Author and speaker Jonathan Daugherty discusses his former sex addiction and his path to recovery, offering encouragement and hope to men struggling with similar issues. (Part 2 of 2)
Mr. Jonathan Daugherty: Well, I can only describe it as a traumatic event in my life. I was not expecting to see pornography. I don’t think any kid necessarily expects to see pornography.
Jim Daly: How old were you?
Jonathan: I was 12-years-old and so I think it’s always a shocking experience.
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John Fuller: That’s part of a conversation we had last time with Jonathan Daugherty, where he described the beginnings of a 13-year battle with a secret addiction. Jonathan is back with us today on “Focus on the Family” and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and obviously, this is a topic that isn’t appropriate for younger children.
Jim: John, our conversation last time with Jonathan was not just fascinating, but helpful. I could feel it, because of how powerful it illustrated the downward spiral of pornography and that sexual addiction and how it gets ahold of you like a vice and you don’t know what to do, especially as a teen boy. We talked about what Jonathan was dealing with, his difficulty finding someone he could talk to, really talk to about this and the stress in the family. I mean, he’s coming from a good Christian home and the awkwardness of that and going to church on Sunday, yet feeling compelled in the ways that he did with pornography, set him up for this double life, as he described it and how that even drove him to later in his 20’s, contemplating suicide, because he wasn’t living up to the standard.
You know, God’s grace is awesome and I gotta tell you somethin’, of you don’t know this already. We’re all sinners and we’re all saved by that grace for those who are Christians. And we want to talk about that today. I know you can write us a note and tell us how inappropriate it is to talk about human sexuality. You know what? I’m tired of the world owning this place. The enemy of our soul is doin’ a number on our teenagers and we gotta put a stop to it and I want to try to do what we can do here at Focus on the Family to do that today.
Talk to your kids about sex. It’s important. Talk to them about the gift that God gives us in marriage, in the area of sexuality. It will be, I think, the biggest gift you can give your children and we’re gonna further the discussion today and it is great to welcome you back, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thanks. I’m glad to be with you again.
Jim: I mean, it was [good. I’m] a father of two teen boys and John, you have teenagers and you have 20-somethings.
Jim: We know how important this is and I hope every mom and every dad listening [will] take the time right now to stop what you’re doing so you can invest in your children. And if you’re a grandparent, get this for your kids, your adult children, for your grandchildren. This is the kind of discussion we should be having and it is healthy.
We left off last time with where you were at. You’ve written a wonderful book, Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity and Second Changes.We got you into your 20s. You’re in this bad place where you, like I said, [were] raised in a Christian home. You’re battling the demons and you got very low.
Jim: We left off right there, but that wasn’t the end. It still continued to spiral down in your later teens, your 20’s. What was that environment like? What did you do beyond pornography that began to really deteriorate your relationship with God?
Jonathan: Uh-hm, well, you know, the core thing that we’re dealing with here is the issue of lust. It’s that kind of part of our flesh and part of our being that just wants to continue to consume things that God created as good, but in a way that is idolatrous, in a way that is self-centered, in a way that is ungodly.
And so, the way I always describe lust is, that it’s this thing that if you keep engaging it, if you keep exercising it, it will always push you to cross boundaries that you said you never crossed before. And it’s never satisfied. And so, I had gone all the way through junior high and high school as a “just porn” guy. I get into college and my lust says, “Hey, that’s not enough.” And so, it pushes me across what men call “the flesh barrier” and then I start becoming sexual with other people.And that’s…
Jim: Well and let me ask you in that context. Some might even say or rationalize, that’s more harmless behavior when it’s just pornography, but you would disagree with that.
Jonathan: I would totally disagree with that and the reason is, is because the people who want to say, “Hey, I’m only looking at pornography.” This is the question I always ask them. So, you’re looking at the very same pornography you started with? And very few will ever say [this]. I’ve never actually had anybody come back and say, “Yeah, I’ve never graduated to more hard-core stuff or never looked at different images or started focusing in one particular genre or whatever.” And so, what we realize is, even within the “just porn” camp, there’s a degradation that happens. There is a progression.
Jim: You need more of it and different versions.
Jonathan: Yeah and usually frequency increases, the types of material you’re looking at. I’m not saying that everybody that looks at pornography will eventually cross the flesh barrier. I’m just saying that lust will always encourage you and push you to keep going beyond what you said you would never do before.
