I was 12 years old the first time I viewed pornography. It was 1972, long before cable TV or the internet and no one in my family ever had a Playboy or so much as a Pin Up calendar in the garage. My introduction was by way of hardcore porn (even by today’s standards) discarded in a common restroom in a medical complex. I was there with my mother for a doctor’s appointment and took the half dozen glossy pages torn from a magazine. Later that night, by the dim nightlight in my room, I masturbated for the first time. I was hooked. Right there, right then. Instantly. It was not a steady progression borne out of prepubescent curiosity or a path I was led down by an uncle or cousin or neighbor but a way to feel good if only for a few minutes.
Feeling good, accepted, was something I had longed for over the two previous years. My father had left, abandoned our family, leaving only a note for us to discover as we arrived home from school. It left a large hole in my life, my spirit, which needed to be filled. And it would be filled. The question was, with what? Even though my father had returned a few months before I stumbled on those few fateful pages, I was still reeling from the fact that my life and family had been torn apart and such a large crater had been left in what a few years earlier was a “perfect Christian family.”
Anyway, I hid those pages in my room and returned to them nightly. I had no idea the damage I was causing to my heart. The calluses I was putting on my spirit. The separation I was implementing between me, my family and my God. I was setting myself up for disaster but couldn’t stop. I wanted to. I prayed and asked God to forgive me and help me stop. I even threw away those cherished pages, but it was too late. Those images were forever etched in my mind. To this day I can recall them if I choose to and sometimes even if I don’t choose to. Over the following months and years I found more and more porn discarded in trashcans, along the road in the proverbial brown paper bag. I also discovered that, even though the law required me to be eighteen to purchase such material, the clerk at the convenience store did not. Sexual acting out became an obsession and I lost interest in almost everything else. My goals did not revolve around grades or sports or such “normal” pursuits but instead on sexual conquests – loosing my virginity became the number one focus in my life.
A few times, my father found the “magazines” hidden in my room. His only response was, “You don’t need that junk. Get rid of it.” But I did need it. Just as the alcoholic needs a drink and the drug addict needs a fix. His “confrontations” only prompted me to change my hiding spot. There was never any discussion as to the impact on my heart or the damage that was being caused in my emotional growth and maturity. I don’t blame him . . . I’m sure he had no idea at the time.
I had been regularly attending church my entire life…youth groups, camps, choir, Sunday school and services. I was there as many as five times a week. I had asked God into my heart several times throughout my teens but I never could shake what I now understand is my addiction. I asked Him to take it from me, to “deliver me”. . . but He didn’t. It just reinforced that I was a loser and unlovable. I couldn’t possibly ask for help from my youth leader, parents or pastor. I was a mess, perverted. How could they EVER relate? After all, they had it all together. They had faith and apparently I did not.
At sixteen I did loose my virginity to a nineteen-year-old pastor’s daughter from another church . . . she didn’t tell me about the pregnancy until after she had had the abortion. I carried that guilt for decades. She carried it as well. Unable to share with her parents, she shared with mine. She didn’t tell me that she had told my mother but my mother let it slip during one of our many arguments. FAILURE. LOSER. It could get no worse. That is until my mother told my father, who then went to speak to our pastor, who told his wife who felt the need to tell their high school daughters. Rejected and basically excommunicated, I turned my back on God. Looking back, I should have turned my back on that church and kept searching for God but at that age, with my “issue” without solid mentors and accessible trustworthy leaders, where was I going to look?
The feelings of embarrassment, failure, guilt and self-loathing drove me farther into my addictive cycle. Acting out within my addiction only caused more feelings of embarrassment, failure, guilt and self-loathing. And so I would act out more. Because of this, as I grew I failed to mature emotionally or relationally and kept acting out to porn and fantasy. The unreal took the place of the real. In my late teens and early twenties I took positions as a firefighter and police officer, which provided me the opportunity to move my addiction from paper to flesh. I was found somewhat attractive by the groupies that followed these professions and soon found myself able to “score” on a regular basis. This didn’t replace the collection of porn I had amassed by this point, but instead exacerbated it. This was about the time I discovered and began to abuse alcohol which became another way to medicate. Drinking and cursing the local bars became an almost nightly event. Easing pain and increasing it all at the same time.
