I was a shy kid, the type that froze up when called on by a teacher, and sat at the lunch table silently, wishing I could join the banter. Early in my teenage years, I was playing a game on the family computer, when I stumbled across a porn site. something called a chatroom. I had never heard of a chatroom before, but I quickly discovered that in this anonymous environment, I could escape my self-conscious self and roleplay the person I couldn’t be in real life: cool, macho, interesting.
Together with my chat buddies, I’d weave fantasies in which I was a cowboy, a truck driver, an athlete or a movie star.
The chats started off innocuous enough, but it wasn’t long before they turned inappropriate. I was horrified, but intensely curious, and my curiosity propelled me to keep coming back for more. One thing led to another, until eventually I became a regular patron of cyber filth haunts.
I was sure that after I got married, I’d never succumb to temptation again.
By the time I was a teenager, I felt like I was leading a double life. Several times a week, I was escaping into a world of prurient fantasy. This was before the days of smartphones, but magazines and movies were readily available – if you knew where to look.
I was optimistic, however. Like the guys who smoked, I was sure that after I got married, I’d never succumb to temptation again.
Marriage did give me a brief respite from my porn problem – long enough for me to convince myself that it was over, and long enough for me to blame my wife, Rachel, in my mind, when it resurfaced.
When we were married for about a year, Rachel gave birth to our oldest son – six weeks early. At around the same time, I was laid off from my job in commercial real estate.
I had a preemie baby who needed special care. I had no money, and nothing to do. Rachel was irritable, and preoccupied with the baby. My life wasn’t a fun place to be.
At around this time, my friend Nate offered me the opportunity to start a business with him. Having nothing else to do, I agreed. Nate and I borrowed some startup capital, and we began spending long days in and out of the office we rented. One day, when Nate wasn’t in the office, I logged onto one of my old chat room haunts. I wasn’t actually planning to chat with anyone, I was just curious how the technology had advanced in the years since I had last visited.
The new interface was confusing at first. But it took me only a few minutes to get my bearings and figure out how to access my old account.
The next thing I knew, it was two hours later, and Rachel was calling to find out when I was coming home. I quickly shut down the browser and erased the history, utterly disgusted with myself and vowing that it would never, ever happen again.
That promise did not last long. In a shockingly short time, I was back in the same place I had been as a teen, going online several times a week, sometimes for hours at a time.
I would stay late at the office, telling Rachel that starting up a business took a lot of hard work, but neglecting to mention that much of the time was spent online doing other things. Sometimes, I’d go into the office on Sundays just to access the sites that sucked me in, with the excuse that I had work to do.
Several times, Rachel noticed that I was not myself, and she asked what was bothering me. “Nothing’s wrong,” I would insist.
“Did I do something wrong?”
Rachel would accuse me of not being in touch with my feelings, but I would scoff at the notion. “I’m not a woman,” I would say. “Guys don’t talk about their feelings.”
For close to 10 years, my marriage reflected this dichotomy: on the face of it, Rachel and I were functioning well and keeping up the façade of a stable home. But between us, there was no real closeness.
What alarmed me most about my problem was that sights that had given me a thrill in the past no longer seemed interesting, and in order to achieve that same excitement I now had to seek out more and more extreme displays. I was watching debased and even violent material, and when it was over, I was utterly disgusted with myself. Yet within a few days, I’d go right back for more.
When my business started to falter, I blamed it on Nate, I blamed it on the lousy economy, I blamed it on the competition. The fact that I was wasting two or three hours online most days – a quarter of my time at the office – had nothing to do with our financial woes, I assured myself. When Nate blasted me for ignoring clients’ calls and missing important meetings, I blew up and told him to stuff it.
…in order to achieve that same excitement I now had to seek out more and more extreme displays.
I also convinced myself that my marriage issues had nothing to do with me or my problem. If Rachel would have been a better wife and nagged me less, I would have been nicer to her.
Finally things came to a head. After one particularly long session of acting-out, I turned my face heavenward and said, “God, I can’t do this anymore. You take over.”
Not long after, I was reading the news when I noticed an ad for a website that claimed to help people break free from porn use. When I clicked onto their website, I found articles and forums addressing my problem, and discovered that there was a whole network of people experiencing the same struggle.
So excited was I by this discovery that I signed up to this site, and then immediately went home and told Rachel that I had found a solution to my problem.
“What problem?” she asked.
“Well,” I began sheepishly, “I’ve had this problem for years, but I was too embarrassed to admit it to you. But now, it’s history! There’s this great website, and it’s going to help me beat this thing.”
I had thought, in my naiveté, that Rachel would be understanding and supportive. Quite the contrary. She was absolutely devastated by my revelation, and she oscillated between quiet fury and mournful weeping.
