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.

 

 

God’s Confusing Role in My Recovery

I’m going to be totally up front here, and I really hope that I don’t unintentionally or ignorantly say something that offends, but I’ve got to say that since entering the world of blogging, I’m more confused than ever the role God plays in recovery and my life.

I was raised Catholic but left the church because of what I saw as a lot of hypocrisy. I found that too many people brought their politics into the church and twisted the Bible to fit their worldview. The “social justice and peace” group at church comprised of people I would never call fair nor kind. I was also discouraged by the number of people who carried an invisible moral superiority entitlement badge, yet were horrible people and by the number of people who refused to answer my questions, yet seemed like smart people outside of church.

I liked the ideas of Jesus, but felt like most people twisted what the meaning of what he said and what he did while on Earth to match their agenda. The Bible is open to interpretation and I don’t think they could see other angles than ones that already fed into their biases, stereotypes and superstitions. I think that someone with no ties to religion at all would look at the Bible and tell you that Jesus was the kind of liberal that is too liberal for most liberals. But that angle isn’t one that a lot of followers can accept.

So, I walked away. I even started calling myself an atheist for a decade or so. I actually called myself a “non-practicing atheist” because even most atheist people got on my nerves. Whether it’s an atheist, Christian, scientist, politician or my parents, I’ve never liked it when people tried to tell me they had the answers for me. Nobody has all the answers and I’ve always felt the best way you can try to have all the answers is to understand all sides of an issue. That’s not a position many in our society, regardless of socioeconomic or religious background, take. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle has fueled the fire of the need that every person is correct in their beliefs and everybody else is wrong.

It was while I was writing my book in jail (The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – seriously, I need some sales this week – go buy it) that I realized in looking back over the last 20 years that I’m actually one of the most faith-filled people I know. I not only believe things are going to turn out the way they should, I believe things are going to turn out for the best. When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but can move on pretty fast because disappointment usually makes sense down the road, even if I can’t see it now.

What I also realized when I was writing the book (again, it’s call The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – for some reason, Amazon is selling it for 6 cents off the cover price, act now!) is that I do believe in a higher power, but I’ve been calling it “The Universe” since I left the church. My higher power isn’t really an active, take-sides kind of ruler. Mine is just a stabilizing energy that makes sure things stay in order. There’s something maintaining the balance and providing me with what I need – or don’t need – in this world.

I don’t think the human mind is supposed to understand a lot of things and I think that forces us to take the dual tracks of science and religion. Both exist to codify our existence. I love quantum physics because I think it’s the closest marriage of science and religion, but again, feel like our mind doesn’t really have the capacity to comprehend ideas like eternity and infinity.

As I was writing the book (you know the title) I started to feel this calling to talk about my experience. This feeling came over me that now it was my turn to help others who were pornography addicts and perhaps even more importantly, to inform the world about pornography addiction. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to look at the numbers and recognize it’s going to be a major health crisis in this country.

So, I started this blog about four months before my book (the title escapes me at the moment) was released and was so wonderfully surprised how many people responded positively. There were those who had either porn addiction, other forms of addiction or mental health issues in their lives, or lives of their loved ones who could relate, but there was also a lot of people who just wanted to learn. It was invigorating, and made me want to share my story even more.

But then I started hitting the strong religious types. I have no problem with them and try not to judge them, but will admit I do have a problem not judging people who I feel are judging me. Maybe it’s a PTSD thing back to being a kid in the church, but certain things make me feel like I’m having a physical reaction. I get really worked up at some basic stuff and I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from. I could give examples but don’t want to offend anybody because I have nothing against you or your beliefs. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to know most through this site and share many of your beliefs, I just take a different path to the same solution.

When the book (the title is…no, never mind) came out in January, I started doing a lot of promotion, which I continue with today. This process of telling my story again and again has been amazing and absolutely drives home the point that I want to help. I want to be a source of information and support. I want to bring the concept to people that anybody can be a porn addict and that the addiction can lead to some horrible places.

When I step back, I recognize that I sound like someone who is joining the ministry. I know what the devout Christian would say. God has chosen me to deliver this message and is using me as his vessel. He put me through these trials because I have a greater purpose than the life porn addiction took away from me. The real hardcores would throw a Bible verse or two my way to drive their point home, and that’s where I’d start to curl into the fetal position.

I’m now at a place where I’m putting together two presentations – ironically both title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.” A version of one of the presentations is geared toward a Christian audience. Despite their telepathic link with God, Christians have higher rates of porn use and porn addiction than secular types. Let’s not debate why today.

I want to stand in front of church groups and talk about this issue. It’s important. But I can’t quote Scripture and I can’t tell them if their invisible friend is going to help the kick their porn habits or not, and that scares me, because I think that’s what religious people want to hear. I have an invisible friend, too. And I know he helped. I’m just not sure it’s the same invisible friend. I’m a big believer in doing what you need to quit any addiction, but I don’t know why God chose you to have it nor do I know if he’ll help solve the problem. If you think he will, that’s important. Faith is huge in recovery.

When I was a kid, nobody at church ever abused me, yet my religious upbringing has somehow traumatized me. Blogging about porn addiction, and now trying to spread my message, is bringing up a lot of hard-to-explain feelings. I don’t know if it’s God. I don’t know if it’s religion. I don’t know if it’s people who practice. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I know it’s not just when I log-in. It’s bleeding into real life now.

I share what’s happening to me not to get any answers, be preached at or be given any kind of great advice, but just really to remind everyone that faith, belief and the role of God differs in many people’s lives. It doesn’t make any of us better or worse, chosen or cast away. Some of us feel like we have all of the answers and some of us know that we’ll never have any. Some absolutely need to believe in God to function and others don’t give it a second thought. It’s OK. It’s all OK.

Now go buy my stinkin’ book.