Help. Hope. Healing.

From Muck to Miracles

By Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.


A Personal Story by Joe H.

I was first exposed to pornography around the age of nine. I was also sexually abused by a teenage girl around that same time. Because of these things and my own curiosity I developed a voyeuristic interest in sex and the female body. I was afraid of my parents’ reaction to the pictures some of my friends showed me. My parents never talked about sex at all. Not even obliquely. It was almost as though it didn’t exist. But I knew better.

My curiosity never abated, and I resented the Church’s standards of sexual conduct. I stayed chaste, but I always resented it and never knew why the Lord would have such a law. It seemed that everything I heard about sex in Church-related forums was extremely negative. From the Church’s point of view, it seemed, sex was the ultimate evil. The world said that sex was good, natural, fun, and powerful. I could not separate myself from the Church, and my impression was that adults were just keeping sex for themselves as a special privilege. I resented being an adolescent and being denied the pleasures of adulthood just because of my youth and my religion. I lived in a rural area, and sometimes I would find discarded pornographic magazines in the fields near my home. I would hide in the empty ditches and look at them. I didn’t masturbate at the time, but I still had the same excitement/shame response as if I had. I knew I could never hide a whole magazine, but I sometimes took pages of magazines home under my shirt. My mom caught me once and gave me a stern lecture about how sick those things were. She asked me why I did it, but she didn’t really want to know, so I didn’t say anything. I just hid it better after that.

I won’t go into more detail here about my youth, but suffice it to say that I was clean throughout my mission and for a good while after I returned home. I had always imagined that after I got married, my sexual desire would be satisfied, and I would have no need for pornography. That was a big mistake! Even after marriage, I felt unsatisfied with sex and began seeking erotic videos and magazines. I lived in a place where I didn’t have access to the really hard stuff, and I wondered what it was like. I still questioned the Church’s stand on chastity, but I was able to accept two things: 1) I had made a covenant never to have sexual intercourse outside of my marriage; and 2) I felt that adultery was a fundamental violation of a promise to another person. These two things, together with a lot of blessings, a lot of luck, and an unattractive body, kept me from ever having an adulterous relationship. I thank God for that. (Never mind the other covenants and promises I was breaking or the dishonesty in which I was engaging.) I didn’t abstain out of righteousness, but out of circumstance. I did, however, turn increasingly to pornography to fill the void in my life. (I’d had major “buyer’s regret” as I lived with my wife. I came to view her [wrongly] as cruel and controlling, but I never got a divorce, because that would have been too shameful. After all, I had an image to uphold!) I graduated from college in 1987 and prepared to go to law school. During a trip to San Francisco, to visit one of the law schools where I’d been accepted, I found an “adult” theatre and, after considerable hemming and hawing, finally decided to go in. I saw my first XXX movie, then my second. Then I went to another such place across the street and saw my third. I finally went into the bathroom and masturbated. I was both aroused and nauseated at the same time. I returned home to Utah and didn’t have any access to the hardcore stuff, but I could still get Playboy and Penthouse. I bought them a few times, but I didn’t really get addicted until that Fall, when I started law school.

I went to law school on the East Coast, far from San Francisco and the “adult” theatres I mentioned. I was sure that I would have no trouble staying away from pornography. Initially it wasn’t too hard. But I was there alone. My wife had given birth to our son just a month before I left, and she stayed behind to finish work on her master’s degree. As the time for her arrival kept getting pushed back, always by another week or two, I got lonelier and lonelier. I didn’t associate much with my law-school colleagues, whose only social activities seemed to involve drinking, and I withdrew at church because I was tired of telling people my wife’s arrival date had been pushed back yet again. I became more and more withdrawn and depressed. I deliberately hurt myself. I had migraine after migraine, on one occasion barely being able to get myself out of bed for an entire week. I missed classes and fell behind in my reading. I feared I was flunking out of law school. But I didn’t know anyone who could help, so I never got any help. As things got worse, I turned to pornography to medicate my emotional pain and anxiety. As I turned to pornography to medicate my emotional pain and anxiety, things got worse. (Repeat the last two sentences over and over to understand my downward spiral.) Before the semester was over, I was thoroughly addicted to pornography and masturbation.

From then on, my life was a cycle of white-knuckle abstinence and acting out. My wife eventually arrived with our son. I graduated from law school two and-a-half years later and started working. Things looked good, and I got clean for awhile. A few months later, though, while my wife was pregnant with our daughter, my firm had a financial downturn and I was laid off. I got another job, but I hated it, had to work alone most of the time, and had to travel a lot. Old patterns returned, and then I started going to strip clubs. It seemed the worse it got, the worse it got. I found myself leaving work several times a day to go peruse the pornography sections of the local video stores and used-book stores. Any trip out of town meant at least one trip to a strip club and evenings filled with hotel-room porn and increasingly degrading masturbation. I found myself continually promising myself that I would never use that stuff again, acting in for a few days, then acting out again, in an unending cycle. Sometimes I could white-knuckle myself through as much as a week or two without pornography, but I was acting in terribly, so the cycle would repeat itself. I ended up losing my job, moving away to go to graduate school and, on numerous occasions, very nearly getting divorced. My wife knew only that something was wrong; she had no idea what. I very nearly left the Church, but thanks to a good ward and a calling I loved, I kept going and gradually made progress in dealing with some of my other issues.

I won’t go into the details of my wife’s changes, but she had her own issues to deal with. She received a blessing from our bishop and worked diligently to make changes in her life. She has been quite kind to me for about three years now. In fact, we would now both characterize our marriage as quite good. A very loving bishop has been one of the other factors. He has treated me well despite my arrogance for a long time now.

