The first thing you need to know about me is that I am a Christian. I am not “backslidden” nor am I among the missing ranks of church attendees. In fact, I’m not even just a spot in a pew, but rather, I’ve been active in Christian ministry for many years.
The second thing I want you to know about me is that I have struggled with a pornography addiction for almost 15 years, and have only begun the long road to freedom. When Kimberly first approached me about writing this blog, I was hesitant to say the least. The potential exposure felt enormous. But as I thought about it, and specifically about that fear of exposure, I knew that I needed to share. We will get to that in a minute. I have written this blog mostly to men, but as evidenced by previous blogs, I know there are women out there who join us in the struggle.
The story of my addiction is a fragmented mess. My first memory of seeing porn was around the fourth grade when a friend passed it around during recess. My first experience with Internet porn was a short year or two later. And what started there became a massive struggle of addiction, shame, deception, and hiding.
Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain they carry from their own personal stories and to bury their hearts deep away from the futility of everyday life. I turned to pornography. What started as little "fixes" during adolescence, became consuming binges that would last for days in college. I would get my self together…and I would hold out a week, or a few months at best, then, came the fall, again and again. The cycle was devastating, and as I look back through old journals and walk the paths of memory on this road to freedom, I am reminded of just how much damage I was doing to myself.
Not liking myself, I was committing heart suicide and the thoughts of physical suicide were ever lurking just below the surface; in a deep well of contempt and shame that I drank from as regularly as the pool of filth called pornography.
Along the way, I married a wonderful woman, who knew of my struggles, but to whom I had downplayed and hidden the darkest reality from day one.
That is all to set the stage for what I would like to share about my journey to freedom. Over the decade and a half of my addiction there was a central behavior that both perpetuated and protected my addiction. It was hiding. I lied, I covered my tracks with smiles, niceness, making sure you liked me, being of service—all with frenetic efficiency.
The few times I was caught I would confess and make promises that I knew wouldn't hold…because even my confessions where hiding. I wouldn’t let anyone know how deep the darkness was. I thought, “No one could know.”
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe the lie that if no one knew, there would be no damage—“I wasn’t hurting anyone,” I told myself. Oh, how wrong I was, and how wrong most of us are who struggle with pornography and believe it to be only a "private issue".
Just like termites destroy a house from the inside out, so do the repercussions of pornography eat away at our most precious relationships: with God, with our spouse, with our friends and family. I have literally told myself, "If I tell my wife, then her anger, hurt, disgust, and my own shame and contempt will do more damage than if I keep a lid on my problem." That’s the same thing I told myself about writing this blog…until I saw it for the dangerous, life-strangling lie that it is.
The problem with the hiding is that it drives you away from the very people that can help. To be man enough to face the damage you have done and RISK actually being honest about it with your wife and the men in your life. Men who love you enough to fight you and fight with you for the life of your heart, is one of the most crucial steps on this journey to freedom.
For both men and women, being courageous and humble enough to admit to another person of our same gender, "I am addicted to pornography; I am addicted to masturbation” or both is a wonderful first step. It is the first step against the lies that bind us in secret shame and despair, which feed our beast of addiction.
If you are like me at all, you have never spoken those words and have vowed to NEVER speak those words. You probably cringed a little on the inside at the thought of saying those words to a man, and especially to the thought of saying them to your wife. It is wise to be sensitive to discretion in relation to WHO to trust, but a wise counselor can help with this process.
An important question is: Would you be willing to RISK your lukewarm marriage (that is being destroyed below the surface) for a chance to walk the road to freedom together?
With that said, there is another crucial element that cannot be ignored in this journey of radical honesty…it is to immerse yourself in a circle of men with whom you can be real, honest, and vulnerable! Men who care much more about your heart than what they get out of your relationship with them. Men who are willing and ready to go to battle for you and even with you, in order to rescue your heart held hostage by lies and shame. This is not the standard accountability that we speak about so neatly in our churches. This is living, breathing, intense community that dares to ask the hard questions and then rallies for the next hard question.
Most accountability groups ask The Obvious Question. How many ask the next question, dig deeper, challenge where you’re still hiding? The question that demands an answer that you have sworn never to reveal. You will want to run away, you will want to hide, to downplay, to release the tension, you will want things to be normal again…but do you really? What is your normal? Because if it is like mine, I can guarantee that it is not the abundant, full, breath-taking life God created you for. Sadly, finding men and women who are willing to face your darkness and not look away is rare. But, they are out there. And God will bring them across your path. Are you aware of them, watching out for them?
As I think back through what I have written to you, I know it is intense. My body is wound up even as I write. Let’s take a moment; take a breath. Slow down. Remember, that no matter how hard it was for the Prodigal to turn home, it was even more difficult for him to accept the grace the Father bestowed on him (bestows on us).
The result of risky honesty is that you open the door to receive grace awaiting…a grace so powerful that it will rip you to shreds. But, then God begins to remake you. It reminds me of the story of Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis. It would be worth your time to read. We’re so busy being afraid of being found out, being labeled an addict, that we forget what we’re really, truly afraid of is looking into the face of our Father as he cries tears of joy—love—at us, and our return. This may not compute to your mind, but listen carefully to your heart, for it knows what I am talking about.
I pray that you RISK HONESTY with your wife, even though she will be hurt beyond words. I pray you RISK vulnerability with a man or a few good men who will go to battle with you, and that you will not run from them when they dare to ask The Next Question.
I pray that you look into the face of a loving God, whose heart shudders violently in pain for all we have suffered, and all the suffering we have caused—and yet Whose deepest ache is the one longing for us to come Home.
Five months into my journey of freedom from porn, I find myself looking at my wife in ways I could never see her before. I dare to let her beauty penetrate me, affect me, impregnate me with life and hope. I’m even beginning to hold the gaze of God, ever so briefly, as His eyes whisper blessings I could never dream of myself, for myself.
From the ragged trail beyond the cliff of lies,