This Is Cliff’s Story
I remember the first time I admitted my addiction to a roomful of strangers. It felt as if I was proclaiming to the world that I was a Nazi or some kind of ax murderer, but soon I realized the wide-spread nature of this addiction among many men and I knew I was not alone, in fact I was among a great majority of people who struggled with lust. It was ignorance and prejudice that caused me to see my own addiction as something separate from me…just as when I thought about food addiction I would picture a 300 pound woman eating chocolates in front of a soap opera, or an alcoholic living out of a cardboard box on skid row. I saw sexual addiction in my mind as a serial rapist or a child molester, certainly not someone like me who never did any of those things. How wrong I was about sexual addiction, especially my own…it was keeping me in denial and darkness.
My first experience with shame that I remember came when I was only five years old. I was in kindergarten and I remember that there was a tradition in my class where each child was made “sheriff” for a week. They would wear a sheriff’s badge and be an honored guest in our kindergarten class. I remember waiting anxiously for my turn, and when it came, I was very excited. During my week as “sheriff” I remember walking through one of the hallways at school and I saw one of my female classmates go into the girl’s bathroom.
I don’t know exactly why, but in my child-like curiosity, I looked inside the girl’s bathroom when the door opened to see if it looked the same as the boy’s bathroom, after all, I was “sheriff” and had special privileges. One of my other classmates saw me do this and reported it to my teacher. My teacher shared this in front of the entire class and asked me to return my sheriff’s badge.
I was humiliated and shamed before the entire class. I remember feeling my face get hot. I’m sure it must have been very red as well. Even though this was not something specifically sexual, in my 5 year old mind I related any experience with the opposite sex as being shameful and wrong. Since my kindergarten teacher was also female, my shame and guilt became even greater. This set the stage for how I would feel about myself in the future.
All through elementary school I was a terrible student, barely passing at all, and not really caring if I did. In fact, my worst subject was music. I could not seem to understand how it worked and why it was so complicated.
My brother was seven years older than I was, so when I was nine or ten, he was in high school. We shared a room together since we didn’t have a very big house. One day I remember finding a pornographic magazine that belonged to my brother. My young eyes stared in amazement at images I had never seen before in my life. Again, a sense of shame overwhelmed me. I knew I shouldn’t be seeing this and put it away, believing that something terrible would happen to me as a result of that experience, but when it didn’t, I was drawn back to it again and again, not understanding why I was feeling these things. Why didn’t my father tell me about all of this and why didn’t he protect me from it?
Sex was a word that was never spoken in our home. By it’s very absence, something told me that it must be wrong or evil, just confirming the feelings I already had. No one told me about God’s plan for sex, or that it was intended as a beautiful expression of love between a husband and wife. Finally, one day my father gave me a book entitled, “what every young boy ought to know.” It was a book that I’m sure had been passed down through the generations since it was copywritten in 1849. I eagerly began reading the book. My father turned over page corners on the pages he wanted me to read carefully. They all related to sexual self-gratification and warned that mental illness and in some cases, blindness, could result from such an activity, also stating that I would be eternally damned for doing such things.
My father never spoke to me about the book or asked me if I understood it. I guess he figured that he had fulfilled his “duty” as a father and didn?t want to have to answer any questions. of course, I was afraid to ask my father anything about it. At a very young age, I was faced with the prospect of mental illness, blindness, and eternity in hell for something I couldn’t stop. Not once in the book did it mention the process of reproduction or sex as an expression of love, so I couldn’t understand what sex was for in the first place, except to plant guilt and shame, and now fear, into my mind.
The biggest pain for me growing up was wanting to know my father and wanting him to love me, but never getting what I needed from him. One thing I enjoyed a great deal as a child was baseball. In little league I was always asking if my dad would come to my games to watch me play. I remember the first uniform I received as a little leaguer: I was so proud of it, I think I slept in it the first night. My father never shared my excitement and seemed completely indifferent. Whenever I would get up to the plate to bat, I always looked over my shoulder to see if my dad had shown up at the game and always felt my heart sink when I realized he wasn’t there.
I really wanted him to be proud of me. one game I made a spectacular catch in center field, reaching over the fence. I was so excited I ran home as fast as I could after the game to tell my dad what happened. I remember he never even looked up from reading his paper. From this point on in my life I became dedicated to winning his love and approval no matter what it took.
