Jacob likes to say that his father was the only person in his family allowed to express emotion, although the only emotion he expressed was anger. If the paperboy missed the driveway, his father raged. If the pasta was overcooked, rage. If Jacob stuttered while trying to answer his father’s demanding questions, more rage. Rage could mean screaming or fists, or both. When Jacob looks back at that time, the only pleasurable thing he remembers are his night escapes. Around the same time, the boys in Jacob’s neighborhood had made a game of collecting their fathers’ and brothers’ pornography and displaying it in a group show-and-tell. The boys would ooo and aah over images of nude women, but Jacob remembers noticing that he felt different from the other boys. He didn’t seem to get the same sense of satisfaction out of the scandalous images; his night escapes were his only real thrill.
During those evenings, well after everyone else had gone to bed and he could hear his father snoring, Jacob would quietly descend the stairs and creep out the back-door; doors were never locked in those days. He’d crouch out under the shadows of the back hedgerow between his house and a neighbor’s and strip off his nightclothes. There, lying on the grass, Jacob soothed himself against the terror he lived with by day.
Jacob compensated for his pain in other ways; he left home and became a surgeon who married a woman he couldn’t love. He became a father and an overachiever. He hadn’t and couldn’t face the reality that he was gay – something his father would never have accepted. But all the years of medical school and then the equally stressful years working in operating rooms did not make Jacob happy – just the reverse. The demands of work and marriage and fatherhood were incalculably high, so once again, Jacob returned to his night escapes. At first, he only exposed himself in his own backyard late at night, but soon, this wasn’t enough. His need for stimulation outweighed his fear of getting caught until the fear of getting caught entwined with the desire for stimulation. Jacob took to parks, first at night and then in daytime. Ten months into his thrill seeking, he began acting out with other men, something he’d promised himself he’d never do. Jacob was soon arrested for public exposure, then for hiring a male prostitute; and yet, he couldn’t stop.
His compulsive sexual acting out eventually manifested itself into exhibitionism while driving, and Jacob was pulled over after being caught masturbating while driving on an interstate highway. Once again, he faced the humiliation of being found out, but this time, his photograph and a full story about his crime appeared in the local newspaper. Jacob was fired from the hospital and his medical license was put in jeopardy. His wife took the children and left and Jacob suddenly had nothing––no family, no career, no support system. He decided to take his own life. After four failed attempts (a kind soul happened to be in the right place at the right time the last time Jacob attempted to take his life), Jacob decided to enter treatment, and it was there he began dealing with three issues critical to his wellbeing: 1) his sexual addiction, 2) his suppressed sexual orientation, and 3) his painful childhood, including father’s rage.
Rebuilding After Psychological Destruction
Accepting himself and his choices would take Jacob many years and many more therapy visits and 12-Step meetings, but he stepped up to do the work. As he likes to say, “When you’ve already been to hell, there’s only one place to go and that’s back.” Coming back meant that Jacob would have to rewire his brain; he’d have to learn how to replace the fear-based, shame-based thinking his father had planted inside him from a very early age. His earliest memories had come with the message, “You are not okay and you are never going to be okay.” Jacob had been a powerless child, and like nearly any other human in his situation, he’d reached for soothing and comfort wherever he could get it. Unfortunately, his go-to place would become the blueprint for compulsive behavior that would later destroy his life. But after destruction we have two choices: give up or build anew.
Self-Confidence Comes From Small Successes
Jacob began by setting bottom-line behaviors in early recovery and as he progressed, his bottom lines became more inclusive. He placed a net nanny service on his computer and switched from a smartphone to a regular cell phone so that the temptation to look at porn no longer controlled him. He set a goal of attending five meetings a week and reported to his sponsor as well as to an accountability partner when he failed to make his meetings; he had only himself to prove his progress to, but his wellbeing needed to matter to him the most.
Along the way, there were slips and lags in progress, but Jacob has never given up. It’s been through this slow, steady progress that he has begun to truly change. The man who shows up in groups today is a profoundly humble, brave, self-confident soul. He is in full recovery and sponsors others today. He speaks openly and confidently about his homosexuality, and even though he maintains sexual sobriety for the time being, he hopes to one day fall in love and experience an authentic, loving relationship.
Although Jacob lost his career as a surgeon, he continues to work as a healer. He uses his medical knowledge to work with alcohol and drug addicts and to help them through the delicate withdrawal stage in their recovery. He’s happier now than he ever was in an operating room and feels he is truly doing work of the heart; he’s giving back. As an addict himself, he believes he can reach other addicts and that this is his true purpose. Working a life of purpose is an ultimate way to nourish self-confidence and to continue to conquer the addict voice when it arises, hungry and beleaguered, repeating its tired refrain.