The next thing I knew, she made an appointment for me with a therapist who specialized in addictions.
Having been forced into therapy, my main goal was to convince the therapist, and Rachel, that I was really fine. So I white-knuckled it through the next few months, fighting the obsession with every ounce of energy I had. Another goal of mine was to convince the therapist that Rachel was the problem, not me. “I slip once in a while,” I told him, “but it’s really under control. The real issue is that my wife is so moody.”
I was sober for six months, which was more than I had been since I was a kid. But after six months of sobriety, I felt suicidal. The constant struggle wiped me of every last bit of strength and vitality, and I felt that I’d rather be dead.
Instead of being able to count on Rachel’s support and encouragement, I had to continue facing her grief and anger. On top of that, I had to deal with her mistrust – she no longer believed anything I said.
Eventually, I fell back into my old behaviors. But this time, I was smarter than to tell anyone about it. Not Rachel, and not my therapist. Once again, I felt totally isolated in my struggle, except that now, I was also lying about it straight out.
One day, I clicked on an online article that spoke about porn addiction and the 12-step program. It was written by this fellow who described his long journey to sobriety, and what intrigued me about his account was that he seemed to be at peace with himself. Here I was, fighting with myself every hour of my life not to succumb to temptation, while he had the same problem, and yet he sounded as though he was actually enjoying his life.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to join a live 12-step meeting in my home town for porn addiction. The meetings were a life changer. Suddenly, I was not alone in my challenge – I was among people who could understand my struggle and respect me for it. And the people in the group were not a bunch of bums or losers. They were businessmen and professionals, serious people who were all struggling with the same thing.
Addicts don’t have control over their addiction. But by taking control of other areas of our life in which we do have power, we can develop the tools that will enable us to fight the addiction as well.
In addition to the support and camaraderie of the group, I was now acquiring tools for true, lasting recovery, not the white-knuckle “dry drunk” sobriety I had managed to achieve previously.
Through the meetings and the 12-step work they required, I learned to identify my maladaptive coping mechanisms and replace them with healthy ones. One healthy coping mechanism I learned was to listen to my body and my emotions. For years, I had been completely out of touch with what was going on inside me, and when I was angry, sad, stressed, tired, or even hungry, I had turned to porn for relief. But the porn only made me feel worse about myself, so I then had to resort to my one and only coping mechanism: porn. This was the vicious cycle of addiction.
Now, when I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m tired, I take a nap. When I’m stressed, I use relaxation techniques. When I’m sad or angry, I write down my feelings or share them with a caring friend. In the past, I thought friends were for talking with about news and politics. Now, thanks to the meetings, I have real friends, friends who can be there for me when I’m down or weak and feeling vulnerable to temptation.
Another coping tool is the ability to face myself and my character defects. When I find myself becoming resentful of the people around me, I try to figure out what I’m doing that’s contributing to the dynamic and rectify it. I also turn to God for help regularly, acknowledging that alone, I am powerless against the addiction. Actually, in retrospect, the first step I took toward healing was on that day when I turned to God and acknowledged my powerlessness. Until then, I had been in denial, thinking that this was just a bad habit rather than an emotional disease known as addiction.
Addicts don’t have control over their addiction. But by taking control of other areas of our life in which we do have power, we can develop the tools that will enable us to fight the addiction as well. Because our real problem is the pain in our lives that makes us vulnerable to addiction. The porn, or our drug of choice, is the self-medication for the problem, not the problem itself.
I am fortunate that Rachel was willing to stick with me through this journey. There were a number of rocky years before we were able to rebuild a relationship based on honesty, trust, and friendship. But all in all, her awareness of my problem turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it spurred me to finally get the help I needed.
…as I long as I stay connected and continue working on myself, the addiction will not have control over me.
Just as an alcoholic can never trust himself around liquor, a person like me can never trust himself around temptation. I had to tell the IT guy at work about my problem and ask him to make it impossible for me to get around the internet filter. And I have to keep doing the 12-step work and participating in the meetings, knowing that the potential to escape to porn is always latent, even though I have been sober for years already. But I have the comfort and confidence of knowing that as I long as I stay connected and continue working on myself, the addiction will not have control over me.
Let me be clear – porn addiction is not an internet problem. It’s a disease that existed before the internet, and exists even among people who have no access to internet. But the internet, with its accessibility and anonymity, has done such a good job of spreading the germs of the disease that today, it has become an epidemic, one that spares no sector of society. And because it’s a disease that breeds in isolation, the shame and guilt that prevent people from seeking help only cause the disease to spread further.
But the same God Who created the disease also created a remedy. My group and I are living proof.