Finding recovery from porn addiction

by, John L. Hart
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One afternoon, two teenage children walked into the room and saw their father at the computer, and a screen that shouldn’t have been there.

They immediately told their mother, who was so devastated she didn’t speak of it for two days. Then she demanded that he move out.

This anonymous but true account is but one example of pornography abuse — which, whether compulsive or addictive — has dramatically increased with easy access to the Internet, once called the information superhighway.

But the pornography lane of the superhighway did not bring with it any easy exits and is clogged with its victims — men, women and children.

“Sexuality expressed in an appropriate context of a healthy marital relationship is a wonderful thing,” said J. Douglas LeCheminant of LDS Family Services.

But outside that appropriate context, people in long-term, hard-core addiction who try to reform their actions “will spend their lives recovering” as they walk through a world overfilled with “triggers,” such as the Internet at their fingertips that, as one addict said, will “pull them down like a tractor beam into oblivion.”

One expert said that trying to control addiction by willpower is like trying to stop a bad case of nausea by willpower.

“It is a vulnerability, not just a behavior or some little habit,” said Elder John C. Jones, a program coordinator for the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program in American Fork. “The endorphins or neurotransmitters dumped into the brain in such significant quantities when they have a sexual experience, whether legitimate or otherwise, are extremely powerful and that is what they get addicted to.”

Most try to stop on their own but when they can’t, are too humiliated to seek help.

“The biggest obstacle to break through is the shame factor,” said Elder Jones. “Some would almost rather die than be discovered.”

“The earlier it is caught, the better it is,” said one recovering lifetime addict. “They shouldn’t wait until they are married with children.”

Bishops, Elder Jones said, often tell him how frequently they confront this problem. Beyond that, how many people are addicted, and who they are is unknown, but it is a large number. And it isn’t just a malady for men. More and more women are involved, especially in chat room types of illicit exchanges. Nearly all become involved as youth, often unintentionally.

Elder Jones noted pornography addiction becomes an escalating problem. He suggested that anyone who has viewed pornography more than four or five times a month would do well to visit with their bishop to determine whether attendance at a gospel-based recovery support meeting would be helpful.

“Everyone (in the recovery groups) has the same problem,” said Elder Jones. “Here they almost immediately feel hope, love and acceptance. Here they find the opportunity to … access the great power (of the Atonement) the Savior gave them.”

Those who respond to an invitation to attend its gospel-based groups come from all walks of life within and without the Church, he said. Many who attend “are strong men who have a testimony of the gospel and of the Savior.”

They are fathers and returned missionaries. They hold important positions in their careers.

“These are men hurting so badly they want to get away; they are sick of their dual lives. What it does to their mates is so devastating they might as well as had an affair with a real woman as one on the screen.”

The groups he coordinates grow rapidly. As soon as a group reaches about 20, it is divided.

Meetings begin with prayer under the direction of a Church-service missionary. Then a facilitator, someone in recovery, takes over. Each person is invited to share experiences and feelings of where he is in the process of recovery. Recovery begins, they say, by admitting “that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addiction and that your life has become unmanageable.” Cross talking, advice, preaching, or discussing pornography is not permitted. Only first names are used. In the groups, each person is accepted and everything said remains in the room, fully confidential. Participants quickly become invested in each other’s progress. Support groups for spouses are also held, as spouses have suffered and need loving help as well.

The meetings are spiritual events where participants share their personal experiences with the atonement of Jesus Christ and healing they have felt as they turn their will and life over to Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Yet recovery is a tough battle and comes one agonizing step after another. Some attending these groups have battled this addiction for many years. Some have lost spouses. Some have betrayed their children’s trust. Some have lost jobs or been incarcerated. And some just don’t get it, but are still trying.

One recovering addict tried to count the number of times he’d been through the gospel-based recovery program. When he couldn’t remember how many times, he said, “It really doesn’t matter because I am going to go through them again.”

Elder Ken Olsen and Sister RaNae Olsen work with groups in the Sandy, Utah, area.

“They know they are loved and accepted here,” said Sister Olsen of those who attend the support group meetings. Once, she said, when one participant admitted a relapse and started to cry, “we all started to cry.”

