It Was Harder Growing Up With Religion Than Recovering Without It

When a new book comes out, I generally get a lot of messages and while it’s happening again, I’ve had several this week that had deeply religious connotations and I don’t know if they don’t read the site or I haven’t explained it well in a long time, but I figure since it’s Sunday, it would be a great day to get into the whole spirituality/religion thing with you.

I apologize up front as I know this is going to be all over the place, long and I’m sure unintentionally offensive to some.

I was raised by a devout Catholic father and a hugely, hugely devout Catholic mother. They were raised by largely absentee, alcoholic parents. Their faith was something they pursued as they both went to parochial school. They didn’t meet until college, but I think the fact their religious upbringing was so similar helped things.

As I told someone the other day, words like “God,” “sin,” “Bible” etc. are a little bit triggering for me and I think I know why. I have started to draw a lot of parallels to my need for control that was borne out of the environment where my abuse took case. Let me stress I was not abused in the church, but being in a place where I felt completely helpless and lost was not good for my mental health.

I was the inquisitive little kid who had questions at Sunday School or for my mother. The answer was usually the same, “Don’t ask questions” or “It’s God’s Law.” That’s not an environment for somebody like me, who already had power and control issues, was going to thrive.

The rare answers I got didn’t make any sense and attending church was a miserable experience, only second to Sunday school. I would say that other kids around me were having a better time, but based on the exodus from the Catholic Church in America, they just weren’t marketing it to kids in the ’80s very well. They did not communicate what God was supposed to be in a way that we understood. Like chemistry or physics in high school, eventually one gives up trying to understand.

Back then, you went through Confirmation at 15 or 16 and I made a deal with my parents that I’d agree to be confirmed, but at that point, I was going to stop going to Church. They did their job getting me that far, but I was done. I think they recognized I wasn’t joking. I didn’t hate their faith, but I didn’t have it.

My Higher Power, The Afterlife and Mom Gets Mad

Keep in mind that while I attempt to be respectful of people’s religious beliefs, I think the biggest thing missing from the religious (not necessarily spiritual) is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn’t subscribe to the exact same doctrine that they do. I mean, you only have to look at history’s great wars; almost all have a religious angle to them. One of the reasons that 12 Step Groups were not my ultimate answer was (aside from the fact that they don’t really mean “higher power of your choosing” because they end every meeting with a Christian prayer) there is no room to talk about what not having a higher power means.

I have never felt powerless over alcohol or porn because despite my lowest points, I was the only who actually had the power. I just chose not to use it. Today, I have a concept of a higher power that I simply call “the universe” and it doesn’t really have a set of rules, dogma or doctrine you have to follow. It doesn’t care if you get a midnight abortion or if gay people marry. It isn’t about raising a dime, nor about any particular book. I don’t pray to it, nor does it threaten to smite me when I don’t. My concept of it is vague, but I don’t need to have all the details. It’s a balancing energy in the universe and that’s all I really need to know. I have a Higher Power and that’s that. It just doesn’t have a name tag or handbook.

People get awkward fast when I tell them that I don’t really care if there’s an afterlife. I don’t think there is, there has never been a single piece of proof there is, and while it’s a pleasant story, I believe that you get your years on Earth and then you’re done. And I’m far more OK with that than the people who hear me say it, because they can’t believe I’d have such a view. It’s fine because it doesn’t have to be your belief, and vice versa.

This is clearly turning into a ramble, but here’s a quick story for you. As I mentioned, I was raised Catholic by two very devout, wonderful people. I was baptized, did the first communion and confirmation all in the same church. Saw many of my relatives married and memorialized there as well, and midnight mass on Christmas was a regular stop for me even long after I left my parents’ home. There was a purge here of Catholic churches in Maine about 10-12 years ago. The numbers of parishoners had dropped so dramatically, the diocese said they couldn’t afford to keep the churches open. My family’s church ended up on this list of closures, like 5 of the 7 churches in our town. With our particular church, the reason given was that it was too expensive to heat the church between September and May. It’s a valid argument. The place was huge and old members were dying off like 8-to-1 against bringing in new members and tithing just wasn’t what it used to be.

