Sunday, 20 August 2017

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Discovery

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by Keith Baker


 

 Discovery

 

Here is the gist of the text that ended my life as I knew it:

“Call me right now! I can’t believe you lied to me AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!”

Yeah, that was it. It was on a Friday at 3:42 pm while I was at work. I was in a meeting and felt my phone vibrate. Sheer panic was a very appropriate descriptor of my emotions at that exact time. Mix in a healthy dose of shame, disgust, self-loathing and add a bit of self-preservation. How could I mitigate this? And could I lie to cover it up? Only to protect her!

Again. Yes again. So nine months ago, I had told her the truth. Well, part of the truth. I told her I was leaving her. I told her that I was seeing someone else and was going to move out. I told her all this by text. I figured that was easier. Well, it was easier for me. Then something remarkable happened. Something I didn’t expect and didn’t know how to handle. She told me two days later that she still loved me. I was speechless and didn’t know what to do. I thought I was stuck in my affair and had no other choice. I thought I had to stay in it and that when my wife found out what I was doing, she would not want me back. But she did. So I ran. I ran back home. I only outran my lying and my addiction for a short time. Nine months.

So here I am, nine months later. I promised myself I had changed. I got involved in church again. I spent time with my wife, we went on dates. We took a vacation alone together. That was the first time in almost 20 years we had done so. I even got baptized. I dove into our marriage. I had stopped. She didn’t need to know everything else. That would only cause hurt and pain. I had truly changed. Only….I hadn’t. I reached out again. I reached out to that affair partner. I just wanted to make sure she was Ok. That I hadn’t damaged her life too much. I swore I was just being thoughtful. I even disguised and hid my contact information for my new phone so she wouldn’t know. That wasn’t enough. The affair partner wanted to “help me” end my marriage so she texted my wife.

My wife wouldn’t be lied to again. She was in full anger and panic and close to a nervous breakdown. I could feel it through the text. I rushed home to find her in shock and tears. The shame was overwhelming. I couldn’t breathe. I wish I could say I was ready to “come clean” and tell her everything. I wasn’t. I wanted to lie and lessen it. I wanted to say, “No that was just the woman you knew about trying to hurt you again. Of course I didn’t contact her after I said I wouldn’t.” I knew quickly I couldn’t do that. The affair partner had already told me she was going to send her copies of my messages.

I was cornered. This is what bottom feels like. I didn’t have any more options for lying, even though my self-preservation tools had kicked in hard. She wanted me out. I went to a friend’s house. I was having trouble focusing and still…..trying to find a way out.

She saw her counselor the next morning. She wouldn’t talk to me. Her counselor texted me with three non-negotiable requirements for even continuing a conversation together:

  1. Immediately meet with a counselor that she recommends
  2. Enroll in a 12 step program for sexual addiction
  3. Full disclosure of all sexual history and polygraph examination to verify I wasn’t holding anything back.

Full disclosure of everything. Polygraph. My thoughts were:

“Oh God, please save me. How do I get around this? Can I manipulate this situation? I am sure I can change her mind. Can’t I?”

I began praying. I wish I could say I began praying for her primarily. I didn’t. I began praying for me. I was terrified, anxious and panicked. “God, you don’t really want her to know all this, do you? I mean, all it will do is hurt her. I am just trying to protect her. I will change, with YOUR help!” Notice how I shifted it to God? How if He would just help me, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Ok, no need to panic. Agree to everything. You can handle this. It won’t be different than before. You can wear her down and things will be ok. Right? I am sure that is right. It’s worked before. I am smart enough to make this work. I will agree to it all and then just slow play it. I have a good excuse. I was just checking on that previous affair partner. I knew I had hurt her and just wanted to make sure she was ok. That was admirable of me! When I explain it to everyone, it will be ok and I won’t need to do any disclosing of things that are better left hidden. I am SURE that will work!

