Freedom is not the absence of temptation. Freedom is not the absence of struggle. Freedom is being equipped and knowing what to do when those difficulties come.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with a local faith builder, Lynn Marie Cherry, author of the book Keep Walking: 40 Days To Hope And Freedom After Betrayal. Lynn has shared her story of betrayal and the recovery of her marriage in the hands of faith to so many through conferences, speaking, and her writing. We are in awe of her bravery in sharing her journey of navigating the effects of the silent addiction we don’t talk about, pornography.
Lynn, your book Keep Walking gives such hope to women who are going through similar pain and despair. Would you share your story and how you went from discovery to denial, anger, and then eventually the path of healing?
It is a long story, Rene, because I stayed in denial for so long. Very early in my marriage, I had an idea that something wasn’t quite right. However, I decided I didn’t want to know what it was. I chose denial and we lived that way for several years, just having this feeling like “Hmmm, I’m not sure about that”, “what’s happening in that room with the door closed?”, and having just a weird feeling on the inside. I was really thinking that whatever it is, it’s not a big deal… I’ve never been married before…I don’t know… it’s probably nothing. . . I’m fine, it doesn’t bother me. I told myself that for a long time. Then, in 2000, our second son was born, just 20 minutes after we got to the hospital. It was just a super powerful woman experience! I was living in probably a little bit of a high off of that.
One evening, I was up in the middle of the night, feeding the baby, wrapped him up, swaddled him, put him in the crib. I noticed when I was going back to bed that the light was on in our home office. And in that state of mind, I just thought, “Oh! This is great! I’m not the only grown-up who’s awake in the middle of the night!” I just walked right over to open the door. The instant I opened that door, I felt just a tangible presence, and I describe it as the enticement of lust followed so quickly by the oppression of shame. I felt in that moment what my husband experienced as he was coping with life through sexual addiction. I saw pornography on the computer screen in that room.
So, here I am, standing at the door. That thing that’s not quite right is right in front of my eyes, and yet I still chose denial. I have two little boys now, I have a newborn, and my mom was sleeping on the sofa-bed in the living room. I had no capacity to deal with that reality. So I closed the door and I walked away and chose denial again. Even though my moment of discovery lasted briefly, I fell back into coping with my life with this denial: my go-to coping mechanism for most of my life. About four years later, I was just a mess. I’d really run out of space to stuff things in anymore. I had been stuffing and stuffing and coping with denial; shoving all of this junk down deep inside of me and it just started seeping out.
I found myself just really always boiling over, ready to erupt with anger, with frustration. I was living with a low level of irritation just all the time. I remember just thinking, “I don’t like the person I’m becoming.”, and it scared me. Being angry scared me. I was okay for so long being sad, and I was okay being lonely, but the anger was disturbing. I could see why people you would never expect do things like hurt their children or had the capacity to go to that level. I look back at my anger and I think it was God’s gift to me because it was a wake-up call and it finally motivated me to realize I have to get help. I can’t be this mom, I can’t be this woman. I’m so grateful which I know sounds weird, but I’m so grateful for my anger because it was a catalyst for me to reach out and get help.
There was another key thing that happened in that season. I was having coffee with a friend, sitting across the table from her at Starbucks under the green umbrella when she told me about a betrayal in her marriage. It was a little bit different, more of an emotional attachment, but still a betrayal. I looked at her across the table, thinking she is on the other side of the pain that I’m drowning in. God planted hope in my heart that moment.
Through her willingness to tell her story I realized there was an other side for me. I don’t have to stay stuck in this place. I don’t have to just roll over and drown in this pain. There’s a way through. I went home that day and called the counselor that she gave me the number for. And I told my husband, “I need help. We need help… but I know I need help. I’m going to this appointment. I’m inviting you to come with me. But whether or not you come with me, I have to go.” That really was the beginning of change for me and we started the brutal process of counseling.
