I recently listened to a great teaching called “Healthy Families” by Kris Vallotton. Like many of his teachings, I so much enjoyed this one. I highly recommend taking an hour or so to listen to it. During the talk he shared 4 values of healthy families, but for the purpose of this post, I want to focus on one.
Healthy Marriages have NO SECRETS.
For years I held on to a huge secret in our marriage. It was my addiction to pornography. I’ve touched on the subject on my personal site, but I’ll mention just a bit of my struggle here. My exposure began like it does for many men – as a teenager to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. Over the years the content of what I watched became increasingly worse.
My addiction got so bad that it played a large part in my manic episode I detailed in a previous post. I was viewing porn (and terrible stuff at that) and I still, to this day, have absolutely no recollection of it. That is an incredibly scary thing for me.
After my manic episode I had one more relapse in my pornography addiction that was incredibly hurtful to our marriage. I confessed this relapse to Danielle, and she was devastated.
It took months to heal our marriage, and in all honesty, the healing occurs bit by bit to this day.
Pornography is an incredibly destructive force. It leads to secretive behavior. It keeps the husband from being completely honest and open with his wife. And it ends up leaving the wife feeling hurt, at best, and completely devastated and devalued at worst. It also leads to a huge lack of trust in a relationship once it has been exposed.
Fortunately for me Danielle has shown me untold amounts of grace. Firstly, she decided to stay with me during my mania even though I had told her at the time she was free to go and that God was telling me that (He obviously wasn’t).
Secondly, she stayed with me after my pornography admission bombshell. Which may have been even more difficult (you’d have to ask her). I can only begin to imagine the pain she dealt with and the anger that admission caused.
People have asked me how I got over my addiction to pornography, and I’ve told them I really believe it was a miracle. Nothing short of a miracle. Right before it ended there was a word given to me that everything would have to be torn down before it could be built back up. Our lives were “torn down” due to my manic episode (which this person had no idea about) and by my addiction to pornography. Ever since, our marriage has been built back up, although it hasn’t been easy.
So I don’t really have a good answer when it comes to getting out of the bondage of pornography. I struggled with it for YEARS. But I do know you should tell someone you trust, get help, get counseling if you need it and be open and honest with your wife.
Maybe the last part was the key that broke things once and for all. I had not been completely honest with Danielle. Once I was, and we went through the hurt and ugliness of the process, I believe that’s when I was completely healed from my addiction. But it took hard work, on both our parts, to begin the restoration process for our marriage. Nobody ever said marriage would be easy. Marriage takes a lot of work. Especially when working through such an ugly addiction. It would have been easy for Danielle to give up on me, especially since I had failed her time and time again. But she didn’t. She chose to fight for our marriage.
Pornography and sexual material seem to be absolutely everywhere it seems. You can find something attractive at your local Walmart aisle, the movies (50 Shades anyone?), or just a mouse click away. That is by no means an excuse for men. It is a reminder to us guys that we need to be ever vigilant regarding what we put before our eyes and what we allow our minds to dwell on.
Pornography can have NO PLACE in a marriage. It just can’t. You might be able to convince yourself that it will be okay for a while, but it will blow up in the end, and it won’t be pretty. Hopefully you’ll have someone like a Danielle to help pick up the pieces of the mess you made.
Healthy Marriages have NO SECRETS.
I should have known something was wrong on Friday. The night before, my friend Nate and his wife Jess and I, drove 2 plus hours on a whim to go worship with Bryan and Katie Torwalt in Harrisburg, PA. I called Danielle, who was in Athens for the night with Fitzy, and told her to drop her plans, and come with me. She responded with something like, what is wrong with you? You work tomorrow. We can’t just drive to Harrisburg tonight. I told her it was fine if she didn’t want to go, but I was. After worship, we ate at the Outback (my favorite) and made the trip back home. Some hanging out once we got home made for a LATE night, but the next day I was peppy and ready to go, while my friend Nate was dragging around.
I should have known something wasn’t right.
Let’s rewind a bit.
That Monday I was mowing the lawn. As I drove past a certain tree I felt God prompting me to “Go, take Fitzy and pray for your friend Ralph.” Now, I hadn’t seen Ralph in forever, but I knew he had some form of cancer. I dismissed the notion as just something I came up with. However, when I rounded the yard again I got the same impression, so I figured, “OK, I’ll go.” I called to make sure it was OK for us to come and Ralph’s wife said if we felt called to come pray, then we should.