Ironically, my parents sent me to a private Catholic school as a child to teach me how to be a Christian, but really only taught me how to be religious. One day I brought some pornography to school and showed it to some of my friends in the school yard. I was caught by one of the teachers and sent to the principal’s office. my parents were called and, of course, my father was furious that I had done such a thing. I can remember going to my room that night to act out privately to stop the pain in my heart from another rejection from me dad. I didn’t know how to get free from this thing I didn’t understand.
My parents sent me to a psychiatrist which, at that time, meant you were “nuts.” I remember the psychiatrist asking me questions about my feelings and my behavior and I was so ashamed and humiliated, I remained completely silent through the entire session. That was the only session I had. After that, my parents just pretended that it never happened and I remained confused, alone and ashamed of who I was.
Although I was a poor student in elementary school, when I reached high school I became a model student. I had actively begun my quest for perfection to win my dad’s approval. I was on the honor roll in school every semester. I acted in all of the school plays and I began to sin in the school choir. I started to like music and singing. I was enjoying drama and music and I felt I was good at it. Once again, my father did not share my enthusiasm, saying, “Why don?t you pursue something that will help you make a living rather than some ‘sissy’ drama thing?” This angered me, thought I didn’t dare share my anger with my dad..that was too dangerous, but I did feel good enough about what I was doing to keep doing it in spite of my father’s comments.
My largest project in high school was when I as 16. I wanted to put on a variety show for the community, so I met with the city council to secure an auditorium, applied for all of the permits, talked to several newspapers to get advertising, and got together a bunch of my friends in music to put the show together. This would be my first time singing in public and I was petrified, not just because of normal stage fright, but also because my father was in the audience. The show received great reviews in the newspaper but all my father could say was that the amplifiers were “too loud.”
He continued to minimize my interest in things he thought were “sissy” in his words. To my dad, anyone who was shaped in creative or artistic ways was “weird” in some way. I can still remember the pain I felt when my father called me “queer” for wanting to pursue more artistic endeavors. Although I knew I had never struggled with homosexuality and had no desire in that regard, that statement would cut into me for years to come. There could have been no more hurtful thing that I could have heard from my father than that.
Even though my addiction raged daily in my mind, I was very shy around girls. In my junior year I met a girl and we sent steady through my senior year. Although we never technically had sex by definition, we pushed that definition to the edge. This fueled my addiction even more and I became a slave to my thoughts and pornography became a regular companion.
I graduated from high school and went to college. I was, at the time, hopelessly addicted to the relationship I had with my girlfriend. She soon found someone else and I was devastated. I began a period of isolation and increased exposure to pornography. I wanted my girlfriend to want me back again, and since it looked like musicians get all the girls, that was the life for me. I learned to play the drums and got a band together and began playing in clubs while in college. This did not have the desired effect on my girlfriend, so I threw myself even more deeply into the music. Since I didn’t get along with the piano player in the band, I decided to learn the piano myself at age 19. I studied for hours and hours each day, and soon the piano became an obsession to me, taking the place of my ex-girlfriend. Even though my motives were unhealthy, God had a plan to use my passion for the piano later in my life. With the help of a gifted teacher, and nearly constant practice at the piano, I began to play professionally after one year of study.
But, I was still deeply addicted to the behavior that was taking me deeper and deeper into darkness. My rationale was that everyone I knew was doing the same thing so it must be a “guy thing.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. My complete sense of self esteem was tied up in music, and the female attention I received from it, but there was still a haunting loneliness deep inside of me that wouldn’t go away.
By this time I had accumulated a considerable collection of pornography. In my mind, I had a relationship with the women in these magazines and for a while it took the loneliness away, but the relief times got shorter and shorter and less and less effective.
While working in a nightclub I met a woman who later became my first wife. She told me the first night we met that she had been attacked that very night at a nearby park. Naturally, as a skilled rescuer, I immediately jumped into an unhealthy relationship and we were married about a year later. I found out after we were married that she had never been attacked at all, but that she had said that to draw me into a relationship with her, and of course, it worked, but the foundation for our relationship was more than shaky. I was no able to actually make a living at music, contrary to my father’s earlier statements and I thought that this would show him that I was worthwhile and a success. It still didn’t make a difference, so I continued on my quest for acceptance.
I thought that marriage would end my struggle with lust, but it continued regularly and between my wife’s “victim” issues and my sex addiction, we became more and more distant from each other. I mistakenly thought that since we never really fought, that our marriage was okay, and besides, I was completely occupied with music and I really didn’t have the time to work on a marriage anyway.
