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A Pastor's Struggle With Sex and Porn Addiction

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On a cold winter night in 1994, in the grip of a decades-long addiction to porn and illicit sex, I began my typical ritual of acting out sexually. I sat in a familiar parking lot of a XXX bookstore, unusually troubled by the routine I was about to perform even though I had carried it out too many times to count. I had a beautiful wife at home, but she was the last thing on my mind.

Less than a block from the porn shop sat a century old cathedral. Without warning, an impulse to set foot in that house of worship overwhelmed me. I walked toward the edifice, hiked the tall steps, and opened the monolithic oak doors. I sat in the back row of pews, he silence was terrifying. In that space, I reconnected with something I had lost--my true self. The part of me that wanted more than compulsion, shame, and despair.

That evening was the beginning of the end. Only a few months later, my wife caught me in a lie, and my double life was completely exposed.

What are you doing home so early?"my wife asked me as I walked through the front door.
"I just decided to come home," I answered. "But you just told me on the phone that you got called out on a job," she continued.

The puzzled look on her face told me she wanted to know more. I had called my wife to say I was working late. I wasn't. My scheme was to launch into my ritual of cruising for sex. But something made me change my mind. My wife was more than a little surprised when only twenty minutes later, I walked into our apartment.

"I said I might be working late." Now I was contradicting what I had actually said. This was the first time in as long as I could remember that I hadn't prepared an alibi.

"Either you got called out or you didn't. There's no maybe. Which is it?"

The blood drained from my face and my mouth went dry. "What I meant to say is--is--is that I would . . . be home late, but that I, I was le-leaving the office right then." I hoped that she wasn't noticing my perspiring forehead. "I had to take care of some things," I explained, praying she would let it go and change the subject.

"Michael, what's going on?" There was no use continuing the charade. She caught me. The dam holding back the lies and deceit burst. "I didn't get called out," I mumbled.

"Then why did you say you did? What were you doing?"

After what seemed like hours of silence, I spoke the words my wife has dreaded ever since. "There is something I have to tell you . . ."

For the next several hours I poured out my secret life: porn, prostitutes, people and places she knew nothing about. To say Julianne was devastated would be an understatement. She was in shock, betrayed, confused, angry. I slept on the floor that night . . . and many nights following, as she cried herself to sleep behind a locked bedroom door.

July 10, 1994, was the worst day of my life. It was the day on which I unleashed a hurricane of destruction and was forced to watch the woman I loved crawl in the wreckage. When I was single, my actions didn't immediately affect anyone in my circle of family and friends. Now the consequences of my recklessness could be seen in Julianne's eyes. I had caused my wife's worst nightmare to come

It was also the best day of my life. Though I was shattered, it was the day I finally understood Jesus' words recorded in the gospel of John: the truth shall set you free.

My own addiction to porn and illicit sex began in high school. No matter how close I came to getting caught, I always managed to jump in the manure and come out smelling like a rose. While working in church ministry in my mid-twenties, my addiction was nearly exposed in a newspaper story about a raid on an escort service. But even that didn't lead to change. I might stop for a time, vow to mend my ways, tear up my porn magazines, but eventually the insatiable urge would return.

Now, I've been counseling men with pornography and sex addictions for more than twenty years.

In my line of work, barely a day goes by that I don't hear a story about a man or woman who has lost something dear--their marriage, family relationships, job, ministry, reputation, self-respect--because of pornography. Of course, when we experience such loss, it also affects spouses, children, friends, congregations, and communities. Everyone loses when it comes to porn.

It's tempting to think that there's nothing wrong with a porn habit, that no one gets hurt. We think we're protecting our spouse by not telling them. We think we're providing ourselves with a respite from a stressful day. No matter how we justify or rationalize it, in two decades of counseling, not one (person) has told me that pornography made them a better husband, wife, father, parent, employee, or friend.

My message to those who are in the snares of sexual compulsion is two fold. First, you can be free and whole. Trying to manage and white knuckle this issue is not as good as it gets. Others have walked a trusted path to healing and recovery, you can too. Start by deciding you will come out of the shadows and into the light. Talk with a friend, professional counselor, or Twelve-Step Group like Sex Addicts Anonymous.

Second, sexual compulsions are not actually about sex. Almost a century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote that the man who knocks on the brothel door is knocking for God. If he were writing today, he might say that the man who surfs online for porn is surfing for God. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Corinthians that "sex is more than mere skin on skin. It is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact." (1 Corinthians 6:16, MSG).

Beyond bodies seeking and experiencing sexual pleasure --all of us reach toward some spiritual mystery we cannot see, touch, or comprehend physically. Maybe this is why describe great sex as "spiritual," and utter "Oh God!" during climax. To deny the spiritual hunger hidden within the sexual impulse is to set ourselves up for a never-ending cycle that only leads to desperation, despair, and bondage.

God is not mad at you if you are struggling with sexual compulsion. In fact, that secret, hidden place of your greatest struggle, failure or shame is exactly where God wants to meet you and give you a great gift. I should know. It happened to me.

Michael John Cusick is the author of Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle (Thomas Nelson, Inc.). An ordained minister, spiritual director and Licensed Professional Counselor, he is the founder of Restoring the Soul (http://restoringthesoul.com/) a ministry providing soul care to Christian leaders. Michael currently serves as an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary. He holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Colorado Christian University and an M.A. from the College of Education at the University of Denver. Michael lives with his wife, Julianne, and two children, in Littleton, Colorado.