by Jon Meengs
As I’ve slowly and methodically unpacked my addiction over the past 15 months I’ve truly come to learn a lot about myself, much more than I ever really cared about in the past. I’m sure that stems from the fact I really didn’t care so long as I got my way. It’s interesting to me how I absolutely flat out refused to accept that my marriage, even though it was founded on lies and deceit, could actually be in jeopardy and ever end, until I came home one day and learned that the end found me.
I hate to start my story with that of a broken home, but I must. I realize in this day and age it sounds so trite and complacent that so many raise the banner of their childhood to uncover the root of their struggles in adulthood. But I have to. I’d really like to slap a joke in here about cries for attention or how my father wasn’t around enough, but I can’t. It’s honest truths like that I’ve worked to avoid my entire life; a long journey of struggle and pain, but it is where it all began.
I don’t remember much growing up when my parents weren’t divorced. My routine was established pretty early living in the city with my mom during the week and traveling to see my dad in the country on the weekends. For as long as that situation persisted, I very rarely felt comfortable at my dad’s. It wasn’t because I had issues with him; I don’t believe I knew him well enough to take issue, but the actual divorce created a situation where things just never seemed right.
Stemming from the divorce and now dealing with a step-mom and a step-dad, to say I was confused and uncomfortable with who I was is quite the understatement. I don’t remember a gradual introduction to my new extended family; it was like they just showed up at the door one day. Being young and having to deal with this on my own for the most part was confusing. I actually remember being at my Dad’s one day and proclaiming to him in all my excitement as only an 8 year old can, “Hey, I’ve got a new Dad.” Needless to say, that one didn’t go over too well, but I was in the dark enough that I was clueless. My brother was in counseling because of the separation, but all I can figure is that I was young enough that they thought I could skate through it unaffected.
Around this time I gained weight unexpectedly. Already not being the most confident in myself, the weight gain hit me pretty hard. Food was my first retreat in times of stress and uncertainty. It was a place I frequented regularly in my elementary school years. In those days (a time I’ll refer to as the 1980’s) being overweight was especially tough. The comments were typical. The feelings of inadequacy became ingrained. As a child I would constantly compare my outward self to other kids. When something doesn’t match up, kids can really point out things in extremes. I rolled those extremes right into eating. At an early age I’m left with this feeling that I’m different than the other kids. They don’t need to deal with the same things I do. I’m different. I’m unique.
Finding Porn: the beginning of a secret life
I was around the age of 10 when I discovered something the others hadn’t. It was something that finally gave me the attention I had been craving, the affection I’d felt I was missing, and it provided me a feeling of adequacy I yearned for. Pornography.
Initially, I found it almost melodramatic. While I had heard about it, I’d never seen any before. As I think back on it I can remember exactly where I found it, exactly how it was folded, and sadly enough, I can remember the picture on the front in enough detail it makes my heart ache. It’s the damage of images that cannot be unseen. This small experience was the first step in aligning myself with a lifestyle that would hijack huge chunks of my life for the next 20 plus years.
At first, I actually used what I had found to my advantage in drawing attention from those around me. All of the sudden I wasn’t just a fat kid: I was a fat kid with porn. Struggling with self-confidence issues related to my weight as a pre-teen and teenager was my momentary golden ticket. Everyone wanted to experience what I could provide, if even for a brief moment. Invariably, as the months and years passed after finding that first magazine, the desire for “that” guy faded. Outwardly, it was thought the fad has passed and the topic wouldn’t come up as much.
Internally, I was hooked. The attention I craved came from the women staring back at me from those pages. No girl I knew in real life would look at me like that. So comforting and so accepting. They didn’t judge me; they loved me for who I was. This was my special world and I had decided for me that I was going to do all I could to keep it a secret from everyone.
As my time with pornography continued into my middle-teen years I began to progress with a collection of more magazines, and further to videos if given that chance. Pornography had become a constant vehicle in my life. With the discovery of masturbation, pornography merely became a means to an end. With the onset and proliferation of computers and the Internet, I never stood a chance resisting it and the instances of looking at and using pornography increased exponentially. My compulsion for pornography opened the door (acting as a catalyst) for easy justification for anything and everything. For the past 8 or so years I had been building lies inside of me to be able to justify anything: Any action, any statement, or any thought.
