Clifford’s addiction

This is the story of how I deeply wounded the person I have loved most in my life by making some really poor decisions, and how I have lived differently since.

In May of 2005, on a picturesque hillside in the Lake District of northern England, with sheep bleating in the pasture below, I married the girl that I believed was the love of my life.  Our relationship had been founded on a sincere friendship, tested in the waters of sorrow over the tragic loss of a mutual friend, and our coming together was heralded by our friends as seemingly “divinely appointed.”

We had not been married for six months before I returned to some habits I hadn’t practiced since before we had even started dating.  Though I did not know it at the time, I was in the early stages of a brutal but subtle addiction to lust, primarily through the avenue of internet pornography.  I had told my wife about my struggles with lust in my past- how I had discovered, perused, and abused pornography through high school and college, and had patronized some sordid clubs in the last year during my bout with depression over the sudden death of our friend.  I told her everything was going to be okay, however, because I myself was convinced that those days were long gone and that anyway married life would put a swift end to my carousing.

As one “slip” turned into three and then four, I could feel myself losing control.  I would climb into bed in the evening, after a late night of “studying,” and slip in next to this girl, sleeping peacefully, who I genuinely loved as much as I knew how, and would lay awake for hours in unbelief of what I had just done, as the adrenaline slowly faded from my nerves.  I considered myself devoutly religious and concerned about my actions before God, and this hypocrisy, as I see it was now, proved to be a huge stumbling block to my recovery.  We attended a small Christian university and both enjoyed reputations of leadership and respect.  So it was cowardice that made me first lie when she asked if I had struggled with lust since our wedding.  I was afraid; afraid that I would lose respect in her eyes and my reputation.  A few weeks later I came clean, and then had to witness her broken hearted tears as I promised to change.  That first lie would set the precedent for a pattern that became all too familiar in our marriage: slipping, getting caught, promising, lying, slipping, getting caught….

I have no idea when I crossed that fateful line, but at some point seeking out personal ads online.  It started with a curiosity, just to see if there were real women on the other side and not automated responses from some seedy website.  The first response I got was like a dose of dopamine I had not previously experienced and made me high.  From there my problem grew into obsessive thinking and daydreaming, compulsively checking my email, and eventually posting my own ads.  Simultaneously with this new addiction, I discovered massage parlors, and now had a way to get my dopamine that I was sure wouldn’t qualify as adultery, since there was no real sex involved.  Unfortunately this habit required that I come up with extra money, and so I became a thief as well – a thief, who stole from my own paycheck in small enough amounts so my wife never caught on.

This whole time we were living in New York and my wife was in school, in an intensive program, trying to keep her head above water and enjoy the city life with her husband, whom she loved and admired. Of course I was eventually caught.  After spending some $4,000 on my habit, meeting up with two anonymous women, and wasting hundreds of hours in fruitless pursuit of possibilities, my amatory chimera crumbled in my hands.  I will never forget the look on my wife’s face.  She didn’t know who I was anymore, like I had been wearing a mask our whole marriage.  In a desperate attempt to save my relationship, I entered a 12-step program for lust addiction, but I was sicker than I realized, and underestimated what recovery required.  After a year of moderate success, based mainly on fear of reprisal, I slipped again, perusing a personals site for possibilities, and I got caught.  Believing that I had done much more than simply surf a few sites, my wife responded quickly by moving out.  A couple of weeks later she read me the reasons why she was divorcing me.

The next day I left for a monastery a few hours away- with my life in my hands, I had to find God or die trying.  While I was there I felt led to do a few things: quit my job (which I had loved), fast for forty days to try and gain some clarity, and throw myself headlong into recovery, no matter what the cost.  I spent a year working at a grocery store, going to church whenever the doors were open, volunteering my extra time to help others, and praying and meditating for sometimes hours a day.  I didn’t get my wife back, but I got something better, my soul and some inner peace.  When she left me I thought my life was over, and I still cry from time to time, but I have forgiven her for giving up on me, premature though it may have been, for I know I looked hopeless. I am learning to forgive myself too, though at times that is the hardest part of all; I know that God doesn’t judge me, so how can I?  Now I am back at my old job, moving forward with my life, and trying to continue to live differently from the person I have been, sharing my story with others, and trying to pass on the message of healing and forgiveness that I have experienced.  I am convinced that forgiveness is the key, a divine key that can turn ashes into beauty.  There is always hope; no one is a lost cause.