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Hope for the Sexually Addicted

Due to the nature of this testimony, Physician has agreed to keep in confidence the identities of those involved.

I am a family physician in Edmonton, Alberta. I am also a sex addict. I do not recall ever choosing to be the way I am, but my earliest pre-sexual memories are of watching "Tarzan" on television. I felt a deep, inexplicable thrill at the scantily clad women on this show, whose helplessness necessitated weekly rescue. I was drawn to these images of power and suffering — they filled me with a longing and excitement for which I had no name.

My fantasy world grew. In it, I was either all-powerful or utterly powerless, usually bearing with stoic bravery some horrific injury, cared for by a legion of concerned females. None of this is particularly shocking, but it forms the earliest tendrils of the addiction that would plague me all my life.

My self-esteem, which was never good to begin with, took a beating in the traditional give-and-take of childhood athletics and social popularity. Puberty heralded yet another battle I was ill-prepared to face — the ever-present popularity contest now turned to romance. My fantasy world became a safer refuge.

I discovered masturbation at the same time I discovered soft-core pornography. It had an almost drug-like effect on me. This powerful source of pleasure combined with my cauldron of insecurity, self-hatred and loneliness to create a firestorm of emotions I could neither understand nor control.

The jaws of addiction's trap were about to snap shut.

Exploring the tumultuous environment of big-city downtown in the late '60s was a heady time for a wide-eyed 13-year-old. Here, pornographic bookstores displayed a cornucopia of sexual behavior. I have read of the experience a heroin user has the first time he takes a "hit" — that's what I felt the first time I read a sadomasochistic book. I felt at peace. In reality, I had just taken an enormous leap toward losing my soul.

As I could scarcely afford these books — nor would they sell them to me — I stole them. The pleasure I attained from reading these paperbacks and masturbating soon ruled my life. They created a safe place, a pleasurable place, one to which I could flee whenever I wanted.

The final elements of sexual addiction were firmly in place. I had come to believe that I was a bad person, that no one could possibly like me if they really knew me, and that I could not rely on anyone else to meet my needs — the most important of which was sex.

To help cope with these beliefs, I entered a helping profession — a common pursuit for people like me. Medicine is particularly appealing with its blend of status, power and healing nature, and to my great satisfaction, I was quite good at it. Yet my addictive behaviors were never far away, and I returned time and again to violent pornography in times of stress or to relax.

My loneliness finally drove me to trust a woman — the one who became my wife. She was honest and had an infectious zest for life.

She was a Christian, I was not. We had vigorous arguments about religion and finally agreed not to talk about it, though I was keenly aware that in her faith she had something I did not. After our son was born, my wife attended church regularly with him. I stayed home and fed my addiction, without my wife's knowledge.

I had taken to creating my own violent, pornographic stories and would spend eight or more hours at a time huddled in front of my computer. With the advent of the Internet, I became adept at downloading the pornography I craved, often staying up all night doing this.

The hours I wasted were taking their toll, and my life became increasingly unmanageable. I loathed the filth I created, promising each time would be the last, and I lived in terror of being found out by my wife. I hated the lies that were necessary to cover up my detested secret life. I contemplated suicide, thinking that killing myself was preferable to living with the monster that was overpowering me.

When my wife insisted that I attend church on Easter 1992, I grudgingly agreed. And while sitting in church that Sunday, I heard a message of Jesus' love I hadn't heard before. At that moment, my 33-year-old soul battered and empty, I accepted Christ.

I believed that with my newfound faith and the prayers I was haltingly learning to utter, my 20-year-old behaviors were conquered. But they remained. I was, at turns, both angry with my new Friend for not removing them as I had earnestly asked and remorseful at breaking His rules I had pledged to obey. The fall backward convinced me that I was too unlovable and bad for even God to help. Suicide seemed the only way out.

At a men's retreat, a pastor courageously recounted his struggles with sexual addiction and pornography, as well as his 12-step recovery program. It was the first time I saw my problem as addiction.

I sought the pastor and told him about my twisted life. I sobbed with shame as I confessed all that I had done before God, recognizing I had nowhere else to turn. Once a week, my pastor friend-turned-sponsor helped me walk through my own 12-step program. Psalm 51 never seemed so alive to me as it did then.

I have been in solid recovery for more than two years. Granted, it's been the hardest thing I have ever done, but my marriage is deeper, my faith in God a joy, and I am a far better doctor than I was before. In fact, I find myself reaching out with compassion to addicts, people I previously did not understand. Their shattered lives, healed with Christ's love, are an ongoing source of wonder for me.

The diagnosis of sexual addiction is conspicuously missing from the DSM-IV and is not entirely accepted by current, secular psychiatry. But anyone can become sexually addicted. Intelligence, social standing, even medical knowledge are no protection against this soul-destroying disease that knows no boundaries.

There is, however, hope — a well-traveled pathway out of hell.

I know.

I've walked it.

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Copyright © 2002 Focus on the Family. This article originally appeared in the September/October 1999 issue of Physician magazine.

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