One of the most popular terms a person coming out of addiction will use to share their success or failure in recovery is the word “sobriety”. In the mainline culture, it’s probably most widely used in Alcoholics Anonymous and has been for several decades. It’s a widely accepted term in recovery and has spanned to former addicts with other sorts of compulsive behaviors. Nothing about the use of the word or it’s implications is wrong. I just have one question:
Could it be that there’s more to your recovery than JUST sobriety? Is it possible that even when you’ve made considerable progress in your journey to avoid a certain behavior, there’s more healing that could be taking place in your life? More lessons you could be learning about your heart? Deeper levels of wholeness available to you as a person in recovery?
It might just be a personal gripe I have with the word. At the end of the day, it’s probably just semantics. But rarely, if ever, have I used the word “sobriety” as I talk with men about my recovery story. Because I think there’s more to recovery than just sobriety; this picture of just getting by and ticking off the number of days I haven’t had alcohol or used porn.
I believe we can experience FREEDOM. The person who is free from sexual addiction is one who has/is experiencing healing on a much deeper level than just abstinence. And so I believe there are at least a couple specific reasons why freedom matters more than sobriety. If I haven’t lost you at this point, please consider the following reasons:
FREEDOM is about healing your heart while SOBRIETY is about managing your behavior.
In my experience working with men, the ones who do the best are the ones who focus on healing their hearts. This includes their mental health, emotional health, and relational health. They’re revisiting their childhood, their adolescent years, the relationship they had with their parents in search of possible traumas or abuse they may have suffered. They’re learning new ways to process feelings of pain and discomfort instead of retreating into isolation. They’re spending time with counselors &/or a support group of other men who can help them process the damage addiction has done. Recovery is about so much more than managing behavior. Freedom cannot be achieved merely by managing your behavior or abstaining from using porn. In SGO, we call this “white-knuckle” change: The attempt to get better externally by simply gritting your teeth and trying to avoid porn or the feelings that could potentially be triggering. In order for the healing process to begin taking place in your life, you must look inward. You must embrace pain, acknowledge why it’s there, and act on it in a productive way that leads to life.
FREEDOM counts the lessons you’re learning in recovery while SOBRIETY counts the days without using porn.
Close your eyes for 20 seconds and reflect on what you’ve learned since coming out of addiction. If you weren’t able to think of 5-10 lessons in the span of 20 seconds, it begs the question: What is your real goal in recovery? Is it to merely tick off on your calendar all the days that you haven’t acted out? Or is it to become the person that God intends for you to be? They are two vastly different goals. If you’re a financial guy, think about it like this: Just because you don’t file for bankruptcy each year doesn’t mean you have financial freedom. Likewise, you might have racked up 30 days or 60 days without looking at something triggering, but through the process have you considered WHY you act out and what your specific triggers are? Sobriety in itself without the real investigation into one’s heart will not take you very far. Unfortunately, I’ve seen men who have been more prone to slips and relapses because they were unwilling to do the real heart work that recovery requires.
Again, at the end of the day, perhaps it’s just a matter of word play. Freedom and sobriety could very well mean the same thing. I just think we have to be intentional in our recovery and know what our end goal is. Otherwise, we’ll coast along not understanding what we’re suppose to be doing.
Make sure you know what you want out of your recovery. Are you simply in a competition with yourself to see how long you can go without using porn? Or are you entering into community with others who are struggling the same way you are? This is where freedom and healing begin!
Small Groups Online makes it really easy to find community where other men will be waiting to meet with you. Through a weekly Zoom meeting and the Live Free community, you will be given the tools you need to help you find the freedom we’ve been talking about. It’s as easy as going to the website, finding the specific group and time you’re looking for and signing up. Go check out Small Groups Online today!
Frank is passionate about helping individuals live with sexual integrity. He also works alongside his wife Tracey in helping spouses who have been devastated by their partner’s addiction. Frank & Tracey live in beautiful southern Delaware with their two children: Nathan and Addison.