Hope After Relapse

Relapse is a terrible thing. It forces you into isolation and secrecy. Even if the relapse only includes forays into Internet pornography, it damages self-esteem, your relationship with your spouse and most importantly, your relationship with God. Relapse of any kind is just not worth it.

I relapsed into Internet pornography a few months ago. I convinced myself that I could keep this activity a secret. I convinced myself that I was still sober since I had not acted out with anyone else or even myself, but I had filled my mind with lustful images. Once again, I had become emotionally and spiritually unavailable to those who needed me. It was not a good thing. When my wife found out about it, the damage was devastating. We are still in the process of rebuilding trust.

Thinking about going back to porn? I don’t recommend it. Count the costs before you do. Reach out to someone who can offer you support. Don’t have anyone? I’d be willing to talk to you. Feel free to call me.

Anonymous Articles in a Denominational Magazine

ONE Magazine, produced by the Free Will Baptist denomination, recently published two articles dealing with sex addiction among pastors. The first is an anonymous article written by a pastor who identifies himself as a sex addict. The second is his wife’s response. These articles include links to resources helpful to both the addict and spouse.

We appreciate the link to the Sex Addicts in Ministry website.

Should I Confess to My Spouse? How? When?

“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” I firmly believe Step 5 cannot be ignored. This is true because confession is biblically mandated. It proceeds divine forgiveness and cleansing. Confession frees us. It breaks the power of secrecy and allows healing to begin. The act of confession, as difficult, risky, and courageous as it seems, generally feels good—that is, to the addict, and only when its over. It never gives good feelings to the spouse or others betrayed by the addict’s actions.

After you confess, you feel like you’re on cloud 9—a load’s been lifted, the burden’s rolled away. Your spouse likely feels like she’s been hit by a Mack truck. She’s wounded, deeply wounded. She’s angry,  justifiably angry. You deserve that wrath. You have sinned against this precious daughter of God who was created in His own image. She’s the one you vowed to love and cherish “till death do you part.” You made these vows to God, and in His grace, He will forgive you. You also made these vows to your beloved. She can and will forgive only as God enables her to. If she more or less shrugs off your infidelity, she’s an either a classic enabler or is bound in your relationship by a much weaker seal than the fiery, vehement, jealous, death-strong love described in Song of Solomon 8:6.

When we addicts confess to our spouses “the exact nature of our wrongs,” it’s called a “disclosure.” Most addicts would rather not do this, especially not completely and without the rationalizations, justifications, and excuses we hide behind like fig leaves. Sometimes our justifications involve shifting blame to parents, lovers, other family members, and sadly, even the spouse. This type of confession slams the semi into reverse, once again crushing our broken and bleeding beloved sprawled unconscious across the highway of destruction.

Marty Simpson Revell, an addiction specialist at the Sexual Recovery Institute, says “disclosure is an important part of the healing process,” but he cautions that if not handled with the help of therapeutic professionals and at the correct time, it can actually make matters worse. Read “The Anatomy of Disclosure” here.

Now more of my story: My first confession to my wife almost 13 years ago was prompted by guilt under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Was it complete? No. Was it without excuses? Not hardly. Did it wound her? Immensely. Did she have a support structure in place to help her heal? Not for a long time. In spite of my ignorant, self-justified, awfully timed confession, did God show up and help us both deal with the aftermath? He certainly has!

My last confession to my wife—a full disclosure of my sexual history aided by both a skilled sex addiction therapist and a highly competent polygraph technician—was thorough and complete, without excuse or rationalization. It was extremely painful—for both of us. I can’t speak for my wife, but for me, it was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done. But this time, we both had tools in place to help with healing. After disclosure, we began again with a clean slate in our relationship, well-defined sobriety for me, and a growing network of healing resources for her. Yes, after all, confession is the best thing I ever did to conquer my addiction, restore our marriage, and preserve my ministry.

Confession Takes Courage

Confession is the first component of recovery. As followers of Christ, we know that confessing our sins to God brings us back into a right relationship with Him (1 John 1:9), but according to James 5:16, we should “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, so that we may be healed.”

Confession brings our sins out into the open so we (and others) can deal with them. If we confess to another believer and receive the grace and forgiveness of Christ through that person, we will find it amazingly liberating and refreshing. The first time I shared my struggles with another brother, I felt like “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress dropping my burden at the sight of the cross. As I imagined the pack of my sins rolling into the empty tomb to never be seen again, what joy filled my heart!

When I confessed my last relapse to my church’s leaders (the first they knew of my sexual addiction), a short time later, I arranged to have time alone with each of them so I could receive an honest, unfiltered response. One deacon told me that what I had done (my confession) really took courage. I agreed but responded by sharing a truth I discovered a while back. Yes, confession takes courage—sometimes lots of courage because the stakes are enormous. But truth is, my sin took courage too. When I acted out, I sinned boldly. I had gone places and done things that I had never done before. Sure, my fear of bringing home an STD kept me from physically engaging with another person (at least to that point), but I had unwisely discarded other fears of exposure and of my wife’s reaction to yet another betrayal.

I don’t know where the courage came from for me to sin—perhaps it was just blind stupidity fed by my addiction—but I do know where the courage came from to confess. Courage to do the right thing, to lay our heart open before God and another trusted servant of God, must certainly come from the Holy Spirit who fills us with boldness as we confess Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Take courage, my brother. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

Next time—Who do we confess to first?

Components of Recovery

“Half measures have availed us nothing,” to quote a famous line from AA’s “Big Book.” I have found this to be true in my recovery. When I’ve come up short because certain elements were missing or half-heartedly done, my sobriety has frequently collapsed. Does everyone need to do the same things in order to have success? No, because all of us are different and we have different levels of addiction.

The following describes four components that I’ve found essential for my recovery. Far from being an expert on addiction, all I have to share with you is my “experience, strength, and hope.”

  • Confession and Repentance
  • Ongoing Accountability
  • Professional Counsel
  • Support Groups

In future posts, I will share my perspectives on each of these four components. Until then, you might want to take inventory of your life. Which elements are missing? Which have proven effective or ineffective in themselves?