Porn was my great thief of self worth for more than 28 years. I was 38 years old when, for the first time in my life, I said out loud to my wife, “I’m proud of who I am.” With tears in my eyes I reflected on the painful lies, deceit and heartache I inflicted on myself and my wife. That moment I realized I could not have been more free of shame, grateful and full of hope for the future.
I grew up in a Christian home where my parents sought to protect us from the world of sin. However, religion does not keep us from sin, but it can help us get out of it. I was 7 years old when I saw porn for the first time and was hooked from the go. I was the kid who, rather than feeling guilty, felt a physical rush that I wanted again and again. That rush became the escape I sought all growing up and into my teenage years. I had no idea what I had done to my brain by watching porn, how I had rewired it so I was emotionally disconnected from everyone in my life.
At age 19 I left college and decided to serve a 2 year mission for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This would be good I thought, I could stop this bad habit and move on. The first six months I was “white knuckling” it and soon acted out. That was the first time I felt the shame, the deep, deep shame of all my actions catch up with me. I was unprepared for the price of my addiction, something that at that point I wasn’t aware I had. My addiction told me how worthless I was and I felt it. It also told me that if anyone really knew me, they would not love me and not accept me. That feeling stayed with me everyday after. It did not matter how much I tried to pray away my addiction or the shame I felt I could not outrun this problem.
My thinking became skewed where I thought if I showed more faith or went 2 extra miles that I could earn the love and acceptance back of my Heavenly Father. I had no idea that I had the love and grace of the Lord all along. His love was never failing but addiction took that fact from me. Mentally I was in a fog, spiritually I had found a new God that became my idol and that left no room or little or no room for the spirit to speak to me or perhaps for me to hear it when it called.
After my mission was finished I decided that marriage was going to stop my uncontrollable behavior for sure or at least I thought it was going to. But I distinctly remember the deep and overwhelming feeling of shame when I thought about telling Ashlynn before we got married. I believed that she would reject me and not marry me and leave me if she ever found out. I was stuck and did the only thing I learned to do all my life. I lied to myself and everyone around me to maintain the facade that I was “the good boy.” That life carried a price of anguish and hell on Earth.
Looking back on that moment in time I could not have known how devastating it would be to my wife … to both our souls.
Ashlynn knew something was off in the first month of being married. I knew she knew it too but all I thought was if we didn’t talk about it, it didn’t happen. So we didn’t. My life was filled with enormous moments of anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and shame. I was not safe for her, nor was she safe for me. Trust was missing. Ashlynn began to resent me because of what I was doing but didn’t understand the feelings behind it. She would go to bed while I stayed up late to watch TV. For years this went on.
By year 6 my consumption of porn and constant lies to Ashlynn lead to an emotional affair. I was caught and then had to tell Ashlynn, who was absolutely devastated. I remember sitting on the couch and telling her one Sunday afternoon and her just crying. The tears of betrayal tore me apart but I was so deep in addiction I played it off like it was no big deal because it was only an emotional affair. In fact I told her we should probably get a divorce because we were so disconnected. I began 12 Step and “completed” it without doing any of the work.
At the time I was traveling to Europe and Australia for 2-3 weeks at a time. I did that 4-5 times a year per continent. My addiction was eating me alive and I didn’t want to change. I was not the same person and it was visible in my eyes and on my face. While on trips I would call Ashlynn and tell her I relapsed every so often but it would always be a half-truth. Telling the whole truth was more than my twisted mind could handle. My reality was nowhere near truth and I could not see it. I actually blamed Ashlynn for anything that was wrong in our marriage. Worst part is, she believed me. That is classic addiction to blame others and take no responsibility. Classic betrayal is the believe that its your fault and to feel responsible for the place your in.
My angst found life in my words and thoughts about Ashlynn. I loved her dearly and knew I was causing her so much pain because of my actions. However, EVERY time I saw her I was reminded of my own sins and years of it. I was tormented by her purity and worthiness. The worst parts in me began to scream and fight because each time I looked in her eyes she showed me what I did not have, the peace that comes from living without addiction. So without even knowing it I was pushing back on all things good in her. When she was serving at church or carrying out on her responsibilities I would be so critical of the time it took away from us. Funny thing was all my criticisms were in effort to push away the one thing I wanted to so badly...worthiness, peace, acceptance and self worth.
Years passed and we talked about my acting out less and less but just enough to make her think I was “being honest” but I knew the lies were growing. I pushed for a connection in our marriage but based that connection on what porn had trained my mind for. I was never content which pushed Ashlynn further and further away. What I wanted most I made quite impossible to have through my actions.
After going through a hugely traumatic experience with our girls being sexually abused by someone we trusted and loved and were engulfed in recovery as a family. That was a long season of stress, hardship and devastation and I had a long season of sobriety. Our girls were in therapy and our family attended group therapy. Soon after we began marriage therapy where we constantly worked on the symptoms of the behaviors but not the core issue.
