I know I need help but am at a loss as to what to do…

I know I need help but am at a loss as to what to do… September 10, 2009
I came across your blog, and would first of all like to thank you for what you do. I think that there are many members out there who are in need of help and either too scared to come forward or just do not know where to start. It has been too long since I came forward and I blame that on embarrassment and pride.
How do I change?
Over the past four years I have been treated for post traumatic stress disorder/depression following many traumatic events that occurred while serving my mission. My wife and I have been married for just under three years. My wife has been a great support for me over the past years and I am very thankful for her. I have never revealed this to anyone but about the same time I received treatment for PTSD I became addicted to pornography and masturbation. I feel stretched within myself because part of me understands that this is a very grave perversion while the other part feels gratified but mentally lifted by the disgusting act. I have felt too proud to address the problem to my past therapist, and church leadership. Sadly, I have not told my wife. When discussing a similar situation with another couple we know, my wife expressed to me that should would leave me if she found that had taken part in pornography. I feel I owe it to myself and my wife to be the best I can be in this life. I know I need help but am at a loss as to what to do.
I am hoping you can give me some advice on the issue.

Thank you for your compliments and I am sorry to hear that you had such a difficult experience as a missionary.

I would want to know more about your pornography/masturbation problem before I would deem it an “addiction.” However, whether you’ve crossed into the realm of addiction or not, this behavior is not conducive to a healthy relationship within your marriage.

The process you are describing is actually a way of self-medicating, and it is not that uncommon. In a sense that is what any type of addiction truly is – a method to temporarily self-soothe (whether it’s through alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, etc.). All of these things can calm anxiety and give the temporary gratification and even release you describe. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of these addictions are life altering and destructive.

I know it can be scary to come clean, especially to your wife whom you fear might leave you. But don’t underestimate your wife. Many people say things like “If I ever found out my spouse had an affair, or watched pornography, or etc., etc…… I would leave them.” However, these statements are premature. No one truly knows how they will respond to such information until they find themselves confronted with it. The fact is that many couples make it through these types of trials with dignity, hope and even increased intimacy. If she does end up leaving you, that will ultimately be her choice. However, it is better to take the risk of honesty, than live in a false relationship with her the remainder of your lives together. This would be unfair to both of you. As long as there is dishonesty in a relationship, true intimacy is hampered.

These are the steps I think you should consider taking:
  1. First and foremost, tell your wife! Secrecy and shame are the number one killers of intimacy in a relationship. Be prepared for her pain and heartache and that things may be rocky for a while. However, express to her your deep love and your commitment to your marriage and to your treatment/repentance process. This is a time to completely swallow your pride and just atone- take responsibility and ask for forgiveness. Be patient with her and give her time to grieve. She may not be able to forgive as quickly as you’d like. If you are still seeing a therapist, you could enlist their help in preparing you for this disclosure. You could even make the disclosure in therapy or in the bishop’s office if deemed appropriate.
  2. Go see your bishop and start the official repentance process. Be prepared for discipline action that may take place. Don’t be afraid of this process. Fear is not of God. How many times are we told to “fear not!”? In my experience working with many who have been through disciplinary action, is that it often is the beginning of great healing and a new life. Some can perceive disciplinary action as punitive, but in reality it can be a new lease on your membership within the church and your relationship with God. If you go into the process with this attitude you will have much success. The role of the bishop is to lovingly support you through this time – and unless he’s very new, it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. There are many who are in your shoes.
  3. Come forth and be honest with your therapist. Therapists are completely limited in the work they can do by the honesty and willingness of their clients. If you don’t tell us, we can’t help you. A good therapist will be able to correctly label whether or not your behavior has crossed into the lines of addiction and what the best treatment course should be. The number one recommended treatment for men who fall under sexual addiction includes group therapy. The church offers a 12-step program you may find beneficial, but there are many other resources as well – depending on where you live. There are other on-line resources you will find on the left side of my blog.
  4. Part of combatting any addiction or unwanted behavior, is to replace it with something else. The key is finding a replacement that is healthy and that gives you satisfaction. Your therapist should be able to help you brainstorm ways in which you can successfully do this.

The relief you will feel once this problem is out in the open will be liberating and empowering. You will have placed yourself in a situation where a source of accountability will be in place, and you will have help from others in buoying you up. Honesty will bring a dramatic shift into your life. It will improve the quality of your relationships with self and with others. Some of your “naughty” desires may even dissipate, because part of what makes “naughty” behavior enticing is secrecy – it’s an adrenaline rush. You will more than likely not be perfect in your journey through this process – this does not mean you are destined to fail. Be patient with yourself, rely on the atonement and keep your eye on the end goal. I wish you the very best and look forward to updates if you wish to share further.

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