Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fresh Hope for Sexual Addictions

As most of us know, the crazy numbers of men caught in the trap of internet porn has sent more than ripple of pain through marriages and ministries and men's own inability to escape its tangled and alluring web. Statistics of Christian guys -- even pastors who were allowed to respond anonymously -- getting caught and addicted are staggering.

And more discouraging is that traditional therapy and even ultra-specialized ministries to men who desperately want to break free, report that the recovery rate for these men is slow ( often 3 years or more), arduous (meaning they need weekly support groups) with a high rate of return to the addiction in spite of all that effort.

My heart aches for the men who cannot break the guilt-addiction-shame cycle and who have all but lost their hope that God can help them, and who cannot look into the eyes of the women and children they love so much because of the secret shame they carry. I also ache for the wives who feel so betrayed, their hearts torn assunder when they discover their husband is looking elsewhere for satisfaction. (And ladies, trust me, most often this has nothing to do with your attractiveness or your sensuality. )

Men & Women: I bring you good tidings of GREAT joy! Looking into a brain imbalance and correcting that first, can speed recovery from any addiction (including all kinds of sex addictions) and allow access to the "self-control" center that continues to allude many men caught in a trap. Once the brain is balanced, programs like Sexaholics Anonymous or Every Man's Battle have more than a fighting chance to work!

Here's an excerpt from This is Your Brain on Joy about one man's journey from bondage to freedom. I hope it suprises and infuses you with new hope, as it did me when I read it. Dr. Henslin has had wonderful success helping men to recover from sexual addiction. In our second book, This is Your Brain in Love, he will spend a full chapter on sharing what he's learned about how to heal a porn-addicted brain so that freedom and healing can reign.

(Excerpt from section "Toward a More Compassionate Church")

A forty-five-year-old man was referred to me by his couples’ Bible study class. He was the leader of the study, and the class members were concerned for him because of an ongoing battle with depression. The heavy cloud of gloom caused him to have trouble just getting up in the morning to go to work. In the initial session I asked, “Have you suffered any trauma to your brain as a child, teen, or adult?” Dr. Amen and I often have to ask this question in a variety of ways because people tend to forget head injuries from long ago or don’t consider them all that serious or significant. And yet, we’ve learned that even a minor head injury can damage brain tissue and affect behavior.
He shared that when he was in elementary school he was climbing on a jungle gym and fell. The impact of the fall resulted in his being hospitalized for four days as the doctors monitored the severe concussion. “How did that trauma impact your school performance?” I asked, but before he could fully answer, he began to sob.
He had not made the connection between the concussion and the change in school performance. Prior to the concussion he loved to read, and after the concussion it was a struggle to concentrate on pages full of words. Then he shared how he had felt such spiritual guilt, along with a general sense of shame, when he had to force himself to read Scripture or to keep his mind from wandering when he prayed.
I referred him for a SPECT scan, and the report showed that there was trauma to the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in attention and concentration. Dr. Amen prescribed 10 mg of Adderall—a medication that improves perfusion, or blood flow, in the prefrontal cortex—for him to take twice a day. (Some background to blog readers: when blood isn't flowing to the PFC, the conscious is basically off-line. This, coupled with too much activity in the cingulate gyrus -- an area of over-focus or obessiveness -- is often the combination we see in men who get compulsively addicted to porn. During the time they are viewing sexual images, they feel no guilt, no stop sign that says, "Whoa, Buddy. Knock it off!")

I saw this man for a grand total of three sessions because, as his brain began to balance out, most of his other problems began to fade as well. He was especially excited about the joy he was discovering in his spiritual journey now that he could focus more easily. He was able to read without struggle for the first time in decades. He was able to enter into worship and prayer in a deeper manner.
Perhaps even more personally significant to him was that since puberty he had masturbated every night to calm himself in order to fall asleep—in spite of having a satisfying and fulfilling sexual relationship with his wife. This had been a burdensome secret that he had carried alone, for decades. Once he got his brain back in balance, there was no need to self-soothe or calm himself in that manner.

What a precious moment it was for me, as his therapist, to watch decades of sexual shame lift away. Talk about joy! To be able to help someone enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord he loved, to find freedom from an unwanted sexual impulse, and to see him smile, relax, and engage with life was such a privilege. It always is, no matter how many times I watch lives transform when they are accurately diagnosed and treated, whether it be through therapy, prayer, supplements, or medication.

What helped this good-hearted man get free?

It’s significant that his rather fast track to emotional health all began with a few close friends who cared enough to recommend he get some help. Without a brain scan, he might have gone to a general practitioner for his low moods and missed that his depression was stemming from a focus problem, not a mood disorder. The doctor would have begun the normal hit-and-miss prescribing of antidepressants, which in this case wouldn’t have helped much with his core brain issues.

Thankfully, someone in his Bible study had heard about our clinic and pointed the way to a door that held solid answers. When the couples saw the change in this man after he’d received our help, it sent a ripple effect through them all. Their compassion increased even more; their understanding grew in spades. Their love for one another expanded. They bonded more deeply as a group and thus became a living portrait of God’s love on earth.

It is my dream to see pockets of God’s children, all over the world, experience more compassion and more joy based on a solid understanding of the Bible integrated with what we now know about brain science.

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