Oh my gosh, if you’ve ever spent any time in therapy, you know it’s not a Sunday afternoon trip. It’s so much work! For me, coming out of denial, it felt like my weekly wound scraping. I’m going to go and they’re just going to scrape this wound that already feels so bloody and open. For our first couples’ counseling appointment, we walked in and there were about four or five couples in the room. To start the class, we each have to tell our story. And we haven’t told anyone at this point, I mean, NOBODY knows what’s been happening in our home.
We really only come to know God in those deep waves of the struggle and pain, through those crises.
Nobody knows my husband’s story. He was 7 when he first encountered pornography in his home and it had been lifelong for him. Nobody noticed that part of our lives. It was really scary to walk into that appointment and actually speak out the truth of our lives in front of these other people. Well, the second week we show up for class and a new couple joined. So, for their benefit, we all tell our stories again. It was awful! The third week, we show up to class, and one couple had dropped out but a new couple joined. So again we tell this truth. This story, this shameful thing that had been in secret for so long. I told my husband on the way to our fourth class: ” If another couple shows up, I quit. I am done. I am not telling this story again.” It just was so heart – wrenching to speak that out over and over again. I look back and feel terrible for the other couples in our group because I think God knew that I needed that. I needed to tell the reality of my life: to speak it out. To say out loud, “This is what’s happening in my home. This is real and this is the truth.” There is no moving forward until we acknowledge the reality and look at the truth. For me, I had to look at it from so many different angles. I needed to understand my husband’s story.
I remember asking him a lot of questions and discovering that he was a child. In so many ways, I felt like I was a victim of his sexual addiction. It did cause a lot of trauma and pain for me. But when I found out that he was seven, that little boy is a victim of this industry and his childhood was so robbed from him in second grade. So, that healing process… we were in therapy for two years. We did two 12 week groups with couples. Then, because of the trauma– and betrayal really does cause trauma, I did two 12 week groups just with other betrayed spouses. I found so much healing with those other women. Being able to not be the only one in the room suffering. So many times I would walk into a room, whether it’s at church or at work or just the grocery store, I would tell myself I am the only woman in this room who’s dying. Everybody else is happy, they’re enjoying a great marriage, they’re loving life together, and their kids are happy. Yet, here I am just limping along. I’d then to go to my therapy group and have this solidarity of suffering… it just felt so good. We began to heal and to learn to grab hold of tools and do this work together. And that creates a forward motion and you can see other couples changing. You can see other women changing, and it almost reinforces what you don’t notice on a daily basis: that you really are changing and you really are healing.God healed that wound on my heart and he restored my soul. He restored my husband’s soul. Miraculously, we were able to walk that healing journey together in the same space and God really did restore our relationship.
Internet pornography itself has become a real silent addiction in our country… basically, the question is: What have you learned about this condition, personally, and how has it impacted families today?
People would be shocked at how prevalent pornography is in our culture. At this point, with the evolution of the phone and the smartphone, we have instant access to anonymous and free pornography. It’s incredibly pervasive and the impact is incredibly more pervasive. The average person would be shocked to know how many homes are dealing with pornography at some level. It’s in our purse, it’s in her pocket, it’s on our nightstand. It’s just always accessible.
This is a major issue that our culture will have to face in the coming years. Our children are probably suffering more than anyone. I look at my husband’s story: he was 7 when he encountered pornography that was in the magazine in the woods behind his house. Now, for children growing up now, what they’re exposed to is video. They’re not seeing a two-dimensional photo. They’re seeing a video. In some cases, children are exposed to live -streaming video. It’s much more damaging to their brain. Even though those images captured my husband as a child what our children are supposed to now and how that impacts the brain is just another level of impact. We’re really going to see a lot of people in a lot of families dealing with this issue of pain. A couple of years ago, I went to a conference, The National Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation, and they really start with this beginning point: pornography leads to other things. It leads to acting out in affairs, and it leads to looking for a way to live out the fantasies that you’ve seen. Ultimately, it impacts human trafficking and more sex crime epidemics. These are all connected in this web of darkness. I learned so much of that conference about what pornography does in our brain and how it’s impacting us in a similar way to heroin and cocaine. It’s activating that reward center and releasing powerful chemicals inside of our body. It creates this addictive compulsive drive. I came home from that conference with my mind blown. I was so captivated by understanding what’s happening in the brain and how pornography affects the heart, our relationships, the brain, and the world. It’s something we need to be talking about to equip our children. It’s not a matter of “if” our children will encounter pornography, it’s a matter of “when”. Putting some tools in, even a young child’s hands, what to do when they see a bad picture, we’re equipping them with this knowledge for the dangers that they are going to face in the world we live in today.
