Where do you start? When Dave and I began our road to recovery from his pornography addiction and my depression, one thing we had to do right away was to admit the problem.
Easy enough, right?
You’d think so, but that wasn’t the case.
One common trait of any addiction is the presence of a “cycle.” A cyclical pattern.
Whether you’re addicted to porn, gossip, food, money, sex, shopping, television, exercise, if you pay attention, you’ll discover a cyclical pattern to your addiction.
According to the American Addiction Centers, addiction can be defined as a chronic brain disease that affects your brain’s reward, pleasure, memory, and motivation.
Recover Connection explains it like this, “. . . obsessive thinking and compulsive need for drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or anything despite the resulting negative consequences.” Typically, addictions don’t happen with one exposure. We develop a tolerance for the substance, which requires larger doses to achieve the same satisfactory results. Once the individual moves from just trying the questionable behavior or substance to experiencing it as an actual felt need, the line is crossed into addiction.
If you’ve ever tried to stop eating a particular food, you know what it feels like to experience a withdrawal symptom. For some, like me, merely telling me, “I can’t have something” makes me crave it. Do you relate?
What is it about our human brain that turns an innocent, or not-so-innocent, sampling into an addiction?
Listen to your words.
When you’re tired, do you say you “need” some coffee or other caffeinated beverage? I’ve discovered that when I say I “need” something to help me overcome whatever I’m struggling with at the moment, it’s time to take a step back and figure out what’s going on. Giving in to the “need” doesn’t deal with the underlying issue. It’s merely a cover-up, or to use our counselor’s words, a medication-of-choice.
Feeling down or tired or bored or [insert your challenge], then the need sets in. When you go looking for something to remove that need, you’re headed into a cycle.
Dave refers to this as porn’s “Cycle of Shame” to describe what it feels like to be trapped in pornography addiction.
I discovered that this term applies to many addictions, not just pornography. The addictive cycle might begin differently depending on your addiction of choice. But the steps you go through look remarkably similar.
Let’s unpack porn’s Cycle of Shame.
Something triggers the need for porn. The same is true for any addiction. What starts the pornography searches? Think BHALT: Bored, Hurt, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Identifying the source is necessary to help break the cycle.
Temporary Hormonal Rush:
The addict gets what they go looking for. The hormonal rush feeds the addictive need. With pornography addiction, the demand continues to grow, requiring more and varied stimuli. Studies reveal that the addictive brain is chemically and physiologically different from a non-addictive brain. Therefore, to break the addictive cycle, we need to address the neurological issues created by the substance.
That ugly, uncomfortable feeling. We attach shame to addictive behaviors because deep in our soul, we know we’re substituting trust in God with something that never satisfies. We’re escaping instead of confronting and moving forward. Look back at the definition of addiction. Note the phrase, “despite the resulting negative consequences.” Would you and I qualify something as addictive if there wasn’t a sense of shame attached to that behavior? I don’t think so. This feeling can drive the addict back to the Trigger. And the cycle starts again.
Growly bear time. Dave describes this as getting in a funk. I remember these days. He got angry quickly. Or, he’d be “down” and cynical about most everything. Not realizing that this was part of the addictive cycle, I’d try to help him feel better, tell him to snap out of it, or ignore him and get irritated. But, in the cycle of shame, this negative mindset begins a spiral, which can throw you deeper into the addictive behavior. At that point, it’s hard to break out of the cycle without help from a coach, counselor, or trained professional.
They say confession is good for the soul. Once we acknowledge our guilt or misdeeds, we’ll feel better. And I agree. The Bible tells us to confess our sins to God, and He will forgive them. But, if we only give lip-service to our sin and don’t attach concrete action to the confession, we don’t change. Repentance involves confession and taking responsibility to correct our actions. Without this vital step, the cycle continues.
Get Back to Normal:
For the addict, once the precipitating crisis is over, there’s the sincere desire to get back to normal—the way things were before you stepped into the addiction. But, that’s false hope. There’s no going back to the way things were because that’s what got you in this position in the first place. The way things were set up your craving for porn.
Turn to God:
Admission of Who is in control and turning to God. Part of the addict’s confession of sin reorients you toward God. You acknowledge what you’ve done, ask for forgiveness, and then spend time rebuilding your relationship with God. This time is precious for the believer. King David wrote about this when he asked God to heal the relationship. At this point, for the addict, there’s a sigh of relief and belief that the cycle is broken.
A new trigger interrupts healing:
Until the root issues are uncovered and dealt with, the previous step’s relief is short-lived. Something happens that creates a new trigger. The porn addiction begs to be fed once again.
Here we go again:
The cycle repeats based on the new trigger. Now it’s back to Step 1. How long the cycle lasts this time around varies depending on the trigger, the depth of the addictive hold, and the surrounding circumstances. It could be hours, days, weeks, or months before the cycle repeats.
The good news about porn’s cycle of shame?
You can recognize the cycle and interrupt it by getting help. We did. We still do when the cycle threatens to grab ahold once again.
Whether you’re addicted to porn, gossip, food, money, sex, shopping, television, exercise, if you pay attention, you can discover the cyclical pattern to your addiction. Identify your triggers. When are you most likely to turn to the addiction? Try jotting down notes about what’s going on in your thoughts, heart, home, and work. Find a safe person to confide your struggle. Continuing to hide the addiction only perpetuates the cycle.
If you’ve taken the first step to admit there’s a problem, you’re on your way to break the cycle. Great job! Now is the right time to ask for help. If you could remove this on your own, you wouldn’t still be battling it. You’re living proof the addiction won’t stop on its own. You need to find a different way to cope with the triggers that create your craving for your addiction of choice. Get help.
If your husband is trapped in porn’s cycle of shame, his addiction affects you, too.
It’s not just “his deal.” You need healing and practical tools to recover also. You have great news as well! You can overcome the shock AND the aftershocks his addiction brought to your heart and soul.
There is pain, for sure! But there is also healing. I know. I’ve been there. And, I’d love to hear your unique story (without any judgment—that’s long gone in my life) and help you discover specific ways to rediscover who you were created to be.
Let’s talk and see if you don’t feel better.