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.

 

 

Guest Post: What Makes a Temptation Tempting?

By Hugh Houston

What makes a temptation tempting?  I’ve mulled this over in my head over the past twelve years.  Why am I not tempted to smoke a cigarette or to drink a beer?  I see those things and I don’t give them a second thought.  Some people struggle for years to give up these habits.  The difference lies in the desire.  I am only tempted by the things I desire.  I believe we create, or at least we permit our own temptations.

If this is the case, then the key to victory in this battle against sin and temptation is to attack our desires.  It is essential to work at changing or controlling our desires.  Today I can’t tell you I’m no longer tempted in the area of lust, but the degree to which I am tempted has diminished dramatically.  God created us as beings with many capacities.  Change is not easy, as you already know from your own experience.  How many people sign up at a gym in January with a determination to get in shape, but by March have already lost their drive?

The Bible tells us that God always provides a way out when we are tempted to sin:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13

Change is possible.  This is not an impossible task.  Sin comes along and offers what looks enticing.  And like a fish looking at the worm in the water, we can’t see the hook that lies underneath.  Through prayer and by focusing on what we know to be true and right, over time we will see the worm and think about the hook and all of the pain it will bring.  By intentionally focusing our thoughts on good things, our desire for what is wrong will diminish and no longer run rampant, dominating our minds.  One of the greatest blessings I’ve gained now that I’ve found this new freedom is to have a clear head, with clean thoughts.

In 1988, Iron Eyes Cody told this old Indian legend in Guideposts magazine. (published in Wisdom Well Said, 2009 Levine Mesa Press):

Many years ago, Indian youth went away in solitude to prepare for manhood. He hiked into a beautiful valley. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow. I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke.

“I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”

“No,” said the youth. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.”

“Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.”

The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake. At last, the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg.

“But you promised…” cried the youth.

“You knew what I was when you picked me up.” said the snake as it slithered away.

It is up to me to recognize my own weaknesses and know where the danger lies.  Temptations begin inside of my own heart.  It is essential for me to look honestly inside of my soul and admit that I am only tempted when the desire to sin dwells within me.  This means it is essential for me to develop a strategy to replace these desires for harmful activities, with a desire to seek the Lord.  This transformation in my thought process will not happen in one day or in one week or even in one month.  But modifying my thoughts is the only way to develop a new life, a life worth living.

John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Temptations cannot be toyed with.  The hook is always there to destroy us.  But with God’s help, over time, it is possible to kill these desires that lead to sin.  The Bible gives us this ray of hope in the book of James:

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:7

If your thoughts are bad tenants, evict them before they destroy the house.  Kicking them out and keeping them out is a full-time job, especially in the beginning.  Yet as time goes on and you acquire new habits, you will find this whole process gets much easier.

Matthew Henry wrote:

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

The best way to avoid the hook is to find our satisfaction and pleasure in Jesus.  Then the hook of lust will have no power to lure us away from the Lord.  Counterfeit joy is no match for the true joy which only the Lord can offer.

This blog originally appeared on Jesus Is The Best

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 8.47.18 PMAbout Hugh Houston: I chose to write using a pen name in order to share my most intimate thoughts while maintaining my privacy. My wife and I have been missionaries for most of our adult lives. We have four adult children. This is my story and I pray that it will help you with your story. May we all find the freedom from sin that Jesus offers us and walk in the light day by day. You can find my book “JESUS IS BETTER THAN PORN: How I Confessed my Addiction to My Wife and Found a New Life” on Amazon.

Guest Blog: Four Reasons Why Women Are Not Sex Objects

By Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of objectifying is as follows:  “to treat someone as an object rather than as a person.”

Now think for a moment if people started looking, referring and treating you like an object. How do you believe you would feel? Insulted? Demeaned? Dishonored? Befouled? Humiliated? Tarnish? Women-Objectification

How about outright pissed? You know you would be. So why then is it cool for us men to look upon women as playthings created merely for our own gratification? This type of behavior rings with an air of superiority, which we have no right to claim.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 ESV

There is no mistaking men and women are different. However, they also are seen as equal in God’s eyes. And if the Creator sees them that way how can we not? There are many reasons why women should not be treated as sex objects. Let’s take a look at 4.

