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.

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