This article was originally published on The Returned Missionary and has been republished in it’s entirety on this blog with the author’s permission.
Winning the battle with pornography isn’t easy. This post isn’t the answer to all the questions about overcoming pornography addiction, but I hope to at least share things that have helped me and my friends, who have battled with pornography, to WIN that battle. Way too many returned missionaries struggle with this, and too many of them do it silently, and completely alone. I have known of YSA wards where up to 90% of the young men struggle with this. This should not be. We can help them, and instead of shrinking away from them out of fear of the stigma, we need to reach out to help them, in love. You can help your friends who are struggling, and if YOU are that friend that needs help, then I hope I can be your friend and help you with this post.
1. Be informed and educated about it
I think before anything, we need to be informed about pornography addiction. Orson Scott Card once said that he is “a lover of goodness and a student of evil.” [1. See his amazing essay here.] Many people avoid learning more about the evil of pornography because it is evil. If we are going to help anyone we love to win the battle (or if we are trying to win the battle ourselves), we need to be more educated about pornography addiction, and specifically about why it is that men and women are even motivated at all to seek out pornography in the first place. Here are just a few resources that I have found helpful:
- If you don’t know about Fight The New Drug, go to their site and learn more or just download their 2016 reference guide of the harmful effects of pornography. A comprehensive review of the most current and reliable, peer reviewed research on the harmful effects of pornography. This document is perfect for all individuals who want to dive deep into the research and gain a solid understanding of what science is teaching us about how pornography effects individuals, their relationships, and the world we live in.
- Watch Johann Hari’s TED talk: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.
- 7 Levels of Addiction. If your friend is battling pornography, don’t put him in the same boat (in your mind) as the person you hear about on the news who went to prison for committing some horrible sexual crime. There are many varying levels of addiction and your friend is most likely in a less extreme area of the continuum. Even if they are at level seven, it is good to understand that there are different levels of addiction. Here is a PDF where you can read about the 7 Levels of Addiction.
- Read Donald Hilton MD’s book He Restoreth My Soul. As an LDS neurologist, Dr. Hilton doesn’t just write about why pornography is bad for you spiritually. He also gives an in-depth review of the modern science and brain chemistry that undergirds an addiction. It is fascinating to understand his research because he suggests that spiritual repentance does not equal recovery from addiction. This is very different from what I assume most people believe about someone who has an addiction. I used to believe that no one has truly repented of this until they have completely recovered from it. According to Hilton, this is not always the case. Here’s Dr. Hilton talking about some of these things at a BYU Pornography Addiction Conference:
- Study the 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program with your friend and on your own. This is very informative and is not just about pornography addiction, but about addiction to anything and is really a great guide for anyone who wants to fully and joyfully repent of any personal vice.
- Look up the studies of the growing body of researchers on this topic including Mark Chamberlain, Maurice Harker, Dan Gray, Jill Manning, Jason Carroll, Brannon Patrick, Tyler Patrick, Rich Tripp, Mark Kastleman, Geoff Steurer, Jeffrey Ford, Kathy Kinghorn, and many others. Just Google their names and you’ll start finding their work.
- Go to a conference or watch the videos from the conferences. One conference I have found to be extremely informative is the UCAP conference. It is in Utah, so all of you reading this won’t be able to make it to this, but they post most of their presentation videos online and it is excellent information.
- This presentation, from Dan Gray, changed the way I look at addiction and how I look at addicts. It goes right along with the information that Johann Hari presented in his TED talk above.
- Look up the amazing resources and information at the SA Lifeline website.
There are a dozens of other resources to get educated and informed about it for your friend, for your children, or for yourself. The important thing is to learn about it before you dive into the fight or you will be fighting blindfolded.
2. P.E.R.M.A. VS. B.L.A.S.T. The power of the Science of Happiness (Positive Psychology)
If you watched Johann Hari’s TED talk above, you listened to the research about “rat park,” or heaven for rats where the rats were first put in an empty cage with two types of water. One water was normal water and the other water was drugged with heroin or cocaine. In the empty cage, the rats would consistently return over and over to the drugged water and die from overdose within a short amount of time. However, they redid the experiment and instead of putting the rats in an empty cage, alone, they put them in rat park where they had plenty of friends, toys, all the food they could imagine and could do whatever they wanted for as long as they wanted.
