My Story: How I Developed A Sexual Addiction

I am a good person. To be honest, I still cringe a little as I write that. As someone recovering from a sexual addiction, I've lived mos...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Feeling overwhelmed

I am sitting here at the end of my working day, with a pit in my stomach, and a sinking feeling that I should be doing... something. Something... productive. Where did this feeling come from? I have no idea. What does "doing something productive" mean? I have no idea. I can literally feel myself spiraling downwards into a state of paralyzing negativity because I'm not being "productive" with my time. So I'm racking my brain, thinking of all the "productive" things I should be doing.

I should be writing that blog about love and acceptance that I've been thinking about for the last few days.

I should have left for the gym so I can get home before my kids go to bed.

I should be finishing the work project that I said I would finish last week, but haven't gotten around to because no one is holding me accountable.

I should be figuring out how to turn one or more of my ideas into a passive income stream.

I should... I should... I should...

What I'm actually doing (until I decided to pause and write this post) is scrolling on Facebook for "inspiration" and "motivation."

I'm watching an inspirational video about a man saving a toddler from getting hit by a train.

I should be spending more time with my toddler. What if I were to lose her?

I'm watching a gut-wrenching video of a group of police officers shooting and killing a knife-wielding man and his impromptu hostage on the streets of LA.

I should share this and write a passionate post about the unacceptable level of gun violence among police officers.

I'm reading about my internet friends' intimate struggles navigating their faith transition.

I should be more open about my faith journey with my best friends. Will they accept and listen to me? Or will they try and change my mind and convince me I'm being deceived?

I'm reading about my other internet friend's new updated RV so they can go on road trips as a family.

I should find a way to make more money so we can travel more as a family.

In the space of just a few minutes, I am contemplating life's great existential questions, I'm reflecting on my love for my family, I'm tackling the problem of gun violence in the US, I'm reinventing the next best way to earn a passive income, and I'm planning my next vacation, etc. And I am experiencing a lifetime's worth of emotions. Love, joy, anger, regret, fear, anxiety, jealousy, etc. Each hits me more powerfully than the last. Each brings with it an altered perspective of how I should be living my life, and what I should be doing at this moment that is more "productive." Each emotion washes over me in such haste, that I hardly have time to process it and even acknowledge it before the next comes.

Overall, I am overwhelmed. There is simply too much to feel and too much to do. I can't keep track of all the "shoulds," and so I do nothing but continue scrolling.

I have nothing wise to say. I just wanted to capture this moment with the hope that at some point I can untangle the mess I'm in.

I should meditate more.

I should just stop using Facebook.

I should stop feeling like I should do so many things.

Damn you, should.






Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Come as you are"

There has been an "outbreak" of hand, foot, and mouth disease among the children in our stake, so our stake president decided to cancel 2nd and 3rd hours today to prevent any spreading and to make sure everything is disinfected. My wife and I decided to skip church altogether, because the chapel could be just as infested as the nursery rooms.

This gave me time to finally go to the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship. I'd been wanting to go for a while, but it happens during our scheduled sacrament meeting and I've committed not to leave my wife alone with 4 crazy kids.



Attending was a special, spiritual experience for me. Part of the emphasis of the community (Sangha) is "come as you are." That was such a powerful message for me. It was amazing to see all the people there, who were all so different and diverse, come together in this place to learn to live peacefully in the present moment and grow together in loving kindness. I felt the spirit in this moment just as strong as I have at other times in my life as a practicing mormon. As I scanned the group, and listened to many of them share their experiences and life struggles after the meditation session, it dawned on me why this place for them was a "refuge." The slogan “come as you are” wasn’t just lip-service. Everyone was accepted exactly as they are with no ulterior motives to change them in any way. This was a safe place.

There were those with tattoos, piercings, there was a gay couple sitting in front of me, holding hands affectionately, and I thought how unfortunate that the true feeling of "come as you are" that we experienced in this fellowship is pretty much absent from the Mormon Church. In my experience, the message is more like "come and bring as much feigned perfection as you can muster." As an extreme example, I remember how hard it was for me initially to start wearing colored shirts for fear of being socially demoted from the top-tier white-shirt wearing men... I often don't feel that I can truly be myself at church. When I've mustered the courage to be vulnerable and share a question or comment that hinted at my uncertainty, I remember feeling dejected when the responses were "thanks for sharing" as the teachers moved along in the lesson manual.

As I was feeling the spirit of this gathering and the power of "come as you are," I started wondering. If Christ were on Earth, would he don a suit and tie (with a white shirt of course) and sit on the stand in an LDS chapel, presiding and waiting his turn to speak last from the pulpit? Would he stand and give a 30-min talk, preaching at the congregation? It is a lot easier for me to imagine him among gatherings like the one I visited today, wearing humble jeans and a t-shirt and loving everyone who walked through the door. I could imagine him leading a guided meditation, inviting us to see the beauty and magnificence of the present moment and to contemplate all the things that have happened from the beginning of time that have in one way or another made this present moment possible. I could imagine him leading a meditation on loving kindness and oneness, and the interconnectedness of everyone on Earth. I could see him helping us break down our superficial labels and preconceived notions, and realize that we are all alike as humans in this experience of life.

It truly was a special experience, that left me with both immense hope that there are gatherings all around the world like the one I visited, but also with a feeling of deep despair wondering if our LDS congregations could ever get to such a powerful state of "come as you are."

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Experience Being Disfellowshipped As A Result of LDS Church Discipline

In May, 2016 I realized that for the previous 20 years, I had developed a serious sexual compulsion problem/addiction. 20 years of guilt and grief had been piling up and were finally released and hit me like a wave. The pain of my past was so acute that I lost my appetite and had a very hard time focusing on anything. From that point, I developed a moderate case of anxiety and depression that I am still struggling with. The burden of my years of lying and deceit was so heavy that I became allergic to lying. It was agonizing thinking of spending another minute living a facade. From that moment, I started reading recovery material, attending addiction recovery support groups, and seeing a therapist. The only thing at that moment I felt sure of was that 1) I was out of control, and it felt awful and 2) if I didn’t recover, my life as I knew it was effectively over. I felt like I was literally on the edge of losing everything I’d ever cared about, including my own identity.

