Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

This book is very needed, and very sad. It shows a world few of us will ever understand. It is a revolting world filled with atrocities with victims on all sides. It shows the horror of sex addiction in all its forms. It shows the sad side of the addict, and the reason it is so very hard to get better, to stop acting out. It shows a way to get better, and hope for the future.
Sex addicts are usually not sex offenders. There are plenty of sex addicts who don’t end up doing anything illegal and their actions are not recognized as “horrors” to society: compulsive masturbation, pornography, affairs, strip clubs, etc… They are looked down on – but they are not seen as “monsters” like rapists and child molesters.
Rapists can also be sex addicts – but more than likely – they’re not.
Addicts often have multiple addictions:
38% of sex addicts also struggle with an eating disorder.
42% of sex addicts have a problem with chemical dependency.
17% of sex addicts have attempted suicide; 72% have thought about it.

Does that last one surprise you? Most people don’t realize that "addicts judge themselves by society's standards. Unable to measure up to these, they live with constant pain and alienation."

They hate themselves. They hate what they do. They can’t believe how much their mind craves it, and how they can sit in almost a "trance state" for hours viewing it or pursuing it. Every time they act out – they resolve 'never to do it again.'
"Addiction has been described as 'the athlete's foot of the mind.' It never goes away. It is always asking to be scratched, promising relief. To scratch, however, is to cause pain and intensify the itch."
"The addicts lifestyle becomes a consistent violation of his or her own values, compounding the shame.”

This brought me to the first realization – the shame and fear make all sex addicts have a double life: “Addicts progressively go through stages in which they retreat further from the reality of friends, family, and work. Their secret lives become more real than their public lives."
"The addict is certain that if anyone found out about his secret life of addictive experiences, there would be no forgiveness. Only Judgement. To complicate matters he has placed himself in so many precarious situations that he lives in constant fear of discovery of his being so untrustworthy. The suspicion and paranoia heighten the sense of alienation."
"The unmanageability from the addiction has run its course when there is no longer a double life. When there are no longer friends or family to protect or a job to hold or pretenses to be made - even though some things are valued enough to want to stop - the addiction is at its most destructive and violent point. The addicts world has become totally insulated from real life."

That is the world of an addict – being completely alone. No one can know…EVER. Society deplores and abhors sex addicts. They are vermin, they are scum. Any mention of sexual impropriety brings social judgment and ridicule.
“Consequently, seeking help is especially difficult for the sexual addict."

Sex addicts are not simply people who feel guilty for their sexual behavior. They are addicts. Many people regret a one night stand, having sex too early, or doing something they know was just plain wrong. That is not sex addiction. Sex addicts are compulsive. They have triggered something inside them – and they eventually become powerless – they know the only thing that will satisfy them is to act out sexually.
"After a time, the obsession becomes more significant than being in an important relationship."

Hating it and themselves is not enough "In all addiction, painful realization does not stop compulsive behavior."
"They make a commitment to stop by a certain time...yet the time comes and goes....they sit and continue."
"Totally absorbed, the addict loses all contact with reality, save for the focus of the addiction." “Addiction is a relationship – a pathological relationship in which sexual obsession replaces people.”

Sex addicts hate their addiction, and after they act out and temporarily return to their senses – they try very hard to be morally superior: “Addicts profess extreme sexual propriety, even to the extent of moral self-righteousness about sexual matters.”
“Friends and family tend to reject suspicions of sexual compulsivity because of the addicts ‘values’.”

The goal of treatment and of 12 steps programs is first: To get rid of the secret life, the double life, the “other world.” The first steps require brutal honesty. They must confess that they have become powerless, their lives are unmanageable. They need to show the secret world they live in:
“Being surrounded by recovering people reinforces honesty”
Steps 1,2,3 lead to “a new sense of pride” and “The power of the secret world is broken.” Addicts learn that “when they make a mistake they don’t need to retreat into the secret world.”
“Giving up control, admitting you cannot stop your behavior, acknowledging that this addiction is destroying your life, asking for help – these are the exact opposite actions of what seems natural to do. Yet the step works.”

The book lastly points out what I think is the saddest part of all.