100% of the rats overdosed in the isolated cage. 0% of the rats overdosed in rat heaven.
Why? Because they were happier. Maybe you’ll debate weather a rat can be happier, but we all know that humans can be both miserable and happy.
Positive psychology is a growing field that doesn’t study what is wrong with humans. It studies what is right with humans. What makes humans flourish. Why are the happiest and most engaged humans they way they are? Why do they flourish? This is what positive psych aims to find out. I won’t go into detail in this post, but the father of positive psychology (Dr. Martin Seligman) has come up with what he called the Well-being Theory that can be summarized with the acronym PERMA. Every single one of the below areas has loads of studies on how this leads to human flourishing. Read his latest book, Flourish, about PERMA and Well-being Theory.
- Positive Emotion – through gratitude, play, acts of kindness, mindfulness, awe, interest
- Engagement or “Flow” – exercising your natural strengths/skills in activities that challenge you
- Relationships – cultivating, strengthening and maintaining positive social relationships
- Meaning – find your personal life mission & get involved in something bigger than yourself
- Achievement – set goals, and work hard to reach those goals
I honestly believe that no matter how many ARP meetings you go to and how many books you read about the problem of pornography addiction, if we are not flourishing in life, we will never overcome any addiction. However, if we are flourishing, our life will be abundant and there will be no reason for us to go to the “drugged water” in our isolated rat cage. We can help our friends to create for themselves their own little rat heaven. A place where they can play, and become engaged with something they are amazingly talented at, be a part of many wholesome and meaningful relationships, find their life mission and do something that creates meaning for them, set goals and move with all their heart toward achieving those goals. I would honestly be surprised to see a person who creates their own personal “rat heaven” involved in level 7 pornography addiction or even level 2. This just wouldn’t make sense.
This will help them fight against BLAST, or the things that make viewing and seeking out pornography more likely:
- Bored – or any form of apathy about life in general
- Lonely – lack of social connection or any hope of social connection any time soon
- Angry – at self, at God, at circumstances of life or at other people
- Stressed – overwhelmed in thinking that it’s just too hard, not fair, or too much is expected, a sense of helplessness.
- Tired – in a physically exhausted state all of the above are more difficult to overcome
When you are flourishing, you will rarely be bored or lonely. You may feel stress, but it will be the good kind. You won’t be paralyzed by helplessness because your learned optimism will help you push past thinking that your problems are personal, permanent or pervasive. Anger will be much less likely because you will train yourself to be filled with gratitude and self compassion. When you are tired, it will be at the end of very fulfilling days and there won’t be a need to find connection, because you already have it in positive and meaningful relationships you have built. And when you feel like you are working toward a goal that is larger than yourself, motivation will be more powerful to fight.
I really did not go into detail here, but read about PERMA and watch this TED talk on the happiness advantage by one of the most well known positive psychologists out there. I believe what he says about work directly applies to the desire to win the battle with pornography. You can’t just say “once I have overcome pornography addiction, then I’ll be happy.” That, my friend will never work. You MUST be happy and fulfilled first. Then you will overcome.
Your friend will have a great “happiness advantage” if they follow the principles of positive psychology.
I believe PERMA will always win in a fight against BLAST (and the research backs me up).
Want even more books that talk about the science behind boosting your levels of happiness? Here they are:
- Happier (by Harvard professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar)
- The How of Happiness (by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky)
- Broadcasting Happiness (by Michelle Gielan)
- Learned Optimism (by Dr. Martin Seligman)
- The Happiness Advantage (mentioned above – by Shawn Achor)
3. Destroy the shame, with LOVE
“Guilt is: I DID something bad. Shame is: I AM something bad. Guilt: I’m sorry I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry, I am a mistake. There is a huge difference.” – Brene Brown [2. From her TED talk on Shame.]
We need to remember that we should not be the messengers of shame to a friend who is battling pornography addiction. God will never deliver shame. None of us are a mistake. ALL of us have made mistakes. God is okay with us making mistakes, but He is not okay with us thinking that we are a mistake.
Every person who has chosen to seek out pornography has made a mistake, but not one of them is a mistake. There is a huge difference.