Although I had been a member of the LDS church my whole life, my entire world had turned upside down. I recognized that so many of my motives in life up to that point had been fulfilling the expectations of others. I desperately wanted to be perceived as a righteous Mormon man and went to great lengths to portray the facade, even though I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time. I felt deep down that something wasn’t right, but I never had the courage to acknowledge and face the truth — I lived in a self-imposed state of ignorance about myself and my motivations. So when the facade came crashing down and I was actually willing to look in the mirror, so to speak, I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake. I couldn’t tell if I ever really had a confirmation and witness of the LDS faith, or whether that was part of the duplicity. I didn’t know what I believed, I didn’t know what motivated me, and scariest of all, I didn’t know who I really was.

So even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue with the LDS church, I did recognize that part of my recovery would be to bring all of the deception to light. I was finished living a lie, and decided to confess. I went to my bishop, and told him everything, not holding anything back. It was the first time I had ever done that. My purpose at the time wasn’t to “begin the repentance process” and come back into good standing. It was to end the lie, be free of it, and work in recovery to piece back my life and build it into… something. I didn’t know what, but I knew it had to be better than what it currently was. I met with my bishop and my stake president a few times, and then they scheduled a church disciplinary court.

To give some context, at the time I had been married for about 8 years. Previous to and during those 8 years, I semi-regularly viewed pornography and masturbated, engaged in online sexual conversations with other women, and met up with several women that I met online. I ended up kissing about 10 of those I met up with, engaged in mutual masturbation with about half of those (5 or so), and engaged in oral sex with one. Also, one of the women that I engaged in mutual masturbation with was underage (she was 16 when I was in my early 20s). As a result of the church council, I was fully expecting to be excommunicated from the church. In fact, I was actually hoping for it, because then I could have the freedom to explore who I really was and what I really believed.

Church Council #1 (July, 2016) 

The “day of reckoning” came, and I bore my soul to the 15 men (most of them strangers) that made up the church court. The entire ordeal lasted about 5 hours. For 2 hours, I answered their questions about my past, and about my current state at the time. A few of their questions stood out. The very first question asked was, “You have been a member of the church, and even worked for the church for a significant period of time. You understand how priesthood meetings work and operate. That being the case, why would you come before us dressed like that?” (I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt). That set the tone for the meeting. I explained that what I was wearing was about the last thing on my mind, and probably the thing of least importance. I was surprised that it even came up. I could tell that most of them weren’t expecting and didn’t really know how to handle the blunt honesty that I was dealing out. Frankly, I didn’t feel like dressing up. I think they were used to people coming before them in “sackcloth and ashes.” Remember, my purpose at the time wasn’t to “repent” in the LDS understanding of the term. My purpose was to confess as part of my recovery in bringing my secret life to the light so I could learn to move on.

Another question that stood out was, “We keep hearing you talk about addiction and recovery. Why aren’t you instead talking about sin and repentance.” This question also caught me off guard. I had explained to them that the last couple months had led me to question literally everything I thought I knew about God and the church. My life in many ways had shattered, and I was left with incomprehensible pieces, trying to figure out which were a part of me and which were a part of the deception. I wasn’t ready to think about life in terms of sin and repentance. Plus, although there is definitely overlap, addiction isn’t the same thing as sin, and recovery isn’t the same thing as the repentance. My sole focus was to enter into a rigorous program of recovery to overcome my addiction. At that point, I knew that God and His power would be 100% necessary in order to make any progress. But I wasn’t ready to describe or pretend to understand God’s power. I was content that it was available, that I had already begun to feel it and use it in my recovery, and that I had seen men (both LDS and otherwise) use God’s power to achieve the miracle of sustained recovery.

Long story short, after deliberating for a significant period of time, the council brought me back in and delivered the verdict. I was disfellowshipped for a period of at least one year. Additionally, I would have a permanent annotation placed on my church records that would bar me from holding any positions that had me working with children. I was instructed that if I was ready, the council would reconvene in a year to deliberate about my reinstatement. I hadn’t lost my membership, or the priesthood, I had just temporarily lost my right to participate in full membership. I wasn’t allowed to hold a calling, give a talk or even pray in church (but I was encouraged to continue paying tithing and wearing garments). I was told that the annotation would remain even after being reinstated for a time until I had shown significant progress in recovery, and then I could point apply to have the annotation removed with approval from the first presidency. The stake president also outlined some of the “conditions” for my reinstatement, including attending church 12-step meetings, reading in the Book of Mormon daily, and “completing” the 12 steps.

Life in Disfellowshipment 

It is ironic that the meeting was held on July 5th, the day after Independence Day. I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders at that point. I had confronted my past, and righted my wrong of lying and deceiving leaders of the church over the previous 20 years. I finally had an opportunity to truly take a step back, look at my life, and piece it back together the way God intended. I had never felt the freedom to actually investigate my belief in God outside of the LDS religion. After that point, I didn’t really attend church for about 3 months. I attended several other Christian churches, and found it incredible how much we shared in common. I found devout people, trying to live Christ-like lives in the ways they knew how. I learned that there were many more similarities than differences between these various Christian churches.

