It is 5:30 am and a band of FBI and local sheriff authorities pull up to a New Jersey suburban house in a development not far from Philadelphia. Adorning Kevlar vests, and windbreakers with the yellow letters FBI on their backs, they storm past a toy doll stroller in the sidewalk. They bang on the door with their fist, demanding “Open up this is the FBI”. After a few more wraps, a bleary eyed woman about 40 years old opens the door a crack and peers out. With a burst of energy, five FBI agents and two local police enter her foyer, issue her a search warrant and spew out demands, only one she actually hears, “Your husband is under arrest for child pornography, where are the computers?”
Emily, (all real names in this story will be withheld for privacy purposes) is dazed. She is in her bathrobe, and slippers, her hair is mussed, her eyeglasses crooked. She is barely awake. She glances at the stairs. She sees her two children at the top of the stairs, as a troop of agents make their way up to them. The agents ascend, as her girls descend squeezing towards the wall making way for the army of six foot, 250 pound men barreling past them. They are asking “Mommy, what is happening?” A sheriff from the local police department asks where her husband is. She says he is at work; he works the midnight shift at a local hospital. The Sheriff gets on his walkie-talkie and bursts out some demands, heralding a similar event at her husband’s workplace.
It is 6:00 am, and Tom is just wrapping up from his shift as a nurse. His supervisor walks up to him and a force of blue windbreakers flank him on either side. “Tom,” his supervisor says, “these gentlemen want to see you in my office”. As they turn to go to the office to FBI agents take Tom at the elbows and nearly lift him off his feet. He arrives in the supervisor’s office, is placed in an arm chair and the door slams. Tom hears the words he has feared for the past two decades. “You are under arrest for the possession of, and the suspected distribution, copying, or advertising of images containing sexual depictions of minors.” For some strange reason, Tom is relieved. He thinks “It’s over, it is finally over.”
It is Monday night, a steady stream of middle aged men drift into a hospital conference room, and take a seat. One of them opens a gym bag and starts to place books, pamphlets and tri-fold fliers on the table. A clear plastic envelope stuffed with one dollar bills is placed next to a thin loose-leaf binder. He sits down, opens the binder, checks the time on his cell phone and says, “Welcome to the Monday night meeting of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, my name is Ken, and I am a sex and love addict.” The seemingly normal cohort of men reply, “Hi Ken”.
The Monday night meeting of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous begins. The reading is on Step Three; made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God. During the share a newcomer tells his story about what brought him into the rooms tonight. He is not sure he can be helped. He knows he has been a porn addict for all of his adult life. He says he has just been found out and he has no idea what will happen next, to his life, to his marriage, to his kids. He was advised to go to a 12 step meeting, and luckily he saw this meeting listed.
The members of this unlikely band of brothers looks at Tom. His head is down. His focus is on the ravaged cuticles of his right thumb. As he raises his thumb to his mouth, a tear rolls down his cheek. They know how he feels. Each one of them have felt this same despair. Joe raises his hand to share. Joe is almost 45, yet one would think he is no older than 35. His Goorin Brothers Slayer cap is on backwards, his flannel plaid shirt is unbuttoned revealing an LA Dodgers vintage t-shirt. Appropriately ripped skinny jeans end in Vans pull ons. He gets current, talking about his therapist, his groups and what the third step means to him. Then he looks directly at Tom. “I know there is no cross talk in this meeting, so let me just say this, Tom, can we talk after the meeting?”
Joe knows what has happened to Tom. Tom need not even say the word ‘legal’ for the subliminal message to be delivered. Joe knows because it happened to him, less than two years ago. The Cop Knock. The end of life as he knew it. The opening up of a new world. A new life without any more hiding.
Joe and Tom walk to the café and Joe buys Tom a coke and a sandwich. It is the first thing Tom has eaten in two days. The café is empty, so they find a corner table and sit down. After just a few minutes, Tom’s experience from the last week is told. Joe’s head was nodding the whole time, but he lets Tom talk.
Before an hour was up, Joe had given Tom the name of three men, Michael, Steve and Mike. Also, the number of an attorney and of a therapist that specialized in treating offenders. As they walked out of the hospital, Joe said the first call should be to Michael. Michael will coordinate everything. And Joe was right, Michael coordinated everything.
Michael answers the phone at 9:15, and Tom was on the line. Michael was already prepared by Joe’s call, just minutes before. By 10:00, Michael assembled the team and briefed us all. The attorney appointment will be made by Tom. The therapist introduction will be on the phone, and the first group therapy meeting is tomorrow and Joe will bring Tom. Mike and Steve will call Tom daily for support. I am assigned to work with the wife.
Every one of us responds to this call. It initiates a recruitment effort that rivals the Avenger’s response to Ultron’s threat to eradicate humanity. This team is committed to respond to any sexual addiction crisis- the family affected by a patriarch’s incest, the individual devastated by sexual abuse, or the man that has heard the “Cop Knock”. We know they feel alone, whether they have been abandoned by their family, abused by loved ones or in this case, arrested for an illegal act. Tom needs his Avengers team to help him, because this is territory he is not familiar with. But this team is very familiar with it; the family dynamics, the law, the courtroom, treatment and therapy, prison and re-entry. We have walked this path, and emerged on the other side, as healthier and better people for the experience. So we are there, in order to keep our sobriety, we are doing service to give back what we have freely received.