Sex AddictQUESTION: Can a sex addict break free from this addiction?ANSWER:Read the personal account of a sex addict as he struggles through his recovery.
Hi, I'm Paul, and I'm in recovery for sex and lust addiction. My recovery has been amazing to me, because I was actively in that addiction for close to 35 years, during which time I attempted to quit many times. All of those times, I tried under my own power and failed miserably.
It started with my first exposure to pornography at the age of about 6 years old. There was a large family gathering at a cousin's house, and I discovered a stack of men's magazines in a corner of his living room. The whole family was there, including my parents, but no one seemed to mind that this young boy was looking at the dirty pictures. I was instantly enthralled by those images, and all these years later they are still imprinted on my mind. I can also recall the laughter. Those images caused my body to respond in a way that I didn't understand. When I got up to go to the bathroom, thinking I had to urinate, I could hear people snickering. When I came out and went back to the magazines, there was even more laughter. This caused me to feel shame that I didn't understand, but I knew that I didn't want to feel it again.
Even so, I was obsessed with those images. Not wanting to face the ridicule, I kept my obsession a secret. So I would look to sneak that thrill whenever I could. Admittedly, in my community in the mid-60's there weren't a lot of outlets for a boy that young to find dirty pictures. But when I was about 10 years old, I discovered a readily available source. My father kept a stash of books and magazines in his sock drawer. From that time on, whenever I was home alone, I would be at that sock drawer. Even later on as an adult, when my parents would leave town and ask me to look after their house, I couldn't keep myself from going to their room and kneeling to my dad's shrine to the porn god.
Even as other kids my age started showing an interest in sex, I still kept my obsession a secret. An example is when I was in junior high school. My friends and I often took a shortcut walking home that took us under a bridge crossing railroad tracks. One day we found an adult magazine and stopped to look through it. We eventually left the magazine there and continued on our way. Since I lived the furthest, I eventually was walking alone. I doubled back close to a mile so that I could pick up and take that magazine home.
My relationship with the opposite sex at this time was disastrous. I was 6-feet tall by the age of 13, but only weighed 140 pounds. As the tallest person in my class, I was the target of any kid who felt a need to prove himself. Since I was skinny and uncoordinated, I had no chance whatsoever of defending myself. The few times I tried were quite painful, so I started to run away from conflicts. To say the least, my self-confidence was abysmally low. And if I didn't have the courage to stand up for myself, how could I possibly muster up the courage to talk to those frightening creatures called girls?
But I made up for all of that in my fantasy life. Those girls in the pictures all thought I was an impressive young man, and they were so eager to have sex with me, that they were already out of their clothes. Who was I to say no? It was not unusual for me to masturbate three to four times a day during junior high and high school. But with real life, flesh and blood girls, I was painfully shy.
Despite this, somehow I met a girl in my junior year of high school. Actually, we were thrown together by mutual friends. We started dating, and after only four months, I finally got up the nerve to kiss her. In looking back, I can see that my fear of rejection held me back for that long; I wasn't going to make that move until I was sure she wouldn't say no. Once I was sure, it only took me a couple of months to take the physical relationship the rest of the way.
We continued dating for the next four years, including three years of long distance relationship as I went to college out of state. I figured I'd never be able to meet another girl who would put up with my shyness, so I married her. This is where we break to the happy ending, "they lived happily ever after," Right? Wrong!
Marriage did not take the place of my addiction to lust and pornography. After our honeymoon, we packed up and moved to Utah for my senior year of college. Immediately upon arriving in Utah, I went on a senior field trip with the college of engineering. Among the stops was two nights in Las Vegas. The first night some of my classmates and I took a cab into downtown and ended up in a topless bar, followed by going to an adult bookstore. The next night they were going to check out one of the more up-scale strip clubs, but I faked illness so that I could stay behind. It's not as noble as it sounds. I couldn't handle another night of getting worked up in front of guys, where I couldn't act out. So I stayed in the hotel room and acted out with myself, several times. Marriage hadn't removed my addiction for even two weeks!
Over the next few years we started our family, and I kept my addiction as that secret place I would go to when the frequency of sex didn't keep up with my expectations. And through having three children in 4 ½ years, my wife was often too tired to meet my needs, so I went to that secret place quite often. We lived one year in Utah, followed by six years in Montana. Neither place had a readily available source of pornography, so I had to make do with the soft-core magazines I could get, and R-rated movies.
When we moved to back to California in 1986 all of that changed. My wife wouldn't let any hard-core materials into the house, but that didn't stop me. I found that I could go to the adult bookstores at lunch, or on my way home, and hide my purchases in my briefcase or in the trunk of my car. My memory was photographic enough to allow me to act out based on the images that I stored in my head; I didn't need to have the magazines actually with me.
Our physical relationship deteriorated to the point that we had a set routine. We'd go to bed, I'd approach her in a "romantic" mood, she'd say she was tired and wanted to sleep, and I would say it was all right. This would go on for several months at a time before we would actually be physically intimate. I got to the point that I didn't mind, because I had another outlet for my sexual energy that never turned me down.
