Monday, July 16, 2012

a struggle with pornography: part two--anonymous


head here for part one

I've been home from my mission for a few years now. Recently I've been doing better (and not just saying that this time) by setting goals to gradually ease myself out of addiction--I can't tell you how many times in my life I have promised myself and God that I would never look at pornography again; it never worked (for long). But this slow progress has been measured and successful for the last six months. I hope that it will continue to be so, but even if there are setbacks (and being a pretty pragmatic person, I'm sure there will be), I know that I can overcome it. My last singles ward had an addiction recovery program group that met every Sunday night, it was great to be with other guys (most of whom were struggling with the same problems) and get support and unconditional love and understanding.

But beyond how I'm doing now, I wanted to share a few other thoughts that I've had over the (too many) years I've been addicted to pornography.

I've at times hated God for not cursing me. I've been pretty successful in school and church and life: I did well in undergrad, I'm in a great grad school where I'm doing well; I had a great mission where I was fortunate enough to baptize people and serve in leadership positions; I have an awesome family and friends. I think I wish God would compel me to be humble, in the words of Alma 32. I know nobody "deserves" to be blessed, unprofitable servants and all that, but it's been hard for me to see why of all people God didn't punish me (in a more overt way--there's certainly been plenty of inner anguish). My experience with pornography has made me hate the "prosperity gospel" doctrine (the idea that if you're righteous you'll be blessed with riches and other material things) because in my life the converse has not been true at all.

I don't know how to determine "worthy" in regard to this sin. I've felt the spirit strongly while giving blessings or passing the sacrament even if I had recently slipped up in this regard. That could have been in spite of my unworthiness or it could be that I had been forgiven more quickly than I thought/feared. Sometimes I took the sacrament when I shouldn't have (social pressure is terrifying) but when I'm doing really badly and feel like I'm not even trying to be better, I generally don't. Like I said, the last few months have been the best in recent memory in this regard, so that has been much less of a problem.

If you've attended Priesthood Sessions of General Conference, or read the talks later, you probably know that general authorities speak out very strongly against pornography as a serious and destructive sin. And they're absolutely right. However, I sometimes wonder whether treating this more like an eating disorder, as a disease, might help--at least sometimes or in certain contexts. Trust me, I hate myself for being addicted to pornography. I know it's evil. I don't like it. Telling me how abominable it is, at least without pairing those remarks with softer rhetoric, makes me sink deeper into despair. It's when I accepted that yes, it's bad, but it's not the end of the world that I've made progress in battling it.

I mentioned being in a singles ward. I'm very afraid of how a pornography addiction of over ten years is going to affect my future marriage. Or of even whether a woman would want to marry me when I tell her about this (I don't think it would make much sense or be fair at all to keep her in the dark). That feels like something that will be following me around even after I kick the addiction. Which I know is unavoidable and of my own making, but it's a fear that makes it that much harder to make progress.

Another thing that has helped me to want to get over my pornography addiction is remembering that pornography is not just something that's harming me or the other men addicted to it. It is hurting women, whether because they are addicted to it (an even less-discussed problem), whether they are victimized by the vicious industry, or whethery they are harmed indirectly by their partner becoming more distant, isolated, and/or depressed (not to mention the inevitable questioning of "Am I not physically attractive enough?" -- a thought process that certainly does not deserve any further feeding). I don't want to contribute to the harm pornography inflicts on women. (Of course, the flipside is that when I fail to get better, it's easy to hate myself more.)

So that's my experience in a nutshell. I know that I can be forgiven of my sins. I know that I can be free of this addiction. I know that God loves me. But it's been a very long and difficult road, and I have no reason to think it will get much easier. Most days, though, I have hope.

If people have questions, thoughts, or reactions, I'm willing to respond anonymously in the comments section.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for your story. I've had similar problems and thoughts as I've been in school and grad school and it's good to hear from other guys about it.

