LDS View | Porn Addiction Is Like a Muck Fire in My Brain

Those ignorant of the complexity of addiction might view this as a point in the win column for the alcoholic. In reality, it is a loss. Addiction: 1; addict: 0. If you had looked closely at this guy at the kitchen table, you would have noticed his hands. They were gripping the sides of the chair so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. If an alcoholic is “white knuckling,” he is already drunk, even if the bottle never touches his lips. He is drinking in his head. He is feeling the burn as the whiskey rolls down the back of his throat. He is feeling its warmth expanding slowly out of his stomach into his extremities. He is feeling the effects of the alcohol as it numbs the pain and sweeps away the cares, worries and inhibitions in his head. Like a muck fire, fantasy is raging in his mind while he sits stolidly at the kitchen table giving no outward indication of the inner turmoil—other than the white knuckles. In effect, he has consumed his drug without even touching it.

Why doesn’t he just stand up, walk out of the room and quit thinking about it, you ask. Good question, but only because it illustrates a misunderstanding about addiction. Because of the hook of fantasy, walking away from the drug doesn’t make the addictive compulsion subside. In fact, the addict can’t walk away from it because his muck fires are in his brain, not in the bottle. Remember that I talked earlier about how addiction involves more than just the drug. Fantasy is the missing link. Fantasy is a major component of addiction. The image of the man at his kitchen table staring at the bottle is only a metaphor. He may be walking his dog in the park, or stuck in traffic, or on an elevator, or singing hymns in church. The bottle of liquor doesn’t even need to exist. All the addict has to do is conjure up the image of the bottle in his mind—either deliberately or accidentally, it doesn’t matter—and the addiction goes to work from that point on.

Once you put fantasy into the sex addiction equation, you can see why it is so pernicious. It is much more than merely “thinking dirty thoughts.” Unlike pornography, fantasy is a flighty target. Fantasy doesn’t exist outside of us. It is the product of our own minds. We have a hard time dealing with the issue of fantasy because we really don’t like to revile and point fingers at ourselves. To hate the purveyors of fantasy is to hate ourselves. After all, we are responsible for it!

What’s more, fantasy keeps the addiction front and center even if the actual drug is a million miles away. This is why fantasy is so much like a muck fire. If we got rid of all the pornography on the planet, sex addiction would still be alive and well and resting quite comfortably in the form of fantasy in the minds of addicts. It can smolder and keep the fire burning in the addict’s head for years. While he may be sexually sober in the technical sense because he doesn’t look at pornography and he doesn’t act out with other people or himself, his mind still provides fertile ground for the muck fires of fantasy, smoldering and very much alive. Sex addicts can be “dry drunks” just like alcoholics. And very few people seem to understand this. Until recently, I certainly didn’t.

For years, I thought the ultimate enemy was pornography. I could quantify my perceived success in the war by counting the months or years since my last pornography binge. By my way of seeing things, more time since the last binge meant greater strength, greater success, and greater spirituality. See, this time around, I had really meant it when I vowed that it would never happen again! In reality, I was using the wrong unit of measurement. Pornography was my standard, when in fact lust was the more accurate unit to measure my sex addiction. If I had charted out my “success” based on the pornography standard, the graph would have looked like a mountain range with peaks, plateaus and valleys representing longer periods of abstinence, interspersed with much shorter periods of binging. If I had used the lust standard, however, it would have looked like a tidal wave growing progressively larger as time went on. I wasn’t winning at all. Quite the opposite, it was a massacre. Addiction: 5,232,017; addict: 0. I was a “dry drunk.”

In the reality we live in, lust is a slippery thing. By contrast, pornography is easy: all pornography is bad, therefore any pornography is bad. If pornography comes around, we know to flee, to get ourselves out, just like Joseph in Egypt, fleeing Pothiphar’s wife. Lust isn’t as simple. When lust rears its ugly head, we can’t flee it, because it is inside us. Since we can’t run away from it, we actually have to deal with it. From what I’ve been told by apparent non-addicts (assuming they are telling the truth), when lust arises, they just change the channel in their head and think of something else. For “regular folks,” that may do the trick. For addicts, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

I smile sadly when I hear someone suggest that singing a hymn or reciting a scripture is a good way to “replace inappropriate thoughts.” Nope. At least not for the addict. “Inappropriate thoughts” hijack the addict’s mind and become nothing less than obsessions. Singing a hymn or reciting a scripture is like sitting in a rowboat throwing marbles at a battleship. They make a delightful ping when they bounce off the hull, but the battleship is still coming straight at you and is going to smash you to bits.


