Focus on the Family

Hope for the Sexually Addicted

Trapped in a deep dark jungle of addiction, shame and despair, is there any way out?

by Anonymous

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.