Darkness

darknessDay Eight. I’ve been doing pretty well the past few days. But today is really a struggle. I realize that it’s either post or fall.

I know well what triggered this temptation. And I knew it was a risk, and I did it anyway. Was it a compromise? Not exactly. Because there’s nothing wrong in itself in watching Law and Order: S.V.U.; it’s one of my favorite shows. But its themes often play to the deviance and disorder in me—my darkness.

Sometimes that is cathartic; other times it’s arousing. I used to really like Dexter for the same reason—not that murder was ever arousing, but it was certainly cathartic. I could relate to Dexter’s “dark passenger” that he sometimes had to let out, because I have my own. It doesn’t feed on blood, but on another kind of lust. Dexter finally crossed the line in one season or another and I lost interest; but there is a part of me that I know is drawn to that kind of darkness.

At least with S.V.U. the deviants are clearly portrayed as bad guys, and disorder for what it is. And good nearly always wins, and evil is defeated. But sometimes I can relate a little too much to the offenders: not that I have ever or would ever hurt anyone, but I can relate, I can empathize, in some distant way, with the darkness that motivates them.

The word rape is literally a taking by force. I’ve often heard it said that rape is not a crime about sex, but about power and control. And I can definitely understand that. Because I’m all too aware that I feast on the very same feelings when I give in to the demon of pornography. A part of that is always about intimacy and fantasy and tenderness; but another, increasingly prominent part is about having and controllinghaving the girls that I can never have in real life; owning and possessing and controlling their images—hoarding them, collecting them, as many as I can, with ever the lust for more.

In his final interview with Dr. James Dobson, hours before his execution, the serial killer Ted Bundy spoke about the beginnings of his depravity—born in an addiction to pornography and leading into an obsession with true crime stories of rapes and murders. And it horrifies me to admit that I completely understand that. Because at times, that’s the path my own darkness has wanted to take. Sometimes when I’ve been at my lowest, I have been fascinated and titillated by such stories of murder—been delighted by and even aroused by such evil. And then I wake up and realize what I’m doing—realize the horror of what I’m fixating on, realize I’m taking pleasure when I should be feeling nausea and disgust and abhorrence; realize that murder is not just a taking of an image, but of a life; an innocent life snuffed out that can never be restored. And I know then how desperate my situation is: I can see where this darkness will lead me if I don’t break away.

And break away is what I absolutely have to do. These wounds I have are deep and need healing. To continue with pornography, or even worse, such horrible stories, only carves the cut deeper and deeper until it will pierce my soul. I don’t let myself read such stories anymore; I shy even from media coverage. But I know I need help—help above all, from God, but as I write out here the secrets I’ve never written out before, I realize that I need professional help, too, I’m sure.

My merciful saints, please pray for me.

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Reasons why

crossroadsDay Six. Has it really only been six days? It already feels like eternity — so long without even allowing myself a little compromise.

This is agony. The stress, the anxiety are piling on. What a sweet salve, an escape, it would be to give in.

And my mind asks, why am I doing this to myself? Who would it really hurt? Who would ever know? –Is this the voice of the Tempter?

I have lost my drive to write this post, but I will force myself to continue — to talk through the things I don’t want to think about; to remind myself before I forget. I am doing this because I want to be free; because I don’t want to be a slave to sin, to flesh, to lust, to concupiscence. I am doing this because I love my Lord and want to obey; because my sin offends him. I am doing this because I long to be an honorable man with integrity, who is on the inside what he purports to be on the outside, who hides nothing in the dark.

I am doing this because my sin hurts me; because it stunts my growth spiritually and holds me back from being the kind of man I want to be. I am doing this because I have a vocation, a calling, and I will never find it or fulfill it as long as these chains bind me. Somewhere out there, there is a lady whom I am called to marry; a family I am called to father. Or there is a parish I am called to pastor, a people I am called to lift up to God. Or there is some other mission which I cannot yet discern.

What now seems like it would feel good and be a relief would really only numb my pain, put me to sleep, push my vocation back down into oblivion. I have to stand strong, by God’s grace. I have to keep standing through these forty days, and when I get to the end, I have to keep standing still longer. I cannot give in to doubt or temptation or lies: I know that I have the power, by grace, to do this.

Washed away

Day Four.

I took a really bad tumble on Fat Tuesday. I had been flirting with the edge for several days, compromising a little more every night — but Tuesday, I had been doing well. Then came the nagging thought that it was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and I’d better get my fill of sin and pleasure before I gave it all up for Lent. Such a hideous, wretched, worldly notion.