I called my buddy Dan, and he was in, in a heartbeat. I went to my parents’ house to borrow the anointing oil, got Fitzy, and picked Dan up. Off we went to Ralph’s.
When we got there I explained what happened and how I thought we were supposed to pray for Ralph, and how I thought Fitzy was definitely supposed to pray as well. We got started praying and then I had Fitzy do a “repeat after me” prayer. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. When we got to the part about “healing” Ralph, Fitzy screamed it out. Dan and I both had goosebumps.
Now, I’m not saying we’re anything special. I just felt called to go and pray. That’s all.
This led to a chain of events that got me to Harrisburg on a Thursday night after work, which we already covered. Just remember it was a super late night, and the next day it didn’t seem to faze me at all, while my friend, Nate, was definitely dragging.
Friday we went to Danielle’s parents’ house for the night before we made the rest of the trip for vacation on Sunday. As we drove over I talked almost incessantly about all sorts of stuff (moving, buying a house, canceling our beach trip, and all sorts of crazy stuff). I even told Danielle at one point we had to make a decision RIGHT NOW about what we were going to do. Again, I should have known something was wrong. She did. She kept asking me to slow down, calm down. What on earth are you talking about?
That evening, unbeknownst to myself (and still would be to this day if Danielle hadn’t told me what happened) I perused some material on my in-laws computer I had no business visiting. Later on that evening, or early morning Saturday, I found that material in the open tabs and freaked out because I thought it was from Danielle’s dad. I told Danielle we had to leave RIGHT AWAY, at 2 AM. I wasn’t comfortable at all. I couldn’t sleep. I remember staying up and asking friends online what I should do in the middle of the night. What I should have done was gone to sleep, assuming that I could have slept at all. What I should have done was not opened that computer in the first place.
Danielle had a wedding on Saturday and I didn’t feel comfortable staying at her parents after the events of the night. Danielle had confronted her dad and asked him if he had been looking at the stuff on the computer. I was terrified that he wouldn’t react well to my accusations. Danielle dropped me off in Troy on the way to her wedding and my uncle picked me up and took me home. Danielle came back to Mansfield on Sunday morning to pick me up and head for the beach, even though I firmly believed that we should not go.
Again. I should have known something was wrong.
On the way to the beach, we stopped to visit our friends Beth and Ben for the night. We met Beth and Ben on Facebook and have never met in real life before, so it was awesome to connect with them. We hit it off right away, which I knew we would. We felt like long lost friends. Little did I know that they hadn’t invited us down, but I had told them we would be coming.
I wanted to take Danielle to the church I had visited on Thursday night, since I had such a great time there. It didn’t work for Beth and Ben to go so we made the “trip” ourselves. During the course of worship I took Fitzy out to the lobby, since he was getting a bit antsy. While we walked around, I noticed a woman who was frantically searching for something. Turns out she had lost her phone.
The more I watched I learned she was the director of a worship school taking place at the church. She needed that phone to stay in touch with people.
When I went back in to switch off with Danielle a girl came up to me and asked whether or not I had seen the lost phone. Right then I felt God telling me we should give her one of our phones. I told her to find my wife and we would help them out.
Long story short, that didn’t fly with Danielle, and we ended up retuning to Beth and Ben’s with both phones in hand.
The next day we left for Ocean City, MD, a favorite vacation spot for our family. I was feeling good. Too good.
And then I got a phone call from my supervisor telling me I needed to take a prank video we recorded at work off YouTube. I kept asking him why and he said my boss wanted it deleted. I proceeded to call my boss and press him for an answer, which he gave.
I think that’s when things really started going downhill. I wasn’t thinking right and was making decisions at the drop of a hat. I drove over 8 hours to the beach, talking the entire time. About new jobs, new houses, new decisions.
We arrived at the beach and I was full of energy, talking almost incessantly. I was aggressive and hostile, to an extent, without any idea how it was affecting my family. I felt invincible. Apparently I also thought I was rich and extremely good looking. I was barely sleeping. Maybe getting two hours or so a night.
I even told Danielle she was released of her wedding vows. Now I don’t remember this at all, but Danielle assures me I did, several times. I told her it was OK for her to leave and that I would be fine. I would be fine never seeing her or the boys again. God told me. I mean, where does that come from? It’s amazing Danielle didn’t up and leave or at least smack me senseless right then and there.
