Ep. 3: Dan Gray, Founder of LifeStar Network, on Sex Addiction

Ken Krogue: Hi everybody. Ken Krogue here. We are talking today with Dan Gray, Thom Harrison, and I from Eternal Core. This is our podcast series. We’re grateful to have Dan with us. He’s one of the cofounders of the LifeStar network. It’s an amazing compulsive sexual addictions protocol that’s been used in 30 plus centers nationwide, I understand.

Dan Gray: Yes.

Ken Krogue: So I’m just going to get these guys started. They’re going to be over my head in a few minutes here. I’ll let them get started, but this is going to be an ongoing series. We’re going to bring in many of our speakers from the eternal core event that launches on March 29th and 30th at the Little America hotel. You can go learn more about it at eternalcore.org. But Dan, why don’t you tell us more about some of your background, some of the history of how you got this started.

Dan Gray: Okay, well, we’ve been doing our LifeStar program since about the mid-nineties. At the time, I partnered up with Todd Olsen, my business partner, and we were running groups together—men’s groups. When we combined our forces, we saw that we were dealing with a lot of individuals and families and couples that were struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors and addictions. So we decided to join forces and develop a treatment protocol that we’ve been using for these many years now. And it was about the time that the Internet hit. And so, we were kind of poised to bring on many, many clients that were struggling then with compulsive sexual behaviors that were kind of stimulated by the Internet.

Ken Krogue: So, you got it started just as the Internet was driving it crazy probably.

Dan Gray: Yeah.

Ken Krogue: Wow.

Dan Gray: We’ve had a lot of people that have come into our services and clinicians throughout the country that wanted to learn how to assess and treat these issues, especially on a group kind of program. So we developed our workbook system, and now we train therapists around the country. We train therapists in Canada, also in Ukraine, Russia, and China as well in the assessment and treatment of these issues.

Ken Krogue: Gotcha. Great. Everybody, this is Thom Harrison. He’s been working with us here at Mobaliz a little over a year now. You retired from your private practice. He’s been assisting Operation Underground Railroad with some of the back-office consulting to help with the aftercare—some of these children who have been pulled out of human trafficking situations. Tim Ballard has been a close friend of ours. Thom actually has, as an officer, always assisted them. So there’s a lot to talk about here with your background and with Thom’s 41 plus years working with children and people struggling with these kinds of concerns. I’m going to turn the time to these two, and I’m going to sit back and just pop in now and again if that’s okay.

Thom Harrison: Wonderful. I’ve known Dan for decades and have a great respect for him and his work. Fine fellow. We’re so pleased to have him as one of our main speakers at the Eternal Core conference. We just wanted you to get a little taste of him and an understanding of what you will be hearing, or some of the things that you can look forward to in March of 2019. Dan, things have really evolved in this process since you and I began doing this decades ago. Would you like to just speak to some of that experience that you had and the evolution of sexual addiction and pornographic addiction and use. I know that that’s kind of a controversial phrase, but if you could just share a little of your information there.

Dan Gray: Sure, sure. Yeah. When you speak to the controversy that is around whether or not we call it addiction, whether we call it compulsive sexual behavior.

Thom Harrison: Right.

Dan Gray: But you know, many, many years ago, our growing up years, and during those times, we had access to pornographic material that was not very accessible. You had to kind of seek it out or else come across it by accident at a friend’s house or a field. I have clients that they report on their original exposure to pornography, and many times, it was at a friend’s home where their father’s, their friends father’s stash of playboys or else they could access it maybe in a grocery store, those kinds of things.

Thom Harrison: I remember in the fifties and sixties, my brother and I used to like to go down to the town dump. My brother allowed me to go with his friends for the first time. I don’t know how old I was, maybe seven or eight. And I remember walking through the dump looking for treasures and there was magazines everywhere, and I had never seen naked women like that. And I thought, “My goodness, what are all these naked women doing at the dump. This is crazy.” But I remember dating in the sixties. I’m telling you how old I am, but going to girlfriends’ houses and on the coffee table would be a hustler or playboy or some of those, just right out in the living room on the coffee table. And I remember, “Well, this is not in my house.” We never had anything like that. I remember how puzzling that was for me to think, “Wait a minute, this is the coffee table. If I had anything like this, I’d probably have it inside of some secret place in my wall or something like that, or at least under my mattress in my bedroom. But, right here? What is this? What’s going on?” So it’s changed a lot since my teenage years dating in the sixties.