Comments

LDS View | Porn Addiction Is Like a Muck Fire in My Brain — 9 Comments

  1. Pingback: How LDS Husbands Can Overcome Porn Addiction | Recovery is Possible!RowboatAndMarbles.org

  2. Fantasy is practice, rehearsal for the actual act. Thinking and visualizing aobut performing an activity increases our skill even without ever physically performing the activity. Any fantasy of lust, therefore, is keeping the practice alive and well, in preparation for the final acts. Spark becomes fantasy, fantasy becomes planning, planning becomes actions, until the cycle takes on a life of its own.

  3. I am admitting that I have a porn addiction, and I am doing everything I can to overcome my addiction and live a clean, sober life. I understand that fantasy is bad and it is thoughts that are precursory sin. But my question is that if I think about my wife and I having intimate relations is that considered fantasizing? Am I understanding this correctly when I say that I am at work or deployed and think about how much I miss being intimate with my wife that I am still feeding my addiction? I am just confused, because I feel that fidelity in the mind and of the heart are equally important; but I see nothing wrong with imagining a that facet of our love when we are apart. I don’t spend hours, or even minutes on it, but I think “I miss her, or I cant wait to be reunited for you know what.” These thoughts and urges seem normal to me, human nature to be attracted and to physically want your spouse. Its not all about sex either, its the emotional connection that goes along with it.

    • BB: Thanks for the comment. You bring up an important point–several of them actually. I don’t think the very idea of “fantasy” is so much of a problem for me, although I know others who completely stay away from any kind of fantasy because that’s what works best for them. I read Tolkien books with my son before he goes to bed at night. That’s complete fantasy, but it’s not an issue because it’s not about lust.

      My problem is with lust. When I’m not sexually sober, I try to get lust into my mind in any way I can. Stories about hobbits don’t incite lustful thoughts in my brain. In contrast, fantasizing about sex–even with my wife–does incite lustful thoughts and it’s a pretty slippery slope once I go down that path.

      I had to get out of the mindset of convincing myself that if it involved my wife, it had to be OK. Lust means harmfully using other people or things for selfish purposes to fill up what’s lacking inside myself and without regard for the effect on them or myself–even my wife. Since I’m a lust addict and one of the ways I get my drug is through lust fantasy, fantasy about sex with my wife is harmful to me. My addiction is so dangerous that I have to live in reality in order to stay alive. If I don’t, my addiction could kill me. I don’t have the luxury–if you want to call it that–of lusting after my wife in my fantasies. Lust will destroy me after it destroys my marriage–or maybe before.

      I’m not telling other people how to live when I say this. What works for me may not work for others. What is necessary for me may not be necessary for others.

      My goal as a lust addict is the eliminate lust from my life because lust is deadly to me. Sexual fantasy overwhelms me with lust. It messes me up. So I have to stay away from it. Gratefully, recovery from addiction allows me to do just that.

      If you’re like me, I thinks it’s important that you see the distinction between intimacy and lust. I think you make that very distinction at the end of your comment when you acknowledge that thinking about your wife isn’t only about sex, but also the emotional connection–love.

      In other words, it sounds like you’re talking about the whole package of marital intimacy. You’re not talking about lust, at least I don’t think you are. It just seems to me that there’s a big difference between what you’re talking about and what the lust addict would be dealing with as he fantasized about sex with wife–and the neighbor and the co-worker and the porn star from the porn videos and the anonymous fantasy women–and then says, “I need sex. I’d better run home and get my wife to give it to me.” Big difference.

      Again, the problem for me is lust fantasy. It doesn’t help me deal with my addiction. It doesn’t improve my relationship with my wife. It doesn’t make me happy.

