How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?
Jeremiah 4:14 (NKJV)
SWITCH ON YOUR BRAIN
I did a 21-Day Brain Detox Plan from Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, Switch on Your Brain, where the reader is challenged to take one toxic thought and to then replace it with a healthy thought rooted in truth. I chose to tackle the thought, “I miss porn.” Pornography served as a counterfeit comfort blanket in my life for nearly two decades. Whenever things grew even mildly difficult, I’d run to the altar of pornography to numb any and all pain. Pornography was my drug and I learned rather quickly that choosing the road to recovery meant choosing the crushing cross of withdrawals – a painful period of time where the old fleshly appetites cry out for nourishment as the new nature is strengthened and well fed with the bread of life, God’s word. Seasons of withdrawal at times felt impossible to endure, as true freedom is often accompanied with the price tag of self-sacrifice; addiction felt easier than striving for sexual sobriety. It was only after deciding to abandon porn for good that I found myself hourly contending with the thought, “I miss porn.” Before surrendering to defeat, I reasoned I should at least complete the detox and I’m grateful I did because on Day 20, as I sat with that thought in prayer, Holy Spirit whispered this declaration of hope to my heart:
“This is your eviction notice; make way for new tenants.”
If my mind was like an apartment complex wherein there lived sexually broken images, thoughts, and desires in certain units, the Holy Spirit was inviting me as the landlord of my mind to engage in the act of mental eviction. Eviction is the legal process in which a property owner fights to take back possession of that which already belongs to him. What a parable to those of us recovering from sexual addiction. I imagine the children of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho was a sort of spiritual eviction, seeing as the land of Canaan already belonged to them. Upon their arrival to the promised land, those who remained in Canaan weren’t seen as mere tenants, but trespassers (Josh. 6); the same principle applied to my sexually broken thought-life. Very much in the spirit of eviction, God was charging me to exercise authority in taking back possession of my mind, to endure the process of eviction, and above all to embrace the newness of life.
Paul writes that we can take, “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” only the deception of my addiction was that I felt powerless and thus doomed to live the rest of my life a slave to sin. How could I possibly capture the thoughts that once held me captive for so long? Whenever the thought “I miss porn” would come knocking on the door of my heart, the terror of temptation would cancel any ounce of faith I had to actually conquer it and the more I was overcome by the power of my addiction, the less I believed in the power of God to rescue me. While on the detox, I discovered that defeat had given birth to this victim mentality I had, but to remain in self-pity was a choice – one I no longer had to make because through the grace of neuroplasticity, I had the power and authority to choose freedom. Authority is defined as one having the power to give orders, make decisions, or to enforce obedience. Addiction took away my choice, but the the Holy Spirit empowers me to choose life. There’s no denying my brain had been hijacked from the years of addiction, but the truth remained that if I sincerely wanted those thoughts gone, I had the power to evict them. Day by day I could reverse all the brain damage I’d incurred from my addiction by even replacing the thought, “I miss porn,” with, “I reject that thought.” God was asking me the question He’d posed to the children of Israel, “How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?” The decision was mine – to either grant those thoughts permission to stay, or to exercise authority in ordering my brain to make new and healthier decisions, while also disciplining my body in making it “my slave.”
ENDURING THE PROCESS
Most landlords agree eviction should be a last resort due to how complicated and stressful the process can be, but when a tenant refuses to leave, eviction is the only option and no matter how long the process takes, the property is eventually restored. Likewise, recovery was an excruciatingly painful process for me, having to endure the mental anguish of withdrawals, sleepless nights, countless tears and fits of depression, having rigorous accountability, and having to actually face life’s issues without escaping to porn. Much of my recovery though was hindered when I insisted there was an easier and quicker path to sobriety apart from the hard work of mind renewal. I wanted the promise of freedom without the process of cleansing. I tried implementing accountability software and putting filters on all of my electronics, and even purchased a flip phone, thinking these outer measures would evict porn. I learned that outward conformity would never produce sustainable sobriety apart from inward transformation. Every relapse and failed attempt to conquer this giant only reinforced the lie that I was forever a slave to porn. Submitting to God’s process of honesty, humility, forgiveness, counseling and support groups, while also resisting the temptation to despair and ultimately surrender to my addiction, meant the enemy had to vacate the premises of my mind – it was only a matter of time.
There were years I couldn’t imagine my life without porn, especially when I was single. But even after I got married and had the option of engaging in healthy sexual intimacy, sex with my wife couldn’t compare with the exhilarating rush of dopamine my brain experienced while using porn; simply put, porn was “better.” I felt like the Israelites who while journeying through the wilderness started to long for their old life back in Egypt. Wilderness was painful, plus Egypt had “better food,” and even though God miraculously sent manna from heaven, the Israelites replied like I did with, “what is it?” I had developed such a strong bond with computer screens using porn, that learning how to connect with a real human was quite the challenge. I discovered porn wasn’t more fulfilling than sex but more familiar; sex in marriage wasn’t negative, just new. However, embracing Christ means embracing newness, which is a nice sentiment in theory, but the reality of newness in Christ requires nothing less than the death to self and the old man. Romans 6:4 says we’re, “buried with Him through baptism into His death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we also might walk in the newness of life.” I found addiction most predictable – an endless cycle of hope, effort, defeat, and shame. There was nothing new about a relapse, only I was getting older. Addiction had become my identity and the toxic thoughts attached to my negative self-perception outnumbered God’s thoughts about me without rival. Even more than newness in sexuality, embracing the truth that, “sin no longer had dominion over me,” and that a life of freedom from porn was actually attainable proved most difficult. Walking by sight was easy; embracing a reality that I couldn’t yet see was new.
When I started the 21-Day Brain Detox, I was convinced that the only tenant in need of evicting was porn, but sexual brokenness doesn’t fly solo. Evicting porn from my life made space for Christ to enter my heart and mind with the light of His love, illuminating all the other toxic tenants in need of evicting like self-loathing, shame, insecurity, pride, comparison, and unforgiveness to name a few. By God’s grace, I can now testify that the old tenants that once dominated my mind have now been permanently replaced by the new tenants of power, love, and a sound mind. I confess that the old thoughts occasionally knock on the door of my heart, trying to intimidate me with the fear of relapse, but sin isn’t the only knock at the door. If you’re reading these words feeling overwhelmed by the taunting knocks of sin and temptation at your mind’s door, hear the words of Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Will you invite Christ to be your new tenant?