He Says He's In Recovery, But Is It True?
Forest Benedict is a husband and father living in Fresno, California. He is also the first man I have had on the podcast! He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified sexual treatment provider. Forest is the clinical director of an outpatient sexual treatment program in Central Valley California. He is also the program manager of the Sexual Treatment Provider Program at MidAmerican Nazarene University. He is the author of the highly-acclaimed book: Life After Lust, Stories and Strategies for Sex and Pornography Addiction Recovery. His book is based on his personal recovery journey experience and research. Welcome, Forest!
Forest: Thank you, Anne. I'm really grateful to be here.
Anne: Tell us about your personal recovery experience and the work you do now with sex addicts and their partners.
One Man’s Double Life With Pornography Leading To Full Accountability
Forest: What really brought me to do this work, like many people who get into this field, was that I was raised in a pretty difficult upbringing with an alcoholic father and had some difficult traumas. Even though I was raised to be religious, I found pornography at a young age and became addicted. I led a double life throughout my teen years. It wasn't until I was about 24 years old that I decided I really needed to take my recovery seriously. Thankfully it was before I was married. I got into treatment. I took full responsibility for my recovery and felt led to do this work. So I got my Master's degree and got to start working in a program that treated sex addicts and helped others on this path that I feel is a result of the recovery I have done.
Look For Visible Changes Of Real Recovery From Lust
Anne: Forest, in your experience, why is it essential for partners to look for visible changes in their addict husband's life instead of trusting the verbal promises of changes that addicts often profess? My ex would often say things like, "I have a plan..." but I never saw a plan.
Forest: I think it's essential because so many partners in this situation have been lied to for so many years. There has been so much secrecy that once the addiction is discovered, the addict usually really believes they are going to change and they want to change; but I will tell people, even in intake, that words mean nothing at this point. This has already been proven based on the past. An unhealthy and unsafe situation has been created because of words and so ACTION IS EVERYTHING--action that is not a performance, along with an attitude change.
Signs Of A Porn Addict in Recovery
The biggest attitude change is humility…willingness to humble themselves and submit to the process, and willing to acknowledge the trauma they have caused and get out of the victim mentality where they act like they can't do anything. There are different attitude changes such as learning to be patient with their partner. I talk about how the addict gets this burden off themselves and they feel this huge relief but then the partner carries it from then on. So they need to be patient with this process. This is another attitude change that a partner could see happening. Unless there are visible signs, there is no foundation to know that a change is happening.
Anne: Yes. If you say, "You need an attitude change..." and they say it has changed and question why we think it hasn't...that’s a red flag.
Forest: Exactly. The defensiveness and pride, the need to be right and not willing to listen are not good.
Anne: In my ex's case, he ended up writing my therapist. She wouldn't share it with me because she said it was so abusive. She said the gist is that he admitted to being abusive BUT... and then proceeded to list the things I did. My therapist said that she would not read it to me because it was so abusive. This clearly showed that he was not taking responsibility. If you start with, "I'm really sorry I have been abusive BUT..." then clearly you are not in the humble, willing to submit place.
Forest: Yes. My wife tells me that if I apologize and put the word "but" after, it nullifies the apology.
Anne: What are some signs of an addict that may not be in recovery?
Signs Of NOT Being In Recovery From Porn Addiction
Forest: The prideful attitude, the defensiveness. Also, a lot of addicts initially think that if they are sober they are recovering. A lot of addicts need to learn how to take care of themselves and manage stress, manage their emotions. If they are going to therapy and actually learning and practicing tools, I believe addicts need structure. Everyone I work with is assigned things they need to do on a daily basis to connect with themselves, their higher power, and their partner. Recovery is actually learning to care for themselves in a healthy way. I think a partner would notice if they began to do this...at least trying to do that and trying to move forward. If they can see that the addict in their life is trying to change the way they relate to themselves and to others, this humble attitude makes a difference.
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They won't be perfect at it, but it is definitely not an excuse to relapse or to go back into passivity that led most of them into the situation to begin with. It's hard work; especially when an addict comes from emotionally neglectful or abusive situations themselves. A lot of this is difficult work for them. I've always said that this is the hardest thing they'll ever do. If they are willing to do it and keep at it and get an accountability partner and go to groups and do what they need to do, then it's obvious they are investing in a lifestyle change and making themselves safer to be with.