Dan Gray: Yeah, it has for me as well Thom. We were raised in basically the same era, decades and that, in my dating experience and in junior high and high school, I had very little exposure to this type of material. Periodically like you had, but as things have evolved now, pornography is so available that in fact it’s one of the three a’s that we say are connected with sexual compulsive behavior and pornography addiction— it’s accessibility, anonymity, and affordability. So the accessibility now has increased tremendously. Once the Internet hit, then it infiltrated into not only the coffee table, which was probably a relatively irregular experience for many families, especially in a religious community. A lot of that material was kept in the bedrooms or not even in the home at all.

Thom Harrison: Well remember, I grew up in southern California, so it was a little different there.

Dan Gray: Not Springville, Utah is what you are saying.

Thom Harrison: No. No, it was not.

Dan Gray: Yeah. So, what we now have is youth that are being exposed at a very early age. In fact, some of the latest data is that most youth have first access and exposure to pornography around nine to eleven years of age as their first exposure. Now, that doesn’t mean that they become addicts by any means. But they, with that first exposure, some see it and go, “Oh, this is awful. This is weird. I don’t feel right.” But others, they’re curious. The curiosity is what then initiates the experimentation with more information, more access.

Dan Gray: So now they have access to their phones, their computers, their parents’ laptops and so forth. They can access it very, very quickly. So experimentation takes place very, very early. With some, the experimentation doesn’t gravitate to habitual behaviors, but for many it does. So they’ll start then with the habit of using the material. Now, much like with the use of drugs, alcohol, they start using it as a way to manage and cope with life. So they have stresses at work or at school and with their friends, they feel lonely. They will turn to these materials in order to kind of self medicate. Then that leads to addictive patterns, which is now what we see.

Ken Krogue: Where is it defined as addiction? Where’s that line where you would say, this is now in the addiction world?

Dan Gray: Well, that’s another part of the debate that Thom was referring to, whether or not it becomes an addiction. There is some debate, even within our own profession, as to whether or not we can call it addiction. But, a lot of the science and research is indicating that those areas of the brain that are activated, that then helps to secrete the hormones of the neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, adrenaline, those are all activated during sexual arousal and stimulation. That then becomes a part of the body functioning that a person can rely on in order to escape pressure or stress, rather than turning to alcohol or drugs. So, whether it’s called an addiction or compulsive sexual behavior, the result is exactly the same. A person becomes dependent upon it in order to manage and cope.

Ken Krogue: Is it just words or is there a difference between those two?

Dan Gray: There is a difference if we’re looking at the actual definition of addiction. If we look at drug and alcohol addiction, we know that that is a disease that the person then is dependent upon that particular drug and ingestion of a foreign substance in order to manage and cope with.

Ken Krogue: Is it more a legal classification as to whether it can be called an addiction. Is there some legal textbook that we’re trying to say, “No, this is now under the formal category of addiction” or is there some kind of difference between the two descriptives?

Dan Gray: Well, there’s been a difference, but there’s much more of a merging. Just within the last several months, some of the diagnostic manuals are indicating now that we can call compulsive sexual behavior a mental disorder.

Ken Krogue: Okay.

Dan Gray: So it’s gravitated to that point. They fall short of saying it’s an addiction, but it’s a compulsive sexual behavior that is considered to be a disorder. If not managed and controlled, then can control the person, interfering with life circumstances. A lot of those that are struggling with compulsive sexual behavior will say that they feel that they’re addicted.

Ken Krogue: So it’s on the verge?