Although deep in my heart I wanted a true, loving relationship, due in large part to the years of inappropriate fantasy, I had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like. I had no idea how to love or be loved. After all, if I couldn’t love me, how could I expect anyone else to? I did have a few long-term relationships, relatively speaking. But they would always turn physical and I would run emotionally and physically.
I felt that if I could fall in love with the right girl and get married my problems would be over . . . famous last words. At 26, I met a beautiful young lady and we dated for several months, the longest relationship I had ever had to that point. I was still viewing and acting out to porn and was unable to properly process my conflicting emotions. I loved her, I was sure of that, but as with every previous attempt to stop acting out, I could not. Fearing she would discover my secret and I would be seen as a freak and a failure, I broke up with her. Better to break her heart for “no reason” than to let her find out the true reason and break her heart. After a few months apart something clicked inside me, I’m still not sure how, but I rekindled our relationship. After dating for a few more months I asked her to marry me. She said yes. Five months later we were married.
At last! I could leave all the porn in the past! After all, I was now married to a beautiful woman who I loved and who loved me. That theory didn’t make it through our honeymoon. After years of inappropriate sexual behavior I had conditioned myself into the subconscious belief that sex was bad, even evil. And, as I had been using it, it was. Never before had I experienced sex in its proper place and context. So where I should have been experiencing joy, I was feeling guilt. I was more confused than ever. To make matters worse, my new bride had discovered my large stash of porn when we combined our households. That, combined with my emotional and spiritual dysfunction and an inability to be appropriately physically intimate, left my marriage on rocky ground from the very start. My guilt, confusion and frustration grew into anger, which I directed at my new bride. Never physically violent, I was verbally and emotionally abusive. After 3 years of my rejection and abuse, she left and moved back with her parents. This only added to my sense of failure, guilt and frustration causing me to get even angrier. I couldn’t see or admit that I had a problem, that I WAS the problem. And even if I could, where was I going to go for help?
A few months after we separated, I discovered a small lump under my right arm. It didn’t hurt and I gave it little thought until it started to grow. Within a month of my discovery, it had more than doubled in size and soon was as large as a golf ball. I was informed by the doctor that it would require surgery to find out what it was. They scheduled my surgery a few weeks out. I had no idea what this lump was and assumed it was cancer. I was scared. At the time, I was more afraid that I wouldn’t make it through surgery than I was that it was cancer. I can’t say if it was my church upbringing, my fear or a spiritual prompting, but I knew that if I didn’t make it through the surgery I would spend eternity in hell.
The Sunday before my surgery I went to a local church and prayed to ask God to forgive me for ALL my sins. That night I went home and threw away my porn. Oddly enough it was a combination of my new commitment to God and the fear of embarrassing my family should I not make it through the surgery and my “collection” was discovered after my death. Regardless, it was a big step. The surgery was successful and revealed the lump to be an infected lymph node, the result of a cat scratch. I was incredibly relieved and grateful that God had intervened. The church I had gone to before the surgery made several follow up phone calls and helped me start to grow through a mail and phone call discipleship program. I never met my discipler in person which worked well for me. No threat of being “found out” and rejected. Although I had asked God to forgive me several times in the past, this was the first time it had been followed up with action, instruction and encouragement. I was still struggling with my addiction and relapsed often but was making progress. But this was still MY secret and I had not shared it with anyone.
I sought to reconcile with my wife. She saw a change, however slight, and we started to date and attend another church together. Soon after, we reconciled and moved back in together. I continued to work on my spiritual maturity and spent time each week with the pastor who took me farther than I had ever been before. But I kept my secret to myself with him too. After all, he liked me and accepted me; I couldn’t possibly risk that by exposing my depravity. Even though I was growing slowly I kept hoarding and hiding my secret sin and it was inhibiting my emotional and spiritual growth. I was attempting to white-knuckle my recovery from a nearly lifelong addiction and I was gaining marginal success. The lack of success was also apparent in my inability to “manage” my anger. My wife stuck it out much longer then she should have hoping and praying it would get better. But given my track record, she felt she had to leave to save what was left of her. This time she filed for divorce.
