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.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us

St. Maria Goretti (painting)
This painting is nice, not making her look so Anglo like so many I’ve seen — but this is after the actress who played Maria, not what she really looked like. Which I guess is okay. It’s the person I care about, not her appearance.

Today is the saint’s day of one of my dearest saints, St. Maria Goretti, who along with St. Agnes, I invoke every day. She is a modern virgin martyr, a patron of chastity, teenage girls, and crime victims, and a witness and model of purity and forgiveness.

Maria was eleven years old, a poor Italian farm girl, when in 1902 Alessandro Serenelli, a nineteen-year-old farm hand and neighbor, tried to rape her. Alessandro had approached Maria a number of times before seeking sexual favors, but she had always refused; he had tried to rape her at least once before. This time when she refused him, he became enraged. She fought him, imploring him not to do what he wanted to do, a mortal sin, insisting she would rather die than submit. In the end, Alessandro stabbed her eleven times.

St. Maria Goretti (photograph)
This is believed to be a photograph of Maria, one of only two that are known.

Before she died some twenty hours later, Maria forgave her attacker, and said she hoped to see him in heaven. Alessandro Serenelli was sentenced to life in prison for her murder, a sentence later commuted to thirty years. At first unrepentant, he told the local bishop a number of years later that Maria had visited him in a dream, giving him lilies, which burned away immediately in his hands. After his release, Alessandro visited Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, stating that Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed and she could do no less, and they attended Mass together. Alessandro reportedly prayed to Maria every day, referring to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950. Later, he became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living the rest of his life as a gardener in their monastery. He died peacefully in 1970.

I pray every day not only that Maria pray for me in my quest for chastity, but that I might be able to forgive those who have hurt me, to release my hurts and wounds to the Lord, that He might heal me, and to forgive most of all myself.

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.

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.

When I am weak

jesus-heals-the-blind-manDay zero?

I am not doing well. I’ve been falling all over the place for the past week; entirely unable — or unwilling? — to stand. I did fall rather terribly not long after my last post. And I think nearly every day since. I went to Confession and to Mass on Sunday. That should have given me some strength. I lasted most of the day Monday, but rather intentionally led myself into temptation that night; I don’t have any excuse or anyone else to blame. I missed my toys and didn’t want to leave them alone.

There is often that feeling that I’m leaving them “alone” — that if I don’t spend time with them, they will be lonely, or else they’ll be going to waste. I have poured so much time and effort into them. The one project in particular — my collection of “models” — calls to me constantly as something unfinished that I have to finish. There are some two-thousand models that I’ve “collected” that have to be rated and filed.

I fell back into another project this week that I had abandoned for some months: a “collection” of “real” girls on Facebook that I had found and liked. This originally had the seedier purpose of finding “faces” for my “evil dolls” — girls I would animate and pretend to be online for my self-gratification. I’ve managed to stave off that temptation for the most part lately; just the “possessing” has been occupying my attention. The evil dolls always hurt someone else in their deception; and I do still have a heart.

I used to get up every morning and pray and read my Bible and have my devotions. The devil’s latest trick — and I do think this is the devil, or at least one of his lieutenants — is to pounce on me with temptation as soon as I roll out of bed, to distract me from having that time, my only source and strength and hope. This morning the dark one almost led me into much deeper and darker things than I’ve been involved with for a very long time — this was his plan — but thanks be to God, I was sidetracked by something in the end rather benign and blessed: celebrity crushes, on a pair of intoxicatingly beautiful and decent young actresses. It’s refreshing sometimes to remember that I’m not so deviant and lost as to be unaffected by the common attractions that affect young males all around the world.

I’m afraid I’m too weak to pull myself up today. The right thing to do, I know, is to drop what I’m doing and to put on sackcloth and ashes and to throw myself on the mercy of God; but I just don’t think I’m going to be able to do that today. These barbs are in me and pulling me along. Tomorrow — tomorrow I will go back. Tomorrow I have to go back. Because I’m obligated to go back. One strength of being Catholic — one reason I know I am where I’m supposed to be — is that I can never run very far. I’m always obligated to go back. I’ve heard some critics say that the weekly obligation of attending Mass on Sundays is an onerous and legalistic requirement; but it’s there for our own protection. The ability of some Protestants to say they’re not going to church one week because they “don’t feel like it” or “have other things to do” seems to me more a vulnerability and a curse than a blessing; more a sign of negligence and uncaring on the part of the church than it is a freedom. Tomorrow I will be back. I will go to Confession, and receive the Holy Eucharist, and my loving and merciful Jesus will forgive me for my sins, and pick me up and put me on my feet again. And if I only lean on His strength, I won’t be weak again.