Whenever I showed anger growing up, my parents reminded me that they had beat the tantrums out of me when I was still a toddler; effectively bringing to an end to my “emotional terrorism.” Toddlers can be emotional terrorists; holding their parents hostage through angry outbursts, crying, screaming, and demanding their way. Apparently, I was no different, and according to my parents — worse. And so, after returning to our house on Peppercomb Rd in Eastbourne, Sussex, England; after weeks of staying in other peoples’ homes where Mom and Dad felt humiliated because of the ruckus my brother, and I made; they used a belt and “beat the tantrums out of me.”
My brother and I quickly learned that it wasn’t OK to feel or demonstrate anger in our family unless you were a woman. They taught us by beating us until we didn’t feel anymore. And so I learned to stuff my anger. Later, through hard work with a counselor, I relearned how to feel it, To this day, it doesn’t come easily; my anger is constipated.
Many of my friends in recovery told stories of losing their tempers, throwing things, breaking things, yelling and screaming. I was so jealous and simultaneously felt so superior. I stuffed my anger down, denying its existence, not realizing that it always came out sideways in horrific and costly ways that didn’t resemble violence but did so much more damage.
My wife found Steven Delugach, Portland’s leading sex addiction therapist, and told me that I was going to see him. So I went. I saw him every week and joined one of his men’s small groups. He is damn good at what he does, and he knows what he is doing. His practical, no-nonsense approach rubs some people the wrong way, but his care for his clients is evident, and he gets results. His track record speaks for itself.
I was also going to at least one (and often two) sex addiction meetings each day. In these early days of recovery, I had fantasies of beating my addiction, writing a book, and hitting the national speaking circuit. I poured my heart into recovery for all the wrong reasons — but I poured it, nevertheless.
It didn’t take very long for the things that my sponsor and my therapist suggested or asked me to directly contradict things that the leadership in the church demanded of me. At one point, my Bishop’s wife and my wife demanded to see my therapist, because they thought I was lying to them about things he was teaching me. Since I wasn’t lying, they said I needed to find a new “Christian therapist” who would agree with them. (OK, the last bit was never stated. It was, however, made more than clear.)
A counselor who attended the pastors’ prayer group with me suggested that I find a therapist who trained other therapists. If I didn’t, he feared that I would walk on whoever tried to work with me. So I started seeing Dr. Richard Shaw, the head of the Marriage & Family Program at George Fox University. Ultimately, I credit him with saving my life.
It was bound to happen; I didn’t do my recovery work perfectly. Sometimes I screwed it up pretty badly, and in one instance — knowing that my actions could be considered flirtatious (and enjoying the accompanying fantasy) — I chose to be honest with one of my former students, letting her know that she had been one of the very few triggers for me at work. On one level, the conversation was wholly appropriate, and on another sinisterly manipulative. The conversation freaked out the young lady. She ended up expressing her discomfort to either my Bishop or his wife, and they, in turn, came to me and told me that I needed to talk to my wife and confess my actions.
Recovery taught me that it wasn’t safe for me to make any significant decisions. After all, my best thinking made me an addict. So, I talked to both my sponsor and my therapist. Both stated that I should not follow the church’s demands. Knowledge of my foolish conversation would unnecessarily rip scabs off my wife’s already significant wounds. When I repeatedly refused their demands to submit, my Bishop asked me to leave. I never went back.
About this time, I started cruising again. Dr. Shaw asked me to read Jeff Vanvonderen’s book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up. I devoured it, and I saw on the fly leaf that Van Vonderen, also wrote, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I was stuffing rapidly rising anger toward the church that was unaware of how unaware they were, and my wife, who was almost grateful for my sexual infidelity because it gave her the long wanted excuse she needed to divorce me.
As I read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, I was looking for weapons and ordinance to aim at church leadership for its blatant spiritual abuse of me. God had other plans because the more I read, the more I realized, “I was the abuser.” Every time I raised my gaze, the fingers I wanted to point at the church pointed at me instead. The realization that I drove people away from Jesus, and his Kingdom, just about killed me. It came close because it sent me scuttling back to my addiction — to cruising and prostitutes. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I wouldn’t find any lasting freedom for nearly another year. The day America woke up to planes flying into the Twin Towers, I was too hung over and haunted from having acted out with two prostitutes the day before to care. For the next six months, I would act out once a month, every month. Those actions led me to decide that I had to get further help.