I was still meeting with my pastor and he discerned that there was more to me than he could help with. I believe it was D. L. Moody that said, “If I want to know if a man is a Christian, I don’t ask his pastor, I ask his wife.” Wise, insightful words. My pastor referred me to a Christian counselor and I went. I met with him the counselor for several weeks before he asked if I would mind if he spoke with my wife for some “insight and background” so he could better understand and guide me. Given what I had put her through, I didn’t think she would want to have anything to do with it but I asked and much to my surprise, she said yes. He met with her a few times and then met with me alone for a few more weeks before he said, “Doug, I have to ask you a question. Do you think you might have a compulsive issue with sex and pornography?” I was shocked, embarrassed and exposed. We hadn’t come close to discussing that “issue”. How could he possibly know? But he did. For the first time I shared my secret with another human being. I felt as if I had been sliced open and my guts were spilled out on the floor. He gave me a book, Sexaholics Anonymous, and a phone number to call to find the location of a “meeting” he wanted me to attend. I started to read the book and found the stories shared within its pages all too familiar. All this time I thought I was the only one with this problem. At long last I wasn’t alone.
I remember a few weeks later sharing that thought, that I was the only one with this problem, with my counselor. He smiled and laughingly said, “The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business . . . you don’t have that kind of money!” A simple truth that has stuck with me ever since. A fact, that had I given much thought to earlier, might have made some sense and helped me see that I wasn’t alone. But that’s where hidden sin and addiction gets its power . . . from darkness. It feeds on fear and embarrassment. The more I try to control it by hiding it, the larger it grows and the more power and control it has over me.
What he asked me to do next was one of the scariest requests anyone has ever made of me. He told me I needed to share my addiction with my wife. I was less than willing, and told him so. Since I had been in counseling and he had met with her, my wife and I had been talking and it was going pretty good. If I were to tell her about my nearly two decade addiction to pornography she would run screaming for the door and it, any chance of reconciliation, would be gone . . . FOREVER. He told me that if I didn’t, he could do no more for me and our sessions would be over. Tough love.
The next week I called and asked my estranged wife if we could meet to talk about how and where my counseling had been going. She agreed and we met in the evening the following week. Needless to say I was apprehensive about what was about to take place and still wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. Our meeting was pleasant and cordial and it took me awhile to build up to the bomb I was about to drop. As we were sitting on the floor, of what had been our apartment, I told her I had something I needed to share. I took a deep breath and shared how I had found pornography in a bathroom when I was twelve and started masturbating and became addicted to the images and physical reactions, that I wasn’t able to stop on my own. I waited to hear the door slam but instead she took my hand looked me in the eye and said, “At least now I know what we are fighting.” WHAT? How could that be? This was a nasty, deprived, evil secret. How could she accept this revelation and say calmly, gracefully and compassionately, “At least I know what we’re fighting now.”?
We continued to see my counselor and reconciled. It wasn’t perfect but it was getting better. I started attending Sexaholics Anonymous meetings, even though the first time I went I couldn’t even bring myself to exit my car and actually go into the building. I shared my addiction with my pastor and received another graceful, compassionate and loving response. In SA, I found more acceptance and support and started to discover more about me and MY issues beyond the addiction. I continued to meet with my pastor and share what I was discovering about me with him.
A while later an acquaintance asked if we would be interested in attending a marriage seminar, called the Life Partners Christian Ministries’ Discovery Seminar. It was a two day event and I was reluctant. At this point in our lives we were very busy with work, night school, church and a new baby. Besides, we were doing MUCH better in our relationship than we ever had before. The offer was to attend for free, so my wife and I talked it over and decided to go. I really wasn’t sure what to expect and was blown away by the information presented. It was less about marriage and more about my relationship with Christ. They shared about “spiritual awareness” not in a new age mystical fashion, but a God inspired biblical way that made sense. That information hit me right between the eyes and helped me realize that not understanding my own spirit was one of the reasons I had fallen prey to pornography. I was trying to fill the spiritual void created when my father left. I had felt rejected, abandoned, unloved and alone. I didn’t recognize it at the time but it was true. Because of this, I never matured spiritually and therefore couldn’t experience a spiritual relationship with God who is spirit.
