[Originally published in Essay 2012 #1]
The man I used to be died on May 7, 2009. As I was speeding down the passing lane of a St. Louis Interstate, my eyes were filled with tears and my hands were clenched in fists of rage as my choked up voice screamed in agony and disbelief. I was only seconds away from yanking the steering wheel hard to the left to send my car into the cement wall median in an effort to end my life.
Fifteen minutes earlier, I was dismissed from my dream job of nine years, after my employers completed three days of deliberations concerning an anonymous mailing they had received. The mailing contained printouts of an adult profile I had posted online in an effort to get others to lust after me. Although my online activity was not illegal, no amount of explaining or begging was enough to change my employers, decision. I was guilty of violating my company’s morality clause. While I could not see it at that moment, the lust addiction I had refused to acknowledge since I was nine years old had finally cost me what I loved most in life and was now driving me to throw the gift of life itself away.
By God’s grace and because of a promise I had made to my wife to explain my employer’s decision, I arrived home alive in body, though dead in spirit. I spent the next several hours alternating between fits of crying, screaming at God and myself, staring through red eyes at my despicable reflection in the mirror, and telling my wife that she’d be better off without me. Consumed by my own guilt and pain, it took me months to adequately consider the hell I put my wife through on that day. While she already knew that I used pornography, I had managed to keep the full extent of my lustful activities a secret. Learning the truth about my hidden Internet activity was excruciating for her—yet she somehow had the grace to not give up on me or our marriage.
That evening, I visited my parents and divulged the details of what I had done. Miraculously, they did not throw me out of their house or shame me for my actions. Instead, my father helped me find our local SA website and asked me to review it. Since he himself had nearly 20 years of AA sobriety, I did not think it strange that he would be aware of other Twelve Step programs. I took SA’s online quiz and answered “Yes” to 17 of the 20 questions. Having been “driven to the point of despair” (SA, 4), I left a message on the local SA hot line and was promptly called back by the man who is now my sponsor.
The next morning I attended my first SA meeting, where I was reborn. Within the first two minutes I knew that I was where I belonged. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who could relate to me and my problems with lust, pornography, and acting out. I was home.
I did not share at meetings at first, until an old-timer (now a dear friend) pulled me aside and advised me, “Open your mouth to save your rear.” I knew I needed lots of saving, so now I rarely attend a meeting without sharing at least a little of my experience, strength, and hope.
Three weeks after my first meeting, I read my Step One sexual history to my home group. I finally acknowledged how lust had progressively taken over my life in the 25 years following my first exposure to pornography. I had become blind to the truth of my addiction, but reading my Step One share helped me see the sad reality.
Beginning as a guilt-consumed youth acting out with a few adult magazines, I eventually became consumed with increasing my collection of lustful material, spending an embarrassing amount of time and money to accumulate hundreds of erotic stories and videos. As a college student, I grew more brazen, going so far as to look at and even print out pornographic material in the middle of the crowded campus computer lab. Eventually, “tame” material and my own fantasy-filled mind were not enough. I needed ever greater variety in content and activity to get my “fix.” I married the first woman I ever dated, and over the next several years, I repeatedly tried to coerce her into experimenting with various sexual activities she had no interest in performing. She eventually filed for divorce.
When my first marriage ended, I felt unchained and I embarked on a six-month binge of womanizing, acting out, ignoring my conscience, and convincing myself that I was just doing what most guys do at some point in their lives. I remember thinking, “being monogamous did not keep my marriage together, so what’s the point?” In my sickness I was blind to the reality that I had been mentally adulterous throughout my first marriage, even though I did not physically act on those fantasies. Now I learned that feeding my lust with various women did not fill me up either. I felt even more alone and empty inside.
By the time I met my current wife, I had grown quite skilled in justifying my sinful behavior. I thought that as long as I was open with her about using pornography, it would be her fault if she didn’t like it. I remember declaring to her, when we were first dating, “I am never going to give up looking at pornography. If you can’t accept that, then break up with me now.” My wife had been hurt by my attitude then, but she thought that all guys looked at porn at some point in their lives. Since then, I’ve wondered many times how our lives and our marriage could have been so much better if I had honored her wishes for me to quit pornography then. Instead, I chose to honor my inner addict and continued my lustful behaviors—until the day I was dismissed from my job.
Through working the Steps, I came to see how lust had isolated me, ending my first marriage and nearly destroying the second. I finally saw that my addiction had caused me to live a hypocritical double life. Mercifully, I no longer live a double life. Through the grace of God and the fellowship of SA, I have been sexually sober since my first meeting on May 8, 2009. Acting out is no longer an option, so I must stay vigilant against lust in all its forms. I maintain vigilance by throwing myself into recovery as much as possible. I try to work at least one of the Twelve Steps every day. I attend meetings as often as possible, make daily program phone calls, sponsor others, and volunteer for service positions, both for my home group and the local Intergroup. I feel all of this is essential if I am to nurture the new life that SA has given me.
Today, by living a life that “demands rigorous honesty” (AA, 58), I have gained integrity, and I’m so much better for it. Facing the truth about all the many ways my disease had manifested itself was quite painful, but once my denial was shattered, I felt “a new freedom and a new happiness” (AA, 83), which I would not exchange even if I could go back and change my past.
I believe I owe it to God, to my family, and to myself to do all I can to stay sober, to heal the wounds I caused while an active lust addict, and to give myself the greatest opportunity to experience the Twelve Promises first-hand. While I still have much work to do to improve my marriage and other areas of my life, my relationship with my wife has been deepened and renewed. My career may be different today, but we’ve adjusted to a reduced income and I’ve gained humility as a result. Recovery through SA has made me a better, more complete person.
Today I can now look at my reflection without seeing a liar and a hypocrite staring back at me. I no longer think my wife would be better off without me. Thanks to SA, I have a life worth living and I want to live it to the fullest. As Bill W. says:
As we felt a new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter. We were reborn (AA, 63)
I know I’m not alone in gaining a new life through the SA program of recovery. If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone!
—Gratefully yours in recovery, Dave B., St. Louis, MO