last summer i had a series of interviews on the carnival called “out of the darkness.“ i have been meaning to get a few more of these interviews up for a while and am finally getting around to it. if you are new here, you may have missed some of the series of interviews i’ve done. in addition to out of the darkness, there’s a series called “a view from the margins” & another is “signs of hope.” if you haven’t read them yet, they are some really beautiful stories from my friends about their journey & life & hope & story. here’s the interviews that i posted last summer in the out of the darkness series. they cover a range of topics that are often not talked openly about “in church.”
- self injury
- brave thoughts from a former abuser
- hope & healing from sexual addiction
- the lingering damage of sexual abuse
- eating disorders
- the A word–abortion
- the untold story of abused men
- never underestimate the damage of spiritual abuse
i have so many brave friends who are willing to tell their story. i really believe in the power of true-story-telling. to me, “the church” should be the safest place on earth to share our real stories & find hope & healing. i have a few new interviews that i will be sharing this week that explore some other topics.
most people i know are struggling with some kind of addiction–drugs, alcohol, work, relationships, food, approval, church, and everything in between. one addiction that doesn’t get much attention but is rampant & typically very hidden in the darkness is women’s sexual addiction. over the past years we’ve had a lot of focus on men’s sexual addiction but very little conversations about women who struggle, too. i have been privileged to journey with some brave women along the way who have said out loud “i can’t stop looking at porn” or “i am having an affair” or “i am always fantasizing about sexually inappropriate things.” almost every time, they think they are the only one, but in reality there are many in the same boat, wrestling with the same feelings of guilt & shame. i have also seen what can happen when the truth gets exposed to the light & shame’s power is destroyed.
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meet “sarah”. she spent most of her christian experience keeping her shameful experience hidden, and in the past few years has learned to bring her story into the open & experience another layer of God’s healing. listen in on a bit of her journey (warning: this isn’t for all eyes and ears. some of it might be too much for some so use caution reading).
- share a little bit about what your spiritual journey, what your family background and experiences with God have been like.
Throughout my whole life, I’ve been into God, to some degree. I grew up in a mainline Protestant denomination. We went to Sunday School and church every Sunday and then, as a teen, I went to Youth Group. As I look back, I can see that God was mostly about being good–shoulds and oughta do’s and an awful lot of lip service! In my Freshman year of college, I actually heard about entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, and I responded in my heart with “I like the idea of all this love-me stuff. I think I want God to be in my life more.” I began to attend Bible Studies and, for a couple of summers, even participated in outreach activities – seeking to interest people in seeking after God. After getting married, church and God-stuff was a priority in our lives. Experiences with God have included a lot of a-ha’s through journaling & conferences that teach about different aspects of God-stuff as well as encouraging me to trust Him in new ways. Slowly but surely, He’s been there to change my oughta-do’s into wanna-do’s.
- when do you first realize you had a sexual addiction? it can look different for everyone, what did it look like for you?
I didn’t put the words ‘sexual addiction’ around my deal until very recently, just last fall. However, it was clear to me, after I married, that my thought life was not healthy and my choices prior to marriage were affecting my married life. My addiction began when I was a teenager, with masturbation, which, when I began to date, led to promiscuity and later to an extramarital affair. As a teenager, I thought about sex a lot. I didn’t have access to printed porn, but romance novels fed my imagination just fine. I chose to let my imagination be trained to think of sensual things readily.
- how did it affect your marriage, your relationships?
As a dating teenager, my addiction prompted me to be more experimental with my boyfriends. The cycle of shame, poor self esteem, obsessive thoughts and masturbation created so much inner conflict inside of me and robbed me not only of confidence and freedom then, but also through most of my adult life in different ways. In my marriage, the allure of the illicit affected my desire for my husband. I found myself needing to fantasize in order to be turned on. Over time, as I was trying to be a ‘good Christian’ and also a good wife, the inner conflict and guilt was often overwhelming. Having sex was such a mental gymnastics nightmare for me that I didn’t want it. The extra-marital affair simply added to my guilt and conflict. I’ve been told that it’s a logical occurrence for people with my addiction to become unfaithful in order to satisfy their appetite for the illicit.
- we don’t hear nearly as much about women struggling with pornography as we do about men. can you share what that magnetic-pull-toward-what-wasn’t-good-for-you was like?
It was very powerful. My deal wasn’t ongoing looking at printed pornography – except for sexually graphic portions of novels. I recall finding a Playboy under my brother’s bed once and was turned on by the women, but somehow having the actual picture in my hand was too much. Even though I ‘resisted’ looking at the pictures, I stored them in my imaginations. That’s just as harmful. As for the magnetic pull, it didn’t help that I didn’t have extracurricular activities after school. I’ve often wondered why I didn’t. Maybe it was shame related confidence issues? The main ‘pull’ was that masturbating just plain felt so good. For me, the guilt afterward was terrible. But how good it felt won over the consequences I knew would result.
- shame is usually the biggest factor with issues of addiction, especially sexual addiction. what was the shame cycle like for you?
