Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Integrity

with Greg Bainter

Struggling with Pornography Addition?

Many men struggling with pornography addiction feel like there’s no hope for things to get better. Greg Bainter knows otherwise, because he’s lived it.

Between pornography, masturbation, and same-sex attraction, Bainter says he struggled with multiple temptations for most of his adolescence and into adulthood. He’d keep the temptation at bay for months or even years at a time, but they’d always return, each time getting harder and harder to shake. 

Finally, in 2018, after nearly two decades of being ruled by addiction to porn, he took stock of how the addiction was destroying his marriage and vowed to make a change. With the help of LiveFree Ministries, Bainter says he’s been “in recovery” for two years, and is even using his experiences to help other men he’s connected with through LiveFree’s accountability app.

The Redeemed recently featured LiveFree founder Carl Thomas to talk about the ministry, the app, and how they’re helping men break free of pornography addiction. This month we’re featuring Bainter as one of the ministry’s success stories—someone who’s recommitted himself to God and living an honest, accountable, and authentic life.

What made you decide to seek help?

Since The Redeemed community has already been introduced to Live Free and its mission, tell me about your personal story and what made you finally decide it was time to make a major change in your life.

I had an opportunity to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento, and I found a small local church. The first Sunday I was there, one of the ladies sitting right in front of me turned out to be the person I would marry. This was the first time I ever had feelings of emotional or physical attraction to a woman. A year later, at 22, we got married. It was a wonderful initial experience—we had a “honeymoon period” where we were just floating in air. My issues with masturbation were still there, but not quite as bad. She knew about my struggles but was very supportive about getting me some help if I needed it.

After a couple years, though, the struggles started coming back and getting stronger, and the issue of masturbation got worse. And instead of sharing it with my wife and being open about it, I started falling back into isolation, keeping secrets. In my late 20s, I got some good counseling, and for a while, things got better. But I never really dealt with masturbation as an addiction issue, and it got stronger and stronger. And when the Internet became prominent in the late 90s, I discovered Internet pornography, which caused the addiction to become much, much stronger. Basically, from 2000 to 2018, I acted out with pornography and masturbation probably four, five, six days a week, spending three or four hours at a time online—it really took over my life, and my wife and I just grew farther and farther apart.

I was so miserable and tired, feeling like I was a fraud, living a double life. So in September 2018, the day before my wedding anniversary, I just confessed everything to my wife. I basically told her that same-sex attraction [SSA] had been a part of my life forever and I didn’t know if I would ever be free of it. I couldn’t live a double life anymore. We had a couple days that were really scary. We had been married 37 years at that point, we had a comfortable life and grown kids, and we were settled, so the thought of leaving her and finding something new was pretty scary. I spent the entire night and the next day just crying and letting it out.

The next day, the Holy Spirit was coming in and giving me some comfort, telling me it was not hopeless. I told my wife I wasn’t going to leave, and I would do whatever I could to save our marriage and get help. That night I prayed to God and said, “I’m not going to fake it anymore, I’m not going to ‘play Christian’—I really want to know who You are, I want this to be authentic.” God honored that prayer, and for the next year I felt like I was being sifted like wheat. I began to really feel what it feels like to have a good connection in a godly, healthy marriage. I fell in love with my wife deeply, even more than I did when we first met, because there were no secrets. I had my slip-ups—at this point I wasn’t involved in any groups, it was just me and my wife—but I was living a life of openness and authenticity, and it was so freeing. She was so loving, accepting, and supportive. I felt like I was actually alive for the first time in my life.

After about a year of that, I started getting these pesky e-mails about LiveFree. I found it intriguing—an online community for those who had struggled with pornography and masturbation addiction. I signed up in November of 2019 and discovered this community of men who struggled with things like I did, and that was freeing. For the first time I could share my struggle and my stories with others, and they would pray for me and encourage me.

The writer Johann Hari once said the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. That was truly the case for me, because the more I connected with other guys and other people in general, and was intentional about it and lived in the moment and related to people, the more free I felt. There were three younger guys on LiveFree who really needed one-on-one help, more like mentorship, so God gave me this passion to walk alongside others, and I kind of felt like it was a new calling in my life. Before I knew it, Carl saw that I was really active in informal leadership, so he reached out and wanted to know if I’d be interested in taking on a small group. It’s been a really rewarding experience for me, and I think that my plan is to take some online courses on coaching and sexual addiction counseling to get a little bit more formal teaching under my belt.

Feel like you are living a Double Life?

I was so miserable and tired, feeling like I was a fraud, living a double life. So in September 2018, the day before my wedding anniversary, I just confessed everything to my wife. I basically told her that same-sex attraction [SSA] had been a part of my life forever and I didn’t know if I would ever be free of it. I couldn’t live a double life anymore. We had a couple days that were really scary. We had been married 37 years at that point, we had a comfortable life and grown kids, and we were settled, so the thought of leaving her and finding something new was pretty scary. I spent the entire night and the next day just crying and letting it out.

