Below is a link to a good resource / discussion through Dr. Oz's show regarding porn's impact on erectile dysfunction (ED). Dr. Oz hosts a panel of experts that explain the potential impact and exactly what happens regarding biological vs. emotional factors for ED.
More and more research is being done on the neurological impact on the brain...the following video from Gary Wilson/TEDx is a great resource showing the problem of porn and its addictive features. The great dilemma / juxtaposition is responsibly vs addiction. Porn is addictive therefore someone caught up in porn / sex addiction becomes powerless. But there still exists responsibility because others are always impacted. So where does this leave the person caught up in addition as well as the family? The most important step is asking for help. That is where change starts to happen.
Fundamentally, I view our struggles not as mental disorders but rather as relational wounds. For many of us, these wounds didn't occur in our adult life but rather in our early childhood. But understanding our childhood can be very difficult. I liken it to walking into a movie halfway in and trying to understand what all you missed. For so many, there were no distinct memories of abuse, trauma, or chaos in the family. If you relate to this, then you are not alone in trying to understand what happened. In fact, it can be very shaming in the sense that you don't have any specific thing / event to tie your addiction / struggle too. For others, there was overt abuse, and that brings its own set of challenges and pain. Regardless, part of counseling is to make sense of your story so that you can understand your life story accurately. The goal is to name not blame. It is too look graciously at oneself and your past.
It is relationship that heals us. It is learning a new set of language, tools, and approach to doing relationship that allows us to enter into healing. The goal is to never "try" harder. Rather, it is more letting go and than anything. That is a great paradox in recovery.
There is something so profound in working through the steps in the larger 12 step community. For so many, it is life changing because it is truly a program of action. To work the steps literally requires "work". It means stepping out of our comfort zone in ways that we normally would never have imaged. The beauty of the program is the community of people that have gone before you and are willing to let you go at your own pace.
Al Anon is one of those 12 step programs. In many ways, it is a program on learning how to be in relationship to others around us. The tool of detachment is one of the most helpful tools Al Anon has to offer. Al Anon has a lot to say on the subject of detachment. Detachment is the idea of stepping away when you sense chaos, control, or intensity. A phrase often used is "don't pick up the rope". The heart behind detachment is letting go of control and allowing another person to maintain "their own side of the street". Al Anon encourages detachment "in love" and not in abandonment or neglect. In a sense, it acknowledges that we are not God therefore we will step out of the way and let God be God to that other person. But it doesn't stop there.
The program also encourages us to look at our part or "our side of the street". I believe the heart behind any 12 step program is relationship. So much of the program is about re-engaging others when there often times has been a great deal of discord. In a sense, we detach from the negative cycle / relationship in order to get our bearings in how to re-engage when it is safe and calm to do so. It is during these times that we take an honest account of our part in the relationship. It is only after this that we can really own "our part". This then allows to be ready to engage.
One the most impactful moments is often found in "making amends". It can be a very risky and vulnerable process. Re-engaging with a person puts yourself at a place of powerlessness. We really do not know how the other person will respond. Will they accept us, shame us, or ignore us? This is the real crux of relationship. We cannot control others and what they feel. But we often try by hiding our real feelings or dismissing them entirely. So much of our relationship struggles are really rooted in fear. Fear isn't necessary bad and in many ways it is very good because it helps us access our needs. We need to be affirmed, valued and assured that we matter. But we really can't do this unless we make the first step by re-engaging.
All in all, the beauty of a community that practices making amends is that you get to hear stories along the way the inspire and motivate. Otherwise, we are doing it alone and life is just not made to live solo.
What if we could live in a community where there was no judgment? What if we could be surrounded by people that would not label us as such and such? What if we could walk into a room of 50 people that knew every detail of our story and accept us just as we are in that moment? There is a place for naming our struggles because it helps us name the problem.
We have to remember though that these names don't define us. These names are not our essence. I love a quote by Brennan Manning which says, "I'm Brennan. I'm an alcoholic. How I got there, why I left there, why I went back, is the story of my life. But it is not the whole story."
We are more than a label because a label doesn't do justice to our story and our humanness. I have been refreshed by the approach used in Emotionally Focused Therapy that we see people in a non-pathologizing way. This means that we first see the person not the problem or diagnosis. Otherwise, the relationship could end up not being safe. Certainly, there is a place to talk about the struggles and all that comes with it. It is important to name the problem but it doesn't have to end there. The main thing is that we can't lose sight of who we are and whose we are.
I believe this is a general truth in life. It is connection over correction.
Over that past couple of years, I have thought a lot about resentment. The subject of resentment has been something I have heard tossed around for so much of my life but didn't give it much thought. My thinking towards resentment sounded like this, "So what's the big deal? Isn't it normal?" I have found that yes it is normal and the effects of it are powerfully toxic.