The speaker, Ken Nair, went on to share about a husband’s responsibility as the God given spiritual leader within the marriage. This was the first time I had ever heard this biblical information and it grabbed me by the heart. This was making sense for the first time and I wanted to learn more. After the Discovery seminar, we were included in a meeting with several other couples who had attended the seminar and were asked if we would be interested in some follow-up marriage “discipleship” called Christ Quest Institute. I was, but wasn’t sure about my wife. We were so busy with everything else and this would add another night out and we had a small baby and the classes were 35 miles from our house. On the way home from the seminar I asked my wife what she thought about attending the discipleship classes (once a week for three years). She said she didn’t see how we could afford to, time wise. She asked me what I thought. I said I didn’t see how we could afford not to. Given our rocky relationship and my lack of training and tools this was information I needed to be a better, more Christ-like husband and father. My wife told me later that she desperately wanted to attend the discipleship classes but was afraid of what my response would be if she had asked. That speaks volumes of where we were in our relationship and yet I was unaware.
We signed up for the classes and began attending with several other couples. We stuck it out even when I would become prideful and angry and want to quit. I was learning more about me than I ever thought possible and much of it, most of it was unpleasant. It challenged my pride, otherwise known as “flesh” and it didn’t like it. My flesh had had free reign for decades and now a solid Christian discipler, assisted by the Holy Spirit, was pointing it out and I didn’t like it. Even though on several occasions I went just to quit, I didn’t and I grew in spite of myself. We completed the three year program and then spent a year in leadership training. We began to lead groups of married couples and used our own life and experience as examples and testimony to what God can do with a husband that is willing. I would also meet with individual husbands and help disciple them. We led groups for seven years until a job change required a long distance move. I thought I was tired of leading and wanted to take a break for a few months so we didn’t plug into anything even though we found a great church in our new community. Big mistake on my part. It didn’t take long for me to get lazy and fall back into old habits all the while pride fully telling to myself, “You’re okay. You don’t need to lead or attend a group. You’re just busy and stressed. When things calm down you’ll be okay.” But I was failing and it showed in my attitude. Our relationship and my relationship with God were both suffering. I let it go far too long before seeking help. I sought out and began attending Sexaholics Anonymous meetings again and got involved in a small group.
During a meeting with one of our new pastors, we shared our testimony and he asked if we would share with the church “sometime.” We agreed and, much to my surprise, a few weeks later our story was videotaped to be played for viewing by all seven church services, about five thousand people. Admittedly, I was anxious and had second thoughts before it was shared. I think if it hadn’t happened so quickly I would have backed out. I was an appointed government official in the city where we lived and attended church. One of our city council members attended our church and all three of my kids were involved in various youth groups. This later gave rise to an additional issue, telling my then 14 year old daughter before the video ran and she was caught off guard by her friends and the parents of her friends that would soon be privileged to my inner most secret sin.
The day the video was scheduled to run, my wife and I sat down with our oldest daughter explaining that we needed to talk with her. We prayed and shared most of what you just read with her. Again, as always, I was waiting for her to be repulsed or at least embarrassed. Instead she hugged us both and thanked us for sharing our lives with her. That evening she sat between my wife and me in the front row of church, holding my hand and crying with the both of us.
Sharing was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was the knowledge that everyone knew me and my deep secret, but I didn’t know all 5,000+ people that were now armed with this information. It left me feeling very self-conscious and depressed . . . another opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth. The blessing was being told by numerous men that my story had touched them because they too were struggling with lust, pornography and sex addictions. A few asked for my phone number so we could talk more. I began leading groups of men and some couples, through studies of books such as, “Sexaholics Anonymous”, “Everyman’s Battle”, “Pure Desire” and “Discovering the Mind of a Woman.”
I still struggle with lust and battle the thousands of images I have placed in my hearts library over the decades. I still have to surrender daily and I’m fairly certain I always will. I wish I had never seen those images so many years ago. But I did and I must learn from it and use it to help others that have been ensnared by the glossy deception of pornography. Satan would like it much more if I hadn’t written this and he would be even more delighted if I hadn’t shared it with you. So I guess there is good in all things as the Bible tells me. It is good to honor God and upset the devil.
I have found that leading is a great source of growth and accountability for me and something I need spiritually. I continue to share my story and lead when the opportunity presents itself and am much less apprehensive than ever before, but still try to be discerning and sensitive to the Holy Spirit.