How did I get here? As a follower of Christ, how did I end up here? I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Christian home. My father was the chairman of the deacon body at the church and a practicing Christian. My mother made sure all four of us kids were at church on Sunday mornings and nights, Wednesday nights for bible study. Small town south Mississippi in the late 70s was all about the local church as the center of social and economic life. Problems didn’t exist and if they did, they belonged to other people. We didn’t talk about them. Questioning what was taught in a segregated church and still segregated society led to discipline from parents and ostracizing from friends.

The only problem was, I had questions. I read a lot and what I read led to more and more questions. How could we say that drinking any at all was sinful as it would lead someone to sin who couldn’t handle it, but yet I saw my parents and others drink when no one was looking. Wasn’t that hypocrisy? We were taught compassion and forgiveness in church each Sunday but constantly pointed out that those that didn’t believe what we believed were wrong and to be pitied. That it was our job to “win” them to Christ and we were not “good Christians” if we didn’t. Wasn’t that judgment?

I asked these questions as a pre-teen, and then quickly learned that to ask these questions incurred direction to “just spend more time with your youth group reaching out and praying for others.” I didn’t understand how the God we read about aligned with the God we were representing in our actions. They didn’t align. I understood what it meant to accept that Christ was God in man form sent to atone for my own personal sins and provide me a path to forgiveness. Why did I feel it wasn’t enough? That despite that forgiveness, I didn’t know how to take that and incorporate that forgiveness into my life? I didn’t think that who I am was worthy of forgiveness. If someone knew what I had done, then there is no way they could forgive me. If my parents knew what I had done, wouldn’t they judge me like I had heard them talk about our neighbor who tried to force himself on my sister? I was even worse. I had let someone sexually touch me. One of my friends. Another male. What did that make me? I didn’t make him stop. I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t really think about it very much because the shame was overpowering. I knew I wasn’t homosexual but how did I explain what happened and how I had let it happen, even at 12 years of age.

 

Now here I am 30 years later. I haven’t been able to stop seeking out other relationships, other sexual partners, women other than my wife. I have prayed, gotten more involved in church, and attended men’s Bible studies. Become a husband, a father, and sabotaged my career and my marriage through my inability to stop what I was doing. I begged God to change me. I know God forgives me but can he really? Why can’t I stop? Why hasn’t God helped me stop before now? I have prayed many times!

~~~

“Counseling………..do I need counseling? I really think this is a waste of time. What will he tell me about me that I don’t already know?”

These were my thoughts after scheduling my first counseling session. I had seen a counselor before -- nine months ago. He really only had what I told him to go on and I only went to humor my wife to keep our marriage together. I was able to manipulate him easily. Eventually I just quit going. I didn’t think this would be any different.

My wife’s counselor suggested that my wife make it a requirement of continuing in the marriage that I see a counselor she recommended. One that worked directly with her in the counseling practice. Someone that I actually knew at the church I used to attend. I had heard him tell his story before. He had a history in this kind of thing, you know, in admitting to being unfaithful like I am. He shouldn’t be much different than my previous counselor. I am sure I can make this work.

By agreeing to see him, I figured this would let me check off a box. I set up the appointment for the next day. I went in his office looking sufficiently contrite and ashamed. He asked me to tell my story, why I was there in my own words. So I did. I told him my story, as much as I was willing to tell. I told him I had been having an affair with a co-worker for the last few months. I told him I had told my wife I was leaving her and was overwhelmed and moved and had a change of heart when she told me she loved me and wanted me to come home. I told him everything that my wife knew and was feeling great about myself. If this was counseling, I had this covered.

When I finished, he just looked at me. And waited. For a long time. An uncomfortably long time. Then he said, “Thank you for telling me that. But there is more, isn’t there?”

Dang. How did that happen? How did he see right through my lies?

So, here I was at a decision point, a crossroads. This was not what I expected, but I had an opportunity. This was a chance for me to unburden and release the junk in my life that I have never let go of before. I was scared and nervous and actually very much wanting to withdraw and isolate. So I sat there and prayed. And for the first time I listened. I really listened for God’s prompting. I knew that this might be it for me. That this might be the only chance to save my marriage because I knew this guy had done some of the things I had. And he still had a marriage. I saw sitting across from me someone who had been where I was and didn’t seem to be judging me based upon what he could already see.

So I unburdened. For the first time in my life, I was honest. I started as far back as I could remember and let go of all the things that have weighted me down into despair and shame. I didn’t realize how much shame I had deep in my life. There are things I can’t touch yet and can’t talk of, but I let go most of it. I guess I have been denying the impact that my years of destructive behavior, affairs, lying, and manipulation have had on my psyche and especially on my self-worth.

I cried. I don’t know why, whether it was from the shame of verbalizing my actions, the relief from unburdening them, or the terror of having just let another person see who and what I was. What surprised me the most was that I didn’t die. The world didn’t end. Lightning didn’t strike me. I just knew one thing for sure, I couldn’t go back to what I was, being hidden. The only question for me now was……..now what??

