“And God said, Let there be lights… And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, AND TO SEPARATE THE LIGHT FROM THE DARKNESS.” Genesis 1:14,17
Since the beginning of time, light was created to chase away darkness. Unfortunately for me, it seemed there was no light to shine upon the darkness that I was being exposed to. The darkness crept in at an early age, before I was capable of comprehending the evil that I was enduring.
To complicate matters further, the darkness was revealed to me by someone I loved…
By someone I trusted…
By someone who was supposed to protect me...
Someone who was supposed to be my light.
I was betrayed.
The man that was supposed to prepare me for life, instead, robbed me of my innocence. He took advantage of my blind trust, exposing me to darkness before I had a chance to understand what Light truly was. A growing darkness, full of anger, hate, hurt, pain and perversion began to take over my young heart.
By the time I was able to recognize that something evil had been done to me, my father was gone. Taken by the state to pay the penalty for his actions. While I was left behind, in the wake of his crimes, broken and battered. Forever labeled a victim.
Oh, I loathe that word. I’m not sure there is a word that screams hopelessness more than that one. But it’s the reality of the culture that we exist in. My father sexually abused me. So, naturally, I am a victim of sexual abuse.
I remember being exposed to pornography, by my father, sometime between the ages of 9-11. The sexual abuse, well, to be honest I can’t tell you exactly when that started. My mind seems to have blacked out most of those memories. A method of self-preservation, I assume. But something inside me believes that the abuse started at a very young age. No matter when it started, I do know that it continued into my teenage years.
It was my normal.
I knew nothing different.
I’ll never forget the moment when I realized it wasn’t normal. That his actions were pure evil.
I was sitting in a small office. My mother was sitting across from me. We were the only two in the room. The door was shut. I could tell she was nervous. She had been crying.
Something was wrong.
It was probably a month from my 16th birthday. One month away from being able to drive. One step closer to becoming a man.
My mom proceeded to ask me one question. One simple question. A question a mother should never have to ask any of her children. A question, that if asked to most children, they would look at you with a puzzled look on their face and await further explanation.
I needed no explanation.
I can still hear her voice in my head as if it were yesterday…
“Travis, has your dad ever done anything to you?”
Have you ever been in a room so dark that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face? Have you ever experienced darkness so black you wondered, for a moment, if life had ceased to exist?
Imagine that darkness.
Now, imagine that suddenly, without warning, bright spotlights were turned on, removing all darkness from that room.
That was what I experienced in that moment.
Even though I had never realized that what had happened to me was so screwed up, in that moment, upon hearing that one simple question, I knew.
I knew what she was asking.
I knew what he had done.
I knew my life had forever been changed.
The flood gates opened. My shoulders shook. Tears poured down my cheeks.
All of the evil, all of the darkness, began to pour out into the light.
Like a blind man receiving his sight for the first time, my eyes were opened to the dark reality my body had somehow known for years. My dad was a disgusting man. I had been violated. My innocence had been stolen. I had been wronged.
I was a victim.
I wish that I could write that once the darkness was revealed I began to expose it to the Light. I wish that I could say that I listened to the therapist, counselors and mentors that were placed into my life. I wish that I could tell you that I began the healing process as soon as the darkness was recognized.
I did not.
Instead, I buried the darkness deep inside of me. I let it fester. I let it grow.
In the hurt and confusion of my new reality of “sexual abuse victim”, I found comfort in the one thing my body knew best.
I was raised in a very conservative home. We attended a very legalistic church. The act of holding a girl’s hand was a damnable offense. So I filled my nights with porn, phone sex and internet chat rooms.
I loved anything sexual.
I quickly realized that when I was thinking about sex, talking about sex, watching other people have sex or partaking in sex myself, for those few short moments, I was free.
Free from the label of victim. Free from the pain, hurt, anger, guilt and confusion. For those few moments, I had relief.
I felt good. I felt wanted. I felt accepted. I felt loved.
After high school, I tried out the college thing. I quickly realized that all college was good for was finding a cute girl to be sexual with. My only problem was that, due to my upbringing, I had chosen to go to a Bible college, where sex outside of marriage was frowned upon and made virtually impossible by the strict rules. Of course, I figured out how to get around those rules.
After 3 semesters, I was asked not to return. I couldn’t have been happier. At home, I could do what I wanted.
I began drinking heavily and going home with whoever I could. This “bliss” didn’t last long. My mom would have none of that behavior going on under her roof. I was being a terrible example to my younger siblings. I was told to pack my bags and move out. So, I decided to join the Air Force.
