One of the most common questions asked is: “Can I fix this by myself?”
One of the most common questions asked by a person after acknowledging his sexual brokenness is:
"Can I fix this by myself?"
The unspoken (but no less serious) part of this question is:
"Do I really have to tell anyone about this?"
It doesn’t matter who asks the question—young or old, male or female, parent or teen, married or single; most of us want to hide that broken part of us in the back closet of our lives, away from prying eyes, ridicule, and embarrassment.
While this is a natural reaction in a fallen world, it is not a healthy one. By the end of this article, I hope your desire switches from trying to cover up your sexual sin to trying to identify and use every tool that will help you heal and recover.
I hope you will throw your entire energy into a renewed and transformed life.
Does this sound impossible or leave you more than a little skeptical? Perhaps better questions will lead to a different outlook on the problem.
Before we dig any deeper, I want to make clear that this article applies equally to anyone struggling with intimacy disorder, sex addiction, pornography use, or other sexual wounds.
Let’s start at the beginning—the acknowledgment that something is wrong. Perhaps you are a student who has just admitted that your chat room use has gotten out of control. Or, maybe you are successful businessman whose affair has just been discovered.
This is the moment of truth: you can no longer deny that there is a problem in your life. Perhaps, you are tempted to excuse this behavior because of age, stress, circumstances, etc. No one is trying to force you into a police line-up to determine your guilt; simply admitting that your behavior is troubling and unhealthy is the first step to moving forward.
People have a difficult time with this first step, largely because they only see the labels or stigma associated with sex addiction. Let’s set those labels aside. Before you get ahead of yourself by imagining worst case scenarios, let’s ask a few basic questions.
Some reading this article will answer "yes" to one or more of these questions. If this is you, stop reading. This article assumes a desire to live a healthy life. Continuing in your behavior cannot be part of that equation. It is unlikely you will find much of value here until you are truly ready to hear and apply it.
If you answered "no" to these questions, you have taken your first big step—you have acknowledged that your life is not what it could or should be. This really is a big step, because many people are convinced they can live two lives—the normal life that intersects the real world and real people, and the fantasy life involving two-dimensional images, imaginary situations, as well as tremendous isolation, secrecy, and loneliness.
For some people, this double life has been like a safe harbor for stress, marital strife and loneliness, or other internal pain. It could be that the thought of giving up such a trusted remedy is frightening. Some may not even know what life would look like without this fantasy life. The truth is that as long as you hold onto the hope that these two worlds can be reconciled, or at least coexist, you will not be able to move toward healing.
The good news is that you can be freed from this unhealthy dependence on behaviors, images, or people that are actually destroying you. It takes patience, perseverance, and faith. But, the transformed life also requires more tangible tools as well—the active assistance of mature, committed, people.
We are back to the question posed at the beginning of this article. You realize and admit that something is not right in your life. You are plagued by a twisted or fractured understanding of sexuality. Most people in this situation feel no small degree of shame or guilt, which, unfortunately, leads to the desire to keep everything hidden, even while seeking healing. Does healing really require other people to know about the problem?
Rather than ask whether or not you have to share this with someone else, consider a different question:
"Where has my own thinking gotten me?"
Many spend considerable energy trying to keep their secret life hidden. Although they know their behaviors are wrong, they do not seek out the counsel of a trusted friend. Following their own advice, they determine that it is best to keep everything secret, hidden, and isolated from others.
Some in recovery call this "stinking thinking." This, they say, is the only proof a person needs that they can’t fix the problem on their own. Does this seem like your life? Has your own counsel kept you from admitting long ago—when you first had suspicions that things weren’t right inside—that you could use help?
If you are clinging to the notion that you can figure this all out on your own, I will do what I can to pry you from this dangerous idea. If you are honest with yourself, you have already tried to stop your offending behavior. Here’s the typical cycle of sexual addiction: You told yourself a hundred times that you would never do it again. You even managed to stop for a time, but something triggered a relapse and you went back to it. You prayed, you cried, you did everything you could think of to put an end to this miserable struggle. In the end, nothing worked. Given this long, defeating ordeal, would you still hold onto the idea that you can fix it without the help of others?
Let’s ask another question:
What is preventing you from sharing this struggle with others?