Jim: Jonathan, I’ve often asked this question of marriage experts and I don’t know that I’ve ever found a good answer, but when you look at this area of sexuality and the brokenness in it, what are we trying to fill that gap with? You know, men or women that get married and you think you can have a healthy physical intimacy with your spouse. Things break down. Why are we filling that void with other things like pornography? What is that appetite in us that we’re trying to fill?
Jonathan: I think part of it is because we don’t understand what the right foundation is for a healthy marriage. When you realize that the point so to speak, of a healthy marriage is oneness, that is a oneness of all aspects of our lives—mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally.
And so many go into marriage with this idea of still having a me-centric kind of mentality, which says, “Hey, I’m gonna marry this really good-looking girl or this really cute guy and essentially, they’re going to meet my desires,” instead of recognizing, well, do you know what oneness requires? From the very beginning even our sexuality was not designed as something to take from another person, but it’s something to give to another person.
So, right down to our sexuality in marriage, building oneness is about how can I give to my spouse what I possess in my sexuality? How can I also give of my intellect? How can I give of my emotional self? How can I give of my whole life? And when you recognize that’s really what we’re about, then you start building real intimacy in marriage.
Jim: So, now you’ve hit the bottom of the bottom. What occurred that began to lift you up
Jonathan: Well, so by this time I was married and I married a wonderful woman who I really thought, hey, she’s got enough faith for the both of us. She’ll just carry us through life and like a lot of guys, I thought marriage would cure my problem. It only got worse.
Jim: You never disclosed to her this thing you were battling?
Jonathan: Not to the degree that it needed to be disclosed. I mean, I had a little bit of disclosure before we got married, a few things afterwards, but it just got worse, went to very dark places. [I] eventually decided it would better if I just wasn’t alive anymore.
And in the summer of ‘99, I finally kind of had my breaking point where I was thinking, I don’t want to carry this anymore. There might have been a part of me that was feeling like, if I am gonna follow through with suicide, I don’t want to not disclose everything I’ve done. So, on a random Tuesday night I told my wife everything.And listeners out there, do not do this. This is a very unhealthy way to unpack everything, just on a random night, just decide to pull the curtain back. So, I told her about everything.
Obviously that did not go well, but I didn’t realize that confession alone doesn’t actually change anything. I felt lighter, ‘cause I felt like, hey, light has come in here. I’ve finally gotten things exposed. I’m not hiding anything.
John: You’ve gotten the burden off of your shoulders.
Jonathan: Yeah, but the problems was, is that I didn’t do anything to move into that light, to really move toward better behaviors. And so, less than a week after that, I was engaged in some inappropriate behavior. My wife knew about it and then when I came home, she had her bags packed and she said, “I don’t want to see you anymore” and she left.
Jim: Well, in fact, if I remember in the book you wrote, that she, when hearing this, just went to a fetal position.
Jonathan: [At] the initial confession, she got into a tight ball and like cried all of her tears out. It was a broken place that I have rarely seen in another human being. Just like it was almost as if I just sucked the soul out of her.
Jim: When you talk to her about this, even subsequently now years later, how has she described what that feeling was like? What did she say about that moment?
Jonathan: It felt to her as if I had total disregard for her heart. And I will get emotional when I talk about this,because it felt to her like she had given me the most precious delicate part of who she is and I decided to just throw it in the trash and that just crushed her.
And so, she talks about how subsequently after that, for days and even for months, she felt like, why is the sun still coming up in the morning? I mean, she even prayed to God. She wasn’t gonna it by her own hand, but she prayed that God would just take her in her sleep, the pain was so intense for her.
Jim: That’s tough. I mean, in that in some ways is why I’m sure you were thinking, do I say something? Do I not say something? I don’t know if you anticipated that kind of response, but I think a lot of men, in our compartmentalization, we can manage this. We can keep this over here. We don’t need to crush our wives with that kind of brutal honesty about what we think about, what we do, what we act on, but in the net of it, that was the beginning of your healing, right?
Jim: I mean, that’s the irony of that. That pain occurred, but it was pain with a purpose.
Jonathan: Well, and the fact that she did leave, it shook me, because I always thought, hey, she’s the strong one. She takes the high road again. She’s gonna carry us through. And here I finally kind of crossed her last line and she left. And her leaving was the catalyst that really caused me to think about what do I do next?
