Rewiring

robot-brainDay 48.

Mondays have been easier lately. Sunday is always a revivification: the Eucharist gives peace and strength and grace to my soul. But used to, I would come home and Monday would hit me like a ton of bricks. The attack of the enemy would find me all too vulnerable. I was always the man, being freed from an evil spirit, who swept his house and put it in order, only to be re-invaded by the same spirit and seven more. But the real problem was that I never actually swept my house clean, especially not earlier this year. I would come home to a hard drive full of porn and girls, who would welcome and beckon me the moment I felt weak. But now Monday is blessed. I feel so refreshed and full of God’s love, and I come to the Lord in prayer with a renewed spirit.

I’ve been reading about how the brain, being rewarded in a habit by positive reinforcement, like a rush of powerful endorphins as in orgasm, forms neural pathways — trenches dug into the neural landscape, furrows worn deeper and deeper by a road traveled again and again and again. And I’ve been trapped in that furrow for twenty years of my life. And now I’ve clambered out, but am still walking precariously along the edge — knowing all too well how easy it is to fall in again.

My brain has these habits, these paths down which it has learned to direct thoughts and feelings and actions, and has grown so accustomed to them. I’m now in a place of rewiring, trying to avoid those old behaviors and consciously direct my thoughts and feelings and actions to new ones. Reprogramming myself, away from inappropriate responses to appropriate ones. Why my reaction should be when I see a pretty girl; what thoughts I allow and indulge. What I do when I’m sitting at the computer, and what I don’t do and can’t do.

I know that this will be a long road. But I pray every day that these deep furrows, these wounds I’ve carved so deep into my soul, will begin to heal. That the precious flesh of the Eucharist will fill in the holes, be the putty to my gashes, the tissue graft to my gravest trauma — that by His stripes I can be healed, and all my hurt replaced by only Him.

Brain soup

brain-chemicalsDay 45.

Good Lord, today is hard. I feel right now, more than ever, that the only thing keeping me up is my conscious decision not to fall. And I am tempted. My flesh tries to justify — says it’s been a good run; I can do better next time. 40 days last time, 45 days this time, maybe 50 days next time. But forty-five days! And My Lord!

I’ve been reading the free e-book from Covenant Eyes, whose specialty is anti-porn software, on porn addiction and brain science, The Porn Circuit. And it’s so familiar; so reassuring to hear that someone understands, that someone else has gone through this, that I’m not alone and not weird. Almost so reassuring that I’m not sure if I should trust it. And today when I was out and about, I felt a temptation more than I have in a while to look at women; to fantasize. I saw an attractive young lady at the thrift store and probably let myself look at her a little too long. And I’ve been seeing temptation everywhere. On Facebook, photos of scantily-clad women on various feeds that I promptly “hide”; and on the TV, girls in skimpy bathing suits, sexual themes and suggestions.

I haven’t given in. I haven’t let myself get carried away. I almost did. One of my backdoor vulnerabilities — one of the temptations I’ve so often convinced myself to give in to in the past, only to find it a gateway to more and more dangerous temptation — as I should have known it was — is to randomly google stories about Christians and sexuality, or go to Amazon and browse around at books about Christians and sexuality. Today I found myself briefly in that — but thank God, one of the first books I ran across was My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. And I was startled and snapped out of my errant reverie. Didn’t I order a copy of that? Don’t I have a copy of that somewhere? Yes, I do, and I found it on my shelf, and I haven’t read it yet. But I should.

I’ve had to withdraw from so much, shield myself from so much, this past month and a half. I used to subscribe to the emailings of some of my favorite clothing stores. I didn’t just check that I wanted to receive “men,” but checked that I wanted to receive everything — men, women, girls, boys. So almost daily I would get in my email pictures of pretty, fashionable models. I unsubscribed from all of those weeks ago — but I’m still getting them. It takes a few weeks, apparently, for them to get their database straightened out. And today, more than ever, just seeing those pretty girls set my insides on fire. And it wasn’t an unpleasant feeling at all. It was almost refreshing, like a breath of fresh air. A rush of endorphins. And my brain said, Don’t you want to have some more of that? And yes, I do — but I know I can’t. Because there is invariably a progression. Models in fashionable clothes invariably leads to lingerie models to fine art models to nude models to Tumblr girls and My God I’ve fallen.

