Perhaps no other individual has greater potential to influence an addict in the direction of recovery than his local priesthood leader. Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true. If a leader fails to understand the magnitude of the disease and what is required for real recovery, vital opportunities to heal the heart and mind of the addict will have been lost. Compassion for the addict is rarely lacking. On the other hand, knowledge of what the addict needs to achieve true recovery often is.
Bishop, thank you so much for the love and compassion you demonstrate when you counsel with those of us suffering from sex and pornography addiction. As you know, this is a difficult and confusing affliction. We need your help to overcome it, and, once we have done so, we need your help to remain free from it. As a recovering addict, I implore you to keep a few things in mind.
First, please know that an addict cannot recover on his own even though he may believe he can. Someone struggling with the viewing of pornography or other unwanted sexual behavior is suffering from a compulsion every bit as strong as addiction to cocaine. To overcome his addiction, the addict needs help not only from you, his priesthood leader, but also from professional counselors or therapists, as well as the support of one or more addiction recovery groups.
Second, please understand that debilitating fear is burning in the heart and mind of the sex or pornography addict. I feel certain that if you polled the many LDS men currently suffering in silence, most would tell you that the three most important things in their life are their wife, their children, and the Church. The prospect of meeting with a priesthood leader to disclose this problem brings with it a fear that the addict may very well lose the only three things in this world that truly matter to him. The fear is all the more paralyzing for the unrecovered addict who has once again relapsed. Seeing his wife’s anguished face and his children’s fear and confusion, as well as possibly facing Church discipline are no minor obstacles to disclosure, repentance, and recovery. The fear is real, it is enormous, and it hurts like nothing else the addict has ever felt.
Third, in addition to fear, disclosure and reporting to a priesthood leader often engender shame and humiliation in the addict. Even though a leader may be compassionate and encouraging, an unrecovered addict cannot help but feel shame for repeatedly engaging in undesired but compulsive sexual behavior. He cannot help but feel humiliation each time he has to sit across the desk from his bishop and talk about whether he has been able to remain chaste since the last check-in. These feelings are present even if the report is positive. They are all the stronger and more painful if the report is negative.
Fourth, please understand that the viewing of pornography is really just an outward manifestation of a more deep-rooted addiction to lust. What this means is that an addict who is currently abstaining from the viewing of pornography but is receiving no treatment for the addiction is most likely not in recovery. At best, he is “white knuckling,” which means that he is abstaining by sheer will-power and not because he has achieved any lasting change in his behavior.
Fifth, dishonesty is a major component of the disease of addiction. Addicts seek to minimize or cover up the seriousness and extent of their acting out, often by lying both to themselves and to others. Addicts are in pain and spend a significant portion of their day trying to reduce that pain and medicate with their drug. Having to suffer once again through fear, shame, and humiliation can be more than an impaired addict believes he can bear, and so he lies. Fear, shame, and humiliation are three of the strongest negative emotions that can lead an unrecovered addict to act out again if he does not acquire the tools he needs to deal with them.
Bishop, I need you to help me get those tools. I need you to encourage me to seek therapy or counseling and to get involved in 12-Step recovery groups. I need you to help me understand the importance of becoming educated about pornography and sexual addiction. If I tell you that pornography or acting out sexually is “no longer a problem,” I need you to kindly and patiently help me understand that addiction ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tide. Although the compulsions may have subsided for a time, they will return. They always do, and when they do, I need recovery tools and support in place or I will fall again like I have so many times before. I need to learn it is not about “stopping” —because I have done that a thousand times. I need to learn how “not to start again.”