Living a secret life addicted to pornography allowed me to create a full false self inside who was nothing like the outside. For the length of time I’d been mired in pornography, I had been lying to myself and accepting those lies as truth. This is only my issue. This doesn’t affect anyone but me. I’m not as good as those around me. I’m unique and no one would understand why. This is who I need to be. The biggest lie was telling myself that I could quit if I wanted to, but I enjoy it and it’s nobody’s business but my own.
The Craving Grows
I graduated from high school (with honors mind you) and started college, only to quickly stop. In an effort to find out what I truly wanted to do with my life (another story all together) I decided to go to work for a while. At the same time I buckled down, went on a diet, and lost 50 lbs. When you combine this with the fact that I finally allowed myself to start drinking, my life began to turn a very pronounced corner. The weight loss and alcohol opened a new world to me. As soon as the glass touched my lips, I felt different. I felt powerful. I felt confident. With my new job came a new circle of friends who I became very comfortable with. It was normal for girls to come up and give me a hug or kiss me on the cheek. I was starving for it. I was in a personal heaven.
All I wanted was more physical interaction, and yet I was fully addicted to porn at that point. I can’t go more than a day without looking at pictures on the Internet or watching a video or going to a strip club. On top of that, being drunk a few nights a week was the norm. I could look myself in the mirror, and with a straight face, tell myself, “You’re doing well. You’ve found your own way. You’re having a good time and you’re in control of your life. You’re making up for lost time.”
At age 19 I met my first girlfriend on one of these alcohol fueled evenings. Immediately, the relationship was based on nothing more than sex. There was little if any substance to the relationship. I thought it was great, and I couldn’t have cared less. The most ridiculous aspect of my life at that point was that my addiction to porn only got worse. Even as I was having sex quite often with my girlfriend, I would leave her, go home, watch porn and masturbate. The association I had with the feelings was something that I didn’t question. I didn’t really wonder why; I didn’t see anything wrong with it. It was just me.
To pick up a little extra motivation, I ended up joining the Marines at age 20. If the weight loss had kicked my confidence into high gear, the Marines enabled it to stampede into hyper-drive. The world was mine now and I ransacked it as I saw fit. Initially, this meant dumping my girlfriend for greener pastures.
Coincidentally, it was at this point I met my future wife: a relationship so doomed from the start it’s beyond imagination. I have absolutely no idea what a real relationship looks like or how one should be maintained. I only knew how to take. I take from pornography. I take from alcohol. I take from intimacy. I didn’t care about any one but myself. So long as I was getting what I wanted, the rest of the world be damned, which is exactly the road our marriage went down.
Porn in Marriage: the downward spiral to an affair
I accepted Christ on March 23, 1999. I don’t believe I allowed my heart to fully be transformed. While I had scaled back tremendously, I was still looking at porn and drinking a couple days a week. When we were married in 2000 it became readily apparent that even consistent sex with my spouse in a supposedly intimate marriage relationship wasn’t about to quell my thirst for porn. We went through the pre-marriage counseling. We got the stamp of approval. I was absolutely naïve enough to think I could just turn it off when the time came. I was in control. But after our new computer started showing signs of my browsing, she confronted me. I lied like only an addict could. I said what needed to be said to make it go away. She believed me, and I was vindicated.
Eventually my wife would arrange for us to go to counseling, on a couple different occasions. It wasn’t actually the porn that caused it, but the fallout from my lack of engagement in our relationship: my staying out nights drinking; my anger issues; a web of lies I continued to spin and then lie about more in the event she called me out on anything. I can vividly remember shouting at both her and the counselor, stating, “I don’t’ want a divorce, but I don’t know what to do!” It was true. I had no clue. I had set myself up to be this way. Thinking back, I cannot even begin to fathom how I was living with myself.
Pornography provided me the opportunity to develop and hone a secret life. After years and years of keeping my addiction to pornography hidden, I really became proficient at compartmentalizing myself into different bubbles. I had established false selves. I was wearing masks in all areas of my life. I was a husband. I was a son. I was an employee. I was a friend. Eventually, I was a father. These are all well and good, but there was still another layer: I was angry; I was manipulative; I was a lair; I was an addict; I was a drinker, and ultimately, after 8 years of marriage I would add “adulterer” to the list.
I lived under this ideal that these aspects of who I was, if controlled, would never interfere with one another. For 20 years I had been building a detailed network of lies inside of me to be the catalyst to justify anything: any action, any statement, or any thought. This was what made it very easy to start drinking. Add new roles to a newly created safe area inside myself, and hide it from the others. This made it easy to tow the line and flirt with other women and establish emotional relationships with them. Eventually this allowed me to justify the ultimate line being crossed, and I would create a place inside where I would pack away the sordid details of an affair.
