Yesterday was Jay’s birthday! We had a great time at the zoo, although I had to be aware of the surroundings, surrender my will (and my eyes), and practice the chin-up. I feel I did well overall, but when we got home, I could tell something was off with Becky.
We did our check-in last night and she shared where things went off. When we were at the playground, I went up the big slide to help Tyson and Jayden. While I was up there, there were a couple other little kids trying to go down the slide too. Their moms were down below so I helped the kids get down and then let their mom’s know they were coming. I honestly didn’t think anything of it, didn’t feel triggered, and no other communication transpired.
But to Becky, it struck fear and brought up feelings of the past. She shared that she felt so dumb not realizing that, in the past, I was probably flirting with so many other women and she didn’t realize it or think about it at all.
As I’ve written in my full disclosure, yes, I recognize today that I have flirted with other women in the past. But I’m aware today of those actions and don’t feel I was flirting at all – in fact, I was very aware of the situation and was cautious, I felt.
I hope, today, that the feelings of fear, brought on by the past, will dissipate, and that we can have a good day in recovery.
One topic Becky and I did talk about quite a bit yesterday was the concern we both have about the watered-down version of LDS ARP in comparison to SA-L, SA, and AA.
Why have they changed the program?
Why don’t they stick to what has worked for thousands, if not millions, of other addicts?
The topic of Elder Oaks talk about different levels of pornography addiction came up, and Becky made a great point. The Church has never written an article and posted it in the Ensign talking about the different levels of alcohol or drug use. Why? Because we all know that these things are addictive. The Word of Wisdom was inspired by God and shared by Joseph Smith, I believe, in an effort to keep people far away from these addictive substances.
Gambling, although I don’t know that I’ve ever read official doctrine on the topic, is also strongly discouraged. Why? Because it’s addictive. There aren’t articles I’ve read that talk about different levels of involvement in gambling.
I’ve heard President Hinckley talk about avoiding pornography like the plague that it is.
So why would Elder Oaks talk about it the way he did? Or am I overreacting to what he wrote?
Why would he, in my opinion, open the door for addicts like me to justify our behavior, minimize it, and carry on like “all is well in Zion?” I know this wasn’t the intent of the article, but…
The thought came: “I wonder what that talk would look like if I changed pornography to alcoholism?”
As I read through it again, at least the first part, this is the section that made me cringe as an addict attempting to recover:
I. Levels of Involvement
To help us deal with this growing evil, I wish to identify several different levels of involvement with pornography and to suggest ways we should respond to each of them.
In earlier times and circumstances, our counsel about pornography focused principally on helping individuals to avoid initial exposure or to recover from addiction. While those efforts are still important, past experience and current circumstances have shown the need for counsel addressed to levels of pornography use between the polar extremes of avoidance and addiction. It is helpful to focus on four different levels of involvement with pornography: (1) inadvertent exposure, (2) occasional use, (3) intensive use, and (4) compulsive use (addiction).
1. Inadvertent Exposure. I believe that everyone has been inadvertently exposed to pornography. There is no sin in this when we turn away and don’t pursue it. It is like a mistake, which calls for correction rather than repentance.
2. Occasional Use. This use of pornography may be occasional or even frequent, but it is always intentional, and that is its evil.
Pornography stirs and magnifies powerful sexual feelings. The Creator gave us these feelings for His wise purposes, but He also gave commandments that limited their expression to a man and a woman who are married. Pornography debases appropriate sexual expression and encourages the expression of sexual feelings outside the boundaries of marriage. Those who use pornography are trifling with forces so powerful that they can create life or destroy it. Don’t go there!
The danger with any intentional use of pornography, no matter how casual or infrequent, is that it always invites more frequent exposure, which will inevitably increase preoccupation with sexual feelings and behavior. Scientists have discovered that sexual images produce chemicals in the brain that reward sexual feelings, which then encourage more attention to sexual behavior. Immoral sexual behavior of any kind or degree produces feelings of shame, which, over time, can be entrenched within an individual.
This all seems correct – but isn’t this the start of the addictive process?
3. Intensive Use. Repeated intentional use of pornography can make its use a habit, “a behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” With habitual use, individuals experience a need for more stimulus to have the same reaction in order to be satisfied.
Is this not addiction?
4. Compulsive Use (Addiction). A person’s behavior is addictive when it forms a “dependency” (a medical term applied to the use of drugs, alcohol, compulsive gambling, etc.) amounting to an “irresistible compulsion” that “takes priority over almost everything else in life.”
