Last night I had the honor of speaking to a group of women called the Relief Society. It is a group within the Church of Jesus Christ whose purpose is to help prepare women for the blessings of eternal life as they: Increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement; Strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants; and Work in unity to help those in need. It is a group filled with charity for each other and for those in need. Last night that charity was about helping the wives of pornography addicts and concerned parents or grandparents wanting to protect their children from the harms of pornography, or to help those who have fallen prey to its addictive powers and cannot help themselves any longer. They sent me a list of questions to answer that were heartfelt. I felt the heaviness of the burden of answering those sometimes wrenching questions. I immediately turned to God in prayer to ask Him what message I should share with them the most. There was only one answer and it stood out to me like a beacon of light: “Tell them how much I love them!” I was blown away by the power of that answer and I felt that power again when I shared that love with those women and their husbands (who were invited to attend as well).
Here are the questions and the answers I wrote in preparation for speaking with them. I hope they can help you. I hope they give you answers to questions that you might have. I hope you feel the power of God’s love for you. I hope that if you struggle you will have the courage to attend a 12 step program like I did — for it changed my life (SAAPP.org, arp.lds.org). Be brave my friends, the reward is so worth it! I will post some links to books, websites, and 12 step groups at the end of this blog post. I hope they help. You are not alone!!
Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Before we begin, I would like to share a brief overview of my own story (intro, teen years, the internet, along came mobile, working with a counselor, and my first 12 step meeting). I would also like to talk about what addiction is and what addiction isn’t.
- How long do you have to have a pornography problem for it to be considered an addiction?
- Great question. First, I do my absolute best to never declare someone an addict. It is important that they recognize themselves as an addict. There is power in declaring, “Hi, my name is Mike, and I am addicted to pornography.”
- There is not a mathematical formula that can be applied to this question. My quick answer is anywhere between 6 months and 3 years depending on the person. The better answer is to ask yourself, or someone struggling with pornography, “Have you tried to stop but have been unable?” “Do you lose track of time when you view pornography?” “Do you feel intense urges to view it that you try hard to ignore or fight, but eventually give in?” “Are there times you catch yourself viewing pornography and you can’t even remember beginning or even wanting to view it in the first place?” “Are you able to create new habits in your life in other areas, but unable to create healthy habits when it comes to pornography and sex?” “Do you turn to it to alleviate emotional stress?”
- If the answer is yes to some or most of those questions I would seek out a 12 step program like SAAPP or ARP and ask someone you meet there to share their story with you and see if it sounds familiar.
- In your opinion can a person view pornography without having to talk to a Bishop (church leader who helps those who struggle and want to repent)?
- Why would you not want to talk to your bishop? Talking to the Bishop is not a punishment, which means there isn’t some sort of measure to use for when you can talk to them or not. Rather, I would view the Bishop as someone who cares for your welfare and has the mantle of the priesthood to give you advice from our Father in Heaven. Also, they can refer you to a 12 step program to help you if you struggle.
- Ever heard the saying, “It takes a village?” Well, when battling addiction it takes a village. My wife is involved, my parents, my brothers and sisters, my bishops, my counselor, my 12 step group brothers, my sponsors, and my God. I cannot do it alone.
- If you need a yes/no measure, my thoughts are if it’s a truly accidental scenario, then talking to your parent or spouse is enough (but you do need to talk to someone about it), if you’re a recovering addict and it’s a minor slip, talk with your sponsor, if it’s a recurring problem and you haven’t sought help or it’s combined with masturbation (which 99.9% of the time it is – I always coach parents to simply assume a child viewing pornography is masturbating, that’s just how it works), then you need to review that with your bishop for repentance purposes.
- What are some signs a parent or spouse can watch for that indicates a person has a problem?
- This is a tough one. I always go straight to “constant, caring communication is best.” I don’t have a set of exact measures for you test against. Frankly, most addicts are world class liars and very good at hiding it. If you happen to catch them then you’re lucky. I will tell you that if you do catch someone and they swear it was the first time or not really a problem, I generally don’t buy that. Ever.
- There are some indicators like irritability when stressors of life pop up. Pornography addiction creates anxiety, depression, anger, isolation, and fear.
