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Faith and Sex Center Blog

We receive (and respond to) a lot of emails.  We also lead a great many groups and work with quite a few individuals.  Amid the flurry of resulting conversations intriguing topics related to faith and sex always materialize.

The following blog posts represent focused, or often expanded, discussions of these topics.  It seems unfair that such rich material should be left to dissipate into the air after two or three or ten people have gathered together to produce it.  Hopefully a larger community can benefit from the shared wisdom that is a product of unconditional love and support.

Change, Part I

Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Blog, Read These First | 1 comment

Throughout the years I have heard many stories and read countless emails from men, and some women, who have talked about wanting to change.  They have made commitments to live life differently, mostly with their sexual behavior, whether it was to stop using pornography, having anonymous sex, or masturbating.   For whatever reason – and there have been many reasons – they have not been happy with their behavior.  They’ve felt shame around it, it has interfered with other aspects of their lives, or it has simply left them feeling empty.   These men and women have made commitments that have ranged from at least putting their behavior into perspective – so as to feel less guilt about it – to at most stopping the behavior altogether.  Regardless of the nature of the commitments it has all come back to the same thing…change.   And many of these men or women who have sought change have come up short.  Not once.  Not twice.  But numerous times.   They’ve made the verbal commitments to change.   They’ve set sobriety dates.  They’ve removed all sources of their “drug of choice” from their environment including destroying their computers.  They’ve attended recovery groups and read the best books on the subject.  But then, when they were least expecting it, they felt the undertow of their behavior sucking them back in to old patterns.   Why, then, is it so difficult to change?   I love this question.  I love it because there are so many things that we talk about as human beings, so many things that we get distracted by, but in the end it all comes down to this one thing…why can’t we live the life we would like to live?  Why can’t we change if that’s what we really want?   Whether or not you are a Christian it is difficult not to see ourselves in the Apostle Paul’s so very human assertion, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).  If I were to translate this translation it would come out to be, “Why, then, is it so difficult to change?”   I am old enough to know that there are no easy answers to anything.  But I’m also young enough to risk offering an easy answer.  After all, if we don’t take risks we never accomplish much.  More importantly, if we don’t take risks we never change.   My answer to the question, “Why, then, is it so difficult to change?” is in line with Paul’s answer but I come at it from a 21st Century perspective.   It is so difficult to change because these “habits” that have formed in our lives have formed to protect us from experiencing what we fear most – disconnection, isolation…loneliness.   Think hard on this one.  How badly do you want to feel connected, especially to the people who first gave you meaning in your life – parents, siblings, or other caregivers?  Since birth we have made connections with the people nearest to us.  These connections have insured that we were fed, housed, and warm.  These connections meant life.   As we grew older, whether we realized it or not, we wanted to maintain these...

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Three Stages Out of Depression

Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Blog, Living Life, Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Every depression is caused by something depressing that has happened, with no exceptions.”   –  George E. Atwood, The Abyss of Madness, p. 166   The title of this article is very alluring for someone who struggles with depression.  It promises that there is a way out of depression and that depression has a cure.  I do believe there is a way out of depression and that depression, on many levels, has a cure.  The cure may not be an easy one, but there is a cure.   Depression is the product of a lack of individuation.  Individuation is the ability to recognize yourself as a unique entity apart from others while still in relationship with others.  Individuation is the ability to recognize that your life is your own despite what others believe, believe about you, or have done to you.  Individuation is the ability to say to yourself, “This is who I am regardless of what has happened or will happen to me.”   Depression occurs when we believe, falsely, that our most fundamental need – human connection (see Change, Part I) – can only exist if we are or behave in ways that other significant people in our lives accept or accepted.  When we feel as if there is no hope in ever being what we believe other people in our lives want us to be we become isolated, hopeless…depressed.   To state that depression is the product of a lack of individuation is dangerous.  It’s dangerous because it puts the responsibility of depression on the depressed person’s shoulders.   And if there is one thing a depressed person doesn’t need while in his depression it is to believe that his depression is his fault.   I am and I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault.  I am saying that it is his fault in that I believe that depression has a level of choice to it, a choice to individuate.  I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault in that there are millions of factors that have gone into a person becoming the person he is which had nothing to do with him or the decisions he has made in life.  Life is complex.  But again, this gets back to choice.  Wondering and marveling at life’s complexity instead of trying to control it is a pathway to contentment.   Stage One – Depression   A big debate among clinicians who treat depression is how much of depression is a product of genetics and how much of it is a product of circumstance.  How much of it is a matter of “nature” and how much of it is a matter of “nurture.”   What biopsychologists are discovering more and more these days is that nature and nurture are not mutually exclusive.  Our genetics, the traits that are handed down to us from previous generations, aren’t necessarily set in stone for ourselves or for our offspring.  The choices we make during our lifetime have consequences for how our cells reproduce now.  This area of study, called epigenetics, suggests that depression, while something that can be genetically inherited, can actually be altered by the choices we make and how we chose to live our lives.   One theory of depression is the monoamine...

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God’s Invitations: An Exploration of Christian Spirituality

Posted by on June 1, 2016 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

  “To realize truth our whole being has to be brought into accord with actuality, with things as they are, which requires that in communications with others we respect things as they are by speaking the truth. Truthful speech establishes a correspondence between our own inner being and the real nature of phenomena, allowing wisdom to rise up and fathom their real nature. Thus, much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the fantasies woven by desire.”   – Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, pp. 49-50.   This post is about spirituality. There are thousands of other posts about spirituality. What makes this one different? I don’t know: education, age, experience. It is written with addictive behavior in mind, in particular compulsive sexual behavior. It’s from a Christian perspective, although it will journey into psychoanalysis and Eastern beliefs before returning again. It’s also written from the perspective of need.   I guess that’s the biggest difference between this post and many other posts, books, or sermons on spirituality: it’s written from the perspective of need. Talking about God in the abstract can be fun and fascinating, but talking about God because you have to is another thing.   I’ll begin with a story…   Micah Micah is the son of immigrants. He grew up in Los Angeles. His parents, particularly his father, were set in the ways of their homeland: respect for parents whether they deserved that respect or not. If you didn’t respect them, whatever that meant, you would suffer corporal punishment.   Despite their faults, Micah’s parents meant well. They came to America with little and wanted for their children that which they did not have. They were Christians. Observant. Bible-based.   Micah told me the story of a time when he was eight-years old and his family was on a trip with another family. While his family was tending to car trouble, Micah went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken with the other family. “What would you like?” asked the father. Never having stepped foot into a KFC before, Micah went for the 16-piece bucket of crispy. Go big or go home. When Micah’s father found out about it he was not pleased, threw the chicken out, and spent the afternoon chastising his son for imposing on others.   Years of beatings taught Micah the lesson to appear diligent, ordered, and competent even when he didn’t feel that way inside. He was a top-notch student bred in the ways of a first-generation American living out the dreams of his parents, taught to perform not to be. He was a musician and played in his church. He had an extensive community of friends. He also spent hours each day compulsively viewing and masturbating to pornography.   Micah did well and achieved throughout college and into graduate school, becoming a much sought-after corporate accountant. I may not need to tell you the rest of the story. Despite getting married, continuing to be a significant member of his church community, and becoming a father, his days would evaporate into porn use.   It wasn’t until his wife became more aware of...

