I saw her there in the flesh. A sweet buttery surprise. When she smiled the room lit up so bright that nothing else existed. As she reached out to touch me I recoiled in fear. It would be too much. I hadn’t seen her in so many months. I had taken the memories of her, my feelings, my longings and buried them in the basement of my heart. There beneath the piles of broken dreams and desires long-forgotten, my feelings came rushing back, like Lazarus, resurrected. My face flashes with heat, like opening a door to an oven, but I cannot slam it back shut. I force a smile. No, it’s real. I am so happy to see her. But I cannot dare to hope. What I always dreamed will never be… at least not with her, at least… not now.
I stared into her eyes I couldn’t handle the shimmering beauty that stared back at me drawing me in. I stand up taller. I allow her to hug me. I keep my feelings in check. Then she is gone. Like a hummingbird she has flitted away leaving me with nothing but a raw ache.
I have only ever loved two women in my life. And I mean really loved. Loved to the point that being with them was worth giving up everything. But they did not love me back. So I’m on to the next… hoping that there is a third. The ache, the weak knees, the hunger… it’s all part of the fun.
The biggest lesson I learned from my dad: if you want something, you have to work hard for it.
I’ve been working since I was twelve. I had a job at a horse ranch in Sanger, TX cleaning out stalls. After that I labeled newspapers and cleaned the house for the guy who owned the local newspaper. I’ve been a bank teller, a special ed school bus driver, a cashier at a gas station, an elementary school janitor, I worked for Boeing building airplane cables and I worked for Target as a stocker. All of this before the age of 20 and many of these jobs were done concurrently. My success was measured not only by the amount of money I made, but also how many hours I could pack into the day. I bragged about waking at 5:00 a.m. and then getting in bed at midnight only to repeat the performance the next day. All of this work paid off and by the time I was 24 I had a job paying 52,500 and I hadn’t even finished college yet.
I continued to work and finally finished college. I served in ministry at church. I did a discipleship program. I kept busy, busy, busy. I ran myself ragged because, once again, this is how we were raised.
Throughout my twenties I made my identity about what I was doing, but I really lacked focus and direction. I made a ton of money and spent it as fast as I made it. I wasn’t taught the value of savings. I got into a lot of debt. I dated girls, I went to church, I went back to college to get an MBA, I got laid off.
By the time I was in my thirties I should have been married and settled down. At least that’s what I thought, but I was single and broke. I was still making great money, but I was living paycheck to paycheck. I never finished my MBA, I only got 12 hours in and it wasn’t even something I wanted to do, I just thought maybe it would make me feel accomplished. It was just one more thing that I was using to define me.
My life wasn’t going according to plan because I never really had one. God blessed me with a buffet of talents and opportunities but I could never just settle in to one role and be happy with it. Feelings of inadequacy plagued me most of my life. I kept asking myself the question, “Am I enough?” I felt that I had to go above and beyond with my friends just to keep them. I paid for meals and cooked dinners and I tried to be funny, but often my motives were misplaced. It was as if I was creating a recipe of the perfect version of me constantly adding a dash of this and a tablespoon of that, but no matter what I tossed in, the dish still fell flat.
I know that part of what I am talking about is just part of growing up, but could some of this be learned at a younger age? Is confidence and value something that can be achieved through the perfect home environment? The right amount of time spent in a loving community, a great school, an amazing church, the right relationship with Christ?
Now that I’m older I’m still learning about who I am. I have had a mentor for the past three years that has become a captain on the unguided ship that was my life. I feel like I’m just now starting to be the own captain of my ship. Through all of this struggle, through this learning process, I have gained wisdom that only comes from experience. And experience is an interesting thing. It provides clarity, the type of clarity that an ex-addict has after going through the process of recovery. When you see a fellow addict you can immediately see through all of the excuses and the self-delusion because you have already come through all of it. It’s like a mountain that has already been climbed, sometimes repeatedly, sometimes a thousand times, sometimes more. Experience can sometimes be a cruel teacher, relentless in her process pushing you to perfection. “Again!” you hear her shout each time you fail. “Again!” “Again!” “Again” – the ruler slams on the table, the voice is shrill and each time you pick yourself back up you are learning valuable lessons. There is much to be learned from pain and failure, those lessons are patience and perseverance and the value that comes from earning something the hard way.