“If the Savior were to come to earth, He would come here because people are here to be healed.”

The Church does not want people to be alone when they are addicted, explained her husband, a former school administrator. They have been volunteers for five years and work with addictions of all types.

“We see the Atonement in real life,” said Elder Olsen. Recovery is different for different people, but participants come to accept themselves and move to a positive life that includes helping others.

“We are training those who in turn will reach out to others,” he said. “Satan only needs addiction to steal freedom.”

Meetings are held at 6 a.m., noon, and in the evenings on most days, except during general conference and on Monday evenings. Locations and times can be found www.ldsfamilyservices.org.

The Addiction Recovery Program has adapted the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into a framework of the doctrines and beliefs of the Church for use in these groups. These 12 steps are found in “A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing.”

Included are such quotes as this one by President Boyd K. Packer, who said, “Addiction has the capacity to disconnect the human will and nullify moral agency. It can rob one of the power to decide.”

One recovering addict observed of that statement: “That is so hopeful to the addict that somebody understands that. It is an amazing thing to have this kind of understanding in the Church.”

President Ezra Taft Benson’s words on pride are often repeated with new understanding:

“The central feature of pride is enmity — enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen…. We pit our will against God’s…. Our will in competition with God’s allows desires, appetites and passions to go unbridled.”

Today’s temptations put youth at a great risk, said one addict, who was abused at age 10 by an adult, a friend of the family, which started a 30-year addiction. He was never taught at home about sex.

He joined the Church as a teen, thinking that would allow him to overcome his temptations, but it didn’t. “It is an addiction of lust manifested through pornography and outside relationships,” he said.

He later married, believing marriage would solve the addiction. It didn’t. “I couldn’t get rid of this problem,” he said. He found a counselor who diagnosed his sexual addiction. He attended Sex Anonymous meetings, and that “helped quite a bit.”

“One of the greatest fears of addicts is that ‘If you know me the way I am, you won’t love me.’ I wanted to hide my secret in shame.” But after telling his wife, she “taught me that she loved me for who I was. Obviously, I had to make some changes.”

“When addicts get sobriety (as they refer to refraining) for a few months or a year, they feel like ‘I am OK, I can do this on my own.’ That is a great fallacy they have, never really understanding that this problem stays with me for the rest of my life.”

This time when he fell back, “I felt in complete despair.” He planned to divorce his wife because “my children should be raised by a man who was worthy.”

And “I started making plans for my ultimate exit because I felt complete desperation.”

But not wanting to end like that, he turned to the scriptures and opened to John 5, and read of the Savior visiting the man at the Pool of Bethesda. He understood the man at Bethesda, who had an infirmity for 38 years, and felt the Savior’s voice to him in a way he had never heard it before: “Would you let me heal you?”

“I said, ‘Yes. Yes.”‘

It was then he learned of the Church’s addiction recovery support groups and began attending. He started reading the scriptures and praying with more intensity. He followed the gospel-based steps of repentance and recovery.

He’s been sober now for four years and seven months and is a group facilitator.

He suggested that in interviews, everyone is asked about Internet and pornography use, and intervention is made on pornography habits with early teens and before.

Now, he said, when he is tempted he calls his wife and she talks to him. “She is my best friend. I don’t know if I can put it in words. She is helping me and working with me.”

Another recovering addict was not so fortunate and lost his wife. After a long period of addiction, he began attending group meetings, continued to meet with his bishop and received professional help. At the group meetings he met people addicted like himself but “who had been able to return to their Father in Heaven.” It was a powerful experience.

“Nobody can hold pornography at arm’s length,” he said. “Satan will tell you you can do it on your own. You have to make a choice. Either I am going to continue to lie to myself and my family, or get help and follow the Savior and do what He wants me to do.”

He said that for him to recover, he turned everything over to Lord, not just temporarily, but permanently.

“I ask Him every morning, ‘What do you want me to do today? At night I ask Him, ‘Am I doing what you want me to do?'”

“The program works but only if you turn your life over to the Lord,” he said.

He said the spiritual highlight — but not the end — in his recovery came when he had a feeling that he was forgiven, that he was doing very well, and “I knew my Father was proud of me.”

E-mail to: jhart@desnews.com

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