What do you do to relax on a Friday night? Have a drink? Watch the telly? See a show? Much to the bemusement of my wife, recently I chose to polish my shoes. No matter how hard I tried to explain why I enjoyed it, my wife couldn’t understand and in the end exclaimed “well, it makes sense because it goes with your whole shirt and tie thing.” In saying this, she was simply recognising that I take a certain amount of pride in my appearance. It was for me a reminder of how much I have grown away from CD in recent years. I want to explore briefly what has happened to create this change – in summary I call it Becoming the Man God Wants Me to be.
I must state that I am not totally free of CD. I still have temptations. But I hope that the story of the start of my change will help you. We are all individuals with unique stories and reasons for CD, so take what you find helpful.
Before we married, I told my wife about my CD. What helpful stuff I did find online, I forwarded to her. I told her I had started as a teen and had been trying for about five years to stop. Although I managed to stop at points using a ‘manly’ pulling my socks up effort, I would end up binging with greater falls and risks each time. This continued in marriage: within a year I had binged twice. Both times my wife found something, and my secret was laid bare. I think it took me both times see how hurt she was, and therefore how much it cost for her to forgive me. I also hated the secrecy that surrounded CD: this is something I saw through counselling, and was another motivation for me to quit.
I went to counselling primarily for porn addiction, but I also opened up about CD. My counsellor told me to observe the times when I used porn and CD. A few months later I concluded that they often went together. For a while I theorised that one led to the other, then theorised vice versa. I then theorised I should stop theorising, because I realised that my depression played a part, in that when I was feeling low I was most likely to use porn and/or CD. I was searching for meaning in my day-to-day life, and was using these things to help make me feel something positive. For example, I had a particular dress I wore at night (when my wife was working): I reasoned that it made me feel peaceful and calm, and so I would sleep. Similarly, I had other clothing that I would wear when working at home because I felt more comfortable than I did in jeans and a shirt. In short, dressing made me feel good, and it felt right. I had a sense, though, that it wasn’t. I knew God should be my ultimate source of comfort, but my action in dressing didn’t reflect that. I had found the truth in Harry Schaumburg’s statement that “sexual addition isn’t just an issue of sex or even of external behavior. It’s a by-product of loneliness, pain, the self-centered demand to be loved and accepted regardless of the consequences, and a loss of vital relationship.” (False Intimacy: Understanding the struggle of sexual addiction). Through Schaumburg’s book I realised that I was addicted: I would go to any lengths – driving to the other side of the city – to buy things. I thought I could control my CD; I thought that if I dressed, I wouldn’t go on to masturbate, even though perhaps 9 times out of 10 I did. I thought I could keep it secret. My thinking was what Schaumberg calls ‘rationalisation’. I felt CD met a need in me. But I realised through this book, counselling, and my wife’s example that, far from meeting it, it destroyed good things that God gave me.
My need was this: to be accepted, to be able to be me, to have a purpose. I began a quest to tackle these in a proper way. I asked God to help me. I read about what it means to be a Godly man. I re-read Disciplines of a Godly Man. I saw my wife’s forgiveness of my actions. I asked God to help me be able to praise her. I saw and began to accept that I am a man, that He created me a man, that He gave me a gift in my wife, a woman. Spelling this out and dwelling it out made me ask God – “ok. I get that I’m a man now. So how am I to become the man you want me to be?” And that’s why I summarise my growth as BTMGWMTB.
About a year after my counselling finished, I received some cognitive behavioural therapy to help with my depression. Some of the tools help CD. For example learning to have down/’me’ time. As a Christian, I believe God gave us this earth to enjoy it. But I often felt guilty if I went out with friends or did things without my wife. As a result I wasn’t doing any of the things I really wanted to do. Of course, you have to make sacrifices. But when I discussed, for example, that I wanted to go to a writer’s event, this brought us closer together. Performing there and meeting others gave me an enormous boost to my confidence, and I have made some friends. And as my confidence grew, I turned to writing as much as CD, and then after a while turned to writing more and more. I replaced, bit by bit, the harmful with the good. It took a while, but I came to learn that if I didn’t do these things, I was more likely to feel low, and so I was more likely to CD.
I also know I need to look after myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. If I do not, I cannot hope to resist any temptations. Of course, I still fail. But I do myself no favours if I do not sleep well, eat properly, read and pray, keep physically fit. Three words: Traditional wet shave. I listen to podcasts while I shave. Learning about God and how to trust him, while feeling in tune with my ancestors, giving me confidence in both Him and externally. shaving is now a process I look forward to. This small step helped me take more pride in my appearance and opened up the world of male sartorial.
Two years ago, I was wearing the same band t-shirts I had been wearing for the last 8 or so years. I only updated my jeans when I really had to. And then, noting how good I felt at a close shave, I decided to update my wardrobe, little bits at a time. I started with belts and beanies (it was winter). I bought new winter shoes. As I received a few compliments, I kept going. Now, this has never been my motivation, but it did break down the stereotype that a man can never be interested in his clothes. Now, I am no fashionista, but I see clothing as an opportunity to use God’s gift of creativity. I think He gave me an eye for woman’s clothes, and now I am using it within the bounds of being a man. I have as many casual shoes as my wife has (if not more…), and love choosing them according to mood/occasion/weather. When I dress well, it helps to give me confidence. I know that God is my ultimate source of confidence. But a full windsor and a crisp shirt all lined up at the gig line, and sleeves rolled up properly (flat, no bunching, three finger widths wide, please), and shoes you can use as a mirror also helps.
Yes, I still have a long way to go. But bit by bit, God is teaching me what it means to live out my calling as a man. Psalm 139 says “how blessed I am, so bound with love, surrounded yet so free.” (New Scottish Hymns). I used to think that when I CD’d I was free to be who I wanted to be and that being a man was so restricting. I have found the opposite. It is only within the bounds of God’s love am I truly free, including from CD.