Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Mighty are Falling

   
     Tinseltown is experiencing a takedown like we've never seen before and the "victor" is sex. Ever since Harvey Weinstein, a huge Hollywood mogul,  was exposed by a New York Times article last summer, one by one, others have fallen from their celebrity pedestals. Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey, respected journalist Charlie Rose, beloved news anchor Matt Lauer... There are more and there will be more. I'm thankful the victims have had the courage to come forward and are not being silenced by the pressure of powerful titans in the industry.
     The questions that is always on the minds and lips of those closest to these people are "Why?... How?" There are many ways to address this, but in my work with men and couples who have been affected by sexual acting out and infidelity, the answer to those questions is found deep down inside. Why would a married family man betray his wife, break his wedding vows, live a secret life, and risk losing it all by behaving this way? He's medicating pain. Something has to be driving him to act contrary  to his morals and belief systems. Digging even deeper to find the answer, I would wager that the majority of men who engage in risky and harmful sexual behavior have a need to feel like a man. Honestly, what makes a guy feel more manly than being seen as a virile, sexual stud who is wanted and desired? These men struggle with their self image, with insecurities, they don't feel affirmed as a man, so they turn to fantasy where they can be anyone they want with anyone they want. They use women to feel powerful, but it's really medicating pain. And the clues that contribute to this behavior can be found in the past, in childhood.
     I would say 85% of the men I work with have father wounds. He was overly strict, he was abusive, he was absent emotionally or physically, he didn't talk to them about sex, he didn't teach them how to treat a woman and he didn't usher them into manhood. Any one of those realities or any combination can contribute to stunting a young man's emotional and sexual maturity. So, when these broken little boys entered adolescence and discovered sexual things, it became a coping mechanism rather than being an act of intimacy, thus the beginnings of their intimacy disorder. In his book Fathered By God, John Eldredge writes the world is full of broken little boys walking around in grown men's bodies.
     Sex is powerful. It was designed to be, but when awakened prematurely and used improperly, it's power is devastating. And when it's used to feel manly, it is a band aid for a much more serious wound that needs intense healing. It's not simple to overcome, but it is possible. I'm living proof, and I work with others who can say the same. It takes professional counseling to guide someone through their past and find the clues, it takes recovery which is a beautiful word, it takes accountability, effective accountability with safe people who can hold a confidence and speak the hard truth in love, it takes breaking through denial, it takes owning the behavior and making amends to those they've hurt, it takes admitting weaknesses and surrender. But on the other side of all that, there is redemption, restoration, healing, and through it all, there is hope.
     I hate that there are victims and casualties because of a man's brokenness. My heart breaks for them knowing what they will have to endure because of someone else's bad choices and behavior. And my heart breaks for the broken little boys walking around in grown men's bodies. I'm here to help them take ownership of their behavior and make amends to those they have hurt, and I'm also here to hold out hope.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A-Scared of A-ddiction

