Porn Addiction and Shame Thrive in Darkness

I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to porn. It happened by accident. Growing up, for as long as I could remember I always had a TV with full cable in my bedroom and I watched it often.

tv picOne evening I was scrolling through the channels looking for something to watch. Back then there used to be scrambled channels – which are those channels you had to pay extra money for but sometimes you could see scrambled images of them and even hear audio at times. When I was scrolling through the channels something caught my eye on one of the scrambled ones. I got curious and kept watching. It turns out that this channel was the Playboy Channel. I felt good while watching it, so I watched it again the next day. Then the day after that, then the day after that and so on.

What started as a habit quickly turned into an addiction. I discovered other similar scrambled channels so I would scroll through them each night to get my “fix.” Over time I started to build up a tolerance to these images – I had to watch them longer and longer each night in order to satisfy my desires. Eventually masturbation started to come into play. This is how I would spend several nights a week for years.

I always knew deep down that what I was doing was wrong – I didn’t quite know how it was wrong at first but I knew nonetheless. I mean, why else was I going to great measures to hide this from everyone? I would only do this at night when my parents were asleep and even then I would keep the TV volume down low and lock my bedroom door. During the day, I literally pretended that this part of my life just did not exist. I continued to play the part of the perfect daughter and student who got good grades, didn’t do drugs, and wasn’t having sex with boys.

I was raised Catholic and always believed in God and knew that He was real. During high school my relationship with God started to deepen. I would journal about Him, turn to Him when I was upset, and I wanted to understand Him more. It was around my junior year of high school that I made a resolve to just stop watching porn and masturbation.

It actually worked for a little while – I went months without giving in. But then life started to hit me from all sides and I became weak and gave into the one thing that made me feel good – even if it was temporary. And I fell back into my addiction hard.

When I was about 17 I received my first laptop with wireless internet capabilities. Things changed upon receiving this laptop; a whole new realm opened up to me and it was too tempting to resist.

So I switched into watching pornographic videos on the internet. I wanted this all to stop so badly. I felt horrible and disgusted with myself after each time I gave into my addiction. I still pretended that this all didn’t exist – I couldn’t deal with the fact that there was something wrong with me.

When I moved away to college I wanted a fresh start to almost every aspect of my life – including my porn and masturbation habit. For my first two years of college, I actually didn’t watch any porn and my masturbation habit has stopped altogether since then. It helped that during that time I had to share a room with someone else and I lived with 20 other girls in one house, so it was hard to be alone!

I also wanted to grow in my relationship with God and understand my Catholic faith better. I started going to the Catholic Student Center. I started out with just a weekly Bible study but it grew from there and before I knew it I was part of a wonderful faithful student community. I was forming solid friendships with others my age who had the same faith – it was a wonderful period in my life!

When I stopped watching porn and my masturbation habit; I also wanted to forget they ever happened. I remember telling myself that this was a secret that I would take to my grave. I believed that if I simply didn’t think about any of this, it would just fade away on its own some day.

But as I formed these new, holy friendships and grew closer to God, these terrible memories didn’t fade away. They were always there pressing into the back of my mind. That shame, “If people really knew what you did, they would be disgusted by you,” would still come through and caused me to carry a weight deep down in my heart.

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I attended a retreat with a local Catholic student center. It was during that retreat that I realized that my relationship with God could not go any further until I let go of this weight that I had been carrying around for years.

It was on that retreat that I made a decision to return to the sacrament of Confession. This was a sacrament that I had misunderstood for years. I always told myself that Confession wasn’t necessary but deep down I also knew that in accepting Confession I would have to confess these sins out loud to a priest. The thought of both acknowledging that these sins existed and confessing them to another person terrified me for years – so this decision to go back to Confession was not an easy one.

I went to Confession on that retreat and told the priest that I had struggled with pornography and masturbation for years. He told me that my sins were forgiven by God and I walked out of that confessional a new person. For the first time in YEARS I did not feel that heavy weight on my heart any more.

