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Posted by on Apr 15, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Shame and Guilt: Are They Different?

One of the most crippling feelings people experience in life is shame.

Whether that be through a traumatic childhood memory or through some kind of incredibly painful abuse that took place. Or simply the feeling that they were a problem people just had to “deal” with. 

I believe that shame is a feeling that touches everyone at some point in their life. 

The deeper impact occurs when shame moves from a feeling to an identity. At that point, it doesn’t just come and go out of your life like a wave. For some, they actually become the shame that they feel. 

Now let’s take a person who’s addicted. In our case, it could be some kind of unwanted sexual behavior like an addiction to pornography or maybe a same-sex attraction that has caused you to act out in ways you know are unhealthy for your life.

Sure, when we first felt those feelings and chemicals rush through our bodies and our brains, we loved it! We wanted more. 

But soon, the more we acted out in these behaviors, we began realizing something was wrong. Something about what we were watching, what we were experiencing, was actually the complete opposite of what love and intimacy really are. 

We felt shame. And what we didn’t know at the time was the paralyzing effects of it. 

Shame can drive a person into isolation over fear of being discovered. It stops someone from living the full, abundant life that God has for them. 

I think what Dr. Robert Weiss says about shame is so accurate:

“Shame, the inherent belief that we are flawed and unworthy, is a soul-eating emotion. Try to differentiate between feelings of guilt and feelings of shame.”  

It’s important to understand the difference between shame and that other familiar feeling: guilt. What is the real difference between shame and guilt?  Much, much more thank you think. 

Shame is more than an indicator of unhealthy decisions we make. Shame works its way inside the soul convincing us that we are the problem. That there is something wrong with US.

It causes us to take our attention off of what we just did, and turn our focus onto who we are. It literally is, as Weiss describes it: a  “soul-eating emotion”. 

Guilt on the other hand isn’t necessarily an unhealthy thing to feel. In the criminal justice system, when you are found guilty of a crime, you have been proven with the proper evidence to have committed some sort of offense that typically causes harm to others.

So if we keep that general idea in mind, feeling a sense of guilt doesn’t mean we have to live with shame. It means that we recognize we’ve messed up in some way or made an unhealthy decision and we own up to it. 

Feeling guilty over something can not only help us look at our choices, but it can help us dial into our hearts. What’s happening inside of me that I’m choosing porn over community? That I’m isolating in secrecy versus being with people who love me and really care for me? 

Thankfully, if you’ve invited Jesus in your life, you don’t have to live with shame. He paid the price for your shame. This is what we celebrated recently on Easter. 

Today, almost 13 years into recovery from porn addiction, I’m thankful I don’t live with shame. It didn’t come easily, but throughout the last several years, I’ve learned my real identity: a beloved child of God who has value and worth.

I am not the choices that I’ve made in my past or the mistakes I will make.

If you’ve become a friend to shame, it’s time for a serious breakup. Shame will attempt to define you as someone unworthy of love and care. 

Guilt, on the other hand, has a way of pointing to our actions, not our identity. If you’re feeling a sense of guilt today, thank God for the sensitivity you’re feeling to something in your life that is harmful to yourself and other people. 

Own up to your actions, not to shame. Shame doesn’t deserve one more moment of your life.

 

 

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Collateral Shame

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post titled “The Dangers of Anti-Porn Culture.” You can read that here if you want.

My post was in part a response to the unfortunate Atlanta massage parlor shootings and I’ll be honest…

I knew we’d catch some pushback for the title of the post but that’s ok since the point of these articles is to stimulate thoughtful discussion and dialogue.

Unfortunately some people posted reactionary comments that clearly reflected the fact they never even read past the headline. 🤷🏻

I wasn’t surprised by this either since I see this type of thing happen on social media all the time…long and lengthy (sometimes hateful) posts that are created in response to a three or four-word blog post or news article title.