My mom asked me to come on that last day and being a sometimes sentimental, nostalgic person, I said OK. I didn’t enjoy the thousands of hours I spent there, but knowing it would be my last hour was a little sad. When the service was over – ironically to a packed house like they hadn’t seen in years – there was an organization in the back that was collecting money to try and overturn one of Maine’s gay rights laws. It didn’t bother me because it’s an issue that’s been decided and the right side won. When we got to the car, my mother let loose on the Church, I think for the first time in her life and I wouldn’t have believed it unless I was there. I’ll spare the long diatribe, but she thankfully saw the complete hypocrisy and overall wrongness of a Church that couldn’t stay open because of lack of funds collecting funds for a group that wants to discriminate. I pointed out how well the UU church was doing in town in terms of both attendance and funding. They, of course, were gay-friendly. Since that day, my mother still goes to church elsewhere, but it’s with far, far less devotion than she did in the past. She’ll even skip Sundays if the mood strikes her. She’s finally come around to what I recognized a long time ago – you need neither a book, nor a building to have a relationship with a Higher Power.

In losing a giant chunk of my mom, the church lost one of its staunchest advocates.

Religion is Not The Only Road to Recovery

I promise I’m about to wrap this up.

I think that there are really three main branches to pornography recovery. Maybe it’s true of all addiction, but since I’m immersed in this culture, it’s what I see. Those three branches are religion, will-power, and science. People can absolutely dabble in more than one, but I find a lot of people who are into things like NoFap (will-power) refuse to see a real therapist and many religious people think you can pray away a medical condition. Obviously, I’m a big believer in the science side of things because that is my experience and it was successful.

Nonetheless, if you go to the WordPress reader and type in “Pornography Addiction” or “Pornography Recovery” you’re going to probably find 75% of the entries have some reference to The Bible. Beyond the whole shaming thing that religious people are so good at doing to others which is an entirely other issue, the overall theme of these entries is that one must follow a religious path to addiction recovery, just like you have to follow their religious path to the afterlife.

It’s just not true. I mean, I can point to plenty of people it worked for, but I can point to plenty of people, myself included, who are happy and healthy without a word of Scripture read in recovery.

I’m OK if you want to use God as a tool for pushing recovery as long as you’re not shaming the addict, but it can’t be the only tool used and it can’t be preached that without God, recovery is impossible. That’s plainly wrong and frankly, a dangerous thing to say for two reasons: a) You wouldn’t encourage a person with cancer or severe hemorrhaging to only pray…you’d get them real medical treatment; b) Somebody believing your attitude may be stopped from recovery if the religious route doesn’t work for them. Is it better they go your way and fail or go their own way and succeed?

I’m sure many of those who actually got this far were offended along the way, and I apologize if my words were ever poorly chosen. There were a few places I debated writing certain things, but went for it anyway. I know that my personal issues with the church and religion are just that – my personal issues – and I know they carry over into my writing, but in a space where I try to be honest to a fault, even when it rankles some feathers, I thought it was time to explain myself.

I don’t know if there was any theme here but I guess sometimes these blogs are just for ranting and working things out.

 

 

23 thoughts on “It Was Harder Growing Up With Religion Than Recovering Without It

  1. Thank you for your honesty. My Baptist upbringing wasn’t all that different from yours so I can relate. I hope you’ve never felt I was trying to “convert” you or anybody in my Christian blog because I can’t. Only God can and He will when/if the time is right. All I can do is thank Him daily for the immense change He’s made in my life.

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    1. Not at all. I’ve told you upfront I sometimes glaze over at long passages of Scripture, but I look at your Monday entries as historical study of religion, not a recruiting mission. I wouldn’t read them if I thought you were doing otherwise. I know where you stand with spirituality and I have nothing but respect for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple of my former nursing colleagues developed substance addictions. For one, religion ended up being a huge part of getting clean and remaining in recovery. The other was told he was required to attend AA in order to keep his job. He was an atheist and he refused, and ended up being fired. He’s been able to stay clean without AA, and a human rights settlement with the former employer was just reached in his favour.

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    1. I’ve read a similar sentiment to this thought, but when you think about it, addiction is one of the only medical conditions that judges/employers/others require a spiritual solution to a medical problem. I’m glad to hear about him standing up for himself and getting just compensation.

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  3. Thanks for sharing.

    Although on the face of it there’s similarities between our upbringings, in reality, when I became a Christian I didn’t get religion, I got Jesus. So even though I still struggle with addiction, I don’t beat myself up with religion but assure myself I’m forgiven because of Jesus 🙂

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      1. Manmade religion is us trying to justify ourselves (which we don’t even need to be theists to do).

        Christianity is God justifying bad guys like us because of Christ Jesus.

        On the face of it it’s about the same thing, being justified. But in reality only one of them works.

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  4. I am a Christian. However, I think having a faith and recovery from addiction are two separate things. They might overlap but they don’t need to. Having researched addictions in depth I know that there are plenty of successful recovery approaches that do not require a Higher Power. Like you, I think the best approach is the one that works for you.

