Escape From The Manhole

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Continued from Part 1...

In utter desperation, I joined a Twelve Step group for sex addicts that met at a Presbyterian church, not far from my home. At the first meeting I found much to my shock that I was not alone in my struggles. Most of the people in the group led seemingly ordinary lives, yet had this dark secret. I immediately felt relief that finally there were others who shared my struggle. I stayed up late at night reading the "White Book," the sex addicts reference manual, identifying with every word on the page. I started going to a second sex addicts group so that I could get urgent support twice a week. I started an accountability partnership with a young Christian fellow. I called him several times a day describing my obsessions and the behaviors I gave in to. I felt relief with every visit to the meetings when I could announce how long I'd been "sober." After about one month, however, everything seemed to cave in. So many of the people in my twelve step group seemed to be getting better while I was getting worse. My new found hope was not working anymore.

My family life had degenerated into an exercise in frustration. After I had engaged in my compulsive behaviors, I felt horrible guilt and an overwhelming need to confess. I would dump it all on my poor wife who tried very hard to be supportive. Finally, she said that she didn't want to hear it any more. She was working and caring for our home, our three children, and me. So stressful was the situation that she was on tranquilizers and seeing a therapist just to cope. She kicked me out of the house on a few occasions and threatened a divorce if my compulsions ever involved another woman. Sometimes days would go by without us having a civil word to say to each other, a painful tension permeating all our interactions. It was hard to believe that once we had been so close. We had all but stopped having sex; it was just too stressful for me to even try.

My grief was indescribable. I could not understand why I felt the urge to do things that went directly opposite to the way I felt about marriage and commitment. I was going down a path of destruction, losing all that was important to me. My wife, who had sacrificed her own career so that I could pursue graduate studies while she raised our three children, was clearly getting the short end of the stick. It appeared that all we had worked for together was liable to be destroyed by my inability to control my urges. I could not stand how I knew this made her feel. I tried to imagine how she felt; I even did a pretty good job of getting into her mind and actually feeling how she felt. I had hoped that this exercise would be enough to get me to stop my behavior. Rather, all it did was to make it even more painful when I did act out.

I began to fast once a week. I cried out to God for help louder than ever before, even sometimes going to a solitary place and screaming at the top of lungs. But regardless of my condition, and even though I was going out in the night performing compulsive activities, the one thing I stuck to was my weekly fast. I had made a pact with God that I would fast until my problem was resolved.

Meanwhile, my graduate studies were suffering irreparably. I was supposed to be hard at work writing up my Master's thesis, but I couldn't focus on it. I spent hours tweaking the margins of the title page and obsessing over the formatting. I never actually got so much as an outline down. I was doing no better in my classes. My work was usually late, but somehow I could always manage to "sweet talk" the professors into an extension. This time I had fallen so far behind that I was forced to take two incompletes. In one of the classes I still had to take the final, deferring only the term paper. During the take-home exam, instead of studying hard, I found myself hopelessly surfing the internet for on-line pornography.

The Cycle

It was at about this time, that I found myself in the position that I described at the beginning of this tale. At 4 a.m. I had just masturbated twice into a bucket and was now sitting on the floor of my kitchen, naked, with my wife's credit card in hand, talking with a sleazy telephone actress and telling her about all of my pain and suffering. I heard my wife coming towards the kitchen. I held the telephone with one hand and grabbed the door with the other so that she could not come in. She pulled hard and won me over in my drunken and degraded state. I lay there, stupefied, not knowing quite what to say. She looked at me and my magazine with disgust and turned to go back to bed. I insisted that she stay up and hear my sad tale, which came out as tears and nonsensical babbling. I wanted to give up my faith -- it was just too hard.

Fortunately, I did not give up on God for more than two days. The following week I redoubled my efforts to stay away from temptation. I continued fasting one day a week to appeal to God to rid me of the obsessions. I drove miles out of my way to avoid known billboards featuring scantily clad women that might "trigger" my compulsions. I began handcuffing myself to the bed at night and giving my wife the key so that I would not go out and do something I would really regret later on. This was the first time in weeks that I could sleep through the night without obsessing about sneaking out and getting a prostitute.

Shortly thereafter, my wife told my sister, who is a psychologist, what had been going on. Prior to this point it had all been a big secret, but at the urging of my sister I admitted myself to the hospital emergency room. I described my symptoms to the doctor, who referred me to the psychiatrist on call. She came in and asked me a battery of questions. At this point she indicated to me that I probably had something called obsessive-compulsive disorder. This diagnosis was based on the nature of my obsessions: I couldn't get them out of my mind, they were distressing, and the resulting compulsions were destructive. She said that I would need a regimen of behavioral therapy for a few months and medications for at least a year.

I'm Not Crazy

I was admitted to the psychiatric ward where I spent the next five days and four nights. For the first time I felt "safe." A psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders came by the ward and ran a few tests on me. I was considered to have "moderate OCD" classified as "pure obsessional." My type of OCD was considered unusual in that most persons with the disorder do not actually act on their immoral obsessions. For this reason it was determined that there were psychological factors also involved; post-traumatic stress due to childhood abuse, dissociative disorder, and even bipolar disorder (manic depression) were all suggested by clinicians.

After my hospital stay I attended a day clinic for OCD for the next four weeks. There I learned to recognize, combat, and successfully defeat my obsessions. I had never felt so free in my life. I was a whole new human being! Realizing that my sexual thoughts meant absolutely nothing about me or my character was an incredible relief. I had never been able to isolate the obsessions so well -- simply thoughts which I could attribute to nothing more than a "brain quirk."

I continued to fast after my hospital stay. I believe that the strength and encouragement I received from this weekly commune with God was the primary reason for the success I gained from the medication and behavioral therapy. The therapy was based on the protocol described in Dr. Edna Foa's book, Stop Obsessing: How to Overcome your Obsessions and Compulsions. Termed "exposure and response prevention," it involved facing my fears directly until my anxiety subsided. This was so painful and frightening that I needed encouragement from God just to continue, and in fact the program was too difficult for many others. It was noted by many of the medical staff at the OCD clinic that I showed an unusually strong recovery, and I believe that this was mostly due to God's continuing presence during my efforts.

Since that time the sexual compulsions that plagued me for so many years have decreased tremendously. Within a few months, using a combination of medication and behavioral therapy, my sexual obsessions were gone. Although I have had times of struggle, my family life is better than it has ever been. I'm truly grateful to God for the help that I so desperately needed.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks go to all of those who made my recovery possible, especially Eda Gorbis, PhD. I thank God for orchestrating all the events which led to my healing, and my wife for continuing to love me even to this day.


About OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder afflicts one in fifty people. It is not well-understood by the general public, and thus many suffer needlessly because they do not know what is wrong with them or where to get help. Although thirty percent of OCD sufferers have sexual obsessions, we rarely hear about this specific manifestation of the disease. Shame and secrecy keep people from getting the help they need. If you are struggling with sexual obsessions and find that the misery caused by your obsession is greater than any pleasure from the corresponding compulsions, you could be one of the millions of Americans with OCD. Neither standard psychotherapy, twelve-step groups, nor any commonly understood spiritual disciplines will cure the obsessions.

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