THE RIVER UNDER THE RIVER
River under what?
You’re kidding, right?
What’s this mean?
Recall in the introduction I made two key statements:
1. While prayer is paramount and critical in recovery, the process I present is not merely a “pray it away” methodology.
2. The urge to act out never just happens!”
Our behaviors, all of them, happen for a reason. They are a response to an outside stimulus and are chosen based on life experiences and beliefs. We are all, to a large extent, formed by social interactions, childhood events, and basic life experiences. It’s the nurture part behind nature versus nurture. Our parents, siblings, other family members, teachers, and so many more people and happenings shape our ideas, our emotional reactions, our impressions, and our beliefs about ourselves. In certain circumstances, these events and people (basic life) can begin to slowly compromise our self-worth system. Virtually 100 percent of the time the people who cause these harms are not intending to inflict pain and turmoil in our lives. Frequently, it’s simply people reacting out of their own flawed self-worth that influences someone else. These behaviors and their lasting effects are typically transparent to both parties at the time. Many of our behaviors are unconsciously designed to protect this fragile self-worth system. Feelings of insecurity, insignificance, incompetence, worthlessness, powerlessness, and so on are protected when we act out with anger, aggression, defiance, overachieving, underachieving, materialism, narcissism, withdrawal, self-mutilation, dishonesty, integrity issues, arrogance, fear, and anxiety just to name a few self-destructive behaviors.
Every one of us (yes, including you) is a good person at the core. Our actions, beliefs, decisions, and responses to life around us may not be the perfect choice and frequently hurt those around us, sometimes intensely. But at the core, we are created by God and are good people. We are created in His image and therefore are perfect. Our choices and behaviors and even our self-image is what’s flawed.
Our behaviors in everyday life make up what I call the river. The reasons we behave the way we do (habits, poor self-image, flawed beliefs, insecurities, and so on) are what drives this behavior - thus the “river underthe river.” The key to success in your journey of recovery is revealing what is in your “river under the river.”
Changing a behavior, particularly one that has become a compulsion or an addiction, requires a process of learning a new habit as well as revealing and healing the flawed internal beliefs and emotions that drive the behavior—the river under the river. Additionally, as you will learn in chapter 8, “Your Brain on Porn,” there is a biological component to your addictive behavior. We are going to work on all three components of changing behavior.
1. Help develop new coping mechanisms or habits.
2. Figure out why you do what you do.
3. Move toward rewiring your brain so the addictive behavior isn’t a simple “knee-jerk” reaction.
Another perspective on the river under the river concept is looking at your underlying pain. Every human, without exception, has internal emotional pain. This includes pain developed over the course of our lives as a result of what I spoke of a few paragraphs ago. The behavior or way of reacting to this pain is in fact transmitting this pain. If we don’t transform this pain (in other words, heal it), we will transmit it to others.
Many of the concepts I have been talking about in this chapter may be new to you. It’s perfectly normal, and even expected, that this information has been difficult to follow. Because it is critical and a cornerstone in recovery, as well as key in the daily work of the 40-day process, I will provide a few examples of how this “river under the river” theory reveals itself in real life.
John grew up in a family where both parents worked. His parents provided everything John needed materially. He always had the best clothes, the newest model of bycicles, his own room, all the video games he wanted, and more. John’s mother, however, was an insecure person who focused nearly all her attention on her career, as she needed to achieve to feel worthy. As a result, she was self-focused and didn’t give John the loving affirmation he needed growing up. She was never mean or denied John his basic needs; she just wasn’t there in an intimate motherly manner. Although John wasn’t aware of it, this led him to feel rejected and unimportant or insignificant. He actually felt unworthy of being loved. John developed emotional walls to protect this inner pain of unworthiness and insignificance. As an adult, he had failed relationship after failed relationship, as he was unable to connect emotionally with women. John had an unconscious fear that they would ultimately reject him. Keep in mind that John had no awareness of this—he simply lived his life not understanding why he was unhappy. He longed for personal connection, and personal intimacy, but he was also intensely afraid of true intimacy for fear of it being taken away and rejected. Again, he was completely blind to this internal fear.