  1. She is a Princess of the King

We’re asking for trouble because we are messing with God’s daughters. Wow, how stupid are we? We are taking the King’s princesses and reducing them to nothing more than toys. How in the world could we never believe that is ok?

We are commanded to be respectful and loving of others – both men and women. However, there is nothing loving about objectifying more than half of the world’s population. We must elect to treat women in a Christ-like manner and provide them with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God.

  1. She’s Entitled to be Feminine

One way men justify their objectification of women is based on how some dress. But there is nothing wrong with women expressing their femininity and wanting to feel pretty. They are entitled to experience those feelings without having to worry about men objectifying them. Instead, we should learn to admire and directly observe a woman’s beauty instead of lusting after it. They should not need to wrap their bodies in burlap because we lack control over our lust.

  1. She has a Brain

Women are not inanimate. They breathe, walk, talk and think. They have a brain. So, what gives men the impression women are playthings to use and discard? Over time women have demonstrated their equality on many levels. They serve in leadership roles in churches, universities, corporations, and heads of state in many countries. Yet, we prefer to view them as body parts instead of appreciating the whole person.

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:10

  1. She Deserves Better

Life is difficult. As men we face enormous pressures every day whether it’s stress with our jobs; dissension in our families; conflicts within our church; the lack of me-time; or a battling lust. Well, women face similar concerns and worries. They often juggle multiple tasks as a housewife, mother, employee, friend, and daughter. And with each of these hats come challenges and obligations.

But nowhere on that list of duties is the role of sex object. They deserve better than that of men. If she can stand toe-to-toe with men and manage the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges that the world throws at her, shouldn’t she be treated with the utmost respect? The short answer is yes – because she deserves better. It is our obligation as men to view her through different lenses that don’t focus on her sexuality but instead on her personhood. To treat her as Christ treated all women.

Eddie Capparucci is an LPC, CSAS, CPCS, a licensed professional counselor, and certified in sexual and pornography addiction. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book “Going Deeper: How the Inner Child Impacts Your Sexual Addiction.” Pre-orders are now available at  https://www.blackrosewriting.com/nonfiction/goingdeeper  Use the promo code PREORDER2019 to save 15%. He can be reached at edcappa@gmail.com.

Must I Believe in God to Successfully Battle Pornography Addiction?

There’s a group who I really worry about when it comes to tackling the beast of pornography addiction: Atheists. If you have ever spent more than 10 seconds researching pornography addiction beyond scientific journals, it’s almost impossible to find any first-person testimony that doesn’t heavily rely on a God for redemption from the “sin” of pornography addiction.

Please note, I do not want any of this to come off as religion bashing. If you end up offended, I apologize in advance. I think those who know me recognize I find religion fascinating and mean no harm when I have questions.

I think the message may be getting lost that it is possible to overcome pornography addiction without the help of a higher power.

Defining my spirituality was important during recovery, because I’d never done it before other than to say I was a “non-practicing atheist.” I just never gave religion much thought. It has been at the center of most of the great wars in history and seems like something designed to divide people, and only bring them together if they were like-minded.

I never really appreciated the difference between spirituality and religion. When I finally had time to think about it and deeply reflect, I recognized I’m one of the most faith-filled people I know. I have this almost naïve instinct to believe everything is going to turn out OK. Even if I don’t understand why something is happening the way it is now, one day it will be clear. I take comfort in that concept, but I also recognize it’s not a provable fact.

I also realized that I felt like there is some form of energy out there that serves as a stabilizer. Our world is chaotic, but that’s nothing compared to how the universe operates as a whole. Some kind of balancing energy keeps things in check. We may one day understand it, but we don’t now.

In my book (currently discounted on Amazon) I talk a lot about how there have been many times in my life I’ve stood in front of a crowd with no idea what I was going to say and suddenly could belt out a well-delivered 30-minute speech. Where did this ability come from? I called it “The Universe.”

Suffice to say, I have a spiritual side. I do not, however, have a religious side. I’ve never heard anybody describe their higher power the way I describe mine, and if somebody does read this and it sounds like exactly what like you believe, I don’t want to get together and sing songs about it. My higher power doesn’t need to be worshipped. It doesn’t love. It doesn’t hate. It just is. Us getting together to cheer it on would be a waste of time.