- My best advice is to talk about it openly and frankly and ask questions frequently.
- Bring up the dangers and side effects of pornography and masturbation during family home evenings (don’t single anyone out). Indicate that viewing pornography does not make you a bad person. You will not be angry at them if they do and in fact, you will be proud of them for telling you. The concern is that you can become addicted very easily and people need help when they do and you just want to make sure they get help if needed. Ask lots and lots of questions. Share your own experiences (without graphic details). Pretending you don’t struggle and then expecting your children to come to you when they do is not a strategy of success.
- Take your kids out for ice cream and simply ask, “When was the last time you saw pornography either on purpose or accidentally?” And please, never, ever get angry or disappointed in them. Be grateful they told you. Then seek help right away. A counselor is recommended. A 12 step program for adults, and if they’re youth or primary age, you can use the ARP manual together as a parent/child and fill it out a little each week and discuss it every single night. And if you’re not a recovering addict yourself, seek one out for advice and help in how to do the 12 steps. You’ll want someone who has gone through all 12 steps with a sponsor and has been a sponsor themselves a few times.
- At this point in your life, having been affected by pornography and now recovered, do you still need your loved ones to “check” on your current relationship with pornography?
- This makes me think of “Accountability” partners. That doesn’t work. Professionals will tell you it doesn’t work. I will tell you it doesn’t work. I know because I’ve tried it. What happens is you give the responsibility and accountability for following your program to someone else. Then when you slip they feel responsible. After a while, it can actually turn into PTSD for a spouse especially.
- Having said that, however, I will also say I think it’s super healthy to talk about how someone is doing with their program. Here are some great questions I think you can ask:
- How are you feeling? You’re looking for real world emotional measures. My group uses “BEST BELTS,” which stands for: Body Care, Emotions, Stress, Tiredness, Boredom, Esteem, Loneliness, Trials, Spirituality. Learning to discuss these strong emotional triggers (happy or sad, etc) will help your spouse or family member learn to recognize when they’re starting to veer off course and know that they need to reach out to someone. The addiction is a symptom of other causes. For pornography, it’s a drug that is used to numb out the difficulties of life. Most addicts have no idea what really happy or really sad feel like because they’ve avoided it for most of their lives and they numbed themselves with their drug of choice.
- How was your meeting tonight? Although what we share in our group meetings is confidential and not to be shared outside of the meeting, the spiritual impressions most certainly can be shared. Lessons learned can be shared. New commitments. What step they’re working on. Learning is step by step, bit by bit. Allowing the addict to share that with you is healthy.
- NOTE: If your spouse is an addict and it has been a traumatic experience for you, you may find that hearing how he/she is doing is actually painful because they may very well progress at a faster rate in healing/recovery than you do and it may bring about your own resentment. Exercise caution and patience here. The goal will be to be able to eventually be open and talk about these things, but that may take time for you too. Don’t try to run before you can walk. Your own counselor and support group should be able to help you as well.
- When was the last time you did a 10th step with one of your sponsors or group members? NOTE: Please do not tell someone they “Need to do a 10th step” for something. That will only create more resentment and it is taking away the agency and responsibility of the other person. But you can certainly ask about the last one they did, when they did it, and how it went.
- You could ask about other people they’re working with. Not in particulars because that is private, but how is it going? Is it helping your family member directly?
- How are their prayers? Again, there’s no measuring stick. Just ask how it is going. And expect this to go up and down in quality and frequency. Learning to do this takes a lot of practice with a lot of trying it over again and again. God is VERY patient with us and knows we will be inconsistent in our practice. But He will always love us!
- What could your mother have done to prevent your addiction?
- Nothing. Addiction is an allergy, a medical condition. If my mom had prevented pornography from entering our home I would have probably found it at a friend’s house (I did multiple times), at stores, and even on the internet later in life. I have a friend who did not view pornography and get addicted until he was 26 years old. His mother had nothing to do with it.
- Do your best. Teach the importance of avoiding it. Be open about discussing when it is viewed. Talk often of the atonement and the Grace of God to heal us of our weakness and that we were all designed with flaws. It is the nature of the plan of salvation that we will all struggle. Period. There is no avoiding it. You can pray they do not suffer with this but I find it more important that you teach them to not be ashamed if they suffer with it and to seek help and to learn how to use that help in a way that works.
