Dear Addi

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My addiction journey part 5

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.

Part 5

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.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who am I now? Where did I go?

There have been many casualties in this process.  I have mentioned many of them in  this post:

The one that I am struggling with mightily right now is self esteem.  I will just say it, it has been shattered.  For someone who has always had a bit of a body image problem and a feeling of low self worth, the revelation of multiple affairs by my companion has had a devastating affect on something that I already wrestle with.  There are a couple of ways that I have taken a heavy hit and through therapy, I am learning to overcome them.

1.  Body image.  Let's just say, I have never been a perfectly shaped girl.  I started developing breasts in the fourth grade.  That's right...the FOURTH GRADE!  What a cruel joke my genetics played on me.  I have also struggled with my weight forever.  I started dieting in seventh grade.  How sad is that?  I have always envied the petite little women that can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound.  I wanted to be them but knew I never could.  No amount of dieting and exercise would ever yield that super model body for me, especially after having five children.  So, how did I endure?  The answer was, I knew my husband loved me for what I was and I assumed he was attracted to my body in all its' forms. (and it has changed over the years, trust me!)

 So what happens to that body image when my husband reveals that he has had sexual relations with three other women?  It is DEVASTATING!   The first thing that exploded from my mouth when he told me of his latest and longest lasting affair was, "Was she skinnier than me?"  He didn't answer and I took his silence as a "yes."  Oh, the agony!  He had now experienced intimacy with bodies that were better than mine.  How could I ever compare?

I remember sitting in our hotel room hours after the revelation (we left our children with a babysitter and spent the night in a hotel to figure things out) and I went to remove my clothes to get ready for bed and hesitated.  I didn't want to get undressed in front of him.  I must be positively disgusting to him for him to go searching for other bodies to have sex with when I was always ready and willing.  It took me a few weeks to be comfortable being undressed in front of him and even now, after 12 weeks, I still struggle with it.   I find myself looking in the mirror at my body and saying, "You will never be able to compare to those other women.  You are disgusting."

The other issue I have is that when a man has a sexual addiction or a pornography addiction, women are objectified.  My husband finds himself getting turned on by "porn" bodies...the perfectly airbrushed supermodel bodies that no real person that has had five babies and is in her forties could have.  It is an impossible standard to hold myself to.  He has admitted to me that one of his triggers when out in public is a perfect body that is dressed in a seductive way.  That hurts me so.

I have found myself thinking that if I could only lose 30 more pounds, change my hair, get a breast reduction, remove my pregnancy stretch marks, wear more make up, or buy expensive clothes, then perhaps my husband would never want to stray again.  Perhaps he would be so attracted to me that no other woman would ever catch his eye.

The truth is, that doesn't work.  He has told me over and over again that what he did never had anything to do with what I was or wasn't.  It was a product of a 25 year addiction that got out of control.  He fell in love with me as a size 12.  I was not a size 2 when we got married.  True, my body has gone up a size or two over the years (and back down again, and back up again, and back down again) but he didn't fall in love with me for my body.  He fell in love with me for who I am.  When my husband's addiction tells him that he needs to act out his porn induced fantasies with another woman, he is looking for another "body," not another relationship.  It is the difference between lust versus love. The new body is the shiny new toy that his 25 year addiction tells him is his drug and that he must have.  After he is done playing with the new toy, he realizes that it never was all that it was sold to be and he comes back to the thing he loves the most, his wife.  I am the person that gives him true joy.  Joy doesn't come from playing with the shiny new toy.  New toys become old very fast.

So, how does this love versus lust realization help my self esteem?  I have come to understand that my husband loves me so much more deeply than he loves those other "bodies."  (I have started to call these women "bodies" because in truth, that was his drug.  They were not people to him.  They were objects that would feed him the drug that he couldn't live without) I am more than just a "body" to him.  I am his past, his present, and mercifully for him, his future.

So, that brings me to my next self esteem issue.  If he is indeed still attracted to my body, why couldn't he satisfy his cravings for lust with me, an always eager and willing sexual partner?

2.  Sex!  The initial discovery phases were particularly tough in this area.  What on earth was I not doing right in the bedroom for him to need to experience sex with other women?  Was I not adventurous enough?  Was I not sexy enough?  Did I not give him the pleasure he needed?