At that point, my relationship with my wife was at its worst. At first I readily accepted that we were heading for divorce. But as time went on, and I learned who I was, and learned who my wife was, I began to see potential in our marriage. That, and I owed it to my kids to at least try and see if we could make it work. My therapist wisely counseled me that I couldn’t handle too much at one time. She suggested that perhaps both trying to see if our marriage was salvageable and trying to discover my spiritual path at the same time was more than I could handle. I agreed, and decided to put my spiritual and religious exploration on the back-burner to focus on recovery and my marriage.
After about 4 months, I began to read the scriptures again. First the Bible, and then I started reading in the Book of Mormon as well. This time around, I was reading to learn instead of reading because I knew I should. I was reading to discover God, and I did discover Him. I began to feel inspiration and hope as I read and searched. I began to see how the principles I was being taught to live in the 12-steps were the same principles that God was teaching me to live as I read the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I was working on step 4 at the time (taking an internal, moral inventory), and I created a section totally devoted to my resentments towards the LDS church. The list was long, but as I wrote it out and shared it, I started to realize that most of my resentments were about policies, organizational decisions, and culture: not the doctrine.

I don’t remember what exactly led to this, but I remember realizing that I had the ability to choose to have faith and believe in the LDS church. Even though I had issues, doubts, and questions, I could choose to have faith and move forward anyway. I realized that I could choose to have an influence on my family and those around me. I could work to change the cultural problems that I encountered. So I made the decision that I was going to jump in with both feet, and I would bring my doubts and questions with me. After I had made this decision, the next steps of recovery progressed rather quickly. I began to earnestly seek for God’s will for me, and I recognized it as a blessing and not a burden to surrender my life to Him. I began to take regular inventory and identify and correct my character flaws and defects. My relationship with my wife and my kids became better. I actually became excited for my year mark to come so I could start to participate fully in the LDS church. I was confident that I had made significant progress. I actually realized that I was in the best spot spiritually that I had ever been (notwithstanding my concerns and questions).

During this time, my bishop began to use me often to learn more about sexual addiction, and learn how he could help others in the ward who were struggling. I felt like I was gaining momentum. I was progressing in the steps and in my recovery. I no longer struggled with temptations to be unfaithful. I began to experience months of sobriety instead of days or weeks, and when I did relapse the magnitude and duration of the relapses were significantly improving. I occasionally struggled with light pornography and masturbation, but was making rapid progress.

Church Council #2 (July, 2017) 

As I approached July of 2017 (my 1-year mark), I spoke with my bishop and Stake President about my progress. The Stake President wanted me to have at least a month of sobriety from any form of pornography or masturbation before the council would reconvene. The council reconvened in July, and it was overall a good experience. I reported on my progress, and it was clear to the men there who were present during my first council that I had experienced a radical transformation in my attitude and demeanor. They thanked me for my openness and expressed how they had learned a tremendous amount about addiction and recovery from my experience. After they deliberated for a time, the decision was unanimous that I was to be reinstated into full fellowship. I was counseled to take the sacrament, and immediately schedule interviews with the bishop and stake president to get my temple recommend.

I left feeling greatly relieved and happy. I was overjoyed that I could again be in full fellowship and begin to let activity in the church work in harmony with my recovery to help me continue to change and become more like Christ. I took the sacrament that afternoon in church, and felt warm. I was grateful for the chance to renew my baptismal covenants after so long and embrace my new path. I wasn’t the same person I was before, and I felt like I was on a sure foundation. I knew who I was and I knew that my desires to have faith despite lingering concerns was real, not feigned.

That afternoon right as I was about to leave the church and head home, the bishop pulled me aside and asked to chat with me. He told me to sit tight a minute while he found the stake president, who needed to see me. A bit perplexed, I waited. The stake president promptly came in and explained that he made a mistake during the council. He explained that because I had an annotation on my record for being involved with a minor, my reinstatement required first presidency approval. With sincerity, he apologized for the misunderstanding, and committed to do everything in his power to begin the application process immediately. This felt like a punch in the gut. I tried my best to realize that it was an honest mistake, and that everything would work out. In a matter of a couple days, the stake president, the bishop, my wife, and I all filled out our parts of the application for me to be reinstated. I was told that the process was expected to take about six weeks. I was disappointed, but after waiting a year, I could wait six more weeks.

Move to Utah (August, 2017) 

Unfortunately, my employment situation required me to relocate to Utah while the application was still being processed. I had really hoped that this would be resolved before moving, but it wasn’t. I moved into my new ward in Utah, and immediately sought a few minutes to speak with my new bishop. I explained to him that I was currently disfellowshipped, and that there was an application in process for me to receive approval from the first presidency to be reinstated. My bishop was very understanding and supportive. I shared with him a brief summary of my journey. I felt that we connected, and he seemed legitimately excited to see me be reinstated and become an active part of the ward.

1st Meeting with Stake President in Utah 

The next Sunday, I got a call from the stake executive secretary asking me to meet with the stake president. I was happy to meet with him, and share with him my journey and my progress. But the meeting with the stake president was nothing like the meeting with my bishop. Where the bishop seemed concerned about me and my progress, the stake president seemed more concerned with all of the details of what I had done. He explained to me that it is his practice to individually meet with any members of the stake who moves in with outstanding issues on their record (and I was a special case with both a disfellowshipment and an annotation). He then proceeded to interrogate me more vigorously than any other priesthood leader ever had. He wanted to know everything, and he pulled out a notepad to take notes as I told him about all the occurrences I could remember over the previous 20 years relating to my addiction. He even got to the detail of asking me about the specific types of pornography I enjoyed viewing. As the meeting progressed, I became more and more disillusioned. I felt like I was literally being defined in his eyes by what I had done, and not by whom I had become. It was a painful experience to re-live the past, and to re-live the shame I felt from the past as I saw the judgment in his eyes and heard it in his voice.

As I told him my story, there were a couple of instances where he aggressively jumped in to correct me. One was after I described my aversion to reading the Book of Mormon immediately after my disfellowshipment. I explained that I didn’t want to live falsely anymore, and I was worried that reading the Book of Mormon just because I was told to do so would be continuing the same duplicity that propelled my addiction for so long. I wasn’t trying to defend my thinking; I was merely explaining my mindset at that time in my story. He jumped in and told me how wrong I was to think this way and how dangerous this line of thought was to my spiritual progression. He warned against the trend of living “authentically,” that it was often used as a guise to justify sin. I was a bit taken aback. I was narrating the story of my disfellowshipment, not describing how I currently felt. I was reading the Book of Mormon religiously at the time. I was just describing my story of how I got there. The fact that he would jump in so readily to point out where I was wrong really put me off.

