Have you ever felt like you were gaining so much momentum and doing so well in quitting porn–and then in one moment, one relapse, all your progress was gone?
"You are such a failure."
"Who do you think you are?"
"You call yourself a Christian?"
"Now you have to go all the way back to the beginning."
"You know, at this point you might as well just look at porn again."
What if you could replace those voices in your head with the voice of Jesus that helps you bounce back from relapse without shame, stress, or more relapse?
Today we're talking about relapse. I know, relapse sucks. Preventing it is important, but responding to it is even more important. When you respond to it well, you will also prevent it in the future.
I have relapsed many times and most of the approaches to relapse I've seen just don't work. So today I'm going to teach you:
1. What is a relapse?
2. How to think about it.
3. How to respond to it.
Personally, my first strategy for responding to relapse was keeping a tally. Every time I successfully resisted temptation, I put a little "check" on a piece of paper and every time I gave into temptation I put an "X." Eventually this became really discouraging. It actually reinforced the shame and self hatred that kept me coming back to porn.
I wonder if you resonate with that. I wonder if you count the days since you last sexually acted out and then when you do, you have to start all over again and go back to day zero. Well, today we are going to change that. There is a much more healthy, effective, empowering way to respond to relapse.
First of all, what exactly is a relapse? You might be surprised to learn that different people think differently about this. My favorite definition comes from Michael Dye in the FASTER Scale, where he says,
"Relapse is returning to the place you swore you would never go again."
Doesn't that resonate with you? That's exactly how I feel about relapse. And yet not all relapses are created equal. So Mark Laaser, the grandfather of Christian sex addiction treatment, distinguishes between a slip and a relapse.
A slip (S.L.I.P.) is a "sudden lapse in progress."
It's like you're on the road to freedom and then you pause for a moment or you go onto the shoulder for a moment, but then you come back. Maybe there was an instance of masturbation late at night when you were in the middle of a wet dream and it was a slip. Or maybe it was a thought that you dwelt on or a fantasy that you entertained for a while, but it didn't turn into a full scale relapse. For Mark Laaser, a relapse is a more sustained lapse in progress. Maybe you start going in reverse on that road or you swerve into the swamp. In any case, it's important to recognize that there are different levels of relapse here.
How should you think about relapse? This is my favorite, most important insight on relapse: I want you to reframe it.
Don't view relapse as failure. View it as feedback.
Listen, I know in the middle of a relapse you feel like a failure. It feels like you failed. Don't dwell on that. It's going to push you deeper down into the self-hatred. It's going to push you right back into porn. But if you take a different angle on it and view it as feedback, you're asking yourself, "What just happened? What does this tell me about myself? What can I learn from this?" Let relapse be your teacher.
So here's the motto you can use: Research your relapse. Treat it as this treasure chest and you have so much to learn from it. Look into that relapse. Go into every detail of the events leading up to it, the emotion surrounding it, the wounds you might've been medicating, the experiences you might've been repeating or reversing. Relapse is probably the most honest area of your life where you are telling yourself what's really going on. So listen. As Jay Stringer says, "listen to your lust."
Research your relapse, and it will be an amazing teacher for you.
Some of the best lessons I've ever learned in my own journey have come from a relapse. My final relapse in 2014 taught me some of the biggest lessons that I've continued to teach other guys. So reframe your relapse not as failure, but as feedback. And how should you respond to it? By accepting 3 things:
1. Accept the Invitation. God is not surprised by your relapse. He is not ashamed of your relapse. While you may be picturing him having a feeling of distance towards you or disappointment in you, when you picture the expression on God's face, listen, here's the reality: It is one of loving delight. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are inviting you into intimacy. God is saying, "My son, my daughter, you've been far from me. Come home, come back. Let me love you."
Let God love you in the middle of your relapse.
That's the first thing you need to accept. I know you want to push him away during that time. I know you feel so sinful and unworthy during that time. He wants your sin. He came for your shame. He pursues you. When we run away from Him, he runs after us even faster. So stop resisting and just accept the love of Jesus Christ in the middle of your relapse.
2. Accept the Information. Your relapse is telling you something. Research it, and then say, "Alright, this is what it says about me. This is what it says about how I need to grow. This is what it says about what was really going on in my heart, what was going on in my mind."
3. Accept the Instruction. For every relapse, each time there's a takeaway. I promise you, there's something you can do differently. There's something you can learn. There's some kind of repentance, not just confession and telling somebody about it, but repentance and taking action to prevent it in the future that you can implement.
You'll have a very clear view of this once you do the first two steps. First you accept the invitation and intimacy with God. You reject the shame, you reject the lies, you receive the truth of the Gospel. Then you accept the information about what this relapse says about how you're doing, about what's been going on. Finally, you accept the instruction about how you can move forward and continue to gain momentum on your road to freedom from porn.
For everyone who wants to actually use this process that I just outlined for you, I made a worksheet for you. You can download it here: