Part 6 of His Story
We arrived at the Stake building and were greeted by the stake president. He invited us directly into his office. As we walked through the doorway I immediately took stock of the room. To my left sat the apostle. To his left sat his traveling companion and there sitting in the chair that used to belong to the Stake president was a man I had become familiar with over the past several years. He was the bishop of one of the other wards in the stake. Seeing him in that chair filled me with an instant relief. If he was sitting there, then I was safe from that call. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.As I approached the seat nearest the apostle I turned to the new Stake President and said out loud “I am so happy to see you sitting in that seat right now”.
We all laughed for a moment and then the apostle took control of the meeting. He looked at me and said, “ Brother Arnold, we would like to issue you a calling but before I can do that I need to ask you a couple of questions.First, are you worthy to hold your current temple recommend?”
I looked him in the eyes and lied. ”Yes of course I am.”.
“Good Thank you. The second question is, is there anything in your life that might embarrass me or the church?”
I responded quickly with a “No, Of course not”.
I felt myself dying inside. I felt like any second he was going to call my bluff, that he might share with me that he knew I was a sinner and it was time to come clean. But he didn't.
Instead he said, “Sister Arnold, Is this a good man?” I suddenly felt buried by a life time of lies. I thought I was anything but a “Good Man.” I believed I was the complete opposite. The crushing weight intensified as she said, “Yes, he is one of the best”.
Then the apostle said, “Brother Arnold, the new stake president has asked that you serve as his second Counselor. Will you accept this calling to serve in this role?”.
I simply said, “Yes. I would be honored”.
Over the next 2 days we sat in training with the apostle. Each and every minute I smiled and played my part but privateIy I was still waiting for the moment when he revealed my secret to all. I was tortured by the thought that my evil was going to slip out. I’m going to mess up and say something to tip him off that I don't belong in this room with these righteous men. It never happened. Two days of training and meetings came and went and my sickness never showed it’s face.
Finally, he gathered all of us together with our families to be set apart. The 2 of them were taking turns acting as voice to each blessing. I was hoping that it would not be the apostle setting me apart but since they were alternating, and I was 3rd to be done, it fell to him.
As he placed his hands on my head. I went numb. He and the other men would have to be in tune. They would have to feel my guilt and shame. They would certainly discover my lies and deceit and immoral thoughts and actions. I had long since turned the lever on my view master to the ‘righteous leader’ setting. But I felt as if I was about to be outed, and in front of all these people. Instead, I received a beautiful and powerful blessing. This blessing felt so specific to me. It did not call out my weaknesses but instead spoke of my strengths. It built me up and offered encouragement. It spoke of many of my unique talents and abilities and challenged me to use them in helping to teach and grow the stake.
When all was over, I sat there in awe. This was a blessing from my Father in Heaven by the hand of an apostle and he spoke specific things to me. The Lord was trying to tell me that He knows me. If ever there was a moment to recognize my sin, it was now. If ever I felt the need to unload it all, it was now. My guilt was heavy and my shame was heavier but neither of them could equal the size of my pride. So great was my pride that I dare not let go of my weakness or sins. I could never ever share my sins. Not now. I am a trusted leader of the stake. I have now successfully lied to an apostle of God. I was surely doomed to hell. Hell might be awful but it could not be worse then the embarrassment and shame it would bring upon myself, my family, and the leadership of the church if I dared to speak of my double life as a slave to sin. I could do this. I had already been clean from acting out for a few months now. I would serve with all my heart and prove that I am willing to serve the Lord.
I vowed that this would be my restart and that I would never let myself fall into that trap again. I could be good. I could Be strong and then, once I had been clean long enough, I would go to the Lord in my own private prayer and repent of everything. It would be between me and the Lord and as long as I had stopped the habit, He would of course forgive me… right?.. right?
Time went by and for several months I did very good. I felt strong, I felt unbeatable. It was one of the highest moments in my life. The men I was serving with were amazing. Every meeting was a chance to feel of their spirit and be trained in the administration of the Gospel. I loved my assignment to work with the youth. They were a huge inspiration to me. How did they do it? How did they face the adversary daily at school? How did they confront him and come out unscathed? They were 14 or 15 years old and they were winning. I enjoyed being a part of many wonderful events and loved the opportunity to serve in this way.
But, as you might imagine, I became overconfident again. Without a full confession, without a support group, and without help…… I could not last. And so again, over time the draw sucked me back in. It started with viewing a little bit of pornography in my private time. I was horrified by my error and pushed it away…. for a time. But having given in once, it came much easier the next time and then easier and easier until I found that I was again chatting with women online, manipulating videos and indulging in my habit of viewing porn.
