Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Silence.. And Breaking It

Before I continue with our story, let me make a few disclaimers.

I'm sharing this not because I want pity or attention. If you know me personally, you know that nothing could be farther from the truth. I would much rather let things blow over and focus on trying to figure out how to balance being a solo parent while Zane is in jail and running four businesses in addition to trying to manage our personal stuff. I'm sharing this because it's a conversation that needs to be had. We need to talk about the hard stuff, and people need to know that they're not alone in their struggles. We need to change the environment we live in, and if sharing my story can help just one other person, one family, one community... it's worth it.

Disclaimer #2: This post doesn't talk about the girls in the photos. People seem to jump all over me if I don't talk about them so let me just say this: That is not my story to tell. My heart 100% breaks for them, and my motherly instincts want to protect them as much as you do. But I don't know their story, and I have nothing more to expand on the subject than that they and many others are victims to a very dangerous industry that I would love nothing more than to shut down. But what can I do about it? I certainly can't fly to Asia and search for them. What I can do is try my hardest to help foster a society that stops addiction and gets people help before it's too late. That is what I am trying to do here. By not bringing them up, I am not ignoring their pain. By forgiving Zane and showing him grace, I am not making light of their suffering. Pity for the victims and grace for Zane are not opposing ideals. They are equally necessary. If you are one who feels so passionately about their suffering, I would invite you to do something that actually makes a difference. Reminding me over & over that they suffered does nothing but continue the shame and remorse. However, showing love and grace to people will absolutely make a difference. Talking to our children about the hard things has the power to save them. People might just feel safe enough to reach out for help, and we might just prevent a dangerous cycle from starting.

Also... this may be a very long post. Sorry about that.

After finding out about Zane's addiction, my priority became his healing. Luckily for me, this wasn't something I had to push. Many men would have responded in a defensive and self-protectant way. Instead, Zane opened up completely. He not only admitted his faults/sins/crime, but he rushed to be rid of them. Like I said previously, he had fought a pornography addiction for 16 years and had tried time after time to get rid of the habit on his own. Now that he had been found out, he became so focused on getting his mind free of the disease that had been tearing him down. He began growing and learning and I watched the miracle of a changed life unfold before my eyes.

From that moment on, Zane started on an uphill climb to healing. His spiritual life got stronger as he was finally able to be free of the one thing that had held him back for so long.

I knew that above all else, Zane needed my love, my grace. He needed to know that his addiction did not define him in my eyes. I continued to ask the hard questions, and I certainly took control of monitoring & limiting any of his internet usage, but did all this with the motive of rebuilding Zane, our marriage, and my trust in him. For the next 10 months, I put everything I had into loving him.. and into protecting him from judgemental opinions.

The same stigma that kept Zane from asking for help also kept me quiet. While Zane met with our pastor and saw a counselor, I didn't speak to anyone about what we were going through. Zane even encouraged me multiple times to talk to someone. Call it survival mode perhaps, but I was so focused on making sure he got better that I ignored my own need for support. In retrospect, it was probably not the smartest decision. I held a lot in, and even my closest friends and family had no idea. But... that's what you do for people you love. Their needs go before your own.

For 10 months, we wondered what would happen next. The officers had the evidence. They would turn it over.. but it was hard to say what could come from it. They told us there was a chance the case would get buried and we'd never hear from them, and there was a chance that he would be prosecuted and go to jail. For ten very long months we had no idea what our future would look like.

During that time, I closed on real estate for a second business location and in doing so formed a third business- a property management company. We began plans for renovations and started making staffing decisions. In my 30th week of pregnancy I flew to Atlanta for prom market and swelled up in a slightly alarming way. They started monitoring me for signs of pre-eclampsia. By week 33, I went in for a routine checkup and was admitted to the hospital for sky high blood pressure. I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and considered high risk. The next morning, I flew to LA for bridal market. When a good part of your success depends on the inventory you buy, you don't put that responsibility in anyone else's hands.. you pull yourself together and do what needs to be done.

Upon my return, I was put on bed rest. To say I was under a bit of stress would be an understatement. After a particularly stressful event in week 35, I went in for another checkup. My blood pressure had gotten dangerously high and I was diagnosed with HELPS syndrome. I was taken by ambulance to Bangor where I had an emergency C-section. The whole thing is a story for another time, but the last month of my pregnancy was a particularly hellish experience.