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Dads…

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Blog, Living Life | 2 comments

“When we understand that we are born babies, that we all bleed blood, and that we experience the same pains and joys, then we have the basis of the empathy and humility we need to be able to forgive.” – Everett L. Worthington Jr., Forgiving and Reconciling, p. 127   Mike’s dad kicked him out of the house when he was sixteen. The last time I saw Mike before he left to live with his mother in Katmandu, Nepal was when my older brother and I were running laps around a big grassy field in our neighborhood park. It was night. Where I ran Mike was going to sleep. I don’t remember if I invited Mike to come stay at our house. He wouldn’t have anyway so I guess it wouldn’t have mattered. I’ll get to that in minute.   Mike’s parents divorced when Mike was two, maybe before that. As long as I had known Mike it was just his dad and he. Paul, another friend of ours, frequently reminded me how much he envied Mike’s relationship with his dad. He’d see Mike and his dad walk to the park to play catch or go to a movie every Sunday. Although I don’t know what there is to envy about the type of father who would kick his son out of the house at the age of sixteen Paul always talked glowingly about their relationship. Of course, Paul’s father was a physically abusive alcoholic who left his family when Paul was nine. It’s all relative.   Apparently Mike’s father was abusive as well. Paul told me. I recently returned to my hometown and Paul and I caught up. I pictured Mike helpless in his father’s shuttered two-bedroom house. “I wonder if that’s why Mike never wore shorts,” I speculated. Mike had a penchant for Toughskins, even during our fifth grade soccer practices and games. Better to hide the bruises.   Mike’s hard living predated his departure. He started drinking and smoking in seventh grade. Between sixteen and twenty-one he experimented with every drug imaginable, lived in Jamaica for a while, toured the country, wrote poetry. After twenty-one I guess he lived in Chicago. He never graduated from high school.   Mike’s dead. A rare neurological condition caught up with him in his late thirties. I can’t imagine the drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes helped. Paul told me that Mike and his dad reconciled. I’m not sure when, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on account of Mike’s decline. Death has a way of opening up doors.   The last time I saw Mike we were twenty-one. Of all of the insights we shared during our brief reconnection the one that sticks out the most wasn’t really an insight at all but more of an inference. “Dads…,” Mike said with a subtle, disbelieving shake of the head. “Dads…”   I lead group therapy at a drug and alcohol rehab on Mondays. Kids mostly. That or adults acting as kids. When I say kids I mean eighteen or nineteen years old. Daniel reminds me of Mike, a Jewish version of Mike – long hair, intelligent, angry. A few days ago another group member rounded out a long diatribe about his parents’ chronic neglect with the question, “How do you...

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Poor Decisions Are Decisions Made Poorly

Posted by on March 12, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

  “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett   I had a professor who later became my clinical supervisor. He was a jolly guy. He’d start classes by reading the “Real Fact” from the inside of Snapple drink lids and telling slightly corny jokes.   “Make me one with everything,” commanded a Buddhist monk as he walked into a pizza parlor. In asking for his change he was told, “It’s already within you.”   Har, har…   His phone would go off in class. The ring tone was “More than a Feeling” by Boston. Apropos for a psychologist. If his age wasn’t easily measured by his appearance, it certainly was by his choice of music and other cultural references. He’d quote The Blues Brothers or Animal House and I would think to myself, I wonder if I wear my age as readily as he does?   Of course I do. That’s the cycle of life. Despite our best efforts we become fossilized. But as I get older I’m learning that being a fossil may not be such a bad thing. Fossils tell us how similar organisms once lived…and died. They are our guides to what may be our own fates. To have a fossil in your life is to know where you may be going. To become a fossil is to give back.   My supervisor was full of catch phrases, themselves smaller fossils of a much larger fossil, like tiny teeth or metatarsals. The greatest of these catch phrases was, “Poor decisions are decisions made poorly.”   When I first heard him say this, probably in reference to a client’s recent binge with alcohol and prostitutes, I disregarded it as a small rock or seed, not as the priceless fossil that it really was. It wasn’t until he repeated this phrase a number of times, probably in reference to clients’ recent binges with alcohol and prostitutes, that I began to clear off the dust and examine it.   “Think of the worst decisions you have made in your life, Steven.” I thought of when I went to work for a slave-driving dude ranch owner in Wyoming at the age of eighteen and when, as a filmmaker in my twenties, I made an overly dark and self-serious feature film which wasn’t well-received (I still like the movie). “Now,” continued my supervisor, “Who was involved in helping you make those decisions?”   When I thought about it, I realized that no one was. Well, maybe I passed the possibilities by some people but I didn’t really want to hear their opinions. And the times in my life in which I have used porn? Was anyone involved in those decisions? Certainly not. Did I regret it? Yes. It didn’t add anything to my life, and may have even taken something away.   “My mind is a dangerous place,” my supervisor said in summation. “I never go there alone.” His point? The human mind is a master at deception. It can construct illusions and fantasies about which we are unaware, illusions and fantasies that if left unexamined can lead us to terrible places. The five-hour porn binge? I’m just connecting with myself, giving...

