In those early days of recovery, I went to a lot of meetings. I wanted to get better. I went to AA, NA, as well as my S meetings. When I started going to NA and AA, my sponsor told me, “When you go to an AA meeting if you wad up a piece of paper and throw it, you have a one in four chance of hitting someone that belongs in our fellowship. If you go to an NA meeting, don’t even bother wadding up the paper because no matter where you throw it, you will hit one of us.”
We addicts have a habit of finding escape in new places when we stop using our drug of choice. For many of us in sex recovery, food becomes our new drug of choice. Most of us were already co-morbid work addicts and food provided a modicum of relief. If you are addicted to a substance, sex and food are your next logical stops on the addiction train. That is why in AA you hear about thirteen stepping, and in NA, despite old-timers best efforts, newbies can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Sex, done properly, releases pleasure hormones that rival the high of drugs and allow recovering addicts moments of escape from the pain they can’t face.
I liked NA better, because, at that time, I could quite easily introduce myself as an addict at an NA meeting, but didn’t know how to present myself at an AA meeting. I wasn’t an alcoholic. This may seem like a small detail, but it isn’t. Many old timers at AA meetings will call addicts on the carpet as AA solely exists for people who struggle with alcohol. I did not want to offend, and I did not want to lie. I didn’t know what to say. We go to meetings to find acceptance and support and when I went to a meeting and didn’t feel wanted or like I belonged it felt counterproductive.
I ended up going to NA’s Late Night recovery because I worked swing shift and it fit into that life. Also, it met every day and was within walking distance of my house. Going to a new fellowship meant that I needed to navigate a whole new set of relationships. Given the sexually predatory nature of an NA meeting, they were not the safest place for me and did cause me to slip in my recovery later on. Now they are the last resort that I only attend if absolutely necessary.
With those relational realities. I needed relational stability. My S fellowship provided that for me. A small group of us began a friendship unlike any other. Those relationships started at the lunchtime meetings that we all frequented. After the meeting, we’d grab coffee or lunch together, talk and laugh. Though we don’t see each other nearly as often, those guys are my best friends. They know me in ways that no one else does. They know my horror. They know my fear. They know my worst secrets. During those formative years, they knew absolutely everything. They were my “Shame-busters.” If I was ashamed of anything, I talked to them about it, making sure that I looked as bad as possible. Typically, they’d laugh at me unless they knew it would hurt. When they laughed, their purpose was for me to join in the laughter. The laughter and the light murdered the shame.
Perhaps we loved each other because our shame was so deep, so inescapable, we knew that only this small group of men understood — no, it was more than that. They experienced shame with us they tasted it with us and carried it with us. And shame shared stops being shame.
Others in the larger fellowship began to refer to us as the Rat Pack. That pack of men is one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me. It wasn’t an exclusive group. Perhaps there were four of us at the center of it all, but others came and went. All were loved. And no shame was too great. Eventually, we formed a formal accountability group facilitated by my sponsor. We’d gather for 90 minutes late every Tuesday night. We’d check in and then see where God led our conversation. Sometimes we’d create a Gestalt exercise. Other times we participated in narrative therapeutic work. There was always honest, hard, and kind accountability. It was this group that changed me more than any other single entity. Members came and left. But all who came were changed as we met in that little room on Tuesday nights.
These friends taught me to fall into grace — God’s grace and their grace. It was in this community that I discovered my current ecclesiology. It was in this context that I learned what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus rather than a religious Pharisee. It was with and because of these amazing men that God outgrew the Bible, my theology, or the church. It was these guys that helped save me. I love them. They don’t need to read those words to know they are true. When we are together, we are at home and we rest. In many ways, those years were some of the best of my life.
I long for the pastors and missionaries to know that kind of communion — to have the kind of “I-Thou” moments that our rat pack shared daily. The current ecclesiological system makes that nearly impossible. May I be a part of changing that.
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…
“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.