This is the last segment of our 3-part series with Corey Holmgren (AMFT) on healthy sex. As before, we recommend that you listen to all 3 posts in order; as it’s all one long message. I learned a lot as I walked through this model with Corey, especially about how sex goes WAY beyond just the physical act. As I’ve reflected on my feelings on this subject, I’ve recognized that it does run deeper than just my physical “needs” or urges. I hope this message will help you reflect on your intimacy and give you hope that greater connection lies ahead.
“The opposite of what we see in porn is actually what healthy sex is. We gotta do a complete 180 and I hope that this is what I’ve been able to show.”
“The whole purpose is to create safety and a level of relaxation so that you can create complete connection with each other.”
“Try to listen to each others’ bodies and stay connected.”
“Don’t make orgasm the goal. Just make connection, relaxation, and safety the goal. If that’s it, you are always going to be pleased with the outcome.”
Where My Addiction Started
I can’t remember the first time I masturbated. It was just something I always did. I believe the first memory I have of masturbating was when I was 5 or so. There were a couple pornographic images that were just around when I was growing up; I never gave much thought to them. I remember being exposed to more graphic porn when I was around 12. I didn’t start actively seeking out porn until I was 13 or 14, around the time my family got our first computer.
For me my addiction was always associated with being bored. I would get bored, start watching TV or playing video games, get bored of that, then start dabbling in things I shouldn’t have. I don’t remember the first time I realized that masturbating was wrong. By the time I was a teenager I definitely knew it was wrong and was trying to stop. I always knew porn was wrong and that was relatively easy for me to stop. Masturbating, however, was extremely difficult to stop and I often times wondered if I could stop or if God really even wanted me to stop because it was so difficult.
The battle for me consisted of sheer grit and determination. My strategy was to simply increase my will-power enough to fight temptation the next time it came around (I highly recommend not battling addiction this way). I really didn’t have access to alternative ways of battling addiction, like establishing healthy habits, reaching out for help, or different ways to handle emotional setbacks. I would only talk to church leaders about it after I had gone a while with being clean. I hardly ever had the courage to talk to them while I was struggling.
Throughout my teenage years I would go for long periods of being clean. I believe the longest time period was about a year. I loved being clean and no part of me wanted to slip back into addiction but inevitably I would eventually get super bored, super tempted, and fall again. I just figured I was horny, I didn’t see the link between my unhealthy life style and my actions.
I had always wanted to serve a mission. While I was on vacation I talked to someone who told me about how they left to serve a mission, weren’t worthy, came back, repented and left again. I decided that didn’t sound like a good idea. So I got real. I decided no more rationalizing. I was going to get worthy.
My church leaders established that I had to be clean for one year before I could serve a mission. Some people view this as harsh, a little over the top and even somewhat unrealistic. For me the goal of being clean for a year set the expectation that winning was not only possible but it was expected. It was the first time I felt like someone really believed and knew that I could win (because I certainly didn’t believe I could). I will forever be grateful to my church leaders for establishing that expectation. If they would have been more “lenient”, I’m not sure I would have won. I will also be forever grateful to one church leader in particular. He had a young family, and I’m sure plenty of other things on his plate, but he was always there for me, spent a lot of time with me, and helped me much more than he knows.
With the goal of one year of sobriety in mind I found the increased amount of will-power I needed. I eventually left, served my mission, and have been clean ever since! As of right now I have been clean for a little over seven years!
Lessons I Learned
I believe my path to recovery was different than most men in that I didn’t really realize what was contributing to my addiction until years after I was clean. I believe it was only the grace of Jesus Christ that kept me clean until I realized the contributing factors to my addiction. On my mission I was busy doing missionary work, I can only remember one time of being super tempted. When I got home I immediately went to college and also had a hefty workload so I didn’t really have time for my addiction. I can only remember one time during a break between semesters where I was super tempted and could have gone either way. So essentially for years I was “too busy” for my addiction (again I wouldn’t suggest this path for anybody).