Let’s go with “anticipate enjoyment, guilt, compulsion, great inner debate, can’t resist, guilt, give in, guilt, sadness, feeling sick in the head, what have I done to myself to get myself so trapped, why and how does something so wonderful get to be so bad and wrong, ashamed, angry with myself, hide and stuff it ’til next time.”
- in your situation, for many years you didn’t talk about your past with people close to you and were involved with church, small groups, all kinds of christian-y things. what held you back from embracing this part of your story?
Pride. Shame. Embarrassment. I wanted my world to only see the good stuff, not the crap that I tried to pretend I’d completely and totally left behind. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was capable of. Since I had experienced a lot of breakthroughs in my own sexuality, I was able to pretend that my past was just that… in the past.
- when did things begin to shift for you, when you knew it was time to come “out of the darkness”?
My thoughts about ‘coming out of the darkness’ began to shift as a result of many things spoken at a conference that was covering the various aspects of Lazarus’ rising from the dead. I began to see that indeed I still had ‘death cloths’ (guilt, shame, the effects of hiding my story) stuck to me. Jesus told Lazarus’ community to unwrap him. I’d heard this teaching for years, but never sensed God pointing to me and my death cloths surrounding this particular stuff. Not only did I hear people’s words about it, but I also strongly sensed God’s voice in my spirit confirming what the people were saying.
- what has the healing journey looked like? what’s been the best part? the hardest part?
It’s looked like me being loosed to speak of it to people that I am led to share with – first of all, my family! It’s looked like freedom – like a little girl walking slowly, deliberately toward a meadow. At first, hesitant that if she goes into the openness, she may be eaten alive, but then the longer she walks in the meadow, the stronger her legs become and she knows that she is ever so slowly morphing into the woman that God had in mind when He called her out into that meadow. No more hiding. The best part? The sense of finally being much more fully seen/known/understood. Now my family and close friends have much more context for my life and my responses to stuff today. Also, seeing the lights go on in other’s eyes and hearts when I share my story is so rewarding. Redemption is amazing. To think that God can actually use my darkness to help bring others into the light! The hardest part? It has sometimes looked a bit like Hide ‘n’ Seek – you want to be found, but then it was kind of nice being invisible there in my hidey-hole. I had grown very accustomed to and comfortable hiding and pretending. There’s also the fear that people will be totally disgusted and not be able to accept/believe the person I am becoming–that they’ll continue to look at me as one still stuck in my addiction.
- coming out of the darkness and bringing shame to light is a huge step. what has given you courage to tell your story more openly?
Hmmm, because I am so naturally a coward in so many other parts of life, I’ve got to think it’s a God-thing. Plus, just imagining the lives of people near me who may hear or read of my journey and decide to cry out for a different way gives me courage. To think that my telling my story could help draw someone out of a similar hole is definitely an impetus for me. It makes me so sad to know how many women feel so alone in shame and guilt, no matter the struggle or addiction.
- this last season has brought a burst of new healing as you’ve begun to tell your story more openly. what have you been learning about God in the midst.
Three things come to mind. Redeemer, Trustworthy, and Truth Teller. I have known God as ‘Redeemer’–taking my ‘junk’ and using it to help someone see Him differently for their own life. I’ve seen Him to be trustworthy in new places: out on the proverbial limb of transparency. I know, from experience, that He’ll be there to catch me, soothe the bumps and bruises that may occur as a result of my sharing (and there have been some). When I confessed my stuff to Him, I experienced healing, just like He says in I John 1:9– “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” BUT, I’d not fully known the blessing of James 5:16 : “Confess your sins to EACH OTHER and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” I’ve learned yet another place where God is telling the truth and can be trusted. He does affect healing through confession one to another. I have really needed to learn that one.
- what have you been learning about yourself?
I see my pride and vanity way more clearly than ever. There was a reason I chose not to be transparent about my story, and it’s rooted in pride and shame and fear. God continues to reveal just how much my pride gets in the way of living really honestly before others. It’s much easier for me to be honest with God than people.
- what words of hope do you have for women and men out there battling sexual addiction?
Even if you are afraid, God is always here, patiently waiting for you to cry out to Him for help out of the hole you are in. He knows you better than you know yourself [check out Psalm 139] and nothing, absolutely nothing, is too big for Him. I believe God wants to bring us all out in to that proverbial ‘meadow’–that place of freedom in our deep insides. He knows the places we hang onto that keep us crouching in the forest, in the darkness. Let God come and pry your hands from those things that keep you from freedom, light, true satisfaction I believe He can fill that deepest part of you that feels empty and needy. And most of all, remember, you are not alone.
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thank you, sarah, for sharing a bit of your journey. for some women, shameful things like this are in the past but haven’t been integrated into their current story. for others, the addiction is current & the shame-acting out-shame cycle is in full force. and as many of you know, i hate shame. the one thing i feel so clear on is how important it is to have a safe place to share what’s really going on inside, to bring what’s in the darkness into the light so that real healing can begin and God & people can journey with you on the path toward hope & change. as always, thank you for comments; remember how hard it is for people to say some of these things out loud on the world wide web; it helps so much to hear others hearts & thoughts.
ps: later this week: out of the darkness: singleness & the church
ppss: thanks for your thoughts & prayers for my back. they mean a lot to me.