Saturday, October 9, 2010

Overcoming the Shame that Keeps Us from Reaching Out

Tomorrow Kevin will be flying to Las Vegas on business. He's been there for training twice before, and on each of those trips he viewed pornography on TV two or three of the evenings during his ten-day stays. He is doing lots better now overall in his life, but he knows a trip like this will put him at high risk for relapse. In our therapy session this morning, I role played with him how he might open up to his wife Wendy all along the way about his mindset so that he has the most support right when he really needs it. After getting a feel for what had led to his downfall on his other two trips, I picked up my cell phone and pretended to be him:

“Hi sweetie. I just rented my car and I’m on my way to the hotel. You know how I’ve sometimes struggled when I’m on the road. I just wanted to let you in on how it’s going. I think I’m still going to be okay. I certainly don’t plan on doing anything. But I just wanted to check in because I found my attention being drawn by all the suggestive advertisements in the airport. Even on the flight down, I saw a magazine with a barely-covered model on the front. It gets my mind going and I’m tempted to obsess. These were just little pulls, but I want to stay in touch with you. Will you hold my hand so that if a riptide tugs at me it won’t drag me out to sea? That’s the last thing I need on this trip and in my life right now. I’m sure it’s the last thing you need, too.”

“It’s good to hear your voice sweetie,” Kevin smiled at me, not bothering to pick up his cell phone. “That is the last thing we need right now. We’ve been feeling so close lately. Do you really struggle even three hours after leaving the house? Are you really tempted to think sexual thoughts about other women when your wife is home taking care of your kids?”

“Oh, honey,” I grinned at Kevin, “I am so grateful for what a great mom you are. I’m so grateful you’re there holding down the fort when I have to be gone. That’s why I called. I need to get grounded again to what my life is really about. I wish I didn’t get so hooked by lustful thoughts, but I do. If you want me to just deal with these things on my own or by leaving messages on Dr. Chamberlain’s phone, I can do that. I don’t want to be a burden to you.”

“No,” Kevin said, “keep calling me. Here: why don’t you tell Charlotte a bedtime story while I go give Skyler a bath.”

“That,” Kevin said after I put down my phone, “is a call I’ve never made. It sounds great now, but I honestly don’t know if I could do that in the moment.”

Kevin was right. If disclosing temptation were a gymnastics move, its difficulty level would be 10.

“Of course you can’t do it in the moment,” I reassured him, “not in your usual state of mind at least. When you find yourself drawn by porn, you’re not the man you are now. In the heat of the moment, you’re in a sort of trance. You get hypnotized into the mindset of that 12 year old boy you were when you first found pornography on the internet that Summer when you were alone at home and your older siblings all had part-time jobs. You have all the needs for attention and touch and closeness and approval and affection that 12-year-old had. That’s what fuels the pull to porn. And then if you even look down that path of pursuing porn, you have all the shame of that 12-year-old. How likely is he to reach out for help the way we just role-played?”

“Back then I didn’t even want to let my parents know I needed help in Algebra. I don’t think it even occurred to me that I could get help from them about sex!”

“Right. And that’s the ego state you’re in when those feelings get triggered again. That 12-year-old still doesn’t know that lots of kids his age and even grown men have a difficult time managing sexuality. He doesn’t know you’re married to a woman you can talk to. He doesn’t realize that honesty is more important to her than a perfect performance. He thinks he can’t open up to people. He thinks he needs to conquer this on his own. The last thing he would do is talk about it! If you could talk to that boy right now, what would you tell him?”

Nodding his head, Kevin had a faraway look in his eyes. “I’d let him know that he doesn’t need to conquer this on his own. As hard as it is for him to imagine now, everyone will still love him despite this struggle.” Kevin kept gazing. Then he laughed: “One day a group of men will even clap when he admits to all of them that he’s a sex addict. The hardest person for him to learn to be honest with will be Wendy. She will mean the world to him, and he will absolutely dread letting her down. But, he will learn to do it. She will understand. Eventually, over time. And he will do much better in this struggle once he truly lets her in so that there are no more secrets between them.” Kevin nodded, a settled look on his face.

“What does that 12-year-old think of that?” I asked.

“I think he’s starting to get it. I guess we’ll see by the way he handles himself on this trip!”

“I guess we will,” I agreed.


  1. Great example...this is very insightful and hopeful

  2. I want to know how he fared on his trip and what tools he used to keep the temptation in check...