Help. Hope. Healing.

Did You Think to Pray?

By Rex Goode

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One of the most interesting phenomena I see is when people slip in their recovery, after expressing a complete understanding of the efficacy of prayer against temptation, yet failing to put it into practice. I know this to be true in my own life. In fact, I have written a lot about the importance of prayer and other spiritual approaches to addiction, yet when given the chance to think about it, it is often the last resort for me as well.

As I think about why this is so, I believe it goes back to something I also write about often. That has to do with the doublemindedness of addiction.

I’m a smart fellow. My intelligence carries with it the innate ability to pretend to myself to be not so smart. In that phrase,”pretend to myself,” is the crux of the problem for me, and maybe you can relate.

When I was a boy, I was treated brutally and sexually abused often. A coping skill of a child who is abused is something called dissociation. Dissociation is when your consciousness splits and you can be thinking in two different ways, or in two different realities, at the same time.

Whenever I was abused, I would focus my thoughts away to some happier situation, but only slightly happier. I focused my thoughts away as if I was not being abused, but merely watching someone else be abused. You’ve heard of people who have near-death experiences who see the medical people working on them from above their bodies? Well, that’s dissociation. My memories of abuse are of watching a poor little boy that looked a lot like me get beaten or molested.

Later, when I began to act out sexually, it was the same thing. All of my memories of acting out are as if I was watching someone like me have sex with someone he shouldn’t. I dissociated from my acting out.

My first approach to recovery was to block out all memories of abuse and subsequent acting out, to pretend to myself to not be an addict. Since my struggle is same-sex attraction, I was also able to adequately pretend to myself that I wasn’t attracted to men.

Despite all of this pretense, there was still a part of my brain that knew what I was doing. I want to be clear here that I’m not trying to absolve myself of anything in describing dissociation. It is a real thing, but it is not an excuse. I suppose that for people who dissociate to the level of the various dissociative disorders, it might provide something of a point of non-accountability. It was never that deep for me.

After having left behind my sexual acting out with men, I moved into a phase of acting out in terms of highly emotionally dependent relationships. I went from being a sex addict to being a relationship addict whose dissociated goal it was to slide down the slope back into full sexual acting out.

After a particularly nasty termination of a codependent relationship, I went on the prowl to replace him. Just like I had pretended to myself throughout the relationship that it was just me fulfilling a male bonding need, I pretended to myself that I was just looking for a much-needed friend to comfort me during this difficult time of separating from the previous friend.

I found a replacement in the guy who brought a sandwich cart around to all of the offices at my office building. I invited him to go backpacking. He accepted. I pretended to myself that it was just a backpacking trip, but my behavior towards him was extremely seductive.

Now another pretense I labored under was that I was transparent in all of this. I chose men that I thought were decidedly straight, but also needy enough to respond to another highly emotional relationship with a man. I thought I was getting the best of both worlds, physical affection without the danger of falling sexually. Would it surprise you at this point for me to reveal that this was a lie. I was looking for a man who might have sex with me if I worked the seduction right.

So, we went backpacking and we slept in the same tent and I did seductive things the whole time. Then, in the morning, I poured it on thick. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me tickling me and fully ready to do anything I wanted. I thank the Lord that I was given the strength in that moment to throw him off of me and get out of the tent.

That was one of those moments where you see clearly the path ahead. The path for me was that I could no longer pretend to myself that I wasn’t a sex addict, that I wasn’t attracted to men, and that I had to develop a capacity for full and brutal self-honesty if I was ever going to navigate a safe path through life.

What, then, does this have to do with praying to the Lord for strength and resistance when faced with great temptation? Speaking for myself, while suspecting it applies to others, any pretense I make that I just didn’t happen to think of the prayer solution is really me dissociating from the things that I know if I tried would help me. In other words, I’m lying to myself and others when I say, “I didn’t think to pray.” I didn’t pray because I was afraid praying would result in me not getting what I desperately wanted.

Admitting our real motives and the things we actually think is a real challenge, but I’m convinced that complete self-honesty is the only way to navigate life safely.

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4 Responses to “Did You Think to Pray?”

  1. julie said:

    I was just talking about this in the forum with Tim. I have had a really hard time asking God for help and the truth is that I just don’t want to stop my acting out behaviour. I like the results I get from acting out because it feels good at the time, but it doesn’t last. I hate how I feel afterwards. And I make excuses for the fact that I think I will never have the real thing, so why not?
    I also know about this dissociation. I think I do that too. The abuse I had to deal with was more emotional as a child and the only sexual abuse was what I did myself. It is true that my own mother showed me how to first, but the rest was all me.
    I so desperately want to be loved and accepted and I know from everyone telling me that God is the one to fill the void where nothing else can. But I don’t think I really know that for myself because maybe I’m afraid that what if what everyone is telling me is not true. If God is the last resort to turn to, and it doesn’t work then where do you go? But everyone is so sure that God will not fail me because of their own experience.

  2. Tim B said:

    The thing, is, God isn’t the last resort — God’s the first resort. Start with him, and then reach out to others as they prove necessary.

    However, you’ve got the challenge down — if you rely on God, and he fails you, then you’re stuck. But that fails to take into account that, without God, you’re stuck anyway.

  3. Rex Goode said:

    Julie, what a great bit of self-honesty you’ve shared here. Tim is right that God is the first resort. When I said in this piece that God is often the last resort, I’m confessing that it is my penchant to try to do it myself when I know I’m not really able to do any of it myself.

    What I’ve learned about that is that as long as I make myself the first resort, God lets that happen and I fail. My moral agency guarantees me the right to fail. Like the Nephites of old, when we boast in our own strength, we are left in our own strength.

  4. julie said:

    I understand your point Tim. And you are right that it’s better to have some hope than none and not trying at all. I decided this when I was trying to figure out if it was wise to believe in God when I wasn’t sure. I had decided that it would be better for me to believe because then I would have something to motivate me not to give up on life and myself.

    I know the failure of trying to do it myself, Rex. I keep doing it over and over. I guess the upside of that is that it reminds me that I can’t do it myself and keeps me humble.

    Thank you both for your insight.

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