But, thankfully there were many others who expressed a real desire to engage in some healthy conversations and posted very thoughtful questions such as…

What is so problematic about being “anti-porn” if we also recognize that the real issue is our heart?

By saying you aren’t anti-porn while helping people to stay away from porn, aren’t you kinda playing both sides of the fence?

Isn’t porn bad? What’s wrong with just saying that?

In other words, if we don’t blame porn for our behavior, why can’t we also call out porn as evil, destructive and the like and cling to an anti-porn agenda?

And to be honest, I totally get the thought process here.

So, let me be clear… by saying that the “anti-porn” agenda is problematic I’m not also saying it’s necessarily wrong. One doesn’t equate to the other.

But what I am saying is that a hard “anti-porn” message does create some unintended consequences that are difficult to deny or avoid.

Such as crushing shame.

Right or wrong, the truth is when we completely demonize a behavior or industry we unintentionally send the message that those engaging in these things are to be demonized as well and rather than inviting those involved into a healthy dialogue, we shut down the dialogue all together.

Why? 

Because, when I hear you say “I’m against this” I also hear “I’m against you.”

The thought process goes something like this…

  • If porn and the porn industry is evil, demonic and disgusting…
  • And I look at (or am involved) in this [evil, demonic, disgusting] stuff…
  • Then I must be evil, demonic, and disgusting as well.

The reality is, when one engages in behavior that is seen as vial or terribly wrong vs. just simply unhealthy, then the collateral shame they feel is thick and will keep them from opening up about this stuff or seeking help in order to avoid public disgrace.

And when we as a society or church rather choose to keep ringing the same ol’ “This is really bad” bell without the willingness to talk about these things in the open we further affirm the shameful nature of those behavior choices.

This is why I say, I never want to be known for what I’m against but rather what I’m for.

It’s not a way to play both sides.
It’s not a clever out.
It’s not affirming the behavior in question.

It’s just a way of saying… “Hey, this stuff is not healthy for you or anyone, but rather than focusing on that reality – I rather focus on my love for you and what you could be doing that’s so much better and healthier than what you are doing right now.”

This is the message I try to communicate to someone whether they are in the porn industry or just a consumer of the industry.

Because I want to…

Welcome conversations for help.
Communicate grace vs. judgment.
Build bridges and not burn them.

The reality is that hate never changes anything or anyone, and it won’t change the heart. Only love can do that. 

At the end of the day, if we focus our attention on what’s good, pure, and healthy rather than just what’s “wrong” and “bad” we create environments where people will 1) feel loved and more at ease to talk about their struggles or questions without shame, and 2) be more likely to reach out for help.

 

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Posted by on Apr 5, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

When S**** Got Real for Me

Several years ago my wife and I took part in an event that was sponsored by XXXchurch called Resentment. We sat on a panel with a handful of other people who shared their stories of past hurt and pain. 

My wife and I were supposed to be the token “porn addiction story” couple which as you can imagine is always very fun 🙂

Anyway, as the panel shared they allowed the opportunity for questions to be asked by the audience. It was at that point a guy who was attending asked me how I had the “bravery” to sit up there in front of hundreds of people and tell my story as a former porn addict. 

I explained to him (half joking) that I really didn’t think it was a matter of bravery as much as the fact that I’m from New Jersey, and we typically don’t give a crap about what people think. The crowd laughed and then I continued on saying that I just didn’t allow shame to play a part in my life and therefore telling people my story was not as hard as he imagined.

Yep, that was me… the guy who had completely gotten over his shame.

Or so I thought…

Fast forward to about two years ago when I attended a Phillies baseball game with my daughter. 

It was just the two of us on a warm summer’s night and things couldn’t have been better. As we sat there enjoying the game, I received a text from an old friend asking me if I could suggest an app to help him block “the bad stuff” on his phone.

As I texted back and forth trying to explain to this guy that by simply installing an app his problem would not just magically go away, my daughter was peaking over my shoulder much to my surprise.

It was at that moment when she asked me who I was texting and what we were going back and forth about. 