All this time I kept telling myself that what I was doing was noble, because I loved my wife enough to do that so I wouldn't have to cheat on her. What I didn't realize is that when I started to turn inward physically, satisfying myself, I also started turning inward emotionally. I became self-centered and distant. When she would try and tell me that there was a problem, I wouldn't listen. I was perfect, so I couldn't have any problems. In fact, I thought that she was the problem, because I wasn't getting enough sex. Well thirteen years of my kind of perfection was all she could stand, so in 1993 she moved out and we divorced.
That first year we shared custody of the kids, on alternating weeks. So when I was alone in the house, I could suddenly do things I couldn't before. I could openly bring out my hard-core magazines, and even run videos. With no accountability of any kind, I just went wild. Early that next year, I got majority custody of my children, so I had to go back underground with my addiction. All that means is that I had to take it behind the closed door of my room.
About this same time I went through a divorce recovery program, and met an amazing lady there. We started dating and got serious. Since I had my kids, I couldn't spend all of my time with her, so I kept the secret life at home going.
But she did start to encourage me to make some positive changes in my life. We went to church on occasion, I started listening to Christian radio, and I started to remember what guilt feels like. I had accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior as a freshman in college. However, not knowing what that meant, I continued to live my life as if nothing had happened. I did read the Bible on occasion, and I was developing an intellectual knowledge of God and Christ, but I didn't understand the concept of a relationship.
I started to realize that what I was doing was wrong, so I tried to quit. I went through my stash of magazines and videos and threw them all away. But within a week, I'd go out and buy some more, and build my stash again, only to eventually throw those away as well. This vicious cycle went on for about five years, during which I quit probably close to 100 times. In recovery, we say that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. I was definitely insane!
A big change came in my life early in the year 2000. I bought a new computer, with a modem, and got on the internet for the first time. I no longer had to build up a stash, everything was right there at my fingertips. So when I felt guilty over what I was doing, instead of throwing everything away, I just turned the computer off. This greatly accelerated the cycle of quitting and starting again from every other week to a daily basis.
After three months of this, my mood and behavior changed enough that it was obvious that something was wrong. When my fiancé confronted me, I admitted to my problem. This was a very difficult thing for her to hear, and she shared things with me that I had never thought of before, like that I was cheating on her emotionally, and that I was even cheating on her physically, in that I was feasting my eyes and mind on images and situations that no flesh and blood woman could ever hope to compete with.
Since my fiancé had dealt with betrayal in earlier relationships, what I did struck her as down right cruel. She still gave me a second chance, which I squandered in a couple of weeks, complete with lying through my teeth to try and cover up. At this point she had had enough and she broke off our engagement.
So for the first time in my life, I started looking outside of myself for help. First I went to a therapist who tried hypnotism (which didn't work), then a second therapist. Soon after, I joined a support group, and I would love to say that everything went wonderfully from there on out. But it didn't. I struggled with my sobriety from the start. Sexual sobriety is defined as no form of sex with yourself or anyone else other than your wife. As a single Christian, this meant no form of sex whatsoever. I would do well for short periods, and then fall. I started to collect 30-day chips, and it was a wonderful day when I finally got a 60-day chip.
After a year in recovery I had finally worked my way up to almost 5 months of sobriety when I was thrown another curve ball. My 18-year-old son suddenly became sick, and after several doctor visits was finally diagnosed with an aggressive form of malignant melanoma. By the time we realized he was sick, the cancer had spread throughout his body. One week after we discovered what he had, my son passed away.
This was especially hard because one of the other side effects of my addiction was a separation from God that kept me from sharing with him the Truth that I knew in my head. With what I was doing in secret, I felt like a hypocrite, so I just stayed silent on the issue. I had hoped that he would have time to find Christ on his own, as I had done.
My son's death happened just as my group was finishing the fourth step. In this step, we would write down a spiritual inventory of our sins, resentments, hurts, and hang-ups. This tends to be a very emotional exercise and we were learning to open up and feel things that I had never felt before. My grief acted to shut that all back up. I essentially put my recovery on hold, delayed doing my fifth step for several months, and slowed down the whole group in the process.
But God was good to me once again. He filled my support group with incredible men who wrapped their loving arms around me and helped me through my grief. I am also aware that my leaders went to bat for me in allowing me to stay in the group, even though my recovery was on hold. The suggestion that I go to another group so that I wouldn't hold up others any further was the impetus that I needed to get my recovery on track again. So I met with my sponsor and completed my fifth step through a lot of tears. The rest of our group also got back on track, and we completed the steps in only 24 short months.
The recovery process brought about several positive changes in me. God has restored my life to a point where I can look at myself in the mirror without disgust. He has restored my relationships and I married that amazing woman in May of 2003. He has taken away my desire to wander around the internet, or to go to places that sell those kinds of magazines. He has made me aware of the triggers that could rekindle that desire, and given me tools to combat those triggers, including a caring support group that I can call on at any time.
But I think the most important change was in my spiritual life. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Before going through a support group, I had no concept of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. But the men in my group sharpened me. Through their transparency, humility, and love, they modeled for me what a Christian man looks like. I still keep a close relationship with several of the guys from that group, and we give each other encouragement, prayers, and accountability. I also learned that it was okay to hate my addiction, but also to thank God for allowing me to have it. Because it was only through the recovery from my addiction that I was able to enter into healthy relationships with other men and for the first time to understand what a relationship with Christ means.
Thank you Lord for the incredible changes that You have brought about in my life. Thank you for letting me share.