I thought several times I was going to die. I mean seriously die. Like at any minute. It was scary and not, at the same time. My dad just held me the last time. I thought I was going “home” for sure at that point and it was wonderful just having dad there. Even though I hadn’t been treating him well either.
It all came to a head when I sat my family down in the middle of the courtyard at our condo and lectured them about how they needed to be on my side and support me. I feel awful for anyone who had to witness that train wreck. I gave my family an ultimatum. Either you’re on my side or you’re not. For some decisions that I explained were lifelong dreams for me. Things I felt God calling me to do. NOW. Things that they had never heard me talk about.
Thank God they all said “yes” or I wouldn’t be here right now.
I told Danielle I needed my phone for an hour so I could talk to my friend Dave. She had been begging me to get off my phone and spend some time with everyone. We talked for I don’t know how long about all sorts of things and then I went back to our room, handing over my phone.
That’s when it hit me. My body just couldn’t keep up with how fast my mind was moving anymore. I had a light lunch and then laid down for a nap.
That’s when things got really bizarre. When I woke up from my nap I had absolutely no idea what day or time of day it was. I barely knew where I was or who I was with. Little did I know Danielle had prayed this into being.
I’m told I also spoke with my doctor who informed my family I needed to be taken to the hospital immediately.
Danielle, my dad and I left for the hospital while mom stayed with Fitzy. On the way to the hospital in the midst of my jabbering I predicted some of the people who we would meet, even as far as saying one of the women we would work with would be named Mary. I made all sorts of stock predictions and rambled on about google, apple, and facebook. I made Danielle and dad promise to invest our money in them, because by this time tomorrow, we would all be millionaires.
I don’t remember much about the first hospital except that they showed me it was in fact the day everyone kept telling me it was.
The hospital didn’t have the facilities to handle my condition so I had to be transported to another hospital. Instead of an ambulance I was taken in a police vehicle instead. Since I was riding in the front seat I had to be handcuffed. On the way there the female officer and I had the nicest conversation.
At the next facility it was clear we were in a psychiatric center. There were people there who clearly had issues. As if I didn’t at the moment. After spending what felt like an eternity in my room I was sent back home. The doctors told dad and Danielle they have me enough medicine to “knock me out” for the night. Wrong. I kept jibber jabbering all the way back to the condo. I fell asleep and popped up two hours later, ready to go for the day, at 2 AM. Mom stayed up with me that night and then Danielle took the morning shift.
The next day, I told them I needed my phone. Danielle kept telling me that I had told her to take it away from me. That I didn’t need it, but I did need it to check the stocks and see how much money we had made. I told them that my phone needed to be in my hand by 9 AM, or else. Danielle and Fitzy left with mom, telling Dad to take control of the situation. Thankfully my dad talked me down and at one point I told him that I wanted to go home and see our doctor and maybe spend some time at the hospital. We had arrived at the beach on Monday afternoon and left on Thursday morning. We packed the car and headed home. Well, not home, but to Soldiers and Sailors hospital where I was soon admitted and voluntarily checked into the behavioral health unit.
Now, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what a BHU was. Boy was I mostly wrong. I was treated incredibly well, had a nice clean room, got to watch TV on a flat screen and even play the Wii during activity time. I got to experience group therapy, which is not quite the way it’s portrayed in most movies and TV shows.
I saw people worse off than me. I lived with drug addicts. I saw what it was like “on the inside”. And like I said, for the most part it wasn’t bad.
Not to say I wasn’t having issues. I was. I was attracted to just about ever female that came my way and figured they felt the same way. Thank God I didn’t do anything, if I could have, with any of them.
While I was in the BHU I was diagnosed as Bipolar 1. Looking back I’m not sure how I felt about the diagnosis. I guess I was confused, scared and didn’t believe it at first. Let me tell you, there’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to believe.
But I was in a hurry to get out, Bipolar or not, and I did after 5 days.
But that was too soon. When I was home I was irritable. And jumpy. Controlling. When I walked into mom and dad’s, mom turned on the blender, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Then there was the golfing incident. Dad and I went golfing at Corey Creek Thursday afternoon and I made the decision to purchase a new set of Calloway clubs. Dad didn’t know that when I went into the clubhouse I was going to come out $2,000 lighter in the wallet.
Large purchases are a warning sign to look out for in Bipolar it turns out.
