Pray for us

Today is Saint Agnes’s feast day.

In her honor, I added her medal to my brown scapular (it used to have a St. Benedict medal, but I wear another St. Benedict medal elsewhere).

Brown scapular with St. Agnes medal

I’ve been doing well. Things are good with Dove. I have a lot I want to write and share, but I find myself very busy again and not having time to sit down and do it. I’ll make an effort.

Dear sister Agnes, please pray for us. I need God’s grace to overcome.

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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.

Pillars of salt

Day 102.

I am really hurting. And I’m looking back…

I have no illusions of being at the top of the mountain. I know I still have so far to go. But when I turn and look behind, I can see how far I’ve climbed, how far down it is — and what a slippery slope even taking one step backward would put me on.

At this distance, I can see and understand a bit more clearly. I know that falling back into porn and masturbation wouldn’t give me what I’m really longing for; that it would be, at best, a narcotic. Temptation suggests that I could do “just a little”; that I could slip into it for some temporary relief and get up again; but I know that that’s not true. The relief is only relief because it is oblivion; it consumes me and drowns out the pain, along with everything else: every hope, every desire, every good.

Yesterday I slipped, not into porn or masturbation, but into its client state: the kingdom of real girls whom I’d made into objects of fantasy; real people on Facebook whose lives I’d nosed into through their publicly-posted photos. I revisited some of my old favorites, for the first time since I began this stand. It didn’t progress any further than that, but it reawakened a longing: to know girls; to have a life. One of them had gotten engaged — it happens all too often among these young, pretty, evangelical women. That’s a life I missed, the voice says; because I wasn’t an evangelical; because I didn’t go to a Christian school; because I was never a part of any such church or family. And the voice says I could have had that, but was denied it; and it urges me to take it for myself, or to make it — at least the facsimilated fantasy of it. To acquire and cultivate relationships with these girls again, these girls whom I will never really know. And one by one, they will all get married…

Those girls are relatively benign; but as I long for a deeper intimacy, for a fulfillment of the desires that the fantasies stir but cannot fulfill, it inevitably leads back to porn. And there, the desire for empire is an essential part of it. The reason why I’ve been standing for over a hundred days, despite having free access to the Internet through the limited means of my phone, is that I’ve given up my throne: the great hoard of gigabytes upon gigabytes that I collected and ruled over. And knowing that that exists somewhere outside my reach is an inhibition against starting over. How could I start over, knowing that I couldn’t add to the trove I worked so hard to build before? Of course, logically, I could join anything new I accrued to my stash later; but it doesn’t work that way in my mind. How could I know I wasn’t collecting things I already had? No, thus far, I have been unwilling to cross that line.

If it were within my reach, I don’t think I could resist right now. As much as I know it is a lie, that that life holds nothing but pain, I miss that sweet narcosis. I love my Lord and I want to please Him, but right now, I have lost sight of hope. Why am I doing this? Why do I have to be clean? I know, truthfully, that purity is freedom from slavery, and that is a reward in itself, but some days it is so hard. The voice says to take for myself what I haven’t been given — that is the essence of all sexual sin, in fact — and it would be so easy, wouldn’t it?

It is a comfort to me to suffer this week, as I remember that my Lord suffered for me.

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.

Rewiring

robot-brainDay 48.

Mondays have been easier lately. Sunday is always a revivification: the Eucharist gives peace and strength and grace to my soul. But used to, I would come home and Monday would hit me like a ton of bricks. The attack of the enemy would find me all too vulnerable. I was always the man, being freed from an evil spirit, who swept his house and put it in order, only to be re-invaded by the same spirit and seven more. But the real problem was that I never actually swept my house clean, especially not earlier this year. I would come home to a hard drive full of porn and girls, who would welcome and beckon me the moment I felt weak. But now Monday is blessed. I feel so refreshed and full of God’s love, and I come to the Lord in prayer with a renewed spirit.

I’ve been reading about how the brain, being rewarded in a habit by positive reinforcement, like a rush of powerful endorphins as in orgasm, forms neural pathways — trenches dug into the neural landscape, furrows worn deeper and deeper by a road traveled again and again and again. And I’ve been trapped in that furrow for twenty years of my life. And now I’ve clambered out, but am still walking precariously along the edge — knowing all too well how easy it is to fall in again.

My brain has these habits, these paths down which it has learned to direct thoughts and feelings and actions, and has grown so accustomed to them. I’m now in a place of rewiring, trying to avoid those old behaviors and consciously direct my thoughts and feelings and actions to new ones. Reprogramming myself, away from inappropriate responses to appropriate ones. Why my reaction should be when I see a pretty girl; what thoughts I allow and indulge. What I do when I’m sitting at the computer, and what I don’t do and can’t do.