   
     I am a recovering sex addict. I have no problem saying it. When I speak and include that piece of information, people usually aproach me after and say I'm brave to do so. I don't necessarily feel brave. I feel liberated to be able to admit it. I think the reason people assume it takes so much courage to make a confession like that is because most people are afraid of the word "addiction."
     When someone contacts our office for help with something like habitual pornography use, the first thing I have them do is take a sexual addiction screening test (click here for the test). Usually they are surprised by the number if it registers in the zone for sexual addiction because they never would have thought they were an addict. I get that. I never would have called myself that before recovery either. I had a pre-conceived idea of what an addict was and I did not fit that bill. And a "sex addict"? Isn't that someone who needs sex like 6 times a day and has multiple partners and does kinky stuff?
     Addiction is present when someone engages in repeated behavior, usually in secret, that would be harmful if found out by others, and contradicts one's morals and belief systems. For example, a pastor who looks at pornography is exhibiting addictive behavior. And that was me 10 years ago. I was on staff at a church, I was the youth pastor. Every February we would have our Love and Dating sermons, our "sex talks," but I was preaching one thing and living out another behind closed doors. It wasn't every day, sometimes I would go months without slipping, but I would eventually return to my drug of choice because of the power of pornography and the vice grip of addiction. I prayed for forgiveness often, but looking back I now realize I was walking around in a lot of forgiveness but not a lot of freedom. Being "diagnosed" as a sex addict allowed me to get the help I needed because I started calling it what it was. Thank God. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I was able to finally experience genuine healing and trade in my cycle of temptation, acting out, despair, asking forgiveness and then starting all over again.
     I had a disagreement with someone over an article on addiction that was posted on Facebook. A friend, actually, who is still my dear friend to this day proving friendships can survive Facebook debates!  The author of the article was claiming addiction isn't real and the comment that followed the post said "I don't see how attending a 12 step group and speaking curses over your life is helpful for any Christian." First of all, no 12 step group that I have ever attended has had us speak curses over our lives. And if he was referring to the greeting some groups utilize, "Hi, I'm Shane, recovering sex addict," that is not a curse. That is breaking through denial. That is finally being real with yourself. That is a reminder of the issue that is at hand and if I call it what it is, I'll get the proper treatment for my condition. It keeps people humble (a great thing according to the Bible). It keeps people aware, it makes people grateful. It develops a bond with others struggling and fighting the same fight (by the way, no one is forced to use that greeting or label. Completely up to the individual).
     The bottom line is this: I have never been more free than when I admitted I was an addict. I would much rather live with the label of addict (though that label doesn't define me), than living in denial and NOT calling myself an addict as I limped along in life and marriage. If calling myself an addict allows me to finally and genuinely live out verses like whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come, then so be it. Before recovery, that verse for me was more wishful thinking than reality. I no longer walk around in forgiveness. I, at last, walk around in forgiveness AND freedom. I'm not scared of addiction. I won't be scared of something that doesn't master me anymore.
   

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Deadly Shame


     John Gibson was a pastor and seminary professor who also happened to have his name on the list of customers that utilized the Ashley Madison website, a "business" that is all about connecting people to have an affair. A few weeks after the site was hacked and clients information was dumped and made public, Pastor John Gibson killed himself, leaving behind his wife and two kids. His wife said it wasn't something they couldn't have worked through, and there was forgiveness for this betrayal, but Pastor John couldn't extend the forgiveness that he preached and taught about to himself. 
     I've read hateful words directed at the patrons of the Ashley Madison website. People have equated karma with female dogs in regards to these unfaithful low-lifes. Even Dr. Phil has wished for them to get what's coming to them. But should any of these cases end in death? Not that Dr. Phil implied hoping for such doom, but many want them to pay dearly for their actions.
     I get that. People have been lied to, betrayed, led to believe life was one way when it was really another. They are hurting, their trusters have been demolished, lives turned upside down. My wife equates it with their personal Twin Towers crumbling. It is traumatic. And they deserve healing, the truth, and amends. 
     I see the perpetrators a little differently. Yes, their actions caused devastation, major riffs in relationships, and for those who are of a certian faith and "men of the cloth," the label "hypocrite" is very appropriate. However, I see brokenness in the Ashley Madison patron, especially among those who call themselves pastors. There are deep wounds that would cause one to behave in a way that is contrary to their morals and belief systems. There has to be major pain that would cause them to risk, at the very least, hurting their spouse, and at the worst, losing their marriage and ministry. But people who are broken can be restored. Marriages that have imploded can be rebuilt. Lives can be redeemed, if one is willing to work for it. That is the business God has called my wife and me to. And He is a professional Redeemer. We are priviledged to witness it in the couples we counsel, and we have experienced it fisthand in our own lives. 
     I am constantly praying for the minister who hasn't received yet the help he/she needs. Unfortunately, most people don't reach out unless they're caught. But I believe for every broken person that comes into the light, there are 50 you don't see. And we are waiting in the wings to be of assistance.
     I'm praying the Holy Spirit will use this post to bring someone into the process of redemption and break the powerful hold that deadly shame can have on one's soul. Broken lives matter, too.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Looking For Dad