And this is where I get to the final point of why I started writing this post in the first place. I am not a father, but sometimes I find myself in leadership roles over young men. It is when I am in these roles that I want to cram my years of experience into their lives. I think most of us men that have the opportunity to lead others understand the character building qualities that come from hard work, some more than others. But for me, hard work has been the most consistent theme in my life. There is no time for coasting and therefore I cannot tolerate coasting in others. Furthermore, I get annoyed at easy success because I am afraid that quick success will bread arrogance, pride, and hubris, where repeated failure forces you to be humble and makes you rely less on yourself and more on others and God.
But what I’ve learned in the past year and a half is that you cannot expect people to know what you know from experience. They will have their own set of experiences that will guide their life and while you can do your best to guide them along the way, in the end, they get to learn at their own pace. As fathers, coaches, mentors, big brothers, we get to lead and support and when our “sons” fail, we get to pick them up, dust them off and say, “Again.”
I love my dad and he taught me a great deal, but one of the things I learned from him was that in times of failure he was not someone I could go to for support and encouragement. Eventually I stopped telling him about my problems because he would say, “Welcome to the real world!” As if I was living in some alternate universe with unicorns and fairies. I had been living in the real world since the age of 12. When I wasn’t working at my actual job or doing schoolwork there always seemed to be a plethora of projects around our house that needed to be done. Instead of playing video games or watching TV, I was often outside moving piles of bricks or crossties. My father meant well and I now understand what he was saying. Part of him was happy that I was going through hardship because he had to go through it too. It’s like its just part of becoming a man, and it is, but there are enough hard lessons in life and so when we have the opportunity as fathers and men to respond to failure, we can seize that opportunity to soften the blow – not pile more on top of it.
So now I’m 38 and I’m still learning. How my father raised me wasn’t perfect, but it has made me who I am and I have learned to take the good from our relationship and let go of the bad. Life has been rocky, but the bumps and bruises along the way have toughened me and thickened my skin. What hasn’t killed me has indeed made me stronger. And lastly, I have learned what true success is, it is finding joy and contentment in what you have in the current moment. It is not measured by money in the bank or material possessions, but in deep relationships with friends and family and an understanding the importance of who God is and how is should be the ultimate captain of our lives.
For starters this blog is VERY frank and open. I don’t hold much back on this post because I don’t think keeping secrets really does anyone any good. We are all jacked up in some way or another, it’s why we need Christ. The views and opinions in this article are my own unless otherwise stated. Leave a comment if you want, but I delete insensitive or unproductive comments.
The Beginning of My Addiction
I was probably 8 years old the first time I saw pornography. This wasn’t just pictures of nude women in Playboy, but the real deal. It belonged to a relative and one of my cousins found the stash and showed it to me. It was frightening and made me feel sick to my stomach.
Fast-forward to 6th grade. I was only 10 years old in the 6th grade. My classmates snuck Playboy mags into the locker room. Guys would huddle around and look as one boy flipped pages. It would last for all of 5 minutes, no harm done right?
A couple years later I worked at a horse ranch at the age of 12. My boss always treated me like an adult. He let me drive his car. He gave me big responsibilities. He left stacks of porn on his doorstep.
Over the years porn would not be something that I would search for, but something that would pretty much be dropped into my lap, however, my addiction to it didn’t really begin until I was about 24. By this time I was no longer living at home or too busy with college and friends. I had settled into a job. I had an apartment by myself and I had access to the internet as well as years of insecurity and repressed desire. As a christian I knew online pornography was wrong, but hey, at least I wasn’t having sex right?