After a few weeks I felt empty. Sadly, it wasn’t because of the garbage I had been shoveling in to me, but because I felt I was still not finding what I needed to feed my depravity anymore. What I was finding and viewing was no longer meeting my needs. I needed something more! There must be something else to satisfy this hunger.
One day while searching an online classifieds web site for junk to buy, I noticed a category titled ‘personals’. I had read the personals in the newspaper and knew that there could be many different kinds of ads posted there. My interest was peaked and I decided to read the posts. I discovered that there were many people both men and women that were looking for someone to spend time with. One category was dedicated to those that were just looking for someone to have a sexual encounter with and nothing more. In reading the ads, I found that all of my triggers were firing. These were real people, right near my home. They wanted to discreetly meet up.
I never ever wanted to betray my vows or covenants so to answer these ads was not an option but oh, how they made my mind run with fantasies. This became my new drug; reading the personals.
Then one day I decided to answer a couple of ads. It seemed harmless enough. After all, I had chatted with countless women over the years and never met them. I just chatted with them and flirted with them and allowed it to become an online pen pal for my lusts. Why would this be any different? The responses were pretty much nothing. And worse, those that did respond wanted to see a picture to decide if It was worth continuing. So I did like I always did and gave them a fake picture. Before long they would start to ask if I wanted to meet.
Wooooah!!.. that was not part of the package. Besides, I gave them a picture of someone else. So I was safe. I would never ever meet them as they would surly know I was lying. I would delete them and start over the next day with someone new.
But the idea of meeting someone began to be the most prominent fantasy of all. I would always push it away because I could never let that happen. If I'm just looking at porn, and even chatting, then I have still not done anything that can’t be reconciled. But to meet someone.. even if it was just to meet.. that would be a real breaking of my vows. I would never do it. At least that is what I kept telling myself.
But with those fantasies playing out in my mind, I decided that perhaps this time I would send my real picture instead. The thought both excited me and scared me at the same time. What if they know me? I had decided to protect myself by only answering ads from a city 2 hours away. This seemed logical. I would certainly be safe from recognition this way and this also meant it was too far for me to act on my desires. In this way, my rationalization continued.
I answered an ad and began to chat with a woman who traveled all over the state for work. We chatted and flirted for about 2 weeks. I thought this would be like any other conversation. I would manipulate her into playing with me and then I would delete her and move on….. except it didn't happen that way at all. She was on the hunt it seemed and no matter how I tried to deflect her, she was not going to give up. Soon she began to insist that we meet.
I was ready to delete and run. I really should have. Her invitation to meet should have been the red flag but all of a sudden I was seeing a fantasy come to life before my eyes. It was playing on a loop in my head over and over and over. I was so weak in my resolve, and she was willing.. even without my manipulation. I found myself completely torn. Should I do what my head wants or what my heart wants?
I began to let the idea of a meeting linger and work in my mind. I imagined it as an innocent meeting.. simple lunch or coffee shop… nothing more. But I was too afraid. I was too worried to get caught, too nervous to lose everything, too uncertain if I really wanted to open that door, even if it was going to simply be innocent.
I should have gone invisible. I should have simply said no and been done…..but I didn’t. The lure was too strong. This was the closest I had ever come to seeing one of the fantasies that had been bouncing and plotting and performing in my mind. The guilt became unbearable. I tried to distance myself from her. That’s when the pangs and urges and hungers and fantasies and thoughts became stronger and more vivid. I was fighting what I felt to be an unbeatable battle. I wanted both things so badly…. not to do it.. and to do it.
Ultimately the urges and needs took over and I arranged to meet her. The first meeting was supposed to take place at a coffee shop in my home town. I hated this idea. It was too close to home. I was petrified but we scheduled the appointment time. She arrived on time…I did not. I let the time slip by. I drove over. I even sat outside the coffee shop in my car trying to work up the courage but I couldn't get out of my seat. Finally I texted her and told her that I just couldn’t do this and that I was sorry to waste her time.
Again, I should have deleted. I should have made it go away but again, the urge and drive and the ability to flirt and chat so freely continued to draw me in. I was like a moth to a flame. We continued to email and text and a 2nd meeting was set.
Scared out of my mind, I went and met her at a coffee shop. We chatted for about 20 minutes about nothing at all. I just wanted out of there. I couldn't believe what I was doing. I never in my life planned to sit with a woman alone. That was breaking a cardinal rule. I wanted to run from that place. I couldn't wait for the meeting to be over.