In the wake of the meeting with the pastors, life went on without much change, other than the fact I experienced my own personal “Ichabod.” The Holy Spirit left me, only returning for brief moments when I preached or taught. I refer to this period of my life as my “brown out.” God actively hid from me.
I was incapable of enduring the void and my behaviors escalated. Still hampered by my sometimes-unbiblical systematic theology that I used to interpret the Scriptures. It was so bad that I told one of my staff that I wasn’t one of God’s elect. I explained that there was no fruit of the Spirit in my life and that my prayers bounced off the ceiling; returning to me in utter silence. I related my current prayer to my friend and fellow staff member:
“God, I know I’m not one of your elect. There is no fruit in my life. My sin is continually before my face and has defeated me, grinding me into the dust; but for whatever reason, when I preach people renew or find a relationship with You. So, though you will damn me, I will keep proclaiming You until I die, so long as you promise to save my kids.”
And so, life went on without the Spirit’s presence. I went through the motions of ministry with an empty soul, having lost contact with my Creator, and out of touch with my wife and myself. But when I preached, there was still power. So, I kept preaching, and people kept responding, and I kept climbing the evangelical church’s ladder of success.
In 2000, along with 10,000 other evangelists from around the world, I traveled to the Amsterdam 2000 conference. I roomed with a friend. As he slept, I snuck out to visit prostitutes in the red light district. Toward the end of the ten-day conference, I even began skipping break-out sessions to try to find a girl who could save me. No one could. And, still no one knew my secret.
The shame of my actions overwhelmed me, and for an extended period, I stopped my behaviors. Then on Easter 2001, I returned home from doing a radio call-in show. I thought my performance deserved sex as a reward. She disagreed, and then, for whatever reason, four years after my confession to the pastors, she asked if I had been unfaithful to her. I answered honestly. She hit me in the face, and neither of us slept.
The next day, she went to our Bishop’s house, revisiting my guilt with him; and my life necessarily changed forever…
I thought, “Once I am married and can have sex, my sexual struggles will go away.” If you remember, I’d just lost the love of my life. Also, my two best friends moved away from Ann Arbor, and I felt incredibly isolated and alone.
I knew that staying in Ann Arbor was a mistake. It was time to move. Leaving IVCF and the Midwest wasn’t a sudden decision. I let my Area Director know a year in advance that I was leaving.
The previous year, I joined the pilot program of Arrow Leadership Ministries and made connections all over the country. It felt as if I had limitless opportunities. The summer before leaving, I traveled home to Oregon both to interview for ministry positions and strategize with my parents and sending church about the future.
At the beginning of that summer, I met my first wife. Initially, we didn’t like each other much. She couldn’t stand me, and I thought she was “the kind of woman you sat on a keg to keep it cold.”
She was part of a thriving singles group that my friend pastored. He and I spent much of the summer going on “corporate dates.”
Late that summer, we asked the woman I was to marry (the same one that couldn’t stand me when we first met) and her roommate to go on a corporate date. After hearing me preach a month earlier, she made it clear that she had changed her mind and wanted to get to know me better. So asking the two of them out didn’t seem all that risky. It was a great date. One of the best and one of the last of the summer.
A couple of weeks later, I returned to Ann Arbor. A letter from her was waiting for me. (This was well before email, cell phones, or text messages.) We began virtual-dating via the phone. We were both still dating other people, and sometimes we talked about our dates on the phone. But, once a week, we’d talk together for three to five hours. Both of our phone bills were huge but neither of us minded. Though I didn’t feel physically attracted to her, she became my best friend. When other, male friends asked me about the lack of attraction, I responded, “When I’m eighty and sitting in a rocking chair next to my wife, I want her to be my best friend, and she is that.”
My shame was so great, and my theology so shame-infused that I combined the two. I believed I had disqualified myself from “God’s best for my life.” I said, “I’m kinda like Israel, who sinned and wasn’t allowed to enter the promised-land.” And at one point, I sat with a circle of fifteen or so students around me and said, “Watch everything I do regarding relationships very carefully. Listen to everything I say about relationships, and then do the opposite and you’ll be OK.” My students knew my story and realized that I was serious.
Spiritualized shame and an unattractive and wholly unbiblical god, formed the root system of my belief that I had forfeited God’s “promised land” for me. I read the Scriptures through shame’s lenses. Shame infected every facet of my life and hope. I accepted the fact I was condemned to wander in the desert because of my sin. What I thought was God’s voice was shame’s neverending whisper.
