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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.

God, Community, and “The Wall”

Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

“Repentance…demands a radical turning away from what was and a trusting in the unknown journey of faith.  It means acknowledging one’s implication in the sin of the world and a beginning to live as if God were real.  Repentance means giving up control and learning to trust God enough to feel certain that whatever God decides will be just and fair.” – John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil, p. 141   I received two significant emails recently.  Both were from men who had reached “The Wall” stage in their own personal recovery from pornography use.  “The Wall” is at the second or third month of sobriety.  It sounds ominous.  I don’t know if it should or not, but it does.  Essentially, “The Wall” is the point where the recovering person starts to face him or herself.  And then there’s some physiological issues thrown in there.  Joy…   The first email I received had to do with “The Wall” but it was in regard to a post I had written entitled Fear.  In that post I had explained how facing our fears holds the key to our sobriety because it is precisely our substance abuse that aids us in avoiding our fears.  Go sober and you face your fears; face your fears and you are sober.  They are one and the same.   Because of the very nature of the relationship between sobriety and fear there is a spiritual dynamic to all of this.  If by definition there is nothing we can take into our fears, that means that when we face our fears we meet God since God, as a non-object, is all that remains.  Go sober, face your fears, meet God.  Easy enough, right?  Not exactly, and that’s why it’s called “The Wall.”   The man who had sent me an email regarding my discussion of fear could sense that this wasn’t easy as well and so he inquired, “How do I push into fear and the unknown?  What does that look like?”  Since I knew this man and he knew me he offered his own answer, “I know you’re going to say I have to find out and it’s different for everyone.”  He was right, but more on that in a moment.   The second email I received was in regard to something I had written in the post Stages of Recovery (Change) in which the concept of “The Wall” was first introduced.  In that post I wrote,   I often think, in regard to the men and women who come to addiction support groups in church settings, what it would be like for them if they were in rehab, if they couldn’t run when things got too painful, if they couldn’t rely on 21st century distractions when they had to sit with themselves, if they were required to look at their suffering when it was laid bare. Well, I know what would happen.  Their defense mechanisms, including addictions, would die the death they deserve to die and they would need to rely on a loving and gracious God, and a community that mirrors this love and grace, to make sense out of their life experience.   The email response I received in regard to this passage read, in part, “What...

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Fear

Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Blog, Faith | 0 comments

Not so long ago I was having a difficult time with a number of things in my life.  There were many round pegs and too few square holes.  This wasn’t just relegated to my personal life.  I had a few clients who were challenging, one of whom was delusional, possibly psychotic, with hints of antisocial personality disorder.  Think manipulation.  Think rape.   One day in particular I felt as if I were being drawn inexorably into a black hole.  I felt, in a sense, hopeless, as if I were losing myself and as if life as I had known it was being wrenched from my hands.  I felt cut off and alone in my suffering.   In the midst of this inner turmoil I turned to a number of people who were closest to me, sharing my experience and maybe even looking for some advice.  A family member recommended that I contact some people whom I admired and who did similar work as I do.  With that I called a man who, whether he realized it or not, had become a mentor.   What I respected about this man, apart from him being a professor of spiritual counseling, was his brutal honesty and joyful sarcasm.  I also respected the fact that he had spent years as a Buddhist practitioner before becoming a committed Christian, a not very common spiritual trajectory.   When I called this man I sensed him setting aside all that he was doing so that he could be present with me, a skill I assumed he had procured through years of mindfulness training and meditation.  I spoke some of my current personal challenges but mostly about my clients, in particular the delusional, possibly psychotic, anti-social one.  After describing my inner experience of floating inexorably into a black hole he hesitated before speaking.   “What if you didn’t have to bring yourself from that black hole?” he said.   Hearing this a number of thoughts went through my mind.  The first was through the filter of my childhood and the many rather intense personalities that filled it – life is scary and sometimes dark and you just need to deal with it.  The second thought was more defensive – what the #@$% is this guy talking about?  I call in a moment of existential angst and all this man can give me is some wonky Zen paradox?   As the weeks went by and as I dealt more and more with both personal and professional challenges the question my mentor had posed to me kept coming back, especially when I sensed that black hole looming.  The question had changed somewhat in my mind, however; it was altered to fit the best meaning I could ascribe it.  Instead of “What if you didn’t have to bring yourself from that black hole?” I would repeat to myself, “Push into it.  Push into it.”   As I pushed into that black hole more and more, not retreating to what I had known safety to be, life gradually changed.  Living situations normalized, new friendships replaced old, children’s needs were met, professional aspirations were reframed, and, most importantly, life expectations were adjusted to meet my reality and reality wasn’t so bad after all.  What I discovered as I looked back on this...

