A marriage torn by betrayal & porn moves to authenticity
LAKELAND, Fla. (BP) -- Bonnie Hicks had known for years something was wrong in her marriage. At times it seemed good. At other times, although Allen was physically present, she felt he was emotionally absent. From time to time she was certain he was having an affair but she lacked proof.
In December 2010 the truth was unveiled. Allen, a youth pastor at the time, was caught in an adulterous relationship, which seemed to doom their 22-year marriage. Over time, however, the truth cleared the way for the couple to build an authentic marriage and set Allen on a new path toward freedom from a long-term sexual addiction.The Hickses are now members of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla. The church's senior pastor, Jay Dennis, is leading a movement to battle pornography and sexual addictions among Christian men. Since the "One Million Men" campaign began at Church at the Mall in 2011, Dennis said the church has experienced a new "awareness and openness to deal with those issues."
The campaign -- to be set in motion nationwide during the Southern Baptist Convention's June 11-12 annual meeting in Houston -- is named "Join 1 Million Men," on the Web at www.join1millionmen.org.
"As long as men suffer in silence and secrecy, the enemy has a stronghold," Dennis said. "However, once the secret is revealed by the light of God's Word, Satan loses much of his power to keep Christian men in bondage." By openly addressing pornography in the church, Dennis said, those ensnared in sexual sin can begin to understand they are not alone in their struggle and that they will be supported and encouraged by other Christians as they repent and do the hard work necessary to break free.
Allen and Bonnie indeed have worked hard to deal with painful issues on their journey to freedom and healing. Bonnie was pierced with the reality of Allen's betrayal first via a text message from the other woman. "I went into a rage," Bonnie recounted. "I groaned and moaned, like an animal almost. I hit him -- I was physically abusive at this point as a reaction."
That night at Bonnie's request, their pastor at the time and his wife, George and Margaret, met Allen and Bonnie at their church. "At 10:30 we met in George's office to begin to deal with this nightmare," Margaret recalled. "Allen was denying most of it. Bonnie was beside herself."
George requested Allen's resignation as the church's youth pastor. But George and Margaret, who had once survived a similar trial, did not abandon Allen and Bonnie. Instead, they walked with them through it, George working with Allen and Margaret working with Bonnie.
The other woman continued tormenting Bonnie for weeks. Brokenhearted and defeated, Bonnie kicked Allen out of their house just before Christmas Eve. But the other woman's harassment persisted for nearly a year, and Margaret helped Bonnie endure the agony. The woman, Margaret said, "was doing anything she could do to hurt them."
Bonnie's brokenness was compounded further when her 16-year-old son rejected her. "He didn't want anything to do with me," Bonnie said. "It nearly put me over the edge."
Allen recalls how Bonnie often ended their phone calls by declaring, "I hate you."
Though the year was, in Bonnie's words, "hell on earth" for them, Allen said that is where the story begins of God's grace working in their lives.
Bonnie sought out counseling and support groups right away, and through a chance encounter she found L.I.F.E. Recovery International ("Living in Freedom Everyday," www.freedomeveryday.org). Her L.I.F.E. group guided her through a process of grieving. "Then God started working in me, showing me things that were in my own life that I would not have recognized," Bonnie said. "Emotionally, your anger, the ways you cope.... I was so negative and critical, and I had lived that way in my marriage and as a mom."
Not long after Bonnie began going to a women's L.I.F.E. group, Allen began to attend a men's L.I.F.E. group. Recalling his initial response to being exposed, he said, "I had lived these two lives for so long. Part of me was relieved that it was out because it was treacherous holding all that in. But instead of being remorseful, I was very angry with everyone except myself." His motive in the L.I.F.E. group, he admitted, had nothing to do with trying to get any better; he just wanted to get his family back.
"But," he said, "Bonnie's thought was, 'We can't go back to what it was.'"
Bonnie sometimes called Allen at work, and he was encouraged that they had had some good talks. "I was just hanging on. Hanging on," Allen said. But one day Bonnie called and announced that God was leading her to divorce him.
