Sex is Not Your Problem, It's Your Solution | World Challenge

Sex is Not Your Problem, It's Your Solution

Last week, Nate Larkin shared his personal testimony about struggling with a pornography addiction and how he eventually found freedom. This week, he and Gary discuss the types of sexual addiction and where they can spring from in our pasts. God wants to heal these deep heart wounds. As we heal and shed addictions, we will find it easier to forge deep and meaningful relationships with others. Gathering healthy community around us will make staying on the road to recovery easier. While the path may not be any smoother or less steep, faithful friends can walk beside us and remind us of our heavenly Father’s promises.

Last week, Nate Larkin shared his personal testimony about struggling with a pornography addiction and how he eventually found freedom. This week, he and Gary discuss the types of sexual addiction and where they can spring from in our pasts. God wants to heal these deep heart wounds. As we heal and shed addictions, we will find it easier to forge deep and meaningful relationships with others. Gathering healthy community around us will make staying on the road to recovery easier. While the path may not be any smoother or less steep, faithful friends can walk beside us and remind us of our heavenly Father’s promises.

Gary: Hey, I'm back with Nate Larkin. Nate, you have written this amazing book called Samson and the Pirate Monks and your story you've been telling us over what may end up being several episodes. I just wanted to let you know, alert you that you are now the-- You hold the record for the most times appearing on the Gary Wilkerson Podcast. This is amazing. It's something that-- It's such an intriguing-- I don't want to say story. It's the intriguing life that you've been through. God has been good to you, man.

Nate: He really has.

Gary: It's been good to hear your story. I just have the sense that so many people are being helped by this. I want to recommend the book too. Get it online or Christian bookstore.

Nate: Fine bookstores everywhere.

Gary: Fine bookstores everywhere. It'll be helpful. Over the last few times, we've been talking together you've been sharing your story and in that story, you've weaved in some things I want to go back to because I think they really help us. Let's get practical now. Here's a guy, or a girl struggling with porn addiction, prostitution addiction, any kind of sexual addiction. Let's start there. What various types of sexual addictions are there?

Nate: Wow. Patrick Carnes, who is the granddaddy of sex addiction as a diagnosis. One of the-

Gary: That's the name of the book?

Nate: No. He wrote a book 20 years ago called Out of the Shadows. Dr. Patrick Carnes-

Gary: C-A-R-N?

Nate: C-A-R-N-E-S. He opened the first treatment center for sex addiction. He really classifies three levels of sex addiction. The highest level would be the offender. People who for whatever reason, are now crossing the line into actual abuse of minors or whatever.

Gary: They get sentenced almost to therapy if they're an offender?

Nate: In most states, if you get caught as an offender, you're going to jail for a long time.

Gary: A predatory type, molestation?

Nate: Right. That's a bit of a catch 22 because therapists and even a pastor-- You have this legal obligation to disclose if you hear. If somebody has crossed the line into that predatory behavior, they can't tell anybody. The only way they're going to stop is if they get caught. I'm afraid that that may result in more victims than if there were a safe place for them to disclose what they're doing

Gary: I've come across some ministries that work with maybe not- There are certainly people that help with that you're probably talking about but maybe somebody that has been caught by the police. Picking up a prostitute. They can be sentenced to. Like this guy, I think you interviewed him on your podcast, Jay Stringer, Was it?

Nate: Yes.

Gary: He works with people that-- He has a class for that.

Nate: Sure. Yes. John School. Yes.

Gary: Yes. That's another type of addiction is prostitution.

Nate: Yes. That was one that I fell into. Prostitution felt safe to me because I wasn't-- I loved my wife and wanted to stay faithful to my wife. I didn't want to know anybody's name. I didn't want to form any kind of an emotional attachment.

Gary: Wow, prostitution. It freaks me out when you say it sounds safe. It sounds so dangerous.

Nate: Yes. It was extremely dangerous. It was insane behavior.

Gary: Then why do you say it sounds safe? I don't understand.

Nate: It felt emotionally safe to me-

Gary: I don't get that.

Nate: -because I was not going to have to form a relationship or sustain a relationship with this person.

Gary: Emotionally safe. You're not talking about risk caught or anything.

