Measuring Progress In Recovery

This past week, I read a very interesting thought that someone had regarding the subject of progress. Here’s what they said:

“I wish progress was a straight line. It seems so simple: work hard and see tangible progress as a result. But, as we have all learned at some point in our lives, progress is a line that is so far from straight, it even doubles back on itself sometimes.” (Faith Simmons @thesunalsoreads on Instagram)

I have to admit, each time I read that statement this week, I had to laugh because of the sheer truth behind it. That’s just how progress is. It’s rarely something that’s easy to see, something black and white, something we can even put our hands on. Especially as it relates to progress in recovery. I would even suggest that the greatest “progress” we could ever make in our recovery journeys is completely unseen.

In one of my weekly group meetings I lead, I asked the guys in the group what they would consider to be progress in their own lives. There were many different responses and they were all great. Because you see progress looks different for every person. For one person it may be the goal of getting rid of pornography from their lives, killing the habit of masturbation, & fantasizing sexually about other people. For another it could include all of that, but maybe go a bit deeper: The transformation of deep-rooted pain in their hearts. Or what about the way they view other women or men in their lives?

The reality is that progress can only truly be defined by you. So is there really a way to quantify progress? How do you measure progress? I think you would have to ask each and every person for their own definition. As for me, when I look back at the last 13 years of my life, I can truthfully say I’ve made a TON of progress in terms of becoming free of pornography and the way it controlled by life. I no longer look at porn or struggle with masturbation and lust anymore. But there is still an immense about of progress taking place inside of me. Here’s what I’m still learning:

  • How to deal with stress in a healthy way
  • Combatting fear & anxiety with joy & peace
  • Loving others unconditionally

To name JUST a few. There are many, many more things that are very much still in process. I’ve often shared with men I work with how quitting pornography really isn’t that hard. Any man can do it really. But what is hard is digging below the surface. Excavating the deep places within the heart where pain, trauma, and the really hard stuff lives. If we can just get to that stuff, then we’ll really begin to make progress.

Specific to recovery, what are some reasons we are perhaps not seeing as much progress as we would like in our life? I think there could be many reasons for this, but here are just a couple:

First, the fundamentals aren’t in place. What does that mean? There are specific things every man or woman in recovery needs in order to see long-lasting freedom and healing for their life. Take community for example. How can someone grow in isolation? For me (and every man I know), isolation is a prison. We need to be meeting with and around people who will care for our hearts and ask us the tough questions. Community is a fundamental for success in recovery. As is honesty, accountability, transparency, and vulnerability.

Secondly is the failure to celebrate victories of all sizes. So many men I’ve worked with love to keep a track of their sobriety. And for all the right reasons. But when there is a slip or some kind of setback, there is disappointment. The reality is that slips are going to happen. We can’t escape that. But what about all the ways your mind and heart are changing and transforming? You’re literally building new neural pathways in your brain as you seek what is healthy. Even our slips can be opportunities for growth if we allow them to be.

One last note: I think there is a misperception that progress means perfection. That in order to advance means that there’s no room to be left for mistakes along the way. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Some of the greatest progress in my life came through the bumps and bruises in recovery. The moments where I should have gone left and I went right. The times I didn’t tell the whole truth when I should have. Or tried to hide something when I should have just come clean. These are all seemingly negative things and nothing to be proud of and yet there are huge opportunities for growth in these moments.

One day progress may feel like you’re taking five steps forward. Then, the next day you’re taking six steps backward. Take heart! It’s all apart of the learning process. Don’t give up!

One of the greatest ways you can build some great momentum in your recovery is by joining Small Groups Online! SGO makes it incredibly easy to become apart of a healthy community of men or women who share similar struggles as you. Through a weekly Zoom meeting at a time that is convenient for you, you will receive encouragement and support for the journey that you’re on.

Can You Feel the Pain?

One of the greatest realities I love about recovery is that there’s always something new to learn about yourself. For example, how a person deals with real emotions and pain in their life will directly affect their long-term outcome in recovery. For me, this has been proven time and time again. Let me explain.