Join the Air Force, see the world, they said. Ha. I was stationed in Oklahoma City, less than 6 hours from my hometown. My life was rapidly spiraling out of control. The new-found freedoms were overwhelming for someone who had grown up in such a conservative environment.
Within a year I had eloped & married a girl from Kc that I’d met a couple months before joining the Air Force. It was a disaster before it even started. I cheated, she found out. She cheated, I found out. I cheated again… and again… and again.
Every time I got caught I expressed remorse. I promised to changed. We somehow figured out a way to make things work. But even when things seemed good on the surface, I never stopped cheating. Faithfulness was not in my vocabulary.
Lies and manipulation become my closest friends. Finally, she left for good.
All alone, I thought I would finally be happy. I could do whatever my perverted heart desired. The darkness that I had been exposed to so long ago was now driving my every decision. My sexual addiction was running wild.
I was destroying my life.
I began to realize how much hurt and pain my actions were inflicting upon those I loved the most. I was tired of telling lies. I was tired of hurting. I hated being a victim. I blamed my dad but I hated myself.
I wanted a break. A break from the Air Force. A break from the darkness. A break from life.
I finally hit my breaking point.
I took a cocktail of pain pills before my shift one evening.
I dropped over in formation. I had a seizure in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I woke up the next morning in a hospital bed, surrounded by family.
I had tried to let the darkness win. I wanted to give in. But for some reason, the Light would not let me go. I began to get help. In small ways, I began to heal. I made great progress with my anger issues. It seemed that nearly killing myself was the wake-up call I needed.
That maybe now I would be able to face the darkness within and destroy it once and for all.
Instead, I only pushed the darkness down deeper. I allowed my therapist to help with the surface issues, while hiding the real issues that I was terrified to face.
The sexual addiction I had developed as a young teenager was more alive than ever. I had nothing to lose. I was medically discharged from the Air Force. I was divorced. All the while, the darkness was slowing spreading. I just became an expert at hiding it.
Then, I fell in love.
Love is a powerful thing. But even human love is not powerful enough to drive the darkness away.
I had met Emily while I was still living in Oklahoma City.I was infatuated from the start. She was gorgeous. She sang & played the guitar. Had a sexy tattoo. What more could I have wanted? She was also a couple of months pregnant. But that didn't change anything.
I added her on Facebook. I was back in KC for Christmas and begged her to go out with me.
I finally convinced her and we had an illustrious “first date” at IHOP in the middle of the night. We were both night owls.
I was blown away. This girl was incredible. Something about her drew me in and I was infatuated. There was one small problem. After the first date, she felt the opposite about me.
She wanted nothing to do with me. She must have been completely annoyed with my continued advances over the next few months.
Finally, my persistence paid off and we began dating.
At some point, I made her aware of my past. I told her about my father and what he had done to me. I told her about my previous marriage and how I had screwed everything up. I told her I had gotten help. Therapy had resolved my issues. I was good to go.
At first, love was powerful enough for me to keep my actions in check. Slowly, the newness of the relationship wore off. The darkness crept back in and my addiction roared back to life.
I was smarter this time, or so I thought. I had “guidelines” for myself. I would only talk to other women. I wouldn’t allow myself to physically cheat on her.
I moved back to Kansas City. After a while we started living together. Lies and manipulation became second nature. I kept my addiction a secret. I had a second life full of other women and sexual pleasures that she had no idea existed.
As with any addiction, it began to spiral out of control. I would get caught doing something suspicious and I would lie to cover it up. Eventually, my lies caught up with me. Some of the truth came out.
Emily could have left me. She should have left me. At this point we were only dating and it was clear that I was messed up. Instead, we decided to get counseling. I expressed remorse and promised to change.
The change only lasted a couple days. I had become better and better at hiding my actions.
Things appeared much better.
We got engaged.
We got married.
All was well.
Except it wasn’t. It was far from it.
Our relationship began a vicious cycle. Everything would appear to be going great. Then I would get caught. Heartbreak and chaos would follow. I would express remorse. Promise to get help. Promise to change. I would do just enough, just long enough to make it seem like I had changed. Then I would go right back to doing the things that I had been doing before.
By this point, the darkness consumed my every waking moment. Every decision that I made was influenced by my sexual addiction. I wanted to be alone as often as I could. I wanted to be free to communicate with the women that I was secretly talking to behind Emily’s back. Every now and then I broke my rule and physically cheated.
