Is relapse inevitable? This question plagued my mind when my husband first confessed to his addiction to pornography. At first it was an obsessive fear, “He is going to fall again, but when? And how can I keep it from happening?” Gradually, with time, it has faded to a lesser anxiety concerning the “what if” of relapse. Recently, I talked with other women concerning addiction relapse and today while researching online I found something alarming. It was an article that stated relapse with any addiction is inevitable. In fact, there is a big push in the medical community to label addiction – to drugs, alcohol, and pornography – as a brain disease that should be treated like medical conditions such as heart disease or asthma. Really? I’m not convinced. Inevitable by definition refers to something that is impossible to prevent or avoid, sure to happen, even predictable. This is to say that a recovering addict -- whether pornography, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, etc. – has no choice in the matter. It alludes to the idea that someone who has gone through the necessary steps to become sober has basically wasted their time because, well, it’s impossible to stop and predictable that they’ll act out again. How can this be our message to recovering addicts? It’s neither inspiring nor encouraging, and it certainly isn’t true. Saying that relapse is inevitable neglects the responsibility and intentional aspects of the recovering addict’s behavior.
I guess we should first pin-point what a relapse is. In this particular article (focused on pornography) the writer stated, “The chemical addiction is so strong that, with the exception of a few rare cases, former sultans of smut are bound to relapse into viewing something they no longer wish to see, whether in their own head or on the computer screen” (Cromier). I want to focus on this line in italics. Is it a relapse into pornography addiction if a pornographic image suddenly strolls into his mind? Absolutely not. It’s how he acts on that thought. Our minds are bombarded by inappropriate and impure thoughts every day, whether we are recovering addicts or not. This is simply temptation. We are being tempted to “think on” that thought, or to allow it to dwell and grow. When we choose to capture that thought and get rid of it, we are victorious. It is NOT a sin. It is NOT a relapse. We cannot control the temptations that are thrown at us, but we can control our response to them. Only when a man chooses to call up those images, think on them, fantasize with them, and/or masturbate to them would he be in relapse. Because he would then be acting out sexually with his flesh, even if it is only in his head.
Relapse with addiction is a choice to act out, whether sexually or with alcohol or drugs. If someone is a recovering porn addict, a relapse would consist of him making a choice to view or purchase pornography, or fantasize with pornographic images in his mind. If someone is a recovering drug addict, a relapse would consist of him making a choice to purchase and use drugs. If someone is a recovering sex addict, a relapse would consist of him making a choice to seek out sexual pleasure with someone or something other than his spouse. If someone is a recovering alcoholic, a relapse would consist of him making a choice to drink alcohol. These are all examples of acting out. These are all choices.
Sally Satel, M.D. says, “True, former addicts are vulnerable to resuming use -- hence the "one day at a time" slogan of Alcoholics Anonymous. But they are by no means destined to do so. The message that addiction is chronic and relapse inevitable is demoralizing to patients and gives the treatment system an excuse if it doesn't serve them well.” Telling recovering addicts that their sin is inevitable to repeat itself can often become a crutch for those who are unable to stick to the program and choose to give in to their fleshly desires. Recovering addicts who seek the Lord daily through prayer and Bible study, and utilize the tools made available to them -- counseling, recovering/support groups, treatment, recovery books, etc. – have the ability through Christ to prevent relapse. There’s something to be said about hard work and responsibility.
Cormier’s assertion that the “chemical addiction” to pornography is so strong that an addict is bound to relapse is folly. As a repentant addict begins to filter impurity out of his mind and fill it with godliness, those thoughts or images will become less and less prevalent. The assumption that a chemical reaction to addictive substances is stronger than the power of Jesus Christ and the inner workings of the Holy Spirit is, I think, a dangerous one. There are scores of men and women all over the world who have overcome addictions victoriously through the power of Christ without ever having relapsed. When did Christians lose the belief that Christ came to free us? Why are we so quick to trust studies and blogs over the Word of God? What encouragement can Scripture offer in the area of relapse:
All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:25-27)
Present our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2)
Christ has delivered us from evil through His work on the cross (Galatians 1:3-5)
We cannot hide from God and we are accountable to Him (Hebrews 4:13-15)
If we repent, our sins are blotted out and we will be refreshed (Acts 3:19)
Jesus takes away our sin, redeems us, and forgives us (John 1:29, Ephesians 1:7)
If we abide in Christ, we will not sin (1 John 3:4-6)
Be diligent and present ourselves approved to God and we will not be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15)
Temptation cannot overtake us but God will always provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Follow Christ’s example, who was tempted but did not sin (Hebrews 4:12-16)
Christ gives us power, even in our weaknesses, and that we are conquerors (Romans 8:26-39)
Be holy (1 Peter 1:14-16)
We have died to our sins through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-4)
Humble ourselves, submit to God, and flee the devil and He will lift us up (James 4:6-10)
Don’t be anxious but seek the Lord in prayer and He will guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-7)
We no longer walk in darkness but in light and can please God (Ephesians 5:6-11)
We can clearly see through Scripture that God has provided us with everything we need for godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and this would include avoiding relapse into any addiction. If Christians believe that the Word of God is true, infallible, and applicable in all things, then when we must be convinced that Jesus Christ has given us the power to be free from addictions of any kind. Relapse is not inevitable. With God, all things are possible.
All that said, relapse is not inevitable but it is possible. As with any sin, we sometimes allow ourselves to become lazy in our disciplines and seek pleasure or comfort in things other than God. When this happens, recovering addicts may find themselves diving right back into that pit that they just crawled out of; whether they’ve spent days, months, or even years sober. Relapsing is not a surety, but it is certainly something that we should be aware of and take every precaution in diligence to prevent. Cromier’s article did mention tips for recovering porn addicts that can assist them in creating a relapse prevention plan. He mentions limiting idle time, installing filters and accountability software, arming ourselves with the Word of God, and more. You can read about these in more detail from his blog at http://www.dereksdiscourse.com/2010/04/x3-church-aftershock.html#more . Joe Dallas of Genesis Counseling states, “The good news is that, like other addictions, sexual addiction can be managedso that the addict need never engage in the addictive behavior. Like the alcoholic who recognizes he'll always be drawn to alcohol yet abstains from its use, so the sexual addict learns to manage his (impure) sexual desires so that he need never yield to them again. But he must always recognize that they will be a strong source of temptation, and he must make provision for that.” The recovering addict must make himself aware of his triggers, what tempts him, and have a plan of action to help prevent a relapse into those addictive behaviors. Recovery from any addiction requires life/behavioral changes, thought changes, and heart changes. Purity demands a lifetime of diligence. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
Walking in Freedom,
Tags: ""addiction relapse"" pornography drugs alcohol jesus christ
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