Men are striving to overcome sexual addictions in a group at Edmonton's St. Charles Parish.
If a recovering alcoholic says he's five years sober from alcohol, people applaud his accomplishment.
If a man says he's five years sober from cheating on his wife, viewing Internet pornography and compulsively masturbating, people are repulsed.
Few people want to hear about sex addiction – it's a taboo subject. However, a Christian sexual addiction recovery group has men talking openly about such problems.
Since May 2013, Overcomers Outreach (In Recovery by God's Grace) has been meeting weekly at St. Charles Church.
John (not his real name), a group member, is a reminder of how a child's upbringing can impact him. Children grow up developing core beliefs through the way their family functions and treats them.
A child brought up in a loving family will likely have self-worth and healthy relationships. However, a child who grows up in a family that neglects him will develop negative core beliefs. Later in life, the person has trouble maintaining stable relationships.
"I never felt love from my parents," said John. "My mom used to tie me to my bed when I was three years old, so I couldn't go into my parents' room. I had a lot of rejection issues growing up."
These issues were compounded when he was sexually abused by a neighbour boy when he was seven. Feeling guilt and shame, he told no one. When he was 11, his older brother abused him.
As a pre-teen, compulsive masturbation became his drug of choice to numb his feelings of self-loathing.
John came from a strict Christian background and, as a child, believed God would avenge his sins. Therefore, admitting his wrongdoings filled him with fear.
The meetings offer an accepting, non-threatening environment where men can share their common struggles with sexual addiction. The men shared their experiences and progressive victories over sexual addiction and pornography.
As an adult, John's friends were all promiscuous, and going to the bar to pick up women was seen as acceptable behaviour. He had girlfriends, and he cheated on all of them.
"My moral compass was really jaded. I didn't know what was normal. Masturbating twice a day was normal. Going out and hooking up with every girl I could was normal. It had to be normal because everyone was doing it," said John.
Only when he met the woman who would become his wife did he realize that he had an issue with sexuality. He labeled her his "wow girl," and he was convinced that she was the woman destined for him.
Even when he married, his cycle of failures and broken promises did not cease. He still gave in to his lusts. He continued having affairs with other women.
"I try to be monogamous but I can't. Why can't I be faithful to the one person I love? The self-hatred starts and the shame and the guilt," said John. "I hated who I was. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop.
"Every time I had an affair, I said it was the last time because it would make me feel sick, and I hated what I was doing. A week later, two weeks later, I'd do it again."
A turning point came on his 18th wedding anniversary. A woman with whom he had been sexually involved phoned his wife and revealed his infidelity. His reprehensible secret was a secret no more.
All along he had felt too ashamed or unworthy to admit anything to his wife or to God. He finally turned to God for help and confessed everything.
His transformation was sudden. Now, John has been five years removed from his struggles with sexual addiction, but continues coming to the group meetings out of fellowship. The group reminds him of the man he used to be.
"My wife and I separated three years ago. She tried to work through all of the issues of my infidelity, but she just couldn't do it. My betrayal, the pain, everything I did just crushed her," admitted John, saying they have recently filed for divorce.
As a Christian-based program, Overcomers Outreach uses a 12-step program. However, being a Christian is not a requirement to join the group.
Members share their strengths and hope with each other for the purpose of finding freedom from addictive sexual behaviour. Everything shared at the meeting is confidential.
James, another group member, had an inability to resist impulses to engage in sexual acts. In search of support, he first went to Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). There, he heard the stories of other men with problems similar to his own. He felt at home, knowing he was not alone in his torment.
"I thought I was the only monster. There, I learned that there are other people like me," he said.
After full disclosure to his wife, he had to reestablish his relationship with her and find intimacy, which they didn't have before.
SAA is different because many group members are non-Christian or without faith altogether. While SAA encouraged James to acknowledge a "higher power," he was not permitted to name that higher power. People got hostile if he uttered the name "Jesus."
"With Overcomers Outreach, I can define Jesus as my higher power. The group allows me to talk about Scripture and what the homily was about at Mass because it's often very relevant or means something to me," said James.
Overcomers Outreach has not only helped him overcome his sex addiction but has also granted him greater spiritual awareness. He can understand more of God's word.
"It doesn't take much to lead you down a path that is very dark," said James.
For that reason, the men try to avoid their potential triggers, perhaps abstaining from looking at bikini calendars, drinking alcohol or going to the beach where barely-clothed women are present.
Paul has been struggling with sex addiction for most of his life, even as a child. He started having sex with a prostitute when he was 18, and the deviant acts continued for about 10 years. Most of his previous girlfriends were sex addicts too.
He got married. After the birth of his second child, intimacy with his wife stopped, but he continued having sex with partners outside of his marriage. He has struggled with Internet pornography and compulsive masturbation.
The men explained that with addictions to drugs and alcohol, those things must be purchased somewhere. With sex addiction, its source is always with them, which makes it a difficult craving to pacify.
"One thing is for sure: you can't have a little lust in your life. You have to do something about it because if you don't, it's going to destroy you. It's destroyed some of our marriages or we're on the verge," said Karl, another group member.
"There are a lot of guys out there in complete denial. They think it's normal or controllable – but it's not."
The men remarked that Oblate Father Frank Kuczera, the pastor at St. Charles, has been supportive of the group. He's given presentations on forgiveness and prayer.
Related to sexual addiction, the group has a collection of books, CDs and other resources available on loan.
For more information about Overcomers Outreach, call toll free at 1-888-581-5546 or visit its website, www.freedshedmonton.org.