I went through all the challenges new moms do.. lack of sleep, feelings of total inadequacy, struggles with not being able to breastfeed. I had a baby in the NICU and had to leave him at the hospital while I went to a hotel. Luckily, we were able to go home after a week. Due to some unfortunate events, I had to get back to work within days of returning home. I was barely able to get in & out of bed due to post C-section pain but had no choice but to work.

Behind all of the outer struggles, I still held the weight of this enormous secret and impending legal repercussions. I slipped into a postpartum depression and sincerely struggled to feel any connection to my new baby. I held it together and even did a live segment on the morning TV news a couple weeks after giving birth. I carried on and only admitted my feelings to Zane and my mom. Again.. no one wants people to know they're struggling. We would rather suck it up & put on a smile than be real.

Six weeks after having Jonah, I hired the management for our new store. A few weeks after that, Zane had surgery to get his cochlear implant (his damaged hearing is a result of his accident in 2010). A few weeks after that, we got a small second floor studio apartment (in very rough condition) in Bangor (2 1/2 hrs away) and moved a bunch of our stuff down so that we could spend half the week there and half at home while we got the new store opened. Zane was fortunately able to work out of Bangor during that time. Every Saturday night we drove to Bangor, worked Sunday-Tuesday and drove home Tuesday night. With a newborn. In the middle of the winter.

At the end of February, the store was doing very well so we decided to move home. Our relationship had grown, and although we had been working like crazy people, we were doing what we loved to do- building our dream alongside each other. Zane had grown immensely and his counselor was thrilled with his progress. We were approached about buying a store in Portland and started considering that possibility. Things were looking up. A lot of time had passed and we began to hope that maybe we'd never hear from the authorities.

Then one night in March it all changed. Zane got a letter telling him that the feds were going to prosecute. My parents had been over visiting and when they left he shared the letter with me. I broke.

The weight that I had been carrying was just too much. My world, that I had been trying so desperately to keep afloat, came crashing down around me. I called my parents and told them to come back. I told Zane it was time to tell them. He called our pastor and asked him to come too.

As our sweet baby boy slept, Zane explained everything to them. I sat silently as my pain made it's way down my face in the form of tears. They were stunned. Confused. Completely blindsided. And very concerned for my mental state, as I fear it became quite obvious that I was no longer "okay".

They responded to Zane with love. I am so blessed to have parents that not only taught me the values of forgiveness and grace, but actually modeled it. They reassured Zane that they loved him and that they would do anything they could to support both of us. Zane broke too as he felt the freedom of forgiveness from the person he feared would judge and disown him the most- my father.

I knew Zane would be okay. He had gotten to a really good place. I didn't have the same confidence in myself. I knew I needed some space... to process, and to feel things that I hadn't let myself feel previously. I packed a bag for myself and Jonah, and I took him to my parents house. I sat in my old bedroom and let myself come completely undone. I felt the one thing I hadn't allowed myself to feel yet- anger.

I was so angry at Zane. At God. Because of Zane's choices and mistakes, my life as I knew it was ending. I mourned that loss. I screamed at God, "Haven't we been through enough?".

I had almost been a widow at 21, but I had stayed faithful to God the whole time. I had sincerely tried to live my life in a way that would honor God for my whole life. And this was my thanks? Nearly losing my husband to a freak accident and then finding out that he had an addiction that was going to ruin our lives? I let all those emotions out, and I'm pretty sure I swore in front of my parents for the first time.

I let myself be angry and work through those feelings, but I never lost my love for Zane, or my respect for how he handled this situation. After a night alone, I asked him to come join me at mom and dad's. We were both quite depressed.. a feeling neither of us had ever struggled with before. I went through periods where all I could do was hold him and periods where I couldn't be near him. We were both too emotionally distraught to do much and my parents stepped in to help with Jonah.

