My recovery began with a blast of cold hard water one Sunday morning while in church. I was serving a large congregation in a suburban community known for its wealth. A high pressure position with high expectations were cast on all clergy in the parish, mirroring the expectations of those sitting in the pews by their superiors. Pressure begets pressure. I struggled with my sexual behavior for decades with no ability to find release from the pain and anger I felt simmering right below my skin. I thought I had achieved it all: a seminary degree and a prestigious position at a prestigious congregation. I was living the high life. What no one outside my private world knew was the pain of sexually destructive behavior. And most of the time, even I could not acknowledge the same truth. Until that Sunday, I could not face the reality that I was a sex addict.
Unbeknownst to me, a person with whom I had acted out sexually was in church on that Sunday morning with his family. While meeting eyes at the altar rail, I could hardly keep my composure. What if people found out? What if he makes a scene? What if my inappropriate sexual behavior became public knowledge? HELP!
Not long after that Sunday, I addend my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. I knew that I was home. The other men sitting around the circle spoke my language and knew the shame, pain and self-loathing that surrounded my soul. The motto of the fellowship I attended that day reminds us, “from shame to grace.” The imbedded metaphor has since become a daily touchstone in my life.
Just a few short months after that first, eye-opening meeting, I checked myself into a treatment center focused on the twelve steps for people suffering from all addictions: alcohol, drugs, internet, gambling, food, shopping, and sex. I finally was able to face the realities of years facing pain, joy, sadness, hope and lost dreams through sexual behavior. I spent over four months in treatment, examining my life, motives, history and faith in relationship to my addiction. It was one of the most painful experiences of life telling a room full of strangers what brought me to my knees. But I was welcomed with open arms from people of all walks of life, suffering from all sundry and forms of addiction. I was in a safe place for the first time in my life, and I could begin to heal.
While in treatment, my faith in Christ was honored and I was invited to find peace and be reconciled with God. The years of shame and fear in believing in a punitive God, started to melt away, but like any glacier, it has been and continues to be, a long process. Twenty-plus years of active sex addiction could hardly be overcome in a day, let alone six months, or even a decade. It will take a life time to see and know the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. The chaplain at the treatment center offered me another metaphor for the journey I had started: Holy Week.
In the decade since that chaplain invited me to see my journey of recovery as the walk from the Palm Sunday to Easter Day, my faith, my addiction and my recovery have been interwoven and a strength beyond anything I could ever have known before that man looked me in the eyes. I know a trauma that was repeated every time I acted out. I knew the pain and suffering on a daily basis that kept me from knowing and loving the God I preached week after week and sought to know day after day. I know the invitation to faith through the Eucharistic celebration on Maundy Thursday. I know pain, loss, and the death of my soul with every passing day. I know Good Friday. But it is the middle day that hurts the most. I know a living hell, the absence of God, the realm of the dead. That is my active addiction and a place I lived for over two decades. Not with the brass trumpets or tympani of a grand Easter morning have I come to find the celebration of recovery. But it has been through the veiled sight in the shadow of the Pascal candle in the Easter Vigil where I have found the burning light of recovery held out to me in the darkness, during the darkest moments of life. I could only come to new life of recovery through death of my addiction.
Today, I live in Easter.