With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Thanks to several readers who pointed out that Patrick is the first name of Patrick Carnes — the lead author of In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free from Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior — not Philip. This book and others by Dr. Patrick Carnes represent the standard in this field.
Mention of this topic in the March “Pressure Points” brought other significant and thoughtful reader responses. Following is one such response that reflects several similar communications.
As a church worker who struggles with this since my first exposure in high school, your mention of pornographic Internet addiction sent chills up my spine. For me, it is an embarrassing and hidden topic, even from my wife. I have tried to deal with this myself. I have been successful for weeks at a time, but the temptation and the action return. Your column also gave me some hope that I could get some help. Please recommend some steps to take.
A: The steps themselves are simple to describe, but often really hard to take. Here are some of them:
- In taking a fearless moral inventory, come to terms with the reality that you have a significant and important problem. In short, take away the delusion that this is not an important concern, issue and challenge. In reality, it could bring down your vocation.
- Place your struggle in the context of spiritual warfare. Satan will always attack at our vulnerable points, and this, it seems, is one of those points for you.
- Confess this. Find a confessor with whom you can speak — one who will work with you in a serious way and not just beat you up, clobber you or easily dismiss the problem. Your spiritual journey is critical here, of course. And it will be a journey, most likely, not a one-time “cure.” Even so, Christ is at your side, especially in the midst of your repentance.
- Find a counselor who understands the depth of this issue and has some experience in working with people who struggle in this way. Do not be deluded into thinking that a couple of counseling sessions will settle the issue. It sounds like this is a deeply engrained pattern that has been around for a while. So it will take awhile to unpack it and its meaning. There may very well be some tough work ahead.
- Read Patrick Carnes’ In the Shadows of the Net.
- Engage a couple of trusted peers, mentors or teachers as accountability partners. Connect your Internet access with accountability software such as www.X3watch.com. This requires that others know your struggle and are willing to be supportive of you in your struggle. This means that they will not only know when you access pornographic sites, but they will follow up with you about that, speak with you and continue to pray with and for you.
- With the encouragement of your confessor and your counselor, begin reading more in this field, including the material on www.xxxchurch.com. Consider participating in the X3Pure online recovery program (www.X3Pure.com) or a 12-step group sponsored by Sexaholics Anonymous (www.sa.org) or Sex Addicts Anonymous (www.saa-recovery.org).
- Your spouse must eventually know. There is some debate in the field as to whether it is a good idea for one’s spouse to be an accountability partner. You will have a sense of how strong your marriage is, in order for it to tolerate this stress. If it is already in a weakened state, engage a marital counselor for you and your wife to have a safe place for both of you to be able to talk this over together. Even if your marriage is in a strong state, it would be good to get such help.
- Bathe your work in prayer, scriptural and devotional study, and Holy Communion as you work with your confessor on your spiritual walk.
- Be of good courage! It takes a significant amount of spiritual strength to bring this out of the shadows into the light. You have shown that, and it is the light of Christ that now beckons you to a more full discovery.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted May 4, 2011