This cycle continued for 2 years.
In August of 2016 our marriage reached a breaking point.
Emily discovered that I was still cheating, lying and having affairs. By this point, she was also beginning to understand that I was a sex addict.
She reacted differently this time. She was strangely calm.
There was no dramatic fight. There wasn’t any yelling, screaming or cursing.
Emily’s heart was completely shattered. My hope had completely vanished.
I loved Emily. I loved her with everything inside of me. But the darkness was too powerful. I was unable to show her how I loved her. I loved myself more.
I loved the darkness more.
We went for a walk, the awkward silence casually being broken by Emily asking me another question. I would answer honestly, for the most part, every time. I was tired of fighting. I was tired of hurting. I was ready to quit.
Finally, the ultimate question came, “Travis, what do you want?”
“I don’t know.”
I truly didn’t know. I love Emily & our son, Gideon, more than I probably even knew. I didn’t want to leave them. I was tired of hurting them.
“I don’t want to leave you. But if I stay, I’ll only keep hurting you both. I have no hope. I cannot change. You deserve better.”
Emily’s response altered the course of our marriage.
“I’m not ready to give up. I’m going to keep fighting. I believe in you. I believe in us. I just can’t be the only one fighting forever. You have to figure out what you want.”
Those words meant little to me at the time. My faith was dead. My hope was gone. God had abandoned me. I was alone in a pit of darkness with no way out.
My pastor called me the next day just to randomly check in with me. When he asked how I was doing I was blunt and honest. “Pretty shitty.”
I relayed my hopeless state to him and at the end of the conversation he gave me some advice.
“Travis, you are in no position to make any decisions for yourself. You need to decide that you won’t listen to your own thoughts. Instead, you need to listen to Emily, to your therapist, to me and any other Godly mentors that you have in your life.”
Shortly after that conversation Emily & I hopped in the car and drove to a couples counseling session.
We had done this before. It was going to be a waste of time and money.
Then, a crack of Light began to shine upon my cold dark heart. The words of my pastor replayed over and over in my mind as I drove. I decided that I was going to do anything my therapist or Emily wanted me to do.
I’ve said before that if my therapist had told me to drive to Chicago, climb up to the top of the Sears tower and jump off into a net 7 times, I would have done it. I was all in. I was tired of doing things my way. I was tired of failing. I was tired of hurting.
The moment that I stopped trying to save myself, God stepped in and began to pull me out of the pit.
The Light began shining brighter and brighter every day. The darkness began to fade.
The week following our couples counseling session I experienced the ultimate breakthrough.
My phone had been my weakness for years. It was the device that I used to communicate with other women and feed my sexual addiction.
I had one of my accountability partners lock my phone down. But I had done this before. I knew how to get around that. I needed to take it a step further.
I asked Emily if she would change the pin on my phone and not tell me what it is. I asked her to lock me out of my own phone.
It’s an inconvenience, I’m not going to lie. There are times when it’s super annoying and even embarrassing to have to hand my phone to my wife so she can unlock it for me to be able to use it.
But that was my moment of true repentance. That was the moment the Light came crashing in and began to chase away the darkness.
Authentic recovery requires drastic change.
As of today, 11/05/2016, I am 74 days into my recovery journey. I am 74 days sober.
My marriage has never been better. I have never been happier. I have complete control of who I am for the first time in my life.
At the advice of my therapist, we have taken a holistic and multifaceted approach to recovery. I’ve changed my eating habits, my sleep schedule, my work-out routine and my entertainment habits.
There is no change that I am unwilling to make to continue to experience recovery.
Light has taken over my heart.
God has revealed himself to me in a manner that I never thought was possible. Emily has chosen to remain by my side and fight this battle with me. She is my best friend. She is my confidant. Without her faith, forgiveness and decision to love me at my worst I doubt I would have ever began to experience recovery.
My journey is ongoing. My battle is far from over. But God has given me a desire to share my story with anyone willing to listen.
All the things that I have called darkness. Those things were never darkness to God. God is Light. He could see when I could not. He knew, that I needed to experience great darkness to be able to value the Light.
God has brought me out of the darkness. And the darkness that was and is such a big part of my life, he has chosen to give back to me in the form of incredible riches. I can look back at the darkness, and in a way, I can almost begin to be thankful for it. For without that darkness I wouldn’t have a story of hope to share.
"I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. "I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” Isaiah 45:2-3