~~~

“…..I’m a believer in Christ, and I am a recovering sex addict.”

 

Those were the jarring initial words I heard after I walked into my first 12 step meeting for sexual addiction several months ago, before I had admitted to myself that I couldn’t control whatever had gotten me to this point. Ok, I just have to dwell on those initial words for a moment. A “believer in Christ AND a recovering sex addict?” How is that even possible? What does that mean and how does that apply to me? At that point in time, I didn’t or wouldn’t or even couldn’t admit that it did apply to me. I didn’t know what sexual addiction was or if I even believed in it.

When I went to my first meeting, I was only going to satisfy my wife and her counselor. I certainly did not believe I belonged in that meeting. I hadn’t admitted to anyone that I had more than one acting out partner. I hadn’t admitted to myself I had a problem. This stuff didn’t apply to me. Sexual addiction is a term people use to try and excuse their affairs or using porn, or to try and get out of sex related crimes. I wasn’t that. Those guys needed help!

Eight months later, here I was again. At a 12 step meeting for sexual addiction, trying to satisfy my wife and her counselor and mine, hoping to keep my marriage from ending. Sitting in there again, knowing what to expect, but listening closely this time.

Different guys in the group read different parts, obviously there is a structure to this. The facilitator went through the rules and then someone read “Our Problem.” One thing really sticks with me from this reading………”Many of us found we were powerless and unable to control our behaviors.” Does that apply to me? Am I really powerless? After the first time I was found out, I swore I wouldn’t do it again. God took that sin away from me, I was baptized again, and I knew that He could help me have a great marriage with my wife. I know I had just recently confessed to my counselor, but my wife really didn’t have to know everything.

She and her counselor were adamant that I had to disclose all of my previous behavior and take a polygraph to validate that I was being truthful. I had taken a polygraph before for an employer and lied on that and didn’t get caught. I thought I could do the same at whatever “disclosure” was. After all, I was doing this for her. I know I can’t hurt her with all of my issues.

Then we got to an explanation of “How it Works.” This reading covered how a 12 step program of recovery worked and why it was structured this way. “Half measures availed us nothing.” That’s what they said, no half measures.

That stung. That was me. Nothing but half measures. That’s how I had been approaching my marriage, my relationship with God, my relationship with my kids. Half measures. I didn’t know that term before. Now, I was finding that it fit me. I had lived in nothing but half measures.

The sharing portion wasn’t what I expected. I expected excuses, guys trying to justify their actions, to blame their wives or their jobs or stress for their issues. Exactly what I was doing…blaming and not really looking inward.

It was the opposite. From the reading to the sharing, this was all about men taking responsibility and looking for healing and talking about their struggles. This terrified me. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t face this. I couldn’t be rigorously honest. And then I heard myself say….