Through your transformation, Lynn, obviously in all the things that you’ve gone through, your book was probably unfolding in your heart. What really brought you to the point say: “Hey, I want to be brave and I want to put these words down to help other people”?
That was a slow process, too. Early on in our therapy, especially in the group for other betrayed spouses, we would go over our homework for the week and we would all share our answers to questions. And I began noticing that the other women in our group were resonating with the way I expressed my healing journey. And I just thought, “Oh that’s interesting.” So it wasn’t something that was birthed really early on, but I remember noticing, okay something about the way I’m expressing the story is connecting with other people. And then I did a 21-day fast where I signed up online and I got an email every day for 21 days that kind of led me through the fast.
When I did that, I thought I could write something like that for women going through a betrayal. So I did and that was the very first thing I created: a 21-day email where, if you sign up, every day you get an email. They were just simple short readings with the scriptures and thoughts that carried me. Like, there were so many verses from the Bible that I had on Post-It notes in the mini-van and my refrigerator and on my mirror. I kept the word of God in front of me. And it really helps me to keep moving forward and to keep doing this work. So with the scriptures and thoughts and stories and songs…just so many songs that came to me at the right time that just nourished my soul. So I wanted to be able to share those. So I created that email responder, and then I was speaking at an event and our intern put that set of e-mails into a booklet. And it was beautiful, just the very first version of a printed resource. And I sent that to a couple of people, and one person was Dr. Milton Magnus. He’s an author and a specialist in sex addiction. He just encouraged me so much! He was like: “This is a great resource and there are not enough resources for spouses. But you need to make it longer and you need to publish it.” So I’m like okay, I have my assignment. So I did, I added 19 days. So I have “40 Days to Hope and Freedom After Betrayal”. And I’m just so proud of it! It actually just recently won a bronze medal in a writing contest and I’ve sold over 1600 copies.
That’s a lot of days of hope that are out there in the world. I get messages on Facebook and e-mails from women who are reading the book and will tell me: “I just keep reading day 13. I’m just reading day 13, because I know that’s what I need right now.” So it is a very daily journey, and I know that it’s helping women move forward and it’s encouraging them. There’s a couple of ministries that I’ve just found out are using it as a resource for their clients, and so I’m very humbled that my story… not only that my life was redeemed, but that I can be a part of bringing redemption to other people.
In your book, each day includes a biblical truth, a daily affirmation, questions for reflection, and practical ways to respond. I love that. Can you give our audience a deeper understanding of how your faith has navigated you through this?
In walking through the trauma of betrayal, I read a lot of books. Some of them felt like a brick. You’re lifting a big, giant brick. I wanted my book to be very practical and to be a small, daily dose of hope. It is a short reading with an affirmation to help you get out of bed that morning, to help you get out of the corner, and to help you just face another day. I wanted it to be manageable and digestible for women who are dealing with trauma.
As far as the faith journey, it has been transformative for my walk with the Lord. I have been a Christian my entire life. In many ways, my view of God was pretty small and I saw Him as the God that answers my prayers, who meets my needs, and who’s there when I call on Him. I had a pretty healthy view of God as my father was a great dad here. To reconcile that with this pain in my life was a bit of a spiritual crisis because I thought this is what I deserved. But I have loved God, I read my Bible, I go to church.
When you feel like things are shifting and there’s a storm surrounding you and chaos all around you, He is that foundation that holds.