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Bucket Lists

Posted by on December 11, 2014 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

“The secret self knows the anguish of our attachments and assures us that letting go of what we think we must have to be happy is the same as letting go of our unhappiness.” – Guy Finley     The Academy Bridge in Venice, Italy is one of only four bridges that span the Grand Canal.  It’s a footbridge, really, a 1985 replica of the 1933 replacement of the original 1854 bridge.  Its rails and cables drip with thousands of small metal padlocks inscribed with male and female names.  My son asked me what they were for.  I told him I didn’t know.  Later research proved they are “love locks,” fastened onto renowned locations about the city by lovesick youth as a sort of benign graffiti.  The Venetian police are cracking down on the tradition.  Further evidence why Paris is the city of love, not Venice.   I didn’t realize this until later but the Academy Bridge, or Ponte dell’Accademia, is one of the most photographed locations on the planet.  It shares company with the Moulin Rouge in Paris and another Italian bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, in Florence.  This came to my attention soon after visiting Italy when I stumbled across a CNN.com article about Panoramio, Google’s “geolocation-oriented photo-sharing website.”  This site quantifies the number of photographs posted for given locations about the world. Looking back on my experience at the Academy Bridge I’m not surprised to discover that it’s one of the most photographed sites.  Yes, it’s beautiful, but it also has that “site of significance” air about it.  It’s crowded, for one, and relentlessly so.  The trail of international visitors stretching across its boards is unrelenting.  And then, of course, there are the photographs.  There is a difference between taking a picture because a moment is memorable and taking a picture because it’s supposed to be taken.  This is commonplace at sites that are famous for being famous.  You’re not going to go to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or the Grand Canyon and not take a picture, or two…or twenty. As I stood at this location, after taking my own set of photographs (I just counted them and there are eleven), I reflected on the maddening crush of humanity.  I calculated its sources statistically, economically, and culturally.  Statistically, since there are over seven billion people in the world today, it would only make sense that a site like this would be so packed.   Economically, the growth of middle classes in emerging countries would fuel this population to travel to places such as this.  But as a Westerner, particularly an American, I couldn’t help but place significance on the role of culture in this mass of people, particularly the role of the “bucket list.” A bucket list, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a list of activities a person wants to engage in before he or she dies, or “kicks the bucket.”  There was a popular movie staring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman by this same title back in 2007.  Many of us have our own bucket lists, whether they are written down or just float around in the backs of our heads.  Many of us have a list of hopes, dreams, and accomplishments we wish to fulfill before we are too...

