I spent a total of 35 days at Keystone. Those days created necessary space for me; they gave me gifts I needed to not only survive, but start life over again. Those 35 days may not have saved me, but they sure helped.
I returned to Portland on a Sunday and began a new job working accident claims for a major insurance company. One of my former students helped me get in the door. It was a great opportunity with an excellent company.
When I arrived home, my ex, knowing she could get away with it, changed the locks on my house and left all my clothes in one of our cars, parked in my brother’s driveway. The illegality and immorality of her choice didn’t bother anyone. Afterall, I was the bastard who cheated on her. She was able to get away with whatever she wanted, and so, she chose to exercise that freedom, seemingly, as much as possible. It is sad how my lies led to her needing to lie. Sin works like that, though. Like our forefathers, the Pharisees, our righteousness becomes the seed of our sin. My wife’s “righteousness” in our marriage allowed her to sin against the sinner — me — without remorse or a second thought.
My brother and sister-in-law let me stay in their spare bedroom for a month. That was such a gift. I had no idea what was going on beneath the surface of their seemingly happy life together. It would show itself later after the elders of our church (the one that sent me out as a missionary and then shamed me from the pulpit in their own misguided pride) embarrasesed themselves and God by attempting to exorcise the demons from my brother’s house after I left.
Much later, after my brother’s demons came to light, my “non-practicing-atheistic” sponsor pointed out that probably there were demons in my brother’s house, and that they were his not mine. At the time, however, the elders couldn’t see anything because of their anger at me. As a result, they helped destroy any hope for my brother’s marriage; much, in the same way, the elders from my house church destoyed any hope for my marriage. My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe for me, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease, and his disease combined to destroy us.
My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons in his mind to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease and his disease combined to destroy us.
Even after I left my brother’s home, Mom and Dad were incredibly gracious to me. Mom’s Alzheimer’s had already stolen much of her mind, and though at times, she was aware of parts of my story, she never felt the humiliation my choices would have visited on her only a few years earlier.
I returned to Portland from Keystone with a solid recovery plan: See Dr. Shaw each week, get to 90 meetings in 90 days, call my sponsor every day, make a lot of program phone calls, keep doing step work, join a recovery small group, spend a bunch of time with my kids, and get more involved with St Matthew’s Church. I also found an apartment near my children and made overtures to my Ex about putting our marriage back together, but thankfully, she wanted nothing to do with me.
Two weeks after starting my new job, my employer sent me to Phoenix for two weeks of training. Then two weeks after returning to Portland they sent me to Tampa for another two weeks of training. They gave me a more-than-generous stipend, room, a shared rental car, and said, “Pass your training. Have fun. Drink a lot. Don’t go to jail” Though I had created a recovery plan with my sponsor, those weeks away sent me spinning back into my addiction; more wildly, making more insane and deadly choices. Though I was still calling my sponsor every day and telling him the truth of what was happening; though I was getting to meetings when able while travelling, I could not stop my sexual behaviors. I didn’t know how to act out efficiently; and was unaware of how the sex marketplace in unfamiliar cities worked and so I blew all my money on gorgeous, wanton women who were only there to take my money and came home to Portland broke from both trips,
The first two weeks in Phoenix broke something loose in me. I became intent on obtaining sex to feed my addiction thinking that “the next one could save me.” 1In meetings I’d hear, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Since I didn’t want to be insane, I kept trying new and kinkier stuff — more gorgeous women; more, more beautiful women; found different ways to meet, discover and seduce women.
In the In the months between April 2002 and August 2002, I acted out more than I had in the previous 36 years of life. I was in active rebellion against God, my family, the Church and women in general.
Though I am not proud, nor grateful for those months, I needed them. I needed to know the emptiness of the promise I sought. I needed to discover how vapid it was. Don’t let me fool you; I found hedonistic pleasure. It was glorious. It was mindblowing, and, it was vacuous. I found all of the pleasures I desired and cashed in on promises of mind-blowing sex with stunningly beautiful women and still didn’t find what I was looking for. 2
My sponsor didn’t know what to do with me. I went to a meeting or two every day. I called him every day. I was not proud of what I was doing. He watched the life drain from me as I lost hope. Finally, in August, my city hosted my 12-step fellowship’s international convention and he asked me to attend the 12-step seminar to work the steps rather than going to the breakout sessions that sounded interesting to me. It was there that I learned how to work the second step and it was learning to work that step that eventually set me free.
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…
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.