It's one of the greatest moments in Toy Story. When pressured to take sides in an argument, the T-Rex panics: "Well, I mean, uh...I don't like confrontations!”
This is what I feel: My dad, wonderful person that he is, doesn't do well with confrontations. He appears to have left a trail of messes – at churches, workplaces, family events. I don't know... it's really hard for me to talk about my parents' weaknesses. In each situation, it's hard to tell how much my dad is the problem and how much he's the victim. All I know is that I have a deep-seated fear of repeating his mistakes. So when I have to deal with confrontation at work, I get sick to my stomach.
This is what I've heard: When I think I've lost my temper, that I've shown anger that I'm really going to regret, most people didn't even know I was mad. When they do know, I hear that I didn't come across as a jerk – but as a guy who's showing frustration just like everybody else does. My fear that I'm repeating my dad's mistakes appears to be unfounded.
I guess what I hate the most is being vulnerable. I don't like looking out of control. I'm terrified of being the fool who made a stupid mistake, argued about it with the boss, and got fired. I'm afraid of finding out that I'm my dad.
I took the "Days Sober" widget off my blog. I'm sick of it, and it's become an impediment to writing. In church-ese we say "We count people because people count," and it's the same thing here: While the focus should be on *quality* ("progress not perfection"?), you eventually have to measure some kind of *quantity*. In church-land, that's the size of your congregation compared to last year. In recovery it's how long you've been sober.
A year and a half ago, after everything crashed and burned, I found a counselor who specializes in treating sex addiction. It's been a quite a ride - illuminating and excruciating and encouraging. I feel like I've made progress for the first time in a decade, which isn't true, because that invalidates all the work I did before, which was also exhausting, but not very encouraging. After truly addressing my sex addiction in a structured program with a trained therapist, I made it to fourteen months. In my world, that's relatively awesome.
After a year of working part time, I became over-employed last September. Who complains about having too many opportunities to work? I guess I shifted from a life of recovery (with work on the side) to a life of work (with recovery on the side) and I just can't do that. I relapsed in November, and again last week. This looks depressingly like my old cycle.
That's okay. I have hope. Maybe for the first time in a while. When I would relapse before, people would always say Get a sponsor and work the steps. Get a sponsor and work the steps. Get a sponsor and work the steps. Get a sponsor and blahblahblahBLAHBLAHBLAH
There, I said it. I just lost every single one of my faithful AA readers. (Funny fact: I don't have any more faithful readers!) I know that's blasphemy, and I have the deepest respect for AA. Really - I'm not just saying that. I once read that AA was the most important invention of the 20th century, and I often bring this up to people. For how long have alcoholics faced jails, institutions and death, with no hope at all? Forever, that's how long. 1935 was the first time in history that alcoholics had hope. Ever.
But I kept doing those things and doing those things and I learned incredible things about addiction and recovery, and I still believe that if I'd kept at it I could have found some sobriety in AA - but what an incredible difference to be working with a counselor who truly understands the agony and darkness of my world as a sex addict, and even more so as a sexual anorexic.
But as I was saying earlier I have hope. I'm not going back to the same thing I've done for years, but back to something that really began to change my life in September of 2011. I guess it sounds like I'm proselytizing, but the material put together by Patrick Carnes is the thing I need to get back to. If you happen to be a sex addict who's not sure where to start, www.sexhelp.com is the best place.
Tonight I had another talk with my son James about his success in staying away from internet porn. Not because of some program I installed on his computer - though these can be helpful - or because he's afraid of punishment - though he should be afraid of consequences - but because he's spent the last year learning with me about addiction and healthy sexuality, about managing feelings and urges, about self-care and asking for help, and accountability and "checking in" with other guys. I'm glad that the things I'm learning aren't just for me.
There's that swirling cognitive dissonance that happens in the mind of an addict. It's a kind of cascade where one disturbing thought triggers another, and you think you see patterns. Maybe those thoughts are real, meaningful and meant to be explored; maybe they're bullshit - the kind of epiphanies you think you're having when really you're just... high. Or insane. Like when John Nash sees secret codes embedded in magazines in A Beautiful Mind. That movie feels eerily like home.
I love Dexter, the TV show, with its serial-killer-as-addict metaphor, so I've been reading Dexter, the novel, to see where it all started. (Surprisingly, the book's far more disturbing than what Showtime allows on my TV screen.) In an uncharacteristically spontaneous killing, Dexter executes a serial killer who's abducted, sexually abused, and murdered four "light-haired" junior high girls. Children. And I start thinking that if I were a serial killer mine would be dark-haired, because my fetish is for Latinas.
What the hell?
I read Tim Allen's first book years ago (awesome title: Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man) and all I remember are his recollections of prison. He posits that men are essentially monsters - that without women around, men descend into a level of barbarism that none of us is comfortable acknowledging.
Junior high girls have been swimming in my pool and running through my house for days. I remember when American Beauty came out and I wondered if that would be me: a "sedated" father in a miserable marriage who ends up lusting after his daughter's friend. I sure had the stifled-rage-husband thing licked. But I figured I wouldn't notice Ashley's friends until she was in high school.
I was wrong. I'm sorry if that bothers you. I'm not a pedophile, but I've known a few and they need grace just like the rest of us. (And also they need to stay away from kids and schools, forever. That's just common sense.) But regardless of our society's rules, once a kid hits puberty, he/she is sexually viable. Not emotionally ready, or mature enough, but all the equipment's there, and it's hard to miss it when it's bouncing around your living room in a bikini.
When I was using and acting out, I read porn novels because they were easier to hide than picture porn. I stumbled into stories about incest, abduction, BDSM and "non-consensual sex." Anything to get more of a thrill than last time. That's how addiction works.
My addict (Dexter's "Dark Passenger") sees no lines between the man and the monster. What terrifies me more is that he sees no lines between fantasy and reality. Am I a monster? If I took it all away - women (like Tim Allen's prison), social mores, law enforcement, faith, recovery - what would I be? What acts am I capable of?
I'm working on a character reference letter for someone I worked with this past year. This person had sex with a high-schooler that I know. How does one end up in that place?
How does one not end up in that place? It just doesn't seem all that far away. Sadistic sexuality, suppressed monsters, vulnerable teens, forbidden affairs... all swirling together in that dark place where my addict lives. And I peer into that darkness and I think I'm seeing me.
But I'm the one here in the light, and I've been here for almost a year. It's okay to be scared of the dark.
I wish I only had to introduce you to ME: dad, husband, songwriter, pastor. That’s the guy I see in the mirror. I love my kids, I’m good at fixing things, I love to read or chase my dogs around the house. But I lose track of myself sometimes when I’m hurting. That’s when my addict comes around, the bastard who would throw it all away for a moment alone with his drugs and his porn. He cuts me with a razor and he steals things just for the rush. He’s even tried to kill me. But there’s a huge difference between us, and I’ll tell you what it is: He’s a coward. And I’m not. I won’t let him have my kids, my beautiful wife, my job or my home. And since he hates exposure, I’m going to tell you all about him. I’m Eli, and I’m an addict.