Thursday, February 18, 2016

If I Am Not Alone, then We Are Not Alone

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in my case, it killed my self-worth, my connection with others, and my trust in God. Not only that, but it led me down a very dark and lonely path, riddled with traps and snares that kept me shackled in my world of despair and isolation. I was terrified that others would discover my secret, my defect, my scarlet letter; that I struggled with viewing pornography and compulsive masturbation, even on a daily basis at times. Such behavior is not exactly socially acceptable, especially among women and especially in Christian fellowships. I didn’t know how to escape it, but I didn’t know how to ask for help, either.

I felt completely stuck.

At times I reflect back and I feel the utmost compassion and empathy for myself. I was simply lost. Emotionally isolated. Shrouded in despair and shame. I felt unworthy, undervalued, freakish, disgusting. I used pornography and masturbation to not only numb the pain that I felt, but to actually feel some level of ‘feel-good’. I never felt emotionally happy, so I settled for physical pleasure. Yet, such craving left me believing that I was somehow genetically defective, because I thought that what I struggled with was a ‘mans’ disease. I couldn’t imagine there was anyone else like me – anywhere.

So twenty-five years I spent tumbling through one addictive cycle after another: viewing pornography, engaging in masturbation, lusting after people, and participating in sexual encounters over instant message and chat rooms, as well as in person. And if that wasn’t enough, each of my addictive behaviors were mirrored by shame cycles filled with self-hate and loathing and blame.

I saw no escape.

Then something happened. Miracles began to happen. My bishop started to appear in the strangest of places and would constantly bump into me. One day he was in my shared driveway fixing my neighbors car. Another time I bumped into him in an empty hall, but for the two of us, at church. I felt God speaking to me; ‘Go in and see him. Talk to him. Open up to him.’

But I was scared.

So I didn’t go in for a very long time. But I knew the time was coming so I finally mustered the courage to send my bishop a message on Facebook. “I have some things to tell you,” I said, “but I’m really scared.” His response was compassionate and kind. “No one can eat an elephant in one sitting. I’m here for you when you need me.” No pressure. No judgement.

He was safe.

So I made an appointment for the following week. And that was the beginning of the journey I’ve been on for the past six years. It took some time, but within a few months of meeting with my bishop I began attending a women’s sexual addiction recovery group. It is there that I found connection, compassion, and the empathetic words ‘me too,’ which I have since learned to be some of the most powerful words in the universe.

Most importantly, I found hope.

It was in the safety of those recovery rooms that I was finally able to openly share my pain, my shame, and my fear. No judgment. No shock. Just love and acceptance. The friends in recovery that I have since gained in those meetings have been the most prized relationships of my entire life. They loved me for me. It didn’t matter what I’d done. They just loved me. And that love taught me how to love myself, not in spite of my struggles or even because of my struggles, but just how to love myself. No requirements or expectations attached. 

I had found my tribe, and I had found my God.

Now, six and a half years later, I call myself a walking miracle. ‘Coming out of the darkness’ seems like such a cliché phrase, but it’s exactly what God did for me. He walked hand in hand with me and guided me the entire way. Even when I felt unworthy of His light, or felt it would even burn me. He never faltered. “Follow Me,” he said, “And I will make you whole.”

So I trusted Him.

And because I trusted Him, I am no longer bound in fear and dictated by shame. 
I now have hope. 
I am now happy. 

I can now speak openly about my struggle, and I do, in hopes that others who are lost in darkness will know they are not alone. 

For if I am not alone, then we are not alone.

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Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"