With relative chastity, I browsed a few new “friends” on the modeling site I like. But then I stumbled upon a pretty “model” who described her involvement with the adult industry as if it were something beautiful and artistic and not shameful. She described the site she “modeled” for as presenting the beauty of the human body and of “making love.” And the hook pierced my mouth; this I had to see.

I wish so much that I hadn’t. Not only did I see the “beauty” of that girl “making love,” but I landed upon a startling and devastating realization: porn stars are real people. All my years of separating the “adult” world from reality; of seeing “real” pornography as something fake and unrealistic and contrived, and porn stars as fake, plastic people with no connection to the “real” world — and suddenly, that illusion was shattered. Because porn stars are real people, too. They have careers, and stardom, and celebrity. They exist as real people apart from the fantasy photosets on websites labeled with fake names: they have real names, and people keep track of them. They exist on more than one website, in more than one photoset, and even star in movies. They have blogs you can read, and Facebook pages you can “Like,” and Twitter feeds you can follow. They are real people, who outwardly seem to enjoy themselves, and don’t seem particularly ashamed of themselves.

Sandcastle washed awayThe veil between pornography and “modeling” was torn: because for all the vehemence my favorite “models” put forward that they do not do “pornography,” the difference only amounts to a few inches. A girl who takes off her clothes for money is a girl who takes off her clothes for money: the porn star can call that “modeling,” too. The willingness to do explicit things, and with other people, when fully demystified and desensitized, ultimately boils down to what “props” one “models” with.

I found a girl, who looked so sweet and innocent and natural and real — who cultivates that image, to sell to a certain audience who, like me, finds that devastatingly seductive. I learned her real name, and found out who she was, and followed her career though some of the different work she had done. And she’s a real person. And these ramparts I built around my secret fortress were only mounds of sand around a sandcastle. And now the tide has come in, and it all has washed away.

My Empire of Dirt

black iron crownDay Six. Today is beginning to be a lot more tempting.

One of the most difficult, nagging thoughts that keeps recurring to me is that of “all I’m giving up.” A part of me hasn’t quite grasped that what I’m proposing here is the end, a permanent cessation of my activities. I continue to have thoughts of “when I come back” to it — and rising panic when I remind myself that if I am able to follow through, there won’t be a coming back.

Because that means giving up all I’ve worked for, all the hours I’ve invested, all the effort I’m expended, in building what was on the verge of becoming a really splendid fortress. Over so many months — but most of all in the past month — I’ve built a really excellent computer application, to harvest and manage my menagerie of “friends.” My very best programming work — the fruits of my most brilliant bursts of inspiration and energy — are all products that I cannot share, because they are all directed toward my obsession.

Everything I am as a programmer, I owe to this. I taught myself HTTP server–client communication, the ins and outs of Internet encryption, the utility of SQL databases and elegance in using them — all for this; all for porn. I can, and have, taken these skills and applied them to other work — but I am still very proud of my baser creations. The past month, I’ve been consumed by an almost manic rage, pouring myself into this day and night tirelessly, impelled by such an intoxicating feeling of godlike power and mastery, as I watched my monstrous creation come to life, bending the computer and the Internet to my perverse will. This week, I’ve steeled my heart not to look back — but it is wearing on me.

And my “friends” — I’ve spent so much time with them; I feel I know them so well, have such intimate conversations with them. That is all a lie, of course; I know that. But these women who show themselves to me — at last I feel I “have” them as my own. They are not “porn stars,” but “models” — not “whores,” but “artists” — not “professionals,” but “friends,” and “real” — as real as I can make them in my mind. That must be okay, right? my mind continues to implore. It’s not really porn; it’s art. But I cannot kid myself. The definition of “pornography” is not always so much in the intent of the creator, but in that of the end-user: if I use it for my own sexual arousal and self-gratification, then it’s pornography.

And all of this I’m giving up. The feeling of “power” and “control” — that is what’s so enticing about the devil’s yoke. But over whom do I really have power, if I give up my self-control? What sort of kingdom am I leading, when my subjects are leading me? I give it all up — I give myself up — to a power greater than myself; to a good Lord who alone can guide me out of this enveloping darkness.

Yokes

Oxen from "The First Harvest"
A crop from “The First Harvest” by Canadian painter J. D. Kelly.

Day Five. A daily Mass and a Rosary do make all the difference. Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Blessed Mother.

At the times when I’ve been at the lowest in my addiction, when I have felt the most out of control, I have had the distinct feeling that my lusts were driving me, not I pursuing my lusts — that I was just a beast of burden, bearing the yoke of my oppression, drawing behind me all the pain and anguish and baggage that was weighing me down, bleating unhappily, but unable to stop.

