Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Remorse, Repentance and Recovery

Three videos and a blog have been meaningful to me this week and have provoked some thought on what it means to be in recovery from a sexual compulsion or addiction.  As the former spouse of a pedophile who, for all intents and purposes is not in recovery, this is an issue close to my heart.  Unlike substance abuse and addiction, a sexual compulsion or addiction is easy to hide and pedophiles as well as other addicts become quite skilled at hiding their disease.  The risk to innocent children is too great if we are wrong when we determine that an individual has fully repented or been "rehabilitated."

The first video is a movie on recovery for sex addicts, particularly from a 12-Step perspective.  Thanks for Sharing depicts the lives of three men and their significant others as they struggle to remain "sober" and to fully recover from the damaging effects of an out-of-control sexuality.  Pedophilia is not depicted in this film, but rather addiction to adult pornography, excessive masturbation and of course sexual acting out.  The 12-Step fellowship provides a more functional "family" for the addict as well as support, accountability and tools to use in combating the addiction.  Additionally, participants are encouraged to own and feel their emotions rather than numbing them by their "drug" of choice.

I have personally participated in a 12-Step "Anon" group for family members of sex addicts.  The fellowship and camaraderie of my group has been an anchor for me during the storms of the past months of recovery.  So, I resonated deeply with the depiction of love and support among the group members who learn to share their struggles and victories honestly and receive compassion, acceptance and encouragement as a result.

The second video that has stoked a fire in my core is a short film a church in Alabama created to feature the "apology" and "repentance" of a church member convicted of sexually abusing a child.  The video features a pretty, blond-haired young woman sitting on a park bench, smiling broadly as she repeats the apology that she had just presented to the judge in her criminal case moments before.  She uses all the right words, however, her affect seems to betray her--she seems way too happy for an individual who has just been sentenced for child sexual abuse crimes.  And she glosses over the more painful parts of the story.  For an excellent analysis of her "show" from a former prosecutor of child sex abuse crimes, see Boz's Rhymes with Religion blog.

The third video is one that has gone viral.  It features a young woman confronting her former teacher about her sexual abuse.  I have listened to the conversation several times and I am impressed that the former teacher is quiet, somber, and readily admits that she committed a criminal act.  She does not try to whitewash her actions or hide behind carefully crafted words or phrases intended to minimize the horror of her actions and their impact on the victim.  She appears to be horrified at what she did to her victim and at a loss for why she acted the way she did.

Remorse is easy to fabricate and addicts are quite adept at appearing "repentant" when they need to.  But true recovery is harder to identify.  All we can go on is their behavior over time so we need to allow the recovering addict a lot of time to demonstrate consistency and steadfastness in their recovery before we highlight them from our pulpit or from a video screen. Individuals who are really recovering will demonstrate these characteristics:
  • Their words and behavior will match at all times.
  • They will readily enter into full accountability with at least one other individual, preferably with a group of individuals and a therapist.
  • They will understand and accept that others will need to verify their recovery from time to time, which may include a polygraph exam and/or full disclosure of all compulsive behavior.
  • They will be completely committed to their recovery program for life.
  • They will strive to avoid deception in every relationship and situation, revealing a commitment to truth-telling, even when it brings negative consequences.
  • They will work at understanding the devastation their actions have created for others.
  • They will accept full responsibility for their actions, not minimizing, denying the other's reality, gaslighting, or blaming another for their behavior.
  • They accept the reality that they will always be an addict; their choice is whether they will be a recovering addict or an acting-out, offending addict.
  • They will work hard to humbly  make amends to all they have offended or hurt.
  • They will acknowledge that they cannot control their disease without the help of their Higher Power.
  • Their lives will be marked by humility, serenity and emotional growth.
  • Their lives will consistently reveal a deep commitment to no more compulsive behavior and no more secrets.
For you see, recovery is far more than words of remorse or pseudo-repentance.  It is a life-long commitment to personal sobriety and transformation.


  1. Brenda, I found your blog from the Boz Tchividjian article above, and indirectly from The Wartburg Watch.

    A close friend of mine is in federal prison for production of child pornography--he was a kindergarten teacher and got caught photographing some of his students (with a school-owned camera, and within the school building). My wife and I are friends with his wife too, but she doesn't talk about it, so I'm glad to read your accounts from the wife's perspective.

    For the past two years I've been wrestling with two possibilities: that Rob is a.) basically a good guy, with an unfortunate attraction to young girls, and who let that attraction spiral into a dangerous addiction, or that b.) Rob is a sociopathic, predatory pedophile and a master of disguise (I mean, knowing that he had this attraction, why would he place himself in a kindergarten classroom when he had other professional options?)

    I haven't arrived at a good answer to these questions but sometimes I fear the worst.

    On a related matter, one that Boz Tchividjian addresses, the response of churches to pedophilia in their ranks has become of interest to me. I wonder if you've read Jeri Massi's "Blog on the Way."

    Jeri has authored several books, two of which I've read: Schizophrenic Christianity and Bitter Root, which deal primarily with Independent Fundamental Baptist churches and how pedophiles are often protected in them. As a believing Christian and a Baptist myself (though not independent fundamental) I find her books and blog important to understand what's going on around us and how to prevent it.

    Anyway, long story short: thanks for your bravery in speaking out, and I recommend a look at Jeri's blog.

  2. Thanks, Ted and I will check out Jeri's books. After studying pedophilia and having lived with one for over 3 decades, I think the answer to your question is complicated. I can understand why your friend's wife would not want to talk about her husband--it is an incredible betrayal that strikes at the core of a wife's sense of identity and belonging.

    I'd be happy to interact with her via my email address on this blog, if she is interested in doing that. I have found it so helpful to have other partners to talk to--it breaks some of the isolation and shame.