That’s what you do with porn as a christian – you rationalize and justify the sin down until it almost becomes a good thing. It is the lesser of two evils. For married men they probably tell themselves “Well, at least I’m not cheating”. There is always a reason, a justification and now it has become mainstream. When I was a kid people were ashamed to admit to masturbating. Not so anymore. Movies like “Hall Pass” talk about taking mental pictures and storing them in a “Spank Bank”. Magazines for men and women often discuss the best sites for free porn and even tips on masturbation. In an article I read in Details magazine it stated that 1 in 4 had herpes and while the article made it sound like it was a pretty horrific sexually transmitted disease, that in reality the question was not if you’d get it, but when. Porn, Sex, Masturbation STD’s – they are all no big deal… at least that is the lie we’ve been sold.
There is this constant message in our media that seems to suggest that everyone is having sex and that if you aren’t, something is wrong with you. We use sex to sell everything from cheeseburgers to shampoo and there seems to be very little understanding of romance or real intimacy. Instead the guy that shows any sort of sensitivity or romantic feelings for his wife or girlfriend is considered “whipped” – not chivalrous or masculine.
For me I justified my online pornography use even further because I wasn’t looking at “airbrushed perfection” but instead real people. I liked to go into chat rooms. I thought that there was little harm in this despite the intense shame I felt for hiding this dirty secret and even going online to seek out that type of gratification.
This issue plagued me for years. No one really tells you the consequences of porn or that it is addictive like a drug and that it wreaks havoc on your relationships and your mental health. While as kids we are often told not to do something, we aren’t always educated on the real reason as to why not. The simple answer? Because it is freaking dangerous. Online porn will MESS. YOU. UP. Don’t believe me? Read this article. Kids are becoming registered sex offenders at the age of 13 and even younger. There is an epidemic of children under the age of 17 becoming addicted to viewing online porn.
So what do we do? For starters you need to educate your children – boys and girls – at an early age. Make them aware of the dangers and let them know that it is not right and that it is like a drug. The aforementioned article says this:
‘Our research at the clinic has found that although the internet doesn’t create these problems, it can release interests which would never have surfaced otherwise.’
Meaning that when people of any age are exposed to something like meth, cocaine, heroine, pornography – we don’t know what issues and interests will surface. Will everyone that views online porn have an overwhelming addiction or want to rape and maim? No. But there are some that will.
What do you do if you are already addicted to online porn? GET HELP.
I remember going to a friend and telling him “I’m addicted. I’m almost manic with desire and temptation. I’m going to really mess up.” I had even planned an anonymous rendezvous in a hotel that I never followed through with it – less out of heart conviction and more out of a fear of STD’s. Fortunately my friend told me to go and see a counselor and so I did.
How did I overcome my addiction?
I think that for me I have to remain extremely humble in this area. As someone who was literally shattered by this sin and failed so many times I truly started to believe that it was something that was impossible to give up. I sort of loved my addiction. It was something that I craved when things got tough. Upset because I didn’t get a job? Look at porn. Just got dumped by a girl? Look at porn. Parental problems? Porn. For me porn was always my answer. It was my drug of choice followed closely by food and spending money.
Jesus is the Answer?
For me Jesus was never the answer to my problems, instead I liked to think that he was the cause. I blamed God for so many things in my life (Being Fat, Losing my Hair, Not being born rich, My skin color, Not being cool enough or smart enough…) and while I preached to others about loving Christ and trusting in him, in my own heart this wasn’t the case. I had all these ill feelings and resentments in my life and I was unwilling to truly trust God to provide for me in the areas that I was coming up short – and in case you haven’t noticed from this article I was coming up short in just about every possible area.
