I like to think that sometime before each of us came into this life we had the opportunity to spend a few private minutes with our Father in Heaven. We walked and talked alone as we prepared for our adventure into mortality.
In my case I can imagine that I basked in His love and felt of His spirit as I considered what was next for me. As we walked together, I imagine He suddenly stopped and looked at me with loving eyes and said in a tender voice, "My son, I love you dearly. My deepest desire is for you to return and live with me forever. I want this more than I can express to you. But as you know, you must first go through trial and pain. You must be tempted. You must carry heavy burdens; even pain, shame, guilt, and darkness". I nodded in understanding. I was aware of the plan. I knew the journey would be difficult. I had accepted this in order to have the opportunity to prove that I was worthy of this blessing, to live with God forever. I knew that I would have to forget Him as part of the trial. The only thing I didn’t know was which circumstance I would be placed in.
Would I be sent to a loving family? Would it be one who dotes on their children and keeps them safe? How about a family that loves God and reminds me daily of Him? Or would I grow up in a home completely void of any gospel learning or values? Would I suffer under the hand of an abusive father or from the neglect of an alcoholic mother?
As we walked, I’m sure my Father turned to me and explained "Your life will be filled with challenges, but you will be born into a loving home. You will be loved by your parents and siblings and you will be taught about Me and My Son. You will have opportunities to grow and learn and to teach." I listened intently. It sounded wonderful. I felt confidence in my ability to return. And then He said "My Son, along with these blessings you will also take with you into this life some challenges. You will have the disposition to think dark thoughts. You will be drawn to immorality. You will struggle throughout your life with this addiction. I will also allow Satan to tempt you, distract you, and to exploit your weaknesses. He will work to drag you down into the depths of guilt and sin. You will be presented with many opportunities to escape. What you do with those opportunities is your choice. Though it will not be a life of poverty or physical illness, it will be fraught with pain and a sickness rooted in filth."
Perhaps I became uncertain, even panicked. Then I imagine Him saying to me, "My son, this is the life I have for you. Though it will be tough, I know you can succeed. I know this, because you are My son and I created you. I will send help in times of need. I will send My spirit to support you. I will surround you with those who love you and can carry you in the low moments and difficult times. I will provide for you a companion who is uniquely prepared to support you and love you unconditionally as you slip into life's darkest places. She will lift you, forgive you, and strengthen you through her ability to see through the sin and into the heart of a true Son of God. But most of all, when you are finally ready to completely escape and leave that sickness behind, I will provide for you a Savior. He will rescue you from the darkness and heal you, making you whole. Now, My son, knowing these difficulties and the weakness you will be born with, will you accept this trial and find your way back to Me?”
I'm sure I was scared. This would be so hard. I didn't know if I could do it. What if I lost my strength and then my way? What If I become so enslaved by the desires and addictions that I am unable to overcome them? What if through this process, I hurt those I love most? What if it leads me deeper and deeper into the hands of the adversary?
Knowing all of this… knowing that I could lose everything, I must have felt unsure. These trials may be more than I could handle but I also knew that I was His son. I am endowed with powers from on high to call down the assistance and strength I stand in need of. I knew I would have loved ones and friends who I could call upon for strength. I knew that HE had confidence in me. My Father in heaven wants me to return and I knew He wouldn’t give me any trial that I could not overcome. But most of all, I knew that my elder brother was going to be there for me. He would in fact carry my pain and walk me through the trial hand in hand if I turned to Him for help.
After the debate within my mind subsided, I must have turned to My Father and simply said "Yes, I will go." I'm sure He looked at me with tears streaming down his cheeks and said… "I love you… I will see you very soon."
And then… My life on earth Began.
My abstinence lasted several more months. Even though I found that I was able to ignore the never ending call to view pornography or to chat with people online, I could not avoid the images and fantasies that once again danced around my head. I would tell myself that the real sin was in the acting out, not in the thoughts so I let the thoughts run. As long as you don’t act on them you are fine, was my reasoning.
