Pornography Addiction – The Paradox of Surrender
When dealing with addiction issues, understanding the paradoxical concept of surrender unleashes the healing power of the Savior’s atonement. At first glance, the term surrender doesn’t seem to make much sense. One might wonder what it means to surrender and how could that lead to eventual victory.
Counseling hundreds of individuals and couples who struggle with pornography addiction, I have come to understand that to win you must be willing to lose. In fact, I believe it is the only way to find peace and lasting sobriety. If one searches hard enough, they will come to see that this surrender is the foundational doctrine of the gospel.
It seems like the harder one tries to overcome an addiction on their own the stronger it becomes. Unfortunately, it takes hundreds of failed attempts at sobriety before someone will reach and ask for help that is available. When one is willing to lose themselves and become dependent on the Lord, then one can say with conviction. “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things;..” (Alma 26:12). Without coming to terms with this almost elusive concept, it is likely to be stuck in the constant cycle of relapse episodes. Let me explain why this is so.
To understand how to overcome pornography addiction one must have a basic understanding of how the human brain works.
In essence, we have two brains that work in concert with each other. The relationship between these two parts of the brain will determine in large measure the quality of life.
The higher functioning part of our brain is called the neocortex and more specifically the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that attempts to make sense of our experiences in the world. It is rational, logical and moral. This is the part of the brain that the Holy Ghost or our conscience seems to work through.
The more primitive part of our brain is called the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that functions on the premise of survival by avoiding things that are painful and seeking those things that are pleasurable. It is in this section of the brain that addictions first develop. When the scriptures teach us that “the natural man is an enemy to God…” this is the part of the brain it is describing. In the limbic system, there is only instinct. Our morals and values do not exist there, but we must understand that this part of the human brain has a tremendous influence on our behavior.
We must understand that pornography addiction is a chemical addiction.
The human brain/body has a built in pharmacy made up of minuscule chemicals called neurotransmitters. This is just how the human brain/body works and essential for our experience here in mortality. It is only through this body that we can experience the fullness of joy or perhaps the ultimate slavery and misery of addiction. One very strong chemical, in particular, is called dopamine. It is known as the pleasure chemical and leads one by nature (the natural man) to seek more of it.
In a recent article by Harvard Health Publications, it states,
“The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal…the likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release…In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort.”
Addictive drugs or behaviors provide a shortcut to this natural process by flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters, overwhelming the brain. Viewing pornography produces a burst of dopamine in the brain up to ten times the average amount that one can usually get. Our brains simply have no easy way to defend against this.
That is why we must become ever more educated and aware.
In today’s world, there is no way to avoid seeing troubling things entirely. However, we can make a choice of how to react beforehand. We have reached the point where it is not safe to surf the web. Before going online, it is critical to have a plan as to what you are doing and why you are doing it. To think that you are strong enough and can handle this is not wise. Surfing the web is like letting a little child ride their bike on the freeway.
Information from the environment mainly comes through the human eye. The human eye by far trumps all of our other physical senses, hence why pornography is such a difficult thing to manage.
The Lord teaches us,
“The light of the body is the eye;… (3 Nephi 13:22-23).
Whatever we see has an impact on the brain/body instantly. The chemical reaction that begins in our brain spreads throughout the body.
To become powerful one must become a peaceful warrior; this is where the concept of surrender comes into play. To understand the depth of addiction one must realize that at the very core of the inherent limbic part of the brain is the belief that such behavior is essential for survival. Remember that in this section of the brain there are no morals, there is only instinct.
Typically fighting the addiction, with willpower alone, will not work in the long run. When doing so, one begins to fight the very part of themselves that has linked survival needs with the addictive behavior.
The paradox of surrender comes in.
Surrender is a type of conversion experience that needs to be re-experienced daily- even multiple times a day, if necessary. It is accepting that you cannot get better without the Lords help and, in most instances, without the aid of others that the Lord has put in place to help. It is also the acceptance that you cannot change the fact that you will have temptations from time to time.
Temptations are not the issue; it is what you do with them that is. The adversary fools many into thinking they are strong enough to deal with some things or that it is necessary to know what others are talking about when it comes to pornography. The apostle Paul warns, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he falls” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Surrender means turning and walking away without a fight without becoming a captive of your enemy. The enemy or limbic, natural man part of the brain does not know how to respond to that. You are not feeding it, but at the same time you are not giving in to it. Surrender is one of five keys to the Language of Recovery that is essential for lasting sobriety and ultimate victory.