Finally after literally years of trying to fix this problem on my own I got help from a counselor and then later a group of guys that kept me accountable. Yeah, I’d had accountability partners in the past but I mostly just lied to them, but this time it was different. This group of guys were quality with a a capital Q. Solid men who were grounded in truth and were willing to actually listen and care. Through them I found the intimacy in my Christian faith that I had been missing for most of my Christian life. God used these guys to show me that Jesus truly was the answer to my problems, I just wasn’t willing to to let go long enough for him to step in and clean up the mess.
It Wasn’t Easy
So how did I overcome this issue? First of all I had to confess my gross past to these dudes and ask for prayer. Then I had to admit to them when I messed up. I lied a few times at the beginning, but they loved me and were so sincere that eventually I came clean 100%. I let them know when I stumbled and over time the allure of online pornography became less and less – but, the desire to masturbate, the biological need was and is still there. I’ll admit it. I’m a dude. We like sex. Duh. But is there a way to just stop masturbating and to forever go this primal urge? To that I have to say I have no idea. What I do know is that I don’t spend 10 hours a month viewing online porn and masturbating every other day. Over time I realized that my desire to self-gratify came more from the desire to escape from how I was feeling and less about sex. I find that when I have a healthy relationship with the Lord as well as my finances, diet and relationships that there isn’t a great need to compulsively masturbate.
Being a single man of integrity is not easy, but being a single man who is addicted to internet porn isn’t so great either. Eventually my desire to escape from reality to internet porn diminished entirely. This I believe is a sweet, sweet gift that I received from the Holy Spirit and is something I never want to take credit for or take for granted. Like a serial dieter I had become a serial quitter when it came to pornography and each time I gave back in to my temptation it was pure bliss… and then suddenly it wasn’t. It was strange really. I went from being constantly plagued with these desires to suddenly having this feeling of “What are you doing? You aren’t even enjoying this…” Something in me literally clicked. Like a key turning in the lock to release my chains. For the first time I truly felt free. Now in the past I have had these little breakthroughs where I feel like I’ve overcome a big addiction. I’ve lost 20-30 pounds on a diet and vowed never to return to Dr. Pepper only to give in 30, 60, or even 90 days down the road. Normally during these periods of “Break Through” I would still have a craving but I would have willpower or this great feeling of pride in my self and what I had accomplished. My Facebook status would tout my abstinence or achievement and I’d feel good about myself for my amazing willpower. That wasn’t the case this time. For me I had a Romans 12:2 moment where I literally understood first-hand what it meant to no longer be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I understood the verse in John 8:32 about the truth and how it will set you free and finally I had a new confidence, not in myself, but in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit and how Paul said in Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in me would carry it out until completion. I’m still being worked on. I’m a big fat work in progress, but now I’ve truly decided to take the easy way out and the easy way is trusting in Jesus. Before everyone told me “Oh, that’s the easy way out” when it came to porn, but in reality porn carries a heavy price with it. It traps your mind and warps your thinking. It holds you in bondage so tightly that eventually the sick strain becomes comfortable and you no longer hunger and thirst for the things that will satisfy you, but instead you have an insatiable appetite for something that is destroying you.
For me the next steps are to continue in deep prayer and connection to the Holy Spirit. I have to constantly guard my eyes and resist even minuscule temptations. In the past I allowed my mind to wander and even invited mental images that would arouse and even justify them as being “not that big of a deal”. Now I know different. 2 Corinthians says “5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” I love that word “Demolish”. I love the idea of obliterating evil thoughts that come into my mind. The same thoughts that would have me believe that this world and all it’s shiny trappings can somehow take the place of Jesus Christ in my life. Those thoughts that I once welcome with open arms I know want to punch in the face. “LIES!” I want to shout in the face of temptation.
Now each day I live with gratitude that my eyes have been opened to see the path of destruction that I was headed down. I am so thankful every day to the 5 men in my accountability group that have walked this final leg of my looong journey through recovery and continue to walk by my side each day in prayer and support.