I replied, “You know what Daddy does, right?” and then shot her a smirk and sideways glance.

Recognizing the guy I was chatting with was from our old church my daughter innocently asked, “But he’s a Christian… Christians struggle with that stuff too?”

I smiled and answered, “Of course, in fact just as much as anyone else.”

Thinking I was in the clear I turned my attention back to the game when my daughter hit me with, “Have you ever looked at that stuff Dad?”

Gulp. 

It was at that moment I thought to myself… S**** just got real.

I was now looking at a very real crossroad moment.

Did I lie and avoid the painful embarrassment of admitting to my daughter that I had struggled with porn for nearly most of my life?

Or did I drink the same juice I had been peddling the last several years that shame was an enemy we all needed to deny and not buy into.

Basically… 

Did I save face and quietly recline in my own shame and hypocrisy avoiding the disappointment of my own daughter?

Or,

Did I own my crap and practice what I preached?

I sat there for a second and then said, “Yea, I struggled with that stuff for years myself and that’s why I do what I do now.”

Her eyes immediately filled with tears and at that moment I thought to myself, “What did you just do Carl?”

Recognizing the situation I said, “Hey, I know that’s hard to hear but do you want a Daddy that lies to you, or one that’s going to be honest with you no matter what?”

As it turns out, my daughter wanted an honest dad (thankfully) and despite that being one of the most difficult conversations of my adult life, it also proved to be a moment that drew me and her closer together than ever before.

Yea, shame got REAL that night for me. 

There was no denying it. 

And the only way I was able to get past it was by recognizing that familiar feeling and “acting as if” it had no hold on me.

Here’s the thing, there will be moments in your life when the feelings of shame will well up inside you. You simply can’t avoid that.

But when it happens you will be faced with a choice.

Do you obey your feelings and hide?

Or… 

Do you act as if those feelings have no authority in your life and can rightfully be ignored?

Yea, I know… easier said than done. 

But choosing to “act as if” is just that, it’s a choice.  And the secret to making that choice is understanding and recognizing that the feelings of shame you’re experiencing are a byproduct of your upbringing and a culture that promotes appearance over authenticity. 

In other words, they have no real power.
They have no real merit. 

They are just how you process the emotions you feel at the moment and… 

While emotions and feelings are natural,
While emotions are feelings are unavoidable,
While the stress you are facing is real,

Feelings are just a warning system for your brain. 

They do not have to dictate your actions.

So the next time shame gets real you can choose to listen to those lies, or you can reject them. 

You can choose to act as if shame never existed in the first place.

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Posted by on Mar 29, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Faith and Science: Solving the “Conflict”

This month with the recent relaunch of XXXchurch we’ve been focusing most of our content around the goal of establishing what this ministry is about and what our focus is on. In other words… what sets us apart from other ministries or organizations.

So far we’ve told you that…

  1. We are that “church” for anyone and everyone where they can seek healing and freedom.
  2. We are not “awareness” focused, we are solution focused.
  3. We are for building a culture of transparency and grace.
  4. We want to destroy the shame that people feel around the topics of porn and sex.
  5. We are not “AGAINST” the sex/porn industry, but rather are “FOR” something better.

Which leads me to this nugget…

We are a faith based organization that embraces the Bible but also seeks truth in science and psychology and does not limit its message to a small group of Christians.

It’s important to state this because when surveying the landscape of ministries or other organizations focused on the issues we deal with, often these groups come down on one of two sides.

A) To be a legitimate faith-based/Jesus-focused ministry all conversations need to be laced with scripture references and the like, and failure to talk about stuff without clearly labeling things as “sinful” or not is just weak and an attempt to avoid taking a stand for what we say we believe. 

B) To be credible and effective we must only focus on science and data because “faith” erodes the validity of our message. In fact, some organizations are very vocal about the fact that they are NOT faith based and avoid messaging that’s tied to any sort of belief system at all.

