World Full Of Triggers

In a recent post, I described how I had been sick one weekend and had spent an entire day just watching movies on my computer. I wrote about watching the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. What I didn’t mention were the other two movies I watched that weekend. One was Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and the other was Thanks For Sharing, an ensemble-type movie with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, and Pink.

Locke was a very interesting exercise in minimalist film-making, with the whole movie comprised of Hardy driving in a car, talking to people on the phone. It’s actually much more interesting than that synopsis, but I don’t want to give too much away. Thanks For Sharing has been billed as a romantic comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is a movie about sex addicts struggling to live lives of sobriety. It’s not without its lighter moments, but it is definitely not “date night” fare.

For the most part, I respected how the film dealt with the struggle sex addicts go through to try to beat their thanks-for-sharing-movie-12step-therapy-group-sex-41addictions. Ruffalo, in particular, goes to great lengths to keep his addiction at bay, including using a flip-phone, avoiding the internet, and having televisions removed from any hotel rooms he stays in. He becomes a mentor to Gad’s character and forms a romantic relationship with Paltrow. He looks like the guy who is going to make it.

But he doesn’t. He falls. And he falls hard.

I figured a movie dealing with sex addiction would go to some uncomfortable places, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Ruffalo’s relapse. It features an explicit sex scene, with nudity, and a horrible incident with a former lover after that which nearly ends in tragedy. The fact that these scenes exist in themselves could possibly be understood from the viewpoint of someone making the film. From the standpoint of sex addicts who possibly were watching the movie to observe how it treated the condition, the two scenes could basically be considered triggers for relapses in their own lives.

Let’s face it: If you are addicted to anything in this life, you don’t have to search very hard to find something to trigger your addictive behavior. Gad’s frustrated character in Thanks For Sharing remarks at one point, “Is all of Manhattan just one big (explicative) catwalk?”. It’s not just sex, though. Alcoholics are bombarded with how cool drinking beer is. Food addicts are daily served up a steady diet of unhealthy options. Those suffering from depression can get their daily downers simply by turning on the radio for a few minutes.

All this makes me wonder… Are we actually killing ourselves?

I mean, if we’re all trying to stay away from something, how does it make sense that we get assaulted every day with the very things we’re trying to avoid? In this pretty stunning video, comedian and actor Russell Brand talks about how soft-core pornography is readily available and even the accessibility of hard-core porn has skyrocketed over the years. Numerous studies have been produced about the negative effects of pornography on the brain, but we just keep pumping it out. Are we naive or stupid or do we just not care?

Life is hard. Life with an addiction of some sort is even harder. It would be difficult living alone in an enclosed box. We don’t live in boxes, though. We live in a world where the guns are loaded.

And there are triggers everywhere.

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Not Enough?

I turned 40 years old in April of this year, and we all know what that means: I’m at that age. When the eyesight starts to fade a little more. When the physical prowess begins to decline. When the luster of the job begins to wear off. When, theoretically, half of a man’s life is over, which means two dreaded words…

Midlife … crisis.

midlifeI actually do plan on writing about this subject a little more in-depth here in the future, but for this particular post I only introduce it to bring up a line I noticed in a book I was recently reading: Men in Midlife Crisis, by Jim Conway. I checked the book out of a local library just before Christmas, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish reading it, but what I managed to get through was quite insightful. In fact, I may have to add it to my own personal library at some point in the future.

As expected, the book contains plenty of discussion on affairs, a hallmark of many men’s midlife periods. I’m certainly not going to explore that subject here, but I was struck by something Conway wrote about it. Observe the following paragraph on attempting to end an affair:

I have helped both Christians and non-Christians through the painful disengagement process. None of these people has been willing to disengage simply because of the clear moral teaching of scripture – “You must not commit adultery.” Nor have any of these midlife men been convinced to disengage because of obligations to their families or previous commitments. It is my experience that people are only ready to disengage from an affair if the dissatisfaction level rises high enough so that the couple feels there is greater stress and less satisfaction than what they had hoped for.

