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.
Johnson & VanVonderen defines spiritual abuse as, “Using God as a carrot or a stick to get people to behave the way you’d like them to.”* Spiritual Abuse came naturally to me. As a junior in college, Campus Crusade for Christ tried to ask me to come on staff with them, and I did not allow them to get very far. At the “Senior Panic” I attended, I did not even know it was a recruitment event, and after I discovered what it was, it was too late. I went to my interview time in shorts and a ripped tee shirt and informed the three people who were there to interview me that they were wasting everyone’s time and that I was not going to go on staff with them. When they asked, “Why not?” I said, “Because it
I said, “Because it isn’t God’s will…” knowing that the answer would leave them nowhere to go. I was right. My college staff worker came to me soon after that, and we agreed that my ongoing involvement with Crusade would be a distraction rather than a help to them or me. So I joined InterVarsity.
In those days, IV held “Bible & Life” weekend conferences. I attended my first event as a senior. Costs were kept down by meeting at a local church, and attendees stayed with families in the community. I was placed in the Bible Studies method course — and I discovered that this old guy named Tom (he must have been in his mid-40s) was at my table. I was blown away when, on Sunday, he was the speaker for the event and man, could he preach! I discovered that he was the Area Director for Central Michigan, and he was there to “vet” me. As we left the conference, he asked for a moment of my time, “Steve, I’d like to ask you to pray about the possibility of considering joining InterVarsity staff.” I tried to formulate the word, “No,” but couldn’t. How could I possibly say no to praying about the possibility of anything.
In my unknown woundedness, I latched onto Tom as a surrogate father to me. He was more of a mentor to me. I wanted to be him. Later in my career with IV, I realized I demanded way too much of him, and though we remained close; he was the preacher at my first wedding, and I named my son after him, he felt betrayed by my move back to Oregon and we drifted apart. Though I don’t know entirely why, since I fell, he became unreachable. Sadly, and to my detriment our relationship, which I valued above nearly every other was a casualty of my sin.
I began using the phrase, “I’d like you to pray about the possibility of considering…” I discovered when I “twinned” his expression with the story of how he used it with me; students could not say no to me. If I really wanted to twist the knife, I would add, “If as you pray, God says no to you. I will not argue with him. Arguing with God is not smart.” I was developing into a great salesman for Jesus. I do not know how many people I manipulated this way. To my shame, the number is too high for me to count.
It was the fall after the Church publicly vomited my sin for the world to see; as I read Johnson & VanVonderen’s book that I saw more of the fulness of my abusiveness and recognized more fully the abusive nature of the Church system I had been raised. What killed me was that I realized that so much of what I thought was good was really evil and had driven people away from Jesus.
I use Johnson and VanVonderen’s definition of Spiritual abuse. And, I am convinced that we spiritually abuse people whenever we use God, or his written word as instruments of shame. There is no shame in the Kingdom of God.
Since nothing the church tried was working, and since I couldn’t get clean and because my wife had filed papers for divorce and asked me to move out of our house, the pastors agreed I needed more than they could offer. Perhaps, the therapists and my sponsor were right. Maybe I needed rehab. I still remember my friend Tom saying to me, “Even David had to learn through the rods of the Philistines. Perhaps that is what needs to happen with you. I don’t know, Steve. I don’t know.” Finally, the Church was acknowledging that it was in over its head.As I flew back to Philadelphia for rehab at Keystone, I listened to Mozart’s Requiem on my walkman. I put it on repeat. I checked into the facility — a giant house in Chester. Across the street, all the people in drug and alcohol rehab looked down their noses at us. Sex addicts are the scum of the earth. That house in Chester was a cocoon for me, though. It was the safest place on the planet.
When I arrived, I was shown around the three-story house, given a room, and introduced to my housemates. There was a giant white board in the kitchen with all of the resident’s names. They wrote my name at the bottom. I moved up the board as people left and others arrived. Once at the top, a decision was made about when it was best to graduate. I stayed 35 days.
Sex addiction is not limited to pastors though there were two of us there during my stay. There was also a mobster (I kid you not), a nineteen-year-old kid who also struggled with heroin, a banker, and an artist. Most of us were educated and at some level had a level of success. There was a jew, a Wiccan, and assorted Christians, as well as an atheist and agnostic. There were gays and straights and even a couple of “tri-sexuals” (“We’ll try anything”). There were people in trouble with the law, with their partners, and with their workplaces. And though, while I was there everyone was male; that is not always true.
We had group and individual therapy sessions in Art therapy, psycho-dramas, family therapy (for those whose partners participated — mine did not), and talk therapy. We faced our predatory selves. It didn’t matter what we had done. Even my friend who never “acted out” with another human being, acknowledged that he was a predator — though most the world would not understand how. In the evenings, we attended 12-step 12-tradition meetings, and eventually we were all allowed to use and talk on the payphone when it was available.
Next week we’ll go further into the details…
*D. Johnson & J. VanVonderen (1991) The subtle power of spiritual abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
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.
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.