However, what we believe and see is that science and faith are not necessarily arch-rivals seeking to discredit each other’s authority. 

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

True science and true faith compliment each other and strengthen one another’s message.

Admittedly, this tension we see between the two camps often frustrates me, but I understand why it happens, so I want to make a few things clear about our position on this matter:

You don’t need to mention Jesus or the Bible for a principle to be biblical.

The Bible is full of amazing life-changing truths and teaching. And you see many of these principles taught in other religions and systems of thought. Why is this? 

Because Truth is Truth.

And biblical truth is biblical truth even if the person delivering it doesn’t specifically mention Jesus by name or provide a scripture reference in the footnotes.

Take for example the idea of “loving one another.”

Jesus is clear, as his followers one of our primary responsibilities is to love other people, including our enemies. 

This means… 

We look out for the less fortunate.
We act out of generosity.
We show kindness and grace.
We don’t take advantage of people.
We don’t exploit or objectify people.

So if someone says, one of the reasons porn is so “wrong” is because it objectifies women (and/or men) then that person is speaking “biblical” truth and principle even if he/she never mentions Jesus or the Bible.

When we talk about values, goals, and identity it may sound on the surface like we are just offering self-help philosophy. However, if you have a faith in Jesus then your values, goals, and where you derive your identity from should look very different from someone who does not. 

They should be rooted in Jesus.
No one should have to tell you that. 

I’ve read some amazing books from guys who are not Christians. And what made those books especially impactful was when I read them through a Christian lens. The authors spoke to me in a powerful way that impacted me on a very spiritual level, and they never mentioned Jesus once.

Look for the biblical principle.
Draw the connections. 

Trust me, you will get more out of that process than if you sit there expecting someone to spell it all out for you.

God reveals himself in his Word and in his Works. 

One prominent Christian leader said the following.

Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based.

This type of commentary is insane in my opinion and just shows a fear for engaging in these important conversations. Why can’t we approach science and psychology with the same investigative nature that we approach the Bible?

Comments like that enforce the idea that Christians are a bunch of weak-minded people who can’t engage in critical thinking and the like. And quite honestly, it’s not just problematic theology…it’s bad theology.

Because God’s divine revelation is not limited to his Word.

In other words, God uses more than the Bible to reveal himself and his knowledge to us.

The Bible says as much:

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” – Romans 1:20 NLT

There are some Christians out there who insist that everything we need to know is in the Bible.  I disagree with this idea because it only focuses on God’s “Word” and completely devalues God’s “Work.”

Additionally, this type of thought completely ignores the reality of our situation.

Can the Bible tell you any of the following?

  • Are push-ups or bench presses better for strengthening my chest?
  • What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
  • What do I need to avoid, so I can get a better night’s sleep? (i.e. caffeine, blue light, etc.)
  • Why does a certain smell or color trigger my brain to desire porn? 

The answers to these questions can be found in an understanding of our brain and our bodies… the disciplines of biology and psychology. 

Yes, science has often been hijacked by those who want to deny God. But just because men have attempted to corrupt these disciplines doesn’t mean that we need to reject them. 

It means we need to redeem them. 

Science at the end of the day is a study of God’s “Works.” 

And therefore I would argue that not only is it in our best interest, but it also our responsibility to study this stuff in an attempt to better understand and appreciate what God wants to reveal about himself and his creation.

Many people believe that science and the Bible are opponents. But I would tell you that they are two sides of the same coin.

Why does your body work the way it does?
Why does your brain work the way it does?

Because a creator who’s a whole lot smarter than us made us that way. So we are foolish if we don’t seek to understand these things better.

Theology, biology, and psychology – these different areas of our life were not meant to be compartmentalized and treated independently. They are complimentary.

Completely ignore one area and you will feel the negative consequences in others.

What makes a ministry “Jesus-Centered” is its heart and purpose. Not the fact that they have a cross and a dove on every page of its website. 