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Honor Your Conflict

Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Any person suffering from any level of despair has failed to form a narrative that effectively connects the present with the past and the future.” – Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 36   I hadn’t seen Dave in about five to six months. He first came to our Tuesday night group after discovering it online and contacting me. In group he unearthed some painful emotional stuff regarding his family of origin and then he took a hiatus. Dave needed some time just to work, get his financial life in order, and find his footing in a busy and competitive city. I would send him emails on occasion to check in and he would respond.   As friends on Facebook I would see Dave’s posts. They were usually cheery, as most Facebook posts are, with him at music festivals and the like. Recently, however, he posted a picture with a caption suggesting something tragic had happened to one of his family members. I immediately messaged him to let him know that if he needed a safe place to discuss the situation, I was available. He took me up on the offer but only after he had returned from his hometown where he helped deal with the situation.   When I met with him he admitted that it had been a very tumultuous past few weeks but that he had supportive people in his life and he was managing, if barely. He admitted that work had become difficult and being in the office each day felt like an eternity. He wondered aloud how he was going to make sense of his life now that circumstances within his family had changed so dramatically. This was not the way the story was supposed to turn out.   I wish I could share more details regarding Dave’s circumstances. It is a heartrending tale made all the more empathic by the hero of the story – a kindhearted, courageous young man who faces life’s challenges with determination and zeal. But, in the end, this is Dave’s story to tell, not mine. I must relinquish ultimate authorship to him.   As Dave spoke, I got a hunch that he was stuck in his grief not only because he had, or could accept, few alternatives for how this story was to turn out but also, and perhaps most importantly, he was hoping that many of the things that had happened to him and his family in his life hadn’t happened. In essence, he wished that the central and most formative conflict of his very being didn’t exist.   To be fair, how could Dave possibly contemplate something so arcane? When your world is collapsing around you it’s very difficult to think theoretically, let alone objectively. Dave was in it, and the fight, flight, or freeze portion of his brain had overridden the reasoning portion of his brain. All Dave could feel was the loss of someone essential to him. Without that person, could life continue? How?   The fact remained: the reason Dave was experiencing such utter despair was because there was no possible conclusion to his conflict. There was no possible conclusion to this narrative. The anticipated ending to this family tale simply could not occur now. If all aspirations were...

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Reflections on Perfection

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

“When approval is conditional on performance, then closeness and affection are bound to suffer.  Maladaptive perfectionism hides deep-seated feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.  In particular, the feeling that excessively high standards are expected and necessary to win approval and acceptance can lead to intense feelings of hopelessness.”   – Madeline Levine, Ph.D., The Price of Privilege, p. 180   There is a strong connection between perfectionism and compulsive behavior.  The internal dialogue goes something like this:   “My inherent value is as a businessperson, writer, artist, athlete, doctor, actor, attorney (you fill in the blank).  Damn, I just made a mistake.  Because my inherent value is as a businessperson, writer, artist, athlete, doctor, actor, attorney, etc. and I have made a mistake, I have just disconfirmed my value.  I must be worthless.  Boy, feeling worthless sucks.  Gee, looking at porn, visiting a strip club, eating a box of donuts, getting drunk, or smoking a bowl of weed sure feels good right now.”   Pretty simplified explanation for a dynamic process but seriously think about how you have organized your reality.  In what ways does your performance in any given realm dictate how you feel about yourself?  What thoughts go through your head when you mismanage an account, struggle to get motivated around a creative idea, procrastinate, fail to complete a workout, rush a patient, don’t get a call back, or bill fewer hours than your co-worker?  And then what do you do to manage the resulting anxiety about not being perfect?   The irony about perfectionism is that most perfectionists would never consider themselves to be perfectionists.  Why would they?  In perfectionists’ minds perfectionists are people who actually achieve perfection, and since they can never achieve perfection then they must not be perfectionists.  By its very nature perfectionism is an occult disease, a double bind.  Occult in that it exists but it cannot be seen.  Double bind in that it is because of its invisibility that it trips you up.   Another reason perfectionism is an occult double bind is because everyone’s perfectionism is connected to different aspects of life.  One person’s object of perfection is another person’s minor speed bump.   A woman may be down on herself for wearing the wrong shoes to a social event and her husband may think, “Big deal.  They’re just shoes.  Your feet are covered.  Get over it.”  Later, when this husband’s erratic professional pursuits are exposed in conversation he may experience tremendous shame, to which his wife may express, “Big deal.  It’s just work.  You’re doing what you’re doing now.  Get over it.”   Where does this perfectionism come from?  Are some of us just naturally sensitive or do we develop perfectionism?  Or is it both?  To explore this, I’ll start with a story.   For the past eight years I have been coaching my son and daughter’s soccer teams.  My daughter stopped playing soccer about three years ago but all-tolled I have coached or co-coached eleven different teams in those years.  I’ve shared a lot of time with kids other than my own, and especially their parents.   Beverly Hills is the league in which my kids have played.  Maybe you can imagine the scene.  It’s predominately wealthy but ultimately with a mixture of families – Jewish, Christian, businessmen and businesswomen,...

