It’s midnight and just like many other nights each week, I found myself in the home office in front of my computer again. All of my good intentions, the ones saturated with denial and rationalization, are to work on my dissertation. Soon my real intentions take over and a couple of clicks later the screen of boring black and white text changes to bright colors of pornography. I am lost now in the world that is so familiar to me. It’s a world of fantasy and escape. I shut out all the pain and thoughts and feelings of my life. I push aside any sense of responsibility to do something more productive. I lose track of time as I travel deeper into my world of fantasy and escape.
Suddenly I am jarred back to reality with that dreadful sound of my wife’s voice. “What are you doing?” I have been caught again. My whole being is filled with shame and guilt. There are no words. I was stuck in silence. There was nothing I could say to make it better now. I clicked off the computer. She demanded to see what I was looking at. I just refused. She gives up and goes back to bed.
I am afraid. What will happen now? I have promised to stop so many times before. Just like all the times I promised myself and God in the past, I failed. The pain and shame inside is almost unbearable. I want to run. I want to get away, but how? How can I run from myself? The only way I know is into my world of porn and fantasy. She doesn’t understand. I don’t know how to make her understand. She is so hurt and so angry with me. I don’t blame her but I wish she could understand.
This was the point in my addiction where things changed. She was at the end of her rope. She demanded we get into counseling or she was leaving and taking the kids with her. I didn’t want to lose her or the kids. That fear made it possible for me to agree to counseling. During the counseling process I came to admit I had a problem and I had no control over it. It had been in my life for so long I had just come to accept it most of the time. After all, it was serving a vital purpose in my life. It was keeping me from looking at me and who I thought I really was. I couldn’t even imagine not having that escape in my life. It was my fix, my drug. I needed it.
As a result of couples counseling, I investigated help for sexual addiction. I found Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. It was off to a 12 step recovery group. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t think it would or could help me. As I listened to the stories of others, I found myself doubting them and questioning their recovery. My efforts at abstinence always failed after just a few days. I kept going every week. If I thought I wasn’t getting help, at least my wife thought I was and that decreased the criticism and disappointment from her. In time, I was able to make more progress. It was always a fight and a struggle each and every day. I was able to share in the group sometimes and that was progress in itself. I had never told anyone my story or even ever shared much of what I thought or felt to anyone. However, the feelings I had about myself did not change. I always felt inadequate and incapable. I was aware that things in my life were in contradiction to those thoughts and feelings but that didn’t change the inescapable negative self image.
I have been a Christian since high school. My own past and negative attitudes about myself kept me in a strict and legalistic spiritual environment. I am not saying there was not love or acceptance there. I am saying I was not open to it if it was there. I lived in fear there too. If they found out about me, I would be criticized and rejected by the few friends I had and especially by my best friend who led me to the Lord that one night in the school parking lot. I viewed Christianity as something that told me how I was supposed to act and behave. Since I failed at that every day, my feelings about myself never changed. I knew I was saved but my every day struggle and pain continued and I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Just as I was not open to the love and acceptance of the church I was also not really open to the ongoing love and acceptance from God. I just didn’t understand it or know how to accept it and integrate it into my life. I came to understand that I just didn’t expect any more from God then I had received from my parents. I had just accepted that no matter how much I hated it, or how lonely I felt, or afraid I was, I was supposed to be alone and handle it on my own.
I felt very alone in my life. I made my own decisions and set my own life course. I kept my feelings and thoughts to myself because I was not capable of handling the criticism. I tried college. It was a strict and fundamental university. I convinced my parents to let me go and found a way to work off my tuition. They criticized my decision and didn’t want me to go. Their objection only made me more determined to go. As a below average student with poor study skills and poor ability to focus and maintain attention, the challenge of college was greater than my ability to meet those challenges. The success I was hoping for was fading. This led to more escaping into my fantasy world. It was hard to find the privacy to masturbate and I found myself confronted by my roommates. The shame I felt then was no different than that of my wife catching me later in my life. My roommates gave me two options. They could report my behavior to the dean and I would most likely be expelled from school or I could see one of the psychology professors. Not being ready to admit failure on my choice to attend college there, I chose the latter. What was supposed to be help was really the manipulation of a student to meet the sexual needs of another sex addict, the psychology professor. Somewhere deep inside me, I found the courage to confront him but I was too ashamed to tell anyone else. It was after this that I made my choice to leave college. I used the lack of adequate funds and poor grades as my excuses and never told anyone of my experience. I was convinced they would not believe me anyway and my shame was too great to share. It was over ten years later that I first told of that experience. Even then I was not looking at myself as having an uncontrollable addiction. It would still take many years to reach that place.
After returning home, I found myself in the health care arena. It was not glamorous by any means. I was working as an orderly in a nursing home. It was there that I met someone that I had a great deal of professional respect for. At his persistent encouragement I finally got up the courage to apply to nursing school. I rationalized that it was only a few short years and that if I didn’t make it, it was not all that much time wasted. I didn’t expect to succeed. I was convinced I was not smart enough. Somehow I did make it through the curriculum and managed to pass the state licensing exams. It was a turning point in my life. It was that day that I was convinced that I could really make it on my own and I would not be dependent on anyone or even have to ask for help. I experienced a sense of freedom and a hope for my own future. I threw myself into my work. It became a driving force. It strengthened my sense of independence and the myth that I didn’t really need anyone in my life. I still felt alone. I was hiding behind my career and still had my addiction.