There is HOPE!

The next day, the Holy Spirit was coming in and giving me some comfort, telling me it was not hopeless. I told my wife I wasn’t going to leave, and I would do whatever I could to save our marriage and get help. That night I prayed to God and said, “I’m not going to fake it anymore, I’m not going to ‘play Christian’—I really want to know who You are, I want this to be authentic.” 

God honored that prayer, and for the next year I felt like I was being sifted like wheat. I began to really feel what it feels like to have a good connection in a godly, healthy marriage. I fell in love with my wife deeply, even more than I did when we first met, because there were no secrets. I had my slip-ups—at this point I wasn’t involved in any groups, it was just me and my wife—but I was living a life of openness and authenticity, and it was so freeing. She was so loving, accepting, and supportive. I felt like I was actually alive for the first time in my life.

Life Free

After about a year of that, I started getting these pesky e-mails about LiveFree. I found it intriguing—an online community for those who had struggled with pornography and masturbation addiction. I signed up in November of 2019 and discovered this community of men who struggled with things like I did, and that was freeing. For the first time I could share my struggle and my stories with others, and they would pray for me and encourage me.

The writer Johann Hari once said the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. That was truly the case for me, because the more I connected with other guys and other people in general, and was intentional about it and lived in the moment and related to people, the more free I felt. There were three younger guys on LiveFree who really needed one-on-one help, more like mentorship, so God gave me this passion to walk alongside others, and I kind of felt like it was a new calling in my life. Before I knew it, Carl saw that I was really active in informal leadership, so he reached out and wanted to know if I’d be interested in taking on a small group. It’s been a really rewarding experience for me, and I think that my plan is to take some online courses on coaching and sexual addiction counseling to get a little bit more formal teaching under my belt.

Confessions

You talk about having struggled with your issues for a long time, keeping them at bay for a while, then “relapsing,” for lack of a better word. What made that last time, when you finally decided to confess everything to your wife, different?

I think for the first time I started thinking about my wife and what my behavior had done to her. I don’t think I ever approached it from that angle before, but that shows you how selfish the addiction can be. That was the opening in my heart that God used to bring me to this point. I think I was so fed up after the years of trying and failing I said, “OK, God, I’m not gonna fake it anymore, so if You want to do something in me, You gotta do it.”

Carl Thomas talked about how when men develop a dependence on pornography, they’re often trying to fill something that’s missing in their lives. Has that been your experience in the small groups that you lead? What sorts of things are they trying to fill or replace?

Most of it is the lack of connection with a father or brother or any male figure. Most of the guys in my group are talking about acting out as a form of medication, so what are we medicating? What is the pain, where does it originate? Everybody’s story is a little different, but there is the common denominator that acting out is a symptom of larger things, and we’re just trying to make the pain go away in an unhealthy way.

Recovery

When you talk about being “in recovery” for two years, what does that mean? Is it something you find yourself thinking about a lot on a regular basis?

In January of 2020, I did go to counseling again for eight or nine months, thinking I was going to revisit my SSA struggle again. But the counselor really focused instead on me living life authentically and not being afraid of who I was, just enjoying and accepting the real me and realizing that person is not someone that people would reject. I think that opened the door to being able to mentor others, lead small groups, and just relax—trusting that who I am is OK and God made me that way. Right now I’ve got eight guys who I consider accountability people. If I slip up—and I’ve slipped up a couple times over the past year and a half, not with porn, but with masturbation—then after I talk to my wife, I’m going to talk to these guys. They’ve never met in person, they live all over the country, but I would consider them some of my closest friends. It’s a new normal for me.

God has given me three “anchor words”—authenticity, vulnerability, and integrity—and that’s what God wants me to focus on. I have to live authentically who I am. I tell the guys I mentor, “If I slip up, I’m going to share that with you even though I’m mentoring you. Because if you want to know me, you have to see me authentically, and that means the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I just know that’s how I have to live my life going forward. It’s not easy; there are times when I don’t want to tell someone that I’m struggling. But that’s what keeps me grounded.

Restoration

What does restoration mean to you?

I think about Scripture saying God “makes all things new,” but “all things new” is restoring what God created and intended in the first place. I went through a period a couple years ago where I was really grieving over those lost decades, not having the marriage that my wife and I could’ve had, starving her emotionally, and not being the person God made me to be. I really grieved over that. My wife put her hands on my cheeks and looked me in the eyes and said she wouldn’t change anything, because everything is so wonderful now. And that just wrecked me, because that’s a perfect example of how God makes everything new. I can’t do anything about the past—all I can do is live authentically in the moment with God and the people He’s put around me.

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