Wednesdays I host a guest blogger – professionals, clients, friends, strangers; stories of success and failure, people who are suffering, some who are opinionated, all of whom are a work in progress. These are struggles about real life issues. If you are interested in telling your story email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Is that all? Is there anything else?”
“Uh huh…Is that all? Is there anything else?”
That’s pretty much all I heard for three hours as I recited the list of all the people I hated, all the fears I had, the long list of my sexual misconducts, and the ways I had harmed pretty much everyone I had ever met. Before that day, I had never told anyone most of the things on that list.
I’m a sex addict. I’m also a minister. That’s why this article is anonymous. Think what you like about that combination, I didn’t choose either one of those identities. One’s a wound, the other’s a gift. One is who I am, the other is who I’m called to be.
I can’t remember the first time I was exposed to porn. It was ever-present in my family, but never truly visible, never openly talked about. It was one of those things that adults could joke about in their indirect way, but an innocently curious kid could never get a straight answer about. I was just someone to laugh at and tell, “Wait until you’re older.”
When I got caught trying to find out what all the jokes were about, I was mildly rebuked and whatever I was trying to look at was taken away. It became a warped kind of game: find a magazine, sneak it someplace private and try to understand what it was all about, then get caught and teased for being so “curious”. It turned into an adrenaline-based obsession with the mysteries of sex.
Consequently, women have always stirred a mixture of shame and wonder in me that I still can’t really understand. My early exposure to porn added a sexualized “twist” to every interaction I have with a member of the female gender. I have always felt that I needed to both hide and apologize for that “twist”, even before I went into the ministry.
All through High School and Bible College I knew I had to “get it under control”. Of course I knew it was incompatible with my faith and my calling – I’m not stupid, nor am I without a conscience. So I went to work: Self-control. Cold showers. “Eyes on the face”. Bible reading. Accountability groups. Tear-filled confessions to girlfriends. On again/off again relationships. “Purity commitments.”
By some miracle, I got married, and hoped things would get better. What a joke. A real person with her own baggage was no match for my infinite curiosity/shame cycle. Despite what most people think about porn, it wasn’t that her appearance couldn’t measure up to the images. It was that her appetite could never match my curiosity, my need to know, and my longings to try and explore and experiment. I didn’t think she was a doll or some plaything, I just didn’t really know ANYTHING (and yes, I still feel that way after a more than two decades of marriage).
So there I was, preaching God’s Word every week, daily helping people with their problems. Surfing porn every chance I got, trying to quit every time I surfed. Hypocrite. Guilty. Dirty. Shameful. The more guilt I heaped on myself, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the more I needed something to make myself feel better. This led to increasingly greater compulsions to surf, leading to more guilt. A wretched, solitary cycle with no end in sight.
And then, out of the blue, a miracle happened. Someone in my church asked me to do a “Fifth Step” with him. I had no idea what that was, so I asked my friend Scott. He explained it to me – told me what to do, how to not react, what to say at the end. So, I booked some time at a monastery. This guy and I went into a room and he started talking.
I listened, nodded and said, “Is that all, do you have anything else you need to tell me?” And at the end, I looked him in the eyes and say, “Now that you’ve confessed all these things with God and one other person, you are forgiven.”
I’ll never forget the change that came over that man. You had to be there to believe it. It was as if light entered his body and shone out his face. Tears of gold streamed down into his goatee. This tough old drunk jumped up, grabbed me in a death-hug and sobbed for what felt like an hour. Then he turned around and walked out the door.
Alone in the room, standing in shock at what had just happened, the thought came to me, “I wonder who I could ask to do that for me?” I couldn’t think of anybody good, so I asked Scott. (Actually, that’s kind of the truth – I didn’t want to do this with ANYONE. But I picked Scott as the best option I had.) We went for a drive, and he did the same thing to me that he told me to do to that other guy. He listened and asked, “Is there anything else?” Even though I knew what he was doing, I found myself telling him everything. All the stuff I was embarrassed about. Things I was ashamed of. Things I was ashamed of being ashamed of. Everything I could remember came out on that drive.
Greatest gift ever. Suddenly I knew I wasn’t alone. Suddenly I wasn’t the only one who ever struggled. I wasn’t a hypocrite anymore, because someone else knew the whole story, the real me. Someone saw that confused, curious little boy that just couldn’t get any answers. Someone heard all my scary, stupid, shameful shit and didn’t run away screaming. Or laughing. I think that’s what I was most afraid of, now that I think about it – having my depravity laughed at. Having my sickness being pointed at as being small and weak and pathetic. My first step five dignified my sin as being bad enough to need confession, but not bad enough to need condemnation. And then it washed it all away.
Notice I said my FIRST step five. Much as I’d like to say that was the key to a miraculous transformation, and that lust and shame are no longer a part of my life, that’s not the case. There’s no magic bullet for me. Almost fifteen years after that day, and multiple times through the 12 Steps, I still struggle. I still bring a sexual “twist” into every interaction with a woman. And I still feel a twinge of shame & a desire to apologize for it. My marriage is still “interesting”. I carry an extra load every day in addition to the “normal” load of a pastor trying to honor God and love His people. It’s hard enough being a pastor – doing it as a sex addict amps up the challenge even more.
But – something did change on that day. I know I’m not the worst. I’m not the weirdest. I’m not pathetic, and I’m not alone. I’m a legit member of the human race; strengths, struggles and all. I have hope that I can be both a sex addict and a pastor. I’m finding a way to act out my calling without acting out my disease.
And once I knew that ONE person could know me as I truly am, it gave me the courage to show that same person to others. One at a time, God has given me the ability and privilege to tell my story to several people in my life so that every day, someone I see knows who I am and what I’m dealing with.
I am a pastor. I am a sex addict. I am loved. And one day at a time, I can be free. Greatest gift ever. Thank God. Thanks Scott.