Other times, when I’ve been most tempted, I have heard the Prince of Lies beckon to me: “Won’t you come back to the yoke? Its embrace is so comforting and inviting and secure. You know you miss its weight; miss the freedom it gives you to pursue your desires. You know you are weary; tired of holding back your passions, tired of standing without relief. Won’t you stop kicking against the goads, obey your flesh, and return to where you belong?” And it has been so inviting. I’ve felt like an obedient dog, returning to his master to have the collar placed back on his neck. It does feel like such a relief to let go; to lay down the fight; to give myself up to my natural inclinations and let the flesh take control.

But Christ offers a yoke also:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The very idea of taking on a yoke is one of submission and subservience: of laying down my self to another’s will. But paradoxically, it is only in taking Christ’s yoke — in becoming His slave — that I find true freedom. It is only in losing myself that I find myself. It is only in taking up my cross and following Him, in submitting to and sharing in His death, that I gain life (Matthew 16:24-28, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

Agnes in Agony

Saint Agnes“Agnes in Agony” is a play on words. The name of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome, the site of the death of the virgin martyr Saint Agnes, is often misunderstood in English as referring to the “agony” of the saint. In fact, “in Agone” refers to the location of the church: in the Greek, “agon” (ἀγών) is a “contest”: Saint Agnes was martyred in a brothel in an arcade of the Stadium of Domitian, and the ancient name of the Piazza Navona was the Piazza in Agone — the plaza “at the games.”

But let there be no doubt — Saint Agnes did die in agony. She died exposed and tortured for her faith, but remained a constant witness to her faith in Jesus Christ and to the consecration of her virginity and maidenly modesty. She has become the patron of young girls and of chastity. And I believe, in this culture saturated with pornography and loose sexuality and irreligion — the very antithesis to everything for which Saint Agnes gave her life — she is in agony again today. This world is locked in a contest, and chastity is losing ground.

This blog is about my own contest with the flesh: my healing and recovery from sexual addiction. For so much of my life, I have been bound by the chains of pornography and masturbation. Since the tender age at which Saint Agnes met her martyrdom, I have been corrupted and enslaved. This long and painful battle has now raged over twenty years, more than two thirds of my life. But just this past year, I accepted that I was a sexual addict — a term I long denied — and for the first time in years, I see ahead a road of hope. Placing my own trust in Christ, I intend to travel this road. I pray that He may lead me out of this darkness, and I invoke the intercession of Saint Agnes and of Our Blessed Mother in my struggle.

Here I will blog my journey, sometimes in personal detail. It won’t be pretty, but then, I don’t envision myself blogging for a mass audience. If anyone wants to follow along, you are welcome; and I pray that through my words, I might offer light and encouragement to someone else who is struggling on this road.

The Sister

Young Nun, by Makovsky.
Young Nun, by Konstantin Makovsky.

Day Four… it’s a little easier today. It’s easier when I devote my time to prayer and my thoughts to the Lord, and to Our Lady.

Last night I met the most adorable nun. I knew, the whole time I listened to her speak and was afterward speaking with her, that I shouldn’t be crushing on a nun — but I was. For the rest of the night, my heart ached for her, and I couldn’t push her from my thoughts — the whole time knowing how foolish I was being. My mind wandered off into a fantasy of Abelard and Heloïse — late in their lives, that is: of having a loving, godly, but chaste relationship with someone like that, writing tender letters between our distant monasteries, both of us steadfast in our consecration to the Lord.

It wasn’t much of a sexual crush — my crushes on “real” women seldom are — but a longing for intimacy, to be close to someone and know someone so precious and genuine and godly as she. To truly have a sister in the Lord. To have what she has and be what she is — to devote myself to chastity; to espouse myself to the Lord, and to love Him above all other things.

Heloise and Abelard
Funerary monument of Heloise and Abelard, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

I am so broken. All my life, I’ve dealt with such passionate crushes like this that have sprung up in but a moment, almost always on women whom I view as good or virtuous or ideal, and never to become anything but a heartache. Pornography has divorced love from sex in my mind completely: I can no more envision true love with a sexual partner than I can envision sex with someone I love. My few sexual experiences, inflated so fantastically with pornographic expectations, were mechanical and robotic and emotionless and miserable. All I ever wanted — from my childhood, up to the crying child inside today — was intimacy; connection; love. I have ruined myself with regard to the gift of sexuality. Only a miracle of God could heal me if marriage is ever to be my vocation. At the same time, if a life of celibacy or religious service is to be my vocation, only a miracle could break these chains of sin that have kept me enslaved for so long.