A local Bible teacher who passed away earlier this year used to have a saying: God plus nothing equals everything. There’s the principle of sola scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. There’s even an old Southern Gospel song that says, “When Jesus says it’s enough, it’ll be enough.” What gets us to Jesus and draws us into scripture, though? There has to be some breaking point where we just say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. This is just not working anymore. I’m done.”

I’m not trying to say that Jesus cannot lift us out of any situation, or that scripture is somehow not sufficient to instruct us on how to live our lives correctly. God, after all, parted the Red Sea and formed man from the very dust of the Earth. In many instances of life, though, we have to come to a place where we decide the path we are on is vastly inferior to the one He wants to take us on. We have to see in real life that our decisions aren’t working and our habits are harmful to us and we need to make a change.

It almost feels blasphemous to even suggest it, but sometimes what works isn’t enough. Sometimes the strain of what is not working has to become so great that we are spurred to action. Things have to become intolerable sometimes to make us want to change. I wrote here Friday about the insanity of how I stubbornly refuse to give up certain habits that only worsen my depression. I’m beginning to notice a life principle here: Getting sick of a situation or a behavior is often the only way to begin the process of getting rid of it.

So as the new year rapidly approaches, if you’re hearing that tiny voice in your head saying, “This isn’t worth it anymore,” maybe you should give it a listen. It might be prompting you toward the answer that really is enough.

The Cosby Conundrum

What happens when America’s Favorite Dad has to deal with allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women on several different occasions?

Tune in to Must-See TV this week to find out!

bill cosbyOkay, that may be the most inappropriate introduction to any post I’ve ever written on this blog, but, good grief, how else can a person keep from shedding tears over the current Bill Cosby situation except with humor, ill-advised as it may be? The man who helped sell Coca-Cola and Jell-O Pudding Pops may have been carrying around briefcases full of drugs and forcing himself on various females over the span of several years. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Even though nothing has been formally proven against Mr. Cosby, the number of women speaking out with stories of alleged abuse at his hands seems to be growing daily. Assuming any of these allegations are true, he will have some explaining to do in the future. He will be (and already has been, to a certain extent) branded a bad man.

My problem at the moment, however, is not that I am grappling with the concept of a guilty Bill Cosby being a bad man. My conundrum is that he may have been both good and bad.

Before anyone picks up a stone to hurl at me, I am not writing this post in an attempt to be a Bill Cosby apologist. Personally, I don’t know if the man is guilty or not, so I certainly don’t want to debate his culpability for the things he may or may not have done. I’m thinking more about his legacy. Was Bill Cosby a good or a bad human being?

I wrote here not long ago about a cognitive distortion call polarized thinking, sometimes also known as “black-and-white thinking.” Basically, this distortion means there is no middle ground; things are either good or they are bad. This is a distortion I have massive problems with. When it’s said the public has short memories concerning past sins of public figures, my opinion was not included in “the public.” I remember everything.

So here I am today, left with the perplexing nature of one Mr. William H. Cosby, Jr. To be sure, these are very serious allegations against Mr. Cosby. They have already cost him a new television project with NBC and have resulted in old episodes of The Cosby Show being yanked from syndication. In the places Cosby is still scheduled to appear, he faces threats of protests. He may have even been a rapist.

Cosby has also been a lot other things as well, things which can be proven. He has donated millions of dollars to charities, universities, and other causes. He entertained and attempted to educate children with programs such as Fat AlbertThe Electric Company, and Picture Pages. Probably most famously, he encouraged African-Americans to reach for the stars with his portrayal of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, one of the most famous and influential sitcoms of all time.

Certainly none of these feats excuses a man from sexually assaulting a woman. What they do show, lukehowever, is that Cosby has, as the famous line from Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi states, “some good in him.” Consider this quote Cosby gave during an interview with The Christian Post in December 2011:

If you have no faith, you’ve lost your battle. You can’t let things just happen. If you know right from wrong, and you know proof that certain things are true and people are telling you information to guide you and it’s good solid information, then you should have it.

Who is this man, then? My brain is having trouble deciphering all this. There is only one conclusion I can arrive at.

Bill Cosby is a human being.