I’ve seen plenty of great Christian ministries out there doing great work… Kingdom building work.

I’ve also seen plenty of “ Christian ministries” out there doing not so great work. Instead of trying to build God’s Kingdom, they are more concerned about building wealth, fame, and influence.

Do you know what these two types of ministries have in common? 

They both claim to be Christian.
They both leverage the name of Jesus.

But they are very different because they exist for different reasons.

Live Free and XXXchurch exists to help individuals break free from porn, sex and shame because we believe that people must do that to fully experience God’s best for their life.

We do not limit this mission to believers.
We do not say we are only here for the Christians.

And therefore we offer resources and teaching that we believe can benefit both the believer and the nonbeliever because again, truth is truth.

I believe this ministry is a Jesus-centric ministry because our mission is to help those who are hurting and broken [PERIOD].

In other words, we are here to love and demonstrate God’s grace in a real and tangible way. 

And I believe that’s an extremely biblical, faith-based, scientifically sound, and Jesus-centered approach.

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Posted by on Mar 25, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Shame: A Betrayed Wife’s Story

Hidden. Broken. Isolated. Empty. These are all things we have experienced in 2020. The added pressures and complexities of COVID coupled with living through the trauma of sexual betrayal have pushed many to the end of their rope.

Betrayal feels like our rock bottom. Add COVID to the mix, and the bottom of our rock bottom falls through. We have reached new lows many of us never thought possible.

Being a spouse of a porn addict tends to bring out what has been rooted in us before discovery of the addiction.  For me, this was (and still is) shame.

Shame is such an ugly word to me. It was something I ignored for all of my life. It is something I pretend isn’t there. Before I discovered my husband’s addiction to porn, I felt shame about feeling shame.

It wasn’t until I started to acknowledge my own hurt from my spouse’s addiction that I began to see the deep-rooted effects of what I was feeling.

Shame had overtaken my life.

That is exactly what it does.

Shame hides and tells us to hide.
Shame lies to us and tells us to lie.

Shame covers itself up, masking itself behind other emotions and lies – and tells us to cover up and hide our true selves from the world. It tries to control and tells us the only way to escape hurt again is to control the people and environments we are in.

Unfortunately, I listened to all of these lies. I ran and hid, and, as a natural introvert, I told myself it was just who I was. Shame became my identity. I didn’t know a different way of life.

I didn’t know who I was outside these feelings.

Shame can be experienced in many different ways which is why it can take so many different forms. Someone says or does something that can cause the emotion of shame in us. It is when we internalize this stuff that it takes root and can begin to morph itself.

Adam and Eve had never felt the emotion of shame until God had called them in the Garden after they had taken the fruit from the tree of life (see Genesis 3). It was only then that they hid.

Shame was the first emotional response to the first sin. I believe this shows us plainly that shame is the primary tool the enemy of our souls would like to use, especially when dealing with the betrayal of a sex addiction.

Shame is experienced in relationship, but it is also only healed within relationship. 

I don’t know one person who has not been touched by its devastating impacts. So why is it that we pretend we are untouchable and unaffected by shame?

When Adam and Eve hid from God, what did God do? He called to them. God provided a way for Adam and Eve to overcome their shame of nakedness (with clothing).

In the same way, I believe God is calling us to overcome the shame in betrayal we experience. God is calling us to believe His identity for our lives as daughters and highly loved.

 

Shame tells us, “I am not good enough.”

God says, “I am sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9)

 

Shame tells us, “Your spouse’s addiction is your fault.”

God says, “Sin has caused this – not you” (James 1:14)

 

Shame tells us, “Hide and cover-up for your husband. It’s your job to protect your husband.”

God says, “Come to me and give me your burdens” (Ps 55:22; Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Shame tells us, “Control your husband and the environment around you, or else you will get hurt again.”

