My story begins much like other stories from middle America. Two parents, an older sister, and a cocker spaniel named Mak. Life seemed normal and good. Both my parents worked. We ate dinner together most nights. We vacationed once a year. I had my own bedroom and a record player. Not bad.
Looking back, I recall both sets of grandparents passed away before I was 10 years old and my parents didn’t have many close friends, if any. I didn’t really know my extended family. I did have a group of neighborhood buddies: Jeff, Marvin, Brad, and Roger. We were all the same age and we had each other’s back. Even at a young age, respect was important. We protected the friendship. I trusted them. These guys were my guys.
When I was 14 my parents divorced. My mom moved out and my dad began to live the life of a bachelor. The unspoken rule in the house became: “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” It all seemed normal. I entered high school and my early life friendships began to fade away. My family was fractured and my guys were gone. I officially entered the world—alone.
Around this time, pornography was introduced (thanks Dad) and I began a 15 year journey into the wilderness. Where I wandered. Seeking. Without a guide. Alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity all became a normal part of life, as did the negative consequences of these behaviors. I sought out people and experiences that would fill a void in my life. Seeking a place to fit in and to be affirmed—to be respected. I sought conquest and living life on my terms, without rules or boundaries. I wanted to prove “I had what it takes.” No one ever told me I did.
But in the wake of my choices and behavior was emptiness, heartache, pain, and destruction—the exact opposite of what I was trying to achieve. The void had not been filled. I was building a legacy and slowly giving away my life and parts of my soul. I had unwittingly become a byproduct of my family’s norms, values, and belief system and of a culture that was relationally disconnected.
My early life story closely resembles the lives of so many others. People who carry into adulthood the burden and pain of their youth and their choices in life. As a clinician at Pure Desire I speak with these people. Every. Single. Day. People who are stuck in the painful trajectory of their family of origin and who, like the earlier version of me, attempt to cope and medicate the pain away with unhealthy and unwanted sexual behavior. Despite the negative consequences, they cannot stop the destructive behaviors.
Only when the pain and shame become too great to bear alone do they reach out for help. This is when they contact Pure Desire.
Not only do my early years parallel the story of others, but my story of restoration also resembles the people—men and women—who demonstrate the courage and commitment to face their greatest fears and move forward in community and close relationship with others who can guide, support, and encourage them to reach the higher ground of freedom and health.
How does recovery happen? Pick up my story at age 28. My behaviors had not changed much. I was still chasing the next high—living in my addictions. If I had been asked if I believe God has a great plan and purpose for my life, I would have answered with a resounding, “Say what?” I had no clue who Jesus is or what a relationship with Father God could look like. I was clueless (although I knew He existed). I continued to wander in darkness. But something stirred within me. God was revealing Himself to me. I knew there was a better life, a life I was not living.
What I slowly discovered is that God does have a plan and a purpose for my life (and yours!) and for the lost and alone child who stood before Him. On His time frame, the Lord revealed Himself by strategically placing people in my life. People who spoke truth, encouragement, love, and integrity into and over my life. These people called me on my misguided thinking. With them I could process my pain, emotions, fears, and losses. They were actual living examples of God’s love in my life, which was the type of relationship I had wanted all along!
I began to seek these people out. I knew I needed them in order to break free from the burdens I carried and to become healthy. Do you see the common thread of recovery? A loving God and supportive loving people! And the Lord used them to help set a course correction in my soul, to fill the void in my heart.
It took four years before I realized that I could only live fully and thrive with Jesus, and with others who love Him, in my life (yes, I’m a slow learner!). Shari, Ted, Marc, Warren, and Carl all played an important role in helping me see and move into the greater plan and purpose for my life. The Lord’s plan.
As I took the necessary steps and stayed consistent in the work of recovery, change occurred. I also stepped back from unhealthy relationships to break the bond of negative influence they had on my life. Yep, that was Dad.
As I continued on this new path—a path of renewal—the doors of opportunity began to open. I became involved in ministry. In community. In real relationships. My true self and the man who God designed me to be began to emerge. Through these efforts, I was creating a new normal! I no longer needed the addictive behaviors to help me feel “normal” and to fill the void in my life.
This was not easy nor did it happen quickly. Just ask my wife, Shari, who I married when I was 31. She has been instrumental in my growth journey. She has been my greatest ally. She is my greatest earthly love.
My story is just one story and it’s not unique. Every day I see the renewal and freedom Jesus is orchestrating in the lives of His people.
For Pure Desire counseling clients and group members, some of the transformations have been phenomenal—from wounded, lonely, and fearful boys to men of integrity and honor. Men who have learned to move past their protective selfishness, speak truth, and fight for their marriages, for their families, and for their communities. Each day they claim the higher ground the Lord is calling them to occupy.
I see women who have had a lifelong struggle with acceptance—not having a clear and respected voice in relationships. Women who carry the burden of feeling “less than.” The transformation in their hearts and minds is no different from the men. Confident, godly women are the conscience of our nation.
It’s a privilege to witness the amazing transformations in people who are committed to claiming higher ground for their lives.
Over time, I realized that despite my awful choices earlier in life, I am forgiven. Unburdened. Set free. I am accepted—by God and by others. Despite the poor choices of my youth, the Lord Jesus never gave up on me. And He will never give up on you. Forgiveness is available to all who fully pursue Christ and His healing power in our lives.
Do I still carry the pain of some of those earlier choices? Yes. Do they hold me back? No. Do the memories keep me on track to do the right thing? Absolutely! Do I still have honorable people speaking truth into my life? Of course! Am I still on the path to becoming the man God designed me to be? This is my prayer!
Just confessing my life story is not enough. I’ve done it hundreds of times. Experiencing the joy of living authentically is not enough. I’ve claimed that joy for almost 30 years.
Next level change begins by investing what has been received in recovery and paying it forward into the lives of others. As we experience freedom from addiction and relational pain, we take back what the enemy sought to destroy and then use it to glorify a loving and caring God.
Wherever you are in your life journey, know there is hope, and there is a heavenly Father and people who truly care for you. If you need help, reach out. If you are looking to support others in their recovery, reach out. Your life matters.
A prayer and then a call to Pure Desire may be a good next step. It was for me.
Tyler is the Clinical Director at Pure Desire. He is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT). Tyler has a Master's Degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from George Fox University. He is a contributor to Pure Desire's marriage resource Connected: Building a Bridge to Intimacy.