Dan Gray: Oh yeah, because they’ve tried to stop many times, and they seem to keep returning to it regardless of the consequences.

Thom Harrison: When Dan was studying this, I had the opportunity at that time to be involved in the neurotrauma team at both primary and the LDS hospital at the university. I remember some of the things that we were really looking at in neurotrauma were catecholamines, endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline. Now, these little things we keep in our pockets, which we call cell phones, the engineers of these have created the same response when they ding or when they buzz.

Dan Gray: They understand the brain science and development of the apps, and all of the accesses that we have to those things.

Thom Harrison: They actually bring into the science, and into the app, these things which trigger dopamine, which trigger adrenaline, which trigger these responses. So again, are we addicted to our cell phones? Are we addicted to those little dings that Apple and Samsung create?

Ken Krogue: Which has happened to me twice already in our discussion.

Thom Harrison: So, the reason I bring that up is pornography is not the only stimulation or is not the only product that is creating these same processes. I mean we have three-year-old kids now that are looking in their purses for their mom’s cell phones, because they want that response that they get from those games and those dings. Some people even say that that is an entry into what later can be the compulsion. What do you think of those things, Dan?

Dan Gray: Well, we see that a lot, Thom. Now invariably, when we meet with new clients that are coming in, that are in that millennial age bracket (some of them single, some of them married) coming in because they have problems in their relationships with their wives, because they are so totally focused on their pornographic use and the stimulation that occurs with that. As we then look at their history, they regularly share with us that it started back when they were looking at their phones when they were a teenager. When they’re 12, 13, looking at their phones. The social media that’s there, then, the gaming. They many times report that gaming was kind of their gateway into the pornography because there’s a lot of solicitous material that are in the games themselves.

Ken Krogue: So it’s not just the content, it’s the motive delivery. Both have pathways to addictive behavior is what I’m hearing.

Thom Harrison: Yeah, especially in this very isolated, divisive, difficult world that we live in. People are looking for things that create those chemical responses, which caused them to feel good or to feel connected. Even though it’s a metal or plastic phone, or pornography or whatever it is, it can become a substitution for relationships.

Ken Krogue: And they can control the variables.

Thom Harrison: Exactly.

Dan Gray: Oh, they can. Many will say, “Well, why would I date and risk being rejected when I can just go to a website or hookup with a video camcorder—a situation with a young woman on the other side that is giving me attention. I get her, then she expresses desire for me. I’m able to have a relationship with her. I can tune in on a weekly basis to see what she’s doing. She can then give me what I need sexually. My sexual needs are being met. I’m having this counterfeit connection with her. I feel a desire for her. She expresses it for me.” And so, these artificial relationships are developed.

Ken Krogue: That’s got to have massive impact on real relationships.

Thom Harrison: And you don’t have to bathe and you don’t have to brush your teeth and you don’t have to be.

Ken Krogue: Those social skills.

Dan Gray: Zero social skills.

Thom Harrison: I remember, I would say, “I need to call at least seven gals to get a date.” I would stop at about seven, and then I would feel rejected. But now, you just go right on, and it’s there and you get this constant reinforcement. And where’s the relationship? The relationship is with some mechanical process, but also the majority of the relationship is up here in the brain. You project the relationship onto these devices or this false relationship. I guess it really isn’t a false relationship. It’s a relationship as they define it, but it certainly isn’t with one to one with another person.

Dan Gray: But, it’s a counterfeit for true intimacy. We all seek intimacy. That is what part of my presentation at this conference will be about is how we all seek… We desire connection. We’re born to connect. We’re wired to connect.

Thom Harrison: Why do we go to conferences? We go to conferences to connect, to interact with other people, with like-minded people, and to walk away feeling like, “Oh yes, I connected with those people. I agree. I was fed by those relationships.”

Ken Krogue: Give us a few more little tidbits. What else are you going to talk about at the conference? Just a couple of things if you don’t mind.