There is no public pride in recovery.
“A sex addict cannot, in our day and time, proudly announce his or her recovery, as alcoholics now can.”
What if a congressman admitted that he is a recovering alcoholic – sober for 13 years.
He would be loved and supported.
What would the public say if he admitted to being a sex addict who hadn’t acted out in 13 years?
The response would not the same.
Alcoholics are seen as generally good people who have an addiction - when they aren’t drinking they’re wonderful productive people. Sex addicts are monsters, and even if they’re clean and not acting out – surely they are only waiting to prey on us and our children. They destroy families and can never be trusted.

I pray for the day sex addicts can openly seek treatment, and rejoice more publicly in their successes. Until that day, there will always be a secret world, one that is too shameful to ever reveal, and one that keeps the addiction going. I do not excuse sexual perpetrators. They deserve their punishments, and I weep for their victims. But they will never get better as long as they can’t admit their problem and seek help.

This book is not perfect – it is not for everyone. I don’t agree with all of the author’s assumptions or beliefs. But this book explains so many things that need to be said and realized that I recommend it for anyone who is suffering themselves or fears that those around them may be suffering from this addiction.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Blog Post About Nothing

You actually clicked on this given the title?

I write posts about spiritual insights, classic literature, ethical dilemmas and mental health mayhem. I spend my time and energy writing meaningful things - but you don't want to read about those.
- No, you ignore those and click on the link to "A Blog Post About Nothing."


(Is this post passive aggressive?  Maybe it's just part of a psychological experiment.  Makes you wonder...)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He is the eternal light.

What does he need us for?

It is much like a light house for a harbor.  There is an upper light, and it shines brightly.  But in order to show where the gap in the reef is located so ships can sail safely through - there needs to be a second light.
The captain needs a lower light down by the shore.  Then he can line up the two lights and sail straight into the harbor following along that line.

Boyd Packer explains how he learned this vital lesson when he was on a boat in the middle of a storm in the Samoan islands.

We arrived in the harbor at Mulifanua. There was one narrow passage we were to go through along the reef. A light on the hill above the beach and a second lower light marked the narrow passage. When a boat was maneuvered so that the two lights were one above the other, the boat would be lined up properly to pass through the dangerous rocks that lined the passage.

But that night there was only one light. Two young men were waiting on the landing to meet us, but the crossing took much longer than usual. After watching for hours for signs of our boat, the young men tired and fell asleep, neglecting to turn on the second light, the lower light. As a result, the passage through the reef was not clear.

The captain maneuvered the boat as best he could toward the one upper light on shore while a crewman held the borrowed flashlight over the bow, searching for rocks ahead. We could hear the breakers crashing over the reef. When we were close enough to see them with the flashlight, the captain frantically shouted reverse and backed away to try again to locate the passage.

After many attempts, he knew it would be impossible to find the passage. All we could do was try to reach the harbor at Apia 40 miles away. We were helpless against the ferocious power of the elements. I do not remember ever being where it was so dark.

We made no progress for the first hour, even though the engine was at full throttle. The boat would struggle up a mountainous wave and then pause in exhaustion at the top of the crest with the propellers out of the water. The vibration of the propellers would shake the boat almost to pieces before it slid down the other side.

We were lying spread-eagled on the cover of the cargo hold, holding on with our hands on one side and with our toes locked on the other to keep from being washed overboard. Mark Littleford lost hold and was thrown against the low iron rail. His head was cut, but the rail kept him from being washed away.  Eventually, we moved ahead and near daylight finally pulled into the harbor at Apia.

Oh, how much trouble could have been saved if those two young men had simply done their duty, and turned on the lower light.
In the world, as weak and feeble and fallible as we are - we have been asked to be that lower light.  We don't always know who we are shining for.  We don't know when they'll need our light, or why.  We just know that Christ has asked us to be the lower light.  If we fail to let our light shine for others to see - it might be the very moment they needed our light most - to guide them to the greater light above.    We are not responsible for others 'choices, but we are responsible for our own.  We have been asked to be a beacon of light in the dark night.  Let us not fail in this endeavor.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Candle in the Wind

Wow - a final book that really wraps it all together and makes it all worth it.  We get to see Arthur's reflections on his entire life.  Why he made the round table, what he hoped to accomplish, what he fought for and why.  We see the destruction of his kingdom.  We see his "sins come home to roost" as he says so many times.

