Plato said “An unexamined life is not worth living.” The Biblical equivalent to this maxim is Proverbs 4.26: “Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established.” Honest self-examination has helped me make sense of things, and move toward a more abundant life.
My story begins like so many other guys who started using pornography at a young age. Porn was tantalizing and seductive, forbidden and difficult to access. Before long, it would lead me down a long, dark spiral stairway to the very doors of hell.
I was introduced to pornography when I was six or seven years old at the home of a friend who delighted in revealing to me his father’s stash of dirty magazines. It was my first taste of forbidden fruit, my first 'hit' from the drug of sex. I knew I wanted more, but I didn’t know why.
In eighth grade, a friend showed me how to play 'strip poker' on the computer. I couldn't wait to jump to the end of the game and collect my prize... a glimpse at what I knew I should not be allowed to view. Even before I was a follower of Jesus, I somehow understood that looking at naked women was against the rules. This same friend introduced me to more pornography in progressively more depth and detail. In those days, the Internet was slow and you were lucky to download just a few sexual images. Today the sewer drain is wide open and pours directly into our living room computers and pocket phones.
When I was a freshman in high school my family got our first computer, and I willingly entered an incredibly dark spiritual place. Late at night, I would log into chat rooms and request nude photos of other members and trade supposed photos of myself (which I had solicited from other chat room members). Lying came easily to me, and I would do whatever it took to get as many photos as I could in a day. But, It was never enough...
“Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”
— Proverbs 4.27
The preceding verse of Scripture would describe my modus operandi for the next sixteen years. As our access to the Internet became faster, so too did the speed at which I downloaded sexual photos and videos. These images depicted what I now know to be inexcusable, sinful, and for the most part, completely artificial acts of sex; and all of it was available free of charge in the privacy of my family home!
To this day, over two decades later, I don’t know how I kept my unquenchable thirst for porn a secret from my family. I had some close calls and, although I was extremely careful, there was no way I could have consumed the volume of internet pornography that I did without causing suspicion.
Later in high school I was able to afford my own computer, which I kept in my room behind a door that was all too often closed. Why my parents thought this was acceptable, I’m not sure. My father was and still is a devout Christian man, but I abused his trust. During this period, and until I was twenty-two years old, it was a no-holds-barred, free-for-all access to as much of my drug of choice as my internet connection could provide. I would sometimes spend entire afternoons downloading porn and masturbating to the point of exhaustion. It was a very dark time and I was becoming more and more of an introvert; so bold with my use of pornography, but seriously stunted in my ability to hold actual conversations with people of the opposite sex. This relational limitation would later develop into social anxiety and very real self-esteem issues, even after I became a Christian.
Through God’s grace, I met Jesus when I was twenty-two years old, a miracle I’ll be forever thankful for. I know without question that this was the result of someone's, or multiple someones', prayers for me. Even though I had grown up in the church, it took me twenty-two years to realize how much I needed God’s forgiveness. I could no longer rely on my dad’s faith to save me. It was now apparent that I had to stop my porn habit, but it would take another ten years of trying and failing in my own strength before I finally believed I could not succeed alone. I pleaded, begged, and cajoled God to give me the strength to say "no" to my drug of choice. I had seasons of victory, some lasting as long as three months, but I always went back to porn.
“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
— Proverbs 26.11
I was that Biblical "fool." One failure after another slowly convinced me that freedom from sexual addiction would be impossible. I would never stop my sexual misconduct. It could not be done. The scariest moments for me were when I eventually told myself I was okay with my secret sin. It was no longer worth fighting. There could be no victory over this sin.
I had wrestled with pornography for way too long and had heard way too many sermons offering false hope: "All you need to do read your Bible more and pray more, and then God will give you the strength to beat your addiction." Of course, I didn’t call my use of porn an "addiction". I had problems, but I wasn’t an addict. It was this proud attitude that kept me out of recovery groups for years; my pride was such a hindrance to my recovery that it’s a wonder I recovered at all. But God, being rich in mercy, allowed me to come to the end of myself. Finally admitting that I needed help was the first step on my recovery journey.
I shared my ‘struggle’ with a few select friends over the next few years, and even joined an "accountability group." I figured I’d 'go for broke' and be totally honest. Why shouldn't I? What did I have to lose? My true and full disclosure earned me the sympathetic nods and pats on the back I expected, but also the old refrain from well-intentioned group members: "You just need to read your Bible and pray more.” Traditional accountability did not help me. I decided to find another group.
I joined Celebrate Recovery, a Biblically-based 12-step recovery program that really worked! I attended group for over a year and a half, and at the same time, sought individual counseling (something else my pride had never before allowed me to do). For me, the combination of recovery and therapy can be described as nothing short of miraculous. Once I laid down my pride, said ‘yes’ to the methods Jesus would offer for my personal redemption, the process of healing became remarkably easy. I stopped my pornography and masturbation habit and found real and lasting hope. I constantly thank God for this true miracle of healing. Having tried and failed so many times in my own strength, I know that it is only the power of God that has allowed me to get and stay sexually clean for as long as I have. I could overcome sexual sin, but I could not do so alone. I needed my brothers in recovery, as well as the faithful support of my counselor, to whom I am forever grateful.
Eight months after completing the twelve steps in Celebrate Recovery, I learned about 423 Communities International. This sexual recovery program began in 2009 at Westside A Jesus Church, which planted my home church, Emmaus, in Cary, North Carolina. Its Executive Director, Dave Scriven, visited our church in July, 2017, and helped me start 423 Men in our congregation. Since that time, this group has yielded amazing results with guys who have had found the humility and courage to deal with their sexual sin. Leadership in 423 is my opportunity to 'pay forward' the kindness, grace, and understanding I received during my recovery journey. I have so enjoyed getting to deeply know the guys in my own 423 Men group, and to build friendships with people in the larger 423 community in Portland, Oregon.
When I contemplate my journey of recovery, and see what God is doing with 423 Communities, the phrase ‘beauty from ashes’ springs to mind. I am in awe, and truly humbled at the new community God has allowed me to be a part of.
You can recover, but you cannot do it alone! There is hope!