Nate: There was all kinds of risk.

Gary: You're talking about safe in the sense of-

Nate: I was not only putting myself at risk, I was putting my wife at risk of a sexually transmitted disease. It was very dangerous behavior, but I was doing it. I was doing irrational things for non-rational reasons, trying to solve the problem by rational means. This was an emotional thing that was driving me, zero risk of rejection when you're hiring prostitutes. If you got the money, baby, she's got the time. That's how it works.

Gary: I'm sorry. I want to just keep on track there. The other types would be after prostitution would be pornography.

Nate: Yes, pornography. Then, there's also affairs, serial affairs.

Gary: That would be considered a sex addiction to have serial affairs?

Nate: It can be. It can be very compulsive.

Gary: Multiple affairs.

Nate: Multiple affairs and what I need to make is an emotional connection with another person. I can get caught in that cycle of seduction and conquest. It can be about power.

Gary: If someone's in a long-term affair, would you help them through a sex addiction or more just, they'd have a relational difficulty with their spouse or something?

Nate: I think there's a sexual component to be dealt with, but we do these crazy and harmful and destructive and sinful things. Sin is not an outmoded concept. They're not bad because God told us not to do them. God told us not to do them because they're bad. We do need repentance, but we also need healing, and we need a safe place to do it, which is why God constituted the church.

Gary: I want to talk about that in just a moment. The difference between sin and repentance, and being wounded and needing healing. Let's come back to that in just a moment. You have these various types of sexual addictions. Then you have what are the-- Obviously, you're in this world in the sense of helping people recover this-- Can you give us-- Some people, statistics have some value to them, so they don't feel like they're alone. If somebody is dealing with one of these things we just talked about, they're not alone, probably.

Nate: The craziest thing is that I thought that I was the worst sinner in the world, and that I was all alone, and that nobody would understand. What is astonishing-- I've lost track, Gary, of the number of men who've come up to me and said, "Your story is my story." Preachers who said, "I need royalties because you obviously have told my story." Porn use is very prevalent and becoming more so with every passing year. I think the last Barna study, boy. I don't remember the numbers exactly. Covenanteyes.com, the Covenant Eyes people always keep a current list of statistics, but it's more than 50% of active churchgoers-

Gary: Are addicted or viewing?

Nate: Yes or viewing pornography on a regular basis.

Gary: The number for pastors is not far off that.

Nate: Pretty much the same for pastors.

Gary: Because they're human.

Nate: Exactly. What's most distressing to me is that porn use is higher with younger people. The average age of first exposure to pornography now is eight. The fact that we're now putting smartphones into the hands of children, we're giving them a porn theater. At least 30% of all web traffic is porn. One of the great dangers is that I got hooked as a married man when I saw my first video porn. There's something very much more powerful about modern pornography than about the still images in the Playboy magazines that I saw as a child.

This immersive experience, it impacts the brain in an entirely different way. If a boy by the time he's 14, 15, 16, 17, has had now thousands of virtual sexual encounters, his brain has become conditioned to novelty. When my brain is conditioned to novelty, now it doesn't matter how beautiful a woman is. She's only one woman. That makes me tremble for my beautiful granddaughter Ruby who turns 10 years old this year. The odds that she's going to be able to meet and marry a young man who can see her for the exceptional, beautiful woman she is, and love her and connect with her on a deeply intimate basis—those odds are diminishing every year.

Fortunately, even the most secular cultures in the West are now beginning to recognize the damage that porn is doing. They're now taking steps. It's starting actually in Europe, where now age verification is required under European Union rules to view a pornographic website, but given the nature of the web, and the inventiveness of adolescence, I don't know that that really is, it's not a final solution but it's a help.

Gary: Then you have various forms of sex addiction. Secondly, you have then a large number of population getting involved. Can you help us? Someone is listening, they're saying, "I view it occasionally but I'm not an addict." Is there a difference between somebody who occasionally views porn and a porn addict?

Nate: Certainly. I would say pornography in any amount is dangerous, and destructive but certainly, there are those who have, and I was among them for many years, who have crossed the line. As I see it, it happens this way, something tells me I shouldn't do it, but I do it anyway but I do it freely. I have an impulse to do it, I follow the impulse, I do it freely. As I do it, I create a neural pathway. In the process, condition some chemical receptors throughout my body that will predispose me ever so slightly to repeat the behavior.