Remember that there are multitudes of others who are either battling with pornography or who have battled and who are in recovery. If you don’t believe me, check out this list of blogs at LDS Addiction Recovery Blogs. These are all personal blogs of real people who are openly talking about their fight and recovery.
I’m one of them. So is Terry Crews (the crazy Old Spice guy). I have gone through the 12 step addiction recovery program. I used to think that only skid-row bums and ex-convicts had a problem with sexual addictions. I was wrong. Normal, sharp, attractive, successful, fresh-off-the-mission returned missionaries do too. I also used to believe that those who admitted to a flaw like this would ruin their lives forever because no one would trust them and they would no longer be able to be an example of the believers. Now I believe differently. Vulnerability is powerful and it opens the doors to immense growth and progress, not the other way around. Brene Brown, the evangelist of vulnerability said this: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” [3. See her TED talk on vulnerability here and on overcoming shame here.] If you are vulnerable enough to admit that you have a problem (whether you are at a level one or a level seven on the addiction scale mentioned above), you will see growth come of it. And I promise you that if you keep hiding and continue to hold back, it will only stagnate your progress, creativity and innovation in your life.
Don’t forget to be your own best friend in this process. You can either be your own best friend or your worst enemy as you battle.
4. PERSONIFY the porn star
The problem with pornography is that it has twisted and devalued the subject of the pornography to an object. Nothing more than a piece of plastic that can be viewed a billion times after the picture or video has been taken. What your friend may not think about when they are fantasizing with porn is that each one of those porn stars has a life. They all have a mom. Each one has a family, a past and a future.
Even if you feel like you are winning the battle with pornography, you may still have thoughts that are less appropriate or maybe you get frustrated when women wear clothes that show more than garment lines would appropriate. Well, they have lives too. The next time this happens, instead of fantasizing about an object, imagine that person’s future dreams and goals. Imagine them giving a talk in church or making dinner or changing their baby’s diaper or in a job interview or praying for the things that they need or desire in this life. Imagine them growing up and becoming a grandparent. Would you objectify Mother Theresa as she holds a dying baby or comforts a leper? Would you objectify Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt or Nobel Prize winning Marie Curie? What about J.K. Rowling or Abigail Adams or Martha Washington, Joan of Arc or Anne Frank or Lucy Mack Smith? What seed of potential greatness is not found inside each and every girl or woman, porn star or not???
Whether they know it or not, YOU can know it. Keep that truth inside of your heart. Remember that each and every woman is a real human being. A person, with feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, and who can experience joy in their own right. They are not an object. Period. Keep that locked in your heart. You’ll see the world differently if you do.
5. Find an ARP meeting and go with your friend to the meeting
ARP (addiction recovery program) meetings are powerful. Even if you have never struggled with an addiction to pornography, you should go to one of these meetings. It will change your life. And if you are struggling, you will benefit immensely from attending these (in person or by phone, but I highly recommend in person). You can find a meeting here.
I mentioned above getting a 12 Step Addiction Recovery book. The meetings follow these steps one by one for 90 days from beginning to end. If your friend really wants to win the battle with pornography, I would highly recommend attending these meetings.
The first time I went to one of these meetings, I thought it would be filled with ex-criminals and skid-row bums like I mentioned above. I was surprised to see that the guys at the meeting were impressive, hard working, successful, well-groomed men who were in the exact same stage of life that I was in, in many cases. Some of them had been recovered for years, but still come to strengthen others. For some of them it was their first time. The general feeling is an absolute love for each other, despite the battle with addiction and a total authenticity that is often hard to find anywhere else, including elders quorum. Every time I have gone to a meeting, I have left strengthened and full and true to my highest self. It is an inspired program. One of my friends who has gone through the program has made videos of each of the steps. Here is his video of Step 4:
6. Activate the power of the Atonement
Remember where you are headed. The atonement isn’t just there to get you from sin to clean or from clean to saint. It’s there to get you from saint to god. I have received hate mail from people in other faiths about this doctrine, but I believe that it is one of the most inspiring doctrines we have, and the only way it is possible is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The only way for you to progress upward is by activating the power of the atonement in your life. If you haven’t read it yet, read 6 ways to activate the power of the atonement in your life.
Like I said, this list is not comprehensive, but I hope at least one of these things have helped you to help your friend (even if YOU are the friend). Don’t lose hope. Your friend is worth it. YOU are worth it.
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