And I knew I only had two choices. I could go and continue to do what I was doing, but I knew I would be dead within a year, because it was just getting worse and worse. The other thing I could do was return to the God who saved me when I was a young boy.
And I remember just having such a profound sense of brokenness and recognizing that God actually did love me even in that moment. And I remember hitting the floor of my living room and just start sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. And I just felt the Lord just put His arm around me on the floor and just whispered in my spirit, “I know.” Just over and over again, “I know; I know.”
Now I mentioned before that I had sort of this imbalanced sense of truth and grace. Well, that day, God brought into balance the grace, ‘cause I realized that He’d known of all of it. None of this was a shock to Him. In other words, He knew about it before I did any of this and He still said, “I know. I want you. You are My child.”
And that foundation from that point really was what gave me what I needed to move towards recovery. I got up from my floor that day. Nothing changed in the sense of my circumstances were still awful. My wife has gone. She’s still broken. I didn’t think there was any hope for that ever being reconciled, that relationship, but I had something new in my own heart in a sense of hope that there could be change for my life.
Jim: Hm, Jonathan, give us some context though. From that evening when you told your wife and you know, she curled up in a ball, how long after that did she decide to leave and separate from you?
Jonathan: Yeah, it was less than a week.
Jim: So, a week later.
Jonathan: Yeah, so that’s why I always tell people, you know, confession is a great place to open the door, but if you don’t actually start taking action toward doing right behaviors and toward getting yourself healing, then it’s gonna be a very short period of time till you’re just back into your old ruts.
Jim: And I really appreciate and I want to reiterate the caution that you gave to people. If they’re going to disclose in that way, you’ve come to that point where you cannot keep it, which is a good thing, but there’s ways to do that that’ll be more helpful in the short and long run.Looking back on that, how would you have done it so that it would’ve been maybe better for your wife?
Jonathan: Uh-hm, well, considering the degree and the depths to which I went in my own personal addicted behavior, there was a lot to unpack, ‘cause it wasn’t “just pornography.” I mean, there was a lot of other things that were a part of that and so, therefore, when I needed to disclose it, it’s not necessarily the same exact kind of process that let’s say a guy who, you know, listen, he’s struggling with pornography. He’s viewing it every now and then. He hasn’t crossed what we call “the flesh barrier.” And he’s needing to disclose; we’re both needing to disclose, but the depth to which our behaviors are going to wound another individual are at different places. There’s still wounding there.
The guy who’s gotta confess to his wife he’s been lookin’ at porn, is going to wound his wife with that information. A guy like me who went beyond that is going to wound his wife. I always recommend that it is so important for that man to go see a counselor, because that’s an environment where he can start to unpack all the pieces, start to kinda get a, if I can put it this way, a strategy for recovery that can then invite his wife into that place and then there’s no clean way to do this.
So, I want the listener to know that. It’s not like you can somehow get a magic formula that if you confess just the right way, your wife is gonna be happy and everything’s gonna be fine. It’s a messy process no matter what.But I do think inviting a counselor into that space and start helping you pull it all apart and put the pieces in an order that then is more effective, can be highly beneficial.
Jim: We talked earlier about how that recovery from sexual addiction, it can be a long process. And people need to understand that, too. You don’t wave that magic wand after confessing and then all of a sudden, everything is good. It’s a process. I would think your wife, one of the things that she may have expressed to you, is this breaking of trust, which is so core to human relationship. How did she begin to open the door to trust in you again?
Jonathan: Well, we were separated for nine months and I started my recovery not with any expectation that our relationship would be reconciled, because she said she didn’t want to see me or speak to me ever again. And hey, up to that point, she never lied to me before, so I’m thinkin’, she’s gone, you know. I’m never gonna see her again.
So, my motivation for actually engaging in recovery was realizing I had to live with me the rest of my life and I didn’t necessarily like the me that I was living with. So, then nine months later when God performs this miracle that my wife and I realized that He’s been doing things in both of us. He’s been healing her. He’s been taking me through this recovery and realizing we’re becoming new people. We reconciled and we both realize, okay we need help.
And I did not expect her to come back. I knew I’d been a lousy husband before, so I needed help to know how to begin engaging this process. So, to answer your question about trust, it was really kind of a two-step process, meaning the first fundamental step for her even considering reconciliation was whether she was going to choose to forgive me.
