I don’t really know when it began. Or even why.
I was brought up in a wonderful Christian home with two parents who fully imparted God’s love to me, and nurtured in the faith by an excellent Bible-believing church. I came to know and love Jesus in a very authentic relationship in early childhood.
I didn’t struggle with most of the temptations urban teenagers encounter: drugs, alcohol, cheating at school, fighting, stealing. I had a superego the size of a Wal-Mart. Yet, sexual fantasy was a challenge for me, a source of incredible guilt and torment. Fortunately, through high school, I had limited exposure to explicit material.
But in college, that changed. I was living with non-Christian roommates and in an environment where pornography was pervasive, I found myself drawn to it, at first when no one was looking so as not to ruin my witness. By senior year, I gave up pretending and convinced myself that looking at porn was not sinful. This wasn’t by some theological revelation; it was because I got tired of having to constantly confess when I fell.
I got married two years after I graduated. By now, I’d renounced my attempts to make pornography use morally acceptable. I was sure that marriage would solve this problem (by now, it was a full-fledged addiction). It didn’t. No problem like an addiction gets solved by marriage. It made things worse.
Things deteriorated over the years. As technology changed and my resistance diminished, I found that behaviors I’d previously deemed unthinkable became normalized. All this while being deeply conflicted, ashamed, and terrified of being discovered. In my journal, I wrote:
"This is heavy………
Something unnatural, and way beyond my control is driving me on a futile search for more and more.
I love You, Lord; no other sin do I routinely commit in deliberate, premeditated fashion, not wanting to hurt you, but unable to stop.... Why?
I’m operating on two levels now. On one hand, I’m a deliberate, rebellious sinner, bent on a consuming lust, casting aside all concerns of godliness.
But then, I’m a man of God, desperately desiring to do what is right.
Do not utterly forsake me!”
Many a day, I’d wake up not wondering if I’d yield to temptation, but wondering how bad it would be. For several months at a time, I would stop taking communion, knowing that the next day, I’d probably be back at it again.
Even though at times I shared aspects of my struggle (including going to counseling), no one, including myself, understood and realized the extent to which this sin-sickness was consuming my soul. But in 1991, I became desperate; I saw clearly that I was being destroyed and was no longer able to hide my secret life. I disclosed all to my wife, parents, selected friends. For the next few months, I tried to change my life through counseling and accountability relationships.
However, I did not really understand how deeply embedded the addiction was in my soul, nor did I or those around me have a clue about the recovery process. And, in retrospect, I never really stopped addictive behavior. While I’d cut off the worst forms of acting out, there were many “minor” concessions I was continuing to make to lust. Soon, I was in full relapse. And too frightened, proud, and self-deceived to admit it.
One summer morning in 1995, my wife confronted me after I’d stayed up all night surfing online for pornography. In many ways, that morning, my life ended. In an instant, I went from being a superstar in my community, the ideal husband and father, an admired leader in the church, even the model recovering addict, to being a moral failure, a visual adulterer, a liar, a porno junkie.
As I confessed and came to realize how low I’d gone, as I saw the unspeakable pain these admissions caused my wife, as I bore the humiliation of church discipline (I was a leader and employee of my church), as I tallied the amount of money I’d spent and the time I’d wasted, as I was confronted with my moral bankruptcy, I began to question the ability of God’s love to extend to me. I understood grace, unconditional compassion, mercy beyond understanding; but I started to wonder if I was the exception clause, the one that God had abandoned. I wondered if my family, my community would be better off without me and even considered suicide, though for the sake of my children, I did not dwell on this for long.
Fortunately, my story doesn’t end here. Truly, with the psalmist, I can say:
“I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” Ps. 86: 12-13 (KJV)
In the darkest night of my soul, I began a new life. And for the past eleven years, I’ve been involved in a journey of recovery, transformation, and restoration. And I can say that today I walk in freedom and victory.
God has used many tools to accomplish this including deep friendships that involve much more than just reporting my failures, periods of counseling with a therapist who really understands addiction, intense involvement with a 12-step group, the discipline of routine self-reflection, and the ministry of helping others who have struggled like me. And in this journey, I’ve had some amazing experiences and witnessed unchallengeable evidences of God’s grace and power.
Without question, the most miraculous sign of God’s favor has been in the ongoing restoration of my relationship with my wife. I will never fully grasp the depth of pain I caused her, the degree to which I betrayed her trust and shredded her self-esteem. Our former pastor described the impact of my addiction on my wife as like that of a Mac truck driving though a beautiful stained-glass window.
My actions ruined our marriage beyond repair. God has given my wife the amazing grace, the inexplicable capacity to forgive, so that we could work together to build a new marriage. I can never again question God’s love, for each morning I wake up next to a beautiful godly woman whose love I don’t deserve.
So, where am I now? I am free and I am being freed.
Free, in that I no longer worry about how bad it will be. Situations, environments, opportunities, emotions that would have led me to sin no longer do. I really can say “no”. Free, because I have developed a lifestyle of rigorous honesty, routine accountability, and behavioral safeguards, knowing that I am still vulnerable to temptation and self-deception.
And being freed. I am not perfect. I’m not what I used to be, but I ain’t what I’m gonna be. God continues to point out ways that I concede to my sinful nature (lust-based and otherwise). And I continue to heal from the patterns of thinking and relating to others that my years in addiction taught me.
When my life had fallen apart eleven years ago, I didn’t know if there was any hope for someone like me. But now I know that “… the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).
God has saved me. God has heard me. God has restored my life!