I’ll Do it Myself)
At the start of this study, I talked about the lies we tell ourselves about why we cannot reveal the truth to others. Today let’s tear these falsehoods down and see how they keep us a prisoner.
First, let’s consider the idea that “I just need to really try my best and I’ll be able to beat this on my own.” I told myself this story for many years, until finally I had to accept that if I really could take care of my problem by myself, I would have done it by now.
I will always be able to point at my efforts and say that they weren’t good enough to make the desired change, but if I just try harder next time, then it will be enough. There will never be a time where I can’t make that argument, because the only way to prove it wrong is to make the perfect effort and still have it fail. But since I am not perfect, I will never make the perfect effort, so I will never have the empirical proof to discredit the theory.
But at some point, I just had to step back and see that I was running in a hamster wheel. Theories are only as good as the results that you get from them. And if this one has only resulted in me remaining in the same place with no change, then clearly it isn’t a good theory. I had to accept that this wasn’t a philosophy for improvement, it was a philosophy for remaining right in the same place. It was a pernicious sophistry that enabled me to continue my addiction and never get any actual results.
The Shining Knight)
The other reason I had for not telling the truth was the image I was trying to preserve. I felt that I couldn’t let down my wife and kids, my church and neighbors, my friends and coworkers. I knew that bringing forward the truth would send shockwaves through the lives of those that were closest to me, and it would break many of their hearts. I told myself that I didn’t have a right to put these good people through that pain. If I couldn’t save myself, at least I could endure my damnation quietly and let everyone else go unscathed.
Except that I couldn’t do even that! Not all addictions show their destructive effects so obviously, but all of them, without exception, damage lives and relationships. Some do it in sudden, decimating blows, others erode and disintegrate the soul over time, but all of them leave a life that is hollow and broken.
Through great effort I was able to hide the damage and convinced myself and others that we were all doing fine, and I maintained this image for a very, very long time. On the surface I appeared perfectly fine, with everything still held together, but I could not escape the sense of my soul caving in.
I knew that every relationship that appeared happy and fulfilled on the outside was, in fact, predicated upon a lie, and therefore hollow. My wife thought she loved me, my friends thought they respected me, but they didn’t know the genuine me so how could they really? They loved and respected a façade because I hadn’t even given them the chance to decide what they thought of the real me. So, there were no authentic relationships in my life. The ties I was afraid of severing weren’t really there to begin with. All the things I was afraid to lose I’d never even had in the first place.
I kept my addiction a secret, and I rationalized doing so by telling myself that I would fix it by myself. I felt that I couldn’t break the “knight in shining armor” image that my family and friends had of me. My plan was to overcome my lust and pornography addiction on my own, and then, many years later, tell my family of my past with the reassurance that at this point in life I really was the person that they had always believed me to be. It was a plan as doomed to failure as it was dismissive of the feelings and autonomy of those around me.
When I was twenty-six, I realized that I had been addicted to lust in some form or another for twenty years, and I had been living a lie in my marriage for over five. At this point, I had to admit that I just wasn’t getting any better on my own. I had tried, I had really, really tried, but it simply was not working, and to continue saying that after twenty years of failure it was now about to start working was insanity.
Nor could I continue to believe that I was preserving relationships by living the lie. Things had been difficult for my wife and I for a while, and I knew the reasons why, but she was confused in the dark. She didn’t know why I was detached and unable to be fully present, she didn’t know why I was struggling to focus at work and had lost my job, she didn’t know why I was so absorbed with my selfish interests and constantly depressed. She didn’t know what the reason behind any of this was, but it was taking its toll on me and her and the relationship even so.
And so, on one particularly strained day, it finally occurred to me that I was destroying the marriage whether I told my wife the truth or not. I wasn’t saving anything by hiding the harmful things I had done; I was just dragging out the destruction in a more torturous manner.
Finally, I didn’t want to do this to my wife anymore, or to myself, or to the marriage. Finally, I accepted that even if telling the truth meant destroying everything in my life it would still be better than what was happening now. At that moment, the greatest kindness I could do to my loved ones would be to stop stringing them along and give them a chance to make what they still could out of the rest of their lives. It was the greatest kindness I could do for myself as well.
So, I confessed. I wrote a letter while my wife was away, admitting to what had been going on behind her back. I left it just inside the entrance of our home, and then I got in my car and drove as far away as I could. I knew I had to get far enough during this rare moment of commitment, so that I wouldn’t be able to turn around and get back to the house and hide the letter before she had already seen it.
And then, just like that, I wasn’t lying anymore. Just like that I was living in the truth. Perhaps it was an ugly truth, but it was the truth. And not one day since have I regretted that decision. The future was made uncertain, my relationships were made tenuous, but I never once questioned whether it was worth it.
As it turned out, after some rocky periods everything stabilized. My wife and I rekindled our marriage, I regained my children’s trust, I kept my new job, and I came back into the good graces of my church. But even if I hadn’t, I can truly and honestly say it would have been a small price to pay for the regaining of my soul.