January 6th, 2009 began like most Tuesdays. I got up and went into work, at the church where I served as Worship Pastor. Unlike most Tuesdays, our regular pastoral staff meeting had been cancelled. All of the pastors had received an email on Monday cancelling the meeting due to a “situation” that had come up that would require the attention of our Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor all day on Tuesday. When I’d first read it, I hadn’t thought anything about it. Now, settling in at my desk and reading the email again, my heart sank into my gut.
Seven years ago, normal for me was living a double life. On the one hand, I was the Worship Pastor of a dynamic, growing church. I was a teacher, shepherd, worship leader, friend, husband, and father. In many ways, I was a “model” Christian. On the other hand, I concealed a life of sexual addiction that had spanned over 20 years and had steadily escalated to eventual (and repeated) unfaithfulness to my wife.
I hated the duplicity. I hated my sin. I hated my addiction. I hated myself.
But I was in so deep I didn’t think it was possible for me to ever change. I thought the best I could hope for was to keep the secret, try to manage it, and run out the clock of my life without anyone ever finding out and getting hurt.
God had other plans.
Through a careless email (that I was way too careful in covering my tracks to normally have sent), God exposed the secret. Everything that had terrified me for years was out. What would happen now? My life was over. I was going to lose everything – my job, my friends, possibly my family.
But then the strangest thing happened.
The worst thing I could imagine happening was the best thing. As Andy Gullahorn beautifully says it in his amazing song “Why You Brought Me Here,”
“…the very thing I always feared would be the death of me was a way to come alive.”
Things started to happen. Our church got Stacey and me connected with a therapist, and we met her for the first time the next day. There we sat, shell-shocked and in the crater, trying to breathe and figure out if our lives were going to recover from this. Our therapist listened to my story, and then spoke calming and reassuring words to us; helping us understand so much about how various elements of my life had contributed to choices I made and to what eventually developed into my sexual addiction. Without excusing anything I had done, she helped us begin to understand and explain how all this had happened in a way that countered all the shame I’d felt for more years than I could remember. I began to experience hope.
Something else happened. I got to see the grace and forgiveness of God modeled right in front of me in the form of my wife Stacey. Even though she was devastated by what I had done, she decided very early on to trust God to take care of her while she chose to stay with me. Receiving the love and forgiveness she offered allowed me to see that God was offering the very same thing, even though I’d refused to believe it. God wasn’t angry or distant, and I began to experience closeness with Him again. He’d always been offering it, but now I could see His heart and receive it. My wife continues to be a picture of God’s grace to me.
More things happened. I found out that there were many people like me. All this time I’d felt completely alone, like I was the only one that was this bad off. Makes sense. The most powerful thing about addiction is isolation. When addicted people isolate ourselves because of fear and shame, no one else can see anything except what we allow them to. Consequently, I spent years assuming that what I saw on the outside of others was the real them, even though what they saw on my outside didn’t represent the real me. Now, I was introduced to people who told the truth, and who made it safe for me to tell the truth. I found real community. Not the “idea” of community, but real community. I was able to experience acceptance from people who knew everything. I discovered what real authenticity looked and felt like. Then I got a sponsor and begin talking and working through the Twelve Steps, discovering a new way to think and live, free from the power and control of addiction.
Through everything going on, a truly amazing thing happened. I got better. I have been recovering for seven years now. Discovering more and more about God’s grace and my freedom in Christ. Learning that no matter what I do, my identity was never and will never be wrapped up in my sins, brokenness, or struggles. My identity is in the fact that I am a loved and well-provided for son of God. Nothing I did earned me that position. Nothing I do keeps it or loses it. What a freeing truth, and one that only makes me want to walk closely with Him in that freedom!
I realize that as you read this, you might be where I was seven years ago. Maybe you’re where I was seven years and one day ago. You don’t feel hope. You believe life is over. You think how it is…is as good as it gets.
I can tell you. It isn’t. You can get better. You can recover. You can experience the life that God always intended for you. If you want to know how, email me and let’s talk.
We’d love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know how we can encourage you.
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.