The greatest truth I have learned through my struggle with sexual media and masturbation is this: No matter how far I go into my addiction, nor how deep I fall into despair, there is a God who loves me, because he loves me, because he loves me. Living in this truth is changing me.
I can remember, from a very early age, going into my parents room crying, then lying on the floor until my mother would pick me up, take me to my bed, and stay with me until I fell asleep. I grew up in a lower middle class home with an extraordinarily loving family but, for reasons I cannot fully explain, never felt worthy of love.
My first sexual experience, and the shame that followed, occurred when I was in elementary school. A male friend and I explored our bodies out of curiosity in the darkness of my room. I somehow knew I must keep this encounter a secret. We later invited a mutual female friend into our secret “naked exploration” club. She later told her older brother and, of course, I lied about my involvement. Lying became part of my addictive ritual with all future inappropriate sexual activities which, of course, only served to deepen my sense of shame and drive me further into isolation.
Then I discovered the most beautiful young woman I had ever seen. She was a J.C. Penny underwear magazine model. I routinely sneaked the ginormous catalog unnoticed into the bathroom so I could privately peer at its contents. I kept the catalog stored at the bottom of our magazine basket so as to not draw suspicion. This would be my first experience with masturbation.
More sexual discovery was to come. During my middle school years, I heard the screeching sound of the dial up modem as the Internet entered our home. What glorious fantasies awaited me in my endless search for new underwear models. However, like any gateway drug, my Google searches led to the broader sexual pursuits. I desperately sought to satisfy my growing sexual appetite. The shame I felt, during those years, profoundly impacted me. I fell into a deep pit of addiction where I believed there was no possibility of light. God's presence was all around me, but I could not realize His grace because I chose to believe I was not worthy of His love.
My mother discovered my porn use on the computer, but I lied, suggesting the Internet history must be related to a virus. I became adept at hiding my secret and convinced my family I did not have a problem. I eventually convinced myself of the same lie.
My developing addiction began with a few peeks at a magazine in late elementary school and escalated to a twice a day habit of looking at sexually explicit material on the Internet throughout my high school and college days.
My sexual addiction affected others around me. For example, while I dearly love my younger sister, I began to emotionally shut her out. I chose to spend my spare time viewing porn rather than to foster a good relationship with her.
My addiction to sex also negatively impacted relationships outside my family. After two years of dating my childhood sweetheart, she broke up with me, followed by the worst two months of my life. I didn’t eat for a week straight, spending most of my time crying. I was a mess.
During this same period of despair, I watched my father take his last breath after years of battling cancer. At the end, he could not speak, but dad communicated to me, not in words, but with hand signs and gestures, "I love you, Devan."
For three months after the breakup with my girlfriend and the death of my father, I was porn-free. But slowly the lies I believed about myself crept back in and I coped with the pain through the numbing effects of porn-induced dopamine hits. My addiction ramped up again and my sense of isolation resumed despite the presence of a loving family and community. I was supported, yet I didn’t accept that support. The only consistent medication for my internal pain was pornography.
At a Christian conference sponsored by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, I finally broke down about my addiction to porn. I realized how it tore my previous relationships apart, forced me into isolation, and kept me from the freedom Jesus offered.
I heard about 423 Men at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. I needed healing and knew I could not fix this problem alone. One of my roommates was in 423 Men and he encouraged me to join. With some reluctance, I reached out to 423 and began a life-transforming journey.
423 Men helped shine a light on all parts of my addiction. My recovery in 423 brought up past hurts and the pain I tried to numb away through my years of sex-drug use. Eventually, I became a leader in this recovery program, despite the fact that I did not feel qualified or fully healed. Interestingly, my addiction began having less and less of a hold on my heart. One fellow 423 Men leader constantly reminded me that God loved me, because he loved me, because he loved me. How could God have so much love for a broken man like me who believed so many lies about himself? This continual reminder in the face of my emotional pain from the past, convinced me that I was worthy of Christ's love. I was far from perfect, but was becoming more and more whole. Today I am beginning to live out my true identity as a man fully loved by a Savior who gave His life for me. I could not have known this truth apart from a faithful community of love and support.
In the summer of 2017, I married the girl of my dreams. Jill knows all about my struggle and still supports, respects, and loves me. Sexual addiction is a cruel taskmaster, and my sin caused Jill loads of pain. But she knows I am determined to pursue my recovery and we are in this healing partnership together. I am so blessed to have my amazing wife. We are learning to trust Jesus in all things, in spite of my inadequacies. I am moving in the direction of authenticity with my wife, my 423 Men community, and all my friends in Christ. God is leading me on the path of wholeness and redemption.
Fixing this addiction alone didn’t work for me. I needed a loving, grace-filled community like 423 Men. My dad once told me, "What truly matters in the end is that you loved and were loved." I am loved by my heavenly Father, my family, and my community, and now I have the opportunity to love and encourage other men in their pursuit of freedom from the bondage of sexual sin. I love because I am loved.