HealingRecovery 4 minutes to read

When I was in college, I suffered a couple of concussions during my four years playing on the football team. One, in particular, was pretty scary. 

What actually happened that day—and I only know this from watching film of the game—was that I was hit high by a defensive back at the same moment I jumped up for a pass above my head. This meant that my helmet was hit one direction from the defender and, a moment later, smacked violently in the other direction as I landed on the ground. This “reverb” effect is what brain doctors say usually causes the concussion. This is what happened; but this is not what I remember.

On that day, my first moment of conscious recollection occurred about 10 hours later as I “came to.” I wasn’t unconscious for half the day; rather, my short-term memory was incapable of holding onto anything, so the whole day became like a black hole on my timeline. I remember the sensation of waking up and as I did, realizing that I was sitting in a circle of friends playing a card game. I was holding cards in my hand and I had no idea why. I looked around the circle of smiling faces—all who had been recruited to help keep an eye on me—and asked, “How did I get here?” They exclaimed, “Stumbo’s back!” and apart from a pathetic showing in the card game, the rest of the day went pretty well.

I can still recall feeling disorientated as my brain re-engaged that day. For any of us, living in a place of disorientation can be difficult. We ask the question, “Why am I here?” knowing the answer is of critical importance. 

Losing our sense of focus after a football game is one thing; losing focus in life is another thing altogether!

And yet, I see this happening, again and again, in the recovery journey. What typically happens as men and women walk out this journey of freedom from pornography and sexual addiction is that changed behavior becomes the focus. The pain of their choices and the carnage of their relationships compels them to a place of transformation. They absorb the material and make a concerted effort to change their ways. And in a Pure Desire group, with so many proven tools in use, these men and women are usually successful! The behavior—and their lives—is different. Several months into a group, they may find themselves a bit disoriented, wondering, “Okay, I was doing good. Why am I here again?”

The pain or shame of our behaviors can actually delude us into thinking the end goal of recovery is changed behavior. While this aim is helpful—and certainly necessary—it isn’t a big enough goal to take us all the way to the kind of transformation we are after. A change of behavior in one area often translates to new coping behaviors somewhere else. No, the goal of recovery, whether we’re the one struggling or one who has been betrayed, is a lasting transformation of our character and our core beliefs. 

So what produces such lasting transformation? In order for us to experience a new way of living, we need to move our focus “below the surface” of our behavior to some deeper thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This is a place in our life that can feel more uncertain. Fixing “above the water” behaviors feels safer because we can see the process and know what needs to be done. Below the surface is messy. Our interior world is complex and multi-layered. The unique mystery of our inner world can tempt us to avoid this deeper work. 

But this is work that must be done. If addictive behavior is primarily a response to emotional discomfort and trauma in our lives, then simply attempting to fix the addictive behavior without addressing the pain and discomfort that drives it won’t get us very far! We must be willing to go to some dark and uncertain places of ourselves in order to see the kind of change that truly sets us free.

The Psalmist, David, King of Israel, models for us the kind of attitude we can copy as it comes to our inner world. He declared to God, 

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 NIV

David understood that to walk on an everlasting path would include a deep dive into his thoughts, anxieties, and emotions, so that God could lead him out of those places! This is the lasting change we all long for. 

At our annual Summit this September, we will discover the change that can happen in us below the surface. More so, we will see how the goal of our recovery may be different than we expected. We want to be free—when in truth, God wants us to be His! He invites us into a kind of relationship with Him—and our true self—in ways we may have never seen before. I hope you will join us and hear how this happens! 

The real adventure—the real transformation—takes place below the surface.


P.S. Nick will be speaking at the Pure Desire Summit, September 10-11, 2021. To hear him and other great speakers, register now! 


Nick Stumbo

Nick is the Executive Director of Pure Desire Ministries. He has been in leadership for 15+ years. He was in Pastoral Ministry at East Hills Alliance Church in Kelso, Washington, for 14 years. Nick has a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Studies from Crown College and an MDiv from Bethel Seminary. He has authored two books, Setting Us Free and Safe: Creating a Culture of Grace in a Climate of Shame. Nick and his wife Michelle have four children—two girls and two boys.

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