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Stages of Recovery (Change)

Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Blog, Read These First | 2 comments

The challenge with significant change is that it is during its most crucial stage that people often bug out.   Of course they do.  The “bad habit” they want to change exists for a reason.  Remove the bad habit and they’re faced with the reason.  If that reason is big enough, or difficult enough, or scary enough, it’s right back to the habit.  It’s just simpler that way; it’s just easier.   That’s why we carry our bad habits around with us, our addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, the Internet.  Unless our circumstances become dire there is no incentive to change.   Twenty years ago I read a book by science-writer John McPhee entitled The Control of Nature.  In that book McPhee outlines the levee system in New Orleans and how, if the circumstances were just right, the entire city would be inundated with water.  This book was written sixteen years before Hurricane Katrina hit and featured experts from the Army Corp of Engineers who knew the potential for destruction.   Humans don’t change unless we have to change.  We’re very utilitarian that way.  The only difference between animals and us in this regard is that we have an observing ego that allows us to witness what we are going through as we are in it.  Either God has a wicked sense of humor or God has endowed us with a unique gift.   I choose to think that God has endowed us with a unique gift.  The trouble is, instead of witnessing what we are going through and making sense out of it our brains often defend against the scarier aspects of our lives by indulging in drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, or the Internet.   Change requires that we look at what we are going through.  Change requires that we make sense out of it.  And this brings me back to the point I made earlier regarding the most crucial stage of change and why people bug out when they reach it.   The Matrix Institute is a Los Angeles-based drug and alcohol treatment program endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Its program is centered on helping addicted clients work through five major stages of recovery:   1)   Withdrawal Stage (Day 1 – Day 15) 2)   Honeymoon Stage (Day 15 – Day 45) 3)   The Wall (Day 45 – Day 120) 4)   Adjustment Stage (Day 120 – Day 180) 5)   Resolution Stage (Day 180 – 1 year or more)   In reading this post you may be thinking, “Sure, I have a ‘bad habit’ but I’m not a drug addict or alcoholic.”  Call it what you will, but if you can’t shake a bad habit that has been dogging you for years, change is change is change.  The habit developed for a reason.  Whether you’re trying to overcome an addiction to heroin or pornography the self-medication is masking a deeper suffering and requires the same steps to get out of it.   While all five of these stages are important for recovery, it is primarily the third stage, “The Wall,” with which this post is concerned.  “The Wall” is “The Wall” because when we strive for change we often don’t realize that our addictions aren’t about behavior modification; they are about life modification. ...

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Change, Part II

Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Blog, Read These First | 0 comments

I wrote the post Change, Part I because I knew it needed to be written.  I knew it needed to be written because after years of working with individuals who were trying desperately to break free of their bad habits it was important to sketch out the essence of what they were going through.  With knowledge comes power – power to experience our situation for what it is, power to make choices that confirm our goodness.   My hope now is that it made sense.  Not just logical sense but emotional sense, intuitive sense, the sense that you can feel and claim, sense that you can apply to your life in real ways.   While I was writing that post I couldn’t help but reflect on Allen, a client I had been seeing not too long ago.  For many reasons his experience seemed like the perfect corollary to that post.  Of course, any life could be a good corollary, including my own, but his seemed particularly piquant because, at middle-age, it was striking how much he continued to struggle to rid himself of “bad habits” and, more importantly, live a life of his own.   Allen was raised in a very religious community on the East Coast.  He was one of the oldest of seven siblings.  Living in a two-bedroom home there was always commotion and turmoil.  One of his earliest memories was his mother admonishing him for being too inquisitive and difficult.  To bring this message home she physically beat him.   Like all children brought into this world, Allen wanted to feel included.  He wanted to express his unique gifts of curiosity, energy, and friendship and have the expression of those gifts be mirrored.  Unfortunately, whenever those gifts were expressed in ways that affected the stability of his family or school life he was abused to ensure that he remained not only within the boundaries of what his parents expected or needed from him but also within the boundaries of what his school and religious community expected or needed from him.   Throughout his childhood, Allen kept himself in lockstep with his family and community whether he agreed with everything they did or not.  He learned at a young age that in order to receive that precious and vital experience of love and inclusion he was required to bend to the will of his mother, his school, his religious community, and even his friends; in fact, he was sexually abused by a friend.  Bending to their will, or giving and giving and giving in the expectation of receiving was the compromise solution that allowed Allen not only to feel included, but most importantly to feel as if he existed.   In Allen’s community, marriages were arranged and in his early twenties Allen was matched with a woman whom he found moderately attractive, both physically and mentally.  To make the marriage work, Allen gave and gave and gave.  Allen’s wife and he had four children together, children whom Allen loved and mostly raised.  But there was no amount of giving to his wife that would allow him to get the love that he needed.  His wife dominated their relationship and it became strained.   Allen did everything his mind was trained to do in order to get that...

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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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