02 Oct THE GRADUAL SLOPE TO ROCK BOTTOM
My story of redemption began in March 2014 when I reached my rock bottom. I did something I never thought I was capable of doing. But my way to rock bottom wasn’t by jumping off a cliff and hitting it hard. It was a long, slow road that gradually went deeper and darker, until I finally just strolled right in. And it began decades before…
Early on in life I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I remember the preacher asking why I responded to the altar call and my answer was, “I don’t want to go to hell.” I knew I was a sinner and I couldn’t earn my way to Heaven. I had faith that by the grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross I was saved and that I was forgiven and made righteous by Christ’s righteousness. However, the rest of my life was spent trying to walk down two different paths – one striving for what I considered was good, the other satisfying my flesh. The dark path was hidden from others as best as I could. On that path was where I came across inappropriate scenes in an R-rated movie I found at home. I began looking through all of our movies for other similar scenes. My greatest sin struggle was beginning to form. It was strengthened one summer when my friend and I found two adult magazines under a little bridge in a park. We kept them hidden and would visit them regularly. I discovered 900 telephone numbers and late-night cable shows. When the personal computer and Internet become more mainstream, I borrowed disks from a friend that were full of inappropriate images, walking deeper down the dark path. However, on the light path, I attended church and youth camps. I discovered I had a talent in music and started playing the drums at the little church I attended in high school. My friends and I formed a Christian band that played at coffee shops and FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) gatherings.
As I got older, relationships became more physical. Although I had decided to wait for marriage to have sex, I pushed that boundary with other forms of sex – justifying it because it wasn’t intercourse. In fact, I was getting pretty good at justifying and allowing myself to satisfy my desires while seeming to appear “good.” Halfway through college, I forfeited my commitment of saving sex for marriage when I had sex with my girlfriend of 3 years, who I thought I would marry. I didn’t marry her, and when we broke up near the end of college, the gates were opened. I spent the next couple of years sleeping around, while still playing the drums at church services, camps, and mission trips. Both paths were still being straddled, but the dark path was getting deeper.
It was at this time that I met my future wife, Amanda. She was in a similar spiritual state as I was, where we knew what we should be doing, but we were following our flesh. While neither of us was looking for anything serious, we tried to keep things casual, but we knew we wanted more from each other so we became exclusive. A year later we were engaged. We had decided that we wanted to live in the Dallas area, so I took a job there while she finished her last year of college in Lubbock. It was during this long distance relationship that I began to have inappropriate conversations with old friends and women on social media, justifying it by telling myself, “it wasn’t physical so it wasn’t cheating.” What was left of my moral strength was wearing away, and after a few months of this, I met a woman – a married woman – and slept with her, taking my path deeper and darker. I tried to fix it myself. I didn’t confess it, but justified it by telling myself “we’re not married yet,” and by promising myself it would never happen again.
Amanda and I were married in August of 2009. Our first year of marriage was a tough one, but we found Watermark Community Church where our spirits were stirred over the next couple of years. They discussed issues I had never heard talked about so openly in church before. I was moved, but scared. I was scared of the consequences of confession and changing the status quo. It was at this time that my flesh would take its darkest turn.
All throughout high school, college, and my first few years of working, my pornography addiction had grown strong and consistent, and I had just discovered something different – escort sites. I never had the intention to meet an escort, but I continued to view the sites. But like with any addiction, a desensitizing tolerance was built up, and one day simply viewing was not enough. I chose to pay for a prostitute. Immediately, I felt a dark cloud of guilt, shame, regret, and disgust. This time, I couldn’t justify it. I had physically cheated on my wife. I tried to manage it and hide it, but I couldn’t. I tried to read my Bible the next morning, but the cloud was too dark and thick. I couldn’t focus on anything at work. The two paths had finally grown so far apart that I couldn’t straddle them anymore. I had followed the long, slow, dark path to my rock bottom.