I believed this lie and convinced myself that the thoughts and fantasies brought me some distraction from the urges…or so I thought. But in fact, they were not a distraction at all. These mental stimuli became the jet fuel I was pouring onto a raging fire. After 3 months of viewing pornography in my head and remembering past chat sessions, my resolve had completely dissolved and when I did finally give in again, It went from a simple viewing to a complete gorging.
At first, I gave in just a little… I was just going to sneak a peek. Well, that is like an alcoholic that says “I’m just gonna have a small sip” Or it’s like the crack addict saying, “I’m just gonna take a tiny hit.”
One “peek”, led me to feel like a failure. My self-loathing, shame, guilt, and hate came out heavy and hard. One peek led to another and another. Deeper and deeper I delved, plummeting all the way back down into the custody and care of my obsession. I said I gorged, but I think that is too soft a word. I threw all caution to the wind. I again began writing to women with whom I would chat.
Over the next several months I found myself striking up conversations and working so hard to ‘Hook’ them in. I again pulled out my arsenal of tools to convince and deceive these women into believing I was the man of their dreams. I twisted my character into what I perceived to be their perfect man. I used the shadow of the Internet as protection and the power of persuasion in the use of enticing words. Words have so much strength in them. I preyed on women who were lonely and felt worthless. I built them up and made them feel wanted. Again, in my quest, I was hoping that I was going to find something to fill the emptiness of lust.
I discovered that this process was tedious. Writing back and forth with no promise of success was frustrating. I was becoming impatient and the urge and ache and hunger wasn’t being satisfied. I had this feeling that there must something more out there… something more I was missing.
Many of you may ask, if you felt like something was missing, why couldn't you just go home to your willing wife and get what you need. Here is the answer to that question.
I mentioned once before that my wife and I never had a problem with intimacy. We loved being together and sex was always wonderful. As time went by sex began to happen far less often. It went from multiple times a week, to once a week, to twice a month, until finally, we would actually stop and ask each other, “do you remember the last time?” It was during this time that I remember my wife asking me about our sex life. We lay in bed together one night and she said…. “Why don’t you ever initiate intimacy any more? It seems like the only time we ever have sex is when I ask for it.” She was right of course. I was less and less willing to engage with her sexually.
Now I want to clarify something because I know she is going to be reading this along with many other wives who have experienced a similar change in their sex life. My reasons for not engaging and for allowing our sex life to taper has nothing to do with her at all.
A woman's first inclination is to think…”I must not be attractive to him any more." Or perhaps she thinks, “maybe I am doing something wrong?”, or “I have had 5 babies and he does not think I am sexy at all now." I want to declare right now once and for all….. those are the words of the adversary. I find my wife to still be the most beautiful woman I have ever known. I think she is every bit as sexy and adventurous as when we were first married, probably more so. I love our intimate time together.
So, back to the first question: “You are addicted to pornography and are fantasizing about sex all the time. If you are still attracted to her and still enjoy being intimate with her, then why don’t you want to have sex more than you do? Why don’t you initiate it?”
Here is the answer….. I am filthy and she is pure. My intimate life has been corrupted by years of viewing pornography and having fantasies in my mind.
But she… she is my sacred place. She is my eternal companion. Our intimacy is intended to be wonderful and loving and tender and sanctioned by God. But when we are together intimately, when I am supposed to be thinking of her only and when I am supposed to be building celestial bonds with her, all I see are images and thoughts filled with filth. My darkest thoughts and fantasies creep their way into our sacred chamber. My wife has begun referring to my addiction as the 3rd member of our marriage. It’s like there is another woman in our bed with us that, until now, she did not know existed.
My pornography is based on lust. My intimacy with my wife is reserved for love. Whenever I engage with her intimately, all I feel is guilt and shame. It is because I love her that I have allowed myself to become distant in intimacy. My wife gently suggesting that I might take the lead in our intimate life was the first time I realized that my addiction had bled into our sex life.
This realization should have been another re-commitment point for me but by this time I was already in search of what was next. I needed something else that would fill the emptiness and the starving beast within me that never seemed full.
