Coming Clean: My Addiction Story

When I heard Micah Baldwin share at Big Omaha, I knew I was going to write this post someday. I should clarify that it was when I heard Micah share in 2009. When Micah shared at the recent Big Omaha, I was encouraged for a different reason than perhaps most of the crowd.

Last month, my boss, Lead Pastor Mark Ashton, asked me if I’d be willing to tell my coworkers about overcoming my addiction. It was a story I had told in private, and in small groups. I thought about Micah and how he told 500-600 people at Big Omaha, who he didn’t know, about his story of overcoming addiction. Telling the staff was not a big deal by comparison, but what I realized is this story about me would become quite public. I knew it would at some point. It’s time, though. As a way of memorializing the moment, I wore my Big Omaha shirt when telling my story. I shared the week following Big Omaha.

Below is what I shared with the staff. The story is told from the perspective of a church staff person to fellow church staff, that is what Mark was hoping with the story. I’ll add some details, that I couldn’t fit into the time I had, at the end of the post.

Thanks for reading.

I think some of you are aware that I’ve been working with leadership to plan, and develop, our next multi-site campus. I was asked to attend part of the last Governing Board meeting, and it was a great discussion that left me excited about the present, and future, of Christ Community Church. At the end of the discussion time, Mark asked for some of the elders to pray for this project, and for me. It was incredibly humbling. I couldn’t focus in on the prayers being said. All I could think about was God’s faithfulness, over the past four years, in helping me break free from an addiction.

Up until 2007, I had been battling a porn addiction. It started off innocuous enough. When I was starting out in ministry, I had been struggling with lust. I went to a leader and confessed my struggle to him. His first response was to laugh at me for being weak, and not being a man. I quickly laughed off my request as well. I didn’t want to appear weak, but all it did was further entrench the sin in my life. I was 20 years old. From that point on, my struggle bloomed into a full-blown porn addiction.

I privately battled this addiction because I was afraid of getting laughed at. I heard coworkers gossip about Christians that struggled with sexual sin. I saw Christians get fired because they had committed various sexual sins. I was not going to go public with my sin because I was afraid of the shame, the guilt, the stigma, and of not having a job.

Like many who privately battle addictions, I cried out to God to free me from the addiction. I rededicated my life to Jesus countless times, repented for every conceivable sin, made promises to God…and I still was an addict.

Well, I didn’t consider myself an addict early on, but I should have. My best guess is that I wasted a year of my life with my addiction. That’s 365, 24 hour days devoted to this sin. That’s time I cheated God and my family out of.

When I started working at CCC, I was finally starting to come to grips that I was an addict, but I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid and full of shame. I knew I needed to tell someone, but wasn’t sure who. I didn’t want to be laughed at again, I didn’t want to be a spectacle, I didn’t want to embarrass my family, and I didn’t want to lose my job.

In the midst of all this inner turmoil, a small voice always seemed to whisper inside me that I could talk to Steve Walters. I heard it, and believed it, but never acted upon it. Countless times I told myself I was going to go talk to Steve, and never did. I would try and concoct the perfect situation to talk to him, but it was never perfect enough.

In the summer of 2007, I went to Seattle to attend Dan Allender’s Story Workshop. I had heard Dan speak at Willow Creek and CCC, and had wanted to continue to learn from him.

While at the workshop, Dan said something that challenged me to finally confront my porn addiction. Deep down, I knew it was now or never.

It was a Friday night. I was hanging out at a Borders bookstore in downtown Seattle. I’ll never forget this night for a number of reasons. One being the night was the midnight release of the last Harry Potter book. As people were dressed up as wizards, witches and whomping willows, and arguing about whether Severus Snape was good or evil, I was sitting down, writing about my addiction and trying to compose myself as I was a mess of emotions.

The next day at the Story Workshop, we broke up into our smaller groups. I asked to start the time by sharing. I rushed through my porn addiction story and when I finished I bawled uncontrollably for a few minutes. However, I wasn’t laughed at this time. I was embraced by this group of people that didn’t know me 48 hours previously. They prayed over me. And instantly a weight I never knew was there was seemingly lifted off of me.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” From that point on, God started to author the redemption, and healing, from my addiction. It started when I confessed my sin to someone else.

While I was in Seattle, I called Steve Walters. He didn’t answer, but I left a voicemail saying we needed to get together and talk once I returned home. I didn’t want to take the chance that I’d somehow back out of talking to him once I came home.