I have begun a learning sequence. Now, if I do it, again, I strengthen that neural pathway, condition some more chemical receptors, making it ever more likely that I will repeat it again. As I repeat that, at some point, I cross an invisible line. Now what began as a volitional act becomes automatic, I have lost the freedom of choice. I am not free to stop. It's in me now. I am sick, I am addicted and I need intervention, I need a healing, but there are certainly a lot of people at the beginning of that continuum.

Gary: We want to be healed, we want to be free of this addiction or even be free of the occasional lapse and viewing and experiencing things as we shouldn’t. The journey, then, how would you suggest somebody to begin this journey? They're caught in this pattern, there's addiction, there's wounds, there's history? Is there a starting place?

Nate: There is. First of all, you have to give up the crazy idea that you can get out of it by yourself. If there's one thing I'm certain of, is that once you are addicted, there's no solo way out. I don't think there's any spiritual, a religious way out. I tried those solutions. I'm not saying that Jesus can't come and sovereignly do it. I don't want to close the door on what God can do because God's God. However, He designed us to live in community, He will use even these greatest weaknesses of ours to drive us back into that place where we can truly be healthy.

When I make a fresh resolution, I got lost track of how many resolutions I made to stop. I could stop for a while, I could white knuckle it for a while, but eventually, I would get tired enough, angry enough, afraid enough, hungry enough and close enough to the edge that I'd be back in again. We need to find somebody to walk with us. Now, it could be a pastor, it could be a therapist and thankfully the ranks of therapists skilled in sex addiction recovery are growing year by year. You could find a CSAT a certified sex addiction therapist who would help you.

Now, that therapist is also probably he or she is going to want to connect you to a group that's going to be a safe group where you can come in, you don't have to talk in code, you don't have to make promises you can't keep, you don't have to pretend to be any better or healthier than you are. You can just come in and live in the world of what is and begin to form actual, authentic intimate relationships. It starts there-

Gary: That's with being vulnerable, opening up your heart to community. I don't know, I can't tell you, and you’ve probably experiences this more than me, how many people have come to me and said, "I tried worshipping it away, I tried praying it away, I tried fasting it away, I tried the accountability, I tried falling on my face on the carpet just weeping for hours, just like, “God hate this sin. I don't know why, why do I still have it?" Then yet get up and still engage in the same practice that tells me, going to jettison to a different topic for a second here, it tells me, "There's something more going on, there's neural pathways, there's sin and we need to repent of that sin." These people are repenting of their sin.

It tells me, "There's a wound, and it's not to excuse the sin and to say you don't need to repent, you're a victim. You're an agent of sin, and there does need to be repentance." It's a much more grace-based repentance than we could ever imagine rather than being a fear-based repentance of I'm going to lose my salvation or I'm going to lose God's favor. He's going to hate me. I think it's a lot less fear-based and a lot more grace-based. I grew up hearing, I read your book so I know you did too, we grew up hearing a lot about sin and repentance, as we should.

We need to be aware of that but I don't think we heard about it in the depth of really what it was but how much brokenness there is there and how it's created by an enemy that's out to kill, steal and destroy. Can you talk a little bit about, I don't know if you want to talk about some of your own. Would you say you had wounds that caused you? I'm not sure I'm using the right word caused or created a felt need in you or in me that we go to our favorite addiction to try to make us…

Nate: I think there are two classes of wounds that we can talk about. There are those wounds of presence, the trauma that we can point to. For me, it was my mother's mental breakdown when I was eight years old, and her death by suicide when I was nine, that left me bereaved, orphaned. That's a very traumatic event. When you look back over the lives of sex addicts, specifically, my story is quite common or a lot of correlates.

Now, interestingly, trauma can also be as devastating as a wound of presence is, equally devastating can be a wound of absence. All of us have needs that need to be met in infancy. We come into this world helpless. We are totally dependent on adults to care for us. We can't talk yet, we need help feeding, we can't move, we can't shake, the only way to communicate is by crying. We don't know who we are, our brains have just started to develop. The limbic system is almost fully developed, but that prefrontal cortex has just begun to develop.