Everything I’ve bolded, to me, is a red flag.
My question is this:
How is there really ANY difference between levels 2, 3, and 4?
It reminds me of the statement by one of my therapists specializing in sexual addiction: “Once is too many and a thousand times is never enough.”
Elder Oaks goes on to say:
II. The Significance of Understanding These Levels
Once we recognize these different levels, we also recognize that not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it. In fact, most young men and young women who struggle with pornography are not addicted. That is a very important distinction to make—not just for the parents, spouses, and leaders who desire to help but also for those who struggle with this problem. Here is why.
I don’t even have to continue reading here to feel fearful for what has just been said. “Not everyone who uses pornography willfully is addicted to it…” This is a huge red flag to me as a recovering addict.
First, the deeper the level of involvement one engages in—from inadvertent exposure, to occasional or repeated intentional use, to intensive use, to compulsive (addictive) use—the more difficult it is to recover.
Again, I don’t see ANY difference between the occasion or repeated intentional use, the intensive use, and the compulsive use. They are all different levels of addiction, NOT different levels of involvement with pornography.
Like I said earlier, if I changed pornography to alcohol, am I justified and not addicted if I just drink socially from time to time? After all, it’s just “occasional and repeated intentional use.”
If behavior is incorrectly classified as an addiction, the user may think he or she has lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem.
And to me, as an addict trying to recover and surrender one day at a time, I know I have lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem. I CAN’T overcome the problem on my own. I CAN’T have agency when I’m wrapped in the chains of pornography. The only way these chains can be broken is by turning my life and will over to God and His Son, by letting go, and by abstaining completely, 100%. I can’t drop a level and consider myself “not addicted.”
This can weaken resolve to recover and repent.
Or, on the other hand, a statement or argument like this can increase the minimization, the justification, and the rationalization of the addict. This is not about the simple repentance where I ask for forgiveness and all is well. This is about addiction and loss of agency.
On the other hand, having a clearer understanding of the depth of a problem—that it may not be as ingrained or extreme as feared—can give hope and an increased capacity to exercise agency to discontinue and repent.
Second, as with any sinful behavior, willful use of pornography drives away the Holy Ghost. Some who have experienced this will feel prompted to repent. Others, however, may feel embarrassed and seek to hide their guilt through deceit.
I am hiding because I’m an addict and I haven’t chosen yet to come into the light and surrender…
They may also begin to feel shame, which can lead to self-loathing. If this happens, users may begin to believe one of Satan’s greatest lies: that what they have done or continue to do makes them a bad person, unworthy of the Savior’s grace and incapable of repentance. That is simply not true. We are never too far out of reach from the Savior and His Atonement.
Finally, it is important not to label even intensive or habitual use of pornography as an addiction because that does not accurately describe the circumstances or the full nature of the required repentance and recovery. Having a better understanding of where a person is in the process will also allow a better understanding of what action is necessary to recover.
To me, everything highlighted in bold is not safe to read as a recovering addict.
To me, everything highlighted in bold is ultimately wrong in my understanding and experience of sexual addiction, sobriety, and recovery.
To me, everything highlighted in bold is a soft invitation to “dabble in the sin” and repent later – it’s not really THAT big of a deal…
Now my test:
“…not everyone who uses [alcohol] willfully is addicted to it.”
This may be very true, but does that mean it’s ok to drink occasionally or that it’s not something I should be too hard on myself about if I have a sip from time to time? After all, that doesn’t mean I’m “addicted to it.” I know Elder Oaks isn’t suggesting this at all – he’s not condoning the use of pornography. However, to an addict who may be reading this, it’s definitely enabling and opens the door for minimization and justification.
“…most young men and women who struggle with [alcohol] are not addicted. That is a very important distinction to make…
“First, the deeper the level of involvement one engages in – from inadvertent exposure, to occasional or repeated intentional use, to intensive use, to compulsive (addictive) use – the more difficult it is to recover.”
I agree with these statements, but I don’t understand who he’s talking to and why it’s even being said. I realize from my own sad, personal experience, that the deeper I’ve immersed myself in pornography, the worse it’s gotten and the more “in chains” I’ve put myself.
Is not this ADDICTION?
What good does it do to call it anything else?
This is really hard to read:
If behavior is incorrectly classified as an addiction, the user may think he or she has lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem. This can weaken resolve to recover and repent.
So, what’s being said is, if I am drinking alcohol occasionally or intentionally, then intensively, those are still not the addict version of drinking?
