Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Ashamed No More: A Pastor's Journey Through Sex Addiction
By T. C. Ryan
Book Excerpt: Adapted from Chapter One, "Living a Divided Life"
I was sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree beside a creek, and I was miserable. I was aware we were having one of those warm, sun-splashed days that make spring so sweet, yet I wasn't feeling anything but dullness, despair and self-loathing. Hopelessness was suffocating me.
I was in a park, getting porn. For sixteen years I had worked at recovering from compulsive sexual behaviors, and there I was--after nine years of therapy, years of groups and sponsors, a lot of work and struggle--and I was getting porn. For years, I'd had porn blocked on my laptop. Yet there I was, getting porn in a park. I was so down I didn't see any way of going on, going back or getting out. I saw no way.
I turned my face toward the blue sky and prayed, "God in heaven, I cannot believe after everything I've done and all the grace you've shown me, I'm here in this place, just cycling and cycling and cycling. I can't stand this life anymore. I don't care what you want from me--anything, anything--but I can't stand this life anymore. I don't care what you do with me, but you have to do something. Please."
I had not lost my faith. But I had lost hope. I was hopelessly stuck.
* * *
Life is difficult. Living life well is hard. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Life may seem more challenging for some than for others, but all of us have challenges that make life complicated.
I am not writing to celebrate my struggle or hold myself up as a unique victim of cruel circumstances. Neither is it my intention to blame others for my difficulties. My story is no more
unique or special than anyone else's. But it is worth sharing because for a long, long time I lived without hope, and now I have hope.
For more than forty years, a defining and crippling characteristic of my life was a daily struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. I was a dopamine and adrenaline junky. I used my sexuality to get my "drugs." But my problem wasn't just sex. Anyone who is an addict and then experiences genuine recovery from addiction sooner or later learns that addictions are not our real problem. Addictions or compulsive behaviors are merely the symptoms of something deeper.
My life was hard and chaotic. I was gifted and I was loved. I was angry and I was moody. I despaired and I was depressed. I was impulsive and compulsive. I was effective and successful, and I was a mess. Sometimes I even made it harder and more chaotic, though I usually didn't see it that way at the time. I was trapped, and try as I might, I had a prolonged struggle to find my way out of the wilderness of compulsive behavior and chaotic living.
For the longest time--roughly the first twenty-five years of my forty-year sojourn in the wilderness of chaotic living--I was firmly committed to solving my problems on my own. That doesn't mean I was the only one aware of my problems, just that I was a determined isolationist. I came by that honestly, as do a lot of us. It's an odd thing, I suppose, or maybe it's really not odd at all, that most of us who've been really hurt or disappointed are very careful whom we share ourselves with, and we never tell our secrets to other people. We're convinced some parts of life are meant to be handled within the deep walls of protective loneliness, and we believe that to try any other approach would surely bring more hurt and more shame. I was one of those people. . . .
What Is Sexual Addiction?
My first therapist introduced me to the concept of sexual addiction. Honestly, I do not think I had heard that term until he spoke it to me. He suggested I read a book by Patrick Carnes, Out of the Shadows, and when I took his advice, I began the slow, difficult journey of changing the trajectory of my life.
I went to a popular bookstore in the midtown area of our city to find the book, and as I stood at the cash register to buy it, I was thinking about how, if anyone who knew me saw me there with it, I would casually dismiss it as something I was getting for helping a parishioner. Soon enough, that would be true; that parishioner was me. I devoured the book and was astonished to find so many of the aspects of my life spelled out in it. I was intrigued and a little relieved as I read about the belief system of addicts and the self-replicating cycle of addiction. Some of my life was beginning to make sense.
Sexual addiction is a person's use of sex to alter moods that progresses to the point where they are unable to control their use of sex, suffer consequences and are behaving contrary to their will and desire. The key elements are that it is progressive, creates a sense of preoccupation, becomes a substitute for healthy relating, takes over a person's will and is pathological in nature--that is, addiction is always about the destruction of human life.