It was a warm spring day, but I was depressed beyond depressed. It is difficult to describe how empty I felt. I was cycling in the shadows again—lapsing into lust and compulsive sexual behavior.
I had not used Internet pornography since installing a software monitoring program on my computer. But when you're depressed and despondent, when you are desperately craving the buzz of stimulation of the old wiring, you stop thinking clearly and resort to default behaviors. I knew of a park where men sometimes gathered in the afternoon, and one of the things they did was swap porn. I went there, met a fellow and got a magazine. For some time I'd been taking antidepressants, and one of the side effects was that it made sexual arousal nearly impossible. But porn could at least spark a buzz. Addiction is a disease of the brain, and I was just looking for a buzz in my head. I left my car and walked down a desolate pathway.
I sat on a log, the warm spring sunshine bathing me and the wind coming up as a storm was approaching from the distance. Normally I love being outside in moments like this, but not this day. I was beyond hope.
"God in heaven," I remember praying, "I cannot believe after everything I've done and all the grace you've shown me, I'm here in this place, just cycling and cycling and cycling. I can't stand this life anymore. I don't care what you want from me—anything, anything. I don't care what you do with me, but you have to do something. Please." No answer.
Engulfed in my self-loathing and shame, I made my way back to my car.
A police cruiser pulled up and after being questioned about what I was doing in the park, I was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for lewd and lascivious behavior. I spent the next 26 hours in jail.
My life was over.
Addicted and at War
For many years, I used sexual behavior as my "drug." But my problem wasn't just sex. Any recovering addict learns that our behavior is not our real problem. Compulsive behaviors are merely the symptoms of something deeper.
I was a husband, father, and pastor. I had served on Young Life staff, earned two degrees from seminary, and twice served as the moderator of our regional church body. I believed what I preached. Never in my journey did I rationalize or excuse my involvement with porn. Never did I think it was okay for me to have this hidden life. I never considered it okay.
Though I knew my sexual behavior was inexcusable, I felt powerless to stop. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I tried, no matter how much I prayed, I returned to my compulsive behaviors.
The addictive element is that brief sense of euphoria I experienced during the short-term gratification, which offered relief and distraction from my overarching emptiness. This intoxicating combination of relief and exhilaration caused my brain to demand more. To stabilize a sense of well-being in my system, I became dependent on a habit that made me feel guilty and ashamed.
My addiction and my faith went to war, and my soul was the battlefield.
How was it a battlefield? Because I knew my private life was incompatible with what I believed and what I represented. My situation was intolerable to me. Yet I could find no way to change my behavior.
The context I was living in gave me the message that some issues we do not discuss; we handle them on our own.
I felt very guilty. I think it was appropriate, healthy guilt. My faith offered me for-giveness, but I continued to engage in behaviors I could not understand or stop. And my faith context had no help to offer me.