The answer to this question is the real hindrance to recovery. Some common responses involve fear, shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
Although these are familiar and reasonable answers, all are part of the problem. Every excuse that moves beyond recognition of the problem and manifests itself as a roadblock to recovery must be cast aside without reservation.
As we stated earlier, people are afraid of being labeled, judged, cast aside, rejected, and a whole host of other negative reactions. While there are legitimate concerns about acting wisely and confiding in safe, mature believers, we need to recognize that fear is the enemy of love, and love—of God and others—is our goal in recovery. When we love someone, we sacrifice ourselves; we engage in service and put their needs above our own. This is how humans were designed to operate, and precisely how we are not operating when engaged in a secret life of fantasy.
It may comfort you to know that our First Parents, Adam and Eve, also felt fear and shame when they disobeyed God. They hid from God and clothed themselves with little leaves they sewed together.
Does this sound a bit like your situation? Has fear and shame crippled you from bringing your internal pain into the light? Has this secrecy prevented you from connecting with God? Have you hidden yourself from others because of what you’ve done?
Sin has that effect on us. It causes separation, loneliness, fear, and shame. Sin tries to convince us that we are unwanted, unworthy, and undesirable. This assessment of our worth seems to mesh with most people’s recollection of Adam and Eve. They remember an angry God who kicked them out of the garden and into to a life of pain, hardship, and toil.
God’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s sin was righteous judgment, but it was also compassionate. He made better clothes for them to alleviate their shame. He also gave them a promise that He would send a Savior to redeem them from sin and death. Just as we inherited sin through our First Parents, we have also inherited God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation, which is found in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Beyond fear, the shame, the embarrassment, the anger and the loneliness lays another reason why people are afraid to share their struggle with another. Deep in our core, we are wounded in our heart and in our soul. The tragedy of Adam and Eve’s story is that we once knew pure intimacy with one another and with God. We were truly and fully known and loved with a genuine, authentic, eternal love. This sin in the Garden of Eden wounded us all where it would hurt the most: our ability to receive from and return authentic love to God and to each other.
The isolation from God that many in your situation feel is not secondary to your sexual brokenness. This separation is the heart of your problem. Even if you are a devoted Christian who hates this sin, it has kept you apart from God.
Our inability to open ourselves to another to be fully, lovingly, and authentically known is what leads us to seek inauthentic, temporary, selfish, intimacy with substances and relationships that were never designed to perform that function. All of the drugs, alcohol, pornography, serial relationships, food, or sex in the world will never fulfill us. Only a restored relationship with God can make us whole, and only though this renewed bond will we be able to bond with others in a healthy, loving way.
Pure Intimacy is part of a growing movement within the sex addiction recovery community that emphasizes the spiritual component of sexual brokenness. The Iceberg Method to Understanding Intimacy Disorder is a comprehensive treatment of the interconnection of our bodies, minds, and spirits. While your behavior may have gotten you in trouble, damaged thoughts and emotions led you to act out. Deeper than the life of your mind, however, was a wounded or rebellious spirit that could not find its comfort in the Creator, and sought refuge in a life of fantasy and self-medicating behaviors.
A renewed, transformed life does not simply seek to stop a behavior, as important as that is. The real recovery is one in which our lives—behaviors, thoughts, emotions, and relationship to God and others—is made new and restored to what He originally intended.
Several of the articles on this site speak of intimacy disorder as the driving force behind addictive behavior. If our core problem is one of a disordered search for intimacy, then it would make sense that restoring a healthy vision of this would be our goal.
Let’s look one more time to the question at the beginning.
"Can I fix this by myself?"
God has given us friends, mentors, and spouses because, as a people, we need community. Isolation only feeds the secrecy, lies, and shame that have kept us from realizing our true design for fellowship with others. Here are some other questions to consider:
True and lasting recovery involves a community of responsible, committed people. This community will likely include a Christian counselor trained in intimacy disorders or sex addiction, a spiritual mentor, such as a pastor or mature Christian friend, a group of serious friends with whom you can develop accountability relationships, and the loving support of trusted family members.
There are resources on this site to help you set up these relationships and encourage you to begin the process of rebuilding your life. All of this may seem daunting, but take heart, God loves you more than you know and He will be with you every step of the way. Just ask Him.
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. …We love because he first loved us." — 1 John 4:10, 19