An interesting phenomenon for those completely addicted to pornography is that they have a much harder time being intimate with their wives.   I hate to say it, but they have a hard time "performing" in the bedroom because as they get more and more addicted, they need those images and fantasies to be present for them to get where they need to be.  I am not enough anymore.  The disgusting, raunchy videos and images are what he is used to getting pleasure from now so being intimate with his "pure" wife is almost impossible.  For the wife (me) who has absolutely no idea that he is feasting on pornography (or worse, being with another woman) on a daily basis, I am left to believe that he is no longer attracted to me or he is uninterested in sex with me.

In my confusion, I found myself googling, "mid life crisis in men," or "How can I get my husband to be more interested in me sexually," or, "Why is my husband losing his libido?"  What was interesting was that in most of the articles I read, the counsel was given that if your husband is losing interest in sex, chances are, he is addicted to pornography.  When I read that, I thought..."Well, that can't be what is wrong with my husband...he would never do that and if he was, surely I would be able to know."  How wrong I was. So, I guess his addiction revelation gives me some level of comfort in that area.  It wasn't that he was lacking in attraction to me or interest in me...he was just getting it somewhere else.

Secondly, there is always that "third" person in our bedroom now and that knowledge hits my self esteem significantly.  He now has sexual experiences with other women.  How could he not compare those experiences with what we do in the bedroom.  I am constantly thinking "Were they better than me?" or "Did they do this or that in a more satisfying way?"  I HATE that I have to think those thoughts.   I HATE that he has shared our sexual experiences and practices with other people.  I hate that I have no way of knowing if I am doing things worse or better than those women.  It is maddening and it plays such games with my mind.

So, here is what I find comfort in.  For my husband, sex with me has been what he calls a "Celestial" experience.  We are married for eternity...the right to be intimate is something given to us by a loving Heavenly Father and it is something that we saved only for our wedding day.  It is pure.  It is holy.  It is sacred.  When my husband is engaged in unholy acts such as viewing pornography, or worse, acting out on those fantasies with others, sex becomes very disgusting and dirty in his mind.  He CAN'T bring that disgusting and filthy world into our pure and sacred one. The guilt and shame that he felt on a daily basis for the acts he was engaged in bled over into our intimate life.  He didn't feel worthy to be with me.

So, that helps a little.  I still need to get over the phenomenon of having that "other woman" in the be with us.  I joke with him that we just need to keep "practicing" to learn how to be together without "her."  He too struggles in this area.  When we are intimate now, his guilt and shame over past deeds can be crushing.  He is sometimes concentrating so hard on keeping thoughts, memories and images out of his mind when we are together that he forgets to concentrate on the task at hand :)  We are working at it though and it is improving.

So, those are the two major hits to my self esteem that this experience has provided.  They are big and they are hard but I am getting help.  I met with a therapist yesterday and she gave me some homework.  She said that I need to take note of how I talk to myself about myself.  When I start getting down on myself, I need to follow it up with something nurturing.  I can take a walk in the sunshine, say a prayer, write in my journal, tell my husband that I love him, ask him to remind me of the reasons he loves me, list my blessings, put on some good music.   I am going to really try and do this.

I also need to say this.  My husband has been amazing in helping me with this process.  He understands the monumental hurt he has caused and he is working tirelessly to fix it.  He is always telling me that I am beautiful.  He reminds me of the reasons he loves me.  He builds me up with his gratitude for my ability to understand and forgive.  When I want to be intimate, he is ready and willing and eager.  (and that is a HUGE change from the way things have been.)  I know that many of those that read this blog don't have husbands that are bending over backwards to repair you and yet, I am certain you experience the same self esteem issues that I do.  The only thing I can say is to remember how important you are to your Heavenly Father. Rely on Him.  Rely on good friends and family members.  I have found myself relying on all of these important components as I heal from this.  Even in something as private and potentially embarrassing as adultery, you need a support group.  I found a few trusted individuals that I could confide in.  They have been my strength (along with my husband) and they have lifted me and reminded me of my worth.  Mostly, in my most desperate moments, I have been so grateful for the tender whisperings of my Heavenly Father through answer to prayer that say, "My daughter, I love you so.  I am so proud of you.  You are handling this just like I knew you would."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My addiction journey part 4

In one of the Recovery books I have been reading, it talks about a technique called blocking. They explain that “blocking” can be used to help keep errant thoughts at bay and to control temptations by putting them in a mental box and pushing them out of your mind.  It is my understanding that men do this naturally. We often refer to it as compartmentalizing. We have a singular focus and “Zone out” to everything else.