Human beings do bad things, and many times they have to face severe punishments for their actions. What they do, though, does not necessarily make them rotten to their cores. Human beings fall and fail all the time, some on a grander scale than others. If we could control our actions, keep ourselves under perfect control at all times, we never would have needed Jesus Christ to intervene on our behalf. Good men do bad things. Bad men do good things. It is a difficult thing to grasp.

If nothing else, the current Cosby situation has reminded me that while judgement in the courts may be ironclad, judgement between people often is not. For a polarized thinker like myself, the urge is there to run between the two extremes. The real Billy Cosby, though, like most of us, probably lives somewhere in between.

Just Stop It

“So, that’s my story. I really want to stop, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, the first thing you should do is stop…”

Ah, yes, the circular reasoning most of us apply to the addict. Obviously, what would help the addict most is to simply stop whatever it is they are addicted to. If it’s smoking, stop smoking. If it’s overeating, stop eating so much. If it’s pornography, stop looking at pictures of naked women (or men). I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Right?

matthew perryConsider the following quote from the Psychology Today website: “When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Or consider the words of actor Matthew Perry: “A lot of people think that addiction is a choice. A lot of people think it’s a matter of will. That has not been my experience. I don’t find it to have anything to do with strength.”

What makes an addict an addict? Not being able to resist compulsions. In other words, what makes an addict an addict is the fact that they’re addicted to something. If it were as easy as just stopping, they would probably have stopped by now.

Do some people need a firm word or a swift kick in the pants to get their heads straight? Yeah, definitely. Not everyone is able to respond to that, though. Call it a lack of will power or chemical dependency or an addictive personality or whatever, but there are those who just can’t flick the switch and turn it off. They struggle.

And for years I’ve sat in the judgement seat and pointed my finger at them.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how someone could be an alcoholic and still be a decent person. I didn’t get how someone could drift in and out of rehab and still have a place in society. I didn’t get how someone could look at pornography and claim to care about their marriage and family.

I didn’t understand addiction. And I didn’t understand mercy or grace.

I want to just stop judging the addict. I’ve been where they are, and most days I am where they are. I want them to feel free to come forward and ask for help without fear. I want them to be able to just stop hiding and get the help they need.

Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t that easy, though.

The Drugs We Crave

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been driving somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, be it to catch an early flight or to work the ufoearly shift at your job, and started scanning the radio dial. You flipped past some music, but somehow that just didn’t seem appropriate. You wanted something more subdued, more relaxing, so you began to seek out the talk radio stations. And that’s when you found it – that program that discusses UFOs as if they are a totally real phenomenon.

For the record, I have a difficult time believing in life on other planets coming to visit ours. I just don’t think they could have done it without some type of definitive proof being captured by now. In this age of leaks and the internet and satellite technology and who knows what other means of making sure nothing ever stays a secret for very long, it’s impossible for me to believe not one concrete piece of evidence exists to prove the existence of UFOs. True believers, you may begin spamming me now at your leisure.

At any rate, I came across one of these programs on my way in to work this week, and perhaps out of a desire to be entertained or a need to shake my head in disbelief at something to stir myself awake, I began to listen to it. The program I’m referring to is Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Noory’s guest that morning was Dr. Peter Breggin, who, according to the Coast To Coast website, is “a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant with NIMH who is in private practice in Ithaca, New York.” What held my attention on this particular morning was the topic of discussion – the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

dr-marvin-monroe-7Now, I know nothing about the validity of Dr. Breggin’s credentials as they are spelled out on the website. He may as well be Dr. Marvin Monroe from The Simpsons for all I know. Regardless, he was bringing up some very significant points on this particular morning concerning Williams’ death. For one, he pointed out how cruel and difficult the manner of death seemed to be. The method Williams chose to end his own life was not an easy one. He also mentioned how Williams’ years of drug and alcohol use could not have been beneficial to the activity in his brain.

And it was then, in the middle of this unusual forum at an ungodly hour of the day, Dr. Breggin said posed a question that made as much sense as anything I’ve heard in a long, long time: “Why do we always crave the drugs that are going to lead us deeper into depression?”