We could talk about the four S's of those primary needs of infancy. We need to be seen, in other words, we need to look into the face of somebody else who will react to us that we need to be mirrored. There are those horrible stories that are told at the Bulgarian orphanages, those orphan crib farms where people came in and found infants, some of them had died just out of neglect. They had been fed, but they had died from neglect because they hadn't been seen.

Gary: More often I and Kelly were actually in Romania and saw that. We saw this huge room with a bunch of cribs and one nurse showed us this girl probably six, seven years old, who couldn't walk. The nurse said she has the muscles and the legs to walk but she's been in a crib her whole life and nobody takes her out to walk her. That's one of the S’s, she's not being seen.

Nate: She has to be seen.

Gary: Yes.

Nate: We have to be seen, we have to be soothed. In other words, when I'm in distress, I need to have somebody come and soothe my distress. Whether I need my diaper changed, whether I need food, whether I just need stroking, whether I need calming, that communicates to me that I matter. Now, I was raised in a home as part of a culture. My dad raised me the way he was raised in this culture. I'm one of 10, My dad was one of 16. Part of what my dad believed was he'd never reward a child for crying. He would actually brag that he gave me my first spanking when I was eight days old. Because I wouldn't stop crying.

A kid cries, you wait until they stop crying and then you sooth them or you come and feed them. My dad did that for the best of intentions but it's not very good parenting. One of the messages that Patrick Carnes says, one of the core beliefs of all sex addicts is no one will take care of-- I can't rely on anybody else to take care of my needs. The kind of behavior that I engaged in was self-soothing behavior. Hard for me to trust that anybody else will actually meet my needs. That's a wound of absence. I also fundamentally need to be safe. That means if there's a lot of chaos going on if I sense that my parents are fighting, or if God forbid-- You guys hear these stories all the time.

If I happen to be born in a war zone or were a refugee family where life is uncertain, where there can't be predictability, as much as my parents may do to try to shelter me from that, I'm going to carry that wound. I'm going to carry that wound deep in the limbic system. That is going to become implicit memory. I may not even be consciously aware of it, but I'm going to react out of it until some substantial healing comes and that higher part of my brain is healed to the point where I can regulate that reactive behavior.

Gary: Some wounds that people have or trauma close to them, we've talked here before I've heard you say that there's two types of trauma, the similar one you were saying here. One is things that should have never happened to a child that did, some form of abuse. Then the second one is things that should have happened that didn't happen. That's the soothing and the comfort, you have that. Somebody could be talking to their pastor about their addiction or a therapist and they're totally unconscious. "No, I wasn't abused. No, there' no trauma in my life." They don't know it's like some of this stuff happen eight days old and the first two, three years.

Then, of course, even after the two or three years, there's the things like divorce or a parent being put in jail or addiction in the parents. You might not experience those till you're six or seven, but all through your upbringing, you're susceptible to these types of wounds.

Nate: Nobody gets out of this unscathed. I've heard it said that even the most attentive parents can really meet the deep needs of a child and enough to create secure attachment if they can meet those needs 60% of the time.

Gary: That'd be healthy.

Nate: There's only one perfect parent. I love the way Jesus said that when he tried to get us to understand the love of the Father, he said, "Just look at how much you love your kids, and what you'll do for your kids. You're really not even that great. You really stink as parents. He's perfect."

Gary: That could be a whole other show on how we stink as parents and parenting. [crosstalk]

Nate: I love my kids, but I'm really not that good.

Gary: We were talking about being wounded here but how much the biggest regrets of my life is how much I've wounded my own kids by trying to compensate for my woundedness. My addictions were different. I think I was addicted to ministry if that's a possibility.

Nate: Absolutely.

Gary: It was I had to compensate for my core wound of feeling like I'm not enough. I had to build this ministry. Once it's built and it's big enough and successful enough and it's on the cover of Charisma magazine, then I'll be enough. I served that idol and out of that, some of my kids suffered having an emotionally unavailable father for a long time.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about wounds, that's another wound but thank God there's a healing available for the parents as well that are going to go through that as well.