Finally, I pray that you are not where I was – standing on a precipice waiting for the inevitable fall – and if you are slipping, I hope that you have someone in your life that is reaching out a hand of hope and salvation and if you don’t have that, then please shout for help.
Other Resources and Articles that I Found Helpful
I used Eddie Traughber as a counselor for a year, he was the first step in my recovery process.
Download or Read online Porn-Again Christian
Feel free to contact me directly if you need to talk or want some help.
Every week I get to teach students on Sunday morning. I think of it as a privilege even though I often feel like nothing more than a glorified babysitter. Parents sometimes drop their children off 45 minutes before the start of service and I don’t know if it is because the students are so excited to be there, or if the parents are dropping of their children and then making a mad dash for a quiet caramel macchiato that can be sipped in silence.
I don’t mind the children being there early or late for that matter. I only have to get to see them for a couple of hours a week and it’s those last or first few minutes that can be quite enlightening. For instance, one of my only black students once said to me, “My parents are at the black church this morning, Morse St. Baptist, so they may be running late, you know how black churches are.” He said, holding up his hand and then saying, “No offense.” I wasn’t sure why I would be offended except that maybe my brown skin color is often deemed “questionable”. When I had hair that was mostly straight and black, I was rarely confused as an African American, but over the years my hair has deserted me, like so many of my friends, and the ones I have left I hold onto dearly, never realizing how much I cared until they were gone. Now that I’m larger and bald, I’m often mistaken as African American, but I can assure, offense for the misinterpretation of my race, is never taken.
This morning one of my particularly challenging students was standing next to me. This is a rarity as normally he is kicking balls as hard as he can at the ceiling or walls. I think his sole purpose there is to see if he can maim himself or another student but make it look like an accident. He loves to find a rolling chair and then push it as fast as he can toward the stairs and then jump in it. I think God has sent an angel to stop the chair right before it hurtles down the stairs with the student in it – but sometimes I secretly wish it would happen just so I could say, “I told you so.” But he never falls and I don’t get my wish.
And speaking of “I told you so’s”… I love them. It makes us feel superior and there is nothing like being right that makes me feel more superior than someone else. Then there’s that feeling that they received the punishment that they deserved because they hadn’t listened to you. So maybe you lost a hand, big deal, how you feel at that moment doesn’t matter, your pain is inconsequential what matters is, “I told you so.”
We smile at ourselves because we had foreseen the danger like a prophet or a psychic with a crystal ball. We pat ourselves on the back with pride and we gloat as we share the story with our friends, “Did you see Sally? Yeah, I kept telling her to stay away from the poison ivy, but she just wouldn’t listen. Now she’s practically disfigured by it, but I told her so.” We say, tisking our tongue and shaking our head with false sympathy.
So back to the student, we’ll call him Billy, was just standing next to me when another student said, “Hey, you guys are twins!” It was an obvious joke since Billy has the physical make up of slightly cooked spaghetti. He’s all arms and legs and when he moves he appears to be about to fall over at any moment – like Gumby, but thinner.
Billy looked up at me, his face contorting with terror as he stared at my head. “I am not that… FAT!” The word jutted out of his mouth less like an insult and more a statement of fact – however, it still stung like an insult as I was expecting the word: tall, bald, brown, big – I was not expecting FAT in all caps with an exclamation attached.
I’ve become accustomed to being called names. I don’t even mind the occasional insult to keep me humble, but the three students nearby made audible gasps of shock and dismay. “WHAT! Oh my word.” It was clear that even at 11 years old they knew it was impolite if not down-right rude to call someone fat. I would say that in America, despite that fact that the majority of us are over-weight, fat is quite possibly one of the most cruel insults, more hurtful than say being called retarded or ugly, neither of which is not a consequence of gluttony and ugly is really a matter personal opinion.