At the end of our chat she said, “I still want to do this.” I said, “Do what?” She said, “You know… hook up.”
I was a little taken back.. she was so forward about it. She too was married. She told me that she had cheated on her husband several times and she liked me.
I said, “ok, well...I'm not sure that I still want to do that. I was a lot of talk in the emails, but I never intended to actually betray my wife… and my marriage." Meeting her was the most I would ever do.
We parted and I felt like I handled it well. She was out of town for a few days and I thought she had lost interest. I felt good. I had passed the test. I was strong enough to say no. I was wrong on all counts.
She came to town again and texted me saying, “I'm here for a few hours and thought maybe we could meet to chat on my lunch break.”
I had already met with her once and had been strong. I could do it again…. couldn't I?
The battle raged again. The draw to meet her was painful. I was so engulfed by desire that I had decided in that moment to simply stop thinking and just go with it. I shut my brain off completely to the influence of the spirit, not that I had felt it lately at all anyway, and made a conscious effort to keep from feeling shame and I forged ahead.
We met at a little park on the other side of town where I felt no one would recognize me. We sat and talked for a while on a park bench. After some more casual chat and flirting she said, “You know you want to meet me alone sometime don't you.” I didn't… but I did.
Never in my life have I had some one throwing themselves at me. The allure was too much. It was the substance of all my fantasies. It was images that played in my mind over and over for years. This particular woman had nothing to do with it at all. But my porn addiction had always been filled with imaginations of this type. After all, what was pornography doing for me if not constantly feeding me with the idea that this exact occasion could happen in real life? It made me want it to happen in real life. It set me up for it so that when I was presented with it, I would be weak and unable to say no.
The adversary knows us so well. He tricks us into thinking that porn is just a visual medium. We come to feel that looking at it hurts no one but ourselves, that taking it from viewing to chatting is no harm. As long as it is online or just a meeting alone it’s okay. When you have subjected yourself to that kind of willful invasion of your soul for that long, then there is no question what your response will be when the actual situation presents itself.
Again, this time I somehow found enough strength to say..”I don’t think its going happen”.
Over the next few days she began emailing me pictures of her. I was allowing myself to completely let down my guard. The temptations were stronger and the urges almost impossible to ignore.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of back and forth she told me she had reserved a hotel room an hour out of town and wanted me to come and meet her there in the morning. I was absolutely terrified. I wanted to go but I knew I couldn't. I knew what might happen if I did.
She reassured me that we wouldn't have to do anything but chat if that is all I wanted to do. With this in mind, I gave up completely and in my delusional state thought, “Okay, we will just chat in her room. Nothing can hurt me if we just chat.”
Quick Digression…. I remember years ago hearing Gordon B Hinkley share a story about a young Indian brave. I love this story and have embellished it a bit with my own thoughts. A young Indian brave had come of age and was to prove he was a man. The test came in his ability to journey to the top of a nearby mountain and return with some shrubbery from the top to prove he had completed his quest.
As he traveled, he came across a poisonous snake. The story goes that the snake spoke to the boy and said “I am so tired and want so badly to climb to the top of this mountain and bask in the warmth of the sun upon the rocks. Please pick me up and carry me to the top of the mountain. I am too weak to make it on my own.” The boy considered this for a moment and said “No, I know what you are. You are a poisonous snake. You will surely bite me and leave me to die upon the mountain top.” The Snake said, “No, I will not bite you. I promise you I will keep you safe from my venom. If you will simply carry me to the top, you will see that I will keep you company and be your friend. We will arrive at the top and you will have stories to tell the other Braves about how you carried the snake to the top.”
The boy considered this for a moment and then decided that he would make the snake his companion. He picked up the snake and it coiled itself up on his shoulder. They traveled together to the top. The snake and the boy talked and laughed and he began to feel very comfortable with the snake. He even felt as if they were becoming friends. After the long journey, they crested the final ridge and saw the gorgeous view presented at the top of the mountain. He reached a resting place and lowered the snake to the ground. The boy turned to survey the view and in that brief respite, heard the snake spring out towards him strike him hard in the leg.
The boy collapsed from the pain of the venom as it coursed through his veins and turned to the snake with tears running down his cheeks he said, “Why? Why did you strike me? You promised me I would be safe. You made me believe we were friends. Why did you bite me knowing I would be left to die here at the top of the mountain?” The snake answered with a slither in his voice by simply saying, ”You knew what I was when you picked me up” The snake slithered away and the young Indian brave was left to die on the mountain.
I always think of this story when I consider my choice to make that decision. We will just chat… in her room. Nothing can hurt me if we just chat…. (You knew what I was when you picked me up!)