We were identifying some wounds. A lot of people never take the time to identify the wounds. They just repress them. That's where the root word of, you've heard this before, the depression comes from repressed. You're going to get depressed if the Holy Spirit is trying to put a spotlight on these areas of your life where you've suffered trauma and you don't deal with it, you don't bring it to the Holy Spirit for healing, you're probably going to end up addicted to something.

It could be something as seemingly as "holy” as ministry, and it's not when you're doing it the wrong reason, but then, it can be some things that scripture talks about as negative in our life. After we get to the point where we're starting to do some soul care and some self-work and we see, "Okay, there are these wounds, I've been through some trauma, that trauma maybe like my case it caused a core wound that I identified as being I'm not enough. I'll be enough when I get successful but I'm not successful so I need something to comfort me so I go to drugs, alcohol, pornography." The healing process then after you define the sin and the wound.

Nate: It gets very practical. Now, I approached recovery from the neck up, headfirst. I'm a thinker, not a feeler. I really thought that this is a conceptual problem. If I can just understand it, I'll get better. Western Christianity has tended to draw this division between spirit and body that we don't find in Hebrew thinking. We really are embodied spirits. There's a physical component. I am sinning, I am sick, and there is a physical component to that sickness, my brain needs to be healed.

We know a whole lot more about neurology than we did 20 years ago. My sponsor drawing on the wisdom of 50 years of recovery, knew some basic things that I needed to start doing. I thought… I didn't understand why he was focusing on this because I want him to give me the curriculum, give me the books, I want to understand the concepts, I'll be fine. The first thing he talked about was my bedtime.

Now, our brain needs sleep to heal. It does a lot of cleanup work and renovation work while we sleep and while we dream. It's all very important to healing. He goes, "When do you go to bed?" Well, I told him I can't get to sleep before one, two o'clock. He says, "Well, I got some stuff that I want you to start doing at six in the morning when--" I said, "I can't do it." I said, "I can never fall asleep before midnight." He said, "Nothing good happens after midnight."

He said, "Start getting up at six. Your bedtime will change.” He wanted me to get enough sleep. I started to get sleep. He then wanted me to go to the gym. I had not gone to the gym. He said, "Look, we got to do self-care here." He said, "You've been taking care of your addiction and you've been taking care of business. You've been trying to take care of your family, but you have not been taking care of yourself."

Gary: Self, right, so important.

Nate: The brain has to do a lot of repair work. The energy for that repair work is produced in your cells. Cellular health is a function of-- It's a physical action. We now know through studies that regular aerobic exercise greatly increases cellular health and increases energy production in the cells, which makes it possible for your brain to heal. Your brain, that part of my brain that needs to heal, that draws more energy than any other organ in my body. When I have a deficit of energy because I'm not caring for myself, and the lower part of my brain has to manage that energy, it browns out my prefrontal cortex, it doesn't get the energy it needs and that's the part of me that makes good decisions.

That's why my decision-making ability erodes toward the end of the day. I make progressively poor decisions toward the end of the day if I get tired, if I have to make a lot of decisions over the course of the day. Here's the other thing he wanted me to do, he wanted me to program my day in such a way that I didn't have very many decisions to make. Now, I didn't want to do this. I had spent my life keeping my options open. That was my operating assumption.

He's telling me, "Look, dude, boring is good." Turns out that once I had my day scripted, and I had my decisions pre-made, I wasn't drawing-- It made it easier for my brain now, but it's more energy available for my brain to heal. I now think that one of the reasons I was able to recover was through this coaching. I'd gotten in preaching before and I'd gotten teaching before but I hadn't gotten in coaching before. This coaching gave me the underpinning that made it biologically possible for my brain to create the new neural pathways that would actually change my behavior.

Gary: That's deep. Just playing the skeptic for a moment here. When you first start giving me a list of sleep a little bit more, exercise, my mind goes like take a cold shower. You want to look at the pornography. It feels insufficient. When you start talking about the brain, that all said, "Okay, now I see. It's not just like go to bed early so you don't go look at the computer." You're talking about the healing of the brain. The steps you're talking about are not just steps in themselves, which are healthy. I would have food maybe that what you eat.

Nate: Absolutely.