I know resentment well. Not that I have figured it out. Rather, I have lived with resentments so long that I know the damage it has done to me. A few years ago, I experienced pain from a group of people. I felt as though there were legitimate wrongs. I had all the data and story to support the great "harms" inflicted to me. I felt hurt and the hurt was consuming. I couldn't shake the facts that "they" did this to "me". I was consumed with a "how dare they?" mentality. What I didn't realize at the time was that my hurt transformed into resentment almost instantly and covertly. This is in part due to my own character defects. It is much like using a compass. If you don't account for the difference of magnetic north vs true north you will end up off course. In the case of my resentments, I have to account for my own part in the relationship. This is so difficult to do when we feel like we are the victim and close ourselves off to examining our own lives. Resentments can be blinding.
The problem is that holding onto resentments actually feels good for a while. I get to feel angry and in control. It feels good to be mad and hold it against these people. My resentments fuel the drug of control. Sadly, this control is really a delusion.
The reality is this: resentments are like a cancer that metasitisizes unless it gets treated immediately. It is a spiritual disease in that we can't see nor heal on our own due to our own ego. It goes hand in hand with judgment and I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 7:3 that states, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Resentments keep us from seeing ourselves and our part in the story.
The most toxic resentments are those "justifiable" resentments. These justified resentments are so hard to shake. We do in fact have legitimate reasons and they make sense. What makes "justifiable" resentments even more difficult to let go is that you can find other friends to help you justify these "wrongs" because they make sense. The real struggle is what to do with this.
The Big Book in Alcoholic Anonymous states, "Resentment is the number one offender to recovery" (p. 64). The reason resentments are so toxic and a great offender is because with resentment we are still maintaining a delusion of control.
We are created to feel emotions. Hurt feelings happen and it is healthy and normal to feel hurt. The danger is that hurt can quickly and quietly morph into resentment. This happens when we start wanting to control the outcome verses surrendering to God in the process. The feeling of hurt is painful. It is consuming at times because of its painful reminders. The answer to hurt is forgiveness but forgiveness is not so easy to do nor can it just happen. Forgiveness is a mysterious process in and of itself. The worst thing we can do to ourselves and to others is to put a "should" in front of forgiveness. By forcing forgiveness, we are in fact shaming ourselves or others in the process. While, in our heart we are not ready to forgive. I have heard it said that forgiveness is like a winding staircase where we continually (to ourselves) surrender ourselves in forgiving the other person. It is more like a process than a one time act. Again forgiveness is a process and it takes time. The good news is that forgiveness is an antivenom to resentment.
So what do we do if we are struggling with hurt, resentment, or a mixture of the two? First, we have to name our feeling of hurt and that often times requires us breaking through the denial that we have in fact been hurt or the delusion that we can control our feelings. Secondly, try to look at it from a different angle. More specifically, think of that person and their story. Most likely, they have their own story of pain. Doing this doesn't mean we have to be "OK" with what happened but it does help us see their humanness. Thirdly, pray for them. The big book recommends a prayer that says, "This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done" (p. 67).
Another great tool is making a resentment list. If you are aware that you are resenting someone or a group of people write it out on paper. Then write out the emotion you have around the resentment. Lastly, ask God what His will is for you with our list? This is the hardest part for me. My default is trying to get God to align His will with mine. Rather, this puts us at a place where we align our will with His. The other great antivenom is making amends with this person. It means confessing to this person the resentments you have held against them. The paradox of making amends is that making amends is as much for you as it is them. It quite literally frees you from the resentment. It helps you be at peace with you.
The goal in all of this is to direct our attention to ourselves rather than the other person. There is a great metaphor in recovery circles that talks about keeping our side of the street clean. We are only responsible for our side of the street. At the end of the day, I have found that I have enough to deal with on my own side of the street, let alone trying to manage somebody else's side of life.
Richard Rohr mentions in his book "Breathing Under Water" that we are all addicts. He believes it is a universal struggle. It speaks to our human nature and our brokenness. The reality is that we are broken and messy people. When you look at all the things out there to be addicted to...like drugs, sex, social media, video gaming, shopping and even religion is can be overwhelming. So what does it look like to be in recovery? I believe looking into and working the 12 steps can help answer that question.
1. We admitted we were powerless over addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Godas we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
This version of the 12 steps is an adaptation from the original 12 Steps of AA
"Marriage and thus family are where we live our most intimate and powerful human experiences. The stuff that family is made of is bloodier and more passionate than the stuff of friendship, and the costs are greater, too." from In Transition by Judith Bardwick.
I'm finding that one of the costliest events that can happen in a person's life are the culmination of shaming events that go untold. These events in childhood that over time accumulate cause one to not only question themselves but to turn on oneself.
I'm reading a lot on shame and find myself thinking and talking a lot about it. One of the best books I have read thus far on shame is "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw. I have heard it said (I think from Brene Brown) that shame is the main presenting issue in a therapeutic relationship. We all have and experience shame.
