I talk to a lot of Mormon sex and porn addicts, many of whom have found a wonderful and complete recovery in Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). One of the great things about SA is the way its members have come to identify most facets of the confusing and elusive drug lust. By sharing our experience, strength and hope with one another, we put our collective wisdom into the mix along with working the 12 steps, faith in Christ’s atonement and real repentance. The result is lasting sexual sobriety for a lot of Mormon men and women.
As I said, I’m blessed to be able to talk with many of them. During our discussions, I usually try to ask one important question: Given what you now understand about lust and addiction, how old do you think you were when you first became addicted to lust?
The typical answer no longer surprises me. Most of the responses are along the lines of, “When I was four,” “When I was five,” “When I was seven or eight,” or even, “I think I’ve been addicted to lust for as long as I can remember.”
For some reason, these kinds of answers disturb a lot of (other, possibly non-addict) Mormons who seem to find comfort in the notion that you have to “practice” in order to become an addict. It’s the problematic idea I talked about recently that addiction resembles, in their minds, a slow-moving train with a thousand stops to get off at before you arrive at Addiction Central. According to most of the Mormon addicts I’ve talked with, however, that metaphor is off by about 999.
Think about it. If pornography (i.e., lust) is more addictive than cocaine (see also this Wired.com article), why on earth do so many Mormons cling to this notion that you get to experience a thousand exposures before you become addicted? I happen to believe that the more we come to understand addiction, the more we will see that for a lot of us, the addiction was instantaneous or nearly so.
As Mormons educate themselves about addiction and become willing to listen to and learn from those of us who have found recovery, they will stop referring to addiction interchangeably with “a bad habit.” ADDICTION IS NOT MERELY A BAD HABIT! Spitting on the sidewalk is a bad habit. Forgetting to lock your car doors when you leave it in the parking lot is a bad habit. Repeatedly forgetting your kid’s birthday is a bad habit.
Returning time after time after time to Internet porn and compulsive sexual behavior like masturbation even knowing that it’s destroying your marriage, your spirituality and your integrity is insanity–another word for addiction. Being so mentally impaired by lust that you can’t see how it’s progressively leading you to seek out and view more shocking porn or to engage in more shocking sexual behavior is insanity–and is evidence of addiction.
Addiction is so much more than a bad habit. Continuing to talk about addiction as though it were merely a bad habit is doubly deadly. First, it suggests that addiction is just something we addicts “got used to” over time. It marginalizes the speed and power of addiction and suggests to actual addicts that they still have time to “get off the train” before addiction sets in.
Second, it suggests that since secret and isolating “practice” gradually brought us into addiction, the solution is simply to “practice” getting out of the habit of addiction. Read “The ABCs of Addiction” and “The Silent Seventy Percent” to understand why this perspective is naive at best and deadly at worst.
I believe that in the very near future, as most Mormons stop referring to addiction as merely “a bad habit,” almost immediately miracles of addiction recovery will take place on a grand scale. Without the smokescreens of denial and misinformation, Mormon addicts will finally get so desperate that they will become willing to do whatever it takes to get well. And then they’ll get well–to the surprise of just about everybody, except those of us who are already addicts in recovery. This is what I pray for and it’s what other recovering Mormon addicts pray for as well.