Dan Gray: Okay. Well, as we understand the world of attachment, we’re understanding so much more now, aren’t we, Thom? With the research that’s been done around attachment and connection and relationships. There, in my belief, there is a spiritual core for that. We are created to connect, but we can go back to Bible verses with that. We can go to ancient religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and even Native American Lore talks about oneness with God, oneness with the spirit.

Dan Gray: That it is our core desire, to be bonded and to connect. So, with that as an infant, we’re always looking to our parents for that bonding. We know that children that don’t have that connection don’t thrive. Some of the studies indicate too that they will have an earlier death rate because of that lack of connection. We, through our then growing up years, as we find ways to stay connected, and if we have experiences where there’s rejection, that creates a lot of emotional trauma for us. So, a lot of our trauma that we deal with therapeutically have to do with relationship deregulation—people feeling rejected or hurt through a divorce, or the death of a loved one, or feeling then rejected by friends.

Dan Gray: So, a young person that is looking for that connection, and not finding it, (maybe feeling lonely and disconnected from his peers or his parents) will be at much greater risk to then turn to artificial or counterfeit ways of finding that connection through then his digital use—going to those relationships online. “I won’t get rejected by them. I can always be accepted and feel of that bondedness.” And, even then, it isn’t just looking at pornography. Then it’s logged in the brain. “I could close my eyes and fantasize about anything at this point and feel connected to whomever I please, whenever I please.” If that’s connected then to sexual arousal and stimulation, then that sets up the tone for then continued, then potential habitual and addictive behaviors that are established over time. So, the presentation will directly address connection, attachment, and it’s relation to addiction.

Dan Gray: We know that loneliness, for example, there was a recent periodical with Psychology Today that talked about the loneliness cure is what it’s called. And saying that, we feel hunger and we feel loneliness. They’re putting it in the same kind of category now. Scientifically, that is part of the same, activating areas of the brain that direct us then to want to eat. If we feel hunger, we want to eat. When we feel lonely, we want to connect. So, loneliness is actually being seen as a gift to us, to direct us to then engage in behavior that is going to connect and feed that part of our soul that needs to have bondedness in connection with.

Ken Krogue: So it’s a warning, a little bit.

Dan Gray: It is a warning. Just like our hunger.

Thom Harrison: Hunger, bored, tired, you know, all of those things I’ve found is a direct correlation. When people get bored, and sleepy, and tired, and hungry, and lonely, then they are driven to try and fill that with some stimulus.

Dan Gray: That’s right, yeah.

Ken Krogue: That’s interesting.

Thom Harrison: And often, they choose pornography or something else.

Dan Gray: We have an acronym, Thom, that uses those very same words. It’s called BLAST. It stands for Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed and Tired.

Ken Krogue: Oh my heavens

Dan Gray: And we’re individually attuned to that.

Thom Harrison: So when you’re ‘blasting’ you could be in trouble.

Dan Gray: That’s right. And then, I had a client who comes from a religious background. He said that also fear, money, and rejections. So his acronym was BLASTFMR. And it just helps them to kind of remember to get in touch with those emotions, because that’s a part of the therapeutic process of healing is being in touch with my loneliness before I turn to an artificial way.

Ken Krogue: One More time on BLAST. Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed, Tired

Dan Gray: It’s kind of an offshoot of HALT that we see in A.A. A.A Has an acronym called HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. But, we also had to incorporate boredom and stress, because we saw those significantly as much as the others.

Thom Harrison: So frequently what you hear about is this just being spoken of as a man’s problem. Do you have anything to add about the women component? Women who also struggle with this problem, or how does it impact women in our society?

Dan Gray: Some of the latest research is indicating that one third of pornography users are female.

Thom Harrison: One third?

Dan Gray: One third. Now that seems a bit high to me. That isn’t what we see in our clinic in terms of the numbers of individuals coming in for help. But, that is some research that’s been done, and that’s quite startling. That’s way up from what it was even five years ago. It can be attributed, I think, to the early accessibility, the early exposure that these young women are having to it.