At Christmas that year, I decided to date only the woman who became my first wife. I remember the almost-paralyzing-nervousness of sitting on her living room floor and reaching to kiss her for the first time. I remember her surprise at the kiss and joy when I told her that I wanted to be exclusive. I remember how she kissed me back and said it was what she wanted to. We celebrated by making an exquisite cracked crab salad.
During that season of my life, I cannot point to any specific “acting out” behaviors, yet, I know I was still “using.” My addiction was still my most carefully kept secret. But defiantly I hoped and still prayed; confident that once I was married, my addiction would fall away.
I was wrong. I left Michigan in May, and we got married in July. The sexual intimacy that I thought would save me instead proved only to add to my shame. We were broken from the beginning; barely being sexual at all. Everything in me screams, “Blame her!” But I can’t. How could my wife possibly feel desirable when I did not see her as beautiful? How could she have any desire for me at all sensing she wasn’t wanted? So, sex happened very infrequently and intimacy even less. We went months without affectionate touching or kissing. There was no sexual glue to hold us together. We were on our way to becoming roommates who occasionally had sex and rarely, if ever, made love.
I remained clean for over a year. Then one night, I cruised a red light district. Soon, I masturbated; and then, my wife walked in on me masturbating at our mission’s headquarters right after sex. Later, she caught me again while we were on vacation with our baby daughter. Shame reigned in our marriage. She realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth. This was not God’s intention for marriage.
Shame reigned in our marriage. My wife realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth. This was not God’s intention for marriage.
Half a year after the birth of our first child, I had sexual intercourse with two different prostitutes. Guilt and shame flooded me. There was no way to escape the fact that, by any definition, I was an adulterer. I called my best friend and co-pastor to confess to him. We took a long walk in a park, and I told him what I’d done; acknowledging that I didn’t know what to do, crying out for help.
My friend contacted our Bishop and arranged for two other pastors to meet with us. We gathered in my living room, and I told them what I had done, confessing again. They thanked me for my confession. And as we talked, I heard them say, “Thank you for acknowledging your sin. What you did was wrong. Don’t do it again. Make sure that if your wife asks any questions about this that you answer her truthfully…”
To be continued…
Trying to explain my spiral into addiction is neither pleasant nor easy. In recent months, I’ve acknowledged that my “perfect” family wasn’t perfect at all. We had a dark side. My mother sexually abused me when I was young. I became a surrogate to her while my Dad traveled. (Maybe in the years that follow, sharing more details might prove helpful. For now, however, it serves no useful function.) It is hard enough to acknowledge that the abuse happened at all. By doing so, I violate my family’s rules. A Godly woman like my Mom wasn’t capable of such horrific acts. And yet, she was. It is important to say that the damage and debris left in the furrow of the abuse did not cause me to become a sex addict. It was my responses to the sexual violence that led me to addiction.
A fiance who betrayed me with another man only served to compound the marring of my soul. The memory of my brother and I driving away from her house after collecting the ring I gave her is still vividly horrifying. My brother pulled over so I could dry heave on a dark, deserted highway. In the weeks and months following the dry heaves, my fantasy life grew dark and violent. I couldn’t pretend to be pure and naive any longer. I became monkish, not trusting the opposite sex. For the rest of my college career, I avoided relationships with women to the degree that some of my friends thought I was gay. It took over a year and a half for me to allow my InterVarsity staff worker to try to set me up with a girl from Michigan State. Though we were both interested, it never panned out. As a result, I stayed happily single, masturbating to erotica, pornography, and violent fantasies of sexual revenge against my ex. At this point, sex didn’t feel like a big deal to me. It didn’t consume me. Masturbation was merely something I did — didn’t everyone?
After graduating, from college, I moved to Ann Arbor, to work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I still remember walking into my temporary housing and running into a drop-dead gorgeous brunette who introduced herself as a member of the performing arts, evangelism team I was to lead. At that moment, we both knew that there was an undeniable spark. Eventually, we started dating. She was fantastic and was everything that I ever wanted in a life partner. She wowed me, and I was madly in love with her.