Billy’s parents pulled up and waved, I stuck my hand up and waved back as if I were on a parade float. Their was no real emotion in my hand because for a moment I was still on “pause”. That’s what happens sometimes when you are insulted. Your brain doesn’t know how to react, especially when you are at church, surrounded by others and in reality, the statement was true – I am indeed fat. Not rotund or obese. There will not be a need for a crane to lift me into my casket when I die, but yes, I am indeed FAT. I guess the only insulting part of his statement was the exclamation mark on the end of FAT! and since he is only 11 and being home-schooled, I’ll assume that his parents haven’t yet taught him manners or grammar yet and let it slide.
This has possibly been the best and worst year of my life. I turned 35 a few days ago and I’ve never been fatter. I sold my house after having to beg from my friends for money and while I work for myself, few people ever pay me on time.
But I’m not complaining. The best part about being somewhat self-employed is setting your own hours and being your own boss. The problem is, I’ve never been good at telling people what to do, much less myself and so how I’ve managed to pay bills on time and continue a comfortable standard of living has been beyond me.
I guess I am quite blessed. God, despite my incessant sinfulness, has for some reason continued to shower me with favor. I will be on the verge of being homeless and then suddenly I have so much money that I’m giving it away.
But this year has to have been by far the loneliest. When I was in Plano, not living near my friends and family, then feeling alone was to be expected. But now I am surrounded by people that love me, just doors away, but they can’t be with me continually and if they could I probably wouldn’t want that. Instead, I selfishly wish that they could be around to entertain at my beckon call and then vamoose when I’ve had my fill.
Being alone is like being hungry, no matter how much you stuff yourself, you will one day be hungry again.
So yesterday was Christmas Eve and I think it is the first time I’ve ever spent it in solitude. I picked up some barbecue and feasted in front of the television watching reruns of 30 Rock and channel surfing. To lift my spirits I download “Hard Candy Christmas” from Dolly Parton and listened to it on repeat while texting friends and living vicariously through Facebook.
The worst part is that although I don’t want to be alone, I don’t exactly want to be with people either. Being with people means I have to be happy and talking and making polite conversation. If I went to a Christmas Eve Candlelight service I’d be forced to put on some ill-fitting jeans that cut off my circulation from the waist down and stretch a plaid shirt over my large frame like saran wrap over the remains of a turkey.
Once inside the church I’d sing Christmas carols and hope that we could stand all night knowing that sitting down would might snap me in two or pinch me in half – either way, I do not like the idea of being separated from my legs or private parts for that matter and it always frightens me when I see someone in a wheelchair without the aforementioned anatomy.
Standing alongside my family I feel the eyes of my friends staring at me. I imagine them thinking, “Why is Eddie still single?” their lips moving and singing, but no real thought given to the words being sung. “If he’d lose some weight he could find a nice girl.” Then they look with pride at their own brood as if by somehow having found love and having a handful of kids somehow made them… whole.
When the singing is all done and the food is all eaten and the gifts are unwrapped, I come back home to my apartment, sit in front of my television, pick up my MacBook and start working to drown out the fact that my life is at times, frighteningly pathetic.
I’d like to stop a moment and say that I’m not wallowing in self-pity or despair, just rather making a quick summation of my life. While I get to work with students and do ministry, I have no one to really share my success or joy. My life is not truly challenging because I don’t have someone that sees me for who I really am and then pushes me beyond what I am capable. For the first time in my life I know why God created Eve. While God himself was enough for Adam, he understood that as humans we have a need for someone who is on our own level that further clarifies who God truly is, then he took that one step further with children.
Hey, maybe I’ll dye my hair
Maybe I’ll move somewhere
Maybe I’ll get a car
Maybe I’ll drive so far
They’ll all lose track
Me, I’ll bounce right back
Maybe I’ll sleep real late
Maybe I’ll lose some weight
Maybe I’ll clear my junk
Maybe I’ll just get drunk on apple wine
Me, I’ll be just
Fine and Dandy
Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas
I’m barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won’t let
Sorrow bring me way down…