thanks all for your comments & emails from the last couple of “out of the darkness” posts. it is always so beautiful to me to have people connect with other’s stories both personally and spirituallly. and while we may not have had the same experience exactly, the part that we can probably most connect to is the fear of having our “whole self” out on the table with other people in community. sure, it’s easy to say “oh, i struggle with this here and there and i need God’s help with it” but saying out loud the full measure of our dark sides, the reality of our shame, and bring all of us to the table in true christian community, well that is not for the faint hearted. so far i’ve shared two out of the darkness stories—self-injury and brave thoughts from a former abuser. today’s story is an up-close and personal account from one of my dearest friends about his struggle with sexual addiction.
note: this is not appropriate for all ages or situations to read. he tells it like it is, and while i think it is so important for us to know more deeply what sexual addiction really looks like & feels like for the addict, i also recognize that sometimes it can be too much to hear or read. so, just putting that as a disclaimer and trusting that you will take heed & do what you need to do with my warning.
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meet my friend “conrad.” we met about 5 ½ years ago at a celebrate recovery group where i was the new & green & spirited associate care pastor and he was one of the leaders. he immediately didn’t like me. but we both hung in there, with me doing my thing and trying to be liked, and him trying to what he could to not like me. eventually i won him over, hahaha. we’ve been in the trenches together ever since. he’s shared his relapses out loud. he’s seen me in some of my all-time worse moments and still loves me. we keep slogging through this crazy journey together learning about God’s wild and crazy love for us & that somehow people seem to be the ones who help us understand it better. listen in on this beautiful story of what can happen when what was in the darkness comes into the light and God seeps in to reveal beauty & glory in the ugliest of places. (ps: he didn’t use capitals on his interview—i think i might have rubbed off on him—so, sorry, all-of-you-who-i-drive-crazy-with-my-lower-caps!)
- share a little bit about what your spiritual journey, what your family background and experiences with God have been like.
i was the oldest of 4 children born to a woman who never wanted kids and a man who was a momma’s boy. both my parents were alcoholics. i was raised a catholic, so there was a lot of guilt and shame when i didn’t measure up. and, in my mind, it seemed that happened a lot. i was never good enough. as a son. as a husband. as a father. as a person. i thought God was always waiting for me to mess up so He could punish me and send me to hell. i never knew there was such a thing as grace until about 7 years ago.
- when do you first realize you had a sexual addiction? what did it look like for you?
i suppose i realized i was a sex addict when i found myself unable to control my sexual acting out. at first it had been a totally pleasant experience, except for the guilt and shame that i experienced because of my religious beliefs. i guess when i was about 14 i was trying to quit my compulsive masturbating (that was my choice of acting out) and i found out that i couldn’t, no matter how hard i tried. i found myself doing it every chance i had, 4 or 5 times a day,some days more. i also read my dad’s “dirty books”. as i grew older it manifested itself in watching porn, going to strip bars and brothels. and of course using any female i could for sexual gratification.
- how did it affect your marriage, your relationships?
it was always a barrier between my wife and i. i had always believed when i had a permanent sex partner that the acting out would cease. of course, that never happened. because i had such a library of graphic, exciting words and beautiful air brushed images in my head, my wife was not able to satisfy my needs after we had been married for a short while. i would fantasize about having sex with the images in my head and become detached from her. and she felt it. it made her feel like she was not good enough. pretty enough. sexy enough. etc. that caused problems in our marriage and i would try to reassure her, but she could never buy what i was saying, because my actions betrayed me. any relationship i would have with any female in my life was based on lust and nothing else. i never experienced real intimacy with my wife or in any of my friendships.
- during this whole time you were very involved in your church, small groups, all kinds of christian-y things. did you ever think about telling someone what you were struggling with?
yeah, actually i did think about it once. it was just before i got married. my wife’s uncle was the minister that married us. i realized my addiction was going to cause problems in the marriage, so i seriously contemplated asking him how to kick the habit. but i was afraid that if i admitted i had this problem he would think i was not “saved” and tell her family and she would not marry me. so i kept quiet.the devil wants us to keep our secrets in the darkness and he will give us many reasons why we shouldn’t be honest.
- when did things begin to shift for you?
i ended up in a recovery group, because of a failed romantic relationship. in the small group sharing, every guy said he struggled with sexual addiction. this made me feel safe enough to tell my darkest secret to them without fear of being labeled a pervert or made to feel dirty and gross. that was the beginning of the best stage of my life. i made life long relationships from that group.
