Interdependence: Joined at the Heart

Jeff McVay

A few weeks ago, we had a celebration in America. People across the country prepared their grills for barbecue. Pools were cleaned. Firefighters prepared for the fireworks shows (both professional and the amateur) in case anything went wrong. And most importantly, folks unfurled their flags and joined in parades to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States of America.

Of course most countries have a day in which they celebrate the moment that they proclaimed independence from another nation or people and determined to make their own way in the world in the manner that they saw fit.

In the United States, independence is more than just a day that is celebrated. It is a way of life. We are taught to be ‘self made’ people. Some classic phrases that describe this thought are: ‘pull yourself up by your own boot straps,’ ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me,’ and (my favorite) ‘I did it my way.’

In the US, independence is not just about a people group breaking away from another country in order to make a new way of life; it is now about each individual person breaking away from all other people in order to do life their way. Most of us think that we have the right to live the way we want and not have anyone else ‘tell us what to do.’ This concept of individualistic independence has done some good for our society; however, it has also led to great isolation, loneliness and fear as we try to determine our existence without the help of anyone. This loneliness and fear also leads us into many avenues of false intimacy (such as pornography) in an attempt to make us feel better about being alone without really having to deal with the possibility of abandonment by another person.

The reason the loneliness becomes so great is because we are made for real relationships. We were not meant to be alone.

Maybe it is time for us to sign a new declaration; not one of independence but one of Inter-dependence. You may be asking yourself, ‘What is the difference?’ Well, interdependence is the radical notion that we really do need other people in order to survive in this world even after we ‘grow up’ and move out on our own. In fact, I am not sure that total independence even truly exists. Human beings perish without others. Even in subtle ways, we depend on one another. In the words of the writer Thomas Moore, ‘no man is an island’. This does not mean that you cannot do anything yourself or that there is no way to tell ‘Where I end and You begin,’ but that we must find the balance between allowing others to connect with us and help us, and what is the work that we have to do to help ourselves and others.

This is especially so when it comes to the addictive struggles that people may have. Addictions tend to isolate us from anyone who might find out what it is we struggle with. In fact Patrick Carnes says that the core beliefs of a person struggling with an addiction are ‘1) I am basically a bad, unworthy person, therefore 2) no one will love me as I am. 3) My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others and 4) whatever the addiction is: it is my greatest need.’

All of these beliefs foster an atmosphere of isolation. If I am a bad person and no one will love me, then I must face the world alone and I cannot rely on anyone to help. In that isolation I begin to look for something that will always relieve my pain. An addiction becomes that one thing that will always but temporarily relieve the pain. The addiction, however, becomes a source of embarrassment which leads to a greater need to isolate and repeat the cycle. Those that love us the most (family, spouses, children and friends) are usually the ones that we push away the most and who feel the greatest effects of both the addiction and the isolation that it creates.

How can a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ help someone in this situation? It is only in coming out of isolation and being willing to let someone else speak into your life that anyone can begin a road to recovery. Remember that from the very beginning God declared, ‘It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.’ We need one another. In beginning the recovery process we cannot do it on our own. We need to be interdependent on others who have the same desire to change behavior so that heart change or faulty core belief change can happen. This is probably the reason that the first 5 steps in a 12 step program deal with opening ourselves up to God and to other people as the beginning of behavior change.

Think of it this way. Pretend that there are absolutely no mirrors or reflective surfaces in the world at all. How would you know what you look like? There would be no way for you to know unless someone else could tell you. The isolation brought on by addiction and the faulty core beliefs that encourage them take away our abilities to see our own reflection.

The purpose of interdependence is to allow someone else to tell us what we look like. God tells us that we are loved enough to die for. Other people can talk about the good things that they see in us that we have forgotten or never seen due to addictive isolation. When we grasp how much we are loved and have a greater sense of who we are and whose we are then and only then is recovery a road that is opened up to us. This road joins us to the heart of God who calls us His sons and daughters, and to the heart of others who walk with us on this road all the way home. Maybe today can be the beginning of your own celebration. The day that you signed your ‘Declaration of Interdependence’!

For help with alcohol or drug addiction, please call our Resource Center at (800) 639-5433.
For help with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.

When the Wound Doesn’t Heal

Sam Fraser

Rarely is the road to recovery straight forward. It takes many twists and turns as God teaches us His way after we have been doing it our way. Recovery is more like a dance than a road really. It is three steps forward, two steps back, interspersed with one step ahead and four steps backward. However, one of the main ways to keep dancing backwards has to do with woundedness that has not yet been healed.

Being wounded keeps us in bondage. It is God’s truth that nothing in this world can keep us from the surpassing love we have found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. ‘By His wounds we are healed.’ That is a Scriptural truth. We are destined for experiencing freedom in Christ. Yet, we remain stuck in this addiction. Why the wound doesn’t heal can take several forms and so this article should help identify several of the main roadblocks.

This is the first part of a series in which we will go in depth to explore and highlight what may be occurring if we seem to be stuck and are not making any headway into recovery. This article will highlight these possibilities overall and the next articles will go in greater detail.

First off, we have to be patient. We need to pace ourselves. It is more about running a marathon than a 100-yard dash. If we rush forward we will not be able to sustain that pace over the long haul. This wound did not develop over night and it won’t disappear that fast either. I have found in my own life and working with many men that God’s intention is to teach us to identify the issues and then trust Him to show us His better ways to address them. That takes more time than we wish. But God not only wants us to get free but also stay free, thus the need for the time it takes is a process rather than instantaneous delivery. Sorry about that! This is often the best way to get the wound healed. It is akin to giving a man a fish to feed him for one day or even better to teach a man to fish and he can do so for a lifetime. The skills needed are to be utilized for the rest of our lives. Getting frustrated and discouraged, can make us end up in despair and want to quit.

