Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finding Out

I contemplated trying to respond to some of the questions out there, or addressing the comments that have arisen, but I don't want this to be purely reactionary. It's easy to feel like I'm being thrown around in the waves of the storm right now, so instead I've chosen to stay steady and stick to the plan. I believe God wants me to share my story.. to shed light on immense problems in our culture, to be a voice of truth in a gossip-driven world, and to encourage those going through their own struggles. So here is the beginning of my story. I pray my vulnerability will be received by ears that are willing to listen before judging and understand before assuming.

In May of 2015 I was 4 months pregnant, working in our first store full time and a little over a month away from closing on real estate that would house our second location. It was a normal Thursday night and we had just cleaned up from supper when two men knocked on our door. They introduced themselves as agents from Homeland Security and instantly the mood became tense. We sat at the kitchen table as they told us they had tracked the download of child pornography to our IP address. I sat there stunned as I wondered who might have used our internet to do such a thing.

Zane was silent for a moment then looked at me and told me he needed to tell me something. I told him he could tell me right there and then. I watched as the man I love broke down and confessed to the officers that he was the one who was responsible for the download. His whole body tensed and he shook with the agony of a man who held an ocean of self hate inside. I remember hearing him tell the officers that he had been fighting this addiction for 16 years, always wanting to get clean but always fearing the judgement that would come along with the truth. He said, "You don't know what people say about this stuff. No one understands."

I sat in shock, tears running down my face and in a room of 4 people, I felt utterly and completely alone. I held my stomach as the baby kicked and awakened an enormous fear inside me for the future of this innocent child. I remained frozen, paralyzed by the pain of my life as I knew it dying before my eyes.

Another officer entered our house, the technology expert, and he, one of the agents, and Zane went upstairs to our home office where Zane willingly surrendered his computer. There was no search warrant, no requirement at that point for Zane to do anything. But it was as if he had been waiting for this day. Obviously not that he would be caught by the government, but he had been waiting to be free. To come clean. To get help.

They were upstairs for maybe 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity as I tried to sort through the emotions going through my mind and heart. I whispered many quick prayers, mostly consisting of "God help me do the right thing" and "Lord, hold my broken heart". The agent waiting downstairs with me tried to make small talk about the baby and work, but I could barely answer in my stunned, frozen state.

Eventually the agents came downstairs with the computer, handed Zane some kind of receipt, and left. It was just us. I had moved to the couch and Zane walked into the living room to face me. I've never seen remorse so completely overtake a man's body before. He walked towards me and despite my shock, pain, and confusion, I stood up and hugged him. He broke. I'm sure the last thing he expected was love. He had been trapped into silent addiction for more than half his life because he believed no one would understand, and no one would love him if they found out.

My first words to him were "I love you. This does not change that. But, I have a lot of questions, and I need answers".

"Anything", he said. "Ask me anything. I'm so sorry."

I listened as he explained how his addiction had started. He had been a typical pre-teen boy, curious about the opposite sex. And because those things just weren't something you talked about, his curiosity sent him to the internet. Zane has always been smart with technology and was able to keep it hidden from his parents. Naturally, he wanted to look at girls his own age rather than adults, so he found content that filled that desire.

He grew up in a culture that didn't talk about porn, and the only mention of sex was that it should be saved for marriage. But of course, that didn't stop a boy's curiosity. It wasn't long before looking at porn was a regular thing, but still kept completely secret since he knew it was wrong. And like many addictions start, the thrill of doing something risky or wrong became intoxicating.

As he got older, the girls that he was attracted to got older as well. But he was gripped strongly by an addiction to pornography at that point, and as any addict will tell you, sometimes you feel like you need more, a bigger rush, a riskier move. Occasionally, the addiction pulled him back to the initial thrill he'd found when he was younger. It took me a long time to understand the psychology behind Zane going back to looking at underage girls. I can't even hope to fully explain it here. For a while, I thought there must be something deeply wrong with him.. something that would take some kind of crazy psychotherapy to fix. But the more I studied, the more I understood addiction and the actual affects of it on the brain. Please read this if you're struggling to understand as I did. I guarantee, it is eye-opening.

