I’ve been in this type of work for over a decade now. Over that time I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric around the subject of recovery, temptation, and purity.
Some of it has been good.
Some of it has been, well… not very helpful.
And some of it has been frankly downright harmful.
That said, here are two common thoughts I’ve run into regarding these matters.
- Run from temptation when you feel the urge.
This one on the surface seems like a no-brainer. After all, why would you run to temptation? Joseph certainly didn’t stick around to survey the scene when Potipher’s cougar wife was trying to put the moves on him. And truthfully, if you don’t flee the situation when you feel tempted to act out there’s a very good chance it won’t end well.
This idea is in large part why filters and parental controls are the tools people run to first when they think they have a problem with their sexual choices.
- Get back up on your horse if (and after) you’ve fallen.
This too seems like pretty solid advice. When you do have those moments when you “blow it,” it doesn’t help anyone (including yourself) to sit around and dwell in your shame and regret ringing your hands about the fact that “you’re just hopeless.” I tell guys all the time, recovery is about progress and not perfection.
There are going to be good days and bad days. Don’t let the bad days keep you down and out.
That said, these two concepts can also lead to negative consequences when applied wrong.
Here is what I mean.
Fleeing temptation and getting back on your horse doesn’t mean you ignore, suppress, or try to forget what just happened in the process. In other words, you need to sit with things and take that opportunity to better understand what is going on in your mind, heart, and life, so you can truly move forward.
Yes, flee from temptation.
Don’t entertain it or flirt with danger.
But acknowledge it and take some time to grapple with any implications.
This means understanding and accepting the following:
First, temptation is not the enemy and it is not wrong. We are all tempted from time to time and temptation is not the issue, it’s what we do with it.
Second, fleeing temptation doesn’t mean you ignore it. It doesn’t mean you should reflexively disregard or suppress it. This is why teaching like “bouncing your eyes” is so unhelpful… because it relies on mindless techniques to get one out of “danger” while ignoring the real need for better awareness and analysis.
Third, realize that what tempts you may also help you better understand why you act out sexually in the first place. Jay Stringer’s book Unwanted does an excellent job explaining this concept. As he says, “unwanted sexual behavior can be predicted and both shaped by the parts of our story – past and present – that remain unaddressed. When we pay attention to our unwanted sexual desires and identify the unique reasons that trigger them, the path of healing is revealed.”
The truth is when you simply run away from temptation without acknowledging it or asking yourself some hard questions, you miss out on the chance for increased understanding, gaining clarity, and real healing.
Likewise, while it is important not to live in regret and shame after you have blown it, don’t be in such a hurry to move forward that you miss out on the golden opportunity to learn.
I see this happen all the time, and it drives me crazy.
- Joe slips up and looks at porn, etc.
- Joe immediately feels regret and shame.
- Joe confesses his actions to his spouse, friend, etc.
- Joe quickly takes action to prevent the same things from happening in the future.
- Joe hits the reset button with new resolve and focus.
Here’s the problem with that. Joe never takes the time to ask what the heck just happened besides the obvious.
Yes it was late.
Yes, he was on an unprotected device.
Yes, he didn’t reach out to someone.
But what really happened?
What led up to that event?
What contributed to his emotional state?
What was he trying to avoid or detach from?
Those are the questions that often get left unasked because we are in such a hurry to move past our mistakes and guilt. Yet, they need to be asked!
This is why journaling and being in a community like Live Free can prove to be so beneficial to one’s recovery journey. Because those things allow one to process and make observation about themselves without fear and judgment.
Yes, you made a mistake.
Yes, you need to pick yourself up and move forward.
But you also need to sit with things and seize the opportunity to learn and grow because that is what your recovery and overall mental wellbeing requires.