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  5. You’ve read my posts enough to know my heart, probably, and that is never ever to judge because I also have recovered. My recovery included a relationship with God because He is the only One who was able to get into my closed shell and heal the deep hurts and trauma that started my addiction. It is healed and forgiven. And I have help and grace in that same relationship to stay with an addict. I get that you did not use the same pathway to recovery but I am so glad you recovered because you have helped me and so many people! So no worries, you rock!😄❤

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  6. I feel sorry for those who take the leap and go to 12-step – for anything – only to be turned off by the religious aspects of the program. My husband struggled with that for a bit before settling on his version of a higher power (which sounds a lot like yours).

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    1. I just couldn’t stick with it largely because of that. They were on the same page with God, even if they didn’t talk openly about it. I guess it’s like people who all like the same movie and you can’t understand the fuss. You’re just never going to be one of them.

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  7. My blog is pretty exclusively ranting and working things out, so I certainly relate to that part of this post. Religion is such a complicated topic to discuss, but I, likewise, have felt the need to explain where I came from and how religion factored in to who I am, on my blog.

    My non-religious, but somehow “Christian” parents were divorced when I was 6 (and they were about 25). They each then married religious people and converted. I was baptized Episcopalian (and confirmed), but also attended the LDS church every other weekend. I never connected with the faith it requires to be truly religious and many of my questions about the Mormon church went unanswered.

    When I left for college, I swore religion wasn’t going to be part of my life, but, my roommate was devout Catholic and the on-campus services were pretty cool actually, a lot of guitar and singing. I attended with her a few times. Then I met my future husband, who is Jewish.

    I converted to Judaism and learned most of what I know about the religion/culture through volunteering in my kids’ preschool classrooms at the local JCC and through their Sunday School services, plus Bar Mitzvah prep. I have always considered myself non-religious and agnostic. When my husband was diagnosed as a sex addict, pretty sure he was atheist at that point. The 12 step group he attends in downtown Portland is mostly men who I’m pretty positive would describe their connection to religion and higher power the way you do. I’m grateful actually that he found a meeting with so many like-minded men who understand him, but also feel similarly about religion. The religious upbringing of the men in this group range from Chasidic Jew to LDS to Catholic, etc… but they all take what works and leave the rest. At one point my husband wanted to ring his Buddhist (Buddhist meditation being the spiritual component of his 12 step recovery) bell at the beginning of a meeting and one brother simply said, this is not the place. Anyway, these are his friends now and I think for him 12 step was just as critical if not more so than therapy at getting him this far (6 years) in recovery. He never attended a rehab, although he researched them a lot. We are all unique humans and it is so important to understand we each have a pathway of our choosing. For me, owning my choices and not blaming others is what is important in my healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is very well said. You should cut and paste it into your own post and pretend nobody has ever read it.

      I’ve found most recovering addicts to be cool. I think I’ve mentioned on the site, but I was more at home at a Cocaine Anonymous meeting in Palm Springs as I ever have been at any AA or SAA meeting. It was just a vibe I needed because they truly didn’t care about the higher power aspect…unless you did. Almost made me wish I’d done cocaine all those years instead of porn or alcohol. I’d probably have much better stories, too.
      Statistically, Catholic and LDS men are among the fast growing groups of pornography addicts. Not sure if they self-identify more quickly or if there is more childhood trauma.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Some of my comments on writer’s posts are longer than their post. I’m inquisitive, and wordy. 🤷🏻‍♀️ It’s fascinating to me, what all plays into addiction in general and sex/porn addiction specifically. In my husband’s group, there are guys who identify as porn addicts never having ventured into the realm of sexual (or emotional, I guess) relationships with people for the purpose of feeding their addiction. This may be an anomaly, but most of them are under 40. I wonder if their addiction hadn’t been outed, if they would have escalated? Some have never been married. With BE, he was 36 before his first affair (more than two decades of secret porn and obsessive masturbation prior to that) but I will say he was a huge flirt all along and groomed women for a very long time before actually inviting the first woman to his hotel room while traveling. Personally I think it was escalation + confidence. Away from home, sure thing, why not? Who knows. He’d known and flirted with this woman for 2+ years at that point. It’s so complicated. There is a case of a 70-something Grandfather who has a story similar to yours. He never had affairs or any sex-for-pay encounters. What did he do before the internet? It seems more difficult to hide porn back then? Part of his consequences (along with rehab and jail) was not being able to be with his grandchildren alone even though he had never harmed them.