I discovered a new phenomenon happening online that I will refer to as ‘Random Chat Sites’. These web sites were designed to match 2 completely random strangers with each other to chat.
The first of these sites were just text based. You would be matched with someone from who knows where and you would just start asking each other questions. It was easy to talk about sexual things when you had no idea who it was except their gender. A couple of days with this and I began to lose my interest until I discovered several other versions of the same kind of web sites that had video.
The video version of these sites was far more compelling. I already knew I craved the video chatting and so this was a natural extension of my depravity. I however was never going to be seen on camera. I would often unplug my web cam or cover it up so that it would appear that I did not have one.
I will not share the details of what I did or discovered how to do on these web sites, however I will tell you that this became a complete obsession for me. These were real people. They were on this site to receive the same kind of thrill I was working towards. They were quick to want to share and chat and play and I was only too eager to partake. Those on the other end would have the option to stay or go. If they left, you were left waiting for the next person.
I spent hours learning how to create, edit and manipulate video to make them think I was there chatting with them when in reality it was not me at all. My deception had found a new low. I no longer felt that there was any decent part left inside of me. I had completely become the monster of my nightmares. I was lying and manipulating and preying on those who were randomly matched up with me on the site.
This became my new drug. It was a strange way to go for me however. In my drug induced mind, I wanted so badly to simply meet someone that wanted to chat.. and in chatting, lead to other things that would feed my hunger. But this site was often a waste of time. I found that these sites were so filled with others that were trying to do the same thing that every one became leery of the person on the other end. The sprint to the reward became more like a marathon run. Hours and hours would go by. I would often look at the clock and say… why are you doing this? Why do you sit here hour after hour waiting for something that never comes. Every so often someone would fall for my manipulation validating the time spent, and I would then spend more hours going from person to person hoping to find my next prospect.
At first this was a way to get a quick hit of my drug… but overtime I wanted more than just a hit and desired a more lasting relationship that I could call on again and again.
I developed a series of stories and lies that I used to trick people into becoming longer term friends off of the site. And so again, I found myself needing the ongoing chat and social involvement of these complete strangers to help me satisfy my lust.
It was becoming more and more difficult for me to wear the hat of Bishop. I remember having to write talks or speak to the youth or do interviews with members and finding it hard to concentrate on the issues that truly needed my attention. I knew I was short changing the members and the Lord as I served in this calling. Again I wanted to do what was right. I wanted to rid myself of this disease once and for all but felt more and more in the clutches of the adversary.
A couple of things happened all at once. The first was an infant child in our ward passed away after only a week of life. I spent hours with the family. I felt so completely unworthy to be acting as their bishop at this time. I felt so horrifically guilty that while they were fighting for a sense of understanding in the loss of their sweet baby girl, I was still craving and desiring filthy immoral things.
Here they were having a real trial. They were in need of blessings and relief and words of wisdom and strength… and I was not in any position to give it to them. This was one of those miracles that I spoke of before. Though I felt unworthy, I also felt guided during this time. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I met this young family at the hospital and discovered them sitting in silence and sobbing in pain as they held their recently departed little girl. The father was looking for something to hold onto… some kind of strength and support. I offered a few weak suggestions of my own and then out of nowhere, the thought came to my mind, “Invite him to give her a fathers blessing.” And so, without thinking, I opened my mouth and let the Lord’s words pour out of me. I said something to the effect, “Brother Jones, You hold in your arms the beautiful little body of your precious little girl. Her father in heaven has already taken her home to be with him. But as her earthly father, your love for her does not just stop because she is gone. I believe that though she is departed, the veil is very thin right now and she may be near enough to us to hear and know the pain you are experiencing. I think it would be appropriate for her to receive a first and last blessing at the hands of her earthly father. I think you will find peace, comfort and a sense of closure to her short life.” He looked at me as if I had been reading his mind. I could sense that it had been his desire and he later confirmed it to me. He said “Are you sure Bishop...would that be okay to do?” My response came in these words, “Brother Jones, While a blessing can do nothing to heal her body now, it may be exactly the thing that is needed to heal both you and your wife through this time of trial”. He then turned back to his gorgeous lifeless infant girl, and gave her one of the most tender and beautiful blessings I can ever recall hearing in my life.