- what has the healing journey looked like? what’s been the best part? the hardest part?
the journey has been a bumpy road for me. even though the guilt and shame were somewhat eased after i revealed my dark secret, figuring out what had caused my addiction and how to get some control of the behavior proved to be a daunting task. i would start the journey, only to end up back in the ditch again. the best part has been healing from compulsive masturbation for almost 5 years. being able to look at women and love them for their hearts and not their body parts. the hardest part has been having to start over with my sobriety because of a painful relapse that made me realize that even though God granted me healing and had taken away the power of sexual addiction, i was always just a step away from relapse if i did not keep plugged into His power and stay connected to safe healthy friends. i think the reason this felt so bad was that the guilt and shame came back. the fear of having to admit failure, yet again, paralyzed me and kept me in bondage until some dear friends that could see something was wrong with the landscape of my heart pressed me to be completely vulnerable again. thanks to that love the chain was again broken. sometimes we just don’t have the courage to do these hard things, but if we have invited safe people to enter the deepest parts of our lives and given them permission to push back on our resistance, they can be the lifesaver that keeps us from drowning. i’m blessed to have more than a few of these precious people in my life. i needed to let them in on my daily battles and remember that it was Him and not me who was going to win this battle.
- what part has shame played in keeping you stuck?
shame kept me in bondage. the church seems to put a lot of emphasis on the sexual sin. the bible constantly lists it as one of the “big” sins God hates. that shame kept me from being able to tell some one about my struggle. and that is where we stay stuck, when we can’t or won’t admit we have a problem. i know it seems stupid, but i used to believe that i was the only person in my church that struggled with sexual addiction, that i was the only person who had not been freed from my addiction when i was “saved”, that maybe i hadn’t really been saved because i still struggled with sin. i used to think if Jesus came back while i was acting out then before i had time to repent, that i would go to hell. it is so shameful and feels kind of pathetic to admit that a couple of female body parts could have me completely under their control.
- coming out of the darkness and bringing shame to light is a huge step. what has given you courage to tell your story more openly?
it’s a funny thing. the story, that ugly part of my life, that i had tried, unsuccessfully, to hide for years, doesn’t have power anymore. once it was out on the table, for all to see, there was no more fear of being found out. after i first shared my struggle, especially with a woman, and received grace and love instead of shame and condemnation the chains that had held me in bondage for decades was broken by the power of love. it’s kind of strange but i have felt more love and acceptance after telling my story than i ever did while i was trying to hide it from everyone. because i’ve felt this freedom i feel it is my duty and privilege to let others know in hopes that hearing my story will give them the courage to come into the light.
- a big piece of restoring our sexuality comes through healthy relationships with men and women. what are some of these relationships like for you now?
i truly believe that my healing could have never occurred without safe healthy relationships with women. i emphasize safe and healthy, because God knows i tried unsafe, unhealthy relationships with women for years, and the results were a disaster. the wound that lead to my sexual addiction was inflicted on me in a relationship with a woman, my mom. as i was around safe guys and was able to share my heart and bring my secret into the open i felt a weight starting to lift from my heart and my soul; but it wasn’t until i was able to bare my heart and all the shit in my life to a precious, safe, healthy young lady and be loved unconditionally by her that the weight was completely removed. the privilege of sharing my uttermost shameful, disgusting self with safe friends and being loved in return is the most amazing gift of God. these relationships give me a safe haven to keep me accountable, rejoice in my success and cry with me in my relapse. to be able to live in the freedom God wants for me. for the first time in my life i feel loved, unconditionally. really loved. God has brought amazing women and men into my life. friends that have been Jesus in the flesh for me. these friends make me feel blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
- what have you been learning about God in the midst?
i never thought of God as one involved in my daily life. and i certainly didn’t seem him as not a coach or loving parent that was trying to help me with the struggles of life. through redemptive community, He has showed me: He was there when i was first wounded. He was there all the time i struggled and acted out. He is with me now, as i win and even if i lose battles. i’ve learned i can never do anything great enough to make Him love me more nor bad enough to make Him love me less. it really takes the pressure off of me know that His love in dependent on Him and not me.
- what have you been learning about yourself?
i have learned that i am lovable and actually loved. both by God and others. that i’m neither all bad, as i used to believe, nor all good, an ideal i yearned for with no hope of being able to attain it.
- what has safe, redemptive christian community been like for you?
i have been fortunate to be in safe redemptive community for the last seven years. it has been a new lease on life for me, and my life has been transformed. i don’t think i could every adequately express what it has done for me. i just know that my life has never been as rich and fulfilling as it has in this last season. with marvelous friends that i can share my very best and very worst with, and never feel the fear that they will somehow figure me out and leave. because they know me warts and all and still choose to love me.
- what words of hope do you have for men and women out there battling sexual addiction?
you do not have to live in bondage, for the rest of your life. you are lovable. you are not alone. millions, both male and female, struggle with sexual addiction, just like you. God loves you in your struggle. i would encourage you to share your struggle with safe people and begin the exciting journey of healing. God can set you free. i’ve experienced it.
- anything else you want to add?
as strange as it may seem, i thank God for my sexual addiction,as miserable and damaging as it was to my life and my relationships. because without it i would have never experienced the power of God’s healing or the wonderful life of redemptive community. for this i will be forever grateful.
thank you, conrad, for your courage to share your story with us. i am once again amazed at what God can do when what was once in darkness is brought into the light.