I transformed my appearance and demeanor; I grew my hair long, into a fashionable late 80’s style mullet and began sporting a close-cropped beard. I pierced my ear and wore a dangly silver cross earring in the style of George Michael. Every Wednesday night I went to a pub on Main Street, across from campus talk to people about Jesus. I reveled in the fact that the people didn’t understand what a pastor was doing in a pub, drinking beer, talking with them about Jesus. I was having a blast, living a dream. Noting this, is important because my dream life wasn’t enough. Indeed, it underlined my fears that I would never be enough.
A major event that few people know about occurred in 1989. I traveled home to Portland for a short break, My appearance had changed so much that my family and friends had a hard time recognizing me. I found considerable freedom in anonymity. One day I met a friend near Portland’s red light district. Afterward, I drove a few blocks and picked up a prostitute. It was surreal and completely caught me by surprise. I didn’t have any physical contact with her; though I thought I was going to when picking her up. I couldn’t. Rather, I pulled over, shared the gospel with her, gave her a tract and let her out, saying, “God bless you,” As she walked away, I shook in my boots, asking myself and God what was going on. I had no idea. I was so scared that I called my girlfriend and told her what I did. At her urging, I talked to the leadership at my church, being careful to “spin” my struggles in a way that I could get help and not get fired. They loved me and promised to pay for counseling.
When I got back to Michigan, I found a Christian therapist. I stayed in counseling for three years. Therapy wasn’t the answer, though. My sexual behaviors grew progressively worse during those years. I knew I was an addict, and yet I still couldn’t admit what that meant. Nor could I do anything about it; because no one in evangelicalism seemed to know what to do.
Soon thereafter, I discovered legal businesses; that offered illegal sexual practices. Behind their legal facades, they are ostensibly brothels and leading players in the sex trafficking industry. Though I found them innocently, entering their doors for legitimate reasons; following my discovery of the sexual acts offered, I became a regular customer; my sex addiction was spiraling out of control.
I never had sexual intercourse in any of these establishments. Indeed, I didn’t have intercourse before getting married. That was always a badge of pride for me. Being “technically pure” allowed me to rationalize away my behavior. After all, I was only as sexual as President Clinton had been with an intern. However, I spent more money than I possessed to feed my addiction. Even the sexual release I achieved wasn’t enough, though. I soon began experimenting with progressively riskier behaviors.
I knew I was rapidly descending into hell when I acted out with a strung-out woman in a dangerous Detroit back alley, on the heels of teaching about “Sex and being Single,” at a large singles conference. The woman, the alley, and the act all disgusted me. It wasn’t pleasurable. The only “hit” I got was the adrenalin hit of having taken another step toward death. I made another pledge not to act out sexually again. In this particular instance, I kept it for many months. Then I passed one of those neon signs that lit up the night inviting me back in. A siren song beckoned, and I couldn’t say no. I slipped right back into the familiar rhythms of adrenalin, escape, and pleasure. I didn’t know or care at this point how much my addiction was costing the women I was paying to gratify me, All I knew was that I couldn’t stop. I was an addict. I knew it and didn’t know how to admit it.
I lived a double life — no one knew about my behaviors. Unless you’ve done it (or are doing it), you can’t understand what that means. If you are in it, I know the hell you are in, because I visited and even bought a tee shirt while I was there.
Truly, when I was in my role of campus pastor and evangelist, I was unaware of the man who acted out sexually in secret with trafficked women. When I was cruising or acting out, my life as a pastor and evangelist didn’t matter one iota. I disassociated. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde‘s story was my story. I was truly lost.
“I found the bottom and discovered it to be sound.”
–John Bunyon, Pilgrim’s Progress
I sat in a small upstairs classroom in an unfamiliar church, thinking, “I am all that I feared I was…”It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.
“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”…
It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.
“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”
”Hi _________,” the group answered in unison.
I didn’t know if I was dreaming or if this humiliating nightmare was my new reality. It seemed too unreal to be real. But it was very real.Just a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of
Just a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of Cross Carrier Ministries, and dropped out of “life as I knew it.”
My identity was seeping away. How could I know that being crushed by the Church, and cast out into an unknown world was God’s way of letting me know he wanted a personal relationship with me. I also had no idea that my path was about losing more than sexual addiction, but about having to cut out all the “stuff” in my life that I considered, “a part” of me, but God saw “as harmful” to me. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey through the deepest recesses of my soul. It traversed the gullies of my resentments, the canyons of my fears, the cavernous holes bored out by my secret life and the quicksand pits of selfish and prideful attitudes that touched every other aspect of my life. I merely used fantasy and sex to hide from all these things. They were symptoms of much deeper problems I didn’t want to have to face.I’m the son of an itinerant evangelist and missionary mother, I quickly slid into the family business. I started preaching at age sixteen. As a communicator, I prided myself on being open about my weaknesses. At times, I even admitted from pulpits that I was struggling with “sexual addiction”. I’d reveal much, but never my entire story. By doing this, I relieved some of the suffocating guilt I felt while appearing and sounding like a much better speaker. Looking back, by revealing some of my struggles I helped some people on their journeys.