I honestly am envious of people who subscribe to the same God. I assume there is a sense of community in believing the same thing. I just know that we don’t have the same higher power and there isn’t any book written by your higher power that can convince me that you’re right and I’m wrong. I’m actually not interested in who’s right or wrong.

Which Addictions are Sins?

I appreciate those people who very much believe that God has helped them with their pornography addiction problem. If you’re able to syphon off some of the commitment you have to your religion to keep you away from porn, I say more power to you.

If you go through the WordPress search engine, you’ll be besieged with first-person accounts of God delivering people from porn addiction. Try the same thing for cigarette addiction. God hasn’t transformed anyone in that department.

Why porn and not cigarettes?

I think it has to do with the idea that pornography is not an actual addiction. I believe that the religious see it as an affliction, which is different. Cigarette smoking is not seen as morally wrong, whereas porn is a gift from the Devil. I don’t think many people who go to church see cigarette smoking as a sin. It’s a poor choice, but not an affront to God.

Here’s the problem with that conclusion: It’s the same thing. While cigarettes will do additional negative things to your body, the actual addictive nature is exactly the same. The same brain mechanisms that provide dopamine, oxytocin, and the other pleasure-center chemicals are performing the same way whether it’s cigarettes, porn, gambling, drugs or any other addiction.

Want to experience addiction? Turn your fucking phone off and put it in a drawer. I know far too many people who wouldn’t last 10 minutes. We have a world of people addicted to their phone who don’t realize it. Is that the work of the Devil, Apple or is it just something that evolved and has no real religious connection?

We’ve seen porn addiction explode since the Internet was introduced. I would guess that there were probably similar spikes when every home suddenly had a VCR or when adult magazines like Playboy and Penthouse were suddenly available at every corner store. The next explosion will likely have something to do with virtual reality.

Addiction is a physical condition. That’s long been accepted by just about every medical professional. Recently pornography addiction was accepted by the World Health Organization as a diagnosable and treatable condition.

I also don’t see a lot of entries where people turn to God to take care of other physical maladies. God doesn’t perform open heart surgery if you’ve got heart disease or conduct chemotherapy sessions for those who have cancer. Both of those jobs are handled by professionals. Some may pray others get better, but for those with the physical issue, they are not told to seek the guidance of God, and go home.

Healing Without God

You can’t pray away a medical condition. Or, perhaps you can, but those are the very rare miracles. The worse the condition, the less likely you are to get your miracle. This suggests miracles are actually just anomalies on a sliding scale, but we can debate that another day.  As far as medical conditions go, I think pornography addiction is on the more mild side of the spectrum. I know that it was on par with my alcoholism mentally, but the booze did far more damage to me physically.

I understand that pornography addiction could be seen as a “pleasure of the flesh” which is forbidden by most religions, but isn’t that just semantics? Couldn’t we just go down a rabbit hole of dueling religious text passages at this point? I mean, there’s a strong argument for not eating shellfish in the Bible…trying to out-passage each other is a fool’s errand. We’d just both be cherry-picking to strengthen our position. And we wouldn’t reach a middle ground. You never reach a middle ground with religion, hence all of the wars.

Had I gone to the Internet immediately after accepting the fact I was a porn addict, I think that the number of first-person anecdotes about beating porn addiction that involved adherence to a specific God’s rules might have scared me off. I can’t pray to the God my parents dragged me to church to learn about for 17 years because I don’t believe in that God, but apparently he has the market cornered on porn addiction recovery.

That’s bad news for the non-Christians or atheists who are porn addicts and are seeking relief.

I came by these many blogs years into recovery and thankfully it wasn’t in the beginning because I may have felt like I had more of an uphill battle than recovery actually was.

The message needs to be presented that you don’t need to believe in anything that you don’t currently believe in to get better. If God helps, great, but much like driving from New York to Los Angeles, there are many routes to take and yours is no more important or valid than mine.

I figured out my spirituality about two years into recovery. It certainly helped in those first two years despite the fact I wasn’t cognizant of it at the time. But even if you believe in nothing, you can beat porn addiction. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.