While I thought I had been doing a good job of keeping my addiction to pornography secret, as well as my time away with other women, my world was slowly crumbling around me. My wife was a smart woman and she had picked up on the inconsistencies in my explanations of things. She was very leery of my time on the computer late a night, and the more time I spent away, the more suspicious she got. I stopped wearing my wedding ring. I stopped taking her calls on my cell while I was out. Ultimately, I was acting much like a roommate versus a husband and father.
The Crisis of Truth
Two weeks after our 8th wedding anniversary, while I was away at work, in a calculated move, she left me. She packed up and moved, relocating to a secret location where I wouldn’t be able to find her. She left with most of our possessions, much of our money, and most importantly, our 3 young boys.
I never want to cause pain for someone like I did, not ever again—a pain that solicited a reaction of wanting to get away from me, wanting to hide away from me and not be found. I never ever want to feel like I did that day for the rest of my life. Did I deserve it? Without a doubt, I did. The seeds I had sown were being harvested. I vividly remember the deep, internal pain caused by total abandonment and utter hopelessness and despair. A sea of tears couldn’t appease it.
What could appease the pain was being able to admit to others that I cannot control my addiction to pornography by simply not wanting to look at it; what could appease the pain was admitting that I cannot stop retreating away to other women on my own. I’m not strong enough. As much pain as this caused me, it paled in comparison to the pain my wife experienced all those years. This was the only way, and we both knew it; it forcibly showed me that the cost is too high to keep it up any longer.
Turning the Corner
Riding the emotion of our abrupt separation, I made many changes quickly, and many more will no doubt come along this journey. My brokenness has led me to finally surrender fully to Christ and seek to depend on Him for my daily strength. Something else I finally did that I had resisted at all costs previously: I entered counseling and joined an awesome support group (you guys are the world to me). I have standing appointments and I wouldn’t miss them. On top of all this I’ve become a firm believer in accountability, and a user of Covenant Eyes.
I absolutely have to be accountable to someone; otherwise, I’m left to my own desires and I will fail again. Early on I told my story to my family and my pastor. From there I shared my story with few more. These are the people who have provided confirmation for me: the lies I had always told myself were blatantly false. These people didn’t abandon me and didn’t shame me; quite the opposite, they loved me and gathered around me. They supported me. They were simply waiting in the wings for me to ask for help. That seemingly simple but profound act—one I utterly refused to even entertain—allowed years of unabated growth in my addiction. My own stubbornness sabotaged my marriage and any semblance of what could be considered a meaningful relationship with anyone.
My accountability partners have a firm vested interest in my success. They love me, and as a result, they want me to succeed. I, too, want them to succeed, with all my heart. The idea that I have someone I can talk to or who can call me out at any time when I face temptation, is a huge relief. What this partnership does not do is excuse basic practical measures of prevention.
Covenant Eyes is one such measure. It’s my concrete safety barrier set well back from the edge of the cliff. If I get to the cliff, even if I don’t instantly jump, I’ve failed. The cliff is a gray area where I will justify and rationalize that what I’m looking at really isn’t bad. This is an area in which one seemingly insignificant decision can and will lead me over the edge to failure. Covenant Eyes allows me to safeguard myself. Even more importantly, it shows my wife I care. It shows her I’m serious. It allows the once non-existent seeds of trust to grow. Covenant Eyes keeps a man who desperately wants to be transparent and honest, just that.
It’s with a joyous heart that I can report: my wife and I are back together, for fifteen months now and going strong. We are on the long road to recovery. The intimacy we have now is unlike anything we’ve experienced in our almost ten years together. She is my best friend and my trusted adviser. I love her more now than I thought I ever could. I still get emotional knowing that, when I get home from work, she and our kids will be there to greet me at the front door. I pray that this never gets old. While I know it will be a long road home, it’s a road I’m committed to walk, and even crawl if I have to. I plan to use every resource at my disposal to chart a successful path, because I now recognize: it is so worth it.
On the outside, I’m still the same guy. My clothing in this world still reflects the same old me. The power of this story lies in how I was finally able to take off the masks I’ve clung to, and to cling to the new sight that Christ has given me—unobstructed by my former sin, and it is glorious.
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This post is by Jon Meengs. When Jon is not constantly over-analyzing his life, he’s training for his second marathon. His wife Nicole works as a beauty consultant, and is currently mastering the Wii Fit.