And every time I hear the word “overcome” I feel there is a misunderstanding of what addiction really is.
From AA it says:
If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. (p. 44-45)
I looked up “What is an addiction?” in Google and found this statement:
When a drug user can’t stop taking a drug even if he wants to, it’s called addiction. The urge is too strong to control, even if you know the drug is causing harm.
When people start taking drugs, they don’t plan to get addicted. They like how the drug makes them feel. They believe they can control how much and how often they take the drug. However, drugs change the brain. Drug users start to need the drug just to feel normal. That is addiction, and it can quickly take over a person’s life.
Addiction can become more important than the need to eat or sleep. The urge to get and use the drug can fill every moment of a person’s life. The addiction replaces all the things the person used to enjoy. A person who is addicted might do almost anything—lying, stealing, or hurting people—to keep taking the drug. This could get the person arrested.
Addiction is a brain disease.
- Drugs change how the brain works.
- These brain changes can last for a long time.
- They can cause problems like mood swings, memory loss, even trouble thinking and making decisions.
Addiction is a disease, just as diabetes and cancer are diseases. Addiction is not simply a weakness. People from all backgrounds, rich or poor, can get an addiction. Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young.
How is this any different than the use of pornography, even if it’s occasional or inadvertent but I’m still making the choice to go back?
I just don’t understand the direction the Church is facing on the matter of pornography addiction.
I don’t understand why, to me, they have taken out some of the most important truths that AA established years ago.
I don’t understand why sponsorship and fellowship are not a strong part of recovery in LDS ARP.
I don’t understand why surrender is not a part of recovery in LDS ARP.
I don’t understand why an apostle of God is writing content like this that seems to justify and minimize the real nature of pornography addiction.
Once is too many times, and a thousand times will never be enough as someone starts dabbling in the sin of pornography.
Overcoming the addiction, in my opinion, is not the goal for those seeking real recovery. SURRENDERING one’s will to God is the answer for me. Asking for His help. Trusting in His hand. Letting go of my will. Using the fellowship of those who have gone before and who understand what recovery looks and feels like. THESE are the answers that are working for me today, in this moment.
What can be done, then?
I hope I can be a part of the changes that need to be made to bring this addiction out of the light.
That’s all for now about this topic…
Elder Oaks is right.
One of the biggest problems I see is guys that are a level 2 or 3 telling themselves that they are a level 4. Even worse is when these guys tell someone that is a level 1 or 2 that they need to surrender and admit they are a level 4. That makes me want to scream.
Like most things in life pornography use is nuanced. But it’s near impossible for someone that believes they are a level 4 to see that nuance.
Part of the nuanced messiness is that the criteria for level 4 are vague. Terms like “irresistible compulsion”, “dependency”, and “priority over almost everything else in life” are relative terms. The result is that anyone can believe they are addicted to anything, but they can’t prove it.
It only takes a few counterexamples to show that there is plenty of room for degrees of pornography use. Have there been times that you didn’t experience or where able to resist an “irresistable compulsion”? Are there times you do not experience “dependency” on pornography? Are there things in your life that take priority over pornography? If you answered yes, then you have counterexamples that allow for moments of time where the theory of addiction does not apply. By making those moments longer, shorter, or more or less meaningful you change the degrees of use.
Refusing to acknowledge the degrees of use means believing that anyone that willfully uses pornography is addicted, which is patently false and waters down the definition of addiction to render it meaningless.
Speaking of being watered down, you are absolutely right about the ARP program as a watered down version of AA.
Thanks for the comment Matt. Whether Elder Oaks is “right or wrong,” to me, is irrelevant. Ultimately, what I fear the talk does for guys who are dabbling in pornography use is open the door to justify, minimize, rationalize and say “all is well – I’m not THAT bad or not as bad as that other guy.”
Unfortunately, that’s been me. I’ve said those very things.
I’m not going to debate what is or isn’t addiction because frankly, I don’t care what it is psychologically or scientifically or any of that BS. I know that I have made choices because of pornography use that have caused tremendous pain and trauma to those I love most.
I know that, even though I wanted to stop, and maybe I wasn’t at the “level 4” referred to, pornography kept coming back as a way to cope with other negative emotions I didn’t want (or know how) to deal with.
I could care less what “level” of pornography use this is.