We see that man has good desires, but all men are imperfect.  They often don't live up to their own standard, and they don't know how to deal with that.  Even if they can forgive themselves, they are not forgiven by others.
The book ends geniously.  On Arthur's death bed he calls in a young page and asks him not to fight.  The page must remember what Arthur's dream was, why a round table, why chivalry.  The page must stay alive, and write these things down for future generations. 
The page's name is Thomas Malory (who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in the 1400's)

The last 10 pages of the book are T.H. White's "morals of the story" described beautifully and poetically.  The book was published in 1958 - and many of the themes relate directly to WWII.
Arthur reflects on the crusades, the quests, and the sins he committed that led to the downfall of his kingdom.

He recognizes that many things he designed to be used for good purposes, have come back to be his ruin.
"He had introduced the idea of total war. In his old age this same total warfare has come home to roost as total hatred." - p. 667

Arthur thinks about man - is he inherently good or evil... or neither?

 "had been taught by Merlin to believe that man was perfectible: that he was on the whole more decent than beastly: that good was worth trying: that there was no such thing as original sin" - p. 666
"His Table, his idea of Chilvalry, his Holy Grial, his devotion to Justice... the whole structure depended on the first premise, that man was decent." - p. 666
"Perhaps man was neither good nor bad, was only a machine in an insensate universe." - p. 667

Arthur asks himself - who failed.  Was it the leaders or the people.   He asks the Chicken and the Egg question:
"Was it the wicked leaders who led innocent populations to slaughter, or was it wicked populations who chose leaders after their own hearts?" - p. 668

"If it was so easy to lead one's country in various directions, as if she was a pig on a string, why had he failed to lead her into chivalry, into justice and into peace?  He had been trying." - p. 668

He then finds one possible source of evil and war - revenge.  The inabilit to ever forgive or forget.
"Man had gone on, through age after age, avenging wrong with wrong, slaughter with slaughter.  Nobody was the better for it, since both sides always suffered." - p. 668
"It was as if everything would lead to sorrow so long as man refused to forget the past." - p. 668

My favorite quote from the whole book comes in this section:
"Man must be ready to say: Yes, since Cain there has been injustice, but we can only set the misery right if we accept a status quo. Lands have been robbed, men slain, nations humiliated. Let us now start fresh without remembrance, rather than live forward and backward at the same time. We cannot build the future by avenging the past. Let us sit down as brothers, and accept the Peace of God.  Unfortunately men did say this, in each succesive war.  They were alwasys saying that the present one was to be the last, and afterwards there was to be a heaven." - p. 669

Arthur then has another thought - maybe the problem is the idea of possession.
"Perhaps wars were fought because people said my kingdom, my wife, my lover, my possessions." - p. 669
 "Perhaps wars only happened between those who had and those who had not." - p. 670
 "Individuals were always crying out 'Mine, mine,' where the church was instructed to say 'ours'." - p. 670

He then realizes the ridiculousness of war - that it is fought over arbitrary and imaginary lines we have drawn:
"The fantastic thing about war is that it was fought about nothing - literally nothing.  Frontiers were imaginary lines.  There was no visible line between Scotland and England although Flodden and Bannockburn had been fought about it.  It was geography which was the cause - political geography.  It was nothing else." - p. 676

The Book was great.  I plan on reading the originally unpublished Book 5 "The Book of Merlyn" next, and then I may read "Le Morte d'Arthur."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

I'm having a hard time figuring out Jim Collins.  I thought his book "Good to Great" was all right.  It had good points, but was overdone and full of awkward parables.
Now he's published a 35 page addition to his book called "Good to Great and the Social Sectors"

He says he was going to add it as a chapter in his next edition of "Good to Great" but he didn't want to force people to buy an entire new book, so he published it as a tiny little paperback by itself.

It costs $12!  (34 cents per page)

I can buy his original book: new, online, for $6.  I can buy it from the publisher for $18.
I feel like this was another money grab - not a "help the people" move.
Things like this make me really dislike him.