There was still something missing. Why wasn’t I happy? Why couldn’t I be close to anyone and be honest about my feelings? I know it was because of my parents and their decision to drink rather than be a part of my life. But, shouldn’t that have gone away by now? What is wrong with me? Why is it, that no matter what I do or how good I do it, I don’t feel a healthy sense of accomplishment? I was haunted by these questions. How could I find out about myself? How could I help myself? The drive to find my own answers and an interest in psychology led me back to school. The fear of failure was diminished because I had a career to fall back on. In addition to that, I was only going to learn about myself so I could fix myself. Taking only one or two classes at a time I managed to complete a BA in psychology. This offered little help in accomplishing my purpose.
My first marriage failed after 4 years. My pride and my fear and my shame prevented me from going into counseling and saving the marriage. A few years later, I married again but the results were the same. I know there were faults in my wife and I used them all to keep the heat off of me and to keep me from looking at myself. Intimacy was just not in my makeup. The shame and the fear were too intense to even try. I was still lost. Nothing was helping me. I didn’t think God was helping me. Getting married didn’t help me with my addiction or my ability to be close to anyone. Having a successful career didn’t make me feel any better about myself or make me feel any more successful or accomplished.
The next ten years was consumed with trying to maintain my career, raise my son, and feed my addiction. I had custody of my son and I felt I was the better parent but didn’t feel like I was being a good dad. It was during this time that I made another choice to take a risk with school. I applied for graduate school in psychology. I never expected I would complete the program and become a psychologist. Again, my purpose was to fix myself while pretending to pursue a career in psychology. Like all of my other efforts, this one failed too. I understood more about the problem and my past and how things got the way they did. What I did not find was a solution. I had the knowledge and the insight into myself but I was no better. The emptiness and loneliness continued.
It was at the end of my masters program that I married again with great hopes of a lasting marriage. I was still trying to hiding my addiction and control when and how much I was acting out. The marriage was working out. We had become more involved in church. I was having some limited success with talking and sharing. After 10 years, we were still married. She was not as happy as I was. Her disappointment and the stress of finishing graduate school took its toll. The addiction got more out of control. She had caught me several times. At first we agreed to get rid of the internet. I kept loading it back on. She finally demanded that we get rid of the computer all together. It took all day to pack it up. I had a sense I was cutting my lifeline. I still asked myself how I was going to manage without it.
Another turning point came. This was at a Promise Keepers conference. One of the speakers made this point about men and sexual sin. “God will not deliver you from your friends”. I came to realize that day that my addiction was my friend and I didn’t really want to give it up. It was the most honest I had ever been to myself about my addiction. Something even more important came out of that conference. I was able to recognize a truth about God and began to integrate that truth into myself. That truth was that God loved me and cared about me no matter what. His love never changes no matter where I am in my life or what I am doing. I can really come to Him just as I am. He will not turn me away or reject me. He will hold me in His arms and He will guide me. God had a plan for me, a plan I was completely unaware of all along the way. I know there were many times and sometimes years that I felt far from God but He was there, right there, working His plan. I invited God into my life when I was sixteen years old. Into my life He came. I cannot really say I felt His presence or His hand working in my life. As I look back over my life, I see clearly now that He was there and He was working. I found a real sense of freedom. I found the freedom and peace of knowing God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This gave me a new perception of my addiction and my path to recovery. It was a slow process, but I came to accept and personalize the Love of God. He would not tease me or criticize me. He would not reject me. He would always understand me and accept me just as I am. This gave me the new understanding and the willingness to take a new look at myself. It was a more honest look. I lost my identity as a failure and a sex addict. Yes I was a sex addict and yes I had had many failures or incomplete successes. However, all of it was part of the journey to better understanding and acceptance of who I really was.
Today my life is different. The shame and loneliness have faded. I continue to work as both a nurse and a psychologist. God has a purpose and a plan and a calling. One of those callings is to reach out and help other men who are having a similar struggle in their lives. Sexual addiction is a product of personal life experiences and our personality make up. It is not just a behavior to learn to control. It has a purpose in our lives. When we take it away we are left to deal with all the things we have been hiding and running from. These are powerful and painful feelings. God’s love, your understanding of yourself, your patience with yourself and your acceptance of yourself are all important components of success, not only in over going the addiction behavior but in many other areas of your life.
If you need help, find it. Find a group of other men. The healing power of the group process cannot be denied. If you have to choose between a group and individual therapy, choose the group. If you start with individual therapy, set your goal to find and attend and participate in a group. There are many books on the subject and most are good. If you find one and you feel it is more legalistic and judgmental, put it aside and find another. I have read most and will suggest Breaking Free by Russell Willingham. I am impressed with his focus on the personal relationship with God as fundamental to recovery. For deeper understanding of sexual addiction, I suggest Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes. This will reveal much about yourself and the influence of your past on your addiction. If you have this problem, get help. You cannot do it on your own. Even if you read all there is on the subject and get a PhD, you will not find success without the help of others, others just like you. You have tried to do it alone just like I did and each time, just like me, your success fell far short of completion. Maybe this is your time to take the step in right direction. If you have accepted Christ into your life, you are saved. God loves you and He is with you always. He is working in your life. Open your heart to that love. Let Him hold you just as you are. The strength of His love gives you the strength to take the journey of recovery. There are many paths in your journey. Many appear dark and others seem more like steps backwards. These paths are often filled with more insight and understanding about yourself. The knowledge that God loves you no matter the outcome provides the strength and the endurance to push on in the quest to be a better man of God. We cannot honor God by trying to appear perfect and hide our imperfections. We honor Him by facing our imperfections and coming along side others to help and be helped.