The man leading worship on Sunday mornings looked like your average, Christian guy. He loved his family, served as the chairman of the Republican Party in his county, and walked alongside friends struggling to overcome addictions. But there was something nobody knew about Paul Zunker. He lived a double life.
He had an addiction to pornography.
“When I was a teenager, like 13, 14, that was when AOL came out, so all your friends were saying, ‘You know, you can see naked pictures on there,’ ” Paul remembered. “Obviously, it didn’t become an addiction at that point, but that was my initial exposure to it.”
Looking back at his childhood, Paul said he can see how certain circumstances played a role in pornography becoming an addiction — his neighbor molesting him, his biological parents abandoning him as a baby. While Paul doesn’t blame those wounds for his addiction, he said he used porn as a coping mechanism. As a way to medicate his pain.
The Early Years
Paul described this addiction as a binge-purge cycle. He used pornography heavily for months at a time, then went through a period of guilt and shame. And during this cycle of addiction, Paul got married.
“I knew that it wasn’t right to look at it, but I figured, ‘Well, since it’s just on a computer screen, and I’m not going out having an affair, it’s OK, just because I’m not really hurting anybody,’ ” Paul explained. “I didn’t really look at it like having an affair, which it really is. So it made it easy to binge out on it at times, typically in a period of stress or a period where we were arguing about something in the marriage. That was the escape, to medicate the pain that was there.”
Slowly, this form of medication turned into addiction for Paul. He would spend hours in his office at night, bingeing on what he did in secret. Then, he would shut his computer and tell himself that was the last time. Until the next day arrived, and he once again hid in his office for hours.
“It was like that for years,” Paul explained. “Binge, purge, binge, purge. And there was a ton of shame and guilt associated with it, which drove it deeper and became a wound I needed to medicate over as well.”
Paul said there were definitely moments over the years when he heard God speaking to him. Whether it was sermons on sexual sin or Bible study lessons on pornography, he knew God was telling him this needed to stop. But Paul said he truly didn’t believe he was in that deep with his addiction.
Even when a friend approached him and two other men to admit a pornography addiction. Paul knew all the right scriptures to read to him. He knew all the right things to say. Yet he didn’t admit to his own addiction.
“The whole time I’m talking with him, it didn’t even click in my head that I was significantly deeper in than he was,” Paul remembered. “I think that started me becoming more calloused to it. At that point, I don’t remember struggling with the shame after it, when it would happen. … I don’t think I realized at that point how deep the claws were into me. And I remember thinking things like, ‘I could stop watching at anytime.’ ”
Moment of Truth
As Paul continued to live his double life, he became more and more numb to the effects his addictions had on his life. So numb that he inappropriately touched a minor on more than one occasion.
And, in the words of Paul, that’s when he was busted. The minor stepped forward and told an adult about Paul’s actions.
“I pretty quickly got myself into counseling and plugged into my own Pure Desire group in a different church,” Paul said. “There really wasn’t any particular moment that I had that I came to a realization that I had to get help for it. It was the fact that I got busted in it and was forced into dealing with it.”
Getting busted, however, meant more than simply dealing with his addiction. Because of his actions involving a minor, Paul knew jail was in his future. And he knew this would all hit the press since he was the chairman of his county’s Republican Party.
But despite the legal ramifications and the emotional distress of his family leaving him, Paul said he finally felt free of his secrets — which led him to admit he needed to seek God’s forgiveness.
“I still loved (God),” Paul said. “And I think that’s where a lot of guys lose it — or a lot of people who are stuck in addiction — because (others say), ‘Well, obviously, you don’t love Jesus because you’re caught up in looking at pornography,’ or whatever. But I did. … When everything came out, and I got busted, it was very easy for me to turn to Him and say, ‘I really need your help. I messed up,’ instead of turning away from Him.”
Little did Paul know that time of seeking help through addiction programs would save him from years in prison. The judge had sentenced him to seven and a half years, but once he learned of the steps Paul had taken to find healing, he changed the sentence.
“It was super evident to see God’s hand moving through all of that,” Paul said. “Because of that, because of how far into (treatment) I was already, he dropped the sentence down to six months in jail, and I ended up serving four because I received work release and good time.”
The Only One He Needs
One night in his jail cell, Paul climbed off his bed and kneeled down on the hard floor. He began to pray. And he heard God answer.
“(God) finally made me realize, ‘I am all that you need,’ ” Paul remembered. “Because my wife was gone. My kids were gone. I didn’t even have my dog. I was in jail with a bunch of guys I didn’t want to be with. It finally clicked in my head that Jesus is all that I need. … That was a huge turning point for me. It really started to deepen my intimacy with the Lord and help me realize He loves me despite all this stuff.”
Now, seven years later, Paul still sees God’s hand at work. He began attending a Bible study at the Blessing House where he met Gail Berger, whom he now calls his spiritual mother. The Blessing House became a refuge for him throughout the ups and downs of his marriage and during times when he says he didn’t even want to live anymore. But he knows he’s not the same man he once was.
“I look at me, and I’m radically different from what I was,” Paul said. “(God) really loved me enough to let all that come out and really drag me through the wringer very publicly. But that’s because He loves me and wanted me to be fully who He wanted me to be.”
Paul now leads groups at the Blessing House for men fighting addiction. He said he knows sin thrives in the dark and in secret, and he desires to help others know they can become free of their addictions. He is the director of the Pure Desire program at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and is a volunteer regional group leader for Pure Desire ministries, where he shares his story with churches and helps them set up purity programs for their community.
Life is far from perfect for Paul, but he sees how much God has restored. And he clings to the truth that God truly is all he needs.
Read Paul’s full story and more about his ministry on his website.