Then my coworkers tell me that he is one of the best speakers they've ever heard.  When others come and give their canned stump speeches, Jim Collins instead learns about his audience ahead of time and completely tailors his words to the people listening.  He sounds engaging, smart, funny, and very helpful.  He has done tons of research, and written six best-selling books.

When I reviewed "Good to Great" (here) my brother called me and laughed at me.  He said "you gave it a bad review because you didn't like his writing style.  His ideas have changed entire business models and helped innumerable companies.  You've never run a business in your life and yet your reading a reviewing one of the great business books."

My brother is right - which is why I thought I'd be better at reviewing THIS BOOK about greatness in social sectors.  This correlates with my line of work.  I work in both the State and VA health care systems.  I spend my evenings and weekends volunteering with the Boy Scouts and with my church. 

So - now that you've read this long diatribe about what led up to this review, here it is:

This book is good with a few moments of genius.  It gives about 4 examples of how business models don't work in the social sector.  Collins points out that the key isn't the business model, it's the greatness model.

The best insight he had was about the nature of leadership in the social sector:

"There are two types of leadership skill: executive and legislative." - p. 11
"Legislative leadership relies more upon persuasion, political currency, and shared interests to create the conditions for the right decisions to happen." - p. 11
"True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to." - p. 13

I work daily with people who I don't employ. I may even be their "leader" at times but they are not paid, or they are underpaid. I could tell them all to do what I want,  but they could choose to ignore me and go on with their lives. I have no executive power. The only real power I have is legislative. I can help create the right environment where everyone will come to and agree with the best decision.

This is where Jim Collins nailed the difference in the social sector.  We work with volunteers.  We work within a system we don't control.  We often can't fire anyone.  We can't choose "who is on the bus."  We have influence, and that is all.

So when he says: "Those that failed to become great - placed greater emphasis on using incentives to 'motivate' otherwise unmotivated or undisciplined people. The great companies, in contrast, focused on getting an hanging on to the right people in the first place" - He is speaking the truth, but it's difficult to apply.

His words were much more applicable when he said: "It might take decades to change the entire system, and you might be dead or retired by the time those changes come. In the meantime, what are you going to do now?"

I work in health care and most everyone believes the system is broken.  While I do plan on working to fix the system, I'm also not going to sit back and just complain about it until it's fixed.  I'm going to figure out a way to make my little portion BETTER.  I can influence those around me.  I can change my little section of the health care world, and make it better for patients, providers, everyone.

The last line of the book is common knowledge - but it's great nonetheless:
"Greatness is not a matter of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: The Ill Made Knight

The Sword in the Stone was fun.
The Witch in the Wood was weird.
The Ill Made Knight was emotionally gut wrenching and penetratingly thought provoking.

The only versions of Lancelot I had ever known were from the musical Camelot, the movie First Knight (with Richard Gere), and Monty Python.

This is not the Lancelot I knew.  This is not the handsome young man who brags about his "humility" and sneaks around with Arthur's wife and destroys the kingdom when they are found out.

First - Lancelot is ugly.  Here are a few descriptions:

"The boy's face was as ugly as a monster's in the King's menagerie.  He looked like an African ape." "The grotesque magnificent shell with a face like Quasimodo's"

Lancelot was hideous.  From the time he was a boy he wanted to be a knight at King Arthur's Round Table.  He wanted to be "the best knight in the world."  He studied and practiced throughout his childhood.  He wanted to have absolute strength, skill, and also purity.  He wanted God to bless him and allow him to perform miracles.

The book is the story of his three loves:
1. Arthur - as the perfect father figure and king.
2. Guenevere - He loved her forever, but love for her interfered with his other two loves.
3. God -  If he wasn't pure before God, nothing else mattered to him.

Lancelot does become "the best knight in the world" and this is where the trouble starts.  Everyone wants to challenge him, to beat him.  All the people want him to be their champion, perform miracles, defeat all evil.  The other Knights of the Round Table need him to save them from time to time, but many of them resent it.
Yes, Lancelot does fall in love with Guenevere - and he does decide to sleep with her, but Arthur knows about it.  He loves them both, and can't punish them.  Arthur keeps them both at court for over 25 years because he loves them both.  Guenevere is his romantic love, Lancelot his fraternal love.  Lance is the "son" he never had, the perfect knight.