To this day I have never been the same person that I was before I went into that confessional – God showed me His mercy that night and brought tremendous graces and blessings. ! He showed me that He loved me despite my sins and despite how ashamed I felt of myself deep down. He gave me the freedom to acknowledge my sins and to finally let them go to receive His forgiveness.

I will never forget that wonderful experience of returning to Confession. And this is the part of the story where I wish I can say that my struggle with pornography addiction ended, but I can’t.

A lot of amazing things happened in my life over the next year and a half after this retreat: I continued to grow in my faith and I was forming healthy, faith-centered relationships within my local church community.

But something else happened too – I slipped. It started out small but then my addiction came back into my life at full force. For reasons I couldn’t understand, desires that had not been a problem for me for two years were suddenly enslaving my life. I could not go two days, let alone a whole week, without giving into this addiction.

I felt much worse during this time in my life than I had when I was younger and struggled with this same problem. Because this time I knew the full implications of what I was doing. I knew how much danger my soul was in and how offensive my sins were to God. I felt so ashamed because I had experienced so many great things over the past two years and now I was tarnishing it all.

I wanted help so badly, but I felt so ashamed and had no idea if there were any other women in my community who also struggled with this; I didn’t know who to turn to. So I turned to no one. I would go to confession every time I gave in, but I didn’t confide in anyone about what was going on. I was so fragile at this point that I was afraid of being rejected and misunderstood by those I loved, so I tried to rely on my own understanding which definitely didn’t work.

I searched the internet for resources but most of the resources were directed at men – hardly anything was out there for Christian women who struggled with this sin. This only added to the loneliness and isolation I felt.

A lack of resources was no excuse for continuing to give-in to my addiction, but I highlight this because I want other people to understand that this is a real problem among women and it needs to be talked about and addressed. Thankfully now as I write this, there is much greater awareness of this issue and ministries have been forming to bring hope and healing to women going through this struggle.
After that one, dark stretch of struggling through this addiction alone every day, I continued to struggle with it on a sporadic basis. May 2011 was the last time I ever gave into my addiction.

It’s been over three years now and I’m thankful that these dark desires are not that strong anymore, though I still struggle with temptation from time to time. I have found that a disciplined prayer life, which includes weekly fasting, has brought me tremendous graces in dealing with this struggle.

Unfortunately, my addiction is still a big secret I have kept from my friends and family all these years. I have yet to talk extensively with another person about my past struggles. That’s part of why I’m writing this all down now and sharing it with anyone who will read it: Pornography addiction thrives in the darkness and I can no longer keep my struggles out of the light.

I’m sharing this story partly for my own personal healing; it’s a first step in what I hope will be a new journey to deeper healing. I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ve realized that God cannot give me the graces and gifts He longs to give if I continue to hang onto this big secret.

I also hope that my story will help other women currently going through this struggle. If any of you are reading this right now, I want you to know three things:

1. You are NOT alone and you are NOT defined by your sins.

2. Pray daily and try to fast from something that brings you comfort, at least once a week. Christ told us: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

3. Tell someone. Whether it’s a pastor, a trusted friend, or a counselor, talk to someone about what you’re going through.

I’m still struggling with number three so I ask for anyone reading this to keep me in your prayers, and know that I will be keeping all of you in my prayers as well.

Porn Almost Destroyed my Marriage

So. Pornography.  I have been watching this website for a while and I hoped that someone else would write about this. Hasn’t happened.  I wish I didn’t have a story to tell, but maybe if I tell my story it will help someone else avoid or end a pornography story in her life.  I hope that when you read this you are shocked and outraged at how naïve or stupid I was, because that would mean that you are much better equipped to defend yourself against pornography than I was.  Here goes.