- What is your recommendation for someone that inadvertently accesses pornography?
- When I was in the bishopric I would counsel our youth to treat accidental pornography viewing like “Stop, drop, and roll.” Every kid knows that saying and pretty much none of them will ever have to use that technique. But almost every kid (frankly, all kids) will eventually see pornography. Let’s teach them to know what to do in that case: “Stop. Turn it off. Go tell a trusted adult, preferably a parent.”
- Did you realize it was an addiction before a family member confronted you? Did a family member have to confront you before you got help?
- No one ever confronted me. I did not know it was an addiction or that you could even be addicted or that I was an addict until 3 ½ years ago.
- I will say this to those of you that can hear my voice (or read my words): It is always better to own up to this on your own instead of having your spouse catch you and confront you. I have seen it through my many friends in my group meetings. Those wives who catch their husbands have a much more difficult time healing than those who are told by their husbands that they have a problem and they want help. I have been told that catching your spouse is like catching them in the act of adultery. It is very painful and is a long road of recovery.
- However, for those spouses who own up to their struggle and are able to teach their spouses that they want help, that it is a medical condition, and that they cannot beat this on their own, it is much better. It is not easy though, and still comes with its own pains and heartaches.
- At the end of the day. Own up to it. Quickly. If you think you can beat it on your own, great! Go try it, as often as you want. The sooner you’re convinced that you can’t beat it on your own, the sooner you can get real help. Join us at a meeting! I go to the Sunday meeting at 7pm. We would love to have you join our group!
- How am I able to let my husband’s past sins go? It’s easy to forgive but hard to forget.
- You cannot. But the Savior through the gift of His Grace can. You will probably need counseling too. That might make you feel angry and resentful, “Why do I have to do anything? It’s his/her fault, not mine!” I am sorry that this has happened to you. But if you will turn to God and give your pain and healing to Him, keep trying, and support others, then one day you will be able to look back on this as the experience that brought you closer to God than anything else. You will be free of pain and remorse and resentfulness. You can heal with His help. There is no other way.
- The church has a Spouse support group. There is a 12 step program for healing from spousal addiction using a book called, “Healing through Christ” at http://healingthroughchrist.org. There is also sanon, a spousal group for sex addicts. I do not have any direct experience with any of those but have friends in each of them and they have positive things to say about all of them. I would try each one and stick with whichever works the best. You may find it takes 2-3 of them. You may find that your needs change over time too.
- Support from friends and family who have gone through the same thing is critical to healing and success in recovery. The adversary’s greatest tool is isolation and shame. Shame that you alone are suffering with this. Shame that it’s somehow your fault – it isn’t! Isolation because we’re not “supposed to talk about this”. Let go of your fear of being the only one. This is the plague of the world right now, that means most of you will be impacted one way or another. Let’s support each other instead of trying to do this on our own!
- What signs of addiction did your family miss?
- I would say the fact that this was an addiction at all. I told my parents I had a problem at 12 and 17. That should have been a major indicator that I needed help. But there wasn’t any help back then. I told many bishops. I told my wife in my 20s because I couldn’t stop viewing it at work and was afraid I’d be fired. I knew I needed help and I wanted help but I had no idea where to find it. At the time the church was more of a place of fear for me. I was simply supposed to “not do it.” I knew that, I just didn’t know how I was supposed to achieve it. Finally, I had a loving bishop who was bold enough to suggest that maybe I had a problem I couldn’t solve on my own and did I think about getting help. I also had a friend who was struggling and told me he was seeing a counselor (who I have now seen for the last 3.5 years) and who introduced me to an SAAPP 12 step program.
- I would say anyone who struggles with stopping needs help. Period. That’s all the signs you need. This is an incredibly powerful drug. If your kid came to you and said they were having a hard time stopping meth use, what would your reaction be? They would need real help. Professional help.
- How long did it take to move from exposure to addiction? When did you realize it was a true addiction that needed help?
- I don’t know. I would imagine not very long at all. The problem is I didn’t realize what it was doing to my brain or my ability (or inability) to create deep relationships, or to handle difficult emotions. I thought it was normal.