My family decided I needed to go back to the hospital, and I, reluctantly, agreed. I demanded that only Danielle take me, and unbeknownst to me, my dad followed. While in the ER, Danielle confronted me about the golf clubs, she had found out through my friend Jason, and I told her to leave. I didn’t want to see her. So she did.
My second stay on the BHU lasted 10 days. Again, I was treated so well and even put on a decent amount of weight due to the great food. Yes, you read that right. My hospital food was great. Or at least it was in my still somewhat manic state of mind.
After leaving the hospital I started counseling and I now see a psychiatrist regularly. Again, it’s not like the stereotype I thought it was. I’m on a combination of medications to help me not get too high or too low, and at this point, they seem to be working well.
I tell you this story for several reasons. This can happen to anyone. Any one of us. And to say how thankful I am for my mom and dad and my in-laws. And how thankful I am for Danielle. She was a rock for me when my whole world was literally flipped upside down. She was my stability when all she wanted to do was run. She didn’t and wouldn’t give up on me.
Even after I dropped a giant bombshell of a secret on Danielle and flipped her world upside down right after I was released from the hospital, she stood by my side through the pain of it all.
Danielle was “in deep”, and she saved my life. I can never thank her enough.
At several points in my story I didn’t know how or didn’t even want to fight for my marriage. I didn’t even know what was going, on let alone know how to save my marriage from the wreckage I was putting it through.
But. Even though things were terrible I kept telling Danielle “it will be OK”. Now, hearing this from someone who is having a breakdown isn’t necessarily reassuring, but somewhere inside I knew things would be OK. Our marriage would be OK, even while I was telling Danielle she was free to up and leave. Even when I was saying things to her that I can’t even bear to think about, let alone repeat here, or even remember.
I don’t know why I went on summer vacation and ended up diagnosed as bipolar. I wish I did. It still doesn’t seem fair to me. I can only speculate at this point, but someday I’m sure I’ll have a better understanding.
Even though I didn’t know it this summer, I was “in deep.”
And I’ll never be anything less.
Writing that title without capital letters is hard. But I’ve done much harder things in life. Watching your wife suffer with jaw pain, praying for a 24-year old friend to beat cancer and then standing in front of his casket, hearing your dad has Leukemia, are just a handful of the hard things I’ve walked through.
Being a dad is hard. Mostly because I’m not a kid person. I find it hard to relate, hard to pretend “play”, etc.
But marriage. Marriage is hard. Marriage is everyday. It’s 24/7 hard. Like hard. For realz (as the kids say).
Don’t get me wrong. I love being married, and I LOVE Danielle, but loving Danielle every day and holding up my end of the vows is not always a walk in the park.
You see, I’m fairly forgetful, I think it’s part of the Male condition, for whatever reason. And Danielle values having things done (gifts of service for you 5 Love Languages peeps). And I try, I really do. Sometimes I try too much and just ending up forgetting in incredibly epic fashion. #FAIL, if you will.
And yet Danielle loves me, even though I drive her completely cuckoo at times. For that, I’m eternally grateful. She claims not to be patient and caring sometimes, but she is.
Lately Danielle has been “interesting” to live with. I blame the baby! (just kidding, Baby Barden) Something about hormones and such. And I get it. I do. But it can be challenging at times. I risked bodily harm by informing her one evening that she was, frankly, being crazy. She took it remarkably well, because she’s awesome like that. She can admit when she’s being more Almond Joy than Mounds.
And here’s a little secret. Ready? Being an only child, I value my alone time. Because for roughly 20 years of my life or so I basically had as much of it as I wanted. So to be by myself for a day, or two, or three, is no big deal. It’s not that I don’t like being around Danielle or Fitzy, but sometimes…I just need my space.
I enjoy golfing. 3-4 hours of just being out in the elements playing a game that is deeply maddening and enjoyable at the same time, usually with friends. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But, it does take me away from the rest of my family. So I am working on finding a balance. Which is hard.
Lately Danielle has been on my nerves and I’ve been on hers. Sometimes I think we need a separate vacation, but you didn’t hear that from me I think my problem is that I assume she’s going to be upset about something, so I go on defense automatically. I just can’t help it. And Danielle assumes I will forget something or not do something, so she goes into “prepare to be disappointed” mode, if you will.
And yet we work. We keep at it, because it’s worth it. Now, more than ever, society needs examples of marriages that work, in spite of all the challenges. So we fight.