When my husband and I were dating, I knew that he possessed a couple of old Playboy magazines.  I never saw them.  I never found him viewing them.  They were old.  I think the story was that he had found them under his older brother’s bed one day and kept them.  I really didn’t give it much thought.  I wasn’t very familiar with men.  I didn’t have brothers.  I didn’t have close male friends.  I’m not sure, maybe I thought it was just a “male” thing that I hadn’t been exposed to.  What I had read in novels led me to believe that a Playboy magazine under the bed was possibly a rite of passage.  This was before the internet, before internet porn.

Shortly after getting married we moved into a new house in a neighborhood that was new to us.  One weekend we went to the local video store to rent a movie.   When we went inside, my husband disappeared into a back room labeled “Adult.”  I didn’t even realize what was in there.  He came out after a few minutes and wanted me to join him.  I went in with him and it took me about 2 seconds to realize that I was not interested in the videos on those shelves.  I was repulsed.  I left.

My husband rented an adult movie and brought it home to watch.  I refused to watch it with him. He told me that I was a party pooper.   It was a tense weekend.  He continued to go back and rent adult movies a few times a month.  He would pressure me to watch them with him.  It was a big source of tension between us.  I would tell him that they were wrong and I wasn’t interested.  He would tell me that I was frigid and a prude and there was nothing wrong because we were married.  I didn’t know how to articulate it but in the depth of my being I knew these movies were wrong.  Just thinking about my husband watching them would cause a cloud of darkness and shame to wash over me.  I was Catholic, but I didn’t know my faith, didn’t even know what a catechism was, let alone that I could consult it.  I couldn’t ask my sisters; I was too ashamed.  I couldn’t consult the internet; it didn’t exist.  I was isolated and discouraged.  His persistence started to wear me down and I started to believe him.  Maybe there was something wrong with me.  Why didn’t I want to watch these movies with him?  Why did I feel like he had been with another woman when he was only watching a movie?  He wanted me to join him.  I was his wife.  Was I supposed to join him?

Marriage was not what I had thought it was going to be.  My husband’s new hobby cast a shadow over every aspect of our marriage.  I was miserable.  I gave in and began watching the movies with him.

He was happy, or at least superficially he was.  Most days, I felt dead inside for the length of each movie.  It was as though I turned myself off and retreated  into myself to avoid what I was subjecting myself to. There were other days though, days when I found myself curious and enjoyed a  moment of the movie.  Those moments of enjoyment were followed by confusion, shame, remorse, and a deep darkness.  What was happening to me? What was I becoming?  The darkness wasn’t over when the movie ended either; it lingered.   It became something that I endured once or twice a month in order to keep peace in my marriage.  What irony!  I watched pornography to try to improve my marriage.

And then we moved to another state.  Two beautiful, joyous, wonderful things came along with that move.  First, there was no adult movie store in our new neighborhood, so the movie viewing stopped! (Praise be to God, still no internet!)  Second, after a few years we started attending church.  By the time we started going to church the internet was a reality and so was internet porn.  Thankfully my husband did not return to his porn usage.  One Sunday our pastor preached about the evils of pornography.  I was so happy and relieved. I finally had someone on my side! I also finally had some understanding of the Church’s teachings about it.

CCC 2354   Pornography…offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.  It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actor, vendors, the public),…it is a grave offense.

Basically, sex is something filled with beauty and dignity and watching others do it degrades it.

There were so many other joys that came with learning about and practicing my Catholic faith.  So many wonderful resources, and the sacraments as well.  The sacraments of the Church are transformative.  Confession gave me absolution and helped me to forgive myself, to let go of the shame.   It took time and counseling before I forgave my husband.  In the words of my counselor “your husband was young and stupid.  He knows better now, and his actions show it.  Forgive him; let go.”  Marriage is a journey to Christ, and our detour into pornography was both damaging and dangerous.   But the beauty of Catholicism is that all things can be redeemed through the sacraments and Christ!