Bombshell #1 

As I finished my narration, and answered all of his questions, he proceeded to tell me that he had paused my application to be reinstated because he had talked with my bishop and learned that I only had a few months of sobriety from viewing any form of pornography. He explained that it is church policy for anyone who had been involved with a minor to have at least 1 year of living the law of chastity completely without incident before an application could even be reviewed by the first presidency. This statement hit me like a ton of bricks. The proverbial carpet was already pulled out from under me once when my reinstatement was rescinded by my previous stake president (because they forgot to inform me it needed first presidency approval). I stomached that blow fairly easily though, because I knew it would only be a set back of a couple months. But this time, I was being hit with a requirement that I had never heard before. I would have to wait nearly another year at least until my application could even be reviewed. I was livid.

It took all of my effort to remain cordial as I pushed for more information. I explained that this was the first time I had heard of the policy, and that it wasn’t explained to me by my previous stake. I asked why my previous stake president wouldn’t have told me that this was a requirement when I was first disfellowshipped. In my mind, I was trying to understand if this really was a policy, or if this was the stake president’s own interpretation and implementation of “policy.” I expressed how unfairly I felt I was being treated. It didn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t disfellowshipped because I was an addict. I wasn’t disfellowshipped because I viewed pornography and masturbated. I was disfellowshipped because I had engaged in sexual activity with several women while I was married, including a 16-year-old minor many years earlier. I completely forsook those sins over the last year and several months. I was initially racked with pain, and worked very hard at my recovery to ensure that those triggers and temptations didn’t overpower me again. I had demonstrated a significant change, and was judged by the council in my previous stake as ready to be reinstated. More importantly, I had received very personal, real assurance from God that I had been forgiven and was on the right path. I expressed how it seemed like I was being held to a significantly higher standard than the rest of the people in the church. Doubtless there were multiple members who engaged in pornography much more obsessively than me who got to maintain their church membership (and even temple recommends).

He then asked me, “where do these policies come from?” I explained that I believed that just because a policy comes from “the brethren” doesn’t mean that it is flawless. I was very comfortable believing in a church where the core doctrine remained the same, while policies and the organization frequently changed to match the needs of a changing world. I referenced multiple instances where policy had changed in church history. He then proceeded to berate me for treating the church like an “a la carte” offering. He said it was wrong to think that I could pick and choose which advice to listen to and which to ignore. I tried to explain that I understood that membership in an organization meant I agreed to live by the rules of that organization. But it didn’t mean that I had to blindly agree to all of the policies and culture.

After an uncomfortable hour, I went home feeling dejected. I felt completely deflated, and for the first time in a while I felt shame about my past. I carried an unhealthy amount of resentment towards my new stake president, and even started resenting God. How could he do this to me… twice? I felt perplexed. The stake president was telling me that I was supposed to obey all church policies, and that pushing back against any of them was sinful and wrong. But I wasn’t even sure that this 1-year policy he referred to was a legitimate church policy or his own interpretation.

I spent the next several days researching and learning as much as I possibly could about church policy regarding disfellowshipment from as many sources as I could find. I talked to my bishop, and told him about our meeting and my frustration with the stake president. I talked to my father in law, who was a bishop at the time to see if he knew about this phantom policy. I spoke with my previous bishop and stake president to learn why they hadn’t told me about this alleged policy. I consulted the church handbook for bishops and stake presidents and read about its policies regarding disfellowshipment and annotations. I consulted with well-known therapists in the area with years of experience working with LDS members who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated. I even posted my question online on sites such as www.askgramps.org (though I still haven’t received a reply). No one had heard of this policy. I found nothing about it in the church handbook. A prominent LDS therapist encouraged me to seek further clarification, because in all his time working with dozens of people in similar situations, this was new to him.

The bishop agreed to follow up with the stake president on my behalf and seek understanding. He relayed to me that it wasn’t the stake president’s decision to pause my application. Rather it was someone in the First Presidency’s office whose job it was to screen such applications. The stake president had called this person, and this person had then informed the stake president of the policy and told the stake president that they would need to pause the application. After hearing this, I felt a bit less resentful towards the stake president. But I wasn’t ready to give up fighting for full fellowship. I crafted an email to the bishop, stating that I felt I had been erroneously placed in the “child abuser” bucket in the first place. When I read the church handbook, the condition requiring an annotation on a record includes a sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child. I argued that legally a child typically refers to a prepubescent minor, and that the conduct I was engaged in wasn’t defined as child abuse. I wasn’t trying to exonerate myself by any means, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being classified as a child abuser in the church’s system when I felt that didn’t apply.

2nd Meeting with Stake President 

The stake president asked to meet with me again. The bishop had forwarded my email to him. He asked me to explain how I was feeling. I explained to him my “research” and that no one else had ever heard of the policy that someone in my situation needed 1 year of sobriety from any form of pornography before being considered for reinstatement. I told him that I felt like the punishment didn’t seem to fit the crime. I also explained that I might have been classified as a child abuser when I didn’t feel that this was right. He came down on me harder than before. He admonished me for justifying my sins, told me my heart wasn’t in the right place, and that I wasn’t showing any sign of regret for what I had done. He then shook his head and looked at me with what I perceived as loathing as he said, “you think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime?” and he expressed that he had daughters and he would do anything as a father to protect them. And although he didn’t say it, the feeling I got was that to him, death might not be too severe a punishment for what I had done. At least that is what I felt during the conversation. He explained that he was very surprised that I hadn’t been excommunicated, and left it unspoken but understood that had he been in charge of my disciplinary court, I most definitely would have been.