     I am reading Andre Agassi's memoir. It is compelling. It all starts with his fractured relationship with his dad. The further I get into the book, the more I am convinced he could be one of my clients. I haven't finished it so I do not know if there is any kind of resolution between Andre and his demanding, controlling and unaffectionate dad, but thus far in the book, he looks for a caring, compassionate, loving father figure in anyone who has the potential. And when he does find those characteristics in a surrogate, it is like manna from heaven to him. 
     I work with pastors, most of them dealing with sexual addiction issues, which is the symptom of the real problem. And with practically every man I work with, there is a dad wound, a void. It is always part of my treatment plan to explore the client's relationships with his parents, especially his dad, because behind the walls of the house they grew up in lies at least part of the answer to why they are stuggling today. 
     I ask them to tell me about their dad and almost all of them start with some sort of family loyalty statement: He was a good man, a hard worker, etc.. I'm glad they have that impression of him and that they want to honor him. However, at this juncture in our journey together, it doesn't serve our immediate purpose. We're trying to find the cracks, the negative impressions, the wounds that have contributed to pornography use or habitual masturbation or an affair and beyond. I tell them this is not about blame, it is not about bitterness, and it is not about dishonoring their fathers in any way. It is about that little boy getting to receive healing around the wounds that were inflicted on him regardless of how hard working and honorable his father was. Honor, respect, and feeling pain from the past can co-exist but usually that very honor and respect keeps men from getting in touch with that pain because they don't want to feel like they're betraying their father and are still seeking his approval. Numbed pain gets treated someway, somehow. 
     Habitual use of pornography is not just about sexual perversion, it is about medicating pain. I walk the path to the past with each man I work with to see as specifically as we can what was inflicted at such a young age that they would feel the need to secretly behave in a way that is contrary to their morals, belief systems, and their marriage vows. And there's always some sort of fracture, yet it got numbed, stuffed, because as kids, all we're trying to do is survive whether we have the proper tools to be healthy about it or not. If we don't have them, we'll come up with them. But we were just kids, so our tools are crude and ineffective for the long term. That's why a boy needs a dad to show him the way, but if Dad wasn't present to guide him or was actually the source of pain or sent a perpetual harmful message,  the boy has to find alternate ways to cope and survive. 
     Many men struggle with pornography because in their fantasy they can be as manly as they need to feel. It is a dad's job to teach his son how to be a man, what a true man is. If he didn't do his job and was actually counterproductive, this void can be filled by fantasy and pornography when someone's sense of manhood takes a hit. Temptation to act out sexually and immorally is actually a pain flare up. But that pain has been covered up. Men are so out of touch with that pain that they just go for medication, the porn, the fantasy, the escort, the affair partner, whatever meets that topical need because in that moment, they can feel as manly as they need to feel. For many, I see their unhealthy choices as the result of a little boy looking for his dad. 
     G. K Chesterton once said, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God." I've seen that played out in the lives of the men who sit on my couch in my office or that I Skype with. There is an unmet need, a gaping wound with a band-aid on it, and the pain has been quickly medicated by sexually acting out but never really treated for what it is or healed, thus a cyclical, habitual pattern of sinful behavior continues. 
     The great news is God is there to heal the wounds, fill the voids, and ease the pain. But do you know what that pain is or where it is coming from? I hear Jesus asking the blind beggar, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And the afflicted man told him exactly what he wanted healing for with no generalities. 
     Maybe you don't know exactly what it is that's causing you pain so you can't be as specific, but I believe Jesus is there to touch that precise area in your soul that has been wounded for far too long. I hope you'll look for your Father in the right places. There is so much hope. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