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  2. I hope this doesn't cause a feud, but I have a question that's been bothering me, but it's kinda hard to ask people about.

    You mentioned going to a support group and how you benefitted from their support.
    What if one's addiction is to homosexual pornography? Would you suggest that someone (I, specifically) go? Do you think that I would find the same unconditional love and understanding with that condition?

    Dealing with same-sex attraction adds to the bodily self-hatred as your hormones are messing with your relationships with both genders. It'd be nice to have some support on knocking out pornography, but it's scary to seek support when same-sex attraction taints the sin further.

    -Tock

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  3. I have countless friends who have had similar experiences like you. I myself, a female, have struggled. I also have a friend whose wife just left him the moment he told her. How terrifying for him to have his worst fears confirmed. I'm all for going to therapy, where they do treat it as an addiction. I'm all for full disclosure with your loved ones. And I know it can be conquered, but the need to be vigilant never goes away.

    My biggest fear is lies. The women I know whose marriages struggle, its not that they dont eventually know that he has a pornography problem. It's that he continues to lie about it on hard days. So if pornography is in your marriage. Don't make your wife the police, but dont lie. They all say its the lies that get them in the end. That's what I mean by full disclosure.

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  4. Tock- My thought is to start with individual counseling first, if that is your fear. Then when you have a better grip on what your personal underlying issues (porn and otherwise related) are and can recognize them, you will know when it may be appropriate.

    -just another reader

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  5. Anon Author of Original PostJuly 17, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Wow, great responses--the only problem is that we're all anonymous! :)

    Anon #1, thanks. If you're willing to share any of your experiences on this blog, please consider it--I know I would also be helped by hearing your story. There's even a totally anonymous way to submit if you'd like: see the top of the sidebar on the right. (In fact, I would ask anyone affected by this issue to contribute to making this into a bit of a series; I think this kind of blog would be a great place for having these difficult conversations--I know the Eating Disorder series was amazingly eye-opening and positive for me.)

    Tock, that is definitely an even harder combination to open up about with others. If the group I went to is any indication, though, I am very confident that the participants would unconditionally love and support you. And really, we don't go into details (when someone new comes we would go around and briefly say our name and what addiction we were trying to overcome) so it would be perfectly possible (and honest) to only mention that you are addicted to pornography--no need to specify what kind. Most of the discussion is about the emotional, spiritual, and common-sense steps needed to overcome addictions, not delving into details of transgressions by any means. You can look over the program here if you'd like to get a taste for what it's like. Also, the guy who ran ours was great: he emphasized that what was said there was completely confidential--he wouldn't even tell our bishop whether or not we were attending even if he asked. It was a very positive environment. Also, I am more than willing to talk to you more specifically about your questions. I have a lot of Mormon friends who have experienced same-sex attraction and could put you in touch with them or just talk to you a bit more about whether I think this kind of group therapy might be helpful for you. Email Dana Rose, she has my email address. (If you don't know her, she's listed as one of the contributors on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.) Regardless, you'll be in my prayers, and I hope you are able to get to a better, happier, and healthier place in your life; I have faith that you will.

    (Female) Anon, thank you. I can understand the problem with the lying. It's a very pernicious thing: we feel like we need to keep it secret because it's bad, but in some ways keeping it secret from those we love (and from ourselves) can be very damaging.

    Just Another Reader, I definitely agree. I was able to take advantage of individual counseling at my undergraduate institution (that affirmed my religious values) and it was very, very helpful.

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  6. To the original writer: You will almost certainly find someone willing to love you and marry you even though you've fought this addiction. Quite frankly, what will matter most to a good woman is that you fought, that you're going to kick the habit (or have, by that point, for it sounds like you've made wonderful progress). My now-husband fought an addiction to pornography and masturbation for years and has been clean for quite a while. Indeed, when he first got the courage to tell me (his then-girlfriend) what was wrong, he was still pretty caught in the net, still flailing and failing much more than he wanted. Having the love and support of the woman in his life helped, he says, and he's been "clean" for years now. He also says that, when he told me, he was convinced I'd leave him, he just felt like he couldn't hide it any more. Well, obviously I didn't and never would have, not for a man who was truly struggling like that. So, have faith in your future spouse (God willing, should that be your call), and faith in your ability to grow in strength and grace. It'll be okay.

