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 OriginI 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 AbuseWhen 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 UpIt 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 DatingI 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.
MissionOnce 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.
MarriageAfter 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 GroupA 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.
RealizationDuring 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.
RecoveryIt 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.