Scratch

I think Dove and I will get through this.

Well, scratch that.

Dove and I had a good couple of nights. I thought we were beginning to move past this. I had a post about half-written today, looking forward to the future, dealing with recovery in the context of relationship — something I never thought I would be able to deal with — about trust, and intimacy, and fidelity.

But tonight we had another blow-up, and I’m more afraid for us than I’ve ever been before. Please pray for us: we need a healing.

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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.

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.

Peace, Be Still

Day 75.

Thanks be to God, I am still standing.

More than ever before, I feel my attitudes changing, my heart being purified. I am more and more determined that I’m never going back.

There have been days when I’ve been weary, when I’ve longed for those things I’m giving up; when I’ve wondered why I’m doing it, why I need to turn away an intimacy and comfort that seems to be offered so freely. And I’ve prayed every day that God could turn my heart, that it could be reformed; that He could give me an answer to that question.

And this past Sunday, He did.

I have written before about the unspeakable peace that comes from Communion with my Lord in the Holy Eucharist; how I could be tempted, fully intending to go home and return to my sin, and then I receive Him — and this alien peace, something not of me at all, something entirely contrary to everything I was then feeling and desiring and thinking, takes hold of me, and the waters are stilled. Sunday I felt the same unrest — longing for those beautiful companions, the ones so willing to share their “art” with me. Why, Lord, do I have to let go of them forever?

And in that moment, the answer was there. A thought entirely foreign to me; something I had never thought of before, that didn’t come from my own reasoning; or if I had thought of it, or heard it, it had no meaning or effect to me — suddenly before me, carrying the weight of authority. Because what they’re offering isn’t for you.

I pray every day that He fill me up with His love, the love that transforms and overcomes all. And there it was. That lady is a person, a child of God. And what she’s offering is her dignity, her worth, her beauty — and that isn’t for you. She can offer it, and yes, it’s there for the taking — but it belongs to God, and to the lady; it’s not for me to feast on, to consume, to exploit, to use. It’s only meant to be shared with her husband, in a bond that excludes all others and can never be broken. And my eyes, my sharing in that — both take away something that isn’t mine to take, and give up something that is meant for someone else. It’s true. This is adultery. (cf. Matthew 5:28)

I had heard these words all my life, and they had never meant anything to me. And then, there in His presence, it was communicated to me and connected with me with a clarity and authority and power. And this wasn’t just a momentary, passing thought. It was a seed that has only grown; until now, where before I only felt a craving, an unprincipled lust held back only by knowledge of the pain it’s caused me, I now feel a love, a respect, a hurting for those girls — a desire to clothe the naked, to bind up the brokenhearted. Surely this is the work of God.

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!

One flesh

(c) Argo74 | Dreamstime.com
(c) Argo74 | Dreamstime.com

Day 38.

I’m continuing to stand, by His grace and His grace alone, since the remarkable events of Easter. No, I’m still not ready to share them — but soon.

I haven’t had a great deal of temptation, until today. There have been days that have been harder than others — and today I am facing something substantial. Yesterday I happened to run into a girl at a social gathering with whom I was intimate once. I hadn’t seen her in years, and in my mind I thought of her only as a dear friend, and that it was good to see her — but I guess my body picked up on something my mind didn’t quite grasp. At the end of the gathering, she sought me out to tell me goodbye and give me a hug — and my body responded in a more than friendly way.

I’ve been celibate for several years. Lately I’ve been thinking more and more that my vocation might include celibacy. I just haven’t thought that much about women or relationships or sex; I’ve been seeking higher things. But every time I’ve nearly convinced myself that I’m just not interested at all, something like yesterday happens.

I suppose it’s true what Scripture teaches, what we of the Church believe, that in having sexual union with someone the two become “one flesh” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). In a true, sacramental marriage, in which both partners give themselves wholly, such a bond becomes unbreakable — but even in what was, at the time, I thought, a “casual” relationship, it seems I formed a bond with this girl that goes deep into my heart. It’s the same with every girl I’ve been with — even the ones for whom I’ve insisted I feel nothing, or for whom I should have animosity otherwise. Sex was made for love. No matter what the culture insists, it can’t be truly separated from what it was intended for: creating life; forming families; forging strong bonds between mother and father and child.

The Sister

Young Nun, by Makovsky.
Young Nun, by Konstantin Makovsky.

Day Four… it’s a little easier today. It’s easier when I devote my time to prayer and my thoughts to the Lord, and to Our Lady.

Last night I met the most adorable nun. I knew, the whole time I listened to her speak and was afterward speaking with her, that I shouldn’t be crushing on a nun — but I was. For the rest of the night, my heart ached for her, and I couldn’t push her from my thoughts — the whole time knowing how foolish I was being. My mind wandered off into a fantasy of Abelard and Heloïse — late in their lives, that is: of having a loving, godly, but chaste relationship with someone like that, writing tender letters between our distant monasteries, both of us steadfast in our consecration to the Lord.

It wasn’t much of a sexual crush — my crushes on “real” women seldom are — but a longing for intimacy, to be close to someone and know someone so precious and genuine and godly as she. To truly have a sister in the Lord. To have what she has and be what she is — to devote myself to chastity; to espouse myself to the Lord, and to love Him above all other things.

Heloise and Abelard
Funerary monument of Heloise and Abelard, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

I am so broken. All my life, I’ve dealt with such passionate crushes like this that have sprung up in but a moment, almost always on women whom I view as good or virtuous or ideal, and never to become anything but a heartache. Pornography has divorced love from sex in my mind completely: I can no more envision true love with a sexual partner than I can envision sex with someone I love. My few sexual experiences, inflated so fantastically with pornographic expectations, were mechanical and robotic and emotionless and miserable. All I ever wanted — from my childhood, up to the crying child inside today — was intimacy; connection; love. I have ruined myself with regard to the gift of sexuality. Only a miracle of God could heal me if marriage is ever to be my vocation. At the same time, if a life of celibacy or religious service is to be my vocation, only a miracle could break these chains of sin that have kept me enslaved for so long.