The amount of shame that flooded over me during this verbal beating was overwhelming. I started to feel like I was a dirtbag who committed an unpardonable sin, and that in the grand scheme of things I was getting off easy. I felt thoroughly “put in my place” and gave up any argument. I submitted to it, hung my head and shut up. The amount of shame that came from that experience is nearly the same as when I first confronted my addiction. After this ended, he then told me that he called church HQ for more information about the aforementioned policy. He admitted that it wasn’t official that there needs to be a year of sobriety before being reinstated, but that the workers in the office of the first presidency said that a year of sobriety is preferred to have “a good shot” at being reinstated. He also affirmed that it was he that took the initiative to pause my application, and not the worker in the First Presidency’s office as the bishop previously explained. He then described that he was unwilling to allow this to proceed until he felt like I was ready and my heart was softened, be it in 6 months or several years. He told of a man in the stake who had been disfellowshipped for several years because he couldn’t go a year without looking at pornography, and that he wouldn't push for reinstatement until he felt like the man was ready. It almost felt like a threat. This was difficult for me, because I felt like he had completely missed the radical change that I had made since my initial disfellowshipment to that time. How could I show him the remorse he was looking for, when I already felt that I had been forgiven? Isn’t one of the promises of forgiveness that we would no longer feel the intense remorse and guilt that drives us to repent? Resigned to my fate of feeling "held hostage", I tried to work the steps and surrender my resentment. It slowly began to fade as I prayed, meditated, and learned to connect with God.

3rd Meeting with Stake President (October 2017) 

I met a third time with the stake president, this time together with my wife. I had told her some of my concerns, but was really curious to see how she reacted to him. The conversation started with him asking her in front of me how she felt about me and my progress. It was a bit awkward, but both she and I were communicating and talking every day, so there were no surprises. Then he bluntly commented that the work I was doing was not enough. He referenced a daily form that I was filling out and sharing with him as part of my step 10 work (daily inventory). He mentioned that doing this would never be enough to help me overcome my addiction. This bothered me a bit, as I had never tried to claim that this was enough. I had a whole recovery routine that included using every tool available to me. He taught about the infinite atonement and that ultimately it was only Christ’s power that could help me. Then he made a surprising comment that he often had addicts in his office who would tell him that it isn’t enough just to pray. He spoke about them and about that sentiment with contempt and said that they were completely wrong. If I prayed with enough faith, God would bless me with the atoning power to overcome the addiction.

When we left, I was very curious about my wife’s first impression. I tried not to lead her or taint her thoughts, and just asked what she thought about the meeting. She actually responded about how bugged she was. She was bugged at first by the complete lack of care or sensitivity for her. She felt that all of his questions that he asked her were only about me, but there was no care or concern for her and her recovery from trauma. In our previous stake, the bishop and stake president went to great lengths to empathize with her about the trauma she was experiencing. But she felt a complete lack of care and empathy form the current stake president. Then she launched into his comment about prayer, saying that he clearly had a lot to learn about addiction and recovery. She mentioned that ecclesiastical leaders telling people to “pray harder” commonly kept them from getting real help and making any significant progress in recovery.

4th Meeting with Stake President (December, 2017) 

It had been over three months since my first meeting with the stake president, and I had remained sober. I was feverishly working multiple programs to show God how important recovery was to me and that I was willing to go to great lengths to get it. I had grown closer to God and to my wife. But all the while, I felt alienated by the church. The stake president asked that I not meet with the bishop, but meet only with him while working towards reinstatement. This had effectively removed the one man that I felt I could completely and fully confide in, and placed me in the care of a man that I felt uncomfortable around. I was scared to share my true thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I felt that if he sensed that I wasn’t living up to the Peter Priesthood expectation in any way, then he would refuse to recommend me for reinstatement. I felt like I had no choice but to play the part of what he expected of me, which left me feeling like a hostage, and very alone.

I met with the stake president a 4th time, and tried to package my experiences and present them using words and terms that he would understand and accept. That way I felt like I wasn’t being dishonest about my experiences, but I was portraying them in a way that met his expectations. I felt a bit guilty about being disingenuous, however I felt backed into a corner with no other option. The meeting was relatively uneventful, and was mainly a check-in on my progress. At the end of the meeting he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I told him that my best friend was getting married soon, and that I was praying to God to make it possible for me to attend. He gave the answer I expected, which was he definitely couldn’t promise one way or another, but he would continue to meet and work with me until then.

Bombshell #2 

But then he told me the story of another man in the stake who was in a similar situation. He had been disfellowshipped and reinstated many years earlier, but had an annotation that remained on his record. He came in to meet with the stake president, humbly, and asked to begin the process of requesting the the removal of the annotation from the First Presidency. Having never done this before, the stake president called into the office of the First Presidency to inquire how to go about requesting the change. He reported to me that when he called, he was told that annotations on records often weren’t ever removed, and only were considered for removal in extraordinary circumstances. He told me that even after I was reinstated, I shouldn’t get my hopes up about ever having the annotation removed.

Yet again, this hit me like a ton of bricks. As I’ve explained above, I was originally told that I could apply to have the annotation removed after having experienced a comfortable period of sobriety and recovery. I have never felt like the annotation was necessary. I have never posed a threat to anyone in the church. I have never used any relationship in the church to fuel my addiction. Since I was so worried about preserving my image and keeping my addictive life secret, I would obsessively work to avoid anyone connected in any way to my “regular” life. But when it was proclaimed I would have an annotation on my record, I understood the precaution of the church in placing a temporary restriction on my record while the disciplinary proceedings and my own recovery were getting worked out. But learning that I would virtually be labeled as a child abuser and sex offender on the records of the church was devastating. I felt a flood of shame come again, feeling that the sins of my past would continue to haunt me and define me for the rest of my life.

Based on my past experiences, I felt that it wasn’t safe for me to express my feelings with the stake president. So after he told me this story, I held my tongue and let the meeting end. This meeting was another significant challenge for me in this process. I started to feel even more jaded and resentful towards the church. I felt that the church’s prevalent teachings about the infiniteness of the atonement had an exception for sex-addicted men with a past like mine. I would often hear that everyone could be forgiven no matter what they had done. But I would keep feeling immense shame that no matter what I did, on the church’s records I would never be fully forgiven.