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      2. That’s such a horrible punishment when there is no connection between non-contact offenses and contact against anyone. It’s like the same belief that a convicted sex offender living near a school or a church leads to more sex crimes. It’s a tool of the political class to make constituents feel like they have their best interests at heart when in fact driving sex offenders out of areas they can get help (usually inner cities) statistically does more harm than good.

        I can’t say why I never acted out with another woman or why I never even got close. I just wasn’t seeking intimacy with another person. I was seeking control and despite my chatroom decisions being heinous, they scratched the itch. Would it have escalated? I don’t think so, but I’m glad I never got to the point where I found out.

        I think part of it was that I’m an idiot when it comes to reading signals from people. There was one woman who my wife said was hitting on me big-time at an art gallery opening we went to as a function of my magazine job. I guess the person doing the flirting didn’t realize it was my wife and I wasn’t giving “leave me alone” signs, but it was OK because my wife knows I don’t pick up on that stuff.

        An interesting stat that shows the biggest difference between male and female porn addicts is that only about 25% of male porn addicts ever act out beyond the screen, yet 80% of women report doing it. I’ve read different theories why, but I think it’s a fascinating gap.

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      3. I find it all fascinating, but again, realizing there are as many different stories as there are addicts. You are the opposite of my husband, at least the SA part of my husband. When he’s in addict mode he thinks every woman who gives him a glance is a legit target. All driven, of course, by low self esteem. Also, his SA behavior, apparently, had become such habit as to happen without him even realizing it and certainly not acknowledging it. I honestly never ever thought he would be able to cheat. In my mind he was a flirty guy who would never, wasn’t capable of, cheating. Not even because of our relationship, or the commitments he made to me, but because to me he would be too afraid of getting caught, of the consequences, and of rejection. Turns out, the SA BE is a completely different fellow than the one I’d been seeing because the man I knew would never be able to kiss me good-bye at the airport then meet up with another woman in broad daylight and spend a week with her in a hotel room in Tokyo. Traveling with and staying in the same small room with someone is crazy intimate. He is a master compartmentalizer. Who knew? No one. I still consider it all incredibly cruel.

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      4. Tokyo is such a cool city. I lived there for six months in 1998. I couldn’t imagine wasting it in a hotel room even with a supermodel.

        You’re right, it is very cruel and I don’t think an addict can truly claim recovery until they own it and understand it. I never knew how to give a proper apology — one free of minimizing, rationalizing and future-casting — until I was taught in recovery. I can imagine just how bad it was being on the other end of my fake apologies for all of those years.

        Speaking of which, ever read a certain book with a handsome guy’s picture on the back…and my picture, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ha! That book JUST arrived. We left for LA last Thursday and I think the book arrived Friday. Way late! We got home last night. I have it right here… You’ll know when I’ve read it as I plan to write a review! 😁 I’ll get right on it!

        My brother has lived in Tokyo for 25 years. We visit there often. I have a few posts about the hellish Japan triggers I struggled with the first couple years post discovery. BE lived in Kyoto for two years in the mid 80’s. I lived in Kyoto from December 1986-August 1987. I taught English in Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe. I adore Japan! I could almost understand my husband wasting a few days in a hotel room with a super model. His “super model” was an older mean looking abusive alcoholic hoarder who outweighed him by about 50 pounds. There’s just no making sense of sex addiction sometimes.

        BE struggled mightily with his 8/9th steps and triggered my son and I for months. I finally asked him to write a letter to the other woman. When he finally completed it (and it’s in it’s entirety on my blog) I believed he really made headway into understanding my feelings. This all takes time. Lots of time.

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      6. Letter writing is a great exercise. I had to do a lot of it to clear my head of resentments I had against so many people.

        I was a 22-year-old guy who really explored his alcoholic side in downtown Tokyo. I lived in a district called Roppongi which is kind of like Times Square, or at least it was 20 years ago. I visited once a couple of years later, but not since I was married and the kids were born. I’d like to remember it as it was in 1998 when I was naive.

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      7. We’ve stayed in Roppongi a few times, it has many personalities. My brother works very close to there. Parts of Japan never really change. We don’t drink, so never experienced that Roppongi. I like Marunouchi, which is right at Tokyo Station. It’s where BE usually stayed so it has triggers, but I’ve mastered most of them. We stayed at the Four Seasons Marunouchi about a year post discovery and they upgraded us to a suite (I love when that happens). Unfortunately the room had a perfect view of the hotel my husband stayed at with the other woman. That was hard. Those things don’t really affect me anymore, but for a while, it was torture. Japan is a cool place. I’m glad you have good memories!

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