50 Shades of Confused

     My title for this article doesn't make sense, but that is the way I feel about society's acceptance of a pornographic movie being released this week, "50 Shades of Grey." I was hoping, by some miracle, that the movie would flop, sending a message to Hollywood that we don't want more of that kind of depraved film making and that the SpongeBob movie would take first place again this Valentine's Day weekend. Alas, I just read that pre-ticket sales for "Grey" are astounding. Instead of sending a message to Hollywood, they are sending a message to us: You are a bunch of voyeurs and we're going to capitalize on it. Yes, I said, voyeurs. What else would you call it? "Grey" is rated "R" by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) for "strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language." We're not okay with a peeping Tom lurking in our neighborhood and enjoying a view through somebodies bedroom window unbeknownst to the victim,  as we shouldn't be, but we are okay with people paying 12 bucks, walking into a movie theater and watching sexual exploits, "unusual behavior" and "graphic nudity." Confusing. 
     One of the stars of the movie was quoted in an online article as saying something to the effect of, "Don't pass judgement until you've seen the movie." Flat out, I do not need to see this piece of... film to judge it. The MPAA has already summed it up for me. It would not be good for my soul or my marriage to be a consumer of this phenomenon. But, still, I will judge it. Better yet, I will assess it, or at least where we are as a society when it comes to sexual health.
     I am a certified sexual addiction specialist with the IACSAS (International Association of Sexual Addiction Specialists). I have experienced personally what pornography can do to a marriage and I am now committed to helping others who's lives have been rocked by sexual addiction. I read an article on CNN.com about teens and pornography use. In it was the statement that viewing pornography was "normal and natural." Reading those words caused head-shaking on my part. Is it normal and natural to have an intimacy disorder because fantasy has over-ridden reality? Is it normal and natural to have a spouse experience post traumatic stress when she discovers her husband has been consuming pornography? Is it normal and natural to experience sexual impotency in real life relationships because of the frequency of self-gratification that pornography provides?
     Anyone who buys a ticket to "50 Shades of Grey" is a consumer of pornography and exhibiting voyeuristic tendencies. Now, one could argue that consuming pornography and being "legally" voyeuristic are not harmful, but I know the effects of these behaviors, as noted above. I have seen lives destroyed, marriages shattered, jobs lost, and futures altered because of the "normal and natural" role pornography plays in a person's life. I even conducted the funeral of a young man who had killed himself, and countless sexual images and pornographic paraphernalia was found on his computer after his death. Think I'm being overly dramatic? Can pornography really cause someone to commit suicide? I firmly believe it can be a contributor when mixed with depression because there are extreme, euphoric highs involved, and very low lows. Pornography destroys lives. I cannot be convinced otherwise.
      In the movie "From Here to Eternity" there is a scene in which two lovers are famously kissing on the beach when the tide comes in and splashes over them. That is uncategorically one of the most romantic clips in cinema history. The reality of that situation would be salt water getting in orifices and sand infiltrating swimsuits. It is Hollywood. I shudder to think what will actually occur when people see the 50 Shades movie and try to attempt some of the activity displayed on the screen. Do not forget, this is a production with actors playing a part that they have been paid huge sums of money for. They were cast because they are attractive people and are creating a piece of fiction.  I predict disappointment when it doesn't play out the same as it did for Mr. Grey and what's her name, anger and frustration if someone doesn't want to give it a go, actual physical pain that was in no way pleasurable, and feelings of being abused and for very good reason.
     The popularity of "50 Shades of Grey" isn't a reflection of how far Hollywood has gone, but how far we've come since it is our dollars that fuel Tinseltown. If we didn't buy, they wouldn't create (don't hold your breath for an "Ishtar 2"). And since my hopes have been dashed that this movie will flop, I will continue doing what is my passion to do, helping those whose denial has been broken through enough to realize they need help. Maybe I'll stand outside the theaters this weekend with my business cards.
   