I remembered reading a talk in the October 2017 General Conference by Elder Dale Renlund. He told a story of a time that he went to a country to organize its first stake, and also to interview a 30-year old man to potentially restore his blessings after being excommunicated. He explained to the young man that after his blessings were restored, the date of the interview would have no official meaning because his records would be wiped clean, only showing the original date of baptism with no mention of his excommunication. He shared a scripture in D&C 58 teaching that those who repent are forgiven and their sins will be remembered no more. Again, I couldn’t help but feel like I was the exception. I had done something so profoundly bad that I would forever be a danger to those around me, and the church needed to remember my sin in the form of this annotation. This seemed to contradict the entire point of what Elder Renlund was teaching.

I started to question whether I wanted to belong to a church that was so intent on reminding me of my past and and causing me to continually feel shame and inadequacy. I felt like I had no one to talk to about my concerns, because if I brought them up to my stake president, he would see it as a sign that I was trying to justify my sins and I wasn’t being penitent enough. My excitement to be reinstated began to wane significantly. I still actively worked on my addiction recovery and was making great progress.

Additional Meetings 

I met with the stake president a few more times, about every 6-8 weeks. The meetings were mostly check-ups where the stake president would share a scripture with me, ask me if “I was being good” and tell me how proud he was of me. I tried not to lie, and represent my progress in recovery in the church terms he was expecting. But I did keep my doubts and concerns to myself. I had several flare ups of resentment towards my stake president and the church during that time. One of the worst was when I had to tell my best friend that I couldn’t attend his temple wedding ceremony because I was still disfellowshipped. This created a bit of a distance between us, and I noticed myself beginning to isolate again. This worried me because isolation was a big part of my addiction and I didn’t want to go back down that road. So I kept up on recovery and tried very hard to maintain channels where I could be open and not isolate. I also tried to voice some of my growing concerns and resentments towards the church to some friends and family. For those who were very active in the church, my concerns were often met with defensiveness, so I stopped bringing up my concerns to them.

Reinstatement (April, 2018) 

In April, the stake president called me and told me that he had an impression that it was time for him to call the First Presidency’s office to resume my application. I honestly had mixed feelings. While I was happy to have this part of my journey behind me, I was also aware that my enthusiasm to come back into full fellowship wasn’t what it was a year ago. Also, I was guarded because I'd had the carpet pulled out from under me a couple times already. I didn’t want to start hoping that everything was taken care of only to have my application rejected. So I didn’t put much time or attention into investigating how I felt about the prospect of being reinstated.

About a month later, the stake president invited me to meet with him in his office, where he told me that the first presidency had accepted my application and that I was as of that point reinstated into full fellowship. He told me that I could start taking the sacrament again and participating fully in church, but that it would take a bit of time for my records to reflect the change before I could be given a calling. Again, I was conflicted by the news. Part of meet wanted to be happy that it was finally over, but the other part of me knew that I had scars from this experience that would take a long time to get over. The rest of the meeting went ok. I waited for the joy and relief to hit me later that night. But it never really came. I figured that as I started to take the sacrament, and got back into the “swing of things” that the relief and joy would come. But instead I just felt confusion and discomfort about my experience.

The story is still unfolding. I still have a lot of digging and soul-searching to do to discover what the right approach is for me moving forward. This much is clear: had I been reinstated per my original stake council's decision, I would likely be fully active and energetic about the church. However, my experience over the last year has driven a deep wedge and left significant scars.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Story: How I Developed A Sexual Addiction

I am a good person. To be honest, I still cringe a little as I write that. As someone recovering from a sexual addiction, I've lived most of my life trying to be a good person, but feeling like a failure because I couldn't control my sexually compulsive behavior. So I am still working on separating my behavior from my worth and value as a person, and escaping the deep shame that accompanies addiction.

I want to briefly share my story to shine light on how a good person like me can end up developing a serious sexual addiction, and to share the steps I am taking in my recovery process to find healing and peace.

Family of Origin 

I grew up in an active LDS Christian family outside of Utah. I am the youngest of 3, with a brother and sister a few years older than me. While we weren’t destitute, we definitely weren’t well off. On the outside, we were a good, typical church-going family. But our home was often a contentious place. There was no abuse or much yelling in the home at all, but there was constant tension. My parents were struggling with a failing marriage and my older siblings had constant behavioral issues. I didn’t know it until years later, but my dad was struggling with serious mental health issues, including a sexual compulsive disorder that originated with him being sexually abused by his parents growing up. Also, years later I learned that my Mom grew up believing that sex was exclusively for procreating. No doubt that these underlying conditions contributed to the tension in the home. While I was too young to understand much of what was going on, I inherited an unhealthy template for relationships and communication. I learned that problems and issues were best left hidden and unspoken, that love or affection didn’t have to exist within a “functioning” family, and that if I kept my head down I would avoid the negative consequences my siblings faced from their “sinful” behavior.

Sexual Abuse 

When I was around 8 or 9 years old, I was sexually abused by two boys a few years older than me that lived in my neighborhood. We were friends doing for the most part what friends do: playing catch, acting like ninjas, etc. But on multiple occasions over the course of a year or so, I was abused by them during sleepovers. At the time, I didn’t really recognize it as abuse. I didn’t know it was not normal for friends to ask to do things to you, or for you to do things to them, and be told not to tell anyone. But later, the memory of these events became so traumatic to me that I blocked most of the details from my memory. So even now I struggle putting together what actually happened. But this abuse was a huge catalyst towards a life of duplicity and sexual compulsion. I learned that there were things about me that should stay hidden from the rest of the world at all costs so that I would remain acceptable to them. I’m still just beginning to learn to open up and process the trauma from this stage of my life.