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The Devil Made Me Do It

Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

I’m doing one of those Bible reading plans where you read the Bible in a year.   Each day you read something from the Gospels, Epistles, Psalms or Proverbs, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible.  It’s helpful for me to do this on occasion due to my tendency either to soften my memory of source material or, much worse, invent it.  If I’m going to have scripture guide my spirituality it’s a good idea to come to terms with it as it is instead of how I remember it to be.   A few days ago Mark 2:15-17 and I Corinthians 5:9 were up on the same day.  In the Mark passage Jesus and his disciples have dinner with tax collectors and sinners.  When the Pharisees ask him why he is doing this, Jesus replies,  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (NIV).  In the I Corinthians passage Paul discusses the case of a man having sexual relations with his stepmother.  To this Paul advises the Corinthians, “You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.  Do not even eat with such people” (NIV).   You’ve got to love the contradictions inherent in the Christian Bible.  In the same cannon Jesus proclaims that everyone is welcome at His table while Paul, supposedly speaking for Jesus, says that only the righteous are allowed at his.  So whom do we believe?  Is the church a school for sinners or a society of saints?   Theologians trying to make sense of these contradictions have spilled no shortage of ink.  It’s enough to keep you perpetually curious, confused, and dizzy all at the same time.  Of all of the theologians who have wrestled with these issues one of my favorites was Martin Luther.  Although I have gained quite a bit from him theologically, it was his ability to let God be God that has always encouraged me.  Whenever he seemed to run out of plausible explanations for his adversaries – and it was usually his adversaries for whom Luther wrote – he would pull the God-card.  “I don’t have an answer for that,” he would explain.  “But God does.  I’m trusting Him.” *   Regardless of where we land in our Christian walk, we all must contend with these seeming contradictions.  We can ignore them, pick and choose, adopt systematic theologies that try to unify that which seems incapable of unification, create our own theologies, or, in some cases, when the tension between these discrepancies and our consciences get to be too much, we can break from the faith altogether.  This happens from time to time.   The tricky thing about theology, especially from my point of view, is whether or not it has “legs.”  In other words, it’s one thing to construct philosophically accurate, often beautifully constructed arguments, yet it’s another thing to have a theology that actually helps a person make sense out of his or her life and relationships with people and God.  As a pastoral therapist, as opposed to a theologian or even a pastor, I must view scripture through the lens of psychology.  Does...

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Jesus’s “Third Way” and “The Wall”

Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

“We should be non-attached, but non-attachment must not lead to apathy; we need to be concerned with justice, but we must not meet injustice with anger; we should be ready to act, but action must always take account of the conditions which lead people to act in unwholesome ways, and be motivated by compassion for both oppressed and oppressor.” – Rose Drew, Buddhist and Christian?: An Exploration of Dual Belonging, p. 159 Whenever I’m uncertain about a direction I must take in life I ask God to show me what I am supposed to do.  OK, not always, but usually once I discover I’m not getting anywhere on my own I’ll do this.  If I assume an attitude of mindfulness I will undoubtedly have my answer by the end of the day.  Often it is not the answer that I wanted, but it’s always the answer that I need.   A few weeks ago I was in just such a position.  It wasn’t a major life decision that I was unsure about but I was wondering if a topic I really wanted to write about was not only relevant, but also if how I wanted to discuss it wasn’t too “out there.”   The topic in question had to do with the language that we use to describe our life experiences.  As I discussed in the post The Crucible of Vulnerability the language that we use does more than just describe life; it determines it.  If we use language like “wall,” “battle,” or “war” to describe emotional experiences we run the risk of creating internal struggles instead of alleviating them.   In that post I noted that it wasn’t going to be there where I discussed the language that we use to describe our life experiences but it would be in the next post.  This happens to be that next post.  But how was I going to discuss the language that we use to describe our life experiences without being too, as I said, “out there?”  That was the question that I had for God that morning.  From there it was my job to pay attention.   That night I led the X3LA Men’s Recovery Group.  It was a particularly successful group with around 12 men attending and filled with open sharing and a great deal of personal revelation and growth.  After the meeting ended I walked out onto the streets of Hollywood with a friend of mine, a man who has been coming to the groups for the past three years.   “I’m coming up on that point,” my friend said in reference to “The Wall,” that stage in recovery two to three months after sobriety where the initial excitement of change has worn off and deeper growth becomes a reality [see Stages of Recovery (Change)].  He intentionally didn’t want to use the term “The Wall” because he didn’t want to build the concept up in his mind.   “It’s like with sports,” he continued.  “You know you have a big game coming up, but you don’t focus on the big game because if you do it becomes too much and you’re not at your best.  All I can do is focus on what is right in front of me and play the game that I have right...

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The Crucible of Vulnerability

Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job.  Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. (MSB)   – 1 Peter 4:12-13   If you’ve been in any of my recovery groups lately or read my posts, especially Stages of Recovery (Change), you are well aware of the concept of “The Wall.”  “The Wall” is the third stage of recovery from substances of abuse.  It looms after two to three months of sobriety.  Many have approached “The Wall” but few have breached it.   I write that last sentence tongue-in-cheek.  The term “The Wall” sounds so foreboding, like “Swim at Your Own Risk” or “Abandon hope, ye who enter here,” but the truth of the matter is “The Wall” is merely a term given to a concept.  This stage could just as easily have been labeled “The Transition Point” or “The Shift,” something softer and more mundane.  Yet for many “The Wall” feels exactly like a wall so it may as well be labeled as such.   Regardless of this fact, “we do well to choose our metaphors wisely” as spiritual leader Parker Palmer offers in his brief but profound book Let Your Life Speak, (p. 96).  The language that we chose does more than just describe our life experiences; it determines them.  If we use language like “wall,” “battle,” or “war” to describe what is essentially an emotional experience we run the risk of fomenting an internal struggle and begin to see change not as growth but as destruction.   This post isn’t about the language we use to describe our inner experiences, however.  The next post will be.  This post is about what is really going on within us as we approach and move past “The Wall.”  My hope in these two posts is to demystify “The Wall” and if not aid you in breeching it then certainly help you in dissolving it so that it no longer exists.   Recently I was working with a client who has been addicted to sex, not to mention alcohol and drugs, for the majority of his life.  Pornography was not his thing as much as anonymous sex and sex with prostitutes.  This man had spent over forty years of his life managing his emotions through sexual fantasy, affairs, and booze.  Fortunately, both physical and relational circumstances had cornered him to the point where he needed to change or else he would literally die.  In essence, he was at rock bottom.  At least I hoped he was.   I had spent six months with this man exploring his life and observing and reflecting the patterns of behavior he had developed as a means to protect himself from the messiness of human connection.  In just the time I had spent with him I could see him dip in and out of defense mechanisms that would protect him from his fear of life – excessive humor, anger, hiding in his bed.  The severity of each of these depended on how motivated he was to change on any given day.   But time was running out.  For different reasons my client needed to leave treatment within...

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