Zane met with an attorney and was told he was most likely looking at 3-5 years in jail. That devastated me... absolutely shook me to the core. I watched as my mind played out the possibilities.. Jonah growing up without a dad, Zane losing his job, us losing our house, losing our businesses, the community turning on us, having to move away from the area... I felt as though my world was falling apart and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

We stayed with my parents for a week or two as I didn't feel strong enough to go home. I struggled just walking back into our house to get clothes. It somehow reminded me of the life we were supposed to have. I looked at my baby grand piano.. a heartfelt gift from my parents that I'd wished for my whole life... and I couldn't even touch it. It too was a symbol of a happy and simple life we had hoped for.

In those moments, there was one thing that kept Zane and I from taking our own lives- Jonah. That sweet baby boy was counting on us to take care of him and his giggles were often our only reason to smile. He became our joy. I had never been plagued by dark thoughts of such things, and I had never carried such baggage. I didn't know how to handle it, but now with the support of family I didn't feel alone.

We slowly began telling our family and friends.. and every single one supported not only me, but Zane. Many guys Zane told opened up about their own struggle with pornography. It was reassuring, freeing, and very therapeutic to be able to simply talk about the situation. It became clear that God wanted to use our situation to start a conversation. No one admits their own faults until someone else does first.

I went through a very dark period with my faith. I had never hit such a low before, and I openly questioned many things. I wasn't sure that God was good.. I wasn't sure He loved me.. I wasn't sure that I could trust Him. And honestly, there was no magical revelation that lifted me out of that pit.

Time certainly helped cool off my anger.. and as time passed I was able to start seeing God's hand in what was happening. Some may disagree with me, but here's what it came down to: I could turn my back on God and abandon my faith. I could focus on myself, my own pain, and the injustice I felt over what had happened to me. That was option one. Or, I could trust. I could "tie a knot at the end of my rope and hold on", as one of my sisters likes to say. It wasn't heroic or noble or even brave. I just simply held on.. because my past had proven to me that God had certainly taken care of me then. And facing an unknown future is much scarier on your own.

To this day I still don't completely understand the "why". I don't know as if I ever will. What I do know is this: Zane has a tremendously dedicated heart for God and wants so badly to do amazing things for Him. And the devil absolutely hates that. He is so intimidated by it that he has thrown a mountain of evil Zane's way. He trapped Zane into addiction, tried to kill him in a freak accident, and tried to destroy him with the threat of losing everything he loved- me, his son, our families and friends. And, I just happen to be married to him, and have felt the brunt of these attacks. If the devil is attacking, it has to mean you're doing something right.

I also know this: our earthly perspective struggles to grasp a heavenly view. We are so stinking focused on what matters to us in this life that we magnify our own problems way out of proportion. The reality of our situation is that our lives will go on. Someday our family will be reunited. This is not forever. We will survive. In those dark moments, it definitely doesn't seem that way. But, as the saying goes, "We must not forget in the darkness what we knew in the light".

I was listening to a song recently that completely convicted me about my heart through this situation. One part of the song says this:

If your eyes are on the storm
You'll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You'll know I always have and I always will

I don't pretend to have all the answers, and there are days that I still mourn the life we had. Watching officers cuff my husband and take him away is an image that will forever be burned into my mind. Local media shared that Zane mouthed the words "I love you" as they took him away, but what she left out was what he said first- "Have faith". During our phone calls and jail visits, Zane is the one encouraging me. He has all day long to read the bible and pray, and has been using this time to grow in his faith.

Society would like to label Zane in many cruel and judgemental ways, but they would be so wrong. They don't know the man I know, and they have not walked this journey beside us. The devil absolutely hates that I'm sharing our story and bringing light to issues no one dares talk about.. he would much rather keep people trapped by shame. He has tried to tear me down with harsh comments and so-called "well meaning friends", but God is bigger and has filled our lives with some of the most supportive, sincere, and kind human beings. For that, I am so thankful.

We're walking a difficult road.. one I pray you never have to walk. But, we're not alone. God is surrounding us with an army of love. Each day is a battle, but Zane and I are both fighters. We will not let the devil win. I often hate that I have to do this, but someone has to break the silence.

Sin, addiction, and struggle are real, and they do not discriminate. Chances are, there is someone you love struggling with something. What kind of a difference could we make if we admitted our own struggles and spread a message of love and forgiveness instead? Please help me break the silence.. I really believe beautiful things will happen.

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.