    I post anonymously out of respect for my husband, since his history is not mine to make public, but I thought you ought to know from a woman that past sexual problems doesn't make you ineligible for a loving and fulfilling marriage. God bless and keep you.

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  7. I'm Mormon as well, and I've always wondered why we're told sex is beautiful and natural but we're NEVER SUPPOSED TO THINK ABOUT IT IN ANY FORM until marriage. That is most definitely NOT natural, and Jung would say we are repressing our shadow until it HAS to pop up in the form of pornography addiction, masturbation or breaking the law of chastity in some form. Not many people can abstain from all forms of sex indefinitely. Does anyone else see how this is a HUGE problem? Then, Church leaders get extremely upset with boys who, in my view, are displaying a healthy curiosity about sex...we are made to feel guilty for doing things that (also in my opinion) they (Church leaders with excessively strict rules) are indirectly causing. How are normal teenagers and young adults (and EVERYONE, really) supposed to deal with this?
    It breaks my heart how many youth in the church struggle with extreme feelings of guilt and shame (which are some of the most damaging human emotions) because of their natural impulses. I know most Mormons would say the impulses themselves are not sinning, but acting on them...but there is no OUTLET for any sort of healthy sexuality. It is just not natural.
    I've personally never masturbated because I want my body's sexual feelings tied to a person (specifically a spouse), but I also think it's a natural human right to explore one's own body. It bothers me sometimes that there are areas of myself I have never explored because there is so much guilt stored there. How are we expected to just jump into this area without feeling the guilt we had drilled into us over and over again? I've had many Mormon friends who, within the bonds of marriage, still feel guilty when having sex.
    I think we all have seen and felt these problems, and I'm not advocating sexual hedonism. I just think we should be able to acknowledge our sexuality in some way...it's frankly pathetic that I feel like a left-wing extremist for writing this.
    Thank you to the author for sharing. You are a good person and as a Mormon female, I have dated many boys with pornography problems who were great boyfriends and are great men. I would not leave my husband for looking at pornography, but I would prefer that our sexual life was between the two of us. I'm just trying to say that no man should feel inadequate or unwanted by females because of a pornography problem.

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    1. Of course sexuality is natural. It is also of course unnatural to deny ourselves exploration of our natural sexual urges until such time as we are married. But that's the point. We were given a natural, carnal body, but we also have a spirit that is able to control the natural man. Part of our task here on earth is to corral and control our natural carnal urges.

      That being said, I feel like we don't talk about it enough in our religion. Sexuality is natural, and so we shouldn't be taught to feel guilty about or afraid of our natural sexual feelings, but it also needs to be taught the reasons why we shouldn't think too much about or act upon our natural urges. First of all, it is a choice; just because we feel them doesn't mean acting upon them is inevitable. That is a falsehood that has led many into the paths of pornography, fornication, and adultery.

      The hard truth is that thoughts lead to actions plain and simple. If you start to explore your body on your own, it WILL lead you down to worse places, unless you can recognize your folly in time and work as hard as you can to stop your actions.

      And I agree with you that there does need to be a dialogue about sexuality in the church, especially where the young men and women are concerned, so to alleviate the tendency to feel guilty or dirty for every stray thought brought on by raging hormones. But engaging in any form of sexual outlet before marriage will get in the way of being able to have healthy, lasting, mutually satisfying relationships.