However, my willpower was gone from all the stress of the girls’ abuse, and as things calmed down I did the unthinkable. I had another affair. I was approached by a woman and had no healthy way to cope with such a proposal. So on the heels of the most devastating time of our little families’ life, I was escaping the stress with another woman. I had no idea what I was doing, the betrayal I was causing. I was in my own head and lost in lies and deceit.
Somehow in October of that year I ended the relationship. It finally dawned on me that it was going nowhere and I was risking everything in life I held dear. I could not take the weight of the affair any longer and I vowed I would never tell Ashlynn about it.
April of 2014 I saw an ad for a company, Addo Recovery, that specializes in sexual addiction. I knew that our girls responded so successfully from their sexual abuse with specialized therapists that it was likely the best route for me too. So I called and by August of 2014 I was in therapy but still vowed I would never tell Ashlynn about the second affair. I was simply afraid she would leave me.
6 weeks of therapy under our belts and our therapist encouraged me to tell her because she knew Ashlynn was in such a good place. I was ready to tell her but it could not have come at a worse time as we were leaving to go to Southern California for a wedding and to visit “The Happiest Place on Earth.” The trip was anything but happy. It was filled with pain and hurt and anguish and fire in my soul. We did not talk lots that trip. Ashlynn was connecting dots about the past and when the affair took place. I was ready to do whatever possible to change for the better.
I am sober in full recovery (yes there is a difference) since July 12, 2014. We have both worked incredibly hard on ourselves, together and to make things right. Ashlynn went to her own group therapy class on betrayal trauma and shame for many months at Addo, while I went to therapy 3 times a week for 9 months. I continue to go to therapy once a week, meet with my group of guys, work on my “dailies” and report to my sponsor each night. I mentor men each month in a group setting to help them live each day in a safe way, to foster lasting and sustainable recovery.
Recovery has given me peace, connection to Ashlynn and my girls that I have never had, confidence when I think of God, hope for an ever improving life and pride in who I’ve become. I stay firmly connected by using the tools given to me and by working at recovery every single day.
For most of my 16 year marriage I believed the lies I was told and that replayed in my head. I believed I was not enough and never would be emotionally or physically. I believed that my marriage had hard moments because I was a jerk, quick to anger, a prude and unforgiving. If only I was … then we’d be happier. I suspected his behaviors our first month of marriage and pulled back. I lost trust in his actions and words. I didn’t understand why the man I married chose to seek other women over the one right in front of his face. I didn’t understand, and nor did he that it was an addiction that could not be cured by marriage, religion or prayer alone.
Coby worked many years traveling to Europe and Australia for weeks at a time. I was working full time as a kitchen designer and we had no kids. After six years of this we got pregnant but soon I miscarried and was devastated. Just months later Coby asked for a divorce. I was in shock, how did we come to divorce without me knowing things were so bad? He began to tell me that he had been caught having an emotional affair. At the time I didn’t understand what that was and I don’t believe I fully did until years later. We went to our church leader, who put us in the right direction. Coby started a 12 step program with our church and I did absolutely nothing except prayed he would stop.
11 years into our marriage and life was in a routine, we rarely talked about Coby's problem because it always led to an argument. We decided to start marriage therapy and I believe it helped, we were functioning, we had more happy moments and we were trying. However we were not dealing with the real issue.
In December of year 12 our daughter told us she and her sister had been sexually abused by a loved one. It was absolutely devastating. We "circled the wagons" and focused on getting our girls healthy again. We stopped marriage therapy when in reality it was likely the time we needed it most. Coping with such trauma was extremely difficult and hard on us both. Through this experience I realized that by sharing our own experience brought forth much healing by helping others and being an advocate for truth.
Later that same year an old friend from high school asked me to LIKE her new Facebook page, The Togetherness Project. I was terrified she knew something that I hadn't shared with anyone. What did she know about me and my marriage?! I didn’t leave much time to wonder, I messaged her asking what this new page was about and she shared her own story with me, and for the 1st time in 14 years of marriage I opened up and shared my own story. It was scary to say the least but from that moment I knew I wasn’t alone.
I had felt a huge need to protect the man I love because I knew the judgement that would come. I never told anyone of our struggles and felt incredibly alone. I myself judged him and his behaviors so how would my own family, friends, neighbors and strangers not judge him?! I was ashamed that I wasn’t good enough for the man who married me.
My friend convinced me to attend her conference where I learned that I played a role in finding recovery from this addiction that fueled my husband. I learned that I had “betrayal trauma” which mimics symptoms like PTSD. I realized I could no longer just pray for him and say little in therapy.
