When I was 19-21 I spent two years in service to my church. I was more or less cut off from the world and focused on serving others. Pornography? No problem. I thought I had it beat and was looking forward to the rest of my life. Was I in for a shock when I got home.
I lived with my grandparents after returning. I was going to college and preparing to marry my sweetheart of 3 years. Life looked perfect! Then one day I ventured into my uncle’s room when no one was home and there on his shelf was his collection of magazines and videos. I barely remember the next few hours. But boy oh boy do I remember how I felt after I finally gained control of my “thinking brain” again.
It was the familiar cycle of self hatred. I couldn’t believe what I had done. “How did this happen?” I didn’t even remember why I started or whether there was even a mental fight first. I was sick to my stomach. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide. I felt terrified. I was afraid. I hated myself. I was so angry! What was I thinking?! Why couldn’t I control myself?! I was getting married in a month, what kind of husband was I going to be if I fell prey to pornography that easily?
After the initial horror and self hatred passed I knew I needed to talk to someone. It was late at night and I called my parents (they lived in another time zone and were fast asleep by then). I was a mess. Would the wedding be called off? What was I going to do? I remember my mother answered the phone and she was sleepy but then immediately wanted to know what was wrong when she heard my voice. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?” I couldn’t tell her, I was so ashamed. I just asked for my dad. My mother was a mess, she knew something was wrong and was probably thinking the worst (I don’t even know what that must have been like for her, I didn’t talk to her that night but I imagine my father did afterward). I had a good thirty minute talk with my dad who reassured me that things would work out. He thanked me for calling him. He understood the temptation I faced and reassured me that even though I gave in, I’m just human and that I’m bound to make mistakes. The good thing was that I recognized what I had done wrong and that I wanted to correct it as quickly as possible. He commended me for talking to him and reassured me again that I could repent of my misdeeds, get right with God, and feel peace again. The wedding was not in jeopardy, I would be okay. I committed to pray and ask forgiveness as soon as I hung up. I committed to read my scriptures daily starting that evening. I committed to stay out of my uncles room, don’t even go anywhere near the stuff. I did exactly what my father advised me to do and I in fact did find the peace he promised me and a month later had a wonderful wedding.
A quick side note: I want to again stress how lucky I feel to have parents who were so understanding and helpful. And with no training. No books on the matter. No experts to turn to. Their love for me as their son and their trust in a higher power helped me pull through. I can’t even imagine what I would have done if they had piled on more guilt, been angry with me, or made me feel even more ashamed. I love my parents and will be forever in their debt for what they have done to help me heal. I bring this up not to make you feel bad if your parents weren’t like this, but rather to point out ways you might be able to help someone else in a situation like mine. A friend. A family member. A child. If they come to you, listen, reassure, be calm, be loving, and encourage them to seek help (see my recovery tips page for ways to help).
It’s odd to write this story. I am finding that more and more I cannot recall the misdeeds of my past (that’s the promise of repentance — being made clean again and freed from our bondage). But when I think back on my past to help you relate as you read, it brings back the panic, the dark feelings, the shame, the horror. I hope that this is helpful to someone who reads this.
“What does this have to do with the internet?” you might be asking yourself. Well, that part comes next. My life was generally a series of slips and what I’ve come to call dry spells because without a true recovery program, how could I be sober? I didn’t even have a clue yet.
Fast forward about three years to when we decided to start expanding our family with children. When my wife was pregnant with our first child I had begun to struggle again with my addiction. It came back in little slips here and there. My pattern was similar to what I described before my wedding (minus the fact that I stopped calling my parents which was a bad idea). I would go to my church leader after: recognizing my slip, going through several days of self-hatred/self-punishment, overwhelming guilt and loss of confidence, a touch of depression, and finally the determination to fix it and “this would be the last time!” Around this time the internet started to come about. And to no one’s surprise, along with the marvels of technology, came the sad extension of pornographic material in the online world. My once a quarter slips become monthly, become, “I don’t even care to try and stop anymore.” I started viewing it at home and then I started to view it at work.
I don’t remember what the turning point was for me — probably realizing that if I got caught at work I would definitely be fired. I would be completely embarrassed if that happened. I would likely struggle to find other work in town (small town – word would get out). What would my wife think? Would she leave me?
For the first time I told someone besides my dad or a church leader. I realized that I truly needed help. I needed someone I could trust. I needed someone I believed could help me with my addiction. I decided to tell my wife. She took it surprisingly well. She told me that her dad had a Playboy collection when she was younger and that her mother told her “That’s just what men do, I don’t like it, but it’s what they do.” So she figured it was fairly common and that she’d be happy to help me with it. (Looking back she admits she had no idea that I was addicted, what addiction was, or that you could even become addicted to pornography.)
I was relieved at how well she took the news and in fact she became a great help for me to stop my addiction for a time. I was able to stop viewing it at work. I managed the withdrawals fairly well (communicating with my wife helped immensely). And eventually the cravings subsided and I was able to stay dry for another 6-8 years or so. I wasn’t even bothered by it at the time.
I remember I built a pattern of daily scripture study (30 minutes minimum), morning and evening prayer, and regular temple worship (a more studious type of worship that’s meditative, and strengthening spiritually). I treated my “treatment plan” as though it was a pill that I was taking to keep a deadly illness at bay. I knew if I missed that pill even one day I would die. I knew it and I kept the promise to myself to never falter. For 6-8 years I was perfect in my adherence.
I’ll share the next phase in a future post. For now I’d like to close with a promise that you can find help. If you read this story and it sounds or feels familiar — there’s hope. Send me a message if you have questions, I’ll keep you anonymous though I will share the answer with others. I highly recommend seeking out a local SAAPP program. Tell a friend. Tell a parent. Tell your spouse or partner. Be brave. Talk about it! Together we can strip the Cocoon of Shame off of pornography and find freedom! It is one step at a time, but it is so worth it. Don’t worry about getting there immediately, just worry about the next 24 hours.
You can do it. There is always hope.
My name is Mike