The Lady

Renoir, Portrait of a WomanI haven’t been writing here much in a long time. There’s been a reason for that: I met a Lady, who gave me so much hope. So often I’ve thought of coming here to share her with you joyfully; but today I share her tearfully and fearfully.

I met her now about a year ago; we’ll call her Dove. Entirely by coincidence, our first, casual date was Valentine’s Day. After that we continued to message online, talked a few times, had a few more dates; but nothing happened instantly or magically. I told her up front about my past and my addiction, the very second time I saw her. I wanted to be honest and forthright and do things right. I was doing well then, recovering, I thought, approaching a hundred days of sobriety.

Easter brought us together. Dove is not Catholic, but had been drawn to the faith for a long time, long before she met me. She had been writing me at length sharing her thoughts and feelings and asking questions — and frankly, I was uneasy. Girls before had pretended to be interested in things I liked in order to get close to me, and I was very afraid that this was more of the same; only this time, it was a drive for the most intimate and personal part of me. And I pushed her away, out of fear. We had talked of visiting a local shrine together, and I put her off, for weeks. Finally, I agreed to go with her. Entirely by coincidence, it was Good Friday.

The Good Friday service, and the Adoration of the Cross, was deeply powerful and meaningful to me, that week of all weeks. It was for her as well — I didn’t understand how meaningful at the time. I invited her to come to the Easter Vigil with me. I so little expected her to accept that I put my phone someplace and forgot about it. I picked it up just as I was getting ready to leave myself. She did want to go with me. Somewhere between Good Friday and Easter, Dove decided that she really was, wholly and genuinely, feeling drawn to the Catholic Church. And somewhere between it all, I too began to realize that Dove was genuine, and passionate, and beautiful, and that I was being drawn to her.

A few weeks later, we had a serious talk. She told me that she had been ready to give up on me, to resign herself to the fact that we were just friends and would only ever be. And realizing that I was about to be let go of, I realized in alarm that that isn’t what I wanted at all. I had been fearful, dragging my feet, afraid of things moving too fast or letting her get too close to me. I was so afraid of letting a girl be more than a friend than I hadn’t realized that she was my friend, and becoming more. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a girl-friend — a girl I was dating who I could really say was my friend, rather than an adversary,” I said blushingly, not believing the words were even coming out of my mouth. “But I think you’re my girlfriend.”


Homer, After the HurricaneThat was June, after I had fallen again. I think falling, from my point of pride, brought me to realize how much I truly needed her. The past six months have been wonderful, lovely, full of love and growth in trust and intimacy. We talked, very seriously and deliberately, about marriage. I had made up my mind that she was who I wanted to spend my life with. The only things holding me back, in my mind, were the frustrating and practical but all-too-important complications of living in the real world: finding a steady job and making enough money to support a family.

I did continue to struggle with my vice — violently, for the past month or two. Those real-world concerns led so easily to real-world stress and anxiety and depression, and the all-too-real temptation to escape from this world into something, somewhere, someone else. It was wrong; it was sin. But I swear from my top to my bottom — and as my readers, you surely know — that to the extent I even thought about it rationally, I only ever meant to medicate myself, never to hurt anyone else — least of all my Dove.

This New Year, looking back over everything we’ve been through, deeply moved by the Holy Spirit in the Christmas liturgies and in private prayer, I made a renewed, sincere commitment to recovery, to come clean, to break free from these demons once and for all; to go back to Celebrate Recovery, from which I’d been absent these past few months, as a weekly token of that continuing commitment. I asked Dove to go with me — both to support me, and, I thought, to see the hope and the healing that God does work in the lives of those who trust in Him. The lesson, on Denial, and Step One, again moved me deeply. And I realized how much I have been in denial. And I realized that if Dove and I were ever to be truly one, I would have to be completely open. So I decided to tell her everything.

I have been open with her since the beginning about my struggle with a pornography addiction — which to me, then and now, sums up my problem. All the masturbation, all the fantasies, all the escapism, all the evil dolls, even the acting out sexually in former years have all been extensions and manifestations of that root problem. I never felt that I was “hiding” anything from her: Even in the past few months, I have confessed to her that I have been struggling. Perhaps it was very naïve of me, but I honestly, sincerely expected her to be understanding and supportive. And she was, at first, with extraordinary grace. But then, after it “sank in”…

I will respect her privacy and spare you the intimate details of our conversations. But suffice it to say that things are not well. She is angry, hurt, devastated. She accepts the worst possible interpretation of everything I’ve told her and assumes the worst of everything she doesn’t know. In her mind, the person she loved was all a lie; I have been unfaithful, and untrue, and deceptive, and manipulative. All the trust she had for me is swept away by the tide. As it also threatens to sweep away all the hopes and dreams I had for her, for a better, purer life.