“Hi, I am KL, I’m a Christian and I am struggling with….I am not sure what.”

~~~

“So how often are you reaching out to the guys in your recovery groups?”

That was what my counselor asked me yesterday in my session with him. Reaching out? Does he mean like actually talking to them or just being in group? No, he meant actually texting and calling other men to “talk.” There was just one thing my counselor didn’t understand. I don’t know how to reach out and actually talk to men. These are guys who have problems. They have issues and they share them openly so I know what they are struggling with. I am not the same as they are. Why would I want to reach out to them and talk to them?

“You need to start working on building intimacy with other men. It’s how you learn to build an intimate relationship with other people.”

Ok, is he really serious? What am I supposed to talk about? And to whom? I know they pass a phone list around during the meetings that people sign up on and then copy other guys’ numbers. I even hear guys talking about how much this helps them to talk to each other when they are struggling or arguing with their wives or even when they have something good to share. I just don’t know how to do that. How can I reach out to someone else when I can’t even be honest with myself?

There is so much I don’t want to face. Talking to someone else is terrifying. I struggled to just tell my counselor most of what I had done. I have shared in one or two of the group meetings, which fortunately just involves talking about yourself for 3-5 minutes with no interruption. Now he wants me to talk to other people? I really just want to be all alone and retreat into my own protective shell.

So I went to the next meeting, a smaller one. I have actually had one or two casual conversations with guys in the group. They seem genuinely interested in how I am doing, without being intrusive or really pushy. So, I tried. I texted a guy who seemed like he was nice enough. He actually responded and wanted to know how my day was, when was my disclosure (hopefully I can still avoid that) and how was my wife handling things right now. Ok, that was one.

I responded and answered his questions and even checked on him. I said I was still sorting this all out. I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know how to be open and honest. I didn’t trust that I could be. I don’t trust God right now. How did he let this happen? I thought he forgave me. This guy has been in recovery for almost a year. He was out of the house for seven months before his wife said she wanted him to come back home. He told me that the only way it happened was that she saw him practicing being what she had always wanted, a loving and honest husband. I am not sure I know what that means or how to do that. How do I show her that is what I am? Really, the real question is how do I become that? I thought I had done that by asking for forgiveness and for God to change me. Why hasn’t that happened yet?

Next, I saw a guy I knew from our previous church. We were in a bible study together. We had great competitions then about who knew more scripture and was more intelligent. Ok, maybe we were both a bit full of ourselves. A lot full of ourselves. Anyway, he is humble. He isn’t the same anymore. I like this version of him a lot. His compassion seems real and his words are full of honesty and not arrogance. I have a lot to learn. This is someone I could learn from and reach out to. So there are two.

Reaching out is terrifying to me, but something interesting happened when I did. The other night when my wife was overwhelmed with sadness from the depth of my betrayal towards her and was raging and so taken by her anger, I went and stayed with a friend. I was scared. Really scared. I didn’t think she would want to talk to me again. For the first time I thought that this might not be fixable. I didn’t think God wanted me because of how dirty I am. Maybe that is why he hasn’t fixed me yet. I reached out and one of my new friends from recovery meetings shared this with me:

Psalms 25 has been my cry to the Lord. “He hears you when you cry out to Him and is with you.”

I am slowly discovering that reaching out to others and sharing is painful and necessary and healing and encouraging.

~~~

I am at my counselor’s office. He is in the same practice as my wife’s counselor. My wife is there with her counselor as well. It’s about three weeks since I was found out, since she figured out that I hadn’t come clean and stopped. Since what we experts in recovery call “discovery.” This is our first joint counseling session. My counselor wants to share with my wife’s counselor where we are in the counseling process. He told me that they want to talk about our “situation” together in front of us, you know, to make sure we are all “on the same page.”

This is a potentially dangerous to my own well-being situation. My wife’s counselor originally told my wife the first time I was found out, when I told her I was having an affair and then came back home, that there was more I wasn’t telling her. That that isn’t all there was to it. That I was not being forthcoming, you know……lying. My wife didn’t want to hear it or deal with it at that time. I avoided disclosure and was able to convince everyone that was it and I was ok. Or so I thought.

Here we are now three weeks after my wife finding out again, after that text message. I am in real trouble. My counselor knows things about me that I have never told anyone else. He knows there is more to it than my wife or her counselor know. I am sure this is going to be him telling them both the extent of my depravity. This is not where I want to be.