And I believe, by saying what Elder Oaks said, it opens that big addiction door even wider and allows pornography users to stay in that level 2 or 3 area – the “it ain’t so bad” zone. And if you’ve ever read the White Book of SA, the guys personal story got to that point, then further, then a little more, then further, and then…Then WHAT? It never stopped; it just kept going. So at what level did he go from 2 to 3 and then to 4? WHO CARES?!
Point is, looking at pornography one time or a thousand times will never be enough.
Although I appreciate your comment, Matt, I’ll have to agree to disagree, surrender the outcome, and call it as I see it from my own sad experience.
I believe that you’re both bringing up important aspects of what is definitely a difficult problem for many in leadership positions of various kinds across the globe to address with any kind of precision or blanket policy. Pornography use, just like any other substance used to numb or replace other feelings and experiences, is nuanced because human beings are nuanced. There is so much that we say and do that is framed a certain way in our minds because of things we can’t control (environment, beliefs, community, etc., etc. – see ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman), but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to maintain those thoughts and behaviors because of our surroundings.
Anyway, the point I want to make is actually one you’ve both made in different ways. The problem isn’t as much pornography (though I wouldn’t call it a good thing in any way, shape, or form) as it is the human penchant to seek relief from painful experiences through means other than the real human connection and bonding processes required to find “relief.” Therein lies the problem, because real, lasting relief has been shown to only come through human connection, which is also the only way that suffering—the bigger problem—is avoided and healed.
There is an anonymous saying that I resonate with about pain and suffering, which I believe underscores the real issue at play:
The fear of pain and subsequent efforts to avoid it are subjective experiences for all humans. Pain tolerance is varied from person to person, as is the experience of suffering. What makes the difference between the two for all people is how pain is viewed (perspective). If pain is seen as a teacher, then suffering is almost always avoided, because pain of all kinds teaches us that we are frail—that life is frail—and that we are hard-wired for connection and support with other frail humans. If pain is seen as an antagonist to be avoided, then avoidance of pain is an anathema to real connection since it teaches us to find solace in ourselves – which is ultimately unfulfilling and insufficient to remove pain and suffering, and is most often the cause of additional pain and suffering.
The existence of substances, activities, and behaviors that appear to relieve pain and suffering by masking them (finding solace in ourselves) is where I believe any human being can run into problems without ever falling into clinical addiction. But just because someone isn’t clinically addicted doesn’t mean they are any better off than the addict, at least when it comes to fostering and maintaining healthy connection.
One of the consequences of Elder Oaks’ talk is shifting the focus away from the real problem of connection sickness in favor of a less helpful and unnecessary delineation of pornography usages. If porn is a disruptor of connection, whether addiction is present or not, then it doesn’t deserve a place in our lives in any amount.
Thanks JR. Well said.
I really like this reminder: “seek[ing] relief from painful experiences through means other than the real human connection and bonding processes required to find ‘relief.’”
I also like the quote about pain. Pain isn’t optional – it’s going to come and is part of our life experience.
In my wife’s recovery group, the phrase “pain is the pathway to progress” is shared quite a bit. Anything worthwhile will cause me to stretch, get outside my “normal” way of doing things, and will probably be hard. How I deal with that pain, how I connect with others through that pain, and how I surrender my ways to my Higher Power’s ways, is where true, long-lasting recovery is manifest.
Like you said, the real premise of the talk shouldn’t be about qualifying the different levels of pornography use; instead, it should be about how pornography, and many other addictive substances and actions, “..is a disruptor of connection” and “…it doesn’t deserve a place in our lives in any amount.”
Thanks for your thoughts!
This is a tough subject you’ve tackled, you’ve got huevos to go for it. I too, had red flags going off as I first read this talk which was before I started heavy recovery, and even used this talk to justify my place, sending me into darker places.
Here are some thoughts, I don’t know if they are worth much but anyway.. I liked how you replaced alcohol with porn as it made some things more clear to me, and actually completely changed my understanding of what I think Oaks meant.. I started smoking pot and drinking when I was 14, and did both heavily till I was 20, with plenty of other drugs and porn mixed in. It might sound surprising when I say this, but I was never a drug addict, and I know I was never an alcoholic. The reason is because I never made that jump from level 2/3 where I likely hovered to level 4. Amazingly enough, I actually think that until I got home from my mission I was probably at a level 3 with my porn addiction as well, and the lack of substances that I had to balance it out was actually a contributing factor to me making the plunge to level 4, with a lot of help from shame that I did not necessarily have before my mission. I think this is relevant because I believe in general, the church and non-members for that matter, have a very difficult time dealing with or calling themselves addicts, and doing so does lead them to a feeling of helplessness, and unworthiness, and could lead many down into deeper places of despair than they otherwise would go, just knowing they had a problem that they needed to work through.. To be an addict to most people means to be the guy sitting on the corner begging money for heroin or alcohol, and that is something members of the church don’t often have the stomach to chew on..
