Hope for recovery – Messianic ministry runs support group for men struggling with addiction to pornography

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Anchor of Hope Counseling Center is a King of Kings ministry which provides Messianic counseling to the Messianic community in Israel. They help people with trauma, divorce, marital and relationship problems, depression, emotional over-eating and other addictions.

One of their many initiatives is a 12-step support group for men struggling with addiction to pornography. KNI met with the host of the support group, Baruch Lieberman, to hear more about the initiative.

“I started this group because I realized there is a need for it,” he says. “There are many good and upright Messianic men who love God, but they live with this shameful, hideous secret. There is more than we think. They don’t know how to stop, but they are also afraid to tell people. This gets them into a vicious cycle of isolation, which only worsens the problem. Some of them waste 70-80 percent of their time and energy just to hide it from their surroundings, fearful of what might happen if anyone finds out.”

The support group, Lieberman explains, is a safe place where a man struggling with this problem can come and share his problem with guaranteed confidentiality. First, just to pour out his heart without being judged. And then receive practical help, how to get out of it.

“It’s an addiction that is expressed sexually, but that’s only the symptom. The reason for the addiction is much deeper. The compulsive behavior is an attempt to soothe the pain. I have never met a person who feels overjoyed, content, and close to God who chooses to use pornography. We want to help men confront this inner pain and bring it to the Lord. As you solve the pain, you no longer need the pornography.”

Lieberman says that the pain builds up an inner tension, which we are not always aware of. As we go about our daily life while having this pain, maybe of feeling rejected or lonely, the tension builds up more and more until we reach a point when we need to unload the tension.

“At that point, instead of facing our trouble and bringing it to God, we lessen it through pornography,” he says. “But what we are actually saying at that point is ‘Ok, God, I feel bad, you feel far away, but the computer is right here.’ And then we try to subdue the pain by going into a false world of fantasies and lust to unload the tension. Of course, once it is over, we realize it didn’t help, and the pain and the tension have only gotten worse. Then we often tell ourselves that we won’t do it again. But guess what? We forget about that decision as soon as the pain and the tension build up again, and we get stuck in this vicious cycle.”

Lieberman lays out for me the devastating results of non-treated pornography addiction. As with any addiction, it never stays the same. Either you are recovering, or you are deteriorating. If it’s not dealt with, it will only get worse and worse. What is “worse” in this case? He says that it’s just as with substance abuse – as the body gets used to it, you need more and more “stuff” to get the same “high” as you had before. Either by doing it more often, or by getting more perverted pornography. In extreme cases this spills over into the actual world, with flirtatious behavior with other women, infidelity, and even turning to prostitution. The end of the road is when a person is so weakened that he can’t function without it. Baruch emphasizes that if you are addicted to pornography and you are not actively working on overcoming it, then that’s where you are headed. Usually you will be caught at some point along that road, with devastating results.

“We encourage the use of internet filters, of accountability partners, these are all helpful tools. But they are just that – tools. They don’t solve the root issue. They don’t always help either. We hear from many people that after a while they get so uncomfortable telling their accountability partner that they fell again, so they lie to them. And the friend also tires of it after a while, because he doesn’t always know what to do. These tools can be quite useful, but they don’t tackle the root cause. To tackle the root cause, we need heart surgery. That’s why we use the 12 step method. Because this method doesn’t say ‘stop doing that’ but it says ‘let’s look deep into your heart and see what causes this, and how we can heal you from this pain.’ The plan is very biblical, it was founded by strong believers, and statistically it is the most efficient method worldwide.”

What’s your success rate?

“Everyone who takes it seriously succeed. In the beginning they see the lust as this enormous monster, and it always defeats their common sense. On average, within a few weeks, people who join our group see a significant improvement, they can usually say that they defeated the monster once or even a few times. That gives them hope, just knowing that they can defeat it, even if they don’t do it every time. Within a few months the monster is tiny, it’s a lot easier to handle, and they can report longer stretches of time when they have overcome it. Within a year they often see themselves as recovered. I have not yet seen anyone who really tried, followed all the steps, and still failed.”

Do you require the participants to tell their wives?

“In most cases, the wives of the men who approach me already know. If they don’t, we recommend it strongly. The more light, the better. But we don’t force it as a law. It is not always black and white. Sometimes you need a lot of wisdom on how and when to tell her.”

What would you say to someone who is too nervous to join a group like this?

“First, I understand the shame and the fear. It’s very real. I would tell him that if he is not ready to join the group, come for a one-on-one counseling. And then, when and if you feel more at ease, you can join the group.”

How do you overcome the danger of a group like this normalizing the conversations about pornography? How are you on the one hand being clear on this being sinful and unhealthy, but on the other hand the fact that it’s a very common struggle of many men?

“I see no contradiction. It is true that it’s a very common problem, some struggle more, some less. But that fact doesn’t make it less ugly, and it doesn’t make it less of a sin. No one in the group justifies the sin. Just as the fact that we are all sinners doesn’t excuse the sin.”

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?

“We have had zoom meetings, which made it possible for us to let people from other cities join. Some have reported increased difficulties during this time. Not just because of the extra free time, but also frustration and anxiety caused by the pandemic.”

What happens when a person finishes your program?

“The program is one of discipleship. It enables us to be more like Yeshua. I have never met a person who is so much like Yeshua he doesn’t have to improve anything. We will finish the program when we see Yeshua face to face. As for the addiction – sure, you can recover and live many years and even decades with no pornography and no masturbation. But life is still hard, and temptations will always provoke us. It is very dangerous to become complacent and think you are done. Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). There are many reasons to stay around even if you believe you have recovered, even if you are clean for over a decade. You can always learn from others, and you can always teach and encourage others.”

How can KNI’s readers pray for you?

“Pray that we will continue to do what we are doing, and that God will heal the people we try to help. That we will have enough funds to provide this to everyone in need. And also, that we will all be an example in our congregations of openness and honesty, and that we will help one another rather than judge one another.”

Anchor of Hope, founded in Jerusalem in 2014 by Dr. Katherine Snyder, occupies a space formerly used as a sex shop. In 2018 the ministry opened a center in Tel-Aviv.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” – Hebrews 19:6

“If the LORD hadn’t helped me,
I would soon have dwelt in the land of silence.
When I said, “My foot is slipping!”
your grace, the LORD, supported me.” – Psalm 94:17-18