I started to notice that the times I was most tempted was right before I went to bed and when I woke up. So gradually over time I established the habit of going to the gym right when I woke up (like out the door in less than ten minutes). This does a few things for me: 1- it helps me be less tempted 2- it helps me wake up (I’m supper groggy in the mornings and life seems hard until I start working out) & 3- it just helps me feel better about life. Then I study the scriptures and go to work. I also read, usually something spiritual, as I fall asleep. This helps stave away temptation. I know I’ve been healed and am not just running away from being bored. I’ve had significant health challenges that have required me to rest a lot. Yet even with that much downtime, I have not fallen.
When I was battling addiction I didn’t understand the link between my daily habits and my addiction, I thought I just had to try harder. Church leaders tried to help by giving me a schedule, and I would have won a lot quicker if I would have listened, but I just didn’t have the faith to believe that it would really help. It wasn’t until years of sobriety that I could see the link between my daily habits, my lifestyle, and my addiction.
My path to recovery consisted of countless times of being clean and then falling into temptation again. This was super discouraging. I wondered if God even wanted me to win. I know that God wants you to win and He wants to help. He has His arms outstretched to us continually, and He will help us fix what is wrong in our life and become 100% clean and at peace.
In our first part Corey Holmgren (AMFT - Associate Marriage & Family Therapist) set the stage for the beginning of a healthy and connective sexual relationship with our spouse. In the second part of this series, Corey walks us through the Safe Sex Model. If you haven't listened to Part 1 I strongly encourage you to listen to that first. Health sex is such a foreign idea to us sex addicts, but this model blows the doors open! Healthy connective sex is so possible for all of us.
"Your safety protects your intimacy"
"Your bedroom is the most sacred room in your house, because if you really think about it the most sacred act is going on inside of your bedroom"
The goal of this blog post is to increase your faith that doing small and simple things really will help you win the battle of addiction and make your life better.
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. Alma 37:6
Question: Do you believe there is something you can do specifically in the next seven days that would make your personal, family, and business life worse? Okay, next question: Do you honestly believe there is something you can do in the next seven days that would make your personal, family, and business life better? Chances are astronomical that you answered “yes”. -Zig Ziglar
It took me a long time to develop the habit of going to the gym in the morning. I’ve always had a hard time waking up in the morning. I would guess it took me about a year of trying and failing to develop the habit. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the times I lay out my workout clothes the night before I almost always end up going to the gym. If I don’t, I have a much higher chance of not making it.
I can’t say that my will power is much different between the times when I wake up with gym clothes laid out versus having to find them, but I definitely have provided conditions in which I’m more likely to succeed.
When battling addiction sometimes we fall into a trap of thinking if I just had more willpower I wouldn’t do this or even worse, I’m just evil and desire bad things. I found that if I paid attention to my circumstances and triggers, I really did have a great degree of control in how much I got tempted.
God knows what you need. We often times know the small and simple things we need to do. It’s just a matter of doing them. Your triggers may be harder to identify. For instance, they could be more emotionally based, such as feeling left out, not listened to, or feeling depressed. God will help you. He wants you to win.
A common theme I found in recovery is that I'm not the only one who had a lack of education about positive and fulfilling sex. The more I've searched the more I've discovered most men (and women) don’t get taught anything either. Corey Holmgren (AMFT - Associate Marriage & Family Therapist) from LifeSTAR joins us in a series to talk about how safe, relaxing, and fulfilling our sexual relationship in marriage can be.
For those of us in addiction this is like, what? All we've learned is what TV, pornography, and those who had a poor sexual education taught us. Corey walks us through these, frankly terrible, ideals we promote in society and how there is a way to really connect with our spouse through sex, beyond physically.
"It changed our perspective on sex and our enjoyment of sex. We've actually been able to not only turn it into something physical, but something that's emotional, spiritual, and relational. We come together and we become one."