Next, do you have an action plan? It is one thing to say I want to stop but unless we have alternative ways to deal with feelings and behaviors we will return to the very behavior we want to eradicate. It is like holding your breath. Some can hold on longer than others, but guess what? You are going to have to take a breath sometime. And so it is with acting out, we have to replace the former behavior with a new one. Have you developed an alternative behavior scheme to replace your old way of acting out? It is essential that you have found other options to dealing with your emotional needs.

Another important step of recovery is getting accountable. No longer ‘efforting’ it alone, by ourselves in isolation. That is a recipe for disaster. The basic root wound of this issue has to do with intimacy. We have gotten into this routine because we are not able to connect in a more fulfilling way. We need relationships. Without our being more connected to others we will return to connecting with ourselves, i.e., acting out again. So it is important that we begin to reach out for help by getting someone to hold us accountable for our behaviors. To connect with others meets the true needs we were designed for and replaces the false sense of intimacy that our acting out attempts to achieve.

This addiction is about connections and the lack there of. We need to have relationships with others and when we don’t, sexually acting out becomes a mode of coping. If none of the above mentioned factors are creating success and you are still not experiencing sobriety, then counseling by an experienced therapist who understands sexual addiction or a person, group or ministry team probably needs to be consulted. These possibilities are not the entire list. But often if you will begin with this list it can eliminate a lot of extra pain that will delay your recovery.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.

Confronting the Resistance to Change

Chris Cole

Have you had the situation where you decided to change a habit or behavior and are successful for a couple weeks (maybe longer), only to find the habit or behavior returning? I have. Change is hard. It is difficult to give up old habits and patterns of behaving and relating. How many times have you said to yourself and others that you are going to change and yet resort back to the old way of acting? Maybe you are just beginning recovery and are not sure about making changes others say you need to. What is the resistance to change about, and how can you overcome this resistance?That is what this article addresses.

Resistance is a force that pushes back against movement in a particular direction. In terms of dealing with sexual addiction (and addiction in general), resistance will be encountered as you try to change the old way of behaving. This resistance will manifest in several ways. The first resistance encountered will be simply to admit you have a problem that needs change. This admission is the first step in the recovery process. It is the step of honesty. Overcoming denial often results when the pain of our behavior is worse than the rewards it brings. Pain is a powerful motivator in breaking down resistance to change. Admitting the consequences of our actions can make us face reality and the pain it brings. It further helps one see the unmanageability of life and powerlessness over one’s behavior. When one sees the insanity of what you have been doing, you are ready to truly move forward in recovery. I have found that in the early stages of recovery, being in a recovery group and in individual therapy is indicated in order to break through the denial and have the needed support to deal with the pain of the addict’s life. I have more to say on denial a little further on.

In understanding resistance to change, one must take into account the physical impact of addiction. Research on sex addicts’ brains show a striking similarity to the brains of cocaine addicts. The implications in terms of treatment is that the hyperstimulation that comes from engaging in a sexual addiction alters the brain chemistry, leaving a clear biochemical component as one quits the habit. Withdrawal symptoms include distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability when unable to engage in the behavior. Resistance can be experienced simply yet powerfully as the person goes through withdrawal. A person must consider a good evaluation by a therapist familiar with addiction with the possible recommendation for referral to a doctor for medication where indicated.

As a person begins to give up the old patterns of behaving, all of the emotions he or she has been medicating through the addiction will begin to come back. Simply put, there will be an awareness of emotional pain. Resistance here will be to find another way to medicate the pain. No one likes to feel pain, yet it is God’s way of driving us to look to Him to find solutions rather than in our own resources. Here again, one must confront and put into place new strategies for handling pain. Addicts generally have more than one addiction. So while stopping the sexual addiction, the addict may increase the activity in another addiction to medicate the withdrawal symptoms. Or while the person gives up the sexual addiction, he replaces it with another addiction with the majority of emotional and behavioral features remaining the same (Carnes, Pat. Addiction Interaction, p.2). Here, the person has not dealt with the core problems. He has simply found another way of self-medicating.

Perhaps the greater battle will be found in changing your belief system. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. We have this capacity to deceive ourselves. It also says that change comes by the renewing of our mind. When we get caught up in a pattern of acting that gets entrenched, we find numerous ways of defending that behavior. Stronghold beliefs (II Corinthians 10 3-5) are the ways we protect patterns and actions that we wish to engage in that are contrary to living the way God wants us to live. Denial is the way addicts protect sexual behavior that they want to continue to engage in. Resistance will be found in the reasons one continues to justify engaging in self-destructive ways. Rationalizations (‘I don’t have a problem, you all are just sexually too conservative’), minimizing (‘it’s not a problem’), and comparison (I’m not as bad as some of the others’) are just a few. In twelve step language, this equates to ‘stinking thinking.’ One must be relentless in rooting out distortions in thinking. In order to do this, the individual must ask help of others in the recovery community to confront distortions when they hear it. You must not allow pride (‘I can do this on my own, or I don’t need to tell others or ask for help’) to get in the way. Remember, it is your own thinking that has got you in the mess in the first place. We must recruit the help of the recovery community in overcoming resistance to change.

Recovery and change doesn’t just happen. Breaking through resistance is a daily battle that Paul reminds us in Galatians 5 of the spirit and the flesh at war with one another. Paul had to crucify the flesh and its passions. To overcome resistance, one needs to be honest. Find safe people where you can share and be held accountable. Get a sponsor to assist you to work through a twelve step program and establish and maintain sobriety will really be helpful. Establish good spiritual habits of devotion, bible study, and fellowship with other believers. Avoid isolating. We need each other in this battle.

See Every Man’s Battle for more help.