Women today have it harder because internet porn is ubiquitous and so easily accessed.  One good thing that has come out of this scourge of porn is that it has raised society’s awareness of how destructive and addicting it is.  Pornography exploits, objectifies  and uses women.  It devastates marriages and families.  According to one study “Pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining and have diminished belief in the importance of marital faithfulness.”1   Another study finds 56% of divorce cases involving “one party having an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”2

If pornography has become a part of your story, you do not have to look far to find help.  Go to your diocesan website to look for resources.  Most dioceses have resources on their websites under the Office of Marriage and Family. You could also search on pornography, but be sure that you are in the diocese’s search bar and not Google!

Here is the link for the Archdiocese of Denver.  It contains links to many helpful resources.

http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/6147/

Editors note:  This author and her husband are blessed. I don’t mean to diminish her suffering in any way but they are truly blessed that her husband did not become addicted as is so often the case with internet pornography. Praise be to God! 

If you or your spouse have an attachment to internet pornography, don’t be discouraged if your journey to recovery involves more of a struggle or effort than has been detailed in this story. In addition to the sacraments, recovery from pornography addiction often requires counseling and/or a twelve step group.  There are many Catholic and Christian counselors who are experienced in dealing with this devastating addiction.

1 Patrick F. Fagan, PhD, The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriages, & Community (December 2009).

2 Jill Manning, Senate Testimony, November 10, 2005, referencing: J. Dedmon, “Is the Internet bad for your marriage? Online affairs, pornographic sites playing greater role in divorces,” 2002, press release from American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 14.

I wasn’t capable of getting past this pain

It is difficult to write this story, though the words have been ingrained in my mind and heart for a very long time. No woman ever gets over the loss of her child, does she?

I was all of twenty-three years, and in a serious year-long relationship with my boyfriend at the time. He was a difficult man to love, and yet I think I loved him deeply. I should mention that I have always been a person with strong maternal instincts, and I’ve dreamed of being a mom someday for as long as I can remember. My boyfriend and I, we were intent on getting married, and our relationship became physical only a few months after we started seeing each other. We tried to be careful and practice safe sex, though I admit, most times we weren’t, and I ended up having to take emergency contraceptive pills. I didn’t use any regular contraceptives.

One day, we messed up. I’m not exactly sure how; maybe we miscalculated the safe days, or I might have taken the emergency pill late. But one day, I realised that my period was late by a week. And I bought a home pregnancy test. My boyfriend came over, and my heart thumped painfully as I waited for the result. Positive.

For a few minutes, I was completely numb with shock. Now I wonder why, since I hadn’t been very careful at all. Then the tears came, and we never spoke the words out loud, but we both had decided that I couldn’t possibly keep the baby. I was living on my own and my very Catholic parents would have been devastated, not to mention my boyfriend, who never stepped up to at least discuss keeping our child. But yes, at the time, it was both of our decisions that lead to it. On the way to the hospital, I thought bitterly, how perfectly fitting this punishment should be, for me to have to willingly decide to give up a gift I’ve dreamt of for so very long.

Things moved like a blur. One moment, I was at the hospital and the doctor had just confirmed my pregnancy (I was 6 weeks along), and somehow she knew that I needed an abortion. And the next moment, I was at her clinic a few days later and being told the procedures for a medical abortion. At home, after I had taken the first pill, I was in tears again. I felt I was losing my mind; I had just read on the internet about the development of babies at 6 weeks, and I wanted to hold those words in my arms and never let go. When I read that babies sense their mother’s emotions even when they are so tiny, I tried to speak to my baby and hope that she would know how much I wished I could keep her, and how I wasn’t brave enough. The next day, I was given the next pill and the bleeding and the pain began, and then it was all over.

