Pray for us

Today is Saint Agnes’s feast day.

In her honor, I added her medal to my brown scapular (it used to have a St. Benedict medal, but I wear another St. Benedict medal elsewhere).

Brown scapular with St. Agnes medal

I’ve been doing well. Things are good with Dove. I have a lot I want to write and share, but I find myself very busy again and not having time to sit down and do it. I’ll make an effort.

Dear sister Agnes, please pray for us. I need God’s grace to overcome.

A failure to love

I’m still alive.

I’ve been struggling. But I’m still struggling; I haven’t given up.

I hit the ground hard not long after my last post, right at 120 days. I don’t even remember what pulled me down. I was stressed out and anxious, and a temptation and new fascination slipped under my skin. I lost a lot of hope after that. I keep falling — but I keep getting up. The longest stand I’ve made since then was twenty-something days. Counting days no longer seems to matter as much.

But I have been growing. The falls, by and large, have not been as low or as frequent, and the recoveries have been sooner and stronger. I need to do better at resisting temptation: when I get low, I am still really vulnerable. But I have been growing, and learning, and coming to realizations.

The real choice at hand is not between chastity and sex, or between love and lust, or even between love and not-love: it’s between love and hate. I of all people am wary of black and white characterizations; but gray so often is a path to compromise. And the two choices are diametrically opposed — not even like two poles; they are not even like each other. When I love someone, I am willing, even joyful, to wait to experience her body, until we can share in each other wholly and licitly. I am glad to give her dignity and honor and respect; to give to her as a person and not just take from her as an object.

For pornography is the opposite: a taking, an exploitation. Sure, in a sense, she is “giving”; but as it involves me, the aspect is completely opposed to the mutual giving and taking, the sharing, that makes a real and loving relationship. When I step out to take from someone else, from a thousand anonymous someone-elses, it is not an act of love for anyone — not even of self-love, since if I really loved myself, I would save myself for what is true. It’s the opposite of love. If I loved those women, I would want to see them clothed in dignity and not degraded and exploited.

Jesus calls me to love all people. And to give in to this sin, the greatest demon in my life, is the utmost failure to love. I love my Lord, and long to be filled up with His love. Lord Jesus, Son of God, please have mercy on me, a sinner.

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.

Apples

cranach-adam-and-eve-1533The twenty-third day.

In this month’s Magnificat there is a reflection on charity as a fruit of the Spirit, contrasting it with the apple of original sin. At the beginning of this month, when I was caught in such a desperate struggle, its words became a rallying cry: What conquers sin and pride in our lives is not mere obedience but love-filled self-surrender to God. No one can avoid sin simply by willing it. The only way to avoid sin is to love, to have our lives transformed by acts of charity that overflow into the lives of others.

Lately I’ve been involved in some heated and unpleasant arguments with atheists on Facebook. Some people seem to enjoy argument, but it has only ever left me feeling bruised. Despite all my hardness, deep down I have a tender inside — and it’s that tenderness that the Lord has been striving to restore. It’s when I am loving others, not fighting, that I feel the most fulfilled, the closest to God. And I do believe that love is my path to healing.

I prayed this morning: Father, give me a tender heart, so that everything I say is full of tenderness and love, never anger or hate or polemic — that even my criticism is full of your love and mercy, and may always lead back to you.

No sooner had I prayed that than somebody responded to an apologetic argument I’d left on another blog. I will respond in charity, I said.

I checked out the person’s blog solely to find out if he was a boy or girl, to know whether to respond to my “brother” or “sister.” But what I found was an eyeful. I hadn’t read very far in the very first post before I came upon quite an explicit description of a casual sexual encounter.

I felt my cheeks flush, my heart burning inside me. I’m going to fall, I thought. I am so vulnerable. But I stopped. I didn’t have to fall. It was my choice. And I chose to hold on to my Christ.

I did respond in charity to my brother. I don’t know what was up with that person or with his blog, and I didn’t read any further to find out. But it did cause me to think, and led me to write this post:

In that moment I thought, I miss that. Will I ever have that again? And then I thought, Do I need that? Do I really even want that? My struggle for so long has been one that confused love and intimacy with sex and nudity: but I’m finally beginning to realize, I think, through a willingness to give all of that up, how seductively false those misconceptions are.

Pornography, nudity unbridled from true intimacy, will never fulfill. The parade of hundreds of women, not one of whom I’ll ever have a true connection with, is only a cruel mockery of the longing for that intimacy and of the unalienable beauty and dignity of the human person. Casual sex, sexuality unbridled from love, will never fulfill. It only hitches my heart to a random tractor, to have a precious bit of substance ripped from the socket, until there can be no real attachment there at all.

So I give all of that up, consciously, voluntarily. Just as I’m giving up my free passage on the Internet, I give up my freedom to consume myself with those false gods. The analogue is a sacrament: my giving up the Internet in submission to my parents is like a vow of obedience in submission to a superior, to God Himself. My giving up pornography is a vow of chastity. As the Catechism teaches, The [evangelical counsels] are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it (CCC 1973). Where I am now calls for strong medicine. Even if having a relationship with somebody, someday, is not contrary to charity, I give up the pursuit of that now, for the kingdom, that the Lord can birth charity in me, that I might be healed. Lord my God, fill me up with your charity!

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.

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.