At fourteen, one of John’s friends introduced him to pornography. It was his first exposure to sex, as his father had never had the traditional “sex talk” with him, nor had he had the opportunity to learn what healthy sexuality was about. Porn was exciting to John, and something inside him said, “This is what getting love looks like.” As his life progressed, John did not learn what authentic love and intimacy were, but porn became a regular experience for him. It fed him, though in an unhealthy and misguided way. It was all he knew.
This porn habit followed John into his relationships. He was unable to connect with his partners emotionally because of his childhood experience and woundedness. He turned to porn in an unconscious attempt to find a connection—after all, relying on porn was safer because it would never reject him like a real woman likely would. However, viewing porn created an unrealistic idea of what sex should be like. In his mind’s eye, sex was an act that was void of true intimacy, the giving of one’s self, and authentic emotional connection. The result was a horrible sex experience for his partners who felt objectified and used rather than loved. The relationships ultimately failed.
This same pattern occurred in relationship after relationship. The rejection and insignificance John felt as a child was repeated now as an adult but now abandonment was added to the pain. John ultimately felt extreme despair and became suicidal.
John transmitted the pain of rejection and insignificance he felt in his childhood to the women in his relationships by not being able to be emotionally open to connect with them. His being emotionally unavailable to them caused them to feel rejected by him! In this way, he was transmitting his pain to his partners. This pain that allowed him to accept pornography as a representation of love also contributed to the pain of objectification he transmitted to his partners. John’s feelings of rejection and insignificance were the river under the river of his behavior of being emotionally unavailable to women as well as the behavior of reaching out to porn for intimacy (although this was false intimacy, it was a form of intimacy nonetheless).
The lies of rejection and insignificance from John’s childhood must be transformed before John can have any real success with authentic relationships. If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it!
Bob was an angry person. His anger was his way of protecting himself, a pattern of behavior resulting from many poor experiences and abuse from his father growing up. Bob frequently turned to pornography to experience a sense of connection as well as a release of inner stress caused by the constant anger. (Note that the connection he achieved from viewing porn was a false connection and thus for only a few minutes, the stress was released due to the surge of serotonin after ejaculation, both a process that induces the addiction cycle, as we’ll discuss further in chapter 8, “Your Brain on Porn.”)
Here’s how Bob transmitted his pain.
Bob was driving to work when another driver needed to make a quick lane change to exit. Bob perceived this action as a personal attack as if the other driver had no regard for him. This triggered intense anger and feelings of revenge within Bob. The anger was disproportionate to the situation, but it was fueled by Bob’s inner feelings of rejection and shame from his abusive father. As a youth, he felt disregarded, belittled, and dismissed as a person and now anytime someone ignored or rejected Bob, he felt intense anger. Anytime he experiences anger, it is compounded by the pain and woundedness he experienced from his father. Angry, Bob now sped off the next exit toward his usual stop at Starbucks. Bob was now in a foul mood. While placing his order, he snapped at Jennifer, the barista, making her feel incompetent. He was angry inside and was transmitting that anger to those around him. Barista Jennifer ultimately had a horrible day, experiencing feelings of rejection herself.
As you can see, Bob has woundedness from his youth. This unhealed woundedness causes Bob to overreact to events in life that trigger the same deep feelings of rejection, belittlement, and dismissal. His reaction is typically anger. These feelings are triggered by seemingly minor life experiences like being disagreed with, a waitress making a mistake on his order, someone not listening to him, and, obviously, a driver cutting him off on the freeway. Bob has not transformed his pain (emotionally healed) and, therefore, transmits it frequently. This untransformed pain that causes Bob to behave the way he does is the river under the river. The reaction of feeling incompetent that Jennifer, the barista, had is a ripple effect of Bob’s untransformed pain. This untransformed pain spreads to those around us.