One day I got a call from my agent saying that there was a weekend opening at the Sahara hotel in Lake Tahoe, but it was just as a fill-in for a couple of days. I jumped at the chance and after the job was done, the head of the hotel came up to me and asked if we were interested in staying longer. He booked us for an additional 6 weeks and told us that we would never be out of work if we were interested. For the next five years we were playing all of the finest hotels, nightclubs and casinos in the country. We were hanging out with celebrities and the best musicians in the business. I thought that I had truly “arrived,” and that fame and fortune were my destiny.
I had now reached the point where I was making a great deal more money than my father. I was certain that this would really impress him. I would send home photos and press releases expecting to hear, “Son, I’m proud of you,” but of course, I was again, disappointed.
I managed to stuff it all away again and concentrate even more heavily on the music and my addiction. After all, my band was very successful, we had recorded an album, and I was too busy to be thinking of negative things. Since I led the group, I was responsible for dealing with agents and managers, doing all of the business of the band, signing the contracts, and arranging and scoring all the music we did. When I wasn’t doing that, I was practicing at the piano…I had also become a workaholic, working 14 hours a day and leaving no time for a marriage that was already dying. I believed that I was headed for the top. My ego was way out of control and the opportunities to act out were endless. I was enslaved even more deeply by my sexual addiction.
My first wife would almost always travel with me on the road. Little did I know that when I was performing at night, she was in the hotel room, drinking herself into oblivion and keeping it a secret. I’m sure if I had been more alert, I would have seen it, but I was distracted to the max.
One fateful evening on the road, with less than five minutes before my band was to go on stage, I received an urgent phone call. It was my mom telling me that my Dad had had a massive heart attack and may not live through the night. My heart sank as I went on stage that night, hoping I would get the chance to see my dad again. The next morning I found out he had died and I knew finally that the words I needed from him would never come. I felt as though all of my accomplishments were in vain. I had been living my life totally for my father’s acceptance.
About a year later I came off the road and my first wife and I bought a home in California and had a child together. At this time, we joined a church and began regular attendance. From time to time I would go out on the road again, but would continue to maintain contact with the church. My first wife continued her drinking and soon after that, began a relationship with the man she worked for, keeping it a secret for a long time. when I suspected something was wrong, I knew I could no longer live in denial and so we both sought counsel from our pastor. My wife would appear sincere, but continued her relationship. I was told by the pastor to go ahead and pursue a divorce since my wife was continuing her adulterous affair. On his advice we were divorced.
Of course, I was devastated, lonely and needy, and discouraged. My pastor too a personal interest in my grief and met with me to encourage me and counsel me. one day he came to my home and to my great surprise made a sexual advance to me. I was stunned beyond words and then became very angry and I literally physically ejected him from my home, using words that pastors are not used to hearing. I was shaken after he left and I remembered the words my father had said years ago when he called me “queer.” I knew he was wrong but still I felt ashamed of what had just happened.
Now that my wife was gone, and I had separated from my church, I gave myself complete permission to act out with as many women as I could. I was still in the music business, working in clubs and working a sales job during the day. During this time, I’m ashamed to admit that sex with many different women was what my life was all about. I had to “conquer” in order to feel good about myself. This went on for about four years. I began attending another church, but never really received any spiritual growth since it was a very legalistic church.
One evening I found myself at a party and in walked someone I couldn’t take my eyes off of. She was beautiful and had a great personality. We started dating, and as always, my mind was focused on sex. In the beginning, that was my main focus in the relationship, but I was to find that this person was someone I would soon grow to love, even though I was not capable of real love at that time. I walked into her life when I was at the height of my uncontrolled behavior and she was going through a divorce. Once again, I became the rescuer. She had just become a Christian and was attending a new church called Saddleback. We remained sexually active at first because she’d never been told that this was not God’s will and, of course, I wasn’t about to tell her. We dated for about a year and without recovery, we weren’t aware of all of the painful past each one of us brought into the relationship. Not only did I not realize my own issues, but my wife also was not aware of the effect of her own childhood abuse which led her into food addiction and codependency. We decided we wanted to get married and we met with our Pastor who “spilled the beans” about God’s will for sex. We decided from that point to remain abstinent sexually until we were married to follow God’s plan for our relationship. Of course, it was difficult, and I continued to struggle daily with lustful thoughts. I knew I had to stop, but I didn’t know how.