Dr. Breggin was referring to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, to name a few, but he could have been talking about a great many things we wouldn’t consider to be “drugs.” Pornography. Affairs. Excessive use of the internet. Self-pity. Hours upon hours of playing video games in darkened rooms. Promiscuous sex. Many people might look at this list and say, “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with any of that. Those things are part of my life, and I feel perfectly fine.” Maybe so. To many, though, any one of these items could have opened a portal to the dark world of depression.

The fallen part of us chases these things, though. We see sin, and we know its consequences, but so many times we charge after it anyway. Then the guilt comes pouring in, and it can only take us down, down, down. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Dr. Breggin didn’t know it, but he was describing the sin nature in all of us, the desire to do the very things we know will destroy us.

For the apostle Paul, the only deliverance from this kind of behavior was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only deliverance for me. It’s the only deliverance for you. Cognitive therapy, counseling, psychology… These all have their place, but they cannot deal with the issue of sin. Only the grace of God can do that. I may doubt the existence of flying saucers and strange visitors from other planets, but I do not doubt that.

The Changing Face

It’s weird to be old enough to see perceptions change. Some things are judged more harshly than they used to be, and other things that used to be totally unacceptable are now permissible. I believe some of these changes have been for the better, and I also believe some of them were spawned straight from the pits of hell. I’ll leave it to your collective imaginations to guess what I might be referring to.

We live in a paradoxical society these days when it comes to infidelity in marriage. We’re constantly assaulted with music, movies, and television programs that glamorize affairs, but if someone is ever discovered to actually be cheating on his or her spouse in real life they take a public drubbing. So, basically, all in the same breath, marriage is a bond easily broken but is also sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with.

I’m old enough to remember the great Christian music scandals of the 1990s, specifically the cases of Michael English and Sandi Patty.michael-english-two It may seem strange to many reading this, but these were two of the biggest names in Christian music back then, and their affairs (not with each other, mind you) and subsequent divorces were absolutely shocking at the time. English’s affair even involved some returned awards and a pregnancy (which, sadly, ended in a miscarriage). It was the first real Christian music scandal I can remember clearly.

Fast forward to 2014, where you can view a repentant Steve Fee on YouTube discussing how “my entire life exploded … and I’m the one who lit the fuse.” I knew Fee had been off the radar for a while, but I didn’t really know why. The reason dates back to 2010, when he confessed to having an affair. I had no idea, and I work at a Christian radio station. Granted, Fee probably isn’t a superstar on the level that English and Patty were back in the ’90s, but I don’t remember hearing about this at all. Plus, while the video is well done, Fee doesn’t actually mention what his “secret sin” was.

webbPerhaps even more surprising to me, though, was learning Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken had divorced. I was a huge fan of Webb’s early work with Caedmon’s Call, but as his interest in electronic music grew and his politics became more liberal I listened to less and less of his music. Still, he and McCracken formed a sort of power couple for the independent music scene, with Webb starting the NoiseTrade website and McCracken proving to be a viable artist on her own. According to legal documents, Webb had an affair, and McCracken filed for divorce … in April. Again, I didn’t know a thing about this until recently.

Things are just different now. English’s music was universally pulled from Christian radio following the revelation of his affair, but I’m not aware of any of Fee’s music getting the hook (Webb’s latest efforts generally don’t get played on the radio anyway, making his situation rather unique.). Patty and English had to gradually work their way back into Christian music circles, while Fee has a nice new video and label backing for his new single, “Grace.” The public scars don’t seem to run as deep as they used to.

All of this causes me to pose a question: Are we becoming a more forgiving society or are we just becoming numb? I mentioned earlier that I’m old enough now to have seen perceptions change; I’m also old enough to have seen several people near and dear to me divorce. I was sad to see them separate from their spouses, but I didn’t hate them or want them to lose their jobs. Still, when the person in question is in a public role like Fee or Webb, should they still be in positions of influence, particularly if they are in the Christian arena?

A friend of mine today described his lack of grace in the following way: “I just want to judge people and send them straight to hell.” He’s trying to do better, but at the same time he knows that there are certain advantages to following a hard line. Situations generally don’t get out of hand with this kind of attitude. There’s not much room for mercy either, though. King David was an adulterer and a man after God’s own heart. He suffered severe consequences for his actions and possibly even deserved to die under Old Testament law … but he didn’t.