Gary: You're talking about what it produces afterwards because I think there's something spiritual in this too because it could sound almost just to do list. I think there's something real spiritual in here because when you are rested, and you're not overloaded with decisions, and you're eating right, and you get some serotonin or something exercise releases the good chemicals in your brain. When you go into the Lord’s presence, then you're bringing a different person. I think if you bring that weary worn out, defeated person to the foot of the cross, you certainly can be healed and restored there.

You do that every day and then the Lord’s saying like, "Okay, you just come in for like breathe on you and make you feel a little bit better because you destroyed your life today. Again, why don't you bring me a life that's--" I'm not saying like get healthy then come to Jesus. I'm saying, He helps through rest, through that, restoring of the mind, renewing of the mind. He brings us to this place where-- I think that physical health, emotional health, the relational health, that you talked about, and you're being in community, these things are not like-- What I want to say is, we're not at all saying Jesus didn't work for me. These other things will.

What we're saying is Jesus works by creating these opportunities that He by grace has given to us in life. He wants us to have an abundant life. Abundant life is not being exhausted all the time and having idolatry of money or work so that we just can't pay attention to the deeper things like love and kindness and mercy and community. We're healthy. We come into His presence. Also we open up the scripture and go like, "This is clear to me.” Not,” I'm so tired. I'm so exhausted." I think what you're saying is healthy. Not only overcoming addiction, but just to live a healthy life, a godly life, a creative life.

Nate: I think Jesus modeled that. When he was teaching people, he did the bread and fishes trick a of couple times because people are hungry. He himself, he would nap when he needed a nap. Even though it was in the middle of a storm.

Gary: I was with a pastor recently and he was just talking about and his wife mentioned this as well, and talking about just to take the day off. There's such guilt, like, "I'm not doing enough. I'm wasting this day, because I'm not serving the Lord today by being out on the streets witnessing or something, or preparing my sermon." I just trying to encourage them like, "Man, being with your wife for a walk in the mountains is so spiritual. It's so being with God and it's so taking care of yourself that gives you the strength to take care of others in a more powerful way."

All these things we're talking about, none of these things are selfish to me. I don't think you talk about like, "Gary, Nate, You're just talking about me getting healed and me overcoming and me getting healthy.” All of this has the sense of, We can be now alive. We can now be empowered. We can now be the things that we really want to be out of our life because we don't-

Nate: I could be more present now in relationships and conversations.

Gary: Exactly.

Nate: I can stay connected to other people.

Gary: That's good.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • What are the different types of sexual addiction?
  • Is there a difference between somebody who occasionally views porn and a porn addict?
  • How do we begin the journey to find freedom from pornography and sexual addiction?
  • What types of wounds and trauma lead to sexual addiction?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

We do these crazy and harmful and destructive and sinful things. Sin is not an outmoded concept. They're not bad because God told us not to do them. God told us not to do them because they're bad. We do need repentance, but we also need healing, and we need a safe place to do it, which is why God constituted the church. – Nate Larkin

The craziest thing is that I thought that I was the worst sinner in the world, and that I was all alone, and that nobody would understand. What is astonishing is the number of men who've come up to me and said, "Your story is my story." Preachers who said, "I need royalties because you obviously have told my story." Porn use is very prevalent and becoming more so with every passing year. – Nate Larkin

What's most distressing to me is that porn use is higher with younger people. The average age of first exposure to pornography now is eight. The fact that we're now putting smartphones into the hands of children, we're giving them a porn theater. – Nate Larkin

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Nate Larkin

Nate Larkin, the founder of the Samson Society and author of Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood, grew up as a preacher’s kid. He married his wife, Allie, on the day he graduated from St. Lawrence University, and they headed off toward Princeton Seminary and the ministry.

If you’ve heard Nate’s story, you know his plans didn’t work out so well. He was ensnared by a sexual obsession he couldn’t tame, and the fear of discovery eventually drove him to abandon the professional ministry. It’s a miracle his marriage survived.

After more than two decades of secret and steadily intensifying compulsive sexual behavior, Nate’s nightmare finally ended in a painful collision with reality. Today, he helps overlooked victims of the commercial sex industry – addicted users – find their way back to integrity and the true intimacy that every person craves.

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About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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