups” are common, and should by no means define the success of recovery.
Many people often look at an addiction as a light switch that is either on or off. They feel successful if they’re on the wagon, but if they fall off, they’re a miserable failure.We find this to be particularly true when dealing with a sexual addiction, such as porn or masturbation. Instead of this black-and-white approach to recovery, it is wise to bring more compassion into your point of view. Consider the recovery process to be more like learning to walk again after a car crash: Each step forward is a success and one that should be celebrated. If you or a loved one relapses during the recovery process, the journey is not over. Rather than feeling defeated, take the opportunity to learn from the situation. Discover what triggered or caused the relapse. Examine what need went unmet.
Why do I keep relapsing?
While relapse may be expected during recovery, it is not normal to live in a cycle of relapse indefinitely. Remember this: freedom is possible. If you feel stuck here, there is still hope for you, or your loved one.
According to our sex therapist, if someone is unable to maintain sobriety there is usually one of 4 things going on. 1. An inadequate first step: In the recovery community, the first step is to realize they are powerless over their addiction, and that their life has become unmanageable. This realization leads to surrender.
2. There are still secrets maintained.
3. There is not enough structure to support the change.
4. There is unresolved trauma in their background. These are places a therapist should go with their client when they are unable to maintain sobriety when they really want to.
Dr. Heath explains: “An inadequate first step means that they are still managing their addiction rather than believing that they cannot, that they need to work the program instead of thinking they are a special case or thinking that they know better. Adding structure can be anything from going to a therapy group instead of a support group or in addition to a support group, going to individual therapy with a therapist who is trained to work with sexual addiction, going to an intensive outpatient program - there are excellent ones, or going inpatient to a treatment facility.”
Addiction recovery is not usually a quick-fix. Our sex therapists explains to clients clients that they can expect two years if they are committed to therapy. That is a lot of time, effort and expense, but it is worth it:
“If you have an addiction, in order for your brain to change and heal, it takes intentional focus and repetitive action over time. There is a physical reason that recovery is not fast - your brain has to rewire itself consistent with health instead of sickness. But if someone is relapsing again and again, then they are not rewiring their brain because they are reinforcing the old.” That being said, we have seen many cases where God’s supernatural intervention has delivered people instantly from addictions, healed them physically so they never experienced withdrawal or relapse, or given them grace for a much quicker recovery. Your story is yours; be expectant that God will work a miracle in your life, the way He wants to.
How do I move toward my future dreams of having a ministry while I am recovering from a sexual addiction?
Those who are in the recovery process often feel awkwardness, tension, or condemnation when it comes to trying to build toward their future dreams, particularly when they involve ministry. They don’t want to be hypocritical or put others at risk, but they also don’t want to remain stagnant, or hold themselves back from doing what they love. While we encourage each individual to begin walking toward their goals, it is important to realize that moving too quickly may hinder recovery.
Our sex therapist explains:
“You absolutely need to have a vision of where you are going, which would include your dreams of ministry, but sometimes people get into early recovery and start wanting to minister to others before they have enough time in recovery to build a stable, healthy base from which to do that. Ministry just gets substituted for the addiction and becomes the addiction instead. Cross addictions are the norm - you don't want to substitute, you want to get well. So the focus needs to be on recovery because that is where you will build the character and faithfulness that others will trust. If you have a history of untrustworthiness then it takes time to consistently be trustworthy before others will begin to believe the new story.” It is also important to address the feelings you may have of awkwardness, unworthiness, or condemnation. Shame is the driving force behind addiction; it keeps it hidden and powerful. It is critically important that you get rid of it. Oftentimes, we hold ourselves back from ministry in an unhealthy way, because we judge ourselves, believing that we aren’t trustworthy, that we don’t deserve the ministry. But the truth is, what Jesus has forgiven, we have no right to hold over ourselves. The sex therapist continues: “Let me ask you a question. If someone else with your history began to do ministry after their recovery, could you trust them? Why or why not? If you could, then you need to have the same grace for yourself that you extend to them. If you could not, then what are you believing? Because they/you had an addiction to porn (for example), do you think that they/you are now not worthy to be in ministry? Can God really restore someone? How full is God’s restoration? Does He really make all things new?”
“It is so tempting to want to hide your addiction and just move on. In reality, people can judge you and have negative reactions when they know about it. But don't take on their stuff! They do not understand the nature of an addiction. It is ultimately good for you to live in the light. You have done behaviors that you wish you had not done. But that is not who you are! Yes, you did them, accept that, but now [that you are recovering] you are acting more consistently with who you are. And every time you choose to live consistently with who you are, that is a kingdom decision! You have made many that no one knows about. Night after night you have chosen to stay in recovery - many people do not understand what that means, how difficult that actually is. But you have done it and are continuing to do it.”
“There might really be some places of ministry that would not be wise, for example, working with teens, if that would be triggering for you. But that is a wisdom issue not an issue of being worthy of ministry. Having a difficulty that you have overcome can actually make it easier to minister to a lot of people. When we have struggled ourselves, it gives us much more compassion and humility when dealing with other people. Some of the most authentic people that I know are people who are in recovery from an addiction. Authentic people inspire trust in others - people are drawn to them. You, more than most, can understand the heart of God and His love for people who mess up and do things they never thought they would do.”