Women on the other hand are much better at seeing  the whole picture all at once. As I read about this technique of blocking, something clicked in my mind. I recognized that process instantly because I had been using it my whole life. Not for pushing the evil thoughts away but for putting each area of my life in its own little box. When viewing each compartment by itself, it became my full focus… it became the only thing that mattered at that moment. I could give it my complete selfish attention and not even consider the ramifications that the decisions made in this box will have on the rest of the boxes.

Let me explain it a different way.

Do you remember the old view master toys from the 80’s? (sorry I am a child of the 80’s, did they come out before then?) Imagine you are looking through a view master as the cartridge spins to a slide. Lets call this slide… ‘Home and church Life’. While looking at ‘Home and Church life’ I am able to give it my dedicated focus. I would feel complete and whole there. It was all I could see in the view field and so it was where my full attention went. In my view of home and family, I was honest and worthy and able to do all that was required of me as husband, father, and Priesthood holder. I could, because I did not have my life of porn in view. I knew it was around the corner on another slide in the viewfinder. I knew it existed, but as long as I couldn't see it in this moment, I was able to ignore it and feel clean.

Sadly, when the urges would come and the temptations presented themselves, all it took was a quick pull of the lever.  Now with only the pornography slide in view, I can look and indulge and even say and do things that I know would be hurtful and harmful to both my wife and my worthiness but since they are not in my view right now, I am blinded to them and the pain I am causing them. They are out of sight and out of mind, thus postponing the guilt until after the feast.  Flip the lever again and now I am staring at work and able to focus and concentrate and be the manager and boss that I am expected to be.

I know it sounds crazy, but this is the best way I can think to explain the way my mind worked. I could feel worthy at times, even when I knew I wasn't. It actually sounds kind of like a sociopath… but its not.  It is the maddening mind of an addicted person. There is no question I was lying to myself in order to cope.

I share this little detail for 2 reasons.  One, I don't think I am unique in this device. In fact I think many addicted men and women use this as a way to allow themselves to continue in addiction with less guilt. And two, I am hoping this will help you understand where my mind was during this next portion of my journey.

We arrived home and changed our clothes into Sunday dress for the meeting with the Stake president.  We were both anxious. We began speculating immediately. We assumed what it was going to be, but maybe it was something else… we really didn't know for sure.  My wife was so excited. My sweet and wonderful wife was quite aware what a call  like this could mean to our family. She knew it meant heavy burdens that I couldn't reveal and she knew it meant less time home with the family for me. But My wife has always been my cheerleader. She loves knowing that she was married to a good man who the Lord could trust with callings and responsibilities.  I knew this was the case and because I had so much love for her, I never wanted to let her down.

After several tense minutes the knock came to the door and we invited the Stake President in. We all sat together in the living room for a few minutes then after the pleasantries were over he said “Brother and Sister Arnold, I am here on stake business and to extend a call to Brother Arnold. Sister Arnold, before I proceed, I would like to meet with your husband alone to conduct a worthiness interview. Would you mind giving us a few minutes?” She agreed happily and left the 2 of us alone.

He began again, “Brother Arnold, may I ask you a few simple questions before we invite your wife back in?” I responded, “of course President”. (Click! The slide titled ‘Church Leadership’ falls into place.)

“Thank you”, He continued. “I know that you hold a current temple recommend. Do you feel worthy at this time to have and use it?”

With ease and comfort I answered him far too quickly, “Yes, of course”.

I felt heat in my cheeks. Could he see me flushing? Did he see that I was shaking? Perhaps he just thought I was nervous.

Then came the question that I was not ready for. He had just asked the question that covered them all. So a follow up was not needed or so I thought. He said Brother Arnold, “Do you now or have you in recent months viewed pornography?”

Click! the slide titled ‘Full Truth’ falls into view.

If only he could have heard the piercing scream in my head, “NOOOO! I cant face a direct question like that!”   There was no grey area in that question. There was no way to sneak around the edges or hide in the shadows of a partial truth.

The battle in my mind commenced. “How long can you continued to lie about this? How deep will you let yourself go? Will you really continue to lie and accept a calling that you are not worthy to hold or act in?”

I felt fear. I felt dark. I knew I had just lied directly to his face and I was about to do it again. I suddenly realized just how deep in the enemy’s  territory I had wandered. My pride would not allow me to  say the words. I was stuck in the mire and felt no way out other than to to continue to perpetuate  the story. I rationalized to myself that its only a small lie… because I am immediately going to stop it all forever. It will never happen again. I will never, ever look at it again. It stops forever today. Starting now I will be perfect and I will prove to my Heavenly Father that I am His faithful servant.