About a year and-a-half ago, I learned about sexual addiction, and I came to believe that it was imperative that I overcome my compulsive behaviors. I just had no idea how. I had mostly been getting pornography off the Internet, but I also bought or rented pornographic videos to watch when my wife was out of town and sometimes went to strip clubs when I was really angry with her. The time I realized I had to do whatever it took to get over the addiction came when I found myself physically unable to keep from going into a strip club and then to leave before spending four hours there. I still had not crossed my bottom line of never being sexually intimate with another woman, but I was devastated, feeling that I had totally lost control. You see, before I went into that place, I tried mightily to turn away. I used every tactic I could think of to get myself to turn away, but I COULD NOT! I knew that I had lost my agency. That is the surest sign of addiction. I prayed that I could do whatever it took to get over my addiction.

Two days later, feeling deeply ashamed, I went to K-mart and bought a box of poker chips: blue, red, and white. I decided that I would use behavior modification to change my behavior, rewarding myself with chips for days without pornography or masturbation: I got a white chip for each day clean, a red one for ten in a row, and a blue one for 100 in a row. I started counting again at one after a relapse. I went in fits and starts for awhile, finally making it fifteen days. But for some reason, I relapsed again. It took a few more days for me to get going again, and then I reached eleven days of sobriety. On day twelve (25 April 1999) came the first miracle.

Our bishop had arranged for all the men in our ward to be able to attend priesthood meeting. He then said he had two issues of serious concern to address to us. One was pornography and masturbation and the Internet; the other was work/life balance. While the second one is a real issue, I think he just added it to soften the blow of the other one. How many bishops will address these topics in priesthood meeting?! He had the elders’ quorum president talk to us about the pervasiveness of sexually oriented material in our daily lives and had our stake Relief Society President (a therapist) address us on the origins, cycle, and treatment of sexual addictions. He finished by assuring us of his love for us and his desire to see that we get the help we needed. He assured us that we could talk to him in confidence, and that he would help us get whatever services would move us along. I took diligent notes. One of the bishop’s counselors told us about, a web site devoted to recovery from these problems. I checked out the site almost immediately after church. I read posts there for several days, then posted some of my own thoughts. People were kind and supportive, but they made it absolutely clear that I had to confess. I confessed first to my wife, then to my bishop. Both were extremely supportive and kind. It was just the opposite of what I had dreaded all those years. I continued to post there and learned about the Clean-LDS list and site, and joined the list. Both sites and the Clean-LDS e-mail list have been extremely helpful in teaching me to understand Christ and his role in my life better.

Some of the people who posted on the LDSR bulletin board mentioned a group called Heart t’ Heart. It is an LDS 12-step recovery group, which uses the scriptures to teach correct principles of repentance in the 12-step context. I attended Heart t’ Heart’s annual conference in September 1999 and was so inspired by what I saw and heard there that I decided to organize a Heart t’ Heart chapter here in southeast Michigan. [Note: Rex, the site owner, can pass along our meeting information if you are interested.] Our chapter has remained small but has been successful, helping several people along in their recovery, and helping me maintain mine. While I still have some misgivings about having to attend a weekly meeting where I acknowledge that I am a sex addict, I know it has been extremely beneficial to me. I am strengthened every week by the frank and honest sharing of the other members of the group, as well as by the chance to tell others about my own thoughts and feelings.

Now for the miracle. I have completed steps 1-8 of Heart t’ Heart and am working steps 9 through 12. I have asked the Lord over and over to take away all my desire to act out. I was never sure it could happen, so I always stipulated, “If it be thy will.” I asked that, if I could not have that desire taken away, I could have His strength to abide it well. I have also asked for the same things with respect to my pride and unbelief. In short, the Lord has heard and answered my prayers. I have no more desire to look at pornography. I have no more desire to masturbate. I have no lust in my heart. I have checked my heart over and over, and all those things are gone. I don’t know where they went, but they are gone. Then, one Sunday, I realized that all my pride was gone, too. I didn’t know where it went, either. I just knew it was gone. Again I searched my heart and my soul and realized that there was no more pride there. I actually felt an emptiness, a hole, where my pride had been. I can no longer consider myself to be above any other human being. I no longer think about how person X, Y or Z should learn about the atonement because it would help him or her feel so much better. I now know that the atonement is for me! Jesus gave his all for me and people like me. It is impossible for me to focus on my so-called “dignity,” because I don’t have it anymore. I know that dignity is a crock. I still sometimes get feelings of pride, but they are fleeting, disappearing as I turn to my Savior in humility and gratitude.

The Lord has taught me the meaning of love and has shown me that the homeless man on the street is my brother, and that I am just like him. He has shown me that our weakness is what brings us together, and that I will always be weak. I can do nothing of myself. Everything is a gift from God. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: I can take no credit whatsoever. All I’ve had to do is pray, listen and obey. God has done the rest.

All I know is that Ether 12:27 is true, and I have seen its fulfillment in my life. I love God, and I know that He works miracles. I am almost mystified by the changes that have happened to me. My role was simple: I asked the Lord and was totally ready to give up my sins and do His will. I pray that He will give me humility and compassion. When I learned that I was not only not acting out, but also not acting in, I knew God had transformed me. I still have much to learn, but I am now free of Satan’s bondage. I have asked the Lord to take away every trace of the addiction from me, but the answer to that request is always no. I need it to help me stay humble. I must remain vigilant against lust for the rest of my mortal life. I am sometimes tempted, but the temptation to act out no longer has any power over me. I don’t have the heart for it. I don’t know why the Lord chose to give me these blessings, but I know He did. I urge you to seek them for yourself, knowing that God loves you.

Thanks for sharing my joy!

Love, your brother in Christ,

Joe H.

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