Our marriage in the beginning was extremely stressful. Not only were we trying to make our relationship work, but we were also trying to make a blended family, with step parents and step children, work. The stress drew me back into my addiction once again. Although I was never physically unfaithful to my wife, I began a phone relationship with another woman and actually had lunch with her once.
When my wife confronted me with our phone bill and recurring phone numbers, I had to confess my actions to her. Only six months into our marriage, I was told that it was over. I had deeply hurt the woman I loved and again feared another divorce. Instead of divorce, we began some serious counseling with a trained Christian counselor and remained together, but our relationship was deeply scarred and there was no trust left. As I “white knuckled” my behavior I remained okay for a while, but it eventually broke down. My wife and I began attending Celebrate Recovery in 1992, and since I didn’t know what group was right for me, I attended the men’s codependency group since sexual addiction was something I had never heard of before. In time I began making 900# phone calls to get my fix and I knew I was out of control.
I recall one night in the men’s codependent group I felt compelled to share that I thought I might have a problem with lust. I remember that there were 13 men in the group that night and 11 of them admitted to the same problem. For the first time I realized that I wasn’t alone. But, I didn’t know how to get help. my wife gave me a book about sexual addiction. It was entitled “Lonely All The Time” and just the title alone spelled out my life. I read the book and knew that this was me. When my wife found out about the 900# phone calls, I knew I had to get help or our marriage was over. I went to the Christian therapist that my wife was seeing and he told me that he would not treat me unless I attended seven sexual addiction meetings in seven days and he would see me in a week. I obtained a list of secular meetings and that week I drove all over Southern California to get all of my meetings in. I remember walking by the meeting room and staring in just to see what sexually addicted people really looked like. The fact is, they look just like everyone else.
By God’s perfect timing, Celebrate Recovery began a sexual addiction group one week later led by a Christian psychologist who still remains my sponsor and dear friend. That was nearly six years agoa dn by God’s amazing grace, I have remained sober since that meeting. At that meeting there were only 4 people who showed up including the leader. God began changing my heart in a way that I could never begin to describe. When I accepted WHAT I was, I was able to appreciate WHO I was…who God made me to be and what I could give back to Him.
The turning point in my recovery came one night when I was driving home from a therapy session. I realized what a major role my father had played in my life and in my addiction. I was able to let all of those years of anger I held in come out as I drove home. I became so angry, I had to pull over the car. After I had raged in my car at my father, I sobbed for about 20 minutes on the side of the road, when I realized what I had lost, and all that I did to try to get it back. I also realized that it was there all the time…my heavenly Father was holding me close to Him even in my darkest moments. If I had only seen Him, I would have been healed sooner.
As I continued in sobriety, I began to see other lives around me change. I not only saw God work in my own life, but in the lives of other men as well. After some sobriety, I was asked to lead the meeting each Friday night, an experience that has enriched my life and my relationships more than I can say.
In the first meeting there were only 4 people and now it is standing room only every Friday night with people attending from as far away as San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
God speaks to me most effectively through the Psalms. I think that the reason I can relate so well to David is that he was not only a musician, but also what looks to me to be an out of control sex addict. What is so amazing to me is that the Bible calls him “…a man after God’s own heart.” That God could embrace a sex addict in that way is such a wonderful encouragement to me, but my encouragement also comes from the thought that God save His best stuff for people like me…people with a weakness. That’s why I love people in recovery…because we come to God not just to praise Him for who He is, but because our very survival depends on it.
I must thank first of all, my Lord Jesus for taking me back again and again, over and over, until I had finally given up on doing things my own way. He is the reason I am sober…but He has also put people in my life who spoke His heart and passed on His strength.
I must thank the scores of men who have shared their stories in meetings through the years who never knew the effect it had on me…and to the men I meet every Friday night to share their struggles in an effort to honor their wives and their families by seeking God’s healing. They are to me, the heroes of the Christian life and I am proud to call them my friends.
And of course, in my most inspired moments, I could never find the words to thank my wife for staying with me through it all, and for honoring her commitment to the Lord and to our marriage. Next to the Lord, there is no one I’d rather spend time with than her and I have grown to love her in a way that only God could create in my heart.
I believe that there is someone who is listening tonight who struggles with these same things. I just want you to know that you’re not alone and there’s a place where you can be accepted just as you are by other men who know your struggle and will share the hope and healing they have found here at RSA.