Being 8 years old has an almost magical quality. You feel invincible. You have your whole life in front of you. No worries. Flying is as easy as stretching your arms and running. Remember climbing trees and playing kick the can and hide and go seek? On summer evenings, the alien buzzing of locusts evoking dreams of ray guns and spaceships? Looking at the sun and wondering if there’s an opposite earth on the other side? Dreams of finally catching the snapping turtle poking its head out of the water? When you’re young, crystalline dreams of fun and greatness spring up like grass from the prairie. Being a doctor, running for president, designing great buildings, going to the moon. The funny thing is, out of nowhere, reality can hand us unexpected left turns.
On average, people with sexual addiction are exposed to sexual ideas and materials two years earlier than those who aren’t. In my case it was my second-grade year. The exposure was enough to sow seeds of destruction that would last for years. I really didn’t know a lot back then, but one thing I did know…I had to keep the terrible shame and the knowledge of what was happening a secret.
My family was a turbulent one. There were serial affairs, alcoholism, arguments, emotional violence and crying. It was a breeding ground of heartbreak for everyone involved. A few years later, my parent’s marriage came spinning apart in a train wreck of self-centeredness. This left me with a deep sense of disconnection from those who mattered most in my life: my parents. I had scant emotional skills to deal with this in a healthy way. What I did know was that it hurt. But sex brought a tremendous (though temporary) sense of peace and “rightness” with the world, so I learned to misuse it to find some peace. At that age, it was the only way I knew to manage the unmanageable.
It’s really pretty predictable. If you take a strong sense of disconnection from your parents, early exposure to sexual thinking, secrecy, the sense of false peace that orgasm brings and the progressively sexual nature of our society it seems to add up to one thing…sexual addiction. Early on, this seemed to just simmer on the back of the stove, not really boiling, but not cooling either. I knew the hot water was there alright, but I really didn’t notice that it was getting hotter. It was just slowly ramping up. Each year brought a few more degrees of heat; an imperceptible inching to the full-blown boiling of sexual addiction.
I became a believer somewhere along that time. One would hope that this would bring the peace that would break this addiction. Not so. It actually started a battle with the two natures, the Godly and the sinful. It added a whole new dimension of shame. I hated what I did and who I was. Shame deepened the cycle of hating myself after acting out. The shame and secrecy just kept adding fuel to the fire. I thought I trusted God. My secret actions told a different story. When it came to the deep pain, my heart didn’t trust. It wasn’t how I was “supposed” to feel. I just deepened my resolved to keep secrets.
Then the Internet came along. It had the three “A’s”… Anonymous, Available and Affordable. For me (as for most addicts), this combination was a recipe for disaster. Deep down I realized that this was more than just a high sex drive. As the Alcoholics Anonymous folks say, I was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Have you every prayed the “God-a-cide” prayer? It goes like this: “God, I can’t stop and I hate myself. Please take my life so no one will know, and I’ll be done with this addiction.” After 10 years of Internet-fueled self-loathing, I spent a year and a half secretly praying that prayer.
To make the long story short, I was finally confronted with my sin in a place in my life where I was ready. It was both the worst thing I have ever felt and the greatest relief in my life. God started growing the seeds of recovery in the soil of my heart He had been preparing. The years since then have been spent learning to actually trust God with my pain and my sexual life. Terrifying! Exhilarating! I’m genuinely jazzed at the the new life I have been given.
The best tool the enemy has is the two-for-one of shame and silence. A huge key to healing has been getting my secret into the light with trustworthy people. These people started pointing me to good resources. I found others that shared the problem. There are good counselors, support groups, and a growing host of online resources as well. Online Bible studies, training, ministries that specialize in sexual addiction recovery, blogs, computer filters. I’ll guarantee you that if you ask God for help and start looking, you’ll find it.
I’ll never forget the sense of hope that I had after reading a post by Joe Dallas. While I don’t struggle with same-sex attraction like Joe, I learned that we have an awful lot in common. Joe’s story encourages me. I see a man with some pretty profound violence done to his soul. I also see a man whom God has touched and given healing. I really hate what happened to Joe. I deeply wish that this brother could have been spared his pain – off somewhere living a life with a pristine soul. Even so, I am truly encouraged and inspired to continue because of his honesty and openness. (Read part 2 of his story here.)
I love to discover the “whys” behind the “whats” in this world. What a breath of fresh air to learn that there are believers who are doing excellent science in this area. I learned of Dr. Bill Struthers’ work. He is a neuroscientist doing solid work in the area of porn, sex and addiction. Have you read his book Wired for Intimacy? I highly recommend it (especially if you’re a bit technically inclined.) I’ll summarize it with a really overly simple phrase:
“Scripture is right when it says porn and sexual immorality is bad. Here’s why…porn and sexual immorality hijacks and deepens neural pathways in our brains actually intended by the Creator to be shared with our spouse for good. BUT…there is hope. Just as these pathways have been hijacked and deepened for ill, with discipline and time they can also be reclaimed for good.”
Interestingly, I learned from the book that when we orgasm, our brain chemistry makes the fear center go to sleep for a bit. No wonder sexual experience can be a powerful short-term anesthetic! Just like heroin, it made all my problems melt for a short while. Now, I’m learning to look forward to Heaven where all my fear will be gone.
Six years ago, God brought my secret into the light and restored me to His plan. This was not the life I imagined as an 8-year-old so long ago. Wrestling with hurt and pain, sexual addiction, failing and shame. Nevertheless, here I am by God’s grace and boundless love. Just like 1 Corinthians 13 says, when I was a kid I thought like a child, did childish things and dreamed like a child. I am so thankful that God is teaching me to think like a man.