Grief isn’t merely about death. We grieve, or need to grieve so many things that we lose, and because grief is connected to death, we aren’t always aware that we are grieving. I needed to grieve the loss of my marriage and the opportunity to be an everyday Dad. I also needed to grieve my loss of any sense of personal identity. I only knew myself as a minister and an evangelist. I wasn’t that anymore.
There are stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the well-known stages with which most therapists work. Some, however, are choosing to work with the terms: “Shock, suffering, and recovery.”
What sometimes happens, at least what happened with me is that I mistook “depression” with “acceptance.” It is easy to do. Because the stages aren’t linear, or even cyclical but organic, we feel as if we are passing in and out of them, while they pass in and out of us. If I use the secondary grief language: I moved from “shock” to “suffering,” and then mistook, “suffering” for, “recovery.” And because neither suffering or depression are fun; I looked for ways to escape them.
About three years after I got clean, I started dating again. I tried to implement a method of dating taught by a leading sex addiction therapist in Portland. He taught us to sort and sift, wanting his clients to date 100 different people to discover what we liked and what we disliked.
While his advice on the “how” to date wasn’t bad, it was too soon for me to date. I wasn’t in a place of either “acceptance” or “recovery.” Rather, I was dating in an attempt to find acceptance and recovery, leaving the sorrow and depression behind. If I connected, I wouldn’t hurt so badly I wanted to stop hurting and using my addiction as a salve was no longer an option. Dating seemed like a fun alternative.
The internet has changed the dating playing field. I hadn’t dated in a long time — over a decade and the mechanisms for dating had changed. EHarmony seemed like a good way to “sort and sift.” I thought I’d try it. I wish I knew then what I knew now. I can’t say that I wish I made different choices, but the choices I made allowed me to be who I am today, so such a wish is pointless. I dated some pretty amazing people. And, I was not ready to date them, and so made mistakes and sabotaged the opportunity for relationship along the way.
I dated some others who were not so great. At least one of those I latched onto. Later when I discovered that she hated my kids and was advertising on Craigslist for a lesbian lover I left the dating scene altogether for awhile.
My attempts to find a relationship were not attempts at love as much as they were attempts at escape. By failing to acknowledge grief or enter into it, I ended up hurting myself and others.
However, my addict was too crafty and manipulative and fooled me, my therapist, my sponsor, my men’s group, and the women I went out with.
I had enough knowledge to answer all the questions. I articulated such things as, “I know I’m ready to date because I don’t have to,” and “Until I got to a place that I didn’t need someone to complete me, I knew I wasn’t ready to date.” I believed… and those around me believed that I was ready to date.
I believed my addict’s propaganda. And in so doing, I hurt more people. My addict fooled us all. That is the thing about our addicts. even we believe their lies, we lose the capability to differentiate between the voice of the Spirit and the voice of our addict. In the end, we have to learn to listen to whispers we don’t want to hear. We have to practice paying attention.
We have to silence the noise of the world around us or we will never be able to hear over the hubbub of technology, consumerism, technology, and the inability to listen to the stillness. Many times the volume of the silence is overwhelming, and we have to drown it out.
I wish I had an answer to how to do it differently. “Sorting and Sifting” wasn’t the problem. My addiction was still the problem. It merely shape-shifted so I wouldn’t recognize him.
If you’ve been listening, my addict is an instrument of Evil. Recovery is about learning to not only differentiate the Voice of God from the voice of our addict but hear and trust Him. The trouble is that he is nearly always unsafe, while our abuser holds the promise of comfort. We will never find that same comfort in God. For it is a false comfort. He nearly always asks us to let go and surrender, and that never feels safe. (But that is another post).
The story picks up during Easter, 2001.
The next weeks were a blur. Certain things stand out. Knowing what I know now about the physiology of the brain and the nature of God, it is easy to say that none of the events that I remember “should” have occurred. The reason is that in times of shock or severe trauma the prefrontal cortex of the brain shuts down, and the amygdala –sometimes called the “reptilian brain” takes over. Mine works very well. I am grateful for it even though it is incapable of understanding or making complex choices, only understanding three options: “fight, flight or freeze.” My amygdala took over the minute my wife asked me about infidelity and didn’t cede total control back until August.
All I wanted to do was survive. I had no capacity or ability to think. Had church leaders the slightest idea about the information above, I’d like to believe that they would have made better choices. What the leaders assigned to oversee my recovery passed off as expertise was, in fact a few ministerial experiences that had destroyed relationships and apparently taught them very little. There is nearly nothing as dangerous as an elder who thinks they know more than they do and believe that they act in the name of God. Narrow theological understanding, derived from a few Scriptural “proof texts,” controlled the events of the next few months. Pastors employed God vindictively as an abusive weapon to exact punitive rather than restorative measures. Church leaders who had virtually no training or understanding of sexual addiction or recovery from addiction made choices from ignorance. As a result, any hope that my marriage might survive was stolen. It took me hours of pray and years of work to be able to forgive them. Had I known then what I know now, I might have been able to forgive them more quickly. For I didn’t need to forgive them for what they did or didn’t do. I needed to forgive them for what I remembered that they did and didn’t do.
Because my prefrontal cortex virtually shut down from April to August 2001, my memory can in no way be trusted. I have Polaroid snap shots and fragments of memory that I remember. I swear that those memories are accurate. I remember them, and, if I’m honest, they may have happened differently than I remember.
Last year, I met with my former Bishop to let him know that I forgave him. It was easier than I imagined because I’m not sure if they did what I remember them doing, I forgave them for what I remember them doing, and my memories may have very little to do with what they did. They alone are responsible for sorting through their actions and choices with their Creator.
Having said all that, here is a partial list of what I remember happened:
These are the clear memories that stand out. The church leadership in Portland had theologically correct reasons to do everything they did, and everything they did was not wrong or hurtful. These were good men. I was part of an influential pastors’ prayer meeting. That group appointed a small group of pastors to shepherd me through upcoming events. My bishop, who was also a part of that group and his wife were assigned to pastor us. He took me under his wing. She took my wife under her’s. They thought they knew what they were doing, and so they acted confidently, doing a lot of damage.
Together with my wife they chose the leading sex addiction therapist in Portland for me to see. I was “required” to give my wife and the bishop’s wife access to the therapist for consultations. Also, I began attending a 12-step group for sex addicts, found a sponsor, and developed new friends in recovery.
That summer I found a recovery job, working for a small contracting company that waterproofed decks. Toward the end of the summer, I walked off the job, never to return, tired of an abusive boss. Finding a new job was terrible. I wasn’t directly qualified to do anything. Eventually, after month’s of unemployment, and much to my wife’s dismay, I chose to employ Notus Career Management to help me get back on my feet. While the initial financial investment was high, they helped me discover transferable skills and strengths, along with jobs that wanted them. They taught me how to interview, and negotiate. Hiring them to help me was one of the first and best decisions I made for myself once things blew up and I eventually found the strength to make decisions for myself. My 12-step group helped me locate the courage to make such decisions.
I started 12-step recovery in April 2001. Doing so saved my life. I arrived in the fellowship with about ten months of “sexual sobriety” and maintained sobriety easily through the summer months. And then the shock began to wear off. I began to realize the harm perpetrated against me, and the role my wife played in the events. My anger grew. I was furious. Things were about to go from bad to worse.