An Inside Look at the Double Life of an Addict
This interview with Pure Life's counseling staff reveals the inner dynamics that lead people to hide their sexual sin and create a false life with two very different sides.
When a person is living in habitual sexual sin, one of the key features of his lifestyle will be a double life—a pattern of deception that creates an outward image to hide his addiction. Steve Gallagher describes this problem clearly in his book A Biblical Guide to Counseling the Sexual Addict:
The typical man who will come to you for help just been involved in elicit sexual activity for years. This immoral lifestyle has been done almost entirely in secret. Although sexual fantasy, pornography, and illicit encounters make up a huge part of his life, he has managed to hide it for most, if not all, of his closest friends and relatives. Most acquaintances would consider him to be a morally upright person and would never guess what he does when no one's looking.
How does someone get here? Where does this deceitful life actually start? Ed Buch, who is a biblical counselor and the pastor of Pure Life's Residential Program, explains the process:
Ed Buch: Very few people actually begin a double life as a decisive choice, like something they've thought about and then executed a plan to accomplish. Almost everyone enters into a double life very gradually, very subtly.
People end up in a double life for a couple of basic reasons. I think the most common one truly is that they're afraid of disappointing people—and maybe even themselves. They've gotten caught up, maybe, in a sin cycle—where they sin, they confess it, they sin, they confess it. They just don't want to disappoint others by letting them know that they are still in that. They expect victory; they expect to overcome sexual sin. But when that doesn't happen, they start to go underground with the truth about their situation, and they begin to develop this double life.
Although some people do just quit talking about their problems because they don't want to keep admitting they've failed, others have hidden sexual sin their whole lives and have never told anyone. And there are various factors that hold them back.
Ed Buch: There's shame...there's the fact that some of them don't intend to give up their sexual sin...and there are others who probably just never had that convenient opening they were looking for, where they could share it.
Over the years our ministry has helped so many people that fit this pattern, and in many of their stories, the double life they lived grew out of a situation where the stakes were even higher than usual.
Ed Buch: At Pure Life Ministries we get a significant percentage of the men coming into the program who are actually coming out of full-time ministry, and so this double life is a common theme. They're active in ministry; people are not aware that they're in sexual sin. They're preaching on Sundays, leading the worship team on Sundays, or doing whatever it is they're tasked to do in the church on a regular basis. But over time, they've allowed a back door open in their life; something has gone awry in their spiritual life, and they have begun to live a double life. And that dark side has increased over time and eventually become the dominant theme in their life.
We just had a pastor recently in the program who had pastored for a couple of decades. I am sure he was a good, well-liked pastor who had a relationship with the Lord. But over time, he started dabbling in some pornography. He'd gotten hooked into it one day kind of subtly, and over time it just grew and became a very powerful force in his life that overrode everything else, including his marriage vows and his service to the Lord. And I'm sure that, to him, it seemed impossible to come into the light, because his job, his marriage, his house—all of it was was connected to the job he was doing as a pastor, so bringing anything into the light about his sexual sin jeopardized all of that. I'm sure he felt stuck, paralyzed...unable to really break free of this on his own and unable, in his mind, to pay the price of coming into the light with it.
When a person's sexual sin is exposed, this double life can be a shocking revelation—even to those that know them the best. But one of our biblical counselors, Jeremiah Eakin, says that it's not hard to start down this road.
Jeremiah Eakin: You can hide anything, as far as sexual sin. It can be same sex attraction, it can be pornography, it can be masturbation. That's the thing with sexual sin: it's so easy to hide, because you can do it in your mind, or you can do it right in front of people. And no one knows it. You can hide any form of sexual sin and still go to church and wear nice clothes, and then you worship and leave and virtually no one will know your struggle. No one will be able to tell, because it's all happening in the heart and in the mind, and there's not really any outward signs.
The length of time that someone can keep living a double life varies. But it's hard to keep doing it forever, as Jeremiah points out.
Jeremiah Eakin: You have to create something false. So it just depends on how good of a liar you are. It's being double-minded. James says, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." People can go 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. But eventually, it's going to come to an end. It's not real and it's in direct opposition to what the Bible says. We have a conscience, and we are supposed to walk out our Christian life in faith. But if you're in sexual sin, your conscience is messed up and faith malfunctions—every time. So you can't go on like this. You'll see someone all of a sudden leave the church after 20 years. It happens very abruptly, but they've never really been walking out the Christian life. It's just been a facade, and all of a sudden they just can't do any more and they leave the church.
If the statistics are correct, sexual sin is a problem every church needs to pay attention to. But since this phenomenon of people having a double life is also going on, how can a person know who's struggling? Jeremiah shares some thoughts.
Jeremiah Eakin: There is a way to tell. They're not going to have real life—life that's flowing out of them. Someone who's stuck in legalism would look the same way. If you have a church where people really know the Lord, you can recognize this problem. There's going to be life in a genuine Christian, and that's the main difference, because someone in sexual sin isn't going to have that real life. And so if you get to know them...if you spend time with them, you'll see. But you have to get to know people. It's not enough just to see them at church. You have to get into their life. You'll see that the reality is they're destroying themselves. There is a cry for help, but you have to get in there and be willing to get your hands dirty with people.
Jeremiah has a burden for people who are hiding out in the church—struggling, but silent. So he shares a final word of encouragement about what people can do to reach out.
Jeremiah Eakin: These things need to be talked about directly, because it's out there. People are struggling with it, but they need an outlet where it's talked about and confronted. And that's the best thing you can do for someone in sexual sin: go straight at it. Talk about it in real terms. One of the best things you can do if you think someone is struggling with sexual sin is just to get to know them. Just talk to them. Because it will show up in their life. You'll just see it. They'll have an opportunity to share. Those who are struggling want to tell people, but they need a safe place to share this, because to them, it's very shameful. And so there has to be some trust involved. It has to be a safe place for them to really open up and share what's going on. That’s important.
This excerpt is from a podcast episode that we designed especially for pastors and other church leaders presenting a three-part profile on the typical sexual addict, “A Leader’s Guide to the Sexual Addict, Episode #326”.