Forgetting

jumping off a tall buildingI’m back on the wagon. This is the ninth day.

I realize now, looking back on the past month when I was on the ropes, that I completely forgot something crucial. The devil’s lies are a toxin that paralyzes, a drug that makes me complacent and forgetful and pliable. And I forgot the whole reason I am here, why I am on the road I am on, and where I am going. The reason I was enslaved for so many years as a Protestant is because I didn’t know; I didn’t understand; and then I forgot again.

In the Protestant mind, at least the evangelical mind with notions of “eternal security,” all sins are already forgiven by Christ’s finished work on the cross. Looking back, I don’t understand how this theology ever worked or what it was based on. But Scripture is very clear that God will judge us according to our deeds (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:8, 16; 1 Peter 1:17, etc.) and that those who work iniquity will receive no reward (Romans 2:8; Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 15:50; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 21:8, 22:15, etc.). These verses and ideas are unpalatable to the evangelical mind — surely a loving God, who saves us by His grace, would not allow us to be condemned! Surely we are saved by our faith alone, and our “works” do not matter at all! But they read Scripture very selectively, submitting the words they do not like to the words they like, when we must read Scripture as a whole.

Protestants accuse Catholics of “works’ righteousness” for taking Scripture at its word. No Catholic believes that our “works” can save us, but certainly our works can damn us. Salvation is Christ’s alone to give, by His grace; but it is ours alone to lose, by our sin, by willfully rejecting God. And that’s what I forgot. My mindset had reverted to my old, Protestant one — that God loved me and would have mercy on me no matter what, and that my sin did not matter at all. Sure, it was wrong; sure, it disappointed God; but it didn’t really matter, since Christ’s cross overcame everything.

But it does matter. Not only in that it hurts my Lord — that it was my very sins for which He was crucified — but that it hurts me. In addition to all the pain and spiritual harm it brings, it puts my soul in jeopardy. Sure, I will always be forgiven; but His grace is there to heal me and help me, to allow me to grow and stand, not to enable me to continue in this vicious cycle. To willfully choose to sin, when He gives me the capacity to move past it, is exactly what makes this sin grave matter (1 John 1:9). The fact of my addiction is a mitigating factor — thank God for Bishop, who reminds me of God’s mercy. But to willfully continue to choose to sin is no different than repeatedly walking to the edge of a building and jumping off, expecting that God will always save me before I hit the ground.

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Tantrums

tantrumDay Four. After one last bitter fall, on the most bittersweet of days, Good Friday, I’m now doing quite well — so well I’m rather afraid to tell about it, lest I become prideful and careless and fall. Easter is a time of resurrection and rebirth, of getting up, of breaking the bonds of death. Please pray for me in this critical time.

It occurred to me today that something is changing; something is different. It’s often only in looking back that I realize where I’m coming from. And looking back now, I see it more clearly than I’ve ever seen it before: The very worst, the most brutal of my episodes, my trips into sin, my benders of porn and masturbation and more sinister things, have been tantrums. Like a little child throwing a fit, I’ve willfully abandoned my self-control and lashed out in a demand for attention and reparation — from God? — or in self-pity, wallowing in my own pain, picking at my own scabs, and somehow wishing to “take it out” on the world — ultimately, on myself.

Like a tantrum, there’s always something that gets me upset — not getting the toy I wanted, or not getting to go out and play — wanting it all right now and on my own terms. And what I wanted, what triggers me, is now so clear to me. I’ve acknowledged my dislike of these things before in terms of “this hurts me” or “I don’t want to see that” — but so often my tantrums are directly triggered, precisely by these things: By seeing wedding photos on Facebook, especially of pretty young girls getting married to pretty young boys, both only on the cusp of adulthood, age eighteen or so — as I see so often in certain sects of the evangelical Christian world. Or pictures of adorable babies born to such young couples. Or announcements of engagements or weddings or pregnancies or births, so often involving girls I sort of liked. And I cry out, Why was this denied to me? Why is my lot to be alone? How can all these other people be so blessed, so happy, while I am such a wretch? I must be worthy of so much hate.

All my harvesting, especially as it’s happened lately, of pretty young girls on Facebook; my harvesting of the lovely models on the modeling site; even my harvesting of “amateur” porn, of “self-shots” and other images of supposedly “real” girls — pours forth from this wound. Why was it denied to me to have a girl? Why have I been deprived of this intimacy? I will take it for myself. At its heart, it is all a tantrum. I scream and I cry and I stamp my feet; I flail my arms and pound my fists against the knees of invisible opponents. I go on binges, sucking up as much of my drug as I can, eliciting as much stimulation as I can, to punish myself for not being good enough; to punish God for failing me so bitterly; to punish those around me for being so happy and having what I can never have. I realize, morbidly, that this is the kind of anger, the kind of darkness, that so often becomes the heart of serial killers on the TV shows.

jesus_healerAnd now, I feel something is beginning to change. I used to feel bitter, or pained, or resentful, any time anyone announced they were getting married, or posted wedding photos, or posted photos of their baby. And now, lately — maybe in just the past few days — I don’t anymore. I’ve genuinely felt happy for people. Two or three days is not much to draw a conclusion from, but something is genuinely different. Can it be that my deepest wound is at last beginning to close up?

A prayer I’ve been praying just since Saturday, just since this revolution has begun, begins, asks Jesus to “heal those wounds that have been the cause of all the evil that is rooted in my life.” Can this really be happening?

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.

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).

Glutted

Bosch, Gluttony
Hieronymus Bosch, “Gluttony” from The Seven Deadly Sins

Sunday morning, as I fell yet again — the culmination of a very bad week — I realized that I was entirely glutted. I had gorged myself with such gluttony that the images I was consuming stopped meaning anything. What’s one more naked girl when I have already seen a few hundred in the past few days alone? What value is that girl, and her supposed intimacy with me, when so many others have already come and gone, with no lasting impact to me? And I felt like I was going to throw up. I knew that I had to stop — if for no other reason, I thought in that moment, than to let myself savor it again when I come back.

The truth is that that kind of false intimacy will never mean anything to me. Sure, I might “savor” it more when I have been away from it for a few days or weeks — when I am really craving it — but it will always be a poor substitute, a counterfeit, and not even a very good one. The lies of the Enemy try to convince me — and so often have succeeded, lately — that I will never know the real thing; that I will never have a real and godly and intimate relationship with a woman, so I might as well enjoy the fake. And I do enjoy it, in some sense — the excitement of conquest and control, of “having” when I really have nothing; the Enemy has crafted his weapons well. But in the end, I always feel empty; and worse, I have forsaken my Lord.

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).