Jonathan: And that is something that only she can be involved in, meaning forgiveness is very much a one-way street. Had I continued to just be a self-centered jerk, she could have still forgiven me, ‘cause that’s out of her own heart and out of her own healing and whatever she’s decided to give in terms of forgiveness.
Trust however, is a two-way street. And so, when we got back together, she had offered me this incredible gift of forgiveness, but now I had to go on a journey of rebuilding trust and what that looked like was simply and this is gonna encompass a whole lot, but really what it boils down to is pursue becoming a man of integrity, a man of wholeness, a man of honesty.
The idea of integrity means there’s wholeness throughout. So, there [are] not compartments over here that say, “Hey, I’ve kinda got my porn compartment over here. I’ve got my “me” compartment over here.” It’s saying, “No, I’m whole throughout” and letting her really see that. And then over time, it took about five years before she was willing to say, “I trust you completely.”
Jonathan: And you know what? It was worth every minute of it, to be able to regain that back. It was hard work, but it was beneficial, not only for me to just learn what it means to become a man of integrity, it was instrumental in whether or not she would be able to trust me again.
Jim: Yeah, how did she rely upon the Lord in this process? I mean, I know obvious[ly] for you it was there. You were building your relationship with the Lord, becoming that man of integrity. What was she looking for in her relationship with the Lord?
Jonathan: You know, God is so good in the sense that He knows His children and He knows exactly what they need. She went through a season where she just wrestled so much with God, because she said, “You know, God, You are sovereign. You could have prevented this. Why did you let me go through this?” And she just suffered with that question and struggled with it.
And He just was so incredibly comforting to her through that time, allowing her to grieve, allowing her to cry, bringing people around her life that were able to speak into her life words of comfort and of healing. And then God took her kind of on a turn that really when she tells it, I’m like, ooh, that almost sounds a little cruel because when God started, probably about seven months of our separation, that God was just taking her through a journey of healing.
Then He started turning her attention to forgiveness. And the way He did that was, He said, “You know, I have been your God. I’ve been in your life since you were 5-years-old.” She trusted Christ at 5-years-old. And He said, “How many times have you betrayed Me and I’ve forgiven you?” And she was able to look back over her own life and realized that was what God was inviting her to do with me.
Now I know that for some listeners out there, that will sound like, whoa! Wait a second, time out. This guy was a jerk. I mean, he was lookin’ at pornography. He was being selfish. He was havin’ affairs. He was, you know, how on earth could a loving God, you know, put that kind of mirror in front of this woman’s face?
Well, that’s why I say it was seven months before He put that mirror in front of her face, so there was a process in which He’s saying, “Hey, just get it all out. Grieve. Cry. Yell. Be angry and I want you to know that I’m here to help you process all of that and then, we’ll get to that point of forgiveness.”
Jim: This is maybe an unfair question, but I want to ask it for the women who are listening who maybe feel somethin’s not right or maybe they’ve already gone through that first night experience and their husband has said to them some things that have made them curl up in a ball, you know, that they have issues with sexuality, with pornography.Your wife, if she were sitting here, what would she say to coach, to mentor those women in that relationship with their husband? Speaking if you can, from her perspective, what do you think she would say?
Jonathan: I think one of the things she would say is, what you are feeling right now is right. If you’re feeling angry, it’s called justice. You should feel angry. You’ve been betrayed. If you’re feeling incredible sorrow and sadness, you should feel that. You have had your heart ripped out.
And I think the biggest instruction she would give to a wife in that situation is, you have to grieve before you forgive. And sometimes in the Christian community, we’re so quick to pull out all these verses that say, “As Christ has forgiven you, you must forgive,” and try to create this urgency to forgive when in fact, you can’t really forgive until you’ve grieved the offense that’s been done against you.
John: That’s a really important point, ‘cause I think you’re right. There’s a sense of, you gotta forgive immediately whether you feel it or not. I hear you saying, actually you gotta feel it first.
Jonathan: You have to really understand all the offenses that have been done against you and be able to get to a place where there’s a fullness of understanding of that before I think you can--and that’s a grief process—before then you can say, now I’m in a position where I can choose whether I’m gonna forgive or not. And that’s where I think the instruction of the Lord comes in that says, as you’ve been forgiven, He who knows fully what we’ve done against Him and has taken that on Himself, then because we know that, now we can choose to forgive others, but it’s not an immediate thing.
