When Life Loses its Color: Dulled by Sexual Addiction
In Lois Lowry’s book The Giver, the reader is confronted with a utopian world in which its inhabitants are free of pain, discomfort, and strong emotionality. The dulling of the senses goes as far as causing everyone to lose their ability to see color– the world becomes black and white. The society is built on a foundation of rules that makes sure everyone is the same. They even engineer perfect weather (by living underneath some sort of weather-ceiling) that prevents any variability. Every citizen takes medicine to prevent any amount of pain. One of the main characters describes it as a “life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without color, pain, or past.”
For a person that finds themselves in the throes of sexual addiction (be it pornography, prostitution, etc.) an extremely common side effect is anhedonia or the loss of pleasure. Suddenly activities that used to be fun no longer are. Hobbies that were once interesting don’t hold attention. You gain tunnel vision for the one thing that gives relief. Sexual stimuli are extremely pleasurable to the point where everything else pales in comparison, thus the loss of joy in other areas of life– nothing else can produce the pleasurable effect the harmful behaviors do. Looking at pornography or paying for sex comes with none of the true costs of a relationship or risk of vulnerability. It too then lacks any of the gifts that come with a risked and costly relationship. Therefore, someone struggling with this kind of addiction may find themselves become like the citizens in The Giver utopia– in a dim and dull world where comfort (in a fake sexual relationship) trumps any kind of real and meaningful experience. It comes from fear of future pain and loving instant gratification.
When we settle for instant gratification, we miss out on the heights of joy that comes in time, with work. I once had someone tell me that they had become so addicted to porn, that when it came to his wedding night, he was unable to perform sexually during his and his wife’s first time together. A transcendentally beautiful moment was squandered by a love for instant gratification.
The path to recovery from sexual addiction, or any addiction, is admittedly a long one. But I believe that The Giver teaches a true lesson about life that can create a catalyst for change: If we want true and worthwhile joy and meaning apart from the unwanted sexual behaviors, we must accept that it comes with suffering, and is completely meaningful, important, and worthwhile. The protagonist in The Giver learns about pain for the first time when he is shown a memory (through the magic of the story) of someone riding a red sled down a snowy hill and breaking his arm. The pain opens his eyes to the color red and he begins to see color in real life as well through the form of an apple. Color reappears before his eyes on an apple that was always black and white. Nothing changed about his world– his perception changed, and pain made the way. Sure, if the protagonist would not have gone sledding, he would have never experienced pain, but then he would never have had the joy of going fast down the hill.
Don’t hear this message incorrectly– I am not advocating for the welcoming of unnecessary pain, but I believe we can all agree it comes with the territory of being human. How can someone understand the heights of the beauty of falling in love if they have not experienced the depths of heartache? This type of joy is of the highest kind, and it is what we are all searching for. Comfort and instant gratification suck all the vibrant colors of the world and make us into pain-avoidant emotionless machines. If we want to be more, if we want our lives to be meaningful, we have to embrace the beautiful tension of joy and pain. Then we might open up ourselves to catch glimpses of color in our previously greyscale world.
When someone has been trapped in a colorless world for so long, they begin to believe that color never existed, or that will ever again. I see a big part of the counselor’s role in the therapeutic relationship as leading the client to see the world with renewed eyes. Through the processing of vibrant and meaningful memories, reflecting frequently on the client’s strengths and inner beauty, and stressing mindfulness for potential new sources of joy I firmly believe someone can begin to see the black and white apple turn a glorious red once again.
Part of the recovery process will always include proven paths such as Sexual Addiction Anonymous groups, counseling, and intensive recovery programs. But I urge you to also take part in seeing our technicolor world new again, and I would like to offer a few practical ways of doing so:
- Engage with the world with wonder. Start asking questions. Be mindful of your surroundings. Take time to take in all that is around you.
- Acknowledge areas of your life where you have sought comfort and risk-free pleasure and take gradually small steps of risk towards joy.
- Reframe the suffering you are experiencing to become meaningful. Your pain has a purpose. You may one day have the chance to bring color to someone else’s life.
- Write down your most vibrant memories from the past. Remember the smells, sights, sounds, and tastes. The color was there, but you might be misremembering.
- Take part in some form of art that requires you to pay attention such as painting, drawing, music, poetry, or dance.
Lifeologie Institute was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problemsⓇ. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.