And then something happened as I sat there… And I kid you not… My porn addiction disappeared completely from my mind. I had been deceived by my own lie and thought, “You know what... I am a good person. I am loving and caring and I can be a good Bishop.”   As I began to think these thoughts its almost as if my porn addiction simply disappeared and never existed. I believed my own lie.  

And So again I looked at him and said “No”.(Click! then “Church Leadership’ was all I could see.)

“Thank you brother Arnold, Lets invite your wife back in now”.

I retrieved my wife and we all sat together in the living room.

“Brother Arnold, as you know, The Bishop has served for almost 5 years now. In a recent interview with him we have learned that he has some health problems that are making it difficult to continue serving. Therefore it has come time for us to release him and call a new Bishop for the ward.” He took a deep breath and looked at the 2 of us as we held hands expectantly on the couch. “I and my counselors have spent hours in prayer and have even been to the temple and we feel strongly that the Lord has called you to serve as the Bishop of this ward at this time.” I felt my wife squeeze my hand as if to say “See I told you” and then the Stake President continued. “Brother and sister Arnold can the 2 of you accept the call to serve for the next several years as the Bishop of the ward?”

Did he say they spent hours in prayer? They felt strongly that I was to serve? They felt the Lord had inspired them to call me at this time? Perhaps the Lord knew I meant it when I said I was done forever. He knows all things. He must know I have the strength to put this behind me and act as his servant. I told him “we would be honored” and we accepted the call.

Over the next several months I became very busy being the Bishop of the ward. I was pretty young to be a Bishop and was very intimidated. I did all that I could to prove to the membership that I was up to the task. I soon found that my concerns were unnecessary. These were not just random members of a ward.  These were my good friends who knew me and loved me. These were my brothers and sisters who I have served with for years and who already knew what kind of a person I was. Their support and love came quickly and continued through my entire term as Bishop.

I felt so strong as I served the Lord. I felt his influence and direction often. I was part of and privy too many miraculous experiences and felt closer to my Heavenly Father than I could ever remember before.  I spent 3 nights a week and all day Sunday in my assignment as Bishop. It was tough on a family of now 5 small children aged 10 and under. Between my full time job and my calling, I was spending almost 70 to 80 hours a week away from home. But despite the crazy schedule, we as a family felt the Lord’s hand in our lives and we were being blessed.

For the first 3 years or so serving as Bishop I did really well with my addiction. I still felt the heavy grip of the adversary tempting me daily and I would slip up a hand-full of times a year but I wouldn't let it turn into an ongoing habit. I hated slipping up as Bishop. I felt that I should be able to be strong enough to push it off.  I would quickly repent, refocus and get back to doing good.

Something shifted in that 3rd year of my term. I'm not sure what the change was. The one thing that comes to mind is the suicide of a brother that had once served as my secretary. It was devastating and unexpected. As Bishop I spent a great deal of time with the family in their mourning process and then was asked to conduct and speak at the funeral. That was very difficult. I believed at the time that I had handled it well and was dealing with the weight of everything properly, but perhaps that was the catalyst that made it easier for me to let down my guard.

Not long after the passing and services for my friend, I began feeling the urges and aches heavily again. My own strength did not seem enough. I had allowed myself to become relaxed in my scriptures and prayers and did not feel the added support from the spirit that I had enjoyed before.

I again succumbed to the darkness and found myself indulging for hours at my office in my solitude. I fell deep into my addictive behavior again and let the habit carry on for weeks before finding the strength to right myself.

On again, off again, on Again...over and over the cycle went. Serving diligently as Bishop (Click! ‘The Bishop Slide’), being the loving focused father (Click! “The Husband/Father Slide’), and corrupting my mind in my free time at work (Click! ‘The Porn Addict Slide’). Until one day I discovered a web site that would suck me into a whole new level of my addiction. This was a new type of drug that wouldn't let me out of its grip for many years to come.

One day while fulfilling my quest for a way to satisfy my urges, I discovered a reference to a  website. I don't think this website is still in existence but since I am assuming that some of those reading this blog are among the addicted, I have decided not to name the site directly. In essence it was a knock off of Myspace. This was just prior to the time of Facebook and Myspace was the  model for social networking at the time. On this site you could make your own profile and leave messages for others. You could write a brief overview of yourself and even leave some pictures. The difference was, this site was entirely designed for adults to meet other adults. It was not a dating site. But it did allow you to communicate and even chat. The pictures people posted were almost always pornographic of themselves.

