Your neural pathways are built over years of habit. Navy seals and martial arts experts build these pathways in their training and the purpose is to have quick and effective reactions that they don’t have to think about. Someone pulls a gun or takes a quick swing at them and BOOM! Threat neutralized.
Our goal is to rebuild the pathways we created over years of habit so that when there is a fork in the road, i.e. a trigger, it gets easier, more appealing and more natural to head towards relationship instead of porn. Porn and masturbation are roads to isolation, selfishness and hiddenness. They are the road, not the destination. They lead us to the payoff of not having to be exposed, rejected or in any pain. Ultimate safety. My goal is to, over time, build muscle memory so that as I get triggered, my natural reaction is relationship and vulnerability. Instead of seeking the payoff of safety, I’m seeking the payoff of being known, of love. Choosing relationship and vulnerability is scary if you are at the very beginning of this reconstruction and trailblazing. Because you know how painful relationship and vulnerability can be. And at times you’re not sure that it’s worth the risk. And the only thing I can tell you is, there is no other way.
If you are reading this and/or going to group, I’m assuming you’ve reached a point where you know you cannot stay where you’ve been. I know that it is so hard to begin to starve the old pathways until it is no longer a path and to blaze down a new trail over and over, but there is no other way to freedom. Every day that you are hurt and choose to be vulnerable, that you get bored and choose to be intentional, that you are faced with a decision and you choose to take ownership and not give away your power, you are making a new path more and more walkable. You are starving the old pathway, allowing weeds and brush to overgrow and make it less easy, less appealing and less natural to walk down. This takes time and it cannot be neglected for even a day.
As we starve the old pathways until they die off, we must also begin to heal the wounds that became triggers. Freedom is not just being able to choose right the direction to head when triggered, it’s allowing Holy Spirit to heal the areas that we associate with a need for porn and masturbation.
I sprained my ring finger a year ago after laying down my dad’s motorcycle. I didn’t even know I’d hurt it because I was focused on all the road rash. But the next day, I bumped my hand against something and I realized there was something wrong. It’s been a year since then and for the most part I don’t feel any pain. That is, until I go to crack my knuckles or grip something really tight. At that point the pain surfaces and I usually let out a shriek of pain.
Our triggers are like my finger. You were hurt somehow, you didn’t take care of it and now you live with it. Sometimes your wife says something that reminds you it’s there. You screw up at work and you’re reminded it’s there. But instead of recognizing it for what it is, you do what Paul Blart in Mall Cop does when he is hurting. You put peanut butter on your apple pie and whisper, “Go away pain.”
You numb that pain with unhealthy alternatives like porn, masturbation or a Costco hot dog. I can live my life trying to avoid using my ring finger, but what I really need is healing for it. As followers of Jesus, we actually have that option. We can get healing for our triggers.