Dan Gray: I counsel with a lot of church leaders in different church congregations. They’re indicating that they are having more and more young girls come to their church leaders expressing a concern that they have a hard time stopping looking at pornography. Even though they know that they shouldn’t, but they’re having a hard time stopping it, and behaviors that are associated with that, masturbation and other forms of stimulation. So it’s an increasing problem amongst our young women and the girls in our society and culture.

Thom Harrison: Familially, how does this impact families, Dan? How does this impact children, if a father or mother is involved in this compulsive type of behavior? What signs or symptoms, or what ills, do we see in families who have parents involved in this problem?

Dan Gray: What we see probably clinically right at the front end of when a couple or an individual comes in to see us is that the wife is feeling a tremendous amount of disconnection, back to that concept of connection and attachment. She’s been feeling disconnected from her husband for maybe many years, and she is wondering why. She’s wondering why he hasn’t seemed to have been there. She’ll say things like, “I don’t know him. He seems so distant. I’m not sure I know really who he is.” And yeah, he’s involved. He’s providing for the family. He’s a very productive individual. His business, he may even have a high level church calling. I have a couple of couples that were in to see me just last week where this particular scenario fits. So he’s very busy with his church work or with his business, or school, and so she just figures that that’s been the problem for all these years.

Thom Harrison: So his distancing, stress, and his business, but she now is thinking, “Is it something else?”

Dan Gray: Yeah, and so she’s maybe even inquired and confronted him at times. Are you doing other things? Is there another woman? Are you looking at pornography? And a very, we say it’s the lifeblood of this addiction, is dishonesty and deceit. So there’s many times denial of it for many years. Then, she feels like she’s kind of going crazy, and the husband is just keeping things secret from her, because he’s not wanting to have exposure to all of this. Also feeling a tremendous amount of shame, because his behavior is incongruent with his belief system. So he’s feeling that hurt, that pain, that shame internally, but he’s not finding a way of being able to manage this. He’s maybe tried to stop the pornography for many years.

Dan Gray: So he’ll stop for maybe a few weeks, months, maybe even a few years, then keep returning to it, because he’s then dealing maybe with his stress, with this pressure, with the things at his work. And so he’s finding an outlet, a way to cope and manage. Then she’ll maybe find something that he’s been looking at. Maybe she’ll find telltale signs of maybe his texts that he’s been sending to women or his history of pornography use. Then, we’ll get the call from her. Many of our first calls are from the wives seeking help. Then the couple comes in, and then we then find out from his history what’s been going on. Then, the truth begins to come out and we’d begin the disclosure process. So the impact upon the spouse is very significant.

Dan Gray: Then, the children themselves. Many times I’ll have the report from a young man that comes in to see me, that’s in his 20’s, say that his first exposure was watching dad watch pornography, walking in while dad is actually looking at it and having that first exposure. Being startled by it, wondering, what is this? And then, in a way, kind of being given license now to look, because, “Well, dad does it. My Dad, he’s a great dad. He’s involved in church. If he does it, well then what’s the problem?” So it kind of opens up the door for that. So they then have that kind of green light to go ahead and look at it themselves as well, and then get hooked into that process as well. And also, the kids may be feeling the distance and disconnection from dad.

Thom Harrison: I remember in the nineties, a study that was being done up at the University of Utah Medical Center looking at highly adrenalized families. Fathers that were physically abusive, or used anger a lot, and screamed, and yelled (or mom also). And the profound impact that had on the stress of the kids. Just kind of an aside that we found from this study was also a much higher level of adrenalization in these families where one or both of the parents were involved in pornography. When we removed that adrenalization from the family, we saw an increase in IQ. We saw an increase in grades in school. We saw a significant increase in socialization

Thom Harrison: I Remember that’s where I thought, “Well, adrenalization in the family really impacts children significantly.” When I think of pornography use, and the profound adrenalization that is involved in that, I can’t help but think “This is probably also affecting kids in a similar way with that high level of adrenalization in the home.” Anytime you have that much adrenal activity going on, where the adrenal gland is working overtime, you see that impacting the relationship, the family, grades, intellect, IQ. So there are a lot of other things that probably filter out from these problems we’ve been speaking about this morning.