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Cosby Dilema

   

     Several women have surfaced and re-surfaced alleging that America's beloved and now beleaguered Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. This isn't Mr. Cosby's first go-round with such accusations. Almost a decade ago, he was in the headlines for similar reasons. Could it be true that "Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable," our Jell-O pudding spokesperson, the voice of the cartoon character Fat Albert, is guilty of these sex crimes? If he is, I wouldn't be surprised.
     I am not saying that these women are right, I am not saying Mr. Cosby is guilty, I have no evidence to determine such things. What I'm saying is, if it turned out to be true, it wouldn't shock me. I am not taken a back by anyone's shattered persona anymore, because that is how sex addiction works. Someone who is caught in the throes of sex addiction often has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existance.  And to be able to live with himself, Dr. Jekyll has to be in deep denial about Mr. Hyde. Acknowledging that Hyde-like behavior is real is too painful, too conflicting so there has to be a seperation of the two personalities to be able to co-exist in the same head and heart. The longer the bad behavior has been present, the deeper the denial, which literally makes it impossible for the sex addict to be truthful. And the more there is to lose, the deeper that denial goes.
     This is the case for many pastors. They can preach the word of God with great conviction on Sunday mornings, but on Monday they are locked in their office looking at pornography. And for others, justification has taken them down the path of adultery, but the price of coming clean is too high; their ministry, their livelihood, their marriages, they fear, would all be gone. So they dig deeper into that cavern of denial. They are fooled into thinking that living a lie is easier than living in the freedom of truth. And some have been in the throes of sexual addiction so long, they simply do not have the capacity to be truthful. That is why many people have to be caught before change can happen. It doesn't have to be that way, but, sadly, that's the way it is for many.
     Before recovery, I fooled myself into thinking that because I hadn't spoken any lies to my wife, I wasn't lying to her. But not being forthright about my secret sins was leading her to believe things were one way when they were really another. That's deception, and that is living a lie. Not at all what God wants for His children. Thinking I wasn't lying to my wife was one form of denial present in my life. Denial is powerful. It gives us a sense of safety. We use it to protect ourselves from painful truths and realities. But what denial really does is keep people stuck and removed from a genuine life and authenticity.
     Someone may be reading this article right now with denial walls erected all around them. I say "sex addiction" and they think "not me." So, when is addiction present? When there is repeated behavior that is contrary to one's morals or belief systems, usually done in secret, and if it was found out, it would cause great pain to loved ones. Is there a combination of any of these elements in your life? If so, God is calling you out from behind the walls of denial. There is hope. Living an authentic life is so much better than living in deceit with secrets, no matter how high the cost seems in being truthful. Nothing good grows in the dark. There is healing to be had but you need to step out into the light.
     For help, visit us at missionariestoministers.com or email us at missionariestoministers@gmail.com
   

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Pastor and the Pedestal


   

   
Whether they climbed up there themselves or were given a boost, pastors usually find themselves on a pedestal. Even if a pastor tells his or her congregation that they are a sinner saved by grace like everyone else, it is hard for a congregant to believe that. Pastors are usually only seen by their parishioners on Sundays, elevated on a platform, wearing their Sunday best, hands raised in worship and preaching the Word of God. It is difficult for someone sitting in the pew to relate to that perceived perfection. And it makes it hard for the pastor to find a safe place to go when the pedestal starts to teeter.


     The title of pastor and the perception of the congregation or staff does not prevent the reality of struggling, brokenness and temptation in the minister’s life. A sermon may address the hurting, but who is addressing the hurting preacher? The church is filled with broken people, and so is the pulpit.

     Many pastors are guilty of not practicing what they are preaching. They encourage their congregation to take care of themselves and make sure there is time for a Sabbath, but their own calendar runs them ragged. They preach on nurturing a loving marriage relationship, yet their own spouse is feeling neglected and resentful. They warn of the dangers of sexual immorality, yet many are secretly struggling with purity themselves.

     We are all broken people. We just have different details. Healthy pastors are not “unbroken,” they just know where to go to deal with that brokenness. Healthy broken pastors have safe people in their lives that they are currently and frequently talking to. I heard one pastor say he has a group of people he can go to and they are allowed to ask the tough questions, but I thought to myself, “Are you going and are they asking?” And sometimes, good friends are not enough to help a pastor deal with deep seeded issues that have not been properly addressed and have been buried because the pastor is the one who is expected to have it all together. Professional help is available and often times necessary to provide a safe place for growth and healing.

   God wants all of His children to be healthy in their brokenness, including pastors. If the mantle of the ministry is hindering personal growth and healing, take a leap off the pedestal and find a safe place to land before it topples.