Growing Up 

It was with these same friends that I viewed my first pornographic images. I started looking at pornographic images periodically, usually just with friends from magazines we found or sometimes online. In the beginning, it wasn’t compulsive, more curious and enticing. I knew it was wrong and also knew that I shouldn’t let anyone else know about it because I didn’t want them to think less of me. A few years later, another friend and I started getting on AOL chat rooms. For my friend it was just something to do, but I began to compulsively search for girls my age to talk with and turn the conversations sexual. This was the first step into compulsive behavior. By the time I was in my early teens, I would intermittently binge, chatting with girls online, looking at pornography, and masturbating. But at the same time, I was going to church every week and was trying to be the best Mormon kid I could be.

In church, I heard lessons about chastity, about avoiding pornography like the plague, and that sexual impurity was the worst sin behind murder and denying the Holy Ghost. Naturally, I felt a flood of shame after each of my binges, feeling like I was a terrible person for doing these things. This is the first time I remember trying to stop. I failed, and that failure led me to believe that this was a dark, dirty part of me that I couldn’t get rid of but also couldn’t allow to be discovered. I think this insecurity led towards a tremendous outward show of faith and obedience in the church. I became quorum president, I bore my testimony, went to EFY, read my scriptures and prayed, etc. I felt that I could overpower my dark side by letting in as much light as possible. This created serious self-delusion, and a buried self-hatred and feeling of inadequacy that often I wasn’t even aware was there.

Girls and Dating 

I was always taught that it was a sin to date a girl before I was 16. But I started becoming very interested and attracted to girls around 12-13. I learned to circumvent the “rules” by calling it “going out” instead of dating. I “went out” with a few girls in middle school. I was scared to death of girls, even though the compulsion I felt towards viewing pornography and masturbation began to come out as I was with girls. I kissed a few girls but was afraid of trying to do anything more, up until I started “going out” with a girl in my church. After about a month we were still “going out,” which was longer than my previous “relationships.” Most other “relationships” fizzled out much sooner. We started spending more time together, and manipulating our parents and friends to find time to be alone together as much as possible. Eventually, we started exploring sexually together, but we were both determined to keep it a secret. And since we were both actively attending church, we knew that we couldn’t cross the line of having sex. This began a new compulsion for me, in using another person to fulfill my sexual cravings. And it drove me even further into duplicity and shame.

When we eventually broke up, I felt compelled to talk to my bishop and confess what we had done. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had become a master manipulator. I confessed in such a way as to justify to myself that I fully confessed, but to mislead the bishop into thinking that it wasn’t my fault and wasn’t as serious as it was. He then told me that he was proud of me for ending the relationship before crossing the line of having sex. This did a few things to propel my addiction. First, it gave me the false sense of security that I was able to control my compulsion. Second, it gave me permission to go up to a line as long as I didn’t cross it.

After this experience, I became scared that my “reputation” would be destroyed if anyone found out about my problem. So I started to segregate my dating life, which deepened the duplicity. On the one side, I only dated girls that I knew shared my values and wouldn’t be tempted to break any rules. On the other, I started to seek for girls that I could meet that didn’t know any of my other friends so that if we were sexual, no one would find out. There were several more times in high school that I became sexually involved with a girl. Each time, I wouldn’t let it cross the line into sex, and after each time my guilt led me to confess to my bishop.

As I started getting closer to 19, I became a bit more distressed that my problem would keep me from serving a mission for my church. The thought that I could be held back caused a lot of fear and shame. So when I confessed in my later years, I minimized my deeds even more as to not risk my mission worthiness. When I graduated high school, I made a tremendous push of will power to stop dating girls altogether. But I still couldn’t stop the periodic binges of viewing pornography and masturbating, so I just started to lie about it in my interviews.

Mission 

Once again, I thought that if I could occupy my time with enough good things, it would be able to overshadow and push out the bad that was lurking the depths. I worked hard as a missionary to learn the gospel, be obedient, and fulfill my purpose. But there were several times on my mission where the compulsion manifested itself. Early on, it was periodically masturbating with memories of past sexual encounters. It eventually progressed to the point where I used a cell phone to secretly text girls from our English club. About half way through, my companion saw some of my texts. After a few days of inner turmoil and shame, fearing that I would be sent home, I confessed to my mission president. I wasn’t sent home. This scared me to obedience for most of my mission, but at the end I again began texting girls again and masturbating. I confessed, and was told that since I was so close to the end, I needed to make a stronger effort to be obedient to “finish strong.” I did, and finished my mission “honorably.”

College (BYU

I had a lot of momentum after finishing my mission. I felt again that I had developed the tools I needed to keep my compulsion in control. This lasted about 3 months until I went to college, and discovered social media. I quickly started using it as a menu to browse potential encounters that I could have. I started to fantasize, masturbate, and this led to more binges of viewing pornography. I was mortified that this part of me was still present, and I did everything I could to keep it hidden. I tried to compensate by being the model mormon BYU-attending returned missionary. I would go on dates with lots of stereotypical, clean cut BYU girls I met at church, but secretly get to know and meet girls from other, less-reputable circles. I became sexual with several of the girls I met from the latter group. I confessed to my bishop each time, and each time experienced the paradox of feeling shame / self-loathing for who I’d become while at the same time feeling in-control and proud that I didn’t cross the line of having sex.

Marriage 

After a couple years, I met a girl from the first group that I wanted to marry. Through another tremendous force of will power, I tried to eradicate my secret behavior so I could be worthy to marry this girl in the temple. But during our engagement, I had a sexual encounter with a girl that I had met previously. I felt terrible, confessed to her (although I minimized what had happened) and made promises of complete fidelity. And I meant them. I thought that once I was married and sex was ok, then there would be no more fuel for the compulsion. I was wrong. I learned really fast that sex in marriage wasn’t the same as sex in porn.