Ready to face the music, I wrote a confession letter while I was at work that next morning. I showed it to a trusted friend so that I couldn’t back out and I told him I was going home to read it to Amanda. Pregnant with our daughter, she had just put our one-year-old son down for his nap when I unexpectedly came home and read her the letter telling her about my pornography addiction and what I had done – falling to the floor in tears and shame. She came down to me. She held me. She told me she loved me and that she forgave me. You see, while I had been following my flesh, Amanda had been following that stirring of her spirit. She had come to a deeper understanding of what Christ had done for her, and she was able to allow the Holy Spirit to work in her to forgive me.
This is when my recovery began – my most intimate moment of undeserved grace. This was the moment I can see Jesus leaving His heavenly path of light and coming to get me in my darkest deep.
Amanda forgave me that day, but it was not done in an instant, and it wasn’t easy. We still had to deal with the pain I caused. Although I felt the burden being lifted off of me through confession, it wasn’t gone, but was now being shared with my wife. Now she had to feel it, and we had to adjust as the weight of my burden shifted, until, together, we were able to take my burden to the cross where it belonged. I began attending re:generation, Watermark Community Church’s 12-step recovery program. This was the beginning of a process that would teach me much about God and myself.
Reflecting back on my answer to the altar call – that I didn’t want to go to hell – reveals a lot to me about my motivations. It reveals that I wanted Jesus as my Savior from bad consequences, but not much more. I wasn’t looking for a Lord. I had myself as lord, and the choices I made proved that. I spent my life consistently following my flesh. My life had proven true to Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” I spent my life trying to be good on my own, but there is freedom in acknowledging that I am powerless over my addictions, brokenness and sinful patterns. Learning this truth freed me to believe that God is the One whose power can fully restore me, and I decided to trust God with my life and will.
I thought I only had a pornography problem, and I was ready to tackle it, but taking inventory of the harms I’d done, harms to me, fears, resentments, and my sexual history, revealed the deeper roots and sin patterns in my life. I learned I had some deep hurts from my parent’s divorce when I was very young, and my mother’s second divorce when I was in high school. Pornography and sex were just the outlets I chose to use to seek comfort and pleasure, to run from pain, and to receive affirmation. And though I can say I’m recovering from seeking comfort and pleasure apart from Christ, the roots really went deeper – all the way down to a lack of trust in God and pride. I didn’t trust God would comfort me or be enough, so I did it my way. But I learned about God’s promise in Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” God has given me a safe pasture for me to enjoy.
I also learned the importance of repentance. Romans 6:21-22 says, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life.” Repentance isn’t just NOT doing something. It’s replacing one habit with another. I couldn’t simply stop looking at pornography, because that isn’t the primary issue. The issue is what I turn to when I feel unloved, powerless, or bored. And these feelings will never just stop showing up in life. Instead of running to destructive things when these feelings arise, I learned to run to God, to His truth, His Word, His people, and His promises. The truth is that God wants the same things for me that I want for myself, and more. He wants me to feel loved. First John 4:8 says, “God is love” and John 3:16 says that God gave up His Son because He loves me. He wants me to feel powerful (2 Timothy 1:7). He wants me to find rest and comfort and pleasure (2 Corinthians 1:4). He wants me to find adventure and excitement, and in Joshua 1:9 God says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” That doesn’t sound like a promise to a life of boredom. As I seek His way instead of mine, I realize God wants more for me than I can imagine.
I’m on a different path now, that gets higher and brighter the more I keep my eyes on Jesus. Galatians 6:8 biblically sums up these two paths that I walked when Paul says, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” In 1 John 2 it says, “We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” My identity is not my sin anymore. My identity is found in my advocate, Jesus Christ.
My recovery is an ongoing process that I am still learning to live by every day. God’s Word is full of promises for me, and hiding it in my heart draws me close to Him. As I read God’s Word, l see that God loves me more than I realize. His desires for me are greater than my own, and all I have to do is continue to learn to trust and obey.