Lisa grew up with a mother who was very critical. Lisa’s mother was much like Bob in the previous story, as her mother (Lisa’s grandmother) had belittled and rejected her daughter (Lisa’s mother). The constant criticism of Lisa’s mother made Lisa feel very insecure and unworthy. In Lisa’s case, this caused her to be a person who was always reaching out to friends and neighbors to offer help, almost in a compulsive way. Lisa was the type of person who always jumped in to help at parties. While it may seem like the criticism of Lisa’s mother led to a very admirable personality trait in Lisa, the deeper result was that Lisa was starving for acceptance and to be liked. Unfortunately, Lisa was a very unhappy person and felt deeply unworthy of anyone’s love. She had many medical problems stemming from intense anxiety and her constant seeking of approval. People who didn’t know Lisa well simply thought that she was a wonderful, giving person. Yet it was transparent to most that she was starving for the love and acceptance that she never received from her mother.
Lisa’s story is much subtler than the previous two stories. It is an example of how untransformed pain can be transmitted to multiple generations. In fact, the pain that Lisa transmits is not harmful to the outside world but is certainly damaging to herself.
This last example I will share is subtler and is one of my personal behaviors. It developed later after I had learned to manage and heal from my main addiction to sex and pornography. At that point, I began to see that there were other behaviors in my life that were not necessarily harmful to others or even unethical, but nonetheless were behaviors that had hidden, underlying causes—the river under the river.
I had a job that required me to spend a lot of time driving around scouting for products to sell online. Typically, I would eat fast food for lunch. It was quick and cheap. However, I noticed that at times, I would go to more expensive or “nicer” places to eat—something like Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings. These weren’t high-end restaurants, but much nicer than McDonald’s and a place to sit and chill for a bit. In my self-awareness search, I noticed that there was a pattern for this behavior. I chose a better place and allotted more time for lunch when I was having a bad day. Anything could trigger it—bad sales day for my business, an argument with my wife that morning, car problems, and so on. After I noticed this, I began to do one of the exercises that I will guide you through a bit later in the book, to discover why. I found that the days I wanted to splurge a bit were when I was experiencing feelings of incompetence, unworthiness, or insignificance or when I wasn’t in control of the day’s events. These feelings had once triggered a choice to act out in an unhealthy and destructive way, but now they were redirected so I made other choices. While those feelings still came up, my unconscious reaction was to intentionally choose something that I was in control of, that brought me pleasure, and that made me feel deserving—sort of a reward to convince me that I wasn’t that bad or unworthy. The exercise made me see that this simple decision to eat lunch at a nicer place was actually driven by something deeper. Since realizing this motivation, now every time I feel like I want something nice (food, things, etc.), I ask myself, “What’s behind the desire?” I find what’s driving the urge, address it (using methods I’ll show you later), and do my best to seek healing of the river under the river. I must note that even though I was working through this process since the choice I was making was not harmful, destructive, or unethical, I may still choose the behavior. I may still eat at the nicer restaurant, but I do so fully realizing that the decision was driven by something; it was not a mere whim.
I could list hundreds of other examples. Ultimately, you can see that most of our reactive and compulsive behaviors are a result of something unresolved deep inside—the river under the river.
In the 40-day exercises, you will be challenged to find the river under the river of your behaviors. First the obvious addictive behaviors and ultimately more subtle behaviors.
I need to make you aware of something that will be critical in this journey, something that can sabotage your very efforts for change if it is not addressed.
Looking inside oneself is a very scary prospect. The reason you are struggling with this addiction, to begin with is that you are either unaware of the underlying causes or you are consciously or unconsciously choosing to avoid them. The exercises you will go through in the 40-day process will likely unearth some very unpleasant memories, feelings, and experiences. The prospect of knowing this can itself trigger fear and can trigger the urge to act out. It is perfectly normal to have thoughts like “This is going to be too hard—I can’t do it” or “I’ll do this at a later time, when I feel more ready when life slows down a bit.” These thoughts are not yours! Yes, that’s what I said: They are not yours! They are suggestions planted by the enemy, Satan. He does not want you to heal. Your woundedness that triggers your destructive behaviors are his playground and he uses those to contaminate your soul. I will give you some prayers later to help you separate those negative feelings and lies from you.