I remember meeting my husband and having this moment in our dating life where I thought, “I think this is God’s man for me.” So then, trying to reconcile that moment with: “So is this pain God’s plan for me?” was a huge gulp. I was a little bit offended with God for a while, that he’d even allow that kind of pain in my life. How was that okay with God? I did struggle in my relationship with him and how I related to him. Now, I look back and I’m grateful for the crisis because I really came to know God in a new way. He was no longer just where I went when I had a need. I needed saving and I needed saving every day. I had never felt that need throughout my childhood growing up in church. I just learned to depend on God because I had to. Where else am I going to go? I’m grateful for the foundation I had in my life because, even though I was offended and I was frustrated at God, I knew there was no other place that I could go to. I have a depth in my relationship with the Lord that I didn’t have before this struggle. That’s been a good thing in my life.There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that says “God uses pain. That pain is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”, and I think that was me.
I was going through my life and had not dealt with a lot of pain or struggle, and I just thought it was great! I can grow and mature and have a wonderful life with the Lord without pain without any struggle. I remember meeting a lady who led a bible study at my church who had been through infertility and she had lost a child and she lost her husband in a tragic accident. She had this relationship with God, and I literally did this: I remember praying like, “Lord, can I have the depth of relationship with you that Debbie has …but can we do it without the struggle? That’s the ticket I want to pay for…” We really only come to know God in those deep waves of the struggle and pain, through those crises. When we find He is the rock, He really is the rock. When you feel like things are shifting and there’s a storm surrounding you and chaos all around you, He is that foundation that holds. I only came to know that through the struggle. When you mentioned transformation, we know now that God always has our back. He has a plan for us and He knows what the plan is even if we don’t. You had to go through that journey and that struggle to find out what you can do to help others through this entire transformative experience.
Tell us about the coalition that you’re going to be involved with.
I’m on the planning committee for the Lone Star Coalition Against Pornography, which will be held on Friday, September 14th in Austin Texas. We really want to change the way Texans are talking about pornography and to shine some light on this issue. We want to talk about it in a way that doesn’t cause shame and doesn’t push it further underground. We want to bring it out because we know when you bring it out, that’s where freedom was found. That’s where healing can happen. We’re excited to bring that event to Austin. It’s been in the Dallas area for the past 4 years, so this is the first year it’s going to be in Austin. I encourage anyone who is involved in helping people to come. I encourage moms just to come and get educated to be equipped on how to deal with this issue in our culture.
We want to talk about it in a way that doesn’t cause shame and doesn’t push it further underground. We want to bring it out because we know when you bring it out, that’s where freedom was found.
For anyone who’s going through a similar experience or anyone with a loved one who might be, what would you say to them now that you and your husband are living in freedom and are still together? Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many couples.
I am so grateful for the restoration that God did in our marriage, and that came through a lot of work on both of our parts. I watched my husband change. I watched him go to his accountability group. I watched him do the homework and our classes. I got to receive beautiful apologies and acknowledgment of the pain that had been caused in my life. I heard a confession, I saw repentance, and I saw the fruit of change in his life. That’s when a lot of reconciliation happened. One person can be restored…but for a relationship to be restored, that takes two people. It’s a lot of work as individuals and a lot of work together. That’s not everyone’s story, but for the women out there who maybe that isn’t your story, I just want to encourage them that God can restore your soul. Having a restored marriage isn’t the only way that joy can be restored to your life. There is hope for you. There is freedom from addiction, there is healing from the trauma of betrayal, and there is a way through. God really called me forward with Isaiah 43. First of all, in that verse, you read there are going to be fires and rivers and water. That really doesn’t sound fun to me. There’s a word in each one of those phrases when you pass through and when you walk through. There is a way through. You don’t have to stay stuck in that dark place of pain. Just put one foot in front of the other and take the steps that God is leading you to take. He will lead you through to freedom and hope. Freedom is not the absence of temptation. Freedom is not the absence of struggle. Freedom is being equipped and knowing what to do when those difficulties come.
You can find Lynn’s book, Keep Walking: 40 Days To Hope and Freedom After Betrayal, on Amazon!