It was Thanksgiving morning, and I was standing in the shower, escaping for a moment into a world of hot water and steam. My morning shower had become my last refuge.
Devastating Loss. Ultimate Freedom.
I was no stranger to loss. In fact, loss seemed to be a fairly constant companion in my life: the loss of my sister by suicide a decade earlier, years of struggling with infertility and miscarriages within my marriage, loss of employment, loss of family pets, loss of hopes and of dreams.
But this season of loss was different.
It was worse.
It was crippling.
I’d never imagined loss so complete.
Nine months earlier, on a Monday, my wife discovered incontrovertible evidence of what I would come to understand was my decades-long sexual addiction. I knew it was over. She couldn’t possibly love me once she knew all of my darkness. To my disbelief, my wife insisted she still loved me and we would make it through this together.
We began counseling that Friday with a schedule of both joint and individual sessions. I began to learn the language of addiction, and so much of my life began to make sense for the first time. I was finding hope and healing I had come to believe was impossible. Things were hard between us, but I thought we were on the road to recovery. I was dumbfounded by her mercy and grace.
A few months later, on our eldest daughter’s birthday, my wife came to a breaking point and decided to tell our tight-knit group of friends about the secrets I had kept and the actions of infidelity I had taken.
Together, they rallied around her. Immediately, they created an underground railroad, passing her and the children from home to home among them and the church leadership where we had been serving for a few years.
In just a few hours, I lost everything. I lost my wife – my constant companion of thirteen years. I lost my children: at that time, two, three, and six years old. I lost my faith community. For a time, I lost every friend I had within driving distance, and most of my acquaintances. My wife even called both my parents, telling them about my darkness.
I was left with only my job, my truck, a house I hadn’t wanted to buy in the first place whose mortgage would completely ruin me financially in under a year. Amid such loss, my family was grappling with hard news. Forced to try and figure out how to love with their son, brother, and uncle in light of my darkness.
So, there I stood in the shower late Thanksgiving morning, trying to muster the strength to go and be with my family – alone for the first time. My tears mingled with the steam and hot water streaming from the showerhead. Then, without warning, I suffered the first panic attack I’d ever experienced.
My mind was racing, I could feel and hear my pulse throbbing through my entire body. I began hyperventilating and became unsteady. I had to sit to keep from falling. The ringing in my ears became excruciatingly loud. And I started having flashes of memory from a time when I was a young boy, only five or six years old.
I remembered the brown carpet, the tan chair, and worn orange afghan. I remembered the mouthpiece of the trumpet, and having it explained to me how a mouthpiece functions to focus the air into the instrument to make beautiful sounds. I remembered his hair color. I remembered the shoes he wore. I remembered experiencing things no child should experience. I remembered feeling desperately unsafe and fearful around that man every time I saw him at church after that.
I didn’t know what to do with those memories when they came flooding like a tsunami. The crushing weight of a moment I’d not remembered in the intervening thirty-five years began to put the puzzle together and help me understand my entry point into sexual addiction. But crumpled on the floor of the shower on Thanksgiving morning, all I could do was try to find the strength to get up, get dressed, and make it to my grandparents’ house by noon.
It was nearly a year from that Thanksgiving morning before I completely lost hope and coping skills. I admitted myself to the behavioral unit at a local hospital where I spent eight days figuring out how to live again without the overwhelming need to end my life.
Compounding the devastating losses I’ve already described was the silence of God. From childhood, I have been steeped in faith. I cannot recall a time when I have not felt God’s presence and his love for me. Though not audibly, God continued to speak into my life for the better part of four decades, especially in difficult times. But one day, a few days before that Thanksgiving morning, I realized I hadn’t felt God’s presence or heard his calling in several weeks.
The silence of God would continue for months – even as I type these words, I still sit in that deafening silence. I have claimed for my own the words found scrawled on the wall of a concentration camp outside Cologne, Germany:
I believe in the sun
Even when it’s not shining
I believe in love
Even when I don’t feel it
I believe in God
Even when he is silent
I have learned through the words and actions of new friends that I can be both known and loved. I have learned through tender moments and soft kisses that I can be understood and chosen. I have learned through faithful endurance that even the silence of God whispers the reality of my faith in God, and sometimes, that is enough.
I’m confident that when I need more, God will provide. I am learning things about myself and humanity I might have never understood – about suffering and loss, love and hope, perseverance and faithfulness.
There are so many things I wish I had known.
I wish I had known as a child how to speak my truth and find healing from devastating abuse. I wish I had known as an adolescent what sexual addiction was and how to find help. I wish I had known the liberating power of speaking the truth of my darkness – that when brought into the light, sin cannot keep me in bondage. I wish I had known how fragile all of the friendships and social networks were that I had developed in adulthood.
I wish I had known how resilient I am. I wish I had known that God has given me a voice to uniquely speak life into dead places, proclaim freedom to the bound, and help others choose life by authentically sharing my struggles. I wish I had known the victory God would provide, especially in times when there is nothing to be done but to sit in the brokenness and wait. I wish I had known how deeply holy lament is.
I also wish I’d known how necessary therapy and antidepressants are for me in difficult seasons of life.
Through this journey, which I am still walking, I have found that my greatest strengths are the parts I had previously labeled as weaknesses. I’ve never identified so strongly with the Apostle Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians:
“[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Over the past two years, I have learned to lean all the more into vulnerability. I have decided to use my life and experience to help others understand that they are not alone, that mental health is health, that it is not possible to be broken beyond repair, and that God truly sees and deeply loves each of us. I can’t teach or inspire those things by bragging about my strengths and victories. But in sharing my whole story, especially my weaknesses and how I am overcoming by the grace of God, I believe God can do great things through my story and my voice.
The harsh truth is that being honest about my brokenness meant suffering new losses, even tremendous, crippling loss. Facing your darkness may mean the same for you. But hear me: healing is worth it – freedom is worth it.
For more than a decade, I believed freedom was possible, but I knew it would come at a cost, and I was terrified of losing my wife. Satan used that fear and shame to keep me imprisoned. The best way I could have loved her was to tell her my truth, something I learned too late.
Ultimately, it is neither my choice nor my responsibility for how anyone receives and reacts to my truth. My responsibility is to speak my truth. The same is true for you. So, speak your truth – all of it. Bring it into the light and allow the healing to begin.
Alex – Dad, son, brother, and friend. Beloved of God. North Little Rock, Arkansas.