3. We Need to Understand that “Repentance from Sin” and “Recovery from Addiction” are Not the Same Thing. They are interconnected, but they are not identical. Addiction is not sin; repentance is not recovery. Sex addiction compels a person to sin, but it is not the same thing as sin. Likewise, just because a man repents of his sins, it does not automatically mean that he has entered recovery from his sex addiction. This explains the baffling plight of the addict who has repented so many times he can’t count them anymore. Why does he keep going back to the pornography and compulsive sexual behavior? Is it because his repentance isn’t sincere enough? Does he not cry hard enough? Does he not have enough resolve or conviction? Is his heart not broken? Is his spirit not contrite? Or is it maybe something else?
Is it possible that the issue is not a lack of repentance from sin, but rather a lack of recovery from addiction? If the addict does not get into true recovery from his addiction, his addiction will continue to pop up days, months, or even years later, at which point the compulsions will once again overwhelm him, and he will once again act out—even though he was completely sincere in his repentance and absolutely firm in his resolve to forsake the sin.
Addiction has spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and neurological components. For this reason, recovery from addiction requires more than “traditional” repentance from sin. The compulsive viewing of pornography and acting out sexually in other ways are manifestations of an addiction to sexual lust. Sexual lust is “an inordinate thought or feeling that drives us to use ourselves, others, or things for self-centered destructive purposes.” It is a broken brain’s attempt to numb its pain through self-medication.
The source of the pain is debilitating emotions or feelings such as resentment, negativism, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, remorse, loneliness, anger and rage. Unless an addict can get into recovery and deal with them, these runaway emotions will continue to cause pain, the addict’s brain will continue to feel the compulsion to medicate with lust, and the addict will end up acting out with pornography or in some other way.
If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. It is not a “little problem.” This is what addiction is all about. When a guy with a “porn problem” scoffs and says he’s really not “that bad off,” we need to help him understand that he really is “that bad off.” If he wasn’t, he would have given up the pornography years ago. He can’t give it up because he is addicted to it. To beat it, he needs to couple his repentance with recovery. Only then will he finally be able to forsake the sin and become free. Only then will he truly come to feel and understand the peace of God’s forgiveness and the purifying effect of Christ’s Atonement.
4. If We Know We’re Not Qualified to Help Someone Overcome an Addiction to Lust and Fantasy, Let’s Let a Professional Do It. We are all mostly well-meaning and we love to give advice. When you bring up the “pornography problem,” everyone has an opinion. If, however, you mention addiction to lust and fantasy, just watch the room go silent. No one really knows what to say.
If someone is addicted to lust and fantasy, suggesting the singing of hymns and the reciting of scriptures will not solve the problem. In contrast, professional therapists and counselors who have experience in treating sex addiction can help an addict understand what is going on, why he acts out as he does, and how he can stop. Becoming a participating member of a 12 Step group will also help the addict get real support for a real addiction. We should not facilitate his denial by offering puny solutions to a monolithic—and fatal—disease.