"[Sex Addicts] really do want something healthy. When a sex addict is trying to engage in sex, what they are trying to do is engage to feel connected. They just don't know how to do it quite yet. They are used to numbing out through sex, not connect through sex."
"Our attitudes towards sex play such a vital roll into how you’re going to be able to open yourself up physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually to your partner."
"It's so fun to see their eyes just light up. Both the recovered addict and the spouse are like, "this is what we were looking for the entire time!"
When I was struggling to overcome addiction I didn't understand how powerful God is and that if I would listen to him and act He had the power to heal. I found that I was like Naaman. (2 Kings chapter 5)
Naaman had leprosy, which meant certain death - I had a sexual addiction. I always felt guilty and wondered if I was ever going to be able to stop.
A little maid suggested Namaan go see the prophet - I often missed opportunities because answers came from seemingly minor places.
A servant of Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times, and Namaan was wroth - I often times visited with church leaders about my addiction. I never was mad at the advice they gave me, but I didn't have enough faith that their advice would fix my huge problems.
Naaman's servant said if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? - This was certainly part of my problem. I was searching for huge solutions to my huge addiction that I couldn't control, but the solution lay in the small and simple things that God new would help me.
Naaman finally pulled it together, washed seven times and was healed - When I finally became disciplined enough to do the small and simple things I knew I should, the temptations I experienced became much more manageable.
Take Away - Only God knows what you need. The solution to your addiction may be prayer, counseling, introducing small changes to your daily habits, or addressing deep emotional wounds. Everybody's path to healing is different, do some honest soul-searching and try your best to act on what you feel God is telling you to do.
Scott Peterson (LCSW, CSAT) (Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) has over 20 years of experience with sexual addiction recovery. When I asked Scott to do a post with us I asked him to think about it and let me know. He immediately answered, "Surrender". It took me a while to start to understand the principle of surrendering my addiction, but it has made all the difference. . .or you can just keep trying harder. . .
"The paradox of Surrender: When we want to hold on tighter, when we want to exert our selves in terms of how much self-control or will-power we have. . .we in fact have to let go."
"Vulnerability occurs when we take the two most important risks there are. The first risk is knowing our selves as we really are. There's no pretense, no attempt to deny. As well as allowing others to see us as we really are."
"We need to make what is implicit inside of us explicit. If we are able to make it explicit it means we are able to do something about it."
"This is the heart of Surrendering, transferring our weaknesses from our hands and placing them in Jesus' hands. The opposite of 'white knuckling' it."
"Typically when we say, "I'm going to try harder" what that means is is I'm going to take all the methods I've used with addiction and just do them with greater intensity and greater strength and energy. But it's the same old way. It's the same old way that has not worked in the past and no matter how hard we try it won't work in the present or the future."
(If you haven't seen Disney's The Kid this is the scene where he sees a trauma from his childhood as an adult)
Most addicts don't want their addiction. If fact, when we can be honest, we hate it. Often times we try the "right" things again and again. Harder and harder, but things still don't go right. What is up? Is healing hopeless? Nope! TRAUMA!
Angela Russell is an experienced LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker - therapist) who works specifically with Trauma. She has experience with both children and adults. She explains to us what Trauma is and how it can emotionally freeze us. She also teaches us how to discover its effects in our life and what we can do about it to find healing.
"The only thing worse than feeling pain is not feeling pain." - Mary Pipher, Letters to a Young Therapist
"The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.” - Edward R. Murrow
If you want additional information about Trauma Angela has recommended these two books:
When I started recovery one of the first stories of recovery I heard was Chris and Autumn's. It gave me so much hope! I'm grateful they would be willing to share their story here with all of us. What is so amazing to me is how far they have come and how much lasting healing and change has really happened. I hope as you listen to their story you will feel of the hope and light they have and know you can experience it too.