BTR Aims To Help Women Establish Safety In The Wake Of Betrayal
Anne: At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, our number one goal is to help women establish safety from the addiction and related behaviors of lying, infidelity, porn use, gaslighting, emotional abuse, and some of the narcissistic behaviors that tend to come out in an active addict or someone who is "white knuckling" but may not be in recovery. Some of the signs I saw in my own situation were related to setting a "no contact" boundary after my husband's arrest for domestic violence. I was waiting for him to show some signs of recovery, and instead saw things like him shutting down my bank account, him berating me about the clothes he wanted me to pack for the kids when he would have them, or diapers...I wondered at his "inability" to go to the store to get diapers!
There were so many things he could have taken responsibility for to show that he was stepping up to the plate. Those ACTIONS are the things that are important. Part of what was so difficult during that time was that I was hearing from others that he was saying he wanted his marriage to work but that he couldn't do anything because I wouldn't talk to him. He would play the victim and it was so frustrating. I sometimes thought that someone needed to tell him what to do because he couldn't figure it out. His solution was to file for divorce.
Know The Signs Of Emotional Abuse
But I think that knowing what the signs of emotional abuse are--this is why we have a book section on our website and I highly recommend that women read all of the books so they can have an understanding, even if they don't suspect that porn is happening anymore or that infidelity is continuing--that they know what to look for to be aware of the emotionally abusive behaviors.
From the wife's perspective and from Betrayal Trauma Recovery's perspective, we do not believe that the reasons matter...it could be a personality disorder...it could be an addiction...it could be trauma...it could be a myriad of different reasons why the behaviors persist, but to the wife it doesn't matter. The more she tries to focus on the behaviors, the more she is sucked into the vortex of abuse rather than taking a step out and recognizing that he is the one responsible for figuring himself out. In the meantime, I need to stand at a safe distance and set boundaries so I'm not continually abused through this process.
Forest: Yes. I definitely agree with this. Anytime I mention that the addicts have a difficult challenge ahead of them because of their upbringing or background, it's never to make an excuse for them or to say it's ok. I agree that this is a healthy way to look at it because the partner can't recover for him and there is no help in trying to figure out why. Partners ask why all the time and there is never a satisfying answer to that.
Anne: You've led a partner group for years now. How did this work inspire the piece in your article called, What My Wife Is Worth?
Women Often Struggle With Boundaries Because Of A Lack Of Self-Worth
Forest: I found that when we start to work on boundaries with partners in my group, they had a really hard time creating boundaries and enforcing them. As I helped them work through what was stopping them from doing this, I felt like a lot of them had difficulty seeing their own worth...getting to the point of seeing that they deserve to be treated well and to be in a relationship with someone who is healthy. I really felt it was related to this--self-esteem or their own worth. Jennifer Lamprey did an event for women called The Quickening and she asked me to write a piece from a male perspective. She thought it would be powerful to have a man speak to women.
It was interesting to sit down and write this piece in an hour. It was inspired. It came to me. Much of what I write takes hours and hours as I work to make it perfect. This came to me and I feel like it was one of the most validating pieces I have ever written, from my perspective as an addict in recovery. I wrote about what my wife is worth, that she is worth my best recovery efforts. I went into detail about what that looks like, that it's not about how much sex I get or what mood she is in, that I need to be working hard at my own growth and healing. I feel like it really communicated well to the partners that they deserve to be in this type of relationship so they can set boundaries that do protect that worth and do communicate to the addict that they do deserve to be treated with respect and to be cherished. This is how this came about.
Anne: If you have comments about this episode, please scroll down and comment! We love it when you interact with us!
Forest, how does the article, What My Wife Is Worth and the partner version which is written from the wife's perspective called, What I Am Worth help wives understand the addict behaviors that make up good recovery?
You Deserve Your Husband's Best Efforts And So Much More
Forest: It says: My wife is a woman of infinite worth. Because of this, she deserves my best efforts. She deserves a husband who only has eyes for her. She deserves a husband in active recovery, not passively going with the flow. She deserves a husband who reminds her that she is not to blame for his past or present choices. She deserves a husband who actively opposes visual and mental lust in all forms, viewing it as the enemy of true intimacy.
It goes on like this...about being trustworthy, about not blaming her...It sets up this ideal but I don't think it's too unrealistic. It's about recognizing that I do want to be treated that way, I do deserve to be the only woman. For the addicts, my intention is to call them up to a higher level of intentionality and commitment with their recovery. I find that often when this is read, it triggers shame but I hope this will be turned into the healthy guilt that leads to a realization that the addict can live up to this and that they do not want to continue living the opposite.
I love writing to inspire people. I feel like setting the standard and saying, “Let's strive for this” is very helpful. I don't want to sit in this mediocre place because it doesn't help anyone achieve recovery.