Only, it wasn’t truly over. I was deeply depressed. I believe that a woman’s body instinctively senses the wrongness of an abortion. When the body that is created to nurture a living being is forced to reject it, the body knows it and you feel just “wrong.” I would wake up with a heart that felt like lead and would remember the nausea I had felt for those achingly short days, and I would cry about how if I could go back, maybe I might have done the same thing again. I thought constantly about how God, in his mercy, had allowed me to get out of this situation with dignity, and yet, how it all couldn’t remotely compare to the unjustness of my child having to lose its life.

I am sad to say that my boyfriend did not truly understand my grief, nor did he try to help me face it. He is not Catholic; he felt forgiven after a few prayers and wanted us to move on with our lives. Only, I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I couldn’t even think of confession. I felt that unless I was ready to consider myself worthy of forgiveness, I couldn’t be forgiven by God either. I had decided to fast on the day I would have delivered had I kept my baby. For my boyfriend, it was a ridiculous idea. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t capable of getting past this pain I was in, and was losing patience. Soon I stopped mentioning my grief to him altogether. It was my cross to bear and mine alone. I needed time to face what I had done in its entirety, and I wasn’t willing to sweep it under the rug and forget it ever happened.

I continued to see my boyfriend for 2 years after the abortion. If you wonder why I didn’t leave him right then, it was because I felt that our mistake could be mended if we still stayed together and were able to have other children and raised them as we would have done our first. And yet during those two years, my depression stayed with me. I hadn’t gone to confession and I still hated myself terribly. I continued to be physical with my boyfriend, if only just to feel something, anything, and my skin would crawl with self-revulsion. I was doomed to hell already, why stop? All this while, I was working, was successful, and was ever so charming in the presence of company. It is strange to think how the people who are the happiest on the outside may be living such dark lives on the inside.

The first time I sensed a ray of light was the time I went back home for Christmas that year. My family being so joyful and happy was overwhelming and during Christmas mass, I prayed the most heartfelt prayer I could pray. I asked God to tell me what to do and give me a sign, any sign. He, my ever merciful God, showed me what my life would look like if I continued down the path I was taking, and I realised I could never be fully content with a person I didn’t respect, and feared losing myself completely.

When I got back, I broke up with my boyfriend and quit my job to go back home and be with family. I realised that it was my only sanctuary, where I could try to rebuild myself again. And yet, it has been a long, long road to get to the place I am in right now. For a whole year after I came home I was hurting inside and couldn’t make myself go to confession. It was a vicious cycle and I felt unable to let go. That year, around the beginning of Advent, I was reading up on abortion and the Catholic Church. And when I read that abortion is an excommunicable offense, my heart sunk in my chest. If I was closed off from the Church, what hope was there of my redemption? How was I to go on? And I read further that if the sinner had no knowledge that his sin was excommunicable, then it is not, and that sin is forgivable.

As I read the words, it suddenly occurred to me how egotistical I had been all this while, to presume to understand God’s judgement and think myself unworthy of forgiveness. I had it all worked backwards. If God was able to forgive me, then I could begin to forgive myself. I couldn’t sit still. I called a taxi in the middle of the work day and headed to the church and right to the confessional. As I confessed I broke down and cried and that wall that had hardened over the years crumbled, and the priest then said those magical heart-touching words: “God knows how sorry you are. Your sin is forgiven. Now you must work to forgive yourself and the father of the child. Go in peace.” I felt so light I must have floated out of the church!

It has been two years since and I feel blessed and forgiven. Yes, I still have a long road ahead to absolve myself and maybe I never will. But the love I feel for my child who is with the Lord surpasses it all. There are still nights that I dream of being pregnant and wake up hurting, but I believe that time will find a way to help me heal.
In the many years that have passed, I have analysed my actions and intentions to no end. I would like to say that God has shown me that my past boyfriend was not the right person for me. And now I wait in hope for the time when I am wed to the most perfect person that God brings into my life; and I wait in hope for the time, with God’s grace, I bear children and raise my family to love Him as much as I do. Until then, His love sustains me and keeps me moving forward with hope.