- I realized I had a problem when I couldn’t stop on my own (12 & 17 and forever afterwards).
- I had several multi-year dry spells but it would always come back at new callings, job changes, life events, any sort of stressful situation.
- I felt it was going to be my cross to bear for the rest of my life. I had been the one to choose to open that first magazine, I had to pay the burden of my sin (hardly the plan of salvation, but that’s the lie I believed). I had fasted, prayed, received blessings, gone to the temple, sought priesthood leadership help, sought my parents and wife for help, read books, talked with friends. It would always come back. But now that I’m in a 12 step and actively working my steps and working with others, I am in recovery. I am sober. I am healing.
- How did it start, How did you find help?
- It started when I was 10 years old and found a pornography magazine from my Grandfather in my parent’s basement.
- I found sobriety and recovery from a friend who introduced me to his SAAPP 12 step program, I got a sponsor, I worked the steps, and I now work with others as they do their steps.
- At what point did you realize you had an addiction?
- I always knew I had a problem. I can’t remember when I made the connection between being unable to stop (I felt like I was just weak, sinful, bearing the cross, paying the price for my sin, or just a bad person) and actually realizing I was an addict. I can say for sure I was ready to do anything 3.5 years ago and I vocally admitted to my sponsor that I was an addict over 2 years ago.
- What was it that finally got you to make the decision to get help and make a change?
- When I was a teenager. I heard multiple conference talks. I felt the spirit tell me it wasn’t right. I was afraid of viewing pornography and masturbation as a teenager dating women – what would that do to my ability to keep the commandments and to have healthy relationships with people.
- But that desire was never enough. No matter what I tried, what knowledge I had, how many people I told or asked for help, until I went through a 12-step program with full commitment, I did not find true recovery. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I just never found it.
- (Comment not question) Please talk about the fact that although pornography addiction is a less than desirable way to learn and grow, the process of learning to know one’s self and deal with emotions in a healthy way is empowering. It can be overcome and be positive.
- This is so true!!
- How do I heal a family that has been devastated by pornography?
- You don’t. Only God can. If the husband or wife is struggling with pornography addiction (or other sexual addictions, there are many), then you might let them know that you know someone they can talk to (I’m willing to meet with anyone). You might give them a copy of the AA Big Book or the ARP manual and recommend they attend a meeting. If they want to change, let them know they need to read the book, follow the teachings, attend meetings, find a sponsor, and work all of the steps.
- As a parent how do you recognize when your children are viewing or participating in pornography?
- I don’t think you can. I don’t know of a litmus test you can use. Our own children have viewed it. We talk about it often. We might still have a child who struggles with it and doesn’t want to tell us. There isn’t a lot I can do until they decide that their life has become unmanageable and they want help.
- But as soon as they want help, you now have tools my parents never had. And that doesn’t have to stop when they become adults. I’ve had a several people referred to me by loving parents. Some still come and have committed to working the steps, others have stopped coming and we pray for them that they will come back someday and it will be soon.
As you can tell, these were not easy questions to answer. I did the best that I could with the knowledge that I know. I may try to come back and add to this post or create a new post based on some of the extra questions that were asked last night that I also did my best to answer. It was a wonderful evening and I hope those who attended received answers to their questions and hope for those they love or for themselves. Life is full of trials and difficulties. We all have them — but we need not suffer alone. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Tell them your struggle. Don’t hide behind the false front of perfection, it’s a lonely place to be. Be courageous and ask for help! It’s so worth it. And then share what you have with someone else — nothing helps more than helping another.
We can do this!
My name is Mike
Some links to books or websites I have found useful:
Teaching children about sex and pornography:
- 30 Days of Sex Talks: Ages 3-7
- 30 Days of Sex Talks: Ages 8-11
- 30 Days of Sex Talks: Ages 12+
- How to Talk to Your Kids about Pornography
- Good Pictures Bad Pictures
- Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (online edition)
- Addiction Recovery Program (free download)
- SAAPP (Sex Addicts Anonymous Primary Purpose) tele-meetings (Sunday morning, Saturday morning “foundations”, and others)
- ARP (Addiction Recovery Program) meetings