Shame in itself is a healthy and human emotion. It lets us know of our humanity, that we are the creature and not the creator. Shame in a healthy sense allows us to know our limits. But I would venture to say that when most of us think and feel shame we are feeling the toxic shame. Toxic shame is when we have turned on ourselves and rejected our essence and worthiness. Shame causes us to have the inability to believe the Imago Dei, that we are made in the image of God. Shame can also be understood as codependency. They go hand-in-hand. It causes us to reject our "self". Shame manifests itself in perfectionism, depression, rage, control, judgment, legalism, OCD, and so on.
We as human beings are made to need. We are needy beings. You don't have to teach a three year old to have needs. They know their needs and express them very well. If any of you have had a 3 year old you know what I'm talking about. But for many, that changes as they grow up. Bradshaw says, "as children, we were loved for our achievements and our performance, rather than for ourselves. Our true and authentic selves were abandoned. Fortunately the true self never goes away, and we can stop the drivenness to perform" (p. 69). We all are made to be held, touched, affirmed and confirmed. It is when children are told their needs are not important that they start to internalize and wonder if something is wrong with them.
So what do we do with our shame? I have to confess that there is no simple answer to this. Research shows that talking about it with someone else helps. In my experience with my own shame, this is true but I still struggle and feel like I can't shake this demon called toxic shame. Bradshaw points out the following, "It's not what you know how to do, but what you do when you don't know what to do."
On my own personal journey through toxic shame, I know that I absolutely have to have a few people that I can just share my shaming thoughts with. Its to desire in me to know that "i'm OK and that I matter". With addiction, it is not so much about changing the behavior as much as accepting who we are. The behavior is a by product to our being. What if that is part of the good news?
Its widely mentioned that Oxytocin is the attachment drug. Who knew that Oxytocin could also contribute to keeping men out of trouble? A recent study in Germany shows evidence that attached men who received a nasal spray of Oxytocin kept a further distance from attractive women than men who didn't get the Oxytocin spray.
We were created to have Oxytocin. It is amazing to think that when a mother breast-feeds her baby Oxytocin is being release creating a bond between the mother and child. That very drug that we were made to have is the very same chemical that is released (contributing to addiction) when an addict goes to porn or sex.
Research shows that all marital couples long to know whether or not they matter to their spouse. So much so that there is a real fear in all of us that is afraid that if I reach for my partner will they be there for me or reject me. I believe that we are made this way and we are made for dependence.
Problems arise when we try to reject how we are made. We are created for relationship. We long for relationship and will go to extraordinary lengths to have connection. But its in this same vain that we can go to idol worship (i.e. addiction). We are terrified of being rejected and abandoned. We wouldn't be human if we were not scared.
The problem isn't the fear of being abandoned and rejected. It is what we do in order to not feel the fear. Our heart is made to have feelings. Fear can be a great feeling because it lets us know that something or someone matters to us. It is like a flash light illuminating something of importance (i.e. our heart).
The hope of sex & porn addiction recovery is not only being sober but being healed and in recovery. It is a great feeling when you can live life without the fear of some giant monster looming over your shoulder waiting to pull you back into the depths of the disease. The problem is that so often we have already started down the path of addiction and we do not even realize it. While we might have all the right intentions and motives, one still gets caught up in the disease. It is often said that one can make all the promises in the world but when the addiction train is near, you get right back on it. What are ways you can know when we are in danger of acting out? The goal is to catch and be aware of early warning signs. The simplest way is to be aware of when you are not "feeling". We are created as "emotional" beings. Sexual addiction and porn addiction is fueled but us trying not to feel our feelings. Chip Dodd in his book "Voice of the Heart" narrows our core feelings down to eight (glad, sad, hurt, lonely, shame, guilt, anger, and fear).
Brene Brown has become a sensation on the discussion of shame. Here are a few excerpts from several of her videos...
"When you ask people about love…they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask about longing….they tell you about excruciating experiences of being excluded. When you ask people about connection…they tell you about disconnection. Shame is the fear of disconnection. It asks “Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I will not be worthy of connection.”"
"The less you talk about shame the more you have it. What underpins shame is excruciating vulnerability. In order for connection to happen…we have to be seen....There is only one difference being those with toxic shame and those without it…it is if you hold “love and belonging” for yourself. Its believing that you matter. Its believing that you are worthy...."
"The one thing that keeps you out of connection is believing that you are not worthy of connection.....Courage = from latin word “cour” original meaning is to tell your story with your whole heart"
Here are several links to videos by Brene...
Shame and Empathy - ( click here )
Connectedness and vulnerability - ( click here )
Definition of Shame - ( click here )
Part II - ( click here )
There has been a quote from Richard Rohr that has stuck with me for some time. He says, "the young man who cannot cry is a savage and the old man who cannot laugh is a fool". I connected with this quote because I felt like I was that young man before I came into recovery. I researched that quote and found that it was found in a speech given to Yale's Medical Students. The speech was titled "Sadness" and was centered on male initiation and men as learners. He found that across every society both current and historical, young men had to be taught how to cry. That leads me to the question then, "how do we learn how to cry?" Here is Rohr's article..."Sadness"