I’m approaching my 13th year in recovery from a pornography addiction that nearly ruined my marriage and was on the verge of ruining my entire life. For 13 years, I was totally unaware of the toll that porn was taking upon my heart and mind. I lacked the understanding, and ultimately the real conviction of what I was doing and how it was affecting me and eventually those around me. I also lacked the tools necessary to fight back. But there was one thing I had that I lived very aware of: Pain.

I was living with a lot of pain: Loneliness, insecurity, fear of the future to name just a few. And I really believe to this day that unprocessed emotions and pain really contributed to my need for comfort. For something that would distract me and somehow take me out of that pain. And so I looked to pyrography to fill that void. But it would never deliver on the promise of being everything I needed. It only drove me further from God and further from people really knowing the real me.

I’m thankful today that I’m not that man that I was in 2009. I’ve lived in freedom for many years and experienced healing that I would have never dreamed of all those years ago. But there is still plenty that I’m working on in my recovery including dealing with what is uncomfortable. What is painful. Negative emotions. Anger. Disappointment. Stress. Frustration.

Recently at my place of work, this was tested. And I failed. There’s really no other way to say it. My response to a frustrating interaction to a customer on the phone combined with some other negative dynamics going on that day in my heart resulted in me getting into a serious funk. Looking back now, I’m really thankful for the drive that followed while delivering parts to one of our technicians in the field. It really allowed me to reflect on what was really going on inside my heart that day.

First, I needed to repent for my attitude. That was most important. I hadn’t conducted myself in a professional manor at all, never mind not delivering on my daily mission of bringing the Kingdom of God to work with me instead of expecting it to somehow magically appear at work! 🙂 So once that was done, I began to try and look deeper as to what was going on, but I noticed an interesting thing occur:

I felt a strong desire inside to create. To imagine. Not to fantasize, but to think of something I could do or say to bless someone. This has happened many times in the past as well when I’ve gotten myself in a dark place. Whenever I began to pray for someone else or think about a creative project, my mood seemed to shift. Upon consideration of this a while longer, I began to ask myself if this was really the right response or not?

Had I really processed my negative emotions (pain) or merely distracted myself from it?

Obviously, the things I mentioned above aren’t inherently wrong or evil in anyway. There are obviously ways worse things I could try to distract myself with, but was I in that moment really choosing to sit with the pain I was feeling for a while in an attempt to try to understand what was happening inside?

As I discussed this with a friend, they shared with me that there is a difference between processing techniques and distraction techniques as it relates to dealing with painful, negative experiences. And to be honest, I’m still not completely sure where I land in one of those two places. I don’t claim to be an expert, that’s for sure.

What I don’t want to do is live with unprocessed pain. And I don’t want that for anyone. Sadly, there are millions of people today that walk around with so much pain in their life and no way to deal with it in a healthy way.

Not surprisingly, unprocessed emotion has been proven to have the ability to affect you physically, opening up the potential for immune compromise and illness.

I leave you with with one final challenge: Feel your pain. Don’t stuff it. Don’t avoid it. Don’t pretend like it’s not there. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself.

Pain is a reality of life that we have to face. We live in a fallen and broken world capable of doing so much damage. None of us make it out of here without wounds. But they don’t have to be open wounds. There is a way in which you can find freedom and healing in the midst of your pain and in whatever form that it may take.

If you’re not sure where to begin, Small Groups Online makes it incredibly simple to find a community of people who, like you, are walking through pain and are learning how to process it in a healthy way. That begins in community. SGO offers you a weekly online support group with many days and times available to best fit your schedule. You can even try out SGO at no cost for two weeks to get started.

Don’t allow pain to put you under. You don’t have to live in the shadows of your past. You can have freedom over life-controlling addictions and compulsive behaviors. Check out Small Groups Online to find the group that best matches your need today!

Healthy Sex Is Consistent

I have to admit that in the past I’ve really struggled to write posts that center on this particular topic. Not because sex scares. Not because I’m not a fan of sex.

But quite honestly, it’s because I don’t feel like an expert when it comes to sex. I know that it’s an area that my wife and I are still learning and growing in together. It’s also one area of intimate connection that we have to regularly fight for in our marriage.