After a few months, I began looking at porn again, and had the urge to chat online and meet other women. But the risk was a lot higher. I knew that if anyone caught me, it could end my marriage. So I started creating fake identities on social media and dating sites. At first, I told myself that I would just chat online but not cross the line of meeting anyone in person. That way I could justify that I wasn’t actually cheating. But eventually, I met up with some girls from my fake profile and had sexual encounters with a few of them. I justified to myself that since I wouldn’t cross the line of having sex with any of them, it wasn’t really fully cheating. I had to become much more crafty in maintaining my separate lives. It almost became second nature to go to work at the LDS Missionary Training Center, spending all day focused on teaching spiritual principles and then on that same day, take off my “good mormon” hat and put on my “sexually compulsive” hat and engage with women online. 

This behavior wasn’t continual or constant. I would typically have weeks or even months at a time where I was “out of control” and then I would “reign in control,” set goals and tell myself that this time I was done for good. On a few occasions my wife found little pieces of evidence from my secret life. For example, I would forget to delete a message on a social media account that she would fine. Without context, she didn’t have the whole picture, but it was enough to indicate I was acting unfaithfully. When she confronted me, I was able to either gaslight her fears and concerns away with some plausible (but false) explanation, or admit to a temporary, minor lapse in judgment and minimize it. The crazy thing is that I would start to believe my own lies and minimizations. That was the only way I could function.

Recovery Group 

A few years into my marriage, there was one particular episode where my compulsion was particularly “out of control.” My wife found much more evidence of my encounters and confronted me. Since I knew I couldn’t just explain away what she had found and confronted me with, I committed that I would seek help for my problem. She suggested that I might have an addiction and that I should go to a recovery group. I ended up talking to my bishop (again, minimizing) and committing to go to Sexaholics Anonymous (SA).

At SA, I never really took the first step and admitted that I was out of control. I looked at all of the people there and distinctly felt that I was better than all of them, and that I understood “the gospel” and “the atonement” much better than they did. I literally corrected the manual or “white book” where it was inconsistent or wrong based on an LDS perspective. Needless to say that my attitude precluded me from gaining anything useful from my experience. But I knew that I had to stop, so I instead relied upon my “superior intellect and willpower.” After about 6 months of going to these recovery meetings, I declared myself “cured” and quit going. And truly, for a couple years I abstained from inappropriate online interactions with other women. The pornography and masturbation binges still happened occasionally, but my attitude towards them was neutral because I figured they weren’t hurting anyone.

A huge side effect of the previous episode was a prolonged period of abstinence with my wife. The white book suggested that for those beginning recovery, a period of “drying out” was advisable. So without even talking with my wife, I decided to stop having sex. This lasted for well over a year, without a word between the two of us. This created an incredibly unhealthy barrier between us. When we did begin to be intimate again, I started to become very resentful because it seemed like I was the only one that wanted it. I would start to blame her, and blame our apparent incompatibility in regards to our sex drive for my desire to act out. There were periods where I would get so upset that I would just stop initiating sex as an experiment to see how long it would last before she realized what I was doing. All this resulted in was months without sex, and nearly palpable resentment towards my wife. 

After a couple years of this, I began getting online and connecting with women again. There were several intermittent binges of this up until my final encounter with another woman that propelled me into real recovery.

Realization 

During the last episode of my sexual acting out with other women, I became more out of control than I had ever been in the past. As I look back on the experience now, I recognize multiple occasions where I should have literally died because of the danger I put myself in. For example, on one occasion I had a 3-hour drive to an airport for a business trip. During the entire drive, I was glued to my phone, messaging women. It even got to the point where I literally masturbated to an erotic podcast going 85 MPH on the freeway at midnight. The compulsion seemed to have complete control, and it dominated my every thought. Food stopped tasting good. Sleep was a burden. Productivity at work was non-existent. Eventually, I met up with a woman I had been chatting with and engaged in oral sex. I crossed a line that I swore to myself I would never cross. After the experience, I remember actually entertaining thoughts of leaving my wife and kids to go run off with this girl.

Somehow, I realized the insanity of actually considering this course of action. Not only was I willing to throw everything away, but I was fantasizing that this woman would want to still have anything to do with me after she learned I had lied to her about my name, my age, and about being married. This recognition of literal insanity produced an unspeakable fear and anxiety. I completely lost my appetite. My head was constantly spinning, and for the first time I realized that I was out of control and that I didn’t have any power to reclaim control.

In my desperation, I picked up the white book that I had obtained years earlier and started to read. “Never before did any passage of ‘scripture’ come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.” I immediately connected with the stories I was reading in the book, and realized it was written for me. A small ray of hope burst through the immense feelings of fear, anxiety, and shame. I found a group, went, and bore my soul to the strangers there. And I found acceptance, kindness, and empathy.

I was able to view my life and its deeply embedded duplicity clearly for the first time. I visualized it as if I had built an incredibly beautiful (and fragile) city, all the while I was secretly excavating and digging underneath it. This resulted in a monumental collapse where the only truth that I could ascertain from the wreckage was that I was out of control and I needed help beyond my own power. 

Recovery 

It turns out, this was all I needed to begin to establish a new, solid foundation for the rest of my life in recovery. I kept going to meetings, started meeting with a trained sex-addiction therapist, and fully confessed my deeds to my bishop (this time actually holding nothing back). I ended up being disfellowshipped. My therapist helped me break the full news to my wife as wisely and safely as possible. At first, we were certain that we were headed for divorce. But slowly, as I feverishly worked at my recovery, I began to construct a new life and discover the “real” me amid the chaos of the shattered “city.” My wife and I slowly began to create a new relationship built on honesty and transparency.

There have been many, many twists and turns in my journey since. Those will all have to wait for additional posts. My intent for this post is to give a brief summary (and yes, even though this is quite long, it really is a brief summary) of my history of addiction. My hope is that anyone reading this can gain empathy and a better understanding of the causes and conditions, the mindset, and the heart of an addict. I also hope that anyone reading this that sympathizes with any point in my story can recognize that no matter how hopeless it may seem, there is hope for recovery.