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.

Chase the nightly shades away

Anthony: What Is the Point of All This? The Devil: There Is No Point! (plate 18)
Anthony: “What Is the Point of All This?
The Devil: “There Is No Point!”

Day 87.

Every night this week, I’ve dreamed I’ve fallen back into porn.

I am still standing, doggedly. Ninety days will be a landmark. But on a daily basis now, I combat thoughts of how “nice” it was, how much easier, how much more “natural,” it was to live in those habits. Seeing a pretty girl — and there are so many — the “natural” impulse is to retreat into a private place with her, through fantasy and masturbation. I consciously crave the false intimacy which, though false, was such a compelling substitute.

My memory of the dreams doesn’t last long, usually. I remember the one from last night, and bits and pieces from others. The one from last night was disturbing because — and this is characteristic of most of them, and of the patterns I was pursuing — it involved the sexualization — no, the pornification — of a real person. Not a real person whom I really, in real life, know, but in the dream she was real. She was a real person whom, in the dream, I liked and was attracted to; but rather than pursuing a real relationship with her, the dream made her into a fantasy, an “unreal” person on the Internet whose pornographic images and content I could download. It reveals what I, with horror, am coming to realize: that this had become the only way I knew to relate to women, in any sexual or romantic sense. It is, at its base, an attitude of exploitation rather than love.

Realizing these things makes me stronger to stand — knowing that, though “easier,” that is not how I want to live. Even in the dreams, I feel shame at having relapsed, and I awake to the relief of still standing. Jesus calls me to love — to love my neighbor as myself. I will walk in the light, as He is in the light — and I pray that His light can flood even the darkness of my dreams. Like a phantom appendage, now amputated, my unconscious brain continues to act out what had become anxious habit and reflex. O Lord, I need Your peace, to lay even that to rest.

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!

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.

His Peace

EucharistThe power of the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist never ceases to overwhelm me. How one moment I can be lost at sea with temptation, anxious to get home from church so I can voraciously dig back into my sin; how I can’t keep my eyes off women, and don’t really want to; how I can be feeling like hell, smothering under the weight of depression, feeling not a bit the presence of God in my life, entertaining the thought that all of this is bogus, all too aware that I’m not living my life as if I really believed in Him, so maybe I don’t really believe at all…

Receiving Him, going back to my pew, kneeling; not really feeling anything. Oh, well. It’s not about whether I feel anything or not; my faith is not built on feeling. Sometimes I am just depressed. I can’t expect to feel something all the time…

And then the next moment, out of nowhere — total peace. All of my despondent thoughts laid to rest. All of my hurts, all of my fears, laid down. My temptations: Suddenly I find myself bowing before the Almighty. Those sins slipping from my humbled hands, being laid on the altar. Those things I wanted to do seem so insignificant now, before His grace. And I am overwhelmed. Someone is here, with me, inside me. I feel my mind, my heart being conformed to Him. Becoming Him. His flesh is my flesh; His mind, my mind.

I tell myself this is just something psychological; that I feel these things because I want to feel these things; that I lay down my sins because I want to lay them down. But that moment: Even when my faith is at its lowest, He overwhelms me. Every single time.