Guilt and Shame
An important concept to understand is that guilt does NOT equal shame. They are very different concepts.
“Guilt attaches to our behavior.”
A guilt statement is “I feel bad because I stole a tool from my neighbor’s garage.”
"Shame attaches to our very being, our beliefs about ourselves.”
A shame statement is “I am a bad person because I stole a tool from my neighbor’s garage.”
Guilt is recognizing sin, recognizing we did something inappropriate, unethical, or unlawful. A confession and request for forgiveness or reconciliation is a normal process for resolving guilt.
Shame looks to the outside world for happiness and validation because the inside is flawed and defective.
We look at porn because the images are fantasy and they validate us.
The intimacy we see (although false intimacy) validates us and makes us feel worthy.
The control we fantasize about in the scenes makes us feel powerful, valuable, and worthy and it hides the flawed view of ourselves.
Shame is probably the largest influence on our behavior choices. Shame can also be referred to as spiritual bankruptcy. As you dig during this process, you will discover that many of your behaviors are largely motivated by shame. Take a look at the following statements. Note any that you relate to, even mildly.
I am a loser.
I am not a good person.
I am not lovable.
I am undesirable.
I am evil.
I am a pervert.
I am pathetic.
I am stupid.
I am a bad person.
I am worthless.
I am a monster.
I am repulsive.
I am shameful.
I am a terrible person.
I am despicable.
I am ugly.
I am a failure.
I am incompetent.
I am insignificant.
I don’t deserve love.
I am damaged goods.
I have to be perfect to deserve love.
I am wicked.
I do not deserve _______________.
I am ___________________.
I will tell you that no matter what you have done in your life, no matter what you have been told, all of these statements and more are a lie. They are not you. God did not create you to be this way. Your behavior may represent characteristics of these statements, but at the core this is not you. These statements ARE NOT your identity! This is fantastic news for you. Any statements that you may have circled or wrote in are merely behavior defects and can be changed.
Remember this: As I will demonstrate in the section, “Understanding Sexuality,” you are made in the image of God. An image of love, mercy, and sacrifice. This is your identity. Even if your behavior doesn’t honor that identity (trust me, virtually no one fully honors that identity), that behavior does not alter your identity in God.
Another way to look at these perceived imperfections is referred to as the “false self.” The false self is a lifelong self-image one develops that does not reflect this true identity that God has created. The shame statements that you circled in the above exercise are one way of defining your false self.
Here is a personal discovery that revealed the lies of worthlessness and inadequacy that fueled my addiction:
God knows every hair on my head and knows what all my transgressions and sins were going to be before I was born (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:1-4, 1 John 4:19). He knew every sin I would commit, every person I would hurt, every time I would reject Him, every time I would knowingly turn my back on Him, and He created me anyway! He loves me anyway! I am that important to Him. Even with all the damage I have done, God still sees me as His beloved son (Col 3:12, 1 John 3:2, John 3:16, 1 Cor 3:16). This is absolutely with 100 percent certainty true for you too. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “The most grievous sin is but a drop in the fiery furnace of God’s mercy.” When the realization of this fact hit me (it happened during prayer), it hit me so hard I instantly went to tears. I could feel His love pour over me at that instant. The overwhelming presence of His love was so powerful that I knew it was impossible to ever be withdrawn. I am good enough, I am worthy, I am significant, I am important, and that cannot be lost, ever! This IS also true for you. No “Well, maybe …,” no “I’ll think about it.” YOU ARE WORTHY OF GOD’S LOVE! Just plain fact—period!
Take a moment right now, and close your eyes—even if for just 15 seconds. Imagine yourself with all of your sins and mistakes, no matter how many, all gone. See yourself as God sees you. See yourself wrapped in a blanket of His love and mercy. This is your true identity.
SAVE THIS EXPERIENCE AS A POSSIBLE MEDITATION!