I’m the guy who writes the rowboat and marbles essays about recovery from sex and pornography addiction (www.RowboatAndMarbles.org). I’ve been in recovery (i.e., no porn, no masturbation AND progressive victory over lust) for long enough now to know that complete and lasting sexual sobriety is possible both for myself and for other LDS men. Although I’ve seen a number of LDS men find this same recovery, sadly I’ve seen many more who don’t. I have come to recognize some trends.
First, those who get into and stay in recovery do four things:
- complete honesty with their wife,
- complete honesty with their bishop,
- therapy with a professional person experienced in treating sexual addictions,
- and ACTIVE participation in an EFFECTIVE 12 Step group more than two times a week.
Second, those who don’t get sober and find true recovery don’t do those four things.
This is not to say that this is absolutely the only way to do things. I don’t know that it is. What I do know, however, is what I’ve seen and what I’ve seen is that men who stay in recovery do those four things while those who fail don’t do those four things. Most of the LDS men I see who fail to stay sober tend to view therapy and 12 Step as unnecessary inconveniences for men of their intelligence, strength and spirituality. They view these things as crutches for the weak among us (apparently, that would include me). Those of us in recovery scratch our heads. We’re indeed weak and yet we’re completely sober sexually. They’re strong but can’t seem to string together more than a couple weeks without porn and masturbation. In recovery, we’re happy and getting happier. They, on the other hand, continue to be scared, confused and miserable.
You said your husband has gone to support groups but they haven’t helped
You said your husband has gone to support groups but they haven’t helped. It’s important to know that not all support groups are equally effective. This is certainly true with 12 Step groups. The Church’s pornography addiction support group (PASG) unfortunately tends to be in the fledgling stages in many areas where it exists. These meetings often lack the experience, strength and hope of men who have achieved long-term sobriety and who can help lead the newer men in the program to sobriety. Without men in serious recovery, these meetings can end up being a group of scared, embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated men who sit and talk about how sorry they are and how much they love Jesus. This is not an effective 12 Step meeting. Also, the Church’s 12 Step groups tend not to have sponsors, another key component of effective 12 Step groups and recovery. Oftentimes, LDS men will attend twelve meetings of the Church’s PASG program (one meeting a week for three months, one meeting for each of the 12 Steps) after which they announce to their wife and their bishop that they’ve been miraculously cured of their “little problem.” Probably, they actually believe this, as do the wife and the bishop. They’re not cured, however, as they will find out again a few weeks or months later when they once again find themselves acting out and lying about it.
In contrast, many LDS men are finding sobriety in 12 Step groups outside the Church. In particular, Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is very effective. It is my experience and that of others that SA is the best way for LDS men to deal effectively with pornography and sexual addiction. It’s amazing and inspiring to see them transform from scared, ashamed, empty shells of men into the confident, worthy priesthood holders they’ve always wanted to be. I expect that at some point, enough LDS men will take their SA experience and sobriety with them to the Church’s PASG groups and fortify them so they become effective as well. We all need to understand that porn consumption is really just a manifestation of an addiction to lust; lust is a drug that addicts use to self-medicate with when they feel overwhelming negative emotions like resentment, humiliation, fear and anger. If a guy keeps focusing on fighting the “temptation” to look at porn, but never does anything to deal with the lust addiction or the emotions fueling the desire to medicate, he can NEVER get into recovery.
Again, if a guy says he’s all fixed—no more porn urges for him—and yet he can’t articulate how he is treating and monitoring the lust addiction and the debilitating emotions, we know he’s dreaming or lying. We have to treat the emotional turmoil, the lust addiction and the compulsions to act out sexually—all three—if we want to recover. It appears your husband isn’t doing this. So many LDS men aren’t getting sober because they are trying to do it on their own in isolation—or else confiding only in people who have no experience in dealing with sexual addiction. If your husband will get an LDS sponsor who has walked the road to recovery, the sponsor will look him in the eye and tell him,
- I know what you need to do to get sober because I’ve done it. I know when you’re lying because I’ve lied about the same things.
- I know how you think you’re smarter than everyone else, because I used to think I was smarter than everyone else, too.
- I know how you objectify the women around you because that’s what I used to do.
- You can’t fool me because I was who you are.
- I know what the overwhelming compulsion to act out sexually feels like and I know what to do to make it stop—forever.
- I can show you what to do and it’ll work for you, too, if you’re willing to work it.
I am one of those guys. I can look your husband in the eye and tell him what sobriety feels like and what it takes to get it. Those of us in recovery are out there and looking to share the message of hope. In fact, it is our experience that in order to keep what we have, we have to give it away to others. You mentioned that your husband always takes full responsibility for his conduct. I’ve done some writing about the myth of “accepting personal responsibility” and urge you to read it at https://www.RowboatAndMarbles.org/abcs6.html. It turns out that “accepting personal responsibility” is a hallmark of LDS men who want to be left alone so they can isolate with their addiction. They’ve conned themselves and those around them into believing that because they’re “manning up,” they’re taking this seriously—and this time it’ll work—if only everyone will just leave them alone. Their addiction admires these men immensely when they “man up”—it means more time acting out and more of the drug it craves. I think you’re absolutely right to ask yourself the questions you ask and to feel the emotions you’re feeling. When wives ponder their future with their addicted husband, it is vital that they protect themselves—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—from their husband’s behavior. One way they can protect themselves is to understand reality. This is reality: A man cannot get into recovery and stay there simply by prayer, scripture study and willpower. Like diabetes, addiction requires treatment, and monitoring. That treatment includes therapy and 12 Step. Any man who is not following an active recovery program specific to sexual addiction but who is telling his wife that he no longer has any compulsion to act out sexually is unduly optimistic or simply lying—or both.
Addicts who aren’t in recovery are liars. It’s part of being an addict. Many women wonder how they can know if their husbands are in true recovery. The answer is listening to spiritual inspiration, responding to gut feelings and keeping in mind a simple joke from Alcoholics Anonymous:
What is the difference between an addict and an addict in recovery?
Answer: You can’t get the addict to talk about his recovery and you can’t get the addict in recovery to shut up about it.
If your husband is in recovery, he will attend 12 Step meetings, he will read the literature, he will get a sponsor and work the 12 Steps with him, and eventually he will become a sponsor and help other men get sober. Most importantly, if he is in recovery he will spontaneously share with you new experiences and insights of sobriety as he progresses in recovery. If he is not sharing spontaneously it is because he has nothing to share. If he has nothing to share, he is not in recovery. There are only two possible camps in the sex addiction recovery world. Either the addict is actively working toward recovery through a program and will stay sober, or he is not working toward recovery and is basically blowing in the wind. This second guy is either acting out currently or basically treading water until the compulsions once again hit him and he slips up as he always has. As you said, you can’t work your husband’s recovery for him. He has to do that. One thing you don’t have to do, however, is pretend along with him that he is getting better when he’s not. Everything you’ve described about your husband indicates that he’s not in recovery and never has been. Sure, he’s been penitent at times. Sure, he’s desired to change at times. But he’s never been in recovery. You can tell him that. You can tell him that because you know he’s never been truly sober and is not currently sober, all your decisions about your present and future from now on will be based upon the fact that he is not in recovery. You can also tell him that other LDS husbands are achieving complete sexual sobriety NOW and you deserve nothing less than that. Now means now, not three months from now, or six months from now, or a year from now.
By the way, in case he wonders, complete sexual sobriety means no pornography and no masturbation—ever. It also means progressive victory over lust. Recovery does not mean trying really hard and only slipping up once every three to six months. We have another name for that: active addiction. You deserve nothing less than a sexually sober husband. Ask him if he is willing to do whatever it takes. He owes that to you and he has the ability to give you what he owes—if he is willing to do whatever it takes. If your husband wants to talk about what it takes, he can get a hold of me through our website shown at the top of this response.
If you feel like talking with an LDS woman who has achieved recovery from her husband’s sexual addiction, my wife would be happy to visit with you by phone or email. She will give you a strong plug for attending S-Anon meetings, a safe and inspiring place where LDS women are finding strength and healing from the trauma caused by their husband’s behavior. As you know, she can’t guarantee that your husband will get sober and stay sober. What she will help you do, however, is learn how to recover from the bombs your husband has been dropping on you for your entire marriage and even before that. God bless you and every woman currently suffering as you are.
We’re praying for you. James