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  8. Dear Tock—

    Please find support! In case you don't know about any of the resources out there, take a look at http://evergreeninternational.org/, http://mormonstories.org/ (in fact, the latest podcast episode of Mormon Stories is on the subject of pornography addiction, and I think it's such a wonderful podcast in general. Very open-minded for Mormons of all levels of orthodoxy), and heck, if you happen to live in Cali, try this: http://mormonstories.org/san-francisco-circling-the-wagons-conference-for-lgbtqssa-mormons-and-their-families-friends-and-allies-august-10th-12th-2012/

    There's a lot of old fear and shame and guilt and prejudice that keeps getting handed down generation to generation in the church, but it is not from the Lord. The Lord lightens our burdens, he doesn't make them heavier. Find others to help you carry yours!

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  9. Obviously sexuality is a normal part of human nature, but when we let pornography into our lives it takes over and distorts reality. I stayed up well into many nights looking at pornography even if I had a big day the next day and needed sleep. I just couldn't stop once I started.

    Every time I give in to temptation I feel ridiculous because I already knew I would feel crappy afterwards. The momentary pleasure is not worth the pain that follows. And yet like the opossum trying to cross the road in traffic, I plow ahead ahead though the danger is easily seen and avoided.

    One thing that has helped me, apart from not wanting to hurt others (as the author stated) was the knowledge that life can actually be happy and beautiful. When I feel the temptation starting to come, I think of what kind of person I want to be, what kind of marriage I want to have, and how good it feels to not give in to temptation. When I give in, life does not seem beautiful--it seems bleak and like a pointless, never-ending cycle of urges. When I am free from pornography, however, life is full of meaning and purpose and beauty.

    I always hope it's behind me. I used to tell myself and God that this time it really is. But after years of that I've grown wary of making such statements. Now I'm afraid to even think it for fear that those thoughts will weaken or lull to sleep part of my defences. Although it hasn't been a very long time since I last messed up, it has been awhile for which I am very grateful.

    Thank you everyone who has shared their struggles--we are all in this together. I will pray for you and ask for your prayers in return.

    -A.

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    1. I guess I just wanted to say something when I first read this and all of the responses to it, and then I didn't, but then I felt the need to write again so here it goes.

      I feel that it just needs to be talked about more. I am a Mormon woman and I was taught by well-meaning young women leaders to never date someone who has had a problem with pornography. But as I grew and matured I realized that this type of blanket rule, denies that the atonement even exists. If people cannot make mistakes, change, grow, and ultimately find healing in the atonement then why are we even here in this probationary state.

      I really feel for you and the struggles you have. I have two brothers that struggle with it and the self-loathing that they experience is devastating to me, because I see how amazing they are and I would never want a girl to reject them because of the struggles they face.

      Also I married a man who has struggled and does struggle with pornography. I knew it when I married him, but I knew that it did not define him and I know that he is a good man! I'm not saying that what works for us works for everyone but straight up honesty has been the best for us. I knew what I was getting into and he knows that I am here for him and that I am not going to freak out at him and divorce him if he has an issue.

      It has worked wonders for him! I ask him on a weekly basis if he has had any problems and he tells me honestly if he has. If he has had an issue we talk about it, things that may have triggered it, I express my love for him and I do not take it personally. It is something he has struggled with since he was a little kid, how can I be mad at him for that! My heart goes out to him. I do not police him, but I do ask him, to take away any fear he might have about approaching me. And when I ask I ask with love not in a nagging accusatory way.

      In addition to this he meets with the bishop on a monthly basis just for extra moral support, and he sets alarms on his phone to remind himself to pray and read his scriptures. It also does not hurt that he now has an outlet for his sexual drives.

      In my opinion a woman needs to know about it before marriage. My husband's father has had similar problems, but was never honest with his wife about it, so he would withdraw from her, because he did not feel lovable. This in turn would make it more likely that he would do it again.

      Honesty may not be the ultimate cure, but it is a great place to start.

      My husband and I have a loving relationship and are both temple worthy and working on all our issues on a daily basis!

      Don't lose hope if you slip up! The atonement is only about hope and God is a merciful god, much more so than people often think.

      I must also my anonymous to protect the privacy of those I love. I hope you can live in the way of peace.

