Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Spin

Day 64.

I’ve been struggling.

Why is that so hard to say? When I started this blog, I wanted to lay it all out, everything from the beautiful to the repulsive. Essentially, I wanted to document what it’s like to be an addict. But I find it surprisingly difficult to reveal the ugly stuff until I’m ready to pair it with a redeeming ray of sunshine, which I will now proceed to do. But what if I’d written this entry yesterday? All I could have said was this:

I’m looking for relief in all the wrong places. I’m in emotional and physical pain, and I’m trying to fix it by taking medicine I don’t need, smoking obsessively, drinking energy drinks, and looking at not-quite-porn. It started when my wife left for the weekend, in an attempt to soothe the obsession without falling off into relapse. It wasn’t necessarily that destructive or hurtful, but it was wasteful, and kinda lame. I set up a bunch of safety precautions – phone calls, accountability reports – but it really comes down to what’s going on inside. Once I stayed at my parent’s house while Linsey was out of town, to be “safe.” I ended up using in the bedroom next to my son while he slept. I mean, until I fix what’s going on inside, what can you do? Chain me up?

I’m not fixed.

In my efforts to reign it in, and get through this rough patch, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with my new sponsor. This is growth – I hate the phone. We’ve talked a lot about “middle circle behavoir.” SAA’s middle circle is a double-edged sword, with both powerful and dangerous potential. I firmly believe in the concept: define behaviors that can lead to relapse, so that you know where you’re headed before you get there. If you do it right, you’re asking for help before you crash and burn. This takes a lot of honesty and vulnerability. If you do it wrong, you’re defining behaviors as middle circle “on the fly” to suit your desires in the moment. Then you’re in trouble. Basically, you’ll do OK with the middle circle concept if you can admit that you’ll never be fixed. If you’re looking for complete release, the ability to say “I used to be an addict,” then it won’t work for you. Because every time you call up a program friend and say you’re in the middle circle, you’re acknowledging that you’re still looking for illicit comfort, you’re still messed up, and you’re still a heartbeat away from relapse.

In this morning’s meeting, my sponsor gave up two and a half years of sobriety. His slip had been a little bit of internet porn. I remembered the relief I felt when I recently started over. He echoed my experience, that honesty and continued growth are more important than your chip-record. Chips and the sobriety time they represent are invaluable. So is being able to admit that I’m not yet (and never will be) fixed. I find it interesting and relevant that God never did take away Paul's "thorn in the flesh."

I’m broken.

This week in my church, a woman shared her testimony. It boiled down to this: She is heading to Korea for missions work, and wasn’t sure they’d want her. The reason? A few years back, she went through a divorce. I caught her after the service and told her with tears in my eyes that I admired her. Not for going to Korea, but for choosing to share with us her struggles. As a newly single woman, she had been living in her parents’ home, but avoided our church out of shame. Going back meant walking into the building where she’d married, and facing friends who had attended her wedding. Eventually, she did return, and found love and acceptance. (Thank God – that’s the kind of church I want to be a part of.) I learned that my actions as her Worship Pastor had been part of her healing. What a humbling lesson on the mystery of God’s plans: I was filling an orchestra and a choir. God was healing a broken heart. I believe that in her ministry, she will discover, as I have, that her wound is not a liability. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [2Cor12] It’s really true.

I need God.

Our guest speaker had worked as a missionary in China. She was down to earth, funny and authentic. She had recently spent two weeks in a poor farming province teaching about the Old Testament. (Shout-out to my Jewish friends…) Everyone wore thick jackets in the pictures, the kind I wear once a year when we take the kids to the snow. They sat on a kang, a raised heated platform, where they also ate and slept. It was crowded. The church service in the city was also crowded, and had expanded from a living room to an entire floor of a factory. How does one keep an illegal church service (with 200 people) secret? These people are hungry. They need and want more of God in their lives. And when given the opportunity, they respond. Our speaker contrasted this with our reluctance to go to the altar. We worry, what will people think if they I know I need God? How did we get the idea in our heads that needing God makes us less spiritual? I have a long way to go, but I’m done debating the first couple of steps. I’m powerless, my life’s unmanageable, and only a power greater then myself can restore me to sanity.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Found Porn

Day 48

I heard rustling in the stall next to me. I wondered if he was masturbating. On my way out, as I was washing my hands, I saw the Playboy on the floor. There was no one else in the restroom.

When I was a kid I found a Penthouse magazine on the street. Doesn’t every growing boy find discarded porn at some point? I don’t remember how old I was, or where I was, and I don’t remember if I took it home. I just remember the images. Some corny layout about ninjas. There was an “ancient sacred triangle” with two girls and a guy. It included all three forms of oral sex that heterosexual men are interested in. That first Penthouse experience was sort of like killing an ant with a grenade launcher, or cutting a toothpick with a chainsaw. I mean, at that point I was still aroused by Reader’s Digest. Really, I remember sneaking issues of Reader's Digest into the bathroom with me to look at…what? It must have been the ads.

Later, when I met Linsey, I fell in love with her Elle magazines. I couldn’t get enough of those high-gloss fashion layouts with models in gauzy pastels that showed everything but bush. Nipples were fair game, but it wasn’t “porn.” And it was such a delicious notch up from my grandma’s Sears catalogs. Eventually, it was the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue, and then in college I bought a few Playboy pictorials.

And then came the internet. I followed a similar path, from softcore to hardcore, but it was much shorter. By the time I acknowledged that I was a sex addict, I was in an endless cycle of downloading images, erasing them all in a moment of strength, then later restoring them with file-recovery software. My sponsor called it “dumpster-diving”, a reference to the same pattern in an offline world. How many thousands of images have I looked at? How many are still in my head?

Tonight I was wearing a long untucked shirt, which covered my jeans pockets. I knew that the magazine had already made it past the theft-prevention devices on the way into the restroom, so I could get it out of the store without any problem. All the excuses were there: I've felt shitty for the past few days and Linsey and I have been fighting about sex.

I dried my hands. I walked out and left it on the floor. For me, that’s a big deal.