God says, “I am Lord of your life, My plans and purposes are good for you. Trust me.” (Jer. 29:11; Provers 3:5-8)

 

When I first started to believe that my husband’s addiction was a reflection of his own heart, shame began to crumble in the light of God’s love.  When I first joined a Live Free Wives community and heard other women say “Me too” I began to heal.

If you are in a safe community, please take the opportunity to share your emotions of shame. Allow your community to help you heal. If you do not have a community like this, I would highly recommend getting connected with Small Groups Online.

Shame doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Come out from the darkness.

 

 

 

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

The Dangers of Anti-Porn Culture

A couple of weeks ago, ChurchLeaders.com released an article spotlighting XXXchurch and its new mission citing some remarks I made in a previous blog post. Now don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the coverage but I wasn’t a huge fan of the headline…

Anti-Porn XXXchurch Site Owner’s Message: ‘Things Aren’t Getting Better’

Clearly the writer of this article didn’t spend too much time familiarizing  himself with our site, or he would have seen this excerpt from our About Us page (which is also part of our “message”):

It’s time to stop blaming the porn industry for our problems. Legislation and pointing fingers doesn’t work.

In other words, XXXchurch is not an Anti-Porn organization.

Now I realize when some people hear me say this they become incredulous thinking that we must then be “pro-porn.” Crazy jump in logic I know, but they fail to understand that simply because we refuse to demonize something does not mean we are endorsing it at the same time.

Why is this so important? 

Because when we focus all our attention and hate on the object of our struggle we lose sight of the fact that the REAL enemy is what causes us to struggle in the first place. 

Don’t get me wrong…

  • We are not saying that porn (and the sex industry) at large is good thing.
  • We are not saying that porn is healthy.
  • We are not saying that you should use porn.

And yes, we are not saying that porn and the sex industry positively influences culture. Quite the opposite in fact.

But what we are saying is that it doesn’t matter.

Freedom is not living in a world absent of “threats” and “temptations.” Freedom is being able to function in a healthy way even when these things are all around us.

Here’s the hard truth…

Porn and sex are not to blame for your issues. They are just medicants for your issues.

And when we fail to understand this and keep focusing our attention on how “bad” something is, we lose sight of our personal responsibility.

And why is this so dangerous?

For starters…

  • We never get the help we need because we are too busy complaining about how bad things are.
  • We never talk about our struggles because that’s hard and difficult vs. just piling the blame on our “common enemy.”
  • We never own our own crap and seek alternative ways to shift the responsibility for our own brokenness.

And then something like Atlanta happens…

Last week Robert Aaron Long went on a shooting spree visiting three Atlanta-area massage parlors killing eight people in the process.

So tragic.
So hateful.
So disturbing.

But what struck me was his reason… Long told police he believed he had a sex addiction and that he saw the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate.”

Now admittedly we don’t know everything about this situation or the motives of this young man. But it’s safe to say that he was driven by a deep hatred for what he recognized as the object of his affliction.

In other words, these spas and individuals were to blame for his problems and not him.

This type of tragedy saddens me because it serves as an extreme example of how we live in a culture that often rather “blame” than “own.”

  • Much easier to target your temptation than take responsibility for it.
  • Much easier to point fingers than look in the mirror.
  • Much easier to find a scapegoat than admit you are the goat.

And again, this is an extreme and tragic example of what can happen when we demonize what we see as the enemy rather than just taking care of our own house. But it’s an example nonetheless.

Let me be clear…

Porn is not your enemy.
The sex industry is not your enemy.
People are not your enemy.

They are just players in a very large chess game where your success or failure comes down to how you decide to move your own pieces.

Stop hoping temptation goes away.
Stop harping on how bad things are.
Stop wishing life would just get easier.

It doesn’t work that way.

We are all broken.
We all have pain.

And we all need to seek our own personal healing so these distractions in life do not become our undoing.

If you are struggling with sex addiction or have been impacted by it in some manner, please hear me on this…

There is help. There is hope. There is healing.

Take a step today and find the communities and resources you need to find the freedom you’ve been searching for.

 

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