The post today, while seemingly not at all about downward mobility, really addresses some of the deeper issues I was hoping to discuss in this series. Mainly, how do our neighborhoods affect us? How close are we to the brokenness of the world? What are the blessings and drawbacks of running towards the hurts of the world? I adore Becca and her husband, and this vulnerable, insightful, and hopeful post got my brain spinning just thinking about the creative ways that the kingdom comes, even (or dare I say especially?) in our most troubled neighborhoods. It comes through our desires to choose one another–our spouses, our children, our neighbors–to honor instead of exploit.
This is not an easy post to write, and I want to honor the struggle of how hard it is to be honest. Addiction is a common thread in many of our stories, mine included. So thank you, Becca and Chris, for encouraging us all with your commitment to God and his kingdom, and to each other.
I’d never heard anyone say those words before, not out loud, not in a normal conversation. We said goodbye that night in 2007 not knowing if we’d see each other again, but began writing emails every couple of weeks (although my interest was much greater than my frequency let on). Nine months later we became extra special friends of the long-distance kind and another year later we were extra special friends of the married and suddenly sharing everything kind.
When we met, Chris had been sober from a pornography addiction for two years. That was after a decade of secrecy, self-hatred and intense shame, beginning in his early teens. It was a private hell, he was powerless to stop using a substance stronger than hard drugs, one that completely re-wired his brain towards objectification of women and bonded him to a severe distortion of God’s design for sexual intimacy. Coming out from under the addiction’s power began with extreme desperation and some life-altering honesty. From then it was 18 months of regularly sharing in community, receiving unconditional love from people and letting God renew his mind. One day it was done, he knew he was free. For him, walking in that freedom has meant continually allowing people into that part of his story.
I’m so proud of my husband, eight years clean this August. When I told him how amazed I was by him he said to me, “I’m still a recovering addict, becca. I always will be. You need to know that.” There’s this honesty about him, this humility and openness about where he has been and a continual pursuit of wholeness. We communicate very openly around the subject, with each other and with our community.
It was never really a pressing subject until we moved onto the main street of an industrial neighbourhood where we’ve lived for two and a half years. I love it here–our street is lovely on sunny mornings, people visiting the small businesses and art galleries that have been popping up, it’s easy to forgive the abandoned buildings though they outnumber the healthy ones. Neighbours teach my kids to speak Aussie and meet us at the park, shop owners know us by name and talk about grandbabies.
The situation has drastically improved in the last decade but people still come to our neighbourhood to feed addictions, escape reality and numb themselves. Men file into the three pubs (read: bars) on our street or drive up and down looking for a sexually exploited woman who may be standing on the corner, leaning against a wall or stepping out of another man’s car. Sometimes there are used condoms and needles at the park or you see a man and woman come out of the bushes together in the middle of the day. Friday night is “waitress night” (read: topless) and I hear men hoot and holler when a woman appears at the pole specially erected for the weekly event. Maybe five or six times I’ve been walking by and seen a woman’s breasts on display while she serves drinks to a table of men. The more I learn about sex trafficking and prostitution worldwide the more aware I am of the invisible shackles on women in the industry, that it’s hardly their choice to be there if it is at all.
Power over addiction begins with honesty. The media sells us a thousand lies about sexuality and pleasure and need, saying nothing of the terrible damage that occurs when we objectify other human beings. But our neighbourhood is honest about the cost, about what addictions can lead to: a married man with kids risking everything for a body to orgasm inside, he’ll exploit a woman who is desperate, high or out of her mind; guys meet weekly with friends to drink while topless women ‘entertain’ them, people stumble outside drunk and angry at 2am. There’s nothing glamorous or sexy here.
There’s been a new kind of pressure on our marriage since moving to this street- there are times when relatively small disputes feel like they carry this enormous weight, that there’s some cosmic battle already raging that we are just stumbling into. God’s kingdom is a delicate eco-system of justice, freedom, and wild, beautiful Love and we are called to be an alternative people who honour rather than exploit. When we are demanding rather than giving and ignoring the diversity and equality within each other we have subscribed to the dominant consciousness around us.
It’s really, really hard sometimes but there is something prophetic happening in our upstairs apartment. It’s when my husband and I choose only each other again and again, even when we’re exhausted and frustrated and have said things we regret. It’s when our friends pursue sexual wholeness together, when we name addiction for what it is and walk the hard road towards sexual sobriety. It’s when we re-imagine the possibilities of honest to goodness friendship within our own gender and between men and women, when we really see each other as unique individuals powerfully equal, Imago Dei shining bright. It’s when we practice the quiet, subversive sacrament of neighbourliness. We are digging a hole here, planting our little tree and watching it grow; one day those roots will erupt through the concrete on our street. As Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy has written, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Jesus’ resurrection frees us to to model our lives in his likeness, to treat each other with the honour and respect we all deserve. Jesus has triumphed over the powers of addiction and exploitation that rage in our neighbourhood, he’s paraded them around to be seen for the lies that they are. He’s made them get honest, and that’s our first step to freedom as well. There is no shame or condemnation here, only healing and freedom and the transformation of our minds, the ‘conversion of our imaginations’.
Someday the tide will turn and the raging waves of misogyny and exploitation in the world will be drawn back out to the chaotic place from which it comes. The pornography industry will self-destruct and all the precious children of God who make and consume it will be reconciled. Men will drive home to their wives rather than up and down our street, our neighbourhood pub will be known for it’s good beer and honest conversation and everyone will take ownership over their thoughts and actions. No one will feel shame over their God-given sexuality. As we get free from our own addictions to self-comfort and escape, and when we give love freely in our families and communities, we are a sign that the new world is already on her way.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see the image of God in us all.
For some incredible resources on recovery and addiction visit The National Association for Christian Recovery.