Anyone who has seen someone go through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol knows that it is not pleasant. It can be downright awful, actually. But many are surprised to learn that going through withdrawal is a normal part of recovery from addictive sexual sin as well.
Sexual addiction is slightly different from many addictions in that the “drug” is not a chemical that comes from outside the body, but chemicals that the body produces.
By way of illustration, we might consider a conversation between two people. If Jane is talking too loudly to Jim, Jim might let Jane know he is uncomfortable and ask Jane to speak more softly. By doing so, the conversation becomes more enjoyable, more balanced for both Jim and Jane. This would be a healthy system.
But introducing the chemicals released through sexual stimulation would be as if in the same scenario between Jane and Jim, instead of communicating accurately with Jane, Jim stuffs cotton in his ears to cope with Jane’s volume. This would likely have the opposite effect on Jane: she would notice the cotton in Jim’s ears and so speak even more loudly than before to make sure Jim is still able to hear her. In response, Jim would need to put even more cotton in his ears, and on and on it goes.
Likewise, if we have used sexual stimulation to help us feel better when depressed or stressed or sad, in response, our bodies have learned over time to produce less of the chemicals that counter those feelings. In addition, our bodies will also learn to produce more chemicals to counter-balance the stimulation produced by our sexual acting out. In other words, we may find ourselves being more depressed or sad.
And so as we seek to break free from sexual addiction, we must pay attention to our triggers, we must avoid temptation, we must connect with others, and on and on. But we also must go through a very real physical withdrawal.
Temptation will come.
The withdrawal symptoms themselves will scream to be medicated.
But you will not die. Or fall apart. Or explode. This is not a sign that things are getting worse, but a sign that you are heading in the right direction. It is a sign you are making progress!
The enemy and your flesh will respond with an onslaught of familiar justifications and rationalizations:
“I’ll just give in this one last time.”
“I’ll start pressing through withdrawal tomorrow.”
“I’ll wait until I’m in better shape emotionally, physically or mentally.”
“If God really cared about you, He’d give you some relief.”
But all of these not only delay the inevitable, they also reinforce the pattern. Giving in today again only means the pains of withdrawal tomorrow will be even more difficult.
Through all of this, we must have hope. Hope alone will lead us through withdrawal. Withdrawal is not the end, it is simply a part along the way. It may at times feel insurmountable, as though all the weapons of hell were turned on you and temptation never felt so fierce. But it will pass.
It will pass.
God is faithful to walk us through withdrawal. He does not stand aloof to our suffering. He does not scold us for the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. If we’ll let Him, He’ll enter in. He remains faithful to us, and will never leave us nor forsake us.
Bear through withdrawal, however strong it seems. It will not last. You have the tools. You have the allies. You have the Rescuer. Cling to the Cross and do not let go until the storm passes.
Excellent nuts and bolts review of recovery 101. I drank this up. Things have been really thin around here lately and this is just what I needed to read. Thanks josh.
I am always amazed at the similarities between addictions. Food can be just as compelling. I’m glad to be reminded that Jesus is with me through the storm. And I also know that it is a process…and that process takes time. Thank you for your faithfulness.
Thanks Josh for the reminder to persevere through suffering of sexual withdrawal.Yes Jesus learned obedience through suffering.God bless you brother.
Are you saying God designed our bodies to produce chemicals to help when we are sad or depressed that don’t have time to be produced because the sexual behavior is covering up those feelings?
Not exactly, Rick. I’m saying that when we repeatedly turn to sexual acting out to try to numb or cope with pain, we’re hijacking natural neuro-chemicals at times, in ways, and in amounts the body isn’t wired for, almost like we’re overcharging the circuits. When the brain recognizes this is going on, it makes adjustments to try to bring things back to normal, which means a person will experience less of the effects of those neuro-chemicals at times when they are meant to.
So for example, oxytocin is a neuro-chemical associated with bonding. It’s released when a mother breastfeeds her baby, during intimate conversation, and during sex. And this is all by God’s design and very good. But oxytocin is also released during porn use, so a person who frequently uses porn can eventually begin to experience less of that sense of bonding in normal situations when he or she is supposed to. In turn, this heightens the person’s sense that they need porn, and on the cycle goes.
The pain of withdrawal comes as a person abstains from porn while waiting for the “circuitry” to come back on line.
I hope this helps!
For a much more thorough (and I’m sure neurologically precise) explanation of this, you might enjoy Make B. Kastleman’s The Drug of the New Millennium or Dr. William Struther’s Wired for Intimacy.
So helpful! Thanks Josh.