Again, not because either of us doesn’t enjoy it, but because life can get crazy!

We take on many roles: Spouses, parents, co-workers, and ministry partners to name just a few. There always seems to be a demand right around the corner or something to take care of.

Don’t get me wrong, we have gotten better over the years in all of these areas, including fostering healthy sexual intimacy within our relationship. But as I was thinking through this post, I felt the biggest truth you need to be able to take away from it is this:

Healthy sex has to be consistent.

At the risk of sounding legalistic or forced and in no way am I advocating for obligation sex*, I believe there’s more to that statement than meets the eye. Specifically, the two words which are emphasized: Healthy and consistent.

First, sexual intimacy between you and your spouse should be healthy. What does this mean?

Straight to the point, sex shouldn’t be just about meeting YOUR desires.

It actually should be first about meeting your spouse’s desires. When we come together with our spouse with that kind of motivation, it makes the union that much sweeter and that much more enjoyable for both.

I’m not going to detail in this post tips and techniques for better sex. That misses the point behind this article. What I will say is that healthy sex is the kind that you and your spouse both discuss and agree to TOGETHER.

I love what Philippians 2:4 says to us:

…not looking to YOUR OWN interests but each of you to the interests of the OTHERS.

I understand that Paul wasn’t specifically referring to sexual preferences here in this passage, but he was talking about what humility looks like. Humility disregards what is important to me so that you can receive what is important to you.

This is one of the hardest things for us as humans to learn. And I suspect this may be true as it relates to our sexual needs as well.

I think “healthy” sex isn’t just a time where two people enjoy intense physical pleasure, but it’s where they can connect deeply on an emotional level.

And even a spiritual level. The idea that you’re fulfilling what the Bible talks about in becoming one flesh is a beautiful reality.

Secondly, healthy sex is something that should be consistent. Perhaps it’s better to start explaining what this doesn’t mean versus what this does mean.

For starters, consistency is something you and your spouse need to discuss together.

What does a healthy connection look like for you? Perhaps this is 2 or 3 times a week. Or 2 or 3 times a day. Or 2 or 3 times within a month. The bottom line is that there’s no “one size fits all” for sexual intimacy. And don’t let anyone ever tell you there is.

The one caveat I would add to that though is this: If it’s been SEVERAL days, weeks, months, or yes, I’m saying it — years since you’ve connected with your spouse intimately, there’s most likely a problem there. And it’s your responsibility to figure it out if you want your marriage to thrive.

Look, I get it…life can be crazy! Between our jobs, families, kids, church commitments, ministry appointments, it seems as if there is always something or someone demanding your attention. And by the time the evening rolls around, you’re fried! I know I am.

But again, connecting with your spouse physically, emotionally, spiritually needs to be a priority.

And when something is being done with consistency, deeper intimacy will grow as well. Perhaps for some out there, it means you and your spouse schedule your time together.

Now before you roll your eyes and make any assumptions, hear me out: We schedule things and put things on our calendar that are important. And isn’t sexually connecting with our spouse important?

If not the calendar, keep the lines of communication open with your spouse and be looking for the moments and minutes you can steal away for time together. I think there’s sometimes been a misconception in the past that says sex needs to be this glorious thing that lasts for hours.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sometimes, when you don’t have a very long time to get away, it can be more functional and may not take much time at all. There’s no judgment there! Remember, you’re still connecting with the other person in a meaningful way.

I believe that it’s possible for you and your spouse to have an intimate and thriving relationship with each other. But it takes work, that’s for sure. It must take priority in your life. It takes consistency. And when those things happen, you will find that your time together will become
healthier and healthier.

Remember, one of the greatest keys to health is consistency.

If you want to read more about healthy sexuality, go buy The Good Guys Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Gregoire and her husband Dr. Keith Gregoire which will be available on March 15.

*Editor’s Note

Video

The Lord Will Stand With You

“But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.”

2 Timothy 4:17

On this bonus episode, Frank shares his thoughts from 2 Timothy 4:17. Remember this week that you are not standing alone! No matter what you might be facing, you hold a mighty promise that God’s presence and His strength is yours for the taking. We pray this powerful promise blesses you today!

