Key Ingredients of Change

Over and over again I hear people talk about what brings about change in a person. Especially for folks struggling with sexual integrity issues like pornography, visiting prostitutes, strip clubs or massage parlors. Once sexually addicted, the question becomes even more difficult to answer. Psychotherapy and counseling some people say. Only God, others say. Circumstances. The twelve steps. Crisis.

I’m going to suggest there are 3 key ingredients that facilitate change. Sure, we can name a bunch of things that help, but I’m suggesting that if these 3 aren’t present, true change will not occur.

First, being unwilling to accept our personal status quo. I was talking with Shelley last night and, after she expressed a way I had hurt her, thought about the reality that I’m kind of tired of being me. At least, I’m tired of that part of me; that way of living. We all know that feeling where we just sort of realize we’ve become comfortable with the status quo. The question becomes: will we do something about it? People who are unwilling to change reach a point where they consider it adequate to measure the present against the past. The mindset here is saying, “at least I’m not who I used to be” instead of “I’m not yet who I could be, who God is calling me to be”. If we want to guarantee change, we cannot accept that who we are today will suffice for the future God has for us. We must be unwilling to accept our personal status quo.

Second, we must challenge our constants. Sounds pretty underwhelming, I know, but it can be surprising how much we’re willing to accept about ourselves because it’s how we’ve always been. We land at our age, be it 25, 45, 55, 75 years old and we’re “just the way we are”. But how’d we get there? Because we didn’t challenge the constants. To guarantee change is to question our norms, our standards and our default settings. It is to question our motives, why we believe what we believe and why want to believe what we believe. It means we have to question the narrative by which we live, and ask ourselves where it would be more meaningful to just tear up the script.

Third, in order to change we need to humbly submit ourselves to people who are unwilling to accept our personal status quo and who will challenge our constants. You know the people who, when you bring something up and sort of know what their response is going to be, blind-side you with some out-of-left-field question that puts you on your heels? Those are the folks I’m talking about. One of my accountability partners in the early days, Kurt, would always ask “5 whys” when he was digging into something in me. He’d take my first answer and toss it like garbage. Then my second, he’d give a little “hmm” and challenge a 3rd answer to be more insightful. Eventually, even if we didn’t get to 5 (which when we did was super-frustrating and made me hate Kurt some mornings!), we went beyond the status quo, beyond the easy answer, and deeper than I typically thought.

Maybe the people that do that for you are your accountability partners. Perhaps it’s a counselor. Maybe it’s the pastor you listen to on Saturdays or Sundays. Could be the guys at poker night. It might even be what you read that does it for you. We have to humbly submit ourselves to people who won’t let us stay the same.

I believe if we’ll adopt a posture of humility, submit to others’ input, challenge ourselves, and stop measuring progress by what we’re not doing anymore we actually make ourselves malleable. We become willing to see what we were once blind to, and become perceptive to what the Spirit prompts in us. We become moldable in the hands of God to be made like his son.

Prison

This weekend at the Every Mans Battle workshop I heard someone say they finally have hope they can life free. Like they were getting out of prison.

While hard for some people to believe, living the sexually addicted lifestyle is not fun; it is horrible. Sure there are moments of excitement, where getting away with something taboo feels like an adventure. And moments where we feel self-confident and reassured, like we measure up. There are brief periods of feeling like we matter, are wanted and even needed.

Then we get slapped in the face with reality. It’s not exciting; it’s a prison. And a hellish one at that.

The shame that drives the addiction is compounded by living in the addiction. The prison door swings open wide for us to escape, only to be handcuffed and locked up again – by ourselves. It’s not the life we want. Most guys I talk to want to be married, to be in love, to serve and honor their wives, to feel deeply respected by their families, to be pillars of leadership at work, church and home. If singleness or the playboy lifestyle were all they wanted, they would’ve pulled the ripcord long ago.