I know that this will be a long road. But I pray every day that these deep furrows, these wounds I’ve carved so deep into my soul, will begin to heal. That the precious flesh of the Eucharist will fill in the holes, be the putty to my gashes, the tissue graft to my gravest trauma — that by His stripes I can be healed, and all my hurt replaced by only Him.

Brain soup

brain-chemicalsDay 45.

Good Lord, today is hard. I feel right now, more than ever, that the only thing keeping me up is my conscious decision not to fall. And I am tempted. My flesh tries to justify — says it’s been a good run; I can do better next time. 40 days last time, 45 days this time, maybe 50 days next time. But forty-five days! And My Lord!

I’ve been reading the free e-book from Covenant Eyes, whose specialty is anti-porn software, on porn addiction and brain science, The Porn Circuit. And it’s so familiar; so reassuring to hear that someone understands, that someone else has gone through this, that I’m not alone and not weird. Almost so reassuring that I’m not sure if I should trust it. And today when I was out and about, I felt a temptation more than I have in a while to look at women; to fantasize. I saw an attractive young lady at the thrift store and probably let myself look at her a little too long. And I’ve been seeing temptation everywhere. On Facebook, photos of scantily-clad women on various feeds that I promptly “hide”; and on the TV, girls in skimpy bathing suits, sexual themes and suggestions.

I haven’t given in. I haven’t let myself get carried away. I almost did. One of my backdoor vulnerabilities — one of the temptations I’ve so often convinced myself to give in to in the past, only to find it a gateway to more and more dangerous temptation — as I should have known it was — is to randomly google stories about Christians and sexuality, or go to Amazon and browse around at books about Christians and sexuality. Today I found myself briefly in that — but thank God, one of the first books I ran across was My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. And I was startled and snapped out of my errant reverie. Didn’t I order a copy of that? Don’t I have a copy of that somewhere? Yes, I do, and I found it on my shelf, and I haven’t read it yet. But I should.

I’ve had to withdraw from so much, shield myself from so much, this past month and a half. I used to subscribe to the emailings of some of my favorite clothing stores. I didn’t just check that I wanted to receive “men,” but checked that I wanted to receive everything — men, women, girls, boys. So almost daily I would get in my email pictures of pretty, fashionable models. I unsubscribed from all of those weeks ago — but I’m still getting them. It takes a few weeks, apparently, for them to get their database straightened out. And today, more than ever, just seeing those pretty girls set my insides on fire. And it wasn’t an unpleasant feeling at all. It was almost refreshing, like a breath of fresh air. A rush of endorphins. And my brain said, Don’t you want to have some more of that? And yes, I do — but I know I can’t. Because there is invariably a progression. Models in fashionable clothes invariably leads to lingerie models to fine art models to nude models to Tumblr girls and My God I’ve fallen.

It would be nice to be normal. It would be nice to be able to look at pretty girls and appreciate their beauty and their smiles and their hair and their good fashion sense — and let it stop there. I do feel lonely. So much of this longing is a longing for intimacy, a longing to see and appreciate and have a relationship with a real girl. I am atrociously miserable at that. I haven’t really tried in so long. My fears tell me it’s a lost cause; the enemy tells me that even if I had someone, I wouldn’t have anything to offer her. That I’m too damaged. I do have something to give — I have a tender heart full of love. And I pray that God can use that, give it to someone, whether as shepherd of a flock, or as a brother and intercessor to everyone around me, or as husband to some lady. I am willing to give myself wholly for His purpose.

Anxiety and Comfort

anxietyDay 43 of sobriety.

So, I think, I passed the first barrier. Day 40 was Sunday. That made it much easier to deal with: Sunday is a day of family and most of all the Eucharist of Our Lord. I am overwhelmed every time — every single time — by how much strength He brings me. How His very Presence transforms me.

Yesterday was Day 42, six weeks. It was difficult, more difficult than any day so far. But then there was Adoration. And for an hour, I sat before the Blessed Sacrament, and the rays of the Son burned away all my hurt, my pride, my fear.

Today the anxiety is almost paralyzing — and my usual method of self-medication is calling like an old friend. Chamomile tea hits the spot and dulls the panic; but I think I would drift off to sleep if I drank it continuously. Only a couple hours left — until I can receive Our Lord at Mass again.

Please pray for me, my brothers and sisters.