Lancelot performs two miracles in his life. After the first, he commits his first moral sin and loses the power to perform miracles.  He is unclean before God, and the gift is lost.
Lance becomes the tragic hero.  The man who wants to be perfect and can never quite reach perfection.  He honestly tries, and the quest for perfection drives him mad.  At one point he is thought to be dead as he spends years in the wilderness living off berries, mostly naked, taunted by children, feared by women, and mocked by men.
When he goes on the quest for the Holy Grail he is permitted by God to see it, but not to enter the room or touch it.  He is very pure, but not pure enough.  It breaks his heart.

The second miracle happens at the very end.  He is asked to heal a wounded knight after all other 149 Knights of the Round Table fail.  He walks down, and takes the knight in his arms.
"Lancelot looked into the East, where he thought God lived, and said something in his mind. It was more or less like this: "I don't want glory, but please can you save our honesty? And if you will heal this knight for the knight's sake, please do."
The knight is healed, the whole kingdom cheers and "in the middle, quite forgotten... this lonely and motionless figure knew a secret which was hidden from the others.  The miracle was that he had been allowed to do a miracle."

You will think I'm silly or having delusions of grandeur - but I think I know how Lancelot felt.
Though our lives are completely different, I felt as I read this book that Lancelot's mental struggles were exactly like my own.
When I was a kid I decided I either wanted to be the President or a Prophet.  (yeah, humble kid I know)
I feel now what Lance felt.  I have this desire inside me to be the best.  I want to be the best at so many things.  Not because I want to be better than others, but because I think I should work that hard.  I want to be the best doctor.  I want to be able to perform miracles.  I mean that.  I want to be so pure that God could work through me.
Like Lancelot - I know I fall short.  I don't even know if I want it for the right reasons.  Lancelot repeatedly questioned his own motives.  Was he doing great deeds for God? for country? for right? or for his own glory?  This book resonated with me like few have because I saw my own struggle.  The struggle in the mind to be the best, but not compare myself with others.  The struggle for perfection, but for the right reasons.  The struggle to figure out what really matters in life and who God really wants me to be.  That was Lancelot's struggle, and that continues to be my own.

I hope my end is better than Lancelot's.

Favorite Quote:
Arthur - "What I meant by civilization when I invented it, was simply that people ought not to take advantage of weakness."  "People ought to be civil.  But it has turned into sportsmanship.  Merlin always said that sportsmanship was the curse of the world and so it is.  My scheme is going wrong."  "They are turning it into a competitive thing."  "Everybody gossips and nags and hints and speculates bout who unseated whom last, and who has rescued the most virgins, and who is the best knight of the Table.  I made it a round table to prevent that very thing, but it has not prevented it."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Was the "Forbidden Fruit" really just a piece of fruit?

What if in the Garden of Eden, the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" was just another tree?  When Eve ate the fruit - it was just a piece of fruit.  It wasn't symbolic for sexual indiscretion.  It wasn't a special tree that caused some physical change to come over them when the fruit touched their lips. It didn't have to be a grape, or an apple, or grain, or a fig.  It wasn't symbolic for wine, or what they wore afterwards to cover their nakedness.

What if there was no magic, no mystical symbolism?  It was just a tree, an arbitrary tree.  The fruit was just like all the rest.

God needed a chance to teach them about obedience, so he needed to make a rule that they could keep or break.
He picked a tree, and said "don't eat from that one."

And that's it.

The only change that happened in the moment they ate the fruit was that they knew what disobedience felt like.  They could now feel guilt.  They now knew a new feeling.  What they felt before was "good," and how they felt in that moment was "evil."

Hence - "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" was only special because God made a rule and pointed at that tree.

The "good and evil" part was a natural consequence of choosing to disobey.  They gained knowledge through an experience they had never had before.  They experienced new emotions like betrayal and shame for the first time.  They "fell" from God's presence because "no unclean thing can dwell with God," and now they were unclean.

As always - I don't know.  I'm just speculating.  Maybe everybody else already had this thought.  The entire story of the Garden of Eden could be symbolic.  But it makes sense to me that maybe the tree was just a plain old tree.