On October 31, 2005, I stopped using pornography. My recovery from pornography use is now over 18 years old. If my recovery were a human being, it would have learned to feed, started to walk, gone to preschool, attended elementary school, journeyed through middle and high school, graduated, and moved out of the house. My recovery is a mature, grown adult. I’m proud of him.

While I am being somewhat playful here, I will say that the past 18 years have felt like a full growing up experience. Maybe not from age zero, but certainly from other points in my life. And just like childhood and adolescence, there have been many character building and educational experiences that have helped me mature along the way.

These include:

  • Getting involved with XXXchurch in 2007
  • Starting a free drop-in recovery group at my church a year later
  • Graduating from seminary in 2011
  • Earning a Masters in Psychology in 2013
  • Starting a recovery center in 2014
  • Securing my license as a Marriage and Family Therapist in 2016.

All the while I have worked with hundreds of men and women, all of whom striving toward better lives. In addition, I’ve read a ton on psychology, neurobiology, and genetics, working to translate that information to readers through my writing.

What a journey!

While often challenging, I would not trade that journey for anything in the world. It is as precious to me as a child is to a parent. I am personally, professionally, and intellectually invested in my recovery. Part of that investment is being personally, professionally, and intellectually invested in the recoveries of my family members, friends, community members, and clients.

With that said…

What do I tell these people when they ask me what is the single most important thing they need to know as they start their recovery?

Time. Time is my answer.

Recovery is an organic process, and as with all organic processes, recovery…takes…time.

A common theme among the men and women with whom I have worked is a general impatience to be normal, to be fixed. They bring themselves like a car rolled into the mechanic’s shop not just hoping, but expecting, repair. They want to be diagnosed; the problem located; broken parts removed and replaced; and to be rolled off the lot, washed and ready to drive.

While taking themselves into a repair shop may not have been such a bad instinct, their expectations aren’t in alignment with reality.

Recovery from compulsive and addictive behavior is much more akin to taking your body into the doctor’s office than to the mechanic’s. Unlike with a machine, just because the doctor has diagnosed a physical problem—which can take time—it doesn’t always mean that the simple resetting of a bone, removal of a tumor, or prescription of a drug is going to immediately remedy the problem. All it means is that patients may need to take action steps to get better.

This includes rest, experiencing some difficult treatments, engaging in physical therapy, and maybe even implementing some lifestyle changes to address the issues that led to their body shutting down in the first place. And for many of them, it may mean simply needing to accept that due to genetics, or life circumstances, they’re more prone to physical ailments than others.

These are not just useful metaphors I’m playing with when it comes to recovery from compulsive behaviors or addiction.

The comparison between medical treatment to address a physical ailment and our recovery from compulsive behavior and addiction is directly comparable. While our physical and psychological processes may serve different functions, they are structurally and operationally the same. Just as with our physical bodies, our emotional lives evolved to keep us alive and functioning, no matter what.

And just like with our bodies, anything that will keep us alive and functioning now, despite long term consequences, the mind will do.

And if we relied too much on certain behaviors or substances throughout our lives just to function—and this includes acting out sexually—this means that it will take us some time as we learn what behaviors will help us get better—including therapy, recovery communities, and friendships—and then actually engaging in them consistently to gain strength and resiliency. While to some of you this may be discouraging, think of it this way: you can’t get into or out of shape in one day. While it will take you some time to gain the skills of healthy emotional regulation after you have gone sober, the more you use those skills, the harder it will be to fall back into old patterns of behavior when stressors arise.

This month I will be sharing a few more thoughts about the essentials of recovery. Please look out for them. And if what I write resonates with you, please pick up my new book Faith & Sex: Toward a Better Understanding of Recovery, Being, Relationship, and God. It will provide you with a new perspective on recovery, one that is organic, and accurate to your real human experience.