On the flight home I wondered about what the future held for me. I wondered if Jana would leave me. I wondered if I would be fired. I wondered a lot of things, but I knew that I was in a better place with Jesus than I had been in a long time.

When I came home, the first thing I did was tell Jana. I had no idea what to expect, but she was proud of me for coming clean with her, and God, about my addiction. We’ve had to work through some things, but it was much easier because I took the first step. I came forward. I wasn’t caught in the act.

When I met with Steve, I came clean with him about everything. After spilling my guts, Steve was loving and merciful. He was supportive. He was a friend. He also made it clear that I was not in danger of losing my job. That was a relief.

He did tell me that there’d be some steps I’d need to take to get help. I didn’t care what they were. I was just grateful that someone was going to help. That someone was there for me. That someone was going to support me. That I didn’t have to wear a scarlett letter, so to speak. The thing was, I knew Steve would respond like this. And yet it took me forever to finally talk to him.

Part of the reason I had gone to Seattle was thinking God had some next step with work in store with me. However, that wasn’t the case. In so many words, God was telling me, “Before you can take the next step with work, I need to do a work inside you.”

Steve suggested the first thing I do was talk to Wendell. So, Wendell and I got together for lunch. I told him my story. He was supportive, almost giddy at what God was, and would be, doing in my life. Wendell suggested that I go talk to Jerry Busselman. I remember thinking, “Okay, but who else am I going to have to talk to?” Ultimately, I didn’t care. I wanted to break free from the addiction.

I met with Jerry and shared with him my story. Jerry was there for me, and started leading me down the road of recovery. There was no judgment from him. He loved and supported me. For the next few months I met with Jerry every week. He helped me address the root issue of my addiction. He helped me to retrain my brain, so to speak. Most importantly, he helped me to run to Jesus instead of run to porn as a coping mechanism.

In the fall of 2008, I made a commitment to Jana to not serve in any capacity outside of my normal work, for a year. I thought it was something God wanted me to do, and I wanted to do as well. I had cheated Jana early on in our marriage. I couldn’t go back and change things, but I could change the trajectory of our marriage.

I remember some people not understanding why I was backing off at serving at church. It wouldn’t be looked upon well, apparently, that I was taking time to focus in on my family. I didn’t care. If moving up the ladder meant sacrificing my family, and potentially slipping back into addiction, I was happy right where I was at.

I focused in on Jesus. I focused in on my family. I focused in on making sure I didn’t slip back into the cycle of addiction. I allowed God to do His redemptive work in me.

Back to the Governing Board meeting I was at last week where I’m discussing a future multi-site campus. At one point, I looked around the table and realized the individuals who I’ve talked to about my story in varying degrees. Mark Ashton, Kent Amstutz, Chad Reelfs, Nancy Fager. It was another moment of realizing God’s grace and faithfulness with the leadership here.

When I was an addict I feared my life would be ruined if I ever came clean about my addiction. But the opposite has been true. My life has never been better. My marriage has never been better. My family has never been better. My work has never been better. It was a journey to get to this point, but I was never ruined. God used the staff and elders of CCC to help me get to this point in my recovery.

If statistics bare out, there are a number of men and women in this room that are porn addicts. Perhaps it’s not porn that is your vice, but something else. Whatever it may be, I want you to know that as a fellow staff member who has walked the road of recovery and redemption for almost four years, it is safe to confess your sins and struggles here. You’ll get the help you need. The staff and elders will rally around you. But you need to take that first step. It’s much easier when you take the first step. It’s a lot more difficult, and you put your leaders in a difficult place, when you are caught in a compromising act.

God is faithful. He’s been faithful to me, and I know He can be to you. Thanks.

As I tell this story of my life, it’s usually been well-received. One reason it has become easier for me to talk about is due to the responses. I’ve had a number of people confess their own addictions to me after hearing me talk. I’ve had people confess to me about being victims of sexual abuse. I’ve had people confide in me their own dark secrets that have bogged them down. That has been rewarding. It’s been great to see how God has used my story to impact others, to free others.

Confessing such an addiction leaves you vulnerable, which is why Mark wanted me to share with the staff. I shared at a staff development meeting we have every so often. Mark wanted the staff to know that it is safe to talk to someone at CCC about any issue they are struggling with. As he and I noted, there are probably a number of people that heard the talk and struggle with some sort of addiction.