Here I was witnessing what I knew to be a sacred and powerfully spiritual moment. The room itself felt as if it was filled with the very presence of God as he let his loving words pour out in prayer. And here I was in the middle of it. I knew I was unworthy, and yet the Lord still used me in that moment of need. I may not have been in the right place in my life to have been worthy of His help, but this family needed their bishop to be their guide through this horrific trial. And whether I was worthy of his inspiration or not, He gave it to me. It wasn’t for my sake, but for theirs. I was all He had in that moment and He made use of me. It reminded me of a phrase I’d heard many times before when referring to leaders in the church that says, “Whom the Lord Calls, He Qualifies.” I felt that perhaps the Lord really did still have some influence on me. Perhaps I was not completely lost and could find forgiveness. It gave me hope and put things into perspective for me again.
I used this experience to once again re-commit. I was again having heart felt and repentant prayers. I found myself serving with more willingness and found strength in my scriptures and prayer. I was able to shed my habit for a long time after that. I had no recurrences. There were many temptations and the difficult battle raged on, but I stayed strong and found confidence in my success.
My term as bishop had reached and passed my 5th year and I felt that my time must be coming to an end soon. One morning during this time, I found myself at work extra early. While working through a long list of emails, I received a phone call. “Bishop?” the voice on the line said, “Bishop, do you think you could come over to my house right away? I am scared and I don’t know what to do?” I knew the Sisters voice. She was a close neighbor of mine. She lived alone with her young adult son. He had a variety of ongoing issues including prescription drug abuse, depression, and more. I knew him well and had come to love this young man. Despite our love for him, he would consistently make bad decisions increasing the weight and hurt in his life for both him and his family. His bodily and spiritual pain were a torment in his life. His addiction and depression became insanity to him. On several occasions he had claimed that all around him would be better off if he were gone.
“ I woke up this morning,” she Continued, “And found a note on his door.” The note read “Mom, Don’t come in. Please just call an ambulance and wait in the front room.”
I panicked and speedily drove to her home. I found her distraught and scared. I told her to wait out front and that I would look into the room. As I peered into his bedroom I could clearly see from the doorway that her son had taken his own life. His lifeless body lay there, finally at peace from the demons that haunted his every waking moment. Feeling he had no other way to escape, he left a note for his mother to keep her from having to see the aftermath. Then he ended his life silently in the night. I was grateful he left that note for her. In a final act of love towards his mother he kept her from an image that might haunt her thoughts for years to come.
I called the police. They came and cleared the room and then took his body away. I sat with her a while as she wailed in pain from the loss of her son. How desperate and agonizing were her sounds of pain.
As I watched those around me suffer with real paralyzing pain and hurt from the trials of life, I became ashamed all over again. Here were good people trying to survive life altering blows and I was still fighting the urge to get back to my computer. My trial seemed so small in comparison. Why couldn't I rid myself of this?
Ashamed does not begin to describe my feelings at this time. A few days after this incident I spoke at this man’s funeral. I spoke of the promise of salvation to all those who seek him in this life or the next. I spoke of the compassion of the savior and of his atonement being all encompassing. I spoke of how even though he may have taken his own life, he may yet have the opportunity to pay the price for his sins on his own and in so doing qualify for the redemption that comes through Christ. I talked about how we cannot know the state of mind he found himself in in those final moments…. only the Lord does, and He alone will judge this young man. For this young man was a son of God. He was precious to Him. He knew he was hurting and He knew that he was overwhelmed. The Lord alone knows.
Those words meant a lot to me. I wrote them with that man in mind but they carried a lot of weight in my case as well. If ever there was a time to recommit… this was it. 1even though I had been doing well for a while, I still felt ashamed that I had allowed this to rule my life so completely.