Watch For Actions to Show True Recovery From Porn Addiction, Not Words
Anne: One of the things that happened to me because of my ex's extreme case is that he went to therapy for years, I made him read things like this, I took him to conferences, etc..., and he really learned how to talk the language of recovery without actually doing the recovery work. I think the purpose of this episode of watching for those actions is critical...how is he actually treating you? Does he listen? Is he patient? If you ask a question, does he answer it without getting defensive? Is he willing to listen to your opinion? Is he willing to be, in John Gottmans' words, influenced? Is he willing to be influenced by his wife or is he wondering why she is "bothering" him? When will the behaviors speak for themselves, is one thing wives always need to be looking for.
Forest: I totally agree with that. I love the idea of the wife catching him doing the right thing. It's not like he is doing the right thing in front of her intentionally to perform or pretend but that she would be surprised when she walks out and he's working on his recovery materials or when he says he can't do something tonight because he's really tired and might be triggered tomorrow by not getting enough sleep...catching glimpses of how he is changing his view. I know this is so difficult because of the lack of safety in the past when it's all been a performance and when it looked like all the right actions. I am always emphasizing that addicts need to be seeing people who specialize in this and have certification because they may be putting on a performance for the therapist and the therapist needs to know if this is happening.
Anne: I want to talk about your book, Life After Lust. Why do you think it's important for wives to read and not just addicts.
Life After Lust Helps The Addicts & The Spouses
Forest: Actually, I didn't really think about the possibility that partners would read the book. I did write it for the addicts but one of the people who endorsed the book does partner work and she ended up doing a blog post later about how this book is fitting for lots of different audiences, including partners and she is a partner herself. It’s what I said about what my wife is worth--it gives partners hope that a recovery journey is possible. I think there is so much uncertainty in the beginning when everything comes to light and maybe they seek additional help or maybe they haven't sought help yet and it can feel hopeless.
Also, I put a lot of my own story into this book. It's not like saying, "Hey, people can recover." I'm sharing some of my own journey and what some of that can look like. I don't present it like I'm perfect and everyone should follow me...I also talk about some vulnerable times in my recovery and how I responded to those. Some of that could make a partner nervous that I was struggling with lust and then got back on track. I've also been freed from acting out with pornography for over 13 years and so I feel like it is really possible. Just showing people it's possible is hopeful. The other thing about it is that I am sensitive and aware of the partner's experience.
I know when this lady read my book from a partner's experience herself, she was worried that she would be triggered. She found herself really relieved and encouraged. I wrote the book in a way that honors partners. I've recommended books to partners in group settings that were so triggering...maybe the book went into tons of detail about acting out experiences and it triggered their trauma. In this sense, this book is safe for a partner to read and can also be very hopeful.
People Can Absolutely Change
Anne: It's very interesting from my perspective because I speak with women all over the world about their experiences with their addict spouse. I absolutely know that people can change. If they make the decision to change and they work at it, they involve God in the process, and they are genuinely humble, accountable, honest and willing to submit to God's will, anything can happen. Even right now, I, myself am in the process of changing and asking God to help me with certain character defects I have and things I am dealing with in my everyday life that I really want to improve. I'm not completely healed or changed yet but I have faith that as I continue to do these things, I can change. I believe this about everyone.
That being said, just because people can change does not mean they will. Sitting back and observing if they really are genuine and what they are doing to show that is what betrayal trauma recovery is all about. How do we establish safe boundaries while we observe from a distance to see if the change is real, deep and lasting...and is it sincere rather than just another way to keep me in the abuse cycle?
Forest: I think this is a really good way to look at this. I use a lot of language about partners keeping themselves safe and is the addict acting in such a way that makes it safe for them. I definitely wouldn't recommend even trusting--I know partners often never fully trust even if the addict is doing great recovery--it's unsafe to trust unless there is real evidence of change.
Our Focus As Wives, Come What May, Is To Stay Safe
Anne: I really appreciate your work for us and your writing is incredible. It's all over the internet! You are doing great work to educate others about what it takes to recover. This is not our focus at betrayal trauma recovery--how the addict is going to recover or what he is going to do specifically--our focus is "come what may...whatever he decides to do, we will stay safe until we see these particular characteristics that we need to have a healthily relationship.
I appreciate those working with addicts who have the expertise who can help them because, as a wife who has been injured by that, we are not able to do it.
Forest: Yes, this can definitely get unhealthy when you feel like you are responsible for making sure they are doing all the right things or making sure you need to catch them if they do the wrong things. It's so important for the addict to have their own accountability and therapist--whatever they need. Your organization is doing a great work in helping partners to work on their own healing and maintain a safe distance. It's great to see.
Anne: You can find links to Forest's website and his work via our site, btr.org.
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Until next week, stay safe out there!
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