"At first I didn't accept that," Allen said. "Then I talked to some guys in my group, and I realized that I had to change my focus. I had to fix what was wrong with me to be a good husband. I had to put the marriage on the sacrificial altar and just work on me, and who I was. I accepted the fact that she was going to divorce me and signed the paperwork."
Allen added, "When the anger subsided, I could see the destruction I had caused in all of these lives -- Bonnie, the kids, the youth at church.
"That's when the remorse came."
In working on himself, Allen said, a key to change was identifying the sources that started him on an addictive path. His home life growing up was "teeming" with alcohol and tobacco addiction, "lots of addictions," anger, co-dependency and verbal and emotional abuse. Lacking a positive male role model in his life, Allen said he learned to be more comfortable in relationships with women. "Porn," he said, "helped me carve out a fantasy world where I was in control and was never rejected."
In his L.I.F.E. group, Allen found many who could relate to his experiences, several of whom were in ministry.
Dave, a former worship minister, became one of Allen's accountability partners, and their stories had much in common. Both grew up in church, yet both also grew up in the midst of alcoholism and pornography. Additionally, Dave suffered physical, verbal and sexual abuses that ultimately gave way to sexual addictions.
At age 20 Dave married Barbara, the daughter of a Baptist preacher. "She knew about the abuse," he said, "but we thought she could fix me." Like Allen, his addictive cycles continued.
Dave lamented that the times he sought help from church leaders or men in ministry, he felt condemned by some and exploited by others. Those hurtful experiences left him too fearful to be honest with his pastor. Dave told himself, "You are 48 years old and this is just how you are." He lost hope that he could be different and for 14 months walked away from his family.
"Then," Dave said, "through counseling, and the help of our three boys, our close friends and our awesome church family, for the first time in 29 years we began walking this journey together." Dave and Barbara renewed their wedding vows on Sept. 7, 2009.
In 2010, Dave discovered L.I.F.E. Ministries online and began participating in a group. Now he serves as a L.I.F.E. group facilitator in Orlando and coordinates the groups in central Florida.
"Allen works right-hand with me. We have a Tuesday night conference call that is worldwide. We minister to men from everywhere who are dealing with these addictions and we encourage, empower and equip them to Live in Freedom Everyday. It is a lifelong journey to walk out of. That is why I live by Jeremiah 29:11 -- 'God's Plan'."
As Bonnie was wrestling with her decision to divorce Allen, God spoke to her in several ways. At a marriage conference the couple had attended the previous year, Bonnie had prayed that God would give her a real marriage. "When I was wondering if I wanted to be married [after Allen's betrayal], God reminded me of my prayers at that conference," she said.
One day she tried to fax the signed divorce papers to the paralegal, only to be thwarted three times by the oddly malfunctioning fax machine. That "coincidence" and some other seemingly odd happenings, plus some friends who were asking her "the hard questions," prompted Bonnie to slow down and give marriage counseling a chance.
The Hickses began working with a licensed marriage and sexual addiction counselor in August 2011. Both of them lacked hope for their relationship, but Bonnie recalled, "It was a step of faith and saying, 'I trust You, God, and if You want me to go back into this marriage...." As they began to reveal all of the secrets they had hidden from each other, a new relationship began to develop.
During a 2011 Christmas Eve celebration, Allen and Bonnie renewed their marriage vows. Among the witnesses were many who had supported them throughout their restoration process, including Dave and Barbara and George and Margaret. This year the Hickses will celebrate their 25th anniversary.
"God performed a miracle," Bonnie said.
"It's a journey -- it's still a journey," Allen said. "We had to start all over. We were lousy communicators. We had so much hidden from each other. But we've come a long way."
Kay Adkins is a writer in Mountainview, Ark. Allen and Bonnie Hicks reside in Lakeland, Fla., where he is a sales manager for a car dealership. The couple, parents of two sons and a daughter, are committed to ministering to others struggling with issues related to sexual addiction. Allen helps facilitate a L.I.F.E. support group for men struggling with sexual addictions. Bonnie has written a devotional guide for women titled "Where Can Broken Hearts Go? A 31-Day Journey Towards Healing" (https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002695/Where-Can-Broken-Hearts-Go.html0), available at Amazon.com and other online retailers. Her blog is at http://hope4brokenhearts.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).