  4. Thank you for the quick reply and answer. I guess where I struggle is as I hand this over the Lord and do everything I can to work toward recovery is finding the fine line. As you stated it’s not going to be the same for everyone, and the same thing will not work for everyone. As I have read through your great articles here, I often feel overwhelmed as that this will never end, but I put faith in the Lord that I can be made whole. How? I don’t know, but I believe it can happen. I know that is will take everything on my part and He will do the rest. But I digress; I am new to this concept of being a lust addict. When I read your articles sometimes I feel as though I might be, then other times I don’t think I am. I don’t think about other people, or fantasize about doing things with anyone but my wife. I don’t see someone on the street and log them away for later. I don’t revert to images that I have been exposed to when I get stressed, or anxious, or anything. But I do know that if I am in a position to find pornography it takes everything in my body to not look. And I assume that this is lust, I mean why else would I have trouble not looking? But I do feel urges to be intimate with my wife, is this lust? If I got a “need” and she can help? I mean it’s not that I want to be with someone else when I have these urges, just human and have desires. I don’t feel like I am using her for ill or selfish purposes, and I don’t think she feels that way. But with something like alcoholism I imagine that it’s easier (forgive me if I offend anyone, I am trying to express my idea the best way I know how) to regulate. You don’t drink, ever. Never, ever, ever! That’s it! You’re done! You can’t enjoy it occasionally like a “normal person”. All alcohol is bad, and cannot be entertained. But with sex addiction, if you are married, it’s ok to have those feelings. You can do those things within reason and limits; there is no ultimatum like dealing with drugs or alcohol. So where is the line? I guess I am having trouble figuring out when these urges are normal, and when they are not. When they are acceptable to act upon, and when they are of the devil. Cause right now I feel guilty and shameful about doing anything with my wife and I don’t know if I will ever feel ok with those urges. Maybe with time things will work out. How do you react to urges that are of Satan when you do decide that is what it is? All I know to do is think of something else, leave the area, work out; something. But this is one of the hardest things for me to do is to “switch my brain to a different channel” when I see an image unexpectedly. I understand how you feel you will die if you are not carful. I feel the same way, and it terrifies me. I am afraid to fail again, so deathly afraid.

    • BB: Don’t feel overwhelmed. Keep reading. Keep thinking about what you’re reading. And then keep praying and asking the one big question, “Lord, can I get over this problem on my own or do I need other people to help me?” I felt overwhelmed at the beginning of my recovery and that’s where a bunch of guys in Sexaholics Anonymous stepped in and shared with me their experience, strength and hope so I didn’t have to travel the path alone. They made all the difference.

      You also need to remember to ALWAYS make the distinction between lust-driven sex and lust-free intimacy. Lust-free intimacy–which can involve sex with a spouse–is godly, uplifting and is absolutely, completely satisfying in all respects. It is also difficult for people who have spent years of their lives drowning in lust to figure out what lust-free intimacy is all about. For them, sex is so hooked into lust that they think lust-driven sex is as good as it gets. They’re wrong.

      You’re right to look to the analogy of alcoholism. But ask yourself this: If you’re an alcoholic, is it OK to drink alcohol as long if your wife if present? The answer, of course, is NO. Having your wife there doesn’t make the alcohol any less dangerous to the alcoholic. Now ask yourself a similar question: If you’re a lust addict, is it OK to consume lust as long as your wife is present? The answer is the same: NO! Lust destroys love. Lust addiction destroys marriages and eventually individuals.

      So what do we do? We learn to spot lust in our lives and eliminate it. We get the help of other recovering addicts to teach us and support us. We repent and involve well-informed priesthood leaders as necessary. We forsake the sin of lust and as we do so, we feel the power of Christ’s atonement changing us on the inside where we had failed to change so many time before.

      As we get rid of the lust in our hearts, minds and lives, what remains is lust-free intimacy–and I promise you it crushes lust-driven sex like a grape.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. As a daughter of a sex addict it helps me understand the severe mental struggle that my father had to battle. It’s helped soften my heart from feeling of anger and mistrust, to feelings of empathy and sadness for what a ferocious battle it really is. It’s also helped open myself up to forgiveness. Understanding and education really is the key for prevention for the future priesthood holders of the church.

    For those of you who continue to struggle with sexual addiction, please remember you wives, daughters, and sons. Educate and warn your sons and make sure that they don’t have to go through the same thing.

  6. Hi Andrew and fellow readers. First of all, thank you for moderating such an awesome and informative website, both for spouses and those of us suffering. I have been in the program for three years now and am grateful for my recovery and sobriety. I am far enough along now in my recovery that I no longer desire any of the things I used to move mountains for: porn, massage parlors, escorts, none of it. I have seen how destructive that garbage is and I don’t want any part of it! One thing that does keep coming up and is a major frustration to my girlfriend and I is the involuntary stuff that is as unwelcome as it is automatic. Things like a quickening pulse when a lady comes on the television. Not even provocatively dressed or anything, just a person there that happens to be a woman. Does anyone struggle with this stuff too, and how do you deal with it?

  7. I may not have reached the answer to this question….but I want to know how this changes a person. I have heard of manipulation, financial debt, anger, emotional abuse towards spouse etc. and why is it one way for one and not the other? I know we are all different…but I would think this type of thing has some generalities. My husband can be so mean to me. He has been since the beginning of marriage. Anyway, I want to hear what it does to a person. And how us women are supposed to stand up to that constant oppression.

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