It would be nice to be normal. It would be nice to be able to look at pretty girls and appreciate their beauty and their smiles and their hair and their good fashion sense — and let it stop there. I do feel lonely. So much of this longing is a longing for intimacy, a longing to see and appreciate and have a relationship with a real girl. I am atrociously miserable at that. I haven’t really tried in so long. My fears tell me it’s a lost cause; the enemy tells me that even if I had someone, I wouldn’t have anything to offer her. That I’m too damaged. I do have something to give — I have a tender heart full of love. And I pray that God can use that, give it to someone, whether as shepherd of a flock, or as a brother and intercessor to everyone around me, or as husband to some lady. I am willing to give myself wholly for His purpose.

Anxiety and Comfort

anxietyDay 43 of sobriety.

So, I think, I passed the first barrier. Day 40 was Sunday. That made it much easier to deal with: Sunday is a day of family and most of all the Eucharist of Our Lord. I am overwhelmed every time — every single time — by how much strength He brings me. How His very Presence transforms me.

Yesterday was Day 42, six weeks. It was difficult, more difficult than any day so far. But then there was Adoration. And for an hour, I sat before the Blessed Sacrament, and the rays of the Son burned away all my hurt, my pride, my fear.

Today the anxiety is almost paralyzing — and my usual method of self-medication is calling like an old friend. Chamomile tea hits the spot and dulls the panic; but I think I would drift off to sleep if I drank it continuously. Only a couple hours left — until I can receive Our Lord at Mass again.

Please pray for me, my brothers and sisters.

Coming out my ears

Day 33 of sobriety.

Yes, I will tentatively call it sobriety. Something feels different; something has been changing. It’s been nearly two months since I deleted all the porn. The count is from the last time I masturbated; the last time I fell into unchastity. And not with pride, but with relief, I rightfully reclaimed my 30-day Celebrate Recovery chip the other night. But as before, my true landmark will be at forty days.

And also as before, the 30-day mark marked a renewal of the struggle. The first thirty days were relatively free from temptation. But on Day 30 itself came a resurgence. It seems a little ridiculous to me to suppose that this war should follow such a well-rounded schedule — that Satan and his demons, or God and his angels and saints, should observe a human calendar, or that they should retire and resume to human perception at all; surely this must be a product of my own psychology, the power of self-suggestion. But I can’t dispute the fact that for thirty days, I wasn’t interested at all in ogling women, but instead found a bedrock of fortitude and — grace? — that enabled me to turn my eyes and my heart to purity and to cherish and take comfort in chastity.

And then suddenly a few days ago, the fight was on again. In those blessed thirty days, I learned more than ever before how important my time alone with the Lord was; how to take refuge in prayer from the troubles of the world. Where so often before, stopping what I was doing to pray was something cumbersome that I only did grudgingly, now I found a new delight and a new peace and a new longing to turn away from my preoccupations to give my mind and heart to Him. And then, all of a sudden, I was fighting again — not as if a rug had been pulled from beneath me, or my security blanket jerked away, but as if I’d been gently prodded from the protection of the Nest that I might learn to survive in the world; not that my defenders had abandoned me, but that they’d withdrawn to a deeper distance to allow me to practice what I’d learned and to grow in strength.

And last night especially was fierce. I am finding, as I did before, that when I block the usual exhaust ports — when I cut off the ways in which I’m used to finding release — it starts to come out my ears. “It” being… my energy, my frustration, my anxiety, I guess. And by coming out my ears, I mean I start to express that bottled energy in other, potentially not-so-good ways. The wisdom of the world, which i believed for so long, says that this is precisely the reason for masturbation, to provide a necessary release, since not releasing it would be unhealthy and maddening. But I’m no longer buying that. While providing a release, masturbation only ever served to inflame my sexual desires — rather than a purging, it spurred them to greater and greater ferocity, and me to greater and greater fixation on them.

So what do I do now? Is it just a matter of time before I give in again? Should I just resign myself to that, taking comfort in that my falls are becoming less and less frequent? As surely as I were to give in to that, I know that I would fall into an even deeper and darker place, as I did for the first six months of this year, so seized with my fixation that I was completely unable or unwilling to let go — in which I amassed some hundred or more gigabytes of porn, more than I’d ever hoarded before, and longer than I’d held on to it in years. No, I cannot give in; I must keep up the fight. Even if I do fall again, I must get up. But what can I do for now? All I know to do is to consciously turn away from the temptations and fixations, and turn my mind and heart to prayer — even if I have to do that a hundred times a day, as my mind drifts away again and again into darkness; even if it seems a losing battle, to keep stopping myself and pulling myself away again and again. Will this fire inside ever die down? Will I be able to hold it in, before it bursts out some other inappropriate port? All I know to do is to trust in the Lord and in His strength.