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    2. I wanted to say thank you for this reply. Both my husband and myself have struggled with pornography in the past (and we both knew this about each other before we got married)and we still have times when we are very tempted even now. But since we are honest with each other and feel like we can talk to each other about when we're feeling that way, the temptation becomes so much less than it was before we talked about it.

      I think the reality is that the superficial and carnal feelings that pornography produces just can't hold a candle to the pure and intimate feelings that are produced in a truly loving relationship.

      It makes me glad to know that there are other people out there who have realized that the surest "cure" to a pornography addiction is plain and simply love.

      I hope that your husband's struggle will become less as time goes on, and that you two will continue to be happy in your marriage.

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  10. Anon Author of Original PostJuly 17, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    Specifically to the women who shared their stories here: thank you so so so much. It's such a hopeful thing to know that there are awesome women who 1) won't dump/divorce me once I tell them about this issue I've had (and again, 100% agree on being up-front about it); 2) won't be "doormats" either: you and your husbands (or future husband) both know it's wrong and that it's not just fine that he uses pornography at times; but 3) you all walk that fine line of supporting and loving someone who is really trying to get better--and that produces positive results. Not perfect, of course, but great results, I believe. It's just ridiculously hope-giving to know that that's out there. Thank you.

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    1. I also wanted to reply to you and ask, as someone who has also struggled with pornography, if you have really thought about why you feel the need to give in to the temptation. I only ask this because I was only tempted at first because I was depressed and felt alone and was for some reason sure that sexual feelings I felt while I watched/read were somehow the answer to the feelings of loneliness and self-hate that I was experiencing at the time. For some reason I thought that the sexual pleasure was the cure to my depression.

      I probably didn't think of it that way at the time though, and it has been a long road to figuring out what my true feelings were. The desire to delve into pornography wasn't really only about they physical aspect, is what I'm saying. But looking to sexual satisfaction as the cure to those feelings that I wasn't admitting I felt led me to make some very unfortunate choices over time.

      Once I did figure it out though, it was (and is) easier to resist the temptation to go the "easy road" and give in to pornography's lure for immediate gratification. I just have to remind myself that the feelings I feel from pornography are superficial, damaging, and counter-productive.

      It made my relationship with my husband shallow and hard at first because I thought that the feelings I felt when I viewed pornography were the kind of feelings I should feel when being intimate with my husband. That is a complete lie though, as any intimacy with my husband is much more intense and pure and beautiful than anything I could have ever felt while in the grip of pornography. Pornography clouded my judgement and made me incapable of feeling the deeper feelings of love and respect that my husband deserved from me and also incapable of receiving those deeper feelings from him.

      I don't know if that helps or anything, but I just wondered if perhaps you may feel the same way as I did underneath the shame and guilt and self-loathing.

      As I read this over it feels kind of rambly and doesn't make much sense, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to get at...

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    2. Anon Author of Original PostAugust 1, 2012 at 9:58 PM

      Someone, that is a great question. I do think that pornography is more of a symptom than a disease itself. It's a symptom of loneliness and insecurity, at least some of which is created by the pornography addiction itself. I think my original pornography habit grew out of my sexual feelings for women that I felt from a young age--it felt natural to seek out more of what I found titillating and beautiful and sexy, and I found it on the internet (and in movies and other places). Certainly at least part of it was the rush of going after the "forbidden."

      Today, though, it's an escape valve from reality. It's a way to release chemicals in my brain that, for a short time, make me feel really good. It's a stress reliever (again, only in the short term).

      I totally believe that intimacy with my future wife will be much more pure, beautiful and fulfilling, especially since pornography is none of those things. But I worry that my brain will still be wired to be seeking out that chemical hit of doing something forbidden, something quick, something very different from a healthy sexual relationship with my spouse. I know I can change, but it's really hard. Thank you for your story and experiences, I'm glad things are going pretty well for you and your husband--that is certainly heartening!

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