In the Spring of 2017…
I was sitting at my desk doing some work when my phone rang. I looked at my screen and saw the name of the caller. I immediately had a familiar thought, “Oh, no, what’s happened?”
That might sound a little odd, but whenever my phone rings and the name that pops up on my screen is someone I haven’t spoken with in a very long time, it’s often “that” kind of call. Something has happened. Something has been confessed or discovered. They need to talk to someone, and they know my story, so they call me.
I love that I get these calls, but they are almost always very heavy. They almost always include statements of regret that they didn’t call sooner, before “this or that” happened.
This particular call was from a friend with whom I hadn’t spoken in probably 6 or 7 years. As soon as I answered the phone, he began to cry. Soon he gained composure and started telling me his story, about his sexually addictive behavior that had been discovered, behavior that involved illegal actions.
It was a heartbreaking talk. At one point he asked me if I remembered another conversation that had taken place several years prior. He had to refresh my memory. It happened in the first year or two of my recovery, so sometime in 2010 or 2011. I was at a concert and had run into him and two other friends he was with. These were all men I had known when I was in pastoral ministry, and they were in college. It was the first time I had seen them since I had been exposed and had lost my job at the church.
My friend reminded me of something I said during that conversation. After telling how things were with me, in life and in recovery, I had said…
“Guys, if there’s one thing I would want you to take away from this conversation it’s this. If you’re struggling with the same kind of things I was, you’ve got to talk to somebody. You can’t manage this and you won’t be able to hide it forever. This stuff doesn’t fix itself and without help it only gets worse. Please find somebody you can talk to.”
Then my friend told me that conversation had been haunting him ever since, and especially now. You see, at the time I said those things, he was already struggling hard with sexual addiction. And like me before recovery, no one knew and he wanted to keep it that way. He told me he knew at the time that I was right and that he needed to talk to somebody, but he was too afraid and he chose not to. Now, here he was years later, facing the consequences of behavior that had escalated far beyond what he had ever considered himself capable of. Those consequences eventually resulted in a prison sentence he is currently serving.
Thankfully, my friend had the opportunity to receive a lot of help, support, and therapy between his exposure and the start of his prison sentence. We speak often and although he continues to deal with the fallout of his actions, he has hope and purpose. One day his current consequences will end, and he will have even greater opportunities to allow his experience to help others.
So why write today about something that happened years ago?
This morning my heart sank again as I read a news article about someone else I know who is facing severe consequences connected to sexual behavior. My heart is so heavy for this person, his family, and everyone traumatized by what happened. But it’s also heavy because I know that for every story like this I hear, there are dozens of others that haven’t been exposed yet. There are so many people who are still trying to “hold it together” without letting anyone know. So many people who are terrified of the fallout that they believe will come if they confess.
All I can say, again, is you’ve got to talk to somebody.
Hidden, compulsive/addictive sexual behavior goes in one direction. It gets worse.
As it gets worse, you will do things you once thought you would absolutely never do.
These things you thought you’d never do will cross line after line until you don’t recognize your life anymore.
The vast majority of your time and energy not spent acting out will be spent covering up and hiding.
I understand how hard it is, how impossible it feels like it would be, to let someone in and ask for help. Your story may very well involve consequences that will be painful. But no matter how bad your fear things would be, I can tell you that keeping it to yourself will make them worse.
You don’t have to continue to struggle alone. There are people who want to sit with you, to listen to you, to help you find the kind of help you need to recover. People who will help you get on a path where the parts of your life are integrated and you live in freedom, even in the midst of consequences. People who won’t walk away, no matter what.
You’ve got to talk to somebody. I truly hope you will. If you don’t know how to start, start with us.