A part of me feels that this is aimed at the youth in the church, and not necessarily those of us who are adults and struggling with addiction. maybe he is giving us adults the benefit of the doubt that we are smart enough to look at our situation honestly and decide where we are, but that is not necessarily the case for the Youth, or parents of the youth. Perhaps he just wanted to reach out and prevent those who aren’t full fledged addicts like me, from getting to the point where shame takes over and plunges them into level 4, to where they start thinking they are not within the reach of God’s love, not going to be worthy or able to go on a mission, or have a successful life in the church, or decide that since they keep looking they are the junkie on the corner, and since there is definitely no hope for that guy, there is also no help for them.
This is one of those cases for me where I have to remember that the message that comes from the Brethren is always a message of Hope and love, because why was greatly concerned by this article when I first read it.
Thanks for the comment Cameron. It is a tough topic – even as I think about it today I’m left a bit confused as to what the main agenda was in the talk.
What IS an addict?
Are there different “levels” of addiction?
Does that even MATTER?
As a recovering lust addict, I can honestly say NO, none of that matters to me at all today.
The definition of addicted is “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.”
If I don’t want to look at porn or lust after others, but I can’t stop, even if it’s just “once in a while,” that, to me, would qualify as “dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.”
Do I need to break that down into levels or qualify myself (or others) on my addicted ranking?
I need to be honest, humble, and accountable, call it what it is, and utilize tools that will help me distance myself from anything and everything that feed the addiction. Period.
Those “psychologists,” or even ecclesiastical leaders, who say otherwise probably haven’t been addicts or they are doing what I’ve done for way too long – lying to themselves and believing it. Or, to not be so harsh and more realistic, they are just naive, have good intentions, but are relying on studies or documentation or even incorrect experience and council to share what they feel is right.
I don’t have things figured out. I’m working today on dealing with negative emotions in positive and productive ways, and hopefully writing this stuff out will help me clear it from my brain and move on…
Thanks again Cameron!
Anoni Mouse says
I think it’s funny when people try to prove to people who believe they are addicts, that they aren’t addicts. It’s funny. Anyone who has willfully chosen to believe they are an addict and worked toward recovery have had tremendous growth and behavioral changes in their lives. This will always happen. It cannot NOT happen. So when guys try to prove that other guys aren’t addicts, it tells me that the ones trying to prove they aren’t, are addicts and in denial. I don’t see why they would fear it so much otherwise.
You are right though that the ARP program is very very terrible. The ARP SUPPORT is absurd and I believe vile. Nobody should ever do the 90 day program.
But I believe there is a reason why the church has continued this way. FIRST, because most guys that only attend ARP are still lying. There is no honesty or call to honesty in these meetings. And if they “work” through a program like the 90 Day program advertised by ARPSUPPORT.com then they won’t be taught honesty. These are the guys that report back to their bishops, “Oh yeah, everything is going great!” Their bishops then report to the stake presidents, “Yep! Everything is going terrific.” And they in turn report back to district authorities, who report back to apostles, “Things are going good!”
I believe not enough of us are writing our apostles about this matter. We need to write Jeffery R Holland and explain what is happening. That’s just my two cents on it.
I know Dallen H Oaks specifically wrote to the youth. He said he did. And I think, to me, this was posted in the Ensign as well as the New Era, to help parents better understand their children.
I believe he is trying to coach young adults, TEENS on how these things work. We adults have years working our addictions. Teens don’t have all that programming. So in some instances, once someone finds out the seriousness of their porn/masturbation problem, they can stop. It might be hard. They might have the urge to go back to it, but they don’t because they’ve learned it’s wrong.
But I definitely agree with, hey if you can’t stop, then you are an addict.
I don’t agree with Matt’s response about counterexamples. White-knuckling is me withstanding porn and masturbation for a limited amount of time. This doesn’t mean I’m strong enough to overcome it. This doesn’t mean that I’m a low level addict. This means I’m going to act out, and probably in a big way.
Psychologists and psychiatrists agree that if one keeps coming back to a substance, even years apart. It’s addiction. It doesn’t matter the time in between, if you keep turning back to it, you can’t stop it.
Liked your post. I share some of your confusion!