The stake president also attended the funeral. He spoke a few words when I was finished speaking. Then we closed the meeting. Immediately following the service, the stake president asked if he could speak with my wife and me. We went to my Bishop’s office and braced for the news we had been expecting. Moments later I was being told that I had served a good term as Bishop. I was told that 5 and a half years was long enough and that I should be proud of the job I had done. I would be released in 2 weeks time and I needed to start putting things in order to turn the reins over to a new bishop. It was a bitter sweet moment. I loved that calling for so many reasons. It offered me a way to counter the darkness, I felt close to the spirit on occasions and our family was being blessed. But I also knew I needed out of it. The sins I had been carrying through that assignment were heavy. I wanted out from under the guilt of living that double life.
I was released and felt a surge of renewal as I exited that call. I was quickly called to serve as the Stake Young Men's President. It was a great calling and it placed me behind the scenes. I felt strong here and able to focus on my family as well as my calling.
In the next 6 months I slipped up a few times but it was different than before. I had stopped counting a slip up as a one time occurrence. Now my slip ups were calculated in terms of weeks or months. I would think, “I may have slipped up again but it only lasted a week or 2 this time before I got control of it.” Some how I had decided that a week or 2 was reason to celebrate. After that week or 2, I would make another course correction. My drug of choice did not seem to escalate away from what I had already been doing. Chatting online, using fake videos, and convincing people I was someone I wasn't...I was right back at it. I again found myself spending hours a day editing, chatting, and hoping for my next prospect.
I said that this happened a few times over the next 6 months because 6 months after I had been released, something very significant was about to happen in our stake. It was announced that our stake president was soon to be released and the word came that an apostle would be coming to town to call and set apart the new stake president.
While everyone else was celebrating the apostle’s impending visit, I was secretly crawling into my cave of shelter and began fearing his arrival. I knew I would be discovered… I knew it! It is tradition to Interview all recently released and current bishops. I knew I would have to sit with him.
I became determined to get myself as right as possible. I spent time on my knees pleading with the Lord in prayer. But my prayers were worthless and I knew it. I was praying as if nothing had happened. I was trying to speak to the Lord as if my past sins did not exist. This was an impossible effort for I could never be honest with the Lord.
I received a call from the stake secretary and was invited to be interviewed by the apostle. I was filled with fear. I even considered if now might be the right time to let it all out. As I walked in the room, I saw the apostle, but he was not alone. This was not going to be a private interview. He had brought another general authority with him to assist in the interviews. Confessing to one man would have been hard enough but 2? Any thoughts I had of offering a confession were no longer with me. I abandoned them and decided to go with the other path I had prepared for… to lie. I had become pretty proficient as a liar and what did it matter if I lied? He could surely spot my sins.
So I played the perfect priesthood holders part again. I went through the interview. I said all the right things. I even bore my testimony to him. I remember he said to me…. “Wow…. don't you just look the part. You could have been pulled right from the cover of a church magazine.” I was flattered and thanked him.
Later that day we gathered at my house. My wife's parents were there as well for my daughter’s baptism that also took place that day. There was a general feeling of anxiousness. My wife felt that I would be getting a call to serve in some capacity. While she was anxious for the call to come, I was anxious for another reason. All I could think of was, “what if the call comes? How do I accept it? I know I am not worthy. How do I tell them? What do I do? Do I continue to lie and just accept it? Do I break down and tell the truth?” The feeling of letting everyone down was so overwhelming. I had so many people looking at me, excited for me. How could I tell the truth now?”
When the phone rang, all of our hearts stopped. “Hello?” I said.
“Brother Arnold?, This is the stake president. I wonder if you and your wife would be willing to come back to the church for another Meeting with the visiting apostle?”
Fear again flooded through me. but I continue to play my part, and said “Of course president, we will be right over”. I hung up the phone and told my wife we needed to head back to the church. She and I changed quickly into our church clothes, climbed into the mini van and began one of the longest drives of my life.