I remember the sleepless nights, nightmares, anxiety, depression, low self worth, anger and resentment. I knew I needed to do something but I also knew I couldn’t force the man I loved to change. We started back with marriage counseling but it seemed we were dancing around the real issue. Coby saw an ad on TV and called a local company who specialized in addiction recovery. We started at Addo Recovery in August 2014 and that is when our lives found new hope. We began couples therapy, Coby went to individual therapy, while I went to a Betrayal Trauma group for women, followed by a shame group for women and a 12 step program through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Coby also attended a men's group, and chose to also incororate SA (Sex Aholics) early on Saturday mornings. Our lives quickly became devoted to recovery and sobriety.
I remember going to therapy thinking “my husband’s pornography problem isn’t that bad, at least he hasn’t …” I remember going to 12 Step and thinking “I shouldn’t be here because these women are clearly more hurt than I am and I don’t fit in.” I even remember Coby coming home telling me his addiction was not as bad as he had thought. We truly were clueless.
You hear the saying “people don’t change,” but I began to see my husband change and I began to change with him. We worked on ourselves as we pushed through the hard stuff, doing all we could to both get through this once and for all. Just as I felt I was doing awesome the wind got knocked out of me and I fell hard.
Coby came home after only 6 weeks of therapy to tell me that he had a second affair a year before.
I surprised myself as I took deep breaths and just processed what I was just told. My mind quickly raced to the time period he mentioned of the affair. What were we doing then? Did we go on trips, did HE go on trips? Were we happy? Then I realized I HAD had many promptings that something was wrong. I remember asking several times if he was having an affair. Of course he said no, what person would say YES!? I remember telling him I felt like he was changing into someone I didn’t know. He would get angry and tell me he was the same and so were his behaviors. But they weren't and those feelings were right but I wasn't skilled enough or had the right frame of mind to not accuse. I wish I had slowed down, written down my thoughts and promptings and prayed more.
I left Coby's side after he told me and went to my bathroom and sobbed. I cried and cried, asking God why he thought it was OK for me to experience so much trauma. I was angry, hurt and lost.
As I was in the bathroom crying our therapist called to see how I was as she had been the one to encourage his full honesty. I was upset that she had not eluded to me at any time that this was coming. I felt a fool thinking back to therapy and group sessions when I thought I had things under control with my recovery, I felt I knew all about my husbands past and was becoming stronger. Then this. She called me to explain that I was in fact stronger and that she had him disclose because I was in such a good place. I was ready for the one secret he planned to take to the grave. A huge benefit of going to the same therapist was that she got to see where we were emotionally and could see that although it was hard I was more ready than ever.
That day he moved to the basement and I cried in my room. Days later we were on a plane to San Diego with our kids to attend our friend, Amber’s wedding and go to Disneyland. Life had to go on but the unknown was heavy on both our hearts. Hard? Yes! Good for us? Heck yes! To see their love for each other, to hear their vows and remember those feelings we had once before, it was hard but good. The hardest trip ever and it included our daughters as we then headed to Disneyland. We didn’t talk to each other much that trip.
At this point the only thing that kept me going was mothering my girls and being there for my fitness challengers. I struggled to hear gospel principles that no longer applied to my broken marriage. I struggled to fulfill my calling but did it anyway. No one really knew the heartache I was going through as I continued to share only with my therapist, group and my best friend Tiffany. Our friendship quickly became a strong bond as she rushed to my side the day of reckoning to listen to me bawl my eyes out in her car.
With the help of our therapist, Amy, we were both able to move forward and truly progress. To learn what true forgiveness, empathy and love were. Coby became a different person than the boy I had married so many years ago. He was making huge efforts on his own to make things right and to be a better husband, man and father. We have continued to workout daily, as part of our recovery and self care. Some of those months were spent in silent workouts as we were so hurt. Coby left the corporate world and now we work together from home helping others to gain better health.
2015 was a year of growth as we were in therapy 2-3 times a week and trying to build a business while keeping US the focus of our transformation and success. It worked. We found success in many things including our marriage.
We chose to renew our vows on December 28, 2015 on the Bonneville Salt Flats for a reason. We wanted a clean slate and the Salt Flats is the perfect representation for that. We asked our family to join us as we told them just weeks before WHY we were renewing our vows. Many tears were shed and so much support felt as they rallied around us to share in such a special day. We cried our way through our vows, making that moment more special than our wedding day 16 years previous. The icing on top was having our girls hug us after, my little Ellie crying along with us and Lucy telling me it was her favorite part of the day to hear what we said to each other.
We share because years ago I was alone, felt helpless and that I was a failure. Coby was full of self hate, hopelessness and ready to give up. I know now that I am beyond enough and that with hardwork and a true connection there is hope and people CAN change. If my friend hadn’t asked me to LIKE her FB page about her women's support group I have no idea where I would be. By her sharing her own story I shared mine for the 1st time ever and that was a changing point in our lives. Today we live with hope, understanding, empathy, mindfulness and love.