Dan Gray: And that adrenal infusion can be created in several different ways throughout that scenario that you’re talking about.

Thom Harrison: Right.

Dan Gray: Because, a heightened amount of sexual arousal also increases the amount of adrenal flow.

Thom Harrison: Correct.

Dan Gray: Then, if there is a worry of being caught, then the individual that is looking at it, their adrenal flow is increased. Because now they’re trying to cover their tracks. They’re worried they’re going to be caught, and so there’s this kind of constant concern and worry and stress that they’re going to be somehow discovered.

Thom Harrison: And then the wife worrying about, “I’m losing my husband. I’m feeling maybe I need to do something different” or “I know that he gets angry very quickly, so I need to clean up more.” So there’s more of adrenalization with the kids, and before you know it, everybody has a higher level.

Dan Gray: She’s afraid to confront, and then finally finds something, and then does confront. Then, she is angry and the adrenal flow is there as well with anger. She’s hurt because he’s been what we call gaslighting her for many years where he actually has been. He knows that she’s onto him, but he makes her sound crazy. “Honey, how could you accuse me of this? I’ve been doing this and this and this for the family. I would never do that. You’re imagining things. When are you going to get over this?”

Thom Harrison: “I think you better get some help yourself”

Dan Gray: Yeah. “Let’s get you in for some help. Let’s get you in for some counseling.”

Thom Harrison: I’ve seen that numerous times where the woman ends up in counseling, and then the therapist recognizes the symptomology and then says, “I think you need to bring your husband in.” Then, the truth comes out.

Ken Krogue: Is that usually where a catalyst for positive change is?

Thom Harrison: Sometimes.

Dan Gray: Sometimes. If he’s willing to be humble and accept and recognize and be vulnerable and be willing to get help.

Ken Krogue: Where does a positive step forward usually begin?

Thom Harrison: Usually there has to be a recognition and often that, at least in my experience, that comes from someone getting caught at a massage parlor or the son finding the pornography stash (in the attic or under the front seat of the car or in some hidden box somewhere). Or someone calls and says, “I just wanted to let you know your husband and I are dating” or something of that nature. Often, there’s some process, or sometimes through a mental breakdown, or just a stress break down, or at least that’s my experience.

Dan Gray: Yeah, and all of those are parts of different stories. Why people come in and get help. There are those as well that just are done. They’re just fed up. They’ve been living the ruse for so many years. They’re exhausted. They don’t want to have to live the lie any longer. And many of them have some very strong religious beliefs and feelings about their own integrity and their own feelings of incongruence with what they believe and what they’re doing, and that’s a strong trigger for some.

Dan Gray: I have a young man who was in to see me just last week with his wife, and that’s what happened with him. He’s in his early thirties, sharp young man, a good career, and he’s just going, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s going to kill me spiritually.” He’s done. He is going to then be open to getting a lot of help now, because he’s been humbled. He’s willing to open his mind and his heart to then the help that he’s needing to get. It’s going to be a long road home for him. It’s a lot of work, but now there’s real hope for him in my mind, because he’s willing to submit himself to the process of healing. He’s not fighting it any longer.

Thom Harrison: Well, I think you’ve seen why I have such a great respect for Dan Gray and his great work. I hope that you’ll consider joining us on March 29th and 30th at the Eternal Core conference in Salt Lake City. You can experience more of what we’ve experienced this morning. Dan thanks so much for coming and for being a part of this podcast. We hope that this will move people to come. Any last words that you’d like to share with us?

Dan Gray: Oh, I’m just grateful for the opportunity of being here today, and also being able to present at the conference. Anytime we can join together, kind of lock arms to battle this. I see the men that, and women, that I work with and my colleagues as being humbled warriors in this battle. So this is a cause to fight for, and it’s worth the battle. So thanks for letting me be a part of it.

Thom Harrison: Worth The work.

Dan Gray: It is.

Ken Krogue: Thanks Dan. Appreciate it.

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