Jim: Jonathan, you started to Be Broken Ministries. Obviously, this motivated you to do that. How is that going? How many couples do you see? What’s the impact that you’re having?
Jonathan: Well, I love it. I really did not expect to be doing this in my life and to just be able to see men and couples; really kind of our primary audience is men and couples. And even though we’ve talked about teenagers and we help in that regard, we feel like, you know, if you can get the men and the couples into healthy positions, then that’s just a waterfall that flows down to the children.
And so, one of the things that really excites me the most about what we get to do is, we get to create environments where men are safe enough to tell their story. And we encourage, if there’s any pastors listening, if there’s any folks that do ministry with men or couples in their churches, do your best to create safe environ[ments]. When I say “safe environments,” I mean grace-based environments that are gonna say, listen, we’re gonna kinda create a no-shame zone here, where you can get it out.
Now we’re not assuming that everybody that’s leading those is qualified to be able to take the next step with that person or that couple, but at least creating that environment where they say “get it out” and then we can help you take that next step, because there [are] not enough environments like that.
Jim: Well, and again, I want to reiterate for the listener, we’re talking 7 in 10 men, about 68 percent of young men particularly in the research, dabble in pornography is some way and 1 in 5 women. We’ve talked a lot about the men in that aspect. And I know there are men in the audience, where their wives have struggled with this and I want to make sure people hear that clearly.
Jonathan, I think this has been such a constructive discussion. I hope that people hear your pain, even your tears that you shared a moment ago, along with the restorative power that Christ brings into the relationship.
And as we end here, the beauty of vulnerability, you know, the Scripture talks about when we’re weak, He is strong. When we are laying down, He is lifted up. And you experienced that in a very gritty way. Looking back on it now, your marriage is restored. You can laugh perhaps about aspects of it, cry over much of it, but was it worth it, that vulnerability when you look at what God has given you now?
Jonathan: Absolutely, you know, very early on, God pointing me to 1 Thessalonians 4:7, which says, “God has not called you to be impure, but to live a holy life.” And a light bulb went on and I realized, we’re made for purity.
So, this whole time I’m fighting against my design when I’m going into pornography and all these other sexual sins. So, when that finally clicked and I started finally going on this journey of saying, if it requires me to tell my story over and over and over again to try to draw people into the light, so that they can live into their design of being a man or a woman of purity, so be it.
I’ll often think, sometimes there has to be somebody that’s willing to get a bloody nose on this journey to be able to help prevent other people from having the same kind of experiences, but it is definitely worth it. And we want to invite people into those spaces where they can share their story and realize and the same epiphany. Oh, I’m actually made for purity, not all this other stuff.
Jim: And that’s wonderful. Jonathan Daugherty, author of the book, Secrets: A True Story of Addiction, Infidelity and Second Chances, I think you have helped literally hundreds of people over these last couple days. It’s been great to have you with us.
Don’t mess around with this stuff. I mean, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s dangerous and the best thing you could do, in my opinion, is to give us a call and let us be there for you. Let us be that initial friend that you can talk to without recrimination. We’ll just hopefully, provide tools and resource. Maybe, hopefully Jonathan’s book is a good place to start and then you can go from there. Don’t keep it hidden. The Lord, He will do amazing things in the light if you let Him.
John: And Focus on the Family is here to help in any way we can. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Call to request a book, details about a free document we have called Digital Pornography Addiction or to speak with one of our Christian counselors. That’s 800-232-6459 or you’ll find details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And we’d also invite you to help us rescue hurting marriages and give hope to individuals and families who need it the most. Your financial generosity fuels the work of Focus on the Family and we just couldn’t be here without friends like you who partner with us. So, please donate generously today. And when you do, we’ll say thanks by sending a complimentary copy of the book Secrets. Again, our number, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, coming up next time, Bible teacher, Ray Vander Laan from our popular That the World May Know video series challenges us to be God’s good news to other people.
Mr. Ray Vander Laan: The way you shape a culture is by living out the message of shalom in your marriage, in your family, in your business, in your recreation and as others see it, like the prisoners in the jail, they’re drawn to God.
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John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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