Zane has always been a strong Christian guy. He has a heart that so badly wanted to do something great for God. If you read this blog during his accident in 2010 I think you know that to be true. He would completely delete everything pornographic from his computer, swear he was done with it, and pray for God to take it away from him time after time. But because of the stigma associated with porn, and his fear of those he loved abandoning him, he never did. The devil had him convinced that he would be unlovable if anyone knew.

The devil LOVES addiction and the lies it tells people. Some believe lies that they can't survive without their drugs or alcohol, that they have to starve to be beautiful, that no one will understand or love them if they asked for help. But most of all, people fear judgement.

And you know what? That fear is unfortunately very well warranted. I made the mistake of reading some of the awful hurtful comments people have made about Zane. Some people lashed out saying I should divorce him, or even that he should be killed. Let me be crystal clear. This destructive, judgmental rhetoric is exactly what keeps so many addicts from getting the help they need.

None of the content Zane had possession of depicted violence but my heart still broke because of the innocent girls who were likely victims of the sex trade industry overseas where the magazine originated. Some of you have expressed similar sentiments, and I understand completely. Showing Zane grace or love does not dismiss a deep sympathy for the victims in those photos. I plan to address this issue further in another post, but feel the need to at least acknowledge the very real problem that sex trafficking is in our society. Those victims absolutely need people to stand up for them, although destructive anonymous comments on the internet do nothing to solve that problem. I would ask you to start in your own homes. Talk to your kids about the hard stuff. Be open and understanding and not judgemental. Let's create an environment where those who struggle with addictions can reach out and get help rather than become stuck in a cycle that feeds the demand for such terrible acts against others (it's not just female children- people of all ages and genders are sucked into this industry every day). The reality is that broken people are hurting people, and both parties need our help. Loving the broken and encouraging them in their recovery is helping to put a stop to this problem, not ignore it. And as someone who has been forgiven of my own sins by God, I have no choice but to extend that forgiveness and grace to others. After all, we will all be judged in the same way we have passed judgement. As the famous scripture says, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Luckily, Zane's fears of judgement were not the response he received from me or our families. Sure, I had every right to judge him, leave him. He had been unfaithful and his sins were about to turn our world upside down. But what good would that have done? I would be alone. He would be alone. He wouldn't have the support he needed to get through this, and I would never learn to love like Jesus and experience the healing that showing grace can bring.

Zane handled being found out as well as any man could have. He faced it head on and completely acknowledged his problem. He met with our pastor, who referred him to a counselor well versed in dealing with pornography addictions. He gave me full access to every device in our home and I set up passwords that only I knew and monitoring that reported all internet usage to me and our pastor. I deleted certain apps on his phone (like Instagram) that too easily put images of half naked women in front of people. He unfollowed or unfriended many people on Facebook who often shared questionable content. We both worked hard to remove triggers, and he worked even harder to let God reshape his mind. I am so fortunate that from that terrible day forward, he has been completely clean.

Zane had my forgiveness right away. But my trust was something that had to be rebuilt. I asked all the hard questions, and continued checking in to see how he was doing. I watched carefully and cautiously as he worked hard to fill his mind with what his identity was in Christ, rather than what the world had told him it was. Gradually, I began to witness the most remarkable change. In situations that he normally may have shown selfishness, I found him putting my needs first. Any addiction starts with a bit of selfishness, and as he recovered from his addiction I found him putting himself last and showing me a love that I had never known before.

Unfortunately, society is what it is. I too feared what people would think if they found out. And so for almost a year, I didn't speak to a single soul about what I was going through. Even my closest and most trusted friends and family had no idea that we were facing this trial. This post is already far too long, so I'll save my side of the story for another post. Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you so much for the support we have received. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support that has literally brightened my darkest moments since Wednesday. You are the people who will help change our culture. Thank you for loving people, for encouraging us, and for extending grace. I pray God blesses you in tremendous ways, just as your words have been a blessing to me.