I went. I went in a complete and total state of numbness. I knew what I was about to do. I knew that chatting might happen at first but I knew what my fantasies and desires had conjured up already. I was driving to my destruction. I felt it deep in my soul and I couldn't turn around. I wouldn't. I had convinced myself that this was what I needed to fill the hunger and part of me still thought I could be strong.
I wasn't. In one short hour I had given up my soul. I knew it in that moment. I had just condemned myself to hell. I had taken everything most sacred to me and thrown it away. I learned just how much I hated myself as I drove home that day. I knew it because I said it over and over audibly in the car. It was that day that I realized I was too far gone to be saved. I drove home alone in silence riddled with guilt and shame and knowing that in a few short hours, I would have to give the performance of my life as I looked my wife in the eyes and lied to her. I had never felt more low or more disgusted with myself. No one had ever hated me more than I did that day.
It occurred to me for the first time ever that I had actually become just like the one person that I held the least amount of respect for in the world...my Dad. I hated myself. I hated that I had betrayed my wife, my children my covenants, my God. I realized that I must be beyond saving for I had just done the most horrific thing I could do to my wife and still I wanted to hide it. I wanted to never tell her. I had just permanently destroyed our happily ever after. I was leaving her without any life preserver as she floated free, still believing that our eternity was secure. But it was not… I had ruined it.
And so yes, for the first time I began to believe there was no repentance for me. I could never tell. I would keep my wife for this life and have my kids for now knowing that I would have to lose them forever in the next. I was miserable.
This woman contacted me again within a couple days… letting me know that she would have the room for two more nights and would I like to meet her in two days time? I never wanted to see her again. I wanted to delete and run. I wanted to tell her to never contact me again but all it took was one day to forget my pain and begin fantasizing again. Besides, I had already relegated myself to hell. The damage was done so how much more could I do?
I went and visited her one more time. Afterwards, the shame hit even heavier than the first time. The guilt and pain and disappointment in myself came with force and weight.
I knew I was too weak to withstand the invitations and flirtations. I was so completely broken that I did not feel I had any will power left. My only option was to vanish. I had to disappear so that I could never find her again and she could never find me. I Immediately deleted her from my life. My fake name and fake emails offered me exactly the escape route I needed.
I went into hiding. I knew I could never tell of this. I could never confess it. I knew I would die with this sin. But I thought I could start now and perhaps stop everything. I could make an effort to prove I wanted to change my life. This was the bottom after all. I had gone as low as I could go hadn't I?
I became so desperate to never give in again. But I wasn't desperate enough to confess. You may ask yourself… why? If this was the bottom, if the guilt and shame were so heavy, why not get out from under it and rescue myself once and for all? My answer is not profound or deep. It is very simple and is summed up in one small word :Pride. Here I was, serving in the stake presidency, a former bishop, respected father, husband, neighbor and businessman. How could I admit to such a disgusting and horrible thing? I had just broken my sacred covenants to my wife. I had become convinced that she would leave me. I was certain I would lose my family. And could you imagine the scandal within our stake? How would we ever recover? Of course I also took a more ‘Godly’ approach. What of those I had counseled over the years? How would they respond? Would they suddenly feel my counsel was of no value? Would my confession bring about the loss of testimony or cause doubt in others? I convinced myself that all of these outcomes were not only possible but likely. Therefore I could not and would not ever divulge the truth. I would have to take it to my grave.
I was clean for a long time…. many months in fact. I again became determined to not fall backwards and I set myself on a course to at least looking and sounding like a righteous leader, even if I couldn't be one for real. I could play the part.
This may have also been the first time that I allowed myself to begin doubting the church. It wasn’t in any major sort of way but I would begin griping about the amount of time required of me to attend so many meetings. I would complain about procedure. I even began to feel that my callings required me to put on an act and pretend to be righteous. Of course this last fact was true… at least for me. So, with this horrific sin behind me, I continued to serve in my assignments. I still loved the men I served with. They were my strength and my pillars. I trusted and loved them. I felt we could talk about anything…. well almost anything that is.
Sadly, over time, those little thoughts began to play themselves over in my mind. I began to have doubts about things that I would have never questioned only months before. They crept in little by little. They were never enough to send me running, but they were enough to allow me to let my guard down and before long, even while serving in the stake presidency, I let the darkness back into my heart. I should clarify. I didn’t let it back in as it was already there because it had never been expelled. No, what I did was uncover it from its hiding place and I again began to allow myself to indulge in my favorite past time and addiction of pornography, breaking my streak and sending me back into the world of darkness that I had become so comfortable with.