Please pray for me, brothers and sisters. I need God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness more viscerally than I ever have before.

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Pillars of salt

Day 102.

I am really hurting. And I’m looking back…

I have no illusions of being at the top of the mountain. I know I still have so far to go. But when I turn and look behind, I can see how far I’ve climbed, how far down it is — and what a slippery slope even taking one step backward would put me on.

At this distance, I can see and understand a bit more clearly. I know that falling back into porn and masturbation wouldn’t give me what I’m really longing for; that it would be, at best, a narcotic. Temptation suggests that I could do “just a little”; that I could slip into it for some temporary relief and get up again; but I know that that’s not true. The relief is only relief because it is oblivion; it consumes me and drowns out the pain, along with everything else: every hope, every desire, every good.

Yesterday I slipped, not into porn or masturbation, but into its client state: the kingdom of real girls whom I’d made into objects of fantasy; real people on Facebook whose lives I’d nosed into through their publicly-posted photos. I revisited some of my old favorites, for the first time since I began this stand. It didn’t progress any further than that, but it reawakened a longing: to know girls; to have a life. One of them had gotten engaged — it happens all too often among these young, pretty, evangelical women. That’s a life I missed, the voice says; because I wasn’t an evangelical; because I didn’t go to a Christian school; because I was never a part of any such church or family. And the voice says I could have had that, but was denied it; and it urges me to take it for myself, or to make it — at least the facsimilated fantasy of it. To acquire and cultivate relationships with these girls again, these girls whom I will never really know. And one by one, they will all get married…

Those girls are relatively benign; but as I long for a deeper intimacy, for a fulfillment of the desires that the fantasies stir but cannot fulfill, it inevitably leads back to porn. And there, the desire for empire is an essential part of it. The reason why I’ve been standing for over a hundred days, despite having free access to the Internet through the limited means of my phone, is that I’ve given up my throne: the great hoard of gigabytes upon gigabytes that I collected and ruled over. And knowing that that exists somewhere outside my reach is an inhibition against starting over. How could I start over, knowing that I couldn’t add to the trove I worked so hard to build before? Of course, logically, I could join anything new I accrued to my stash later; but it doesn’t work that way in my mind. How could I know I wasn’t collecting things I already had? No, thus far, I have been unwilling to cross that line.

If it were within my reach, I don’t think I could resist right now. As much as I know it is a lie, that that life holds nothing but pain, I miss that sweet narcosis. I love my Lord and I want to please Him, but right now, I have lost sight of hope. Why am I doing this? Why do I have to be clean? I know, truthfully, that purity is freedom from slavery, and that is a reward in itself, but some days it is so hard. The voice says to take for myself what I haven’t been given — that is the essence of all sexual sin, in fact — and it would be so easy, wouldn’t it?

It is a comfort to me to suffer this week, as I remember that my Lord suffered for me.

Penned

incarceratedDay 48.

There are changes going on in me.

More clearly than I’ve ever discerned it before, I am changing. I know very well that I can never “declare victory” — that this will be a fight I fight for the rest of my life — but more than ever before, I feel a growing distance between me and my addiction.

I’ve been this long before. A little more than a year ago, I went eighty days before falling. But I’m doing something different this time. This time, rather than mere avoidance — a beleaguered footrace, feeling the wolf’s hot breath on my heels — I feel a real separation. The wolf — which in truth, is in me — has been penned.

Or rather, I’ve allowed myself to be penned. I’ve given myself — and I give myself daily — to penance. My incarceration — this separation from the Internet — is not a punishment so much as a protection. And it is a submission — a voluntary act of giving up control, of surrendering myself and laying down my freedom. And yet I haven’t felt such freedom as this in years. Such self-control — the freedom to choose my own thoughts and actions.

And this is how it is in Christ. Jesus said that if we take his yoke upon us, we would find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28–30). In that surrender of ourselves, placing our lives in the hands of a greater Master, we find a lighter burden than ever the world could give. I’ve never truly understood this before now — so bound to another master have I been.

A blessed exile

Goodness. Has it really been October since I posted?

Yes, for a few months there I was almost gone: first being consumed with a project for school, and then, when that was gone, coming the closest to drowning in my sin that I ever have. I found myself in a vacuum, the house that had been emptied and swept clean to leave only a depressing and purposeless void, all too welcoming to my demons.

