A Pastor’s Struggle With Sex and Porn Addiction
by Michael John Cusick
Posted: 09/21/2012 7:16 am
I’ve been counseling men with pornography and sex addictions for more than 20 years. Before that, I was one of them.
In my line of work, barely a day goes by that I don’t hear a story about a man or woman who has lost something dear — their marriage, family relationships, job, ministry, reputation, self-respect — because of pornography. Of course, when we experience such loss, it also affects spouses, children, friends, congregations and communities. Everyone loses when it comes to porn.
It’s tempting to think that there’s nothing wrong with a porn habit — that no one gets hurt. We think we’re protecting our spouse by not telling them. We think we’re providing ourselves with a respite from a stressful day. No matter how we justify or rationalize it, in two decades of counseling, not one (person) has told me that pornography made them a better husband, wife, father, parent, employee or friend.
My own addiction to porn and illicit sex began in high school, and held me firmly in its grip for decades. No matter how close I came to getting caught, I always managed to jump in the manure and come out smelling like a rose. While working in church ministry in my mid-20s, my addiction was nearly exposed in a newspaper story about a raid on an escort service. But even that didn’t lead to change. I might stop for a time, vow to mend my ways, tear up my porn magazines, but eventually the insatiable urge would return.
On a cold winter night in 1994, obsessed with my next fix, I began my typical ritual of acting out sexually. I sat in a familiar parking lot of a XXX bookstore, unusually troubled by the routine I was about to perform even though I had carried it out too many times to count. I had a beautiful wife at home, but she was the last thing on my mind.
Less than a block from the porn shop sat a century-old cathedral. Without warning, an impulse to set foot in that house of worship overwhelmed me. I walked toward the edifice, hiked the tall steps and opened the monolithic oak doors. I sat in the back row of pews. The silence was terrifying. In that space, I reconnected with something I had lost — my true self. The part of me that wanted more than compulsion, shame and despair.
That evening was the beginning of the end. Only a few months later, my wife caught me in a lie, and my double life was completely exposed. It was the worst day of my life. The truth of my actions unleashed a tsunami of pain and betrayal upon her. She was in shock, confused and angry. I slept on the floor that night — and many nights following — as she cried herself to sleep behind a locked bedroom door.
It was also the best day of my life. Though I was shattered, it was the day I finally understood Jesus’ words recorded in the gospel of John: the truth shall set you free. With nothing to hide anymnore, my failure, infidelity and brokenness became a life preserver lifting me out of an ocean of shame and isolation onto the solid ground of recovery and healing.
Eighteen years later, my greatest failure has become my greatest gift. I am married to the same woman and today we enjoy a life I couldn’t have imagined.
My message to those who are in the snares of sexual compulsion is two-fold. First, you can be free and whole. Trying to manage and white knuckle this issue is not as good as it gets. Others have walked a trusted path to healing and recovery, you can too. Start by deciding you will come out of the shadows and into the light. Talk with a friend, professional counselor or Twelve-Step Group like Sex Addicts Anonymous.
Second, sexual compulsions are not actually about sex. Almost a century ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote that the man who knocks on the brothel door is knocking for God. If he were writing today, he might say that the man who surfs online for porn is surfing for God. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Corinthians that “sex is more than mere skin on skin. It is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact” (1 Corinthians 6:16, MSG).
Beyond bodies seeking and experiencing sexual pleasure, all of us reach toward some spiritual mystery we cannot see, touch or comprehend physically. Maybe this is why we describe great sex as “spiritual” and utter “Oh God!” during climax. To deny the spiritual hunger hidden within the sexual impulse is to set ourselves up for a never-ending cycle that only leads to desperation, despair and bondage.
God is not mad at you if you are struggling with sexual compulsion. In fact, that secret, hidden place of your greatest struggle, failure or shame is exactly where God wants to meet you and give you a great gift. I should know. It happened to me.
Michael John Cusick is the author of “Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle” (Thomas Nelson, Inc.). An ordained minister, spiritual director and Licensed Professional Counselor, he is the founder of Restoring the Soul, a ministry providing soul care to Christian leaders. Michael currently serves as an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary. He holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Colorado Christian University and an M.A. from the College of Education at the University of Denver. Michael lives with his wife, Julianne, and two children, in Littleton, Colorado.