That isn’t what is happening. This is the most surreal experience of my life. My counselor is laying bare the roots of my addiction. He is stating that my issues aren’t just about sex addiction. He believes there are love and fantasy issues along with abandonment and loneliness. Probably even depression as well. Who exactly is he talking about? He hasn’t told me any of this. How dare he say all of this without discussing it with me? He works for me!

My wife, her counselor and my counselor are discussing treatment options, talking about next steps. Her counselor is stating that full history disclosure with a polygraph is the only way my wife will consider staying married to me. She is asking if my counselor agrees, which he does. I want to raise my hand and say, “HELLO, I AM RIGHT HERE!” According to the behavior of everyone in the room, I am not here. They are all talking around me. What is going on??

My counselor then says to my wife and her counselor that my case is very complex. That my recovery is not an easy one. He wants both of them to know and be prepared, to be sure she wants to do this. I will require lots of therapy and psychological counseling. At least two to three years….wait, what? Did he just say that? Two to three years? Is he joking? He hasn’t said this to me! Again, does he not know he works for ME?!

I just realized something….why I haven’t stopped. Why God hasn’t healed me. It isn’t Him. It’s me. Oh God, I am broken. God, how did you let this happen to me? I am broken. Can I ever be whole again? I just got it. I just had a realization:

I am not ok.

~~~

“Why haven’t you found accountability partners yet? Are you close to finding a sponsor?”

Each week in counseling, I am greeted with a new challenge from my counselor. I think he dreams up ways to continually make me uncomfortable. After our joint counseling session, I didn’t know if he could top that one. Somehow he always seems to succeed. Accountability partners make me very uncomfortable. I tried accountability about 20 years ago with a group of guys. We met on a weekly basis to talk about our lives, our struggles, our desire to be practicing Christian men. I was open and honest with them. Well, as open and honest as I could be at the time. Which, to be rigorously honest, wasn’t very open or honest.

Accountability partners. Who should that be? According to my wise and well paid counselor, I should find guys that I can trust. Ok, that is a given. Also, I should find guys who are willing to ask me hard questions. Also, not a surprise. Oh, and preferably in recovery and don’t automatically believe what I say, and care about me enough not to take my word for anything. Ok, now that is very confusing. How is that supposed to work?

I think I have two guys in mind. One is a guy I know in recovery who I went to church with for several years. I think I mentioned that I like the version of him I know now. He isn’t trying to one up me on the arrogance scale. I will ask him.

I will also ask a friend who isn’t in recovery who I have known for many years. I have lied to him. A lot. He cares about me and my wife. He was there when my oldest son was born. He has supported and loved us. He didn’t abandon me or my wife when I first announced that I was leaving her and then briefly came to my senses when she told me she still loved me and would let me come home. I wonder how he will respond when I reveal myself as a liar and an addict to him. I don’t know, honestly.

So my counselor wanted to instruct my accountability partners on how to be accountable with me. However, first he wanted me to tell them my story, my first step as it is known in recovery. I had written it in draft. I made copies for them to read. However, my counselor said that wasn’t enough. I had to recite my story verbally to them. This was terrifying. I hadn’t told anyone all of this. I definitely hadn’t told my wife.

I started from the beginning. I told them the parts I didn’t want to reveal even to God. I opened up my soul and exposed my shame to them. I told them about how I was broken, damaged, and then about how I inflicted pain and suffering and hurt and destruction on my wife and kids. They didn’t even know the extent of it yet. What I realized in revealing that out loud was that I didn’t fully understand the depth of the hurt and damage either. Reliving it was emotional and painful and ripped my heart into shreds and exposed my shame.

And……they supported me anyway. My friends cried with me and for me and for my family. I don’t understand why God has given me people that love me this way. I don’t love me this way. How can anyone else? How can God? Then I heard Him….I heard God saying,

“How do you not know I love you? I died for you as you are, not as you hope to be.”

 



 

KL Baker is a Christ-follower, husband, father, writer, sponsor, and corporate flunky living with his wife and two boys in a suburb of Houston, TX. Writing is an important part of his recovery from addiction as is counseling, accountability, sponsoring, and working the 12 steps. He is working on a new blog and a new book tentatively titled "Lazarus People."

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