In reality, my ministry—indeed my whole life – was a façade or a hologram. I was not really real. I was a “hollow man,” who perceived the world as his stage, and people as his opponent, or tool. Everything was about me. I was at the center of the universe. The world revolved around me. I was a narcissist. And though I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what. Existential questions plagued me continually, and I found no respite. I was powerless, and my life became unmanageable, and I was incapable of recognizing that reality.
After my fall into grace, I listened to a tape of a seminar I taught at a singles convention on the topic of sexuality. As I listened to that distant memory, I was amazed at how right I was about so much. But I also realized that I offered no enduring, sure hope. How could I give away what I didn’t have myself? I had nothing to give. I was an addict with no recovery. Indeed, I was an addict that didn’t even fully know that I was an addict. I cognitively understood the lust trap and often expounded on it for hours. I knew every inch of the pit called addiction. I spent my life exploring its inner walls looking for a way out without any success. I read all the books, tried all the prayers. Nothing worked. I had nothing to offer but a tour of the prison I inhabited. It is a harsh reality that too many people live and are familiar with addiction without ever realizing that it holds them captive.
Sexual addiction (like every other addiction) does not discriminate. It doesn’t seem to matter who one is. Men and women from different faiths and classes of society whither and wilt inside, little by little, trapped and controlled by powers beyond their control. Many are physically dying from a seemingly endless list of diseases contracted through illicit sex. Or depression and anxiety that nearly always accompany sexual addiction. Some will take their own lives, hopeless and lost. Others simply wander with hollow eyes searching for their next “fix” trying to make it through another day.
I spent hours immersing myself in pornography, cruising bars, the red light districts, phone lines, or the Internet, looking for an adrenaline hit I only achieved while “hunting.”. Many addicts have no idea the amount of time we lost in a secret, shameful, fantasy world that sucked us in, refusing to let go. I lost weeks and months of my life to lust that I never will get back. I could get on my computer for a minute and snap out of one of my hypnotic-like state four to eight hours later.Looking back, that has changed.
Now I discover each day a new path to freedom. Like many in recovery, I am slowly finding the fullness of life I was promised (but never experienced) way back in Sunday school. Life is full of hope for recovering addicts. We discover that we have no choice to but to rely on God for our very breath.
For the first time in my life, I began to experience a real relationship with Jesus because I have no choice but to run into his outstretched arms every day if I want to live. I am not a disciplined person by any stretch of the imagination, but some simple disciplines have become a matter of life and death for me. Forgetting them, I consciously decide that I don’t want a relationship with Jesus that day or in that moment, and I isolate; alone in my addiction that, untreated will kill me. Today the Bible is not merely a book of theory. It is becoming a book of solace and connection.I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.
I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.
There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.
On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.
The church is haughty and has an excess of hurtful “truth” it wields all too freely. In the process lives are shattered, and people turn from Jesus to something more “loving.” The Church too often feels it has a monopoly on understanding God and His methods. We’ve boxed Him in and demanded that He limit Himself to our systematized categories of thought and action.
A mentor, known the world over, said to me, “Sadly, the church has no helpful concept of grace.” My experience agrees with him. And, I am aware that there are churches and people who do know and offer grace to the world — to me. The sad news is too many Christians haven’t and don’t, all the while thinking they have, and do.
Recovery is my journey. It maps the way I need to walk. Who knows, it might be your path too. There are a multitude of women and men who have earned chairs in sexual recovery 12 step fellowships without realizing that there is such a thing. They are unaware that there is a society of men and women who share their stories and experience and will walk with them no matter how far down into the pit they have traveled. For innumerable reasons, only a few will find their seat, begin to undo their wrongs, and discover real freedom. Don’t let anything stop you if you belong. Sex addiction (any addiction) is truly a matter of life and death. Often I write a gratitude list to God, and on that list I give thanks that I am a sex addict. For ironically, if I weren’t, I’d never have discovered him.