"I just felt the lowest I've ever felt in my life. I felt like I was unworthy of living...then I tried to take my life." - Autumn
"Autumn was in and out of consciousness. I just picked her up and was holding her, waiting for the police to get there and just started praying. If God would let her live I would stop everything. I would stop the affairs, pornography, the masturbation, everything." - Chris
"We were referred to LifeSTAR and I didn't want to go. I was really mad. Cuz I'm like, 'there is nothing wrong with me here'. I felt like I was going to go to this group and I was going to be the only wife of an addict. I didn't even know what an addict was. At first I was all, 'that's a load of crap. There is no thing as a sexual addiction.' To my surprise it was not what I expected at all. It was a good thing." -Autumn
"I opened myself up to healing my own life, because I knew if I didn't heal my life, if I ended up with some else, I could be in the same situation. I thought, I'm not going to do anything better by not bettering my life. I’m just going to hold all this bitterness, anger, sadness, and trauma that I've had from this. I especially wanted my own relationship with myself to be better." -Autumn
"We had been in recovery for 18 months and with that I was still lying. Within a year of everything coming out I started another affair. I made that promise to God, but Satan still had a hold on me." - Chris
"I hated the person I'd become. I was lying about little things that I didn't even need to lie about. We went to a movie and God told me, 'you need to change your life...your family needs you.' It took me about two more months to tell autumn." - Chris
"I decided to lay everything out. From growing up as a kid, all the affairs, to my addiction to pornography, everything. At that point I did a complete lifestyle change." - Chris
"I started praying, because I didn't love my wife anymore and I wanted to know how I could love her again. Part of my prayers were, ‘God, show me how I can love my wife again.’ And it was everyday. I was so focused on the negative things about my wife, that's all I saw. When I started focusing on the things I loved about her is when I started to see her the way I used to see her. I was finally able to get my best friend back again." - Chris
"I could see the physical change in him when he had told me everything. I could literally see...I pictured this big weight on him. I could see it lifted. I could see this light coming back to him. Even though he was still having slips and he was checking in with me. I saw him working his program and I knew he was going to heal his life." - Autumn
"This has changed my life. I have found that I used my Savior's Atonement for myself. I have learned so much. Before, I saw only glimpses of the man God intended Chris to be and now I see more of the man God intends for him to be. He lives that way. It is totally worth it. It's the road that not a lot of people choose to take, but I did and I'm glad I did." -Autumn
"Is it worth it? Absolutely. To get me to become the man I am today, I would do it all over again. Especially knowing how close I am now to Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and how close I am to my wife. Learning that I can battle for my heart. That no matter what I've done I am still loved. I've caused a lot of pain and I won't ever forget the pain I've caused. Yet if my story can provide hope for one person, I'd share it with the world. I know without a doubt the love [Christ] has for you." - Chris
"I would tell everyone that they deserve to heal their life. They deserve that. It's their right to heal their life. I would tell everyone that your story is your own, it's no one else's. And to know that they are loved. We all make agreements with the adversary. Wives think they're not good enough and they'll never find happiness. I want people to know they are loved and there is always a way out. Always." - Autumn
We are so excited to launch UnshamedUnafraid.com! Our invitation is simple: There is hope. We hear a lot of men who dismiss sexual addiction or who have struggled with it so long they think they are stuck with it. We invite everyone to connect with God and their true self and get real about sexual addiction. We hope what we share helps you to be unashamed about sexual addiction and unafraid to come unto Christ for healing.
"The promise concerning the bruising of the heel and head means that while Satan (as the serpent) will bruise the heel of the Savior by leading men to crucify Him and seemingly destroy Him, in actuality that very act of Atonement will give Christ the power to overcome the power that Satan has over men and undo the effects of the Fall. Thus, the seed of the woman (Christ) shall crush the head of the serpent (Satan and his kingdom) with the very heel that was bruised (the atoning sacrifice)". (Source)
Jesus crushed Satan's head!!! What does this mean for you? No matter how bad your addiction is now, no matter how many times you've slipped back into addiction after you think you've been done with it, and whatever lies satan has told you, all that doesn't matter you WILL win. The only difference between people who win and lose in recovery is whether or not they continue to try.