The connection with Micah Baldwin is funny and cool. Like I said before, when he shared at Big Omaha 2009, I got the idea to do a blog post about overcoming addiction. In 2009, Micah talked about learning from failure and how the biggest response he received, on his blog, was to talk about his failures. I knew I wanted to write about my addiction, at some point, on my blog. Then, at this year’s Big Omaha, Micah talked exclusively about beating his addiction. It was a reminder, and encouragement, to write this post. Micah and I even exchanged a few tweets and emails about his talk. It was great to see him share to such a big audience.

I know some may take issue with the whole idea of porn addiction, if it’s even legitimate. That’s fine. It was an addiction for me. I could not stop. It was my coping mechanism to deal with stress, the effects of my parent’s divorce, abandonment issues and more. I’d go on binges with it since it was so freely available online and through peer to peer networks. My best guess of wasting a year of my life on it is no understatement. As I said, that’s 365 days. That’s 8760 hours. That’s 525,600 minutes. It’s time wasted. Time lost that I cannot get back. Time I cheated away from Jana, my family, and my call in life.

Fortunately, I never used Christ Community Church’s network to access pornography.

I managed to hide my addiction quite well. I’ve been asked before why no one, especially Jana, didn’t pick up on anything? Looking back, there were warning signs, but that’s easy to do in hindsight. Jana believed the best in me when we were married. Also, the topic of sexuality is not something that was well taught growing up, especially in the church. The church avoided most sexuality discussions like they were the plague. It has been good to see some churches become more proactive in discussing the realities of the issue.

I was quite aware of the hypocrisy of me being a missionary, and pastor, while battling this addiction. I would have guys that would come to me asking for prayer or support in dealing with their own porn/sexuality issues. I’d give counsel to someone, and knew I needed to do what I was imploring them to do.

Jana has been gracious and supportive, but also helpful in my recovery. A great accountability. We’ve had great discussions about both of our lives. We’ve both been able to share with others about the topic. We both continue to study the issues related to addiction and sexuality for our benefit, and to help others out who deal with a variety of issues.

In breaking free from the addiction, one thing that was stressed to me was to not run to another vice, or thing, that would take the place of porn. This is easy to do. For instance, people will quit smoking, but then eat like crazy. Part of my recovery has been to properly respond to situations when in the past I would go to porn.

The first time I saw porn I was in elementary school. It was at a friend’s house.

When Duncan was born, we chose the middle name “Allen” as a way of honoring Dan Allender. Duncan was born almost one year after I started my recovery.

Here’s more information about The Story Workshop.

After I confessed in Seattle, I remember walking around the area, near Pike Place Market, and literally feeling I was lighter. I felt more connected with the environment around me.

At the end of the Story Workshop, we had a time of communion. I remember thinking and feeling that I didn’t feel guilty in taking communion. Before then, I had always felt guilt in taking community because of my addiction.

With future projects, work responsibilities, and increased pastoral responsibilities, one thing I’m cognizant of is making sure I surround myself with people that will keep me accountable.

Of course there is a lot more to say, but I’ll leave it with this. It’s from the film The Shawshank Redemption. It rings true to me.

Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of sh*t smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile. // Andy Dufresne – who crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side.

Scene from The Shawshank Redemption

11 thoughts on “Coming Clean: My Addiction Story

Add yours

  1. I've had to learn to control my addiction and I know how hard it is to hear yourself say it out loud to somebody else. You're very brave and I'm proud of you Robert! I know we don't know each other well yet, but thank you so much for sharing.


  2. Thanks everyone for your supportive comments! It brought a smile to my face when I opened up my laptop this morning and saw them. I wasn't sure what to expect this AM, so they were great to read. Thanks!


  3. Such a great testimony of God's faithfulness. This took courage, Robert…thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. My life has been affected by this addition as a spouse, but He (my Lord and Savior) remained faithful and taught me a lot about forgiveness. God bless…jo


  4. Robert –

    Thank you for your boldness and honesty.

    I'm reminded of Ps 40:2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

    You are certainly not alone in being mired in sin – we all are, it just takes different forms with each of us.

    I also loved Jana's response – not condemnation, but proud of you for being willing to confess. What amazing spiritual maturity for that to be her first response – you chose well, my friend!




  5. Jo and Kris, thanks for your comments!

    Jana has been, and continues to be, a great friend and wife. I couldn't have reached this point without her support and love.


  6. Just read this blog–I know we haven't been friends in quite awhile, but I just wanted to say how proud of you I am. I am so glad that you had supportive and encouraging friends and a wife who loves you so much and is committed to your marriage. What an amazing testimony of God's love for you, Robert!

    Blessings to you,
    Pam Mc


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