I write my story as a message to all those who have experienced the pain and despair of abortion as I have. If you are feeling lost, know that God is waiting for you to take that tiniest step and say “Help me.” He will come to you in an instant and take away all that pain, I promise you. To those who are still considering abortion, I beg of you to please, please talk to your boyfriend, a parent, a friend, a priest or a counsellor, before you decide to go down this path. Families are most resilient when it comes to situations like this; trust in them. Trust God, for He will help you do the right thing and will give you the strength you need.

God bless!

 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been involved with abortion, or is having an unexpected pregnancy, please contact Project Rachel post-abortion healing or Gabriel Project pregnancy help for confidential support and assistance.

Healing after an Abortion

Mine is a story of the great compassion, forgiveness and healing I have received through the Catholic Church.  For those who say that the Catholic Church is waging a war on women, I say, “read on.”

I am a Catholic woman. My husband and I have four children.  I go to mass daily, to confession twice a month, and I am very active in my parish.  I also had an abortion.

Abortion is the secret shame carried by a great number of Catholic women.  If we are to believe the statistics, three of every ten women sitting in the pews with us have had an abortion.  That was a shocking statistic to me when I learned of it.

My abortion was thirty years ago.  The circumstances were not unusual: failed birth control, no family support, very low income, no spiritual support, and a newcomer to the area.  I frankly didn’t see any other way out.  I also didn’t know that my decision to have the abortion would affect me for the rest of my life.

I told absolutely no one what I had done.  Only my boyfriend (now my husband) and I knew.  While I was attending mass at the time, I was not going to confession.  After we landed at a church in the Diocese of Arlington, a good friend took me to make my first confession in 25 years. I confessed the abortion, felt pretty good about doing that, and then went on with my life. However, I still carried my secret shame around with me, and not a day went by when I didn’t think about what I had done.  I felt like such a fraud, living this great Catholic life, but with this horrible sin in my past. I cannot fully describe the depth of the shame I felt.  The day of the March for Life and Mothers’ Day were always the worst days of the year for me.

It wasn’t until we had a parish priest who organized healing services that the thought ever occurred to me to talk to anyone about it.  The priest was my regular confessor, and he was already working with me on healing some of the wounds from my childhood.  It was after he prayed over me in a healing service that the Holy Spirit placed it on my heart that I should to talk to him about it.  It took every ounce of my courage, and it was a very painful conversation, but we met and I told him about it.  I was pretty sure he was not only going to throw me out of his office, but out of the Church.  I had read all those examinations of conscience about abortion being a sin that results in excommunication.

That wasn’t what happened.  My priest was incredibly kind, gentle, and most compassionate.  I wasn’t condemned or judged.  He was relieved that I had confessed the sin some years ago.  Then he suggested I go on a Project Rachel retreat.  Was he crazy?  Show up on a retreat for post-abortive women?  Then everyone would know about my secret shame!

I think my priest continued to pray very hard for me, because about a year and a half later, I did go on a Project Rachel retreat.  It was one of the best decisions of my life.  If you are a post-abortive woman, I cannot recommend one of these retreats more highly.  There were eight women on my retreat, and they were of all ages and walks of life. Not only were we not judged or condemned, we were treated like royalty! From the warm greeting at the door of the retreat center, to the many gifts lavished upon us, to the warmth and kindness of the priest staffing the retreat, it was a wonderful experience.  With the help of the Project Rachel team, I took great strides on my healing journey, and I am now more at peace than I have been in years.  And through it all, my confidentiality was assured, and even now, no one knows I went on the retreat except for the Project Rachel team and my confessor.

I hope sharing my story encourages other women to pick up the phone and call Jo at the Project Rachel office (1-888-456-HOPE; projectrachel@arlingtondiocese.org) and register for one of these retreats.  You will receive healing, forgiveness, and hope through this ministry of the Catholic Church.

submitted from Virginia