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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I get up and do it again

confessionSomething I noticed over the past month, when I was on the ropes:

When I was a new Catholic, I had a tendency to view the cycle of grace and forgiveness in an all-or-nothing fashion. That was very Protestant of me. For a Protestant, one is either “saved” or “lost.” Salvation happens at the moment when one accepts Christ, and then that salvation can never truly be lost — at least in the evangelical conception of things I had before my revolution. One could “backslide” — a state that wasn’t very well defined in my head — but that wasn’t quite the same as the idea of “losing one’s salvation.” In the Catholic view of things, in which the Christian can fall from grace through mortal sin, and only regain it through the Sacrament of Confession — I tended, at first, to suppose, once I’d fallen, that there wasn’t really any point in stopping; that since I couldn’t receive absolution until I could go to confession on Sunday, I might as well “enjoy” my sin until then. It was so much an echo of the way I lived for years as a Protestant: wallowing in my sin until I could return to church and “get saved” again; or worse, for the years I was on the bottom, feeling that, since Jesus had already forgiven my every sin, there was really no point in striving for holiness at all, in making any effort to quit my sin.

But lately something has been remarkably different. Even though I still so often buy into the lie that I “enjoy” it — some part of me does — I realize, when the ecstasy has passed, the error of what I’ve done, and how unhappy it in fact has made me. And I stop. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Because I know I’ve screwed up, and don’t want to screw up anymore. Because I love God with everything I am, and I know my actions have hurt me and disappointed my Savior. And I long for purity, for sanctity. And even though it may yet be a few days until I receive absolution — I have no desire to continue. And even though I might get up in the morning and fall again — I just as well might get up, as I did this past weekend, and stand.

The Church teaches that perfect contrition — the kind that arises from a love for God above all else and a genuine sorrow for one’s sins — not only remits venial sins, but can even obtain forgiveness of mortal sins, if it includes the firm resolution to go to the Sacrament of Confession as soon as possible (CCC 1252). And even if I didn’t know that, I think I could feel it: because when I do feel that true contrition, when I do get up even from my squalor and resolve to stop and to try again — I find a new font of grace beginning to well up in me; the beginnings of my restoration.

A New Lent

Kramskoy, Christ in the WildernessDay One. I did go back to the Lord yesterday, and humbled myself and laid down my burdens. And I found peace.

I started out this Lenten season with a firm resolution to resist this thing. To abstain from porn and grow in fortitude and continue on past that — from forty days, to eighty, to 120, to a year. Alas, I didn’t last much longer than a week before I fell flat on my face. And for a week or two, I didn’t get up. Didn’t even really try. I was glad to be back to my “friends.”

I was sad Sunday morning that I would have to go and give them up again, and I kept them going for as I could. Years ago, I would have stayed home and wallowed in it and sunk deeper and deeper. It’s what eventually led me to fall away from church entirely for most of my twenties. But despite all the talk of a “personal relationship” with Jesus, I had no idea how intensely personal meeting Christ in the Eucharist could be. Now, his Body and Blood are my lifeblood: I could not go a week without Him.

And I laid them down. And the words of the act of contrition rang in my head: “I firmly resolve to sin no more, and avoid the near occasions of sin.” How firmly did I really resolve, when I went home fully expecting to pick them up again? Can it be true contrition, true penitence, when one knows one’s repentance is temporary?

I had screwed up my Lenten plans. But if Jesus is about anything, He is about forgiveness, and restoration, and second chances. So I laid them down, and I picked up my Lent again.

I asked Father for a true penance, a heavy penance, not just the usual decade of the Rosary that felt like a slap on the wrist. And fasting is the path I will take. Fasting, and going back to Celebrate Recovery. When one lays down sin, one has to take up something or one’s idle hands return to their old habits: I am taking up my Lent again. My Lord, please let it bear fruit.

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.

You Don’t Really Mean It

Rembrandt. The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Rembrandt. The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Every time I fall, and run tearfully to the bosom of Christ in the Sacrament of Confession, the Enemy attacks me with one of the most insidious of his lies: that “I don’t really mean it” when I offer my contrition; that I’m not really sorry for my sins; that when I repent, I have no real intention to “sin no more, and avoid the near occasions of sin.” I’m only taking advantage of Christ’s forgiveness to excuse my sin, says the Accuser; I will just return home to do it again, and I’ll be back again next week. Otherwise — if I really meant it — why would I keep on persisting in the same sin?

A few days ago I was listening to a conversation with Matt Fradd on Catholic Answers Live, titled “The False Intimacy of Porn” — which even from the very title, convinced me that Matt is somebody who truly understands what I’m going through. I guess I had never really thought about it before, but one of the things he said that struck me was that people who are struggling with addictions to pornography often feel that they are testing God’s patience; that by returning again and again to confess the same sins, they are somehow “using up” His forgiveness, and that someday it will run out. Isn’t there a point, after all, at which God will “give me over to the lusts of my heart” (Romans 1:24)?

Without even realizing it, I have imbibed this lie. Even though I say with words that I know Christ’s forgiveness is boundless — as wide and deep as the sea (Micah 7:19) — I behave as if it isn’t. I see myself struggling, falling again and again, and I wonder if I even really mean it when I repent. But as my confessor reminded me last night — at least I am still fighting. So many have given up, been defeated, like I was for so long: lulled into thinking that it wasn’t really sin; that I didn’t need help or healing or forgiveness; that “Jesus understood” and was content to leave me fallen and bound. I have returned to the fight. I am holding myself accountable to God for my sins. I keep getting up. I am still clinging to the truth of God, as my lifeline and my salvation; clutching it to my heart, as the core of my being and the pearl for which I labor. And as long as I am fighting, God will be with me; He will never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8).