Facing the Truth About Shame

Let’s face it: talking with someone about your addiction to pornography is difficult. Sometimes, it feels downright impossible.

How ironic is it that living in such a sex-saturated culture, we still find it awkward to be vulnerable and transparent about the sexual issues we’re having? I believe the reason for this lies not necessarily within the subject of sex, but in within the subject of shame.

Could it be that shame is really what we’re addicted to? The deep seated belief that we are the problem. That we’re unworthy. We’re unlovable.  This is the lie that addiction really sells us. We’re ushered in with feelings of pleasure and control. And before long we find that we’re not allowed to leave. We can’t escape because we feel trapped.

I’m convinced today this was the sole reason that I struggled for so many years without freedom. I not only felt shame. I believed what shame had to say to me.

There’s a fantastic new book being released in February from Carl Thomas, CEO of XXXchurch.com and founder of Small Groups Online. It’s entitled “When Shame Gets Real: A New Way to Talk About Sex, Porn, and Masturbation.” In the book, Carl shares how shame is the real threat to us. Shame has the ability to cripple a person for life. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Carl shares how living in shame prevents us from being fully present to our pain, our needs, and the real desires we have inside. And what we have to realize is that shame isn’t something to be ignored, but to be confronted. The more we ignore, the more we stuff, the more we pretend like something doesn’t affect us, the more we will spiral into our unwanted sexual behaviors. Why? Because we haven’t learned to confront shame.

Here are some common lies that shame tries to tell us:

LIE #1: Shame says you’re alone.

Please understand, NOTHING could be further from the truth. We as human beings not only live in a broken world…but we were born into brokenness and sin. We’re in need of rescue. And God did just that in His son Jesus. First and foremost, Christ is our rescue, our salvation, and our healing. I don’t know where I would be today without the saving power of Jesus in my life. But I also know that in my years of addiction, I wasn’t alone. In my recovery, I’m not alone. Because there are a countless number of other men who also share a similar story as me. Don’t allow shame to convince you you’re all by yourself and you have no hope of freedom.

LIE #2: Shame says you’re unlovable.

WRONG!!! This is one of the biggest whoppers out there. Unfortunately, so many of us have believed it at some point that our secrets stay hidden and we devolve even more. We believe that if people really knew us and our secret lives, they wouldn’t want anything to do with us. And it’s true, some may not. But those people who are safe and healthy will be able to see someone who’s in need of healing. For the longest time, I lived as a person who felt unlovable. I was afraid if people really knew the real me, I would lose everything. So I pretended, lied, and covered up the truth of my porn addiction, which only made things worse. Know this truth: You are loved — first and foremost by the One who created you and by so many others who are helping men and women find freedom every day.

LIE #3: Shame says you have no future.

I and millions of others are living proof that this is a lie. Today, I’m freer and healthier than I’ve ever been. What I didn’t realize for the 13 years that I was addicted was that my life was on a destructive path. And it wasn’t because of some kind of failure in God’s will and plans for my life, it was because of my unhealthy choices. choices. Shame attempts to call this out and direct our attention to it. Make us focus on it. Sell us the lie that we have no future. It took some pretty serious consequences in my life to unfold for me to realize the path I was on. I was living a truly diminished life. I wasn’t become the man God created me to be. But as I embraced the pain I was dealing with and the lies I was believing about myself, I began to find freedom. I did have a future…a very beautiful one at that.

Perhaps the title of this post confused you: “Facing the Truth about Shame”. Well actually, there isn’t any truth connected to shame at all, only the lies as described above. And it isn’t until we identify those lies that shame tries to convince us of that our eyes can be opened.

Small Groups Online is an excellent opportunity for you to confront shame with the help of other men and women who are doing the same! Remember, you are not alone! SGO offers you a weekly safe, secure, online meeting via Zoom which will help build healthy community in your life.

We also want to encourage you to check out Carl Thomas’ new book, “When Shame Gets Real: A New Way to Talk About Sex, Porn, and Masturbation”, which will be released in February.