And there was fear: a visceral and palpable fear at the darkness I saw ahead. What now? What was God calling me to do? So often I had considered the priesthood or religious life; thought that might be my vocation; but how could that be, when I’ve been consumed with the longing for a girlfriend my whole life and addicted to pornography? Or was I called to be married, to be a husband and father, as I so often dreamed when I was younger? But how could that be, when I’m hopelessly shy and a perennial loser at the dating game; when my addiction had all but ruined the prospects of ever having a healthy relationship? Not seeing light in either tunnel, I resigned myself to the rising waters.

And then, my parents, thanks be to God, intervened. Twice I made a show of giving up control; twice I made excuses and held on to some avenue of escape. The third time I surrendered. So many times I’ve tried to surrender to God all by myself, only to seize the reins again in panic when the going got hard. I resented the restrictions they put on me for my protection, sought to circumvent them — am I not an adult? — but this time, I voluntarily submitted. Now I am a willing exile.

I’ve given up the Internet almost completely; I have no access from any PC, except when they are home and awake. I continue to have limited access via my phone and iPad, which so far has not been a temptation to wander. So much of my addiction is wrapped up in the hoarding impulse, to have and control, and I cannot do that from this little lifeboat. Now, three weeks in, the temptation is rising again. I know that I could go looking — yesterday, even, I found myself on a lustful hunt to find a pretty model I saw on a magazine cover, to know who she was and have pictures of her — but I stopped myself. I confessed my sin. I am still standing. I know that there is an avenue still open — but I want to be strong. I want to choose right, to know I could and choose not to. I want to prove worthy of my parents’ trust this time. It is hard, it is a pain, having no window to the outside world save this little lifeboat, but I am glad to have at least that, and I want to keep it and not abuse it.

Today will be 22 days. Yesterday I briefly thought, well, twenty days was a nice run of it; I could give in and not be ashamed — but no. I want to please my Lord. I want to spare the grief of my parents, who are so worried for me. I want to have a future apart from this.

In the world

I didn’t make it to eighty days. I fell very hard soon after my last post, on Day 50. It was a struggle getting back up for about two weeks, but I’m here again. Day Seven today.

The past couple of days have been very hard. I feel a loneliness, a longing, specifically for female companionship, more than I have in a very long time. For so long, I outright dismissed the idea of ever having a girlfriend again. Between my brokenness and my addiction, there seemed to be no hope for that. And I was content. It was easy, on one hand, to tell myself that I had nothing to lose, that the habit wasn’t keeping me from any real relationship, so what did it hurt? why not content myself with what I have? and on the other hand, to convince myself — and I still believe — that I need this time alone, immersing myself in God, to be healed and prepared for whatever vocation lies ahead.

Alone in crowdBut I’ve been alone for most of my life. I haven’t had a “girlfriend” in more years than I care to admit — the few girls I’ve been out with were more combatants whom I had to fend off than “friends.” And I have struggled with loneliness. That loneliness is what led me headlong into disaster several years ago, when fueled by my addiction and the distorted view of sex and relationships that pornography gives, I said, To hell with God’s plan, and set out to experience what I felt I’d been denied. And sin chewed me up and spat me out.

Now, it’s been easier to believe that I’m too damaged to be a part of any meaningful romantic relationship; that with my ongoing struggles against this addiction, any relationship would be doomed from the start; that in my sexual brokenness, I would be an unworthy partner and husband. And I was content. I didn’t have to worry about it. I deleted all my dating site profiles, tried to stop thinking about it. And that is fine, as long as I’m alone with God and praying. If I could withdraw to a cloistered life, I might could forget. But here in the world, all it takes is one cool breeze to fan the embers back into flame.

A girl. There’s a girl at church, Clara, the daughter of some dear friends, who, the first time I ever met her, swept my heart away with foolish dreams and fantasies, after so many months of not thinking about such things. At first she came for a visit; now she’s back to stay, and I see her every week. I can hardly speak to her. I always do speak to her, but seldom more than, “Hi, how are you?” I don’t know what she thinks of me. She sat with me once at a potluck dinner. What does that mean? It’s fear, more than anything else, that binds me up; it’s easier not to worry about girls. But I’ve been worrying about girls my whole life. It’s that worry, that anxiety, that insecurity, that loneliness, that’s probably at the root of every problem I’ve ever had.

I had a very sensual dream last night about a girl I was intimate with years ago. The one who, despite being such a fleeting moment, made me feel more special than anyone had in many years. I can’t shake her. It is absolutely true what they say, that sex binds two people to one another, body and soul. Today is difficult. Please pray for me, my dear ones.

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.