This discussion topic is from the wife of a sex addict. Thanks to this person for contributing to the group discussion and for the time she put into collecting her thoughts on an important topic. If you’re interested in sharing a discussion topic, please reach out to me here.
When I got to my Step 9 Amends, I knew that some way or somehow, my Bishop would be on the list.
I have felt ongoing resentment for 2 years from the way he has handled (or mishandled) my family’s crisis with sexual addiction. As I did my best to be prayerful and open with my Step 9 plans, I realized that I didn’t have to make amends to my Bishop at all, but I did need to make amends to myself for not using my voice when his counsel was in direct opposition to what I had learned to be true about addiction, trauma, and what the real pathway to recovery looks like.
But, how could I share my voice without an undercurrent of bitterness, resentment, and “I’m right and you are sooooo wrong” coming through?
That, I knew, would not be a healing experience for me, and would understandably elicit a defensive response. This would further alienate me from my spiritual leader and further decrease my faith in my church’s ability to offer any real support in this most vulnerable part of my life.
Ultimately, what my Higher Power guided me to was this: to write a letter to my Bishop to express what I wish all of our Bishops would have known for the past 20 years.
Our current Bishop was not the only one who had failed us. In fact, every Bishop for the past 20 years had the opportunity to intervene and point my husband to real recovery. But not one of them had any idea where to find that. This letter felt like a way to express what I needed to say without making a personal attack. I was careful to explain that this letter was about me…what I needed in my healing process to be heard…and truly surrender the outcome.
Although I realize that my Bishop did not understand or even agree with all I had to say, I can honestly say we were able to have an authentic, respectful conversation where I was able to be true to myself and to my experience.
My voice was heard, and I was able to “detach with love” when, inevitably, he wanted to justify or argue his position. I was able to simply testify of what my own experience has been and build on common beliefs.
I really do believe that he is doing what feels right from his own experience.
I know that it was my Higher Power that allowed me to feel so much peace, and I am grateful for the opportunity to feel His hand in my life as I work my own steps of recovery.
This letter cannot pretend to be comprehensive in educating Bishops on everything they could/should know to effectively respond to the complex problem of sexual addiction, but it is my offering from my own and my husband’s experience. I have so much hope that as each one of us lives Step 12 in our own way, we can begin to spread this word, spread this movement, and educate our spiritual leaders. Then they will have the resources that will help the next couple that comes into their office to find real recovery, hope, and healing.
What I Wish Our Bishops Had Known
1. Addicts will almost always minimize.
If a person comes in with a confession about sexual acting out (pornography, masturbation, inappropriate sexual relationships), it is a good idea to keep asking questions,
“Is there more?”
“Is that all?”
“Tell me more about what exactly happened.”
If you take the initial confession at face value, you are most likely getting a small slice of the reality, enough for the addict to appease their conscience, but not enough for anyone (including the addict) to really recognize how serious the situation might be.
2. The level of explicit use is irrelevant in sex addiction.
My husband’s primary addiction is social media scanning—spending hours browsing pictures of people that are mostly/even fully dressed. Until this progressed to an actual affair, I never realized that he had a serious problem because he was not regularly visiting explicit sites or paying for porn.
Lust addiction is at the root of all sexual acting out behaviors, and will eventually progress, as all sexual addiction inevitably does, to affairs, prostitution, and other high-risk behaviors if the problem is not addressed. In addition, even these “lower-risk” lusting activities bring the same addictive behaviors/feelings of blame, shame, self-pity, justification, anger, that quickly erode connection and cause deep damage to marriage and parent/child relationships.
Do not dismiss behavior as minimal or minor just because it is not explicit pornography.
3. It is best to treat all pornography use as an addiction.
My husband spent 25 plus years (from the time he was 11) meeting with Bishop after Bishop about his indiscretions involving masturbation and pornography. Year after year, he received nothing more than a small slap on the wrist, encouragement that he “wasn’t that bad and not to be too hard on himself”, and advice to read the scriptures more, pray more, and attend the temple more frequently. He rarely received any church discipline at all.
The undeniable reality of sexual (and any other) addiction is that increased religious practices are totally insufficient to produce recovery, and ultimately result in even more hopelessness when the addict interprets his inevitable failure as a sign that he is not “faithful” enough to be saved. Addiction Recovery requires a unique and time-tested approach that is based on immersing oneself fully in a personal, inward, spiritual program of emotional awareness and total dependence on God.
Even if someone has not progressed to extreme levels of addiction, their lives will still be immensely blessed in every possible way by embracing this type of spiritual program. In other words, whether or not they are clinically “addicted” is irrelevant—it is far better to treat any sort of pornography use as you would an addiction. If they are truly in the grips of addiction, this is the only way out. If they aren’t, they will still have the opportunity to deepen their relationship with God and understand the Atonement in totally new, personal, and empowering ways.
Please never assume that a young person’s sexual misconduct will resolve with marriage. This is like reasoning that an alcoholic will be fine once they’ve reached the age of 21 and can drink legally. Marriage actually exacerbates the problem as the stresses and responsibilities of life increase, and may also increase the fixation on lust and sex.
4. Your role is that of First Responder, not expert.
Bishops cannot possibly be expected to be educated on all of the issues that will come to their desk seeking help. In this very complex matter, where the lives of generations will be affected by the ability of the addict to get appropriate help, please, Bishops, consider yourselves simply to be the FIRST RESPONDER.
The best counsel or advice a Bishop can give is for the person to get to a qualified therapist specializing in sexual addiction and to find a 12 Step Addiction Recovery program to start attending. Very, very often, a Bishop’s counsel, which is well-intentioned and most likely based on their best intuition from their own life experiences, is exactly the opposite of what will help an addict to find recovery.
A Bishop’s job, rather than having the answers, is to get the addict to the people who do have answers to help them start real recovery.
5. Isolation is the lifeblood of Addiction.
Coming out of hiding, reaching out to others, becoming part of a recovering community, working with a sponsor, being open and honest with their spouse on a daily basis…these are absolutely essential foundations for lasting recovery.
History has shown through AA, there is no such thing as recovery in isolation.
6. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process.
We have learned through hard experience that addiction recovery is not something you ever “overcome.” Rather, lasting recovery is dependent on a daily decision to submit one’s will to God and rely on the power of Atonement to deliver you from bondage.
The mindset of “overcoming” a pornography problem and “checking it off” as a problem of the past will inevitably lead to sliding back into old coping mechanisms, progressive addiction, future relapses, and more severe consequences to the individual and their family.
Addiction recovery is a lifelong commitment that never ends.
7. In our experience, SA Lifeline is the most comprehensive Recovery Program available, and it encourages the 4 pillars of Sexual Addiction Recovery—
- A 12 Step Program including group meetings and sponsorship,
- Education on Sexual Addiction & Recovery,
- Spiritual Guidance from an Ecclesiastical Leader, and
- Qualified Therapy from a Therapist who specializes in Sexual Addiction.
Read Part 2 – For the Spouse!
I look forward to your comments.