Instead, the authentic man is trapped inside a self constructed prison. We sometimes look out on the lives we wish we had like an inmate stares through the fence to freedom. To carry the metaphor further, we’ll even try to make a break for it, all the while knowing the guards of the addiction are tracking us down. It feels like it’s only a matter of time until we’re locked up again. It can seem like a life sentence.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be.

Freedom is possible through the power of Christ, changing our hearts, minds and character. Shed the jumpsuit and take the steps of confession, repentance and doing the next thing to get help. Maybe that’s come to the workshop. Maybe its just tell your counselor the truth. Perhaps its call off the affair. Whatever it is, take the next step!

Recovery Resentment

I want to write about a strange phenomenon that happens for wives in the recovery process that I’ll call Recovery Resentment.

The confusing thing about this resentment is it seems to show up most often when a husband is doing really well in his recovery work. You might think a wife would be happy, thankful and excited about the changes she sees, yet at times she may seem angry about it.

What typically happens is a husband gets discovered or does disclosure, gets plugged into counseling, attends an Every Man’s Battle workshop, jumps into a group or develops friendships and becomes accountable, and finds himself hopeful about his future. For some guys, it’s the most free they’ve ever felt, and they experience joy unlike anything in a long time. There are powerful insights about addiction and personal idiosyncrasies, and realizations that can sometimes explain decades of lifestyle choices.

Then there’s his wife. She gets the backpack of his pain. She has to reconcile her whole life and make sense of her hunches and where she overlooked the clues. She has to find a way to not feel crazy as she looks back on her life. She has to struggle through sticking around, riding the roller-coaster of feeling love towards her husband one minute, hate the next. The disparity between how joyful and hopeful he is and how hopeless and devastated she feels becomes stark. For some wives, this is where resentment starts to creep in. And it’s a real catch-22: she feels resentment that she’s been put in this situation, and also resentment that her husband is changing and things may be getting better. Talk about confusing!

Here are some things I hear from wives that indicate the recovery resentment is building:

  • “He starts to feel better and I start to feel worse”
  • “He gets to attend a retreat, while I am stuck giving up more time of my life to his recovery.”
  • “He gets to hang out at breakfast with his friends once a week while I’m stuck getting the kids ready for school”
  • “I have to struggle through a day of triggers reminded of pain and feeling anxiety, while he seems to pass the day without thinking anything of it or feeling any remorse.”
  • “We’re having to spend money cleaning up his mess, when for years I’ve wanted to spend money on _______ and he’s refused to do so.”
  • And finally, one I heard last week that I think strikes such a chord for so many wives, “Sure, he’s changing, but who is he becoming? And how long do I have to wait to see if I like who he becomes? I don’t want to waste more of my life only to find out I don’t like who he is, or worse that this new man decides he is getting rid of me!”

The key here is to remember that the emotional craziness and the building resentment are all part of the grieving process. Not everyone grieves in the same way, but know if you (or your wife) experiences recovery resentment it is not abnormal. It is grieving, and that means making sense of chaos.

A few steps to take if you’re a husband watching your wife experience this:

1)   Don’t call her crazy or too difficult to please.

2)   Be patient, continuing to put one foot in front of the other and work your recovery.

3)   Let your heart break that your actions have brought this on.

4)   With input from your accountability folks, make sure you are diligently practicing empathy. Your excitement for your recovery and new found freedom cannot overshadow your connection to your wife’s pain.

5)   See #1

 

For wives going through it, a few suggestions:

1)   Be sure you have your own support; women who can help you process the resentment without having to make decisions based on it.

2)   Make time for yourself, and give yourself permission to use that time.

3)   Insist he maintain his commitments to the household on top of recovery work.

4)   Remember that his enthusiasm for his recovery is a good thing. There is growth. Its not the same old, same old. You can certainly ask him to temper his enthusiasm, but don’t forget that his excitement for change is a direct offset to his stubbornness to stay the same.