I became entranced with the idea that ‘real people’ were posting images and video of themselves for anyone in the world to see. This was so much more exciting to me then looking at models who had been posed and scripted. It fed my fantasies and I found myself reading profile after profile for hours each day.

But eventually reading wasn't enough. These were real people that were basically making themselves available to chat with. My fantasies began to shift from just looking and imagining to actually chatting with the people on the site. This was a huge progression in my cycle. This would mean I would have to step out of what I knew was safe. Viewing and acting out to images and videos were one thing, but to actually make contact… that was stepping over the line.  That would constitute a breach of my marriage vows wouldn't it? But perhaps not.  I justified it this way:  “Its not like I am meeting them in person!  I would just be chatting with them online. I would never be able to do anything physical with them.. the most would be to chat….. sooo… this isn't that bad really…..right?”

I struggled for several days, fighting the urge to do more than just read the profiles. All the while my mind was conjuring up the fantasies that continued to feed my urges. At last, I gave in and created a profile with the intention of exploring this new discovery a little deeper.

Through the creation of my profile I began to discover just how skilled a liar and deceiver I could be. Given that I was married, it was never my intention to show my face, give my name, or share any personal details about myself. I swiftly conjured up fake information, copied pictures from the internet, and sent my profile live on the site.  After a few days of sending and receiving messages,  I began to learn the tricks to meeting people on the site. I felt that since I was already lying to them that a few more lies wouldn’t matter. Over time I would make up stories about being ill, or that I was rich.  I used whatever it would take to keep someone’s attention.

The draw to come back to the site was insane. Here I was speaking to real people!  They were telling me how much they wanted to be with me. Their words coupled with the fantasies in my head and the pictures in the profiles were a never ending feast of darker pleasure. I no longer felt the lust for the images and videos of pornography, but instead the drive to email and chat with real women.

I soon discovered that I could write one really funny or erotic message and then send it to 20 or 30 people on the site.  Perhaps 5 or 10 of them would find it interesting and email me back. On any one day, I would be chatting with 5 women at a time.

In order to keep up with all of them I would spend more and more time in my new found location of sin.   The conversations always went from innocent to disgusting. That was the purpose of the site after all. I finally felt that I was feeding the hunger inside of me… that ongoing drive that had held me bound my whole life and always seemed to be unquenchable.  Had I finally found a way to satisfy the urges?

The process of daily partaking of such depravity and speaking with those that I had no right to engage with slowly began to erode my soul. Farther and farther down I fell. I always thought I could go no lower in my descent but I always found another level of the basement that had yet to be explored. I began feeling as though I had completely turned myself over to the adversary. It was no longer a battle in my mind, it was just what I did.  I was in his power now and I would do his bidding. I had become an accomplished liar by this time. I could make these women believe almost anything I said. In return for my lies I received their personal images and fantasies.. all of which continued to feed my need.  Finally after several months of spiritual corrosion, I watched a general conference talk about moral decay and pornography and again felt inspired to put it all out of my life. I felt the heaviness of the words spoken by an apostle of God, pleading with those who had succumbed to the enticing of the devil to heed the invitation of the Savior to take his yoke upon me... To give up the weight of sin.

I wanted so badly to heed that call. I wanted so badly to give it all up completely. But I also knew that would be impossible. You see, those who are addicted to pornography are trapped by a double edged sword.  On the one side, the addiction is real. There is a real and physical desire to seek out the darkest of the internet and fill our soul with evil. To give that up is not really a simple action of saying goodbye to it. It is chained to us and it follows us everywhere. It has become a part of who we are and is difficult to sever. On the other hand, we are so buried by guilt and shame and disappointment in ourselves, along with the disappointment that will come from others, that we dare not ever reveal our nasty dirty secrets and sins. Who could possibly understand how a decent man could fall pray to this garbage? With the ache and hunger pulling me and the fear of revelation and embarrassment pushing me, I was in a snare from which I feared I could never find escape.

So, although I wanted nothing more than to find refuge, I just couldn't go through the full process of repentance... not the way it needed to be done... so I did what I always do...I immediately deleted all of my accounts, profiles and emails and vowed again for the umpteenth time that I would never again engage in such activity. I went to the Lord and offered my sins. I re-committed and refocused and again found myself emerging from my depths and feeling a sense of strength.