I’m not even sure if I have a point to be made with any of this, except to say the difference with which divorce is treated in Christian Shawn_Press_Image_33circles has evolved and should certainly be continually examined. As far as its effects are concerned, let me conclude by quoting Christian artist Shawn McDonald, who divorced his wife in 2010:

“It’s incredibly humiliating. I feel like I’ve failed, like I’ve let a lot of people down. I hate what happened. This definitely wasn’t something that I ever thought would be part of my story, but now it is my story, and I have to deal with it.”

SLA Nation

“All you need is love.” “Love is all you need.” “The greatest of these is love.” “Love is patient, love is kind.” “When love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.” “Love is a many-splendored thing.” And so on and so forth…

Love is a pretty wonderful thing. Especially romantic love. There’s just a certain charge when chemistry is felt between a man and alove11 woman. Romantic love has been the cornerstone of some the greatest works of art ever created – poems, songs, plays, films, television series, photographs. Even the hint of it is enough to lure a perfectly sane and rational person down all sorts of roads they never thought they would take. “To have loved and lost is better than to never have loved at all…”

If it’s love.

Does anyone even really know what love is anymore? There seems to be an awful lot of searching for it going on right now. Consider that nearly every TV show or movie that is set before our eyes today contains some type of romantic plot or sub-plot. Over the years, we’ve been treated to “Will they or won’t they?”, love triangles, extra-marital affairs, genuinely sweet and loving relationships, and even seen people defy God and heaven above in the name of romantic love. The “love story” element is so ingrained in our storytelling and artistic expression, it’s almost become a requirement.

There’s nothing quite so thrilling as the quest for love. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we’re chasing it so hard we’ve lost sight of what it even means. If I were to throw out the letters SL, and A, they probably wouldn’t set of any particular alarms. I’m sure if I wrote the words Sex and Love Addiction, though, you might be a little intrigued.

Pinning down an exact definition for SLA can be rather difficult, as its very existence still seems to be in dispute in some circles. In general, it means repeating specific thoughts or behavior patterns to create a physical or psychological arousal. Tremendous mental and physical consequences are almost always at play, ranging from dangerous or risky behavior to massive feelings of guilt and regret to a sense of desperation in relationships. The internet is teeming with organizations dedicated to treating this condition, and most approach curing the addiction with the traditional 12-step model.

Obviously, if I were to label someone a sex/love addict, your perception of that person would alter dramatically. You might picture a man (or woman) hunched over a computer keyboard, filling their brains with images of pornography. You might imagine someone constantly cruising the bars and clubs in search of sexual partners. You might imagine someone trolling internet chat rooms, maybe not making a physical connection but certainly an emotional one. With any one of those perceptions, you would possess a high likelihood of being correct.

What about the more “respectable” of us, though? What about the soap opera or romantic novel addict? Television can string us motheralong in the quest for love for years, which How I Met Your Mother recently did for nine seasons. Celebrity couples are a fascination for the more “common folk.” We want to see love enacted, and sometimes we aren’t even satisfied with that, as we want the relationship to be consummated before we’ll believe it’s genuine.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, I’m not here to beat up on sex/love addicts, nor am I here to loudly proclaim our culture is going to hell in a hand-basket. Men’s minds and spirits are under siege these days from sexual attack after sexual attack, to the point where pornography or sex addiction is almost always the elephant in the room of any men’s discussion. Even worse, SLA is tremendously difficult to talk about without making yourself sound like a complete pervert. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with it.

My point here is twofold. First, I want to open the floor to discussion, to get the ball rolling on this topic, because it will probably be addressed here again at some point. Second, I want to throw out the possibility that SLA is a lot more ingrained in the collective public consciousness than many realize. Why do movies with sex scenes require nudity and simulated sexual activity? Why do the scenes need to be included at all? Why does every story require a love interest? These are questions I don’t think many of us consider.

If you believe you might be struggling with SLA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous has posted a list of 40 questions for self-diagnosis. They can be found here.