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.

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.

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.

Coming out my ears

Day 33 of sobriety.

Yes, I will tentatively call it sobriety. Something feels different; something has been changing. It’s been nearly two months since I deleted all the porn. The count is from the last time I masturbated; the last time I fell into unchastity. And not with pride, but with relief, I rightfully reclaimed my 30-day Celebrate Recovery chip the other night. But as before, my true landmark will be at forty days.

And also as before, the 30-day mark marked a renewal of the struggle. The first thirty days were relatively free from temptation. But on Day 30 itself came a resurgence. It seems a little ridiculous to me to suppose that this war should follow such a well-rounded schedule — that Satan and his demons, or God and his angels and saints, should observe a human calendar, or that they should retire and resume to human perception at all; surely this must be a product of my own psychology, the power of self-suggestion. But I can’t dispute the fact that for thirty days, I wasn’t interested at all in ogling women, but instead found a bedrock of fortitude and — grace? — that enabled me to turn my eyes and my heart to purity and to cherish and take comfort in chastity.

And then suddenly a few days ago, the fight was on again. In those blessed thirty days, I learned more than ever before how important my time alone with the Lord was; how to take refuge in prayer from the troubles of the world. Where so often before, stopping what I was doing to pray was something cumbersome that I only did grudgingly, now I found a new delight and a new peace and a new longing to turn away from my preoccupations to give my mind and heart to Him. And then, all of a sudden, I was fighting again — not as if a rug had been pulled from beneath me, or my security blanket jerked away, but as if I’d been gently prodded from the protection of the Nest that I might learn to survive in the world; not that my defenders had abandoned me, but that they’d withdrawn to a deeper distance to allow me to practice what I’d learned and to grow in strength.

And last night especially was fierce. I am finding, as I did before, that when I block the usual exhaust ports — when I cut off the ways in which I’m used to finding release — it starts to come out my ears. “It” being… my energy, my frustration, my anxiety, I guess. And by coming out my ears, I mean I start to express that bottled energy in other, potentially not-so-good ways. The wisdom of the world, which i believed for so long, says that this is precisely the reason for masturbation, to provide a necessary release, since not releasing it would be unhealthy and maddening. But I’m no longer buying that. While providing a release, masturbation only ever served to inflame my sexual desires — rather than a purging, it spurred them to greater and greater ferocity, and me to greater and greater fixation on them.

So what do I do now? Is it just a matter of time before I give in again? Should I just resign myself to that, taking comfort in that my falls are becoming less and less frequent? As surely as I were to give in to that, I know that I would fall into an even deeper and darker place, as I did for the first six months of this year, so seized with my fixation that I was completely unable or unwilling to let go — in which I amassed some hundred or more gigabytes of porn, more than I’d ever hoarded before, and longer than I’d held on to it in years. No, I cannot give in; I must keep up the fight. Even if I do fall again, I must get up. But what can I do for now? All I know to do is to consciously turn away from the temptations and fixations, and turn my mind and heart to prayer — even if I have to do that a hundred times a day, as my mind drifts away again and again into darkness; even if it seems a losing battle, to keep stopping myself and pulling myself away again and again. Will this fire inside ever die down? Will I be able to hold it in, before it bursts out some other inappropriate port? All I know to do is to trust in the Lord and in His strength.

The other shoe

dirty-old-running-shoeThis morning I deleted everything.

I mean, I deleted all of the porn now almost a month ago. And except for one unsatisfying flirtation, I haven’t been back to it. But I still had the cache of harvested photos of cute girls from Facebook. A few times over the past month it caused me to fall. And finally, after the Lord working on me for the past week or two, I was able to let go.

Should I feel a release? At first, it didn’t quite sink in what I’d just done. I’d shorn my “connections” with my “friends” — girls who didn’t even know I existed, with whom I only imagined a nonexistent friendship and a false intimacy born of the many photos they shared publicly. But I had really grown attached to several of them.

But one girl — a very pretty, very pure girl I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago — really got to me. She was too good to be true — the girl whom, in her photo captions, someone described as “an angel both inside and out.” And I finally realized what I was doing — that it wasn’t true. And that holding on to these girls, hoarding their photos, was just a milder form of my attachment to the “models” — in many ways even more seductive, since these girls were real people with real lives, in which I could imagine I had a real part. And this attachment, this false intimacy, could only lead to harm.

So I deleted them all. They’re all gone. Even the ones whom I feel like I know so well, whom I will never know. Should I feel a release? As it has sunk in, I only feel sad. Not alone — I feel, more than ever before, that God is with me. But sad. My narcotic illusion has been swept away, and I’m now faced with the reality of my reclusion, my growing monasticism. How I’ve been pushing away even my friends — especially pushing away any notion or hope of romantic connection. Is that really what I want? Have I chosen to be a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12), or have I only resigned myself to that fate?

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?

The breaking point

breaking pointDay Zero?

I have probably said it before at some time in my life; I’m pretty sure I have, in fact. But I think I’m at the breaking point: at which either I have to change radically, or be utterly destroyed.

It has been a particularly violent week or two of struggle, and it’s growing ever more intense. I’m rising higher, having realizations and revelations, and then falling harder than I’ve ever fallen before. My new Lent has once again been dashed and thrashed against the rocks, again and again and again. Monday, after a particularly intimate Mass on Sunday and a resolute declaration to do better, to pray and fast and stand my ground — I was assaulted by one of the most orchestrated attacks I’ve ever seen. Computers crashing, programs not working properly, telephone ringing off the hook with telemarketers, weather alert radios going off incessantly, followed by fierce storms — my anxiety level through the roof. I fell in the face of it all too easily.

And the force of that fall. I lost all of Monday and all of Tuesday, literally every waking minute devoured by lust. I feel completely out of control. I brought to life another evil doll — my cannibalistic creation that, in pretending to be a girl on the Internet, preys on the longings for intimacy of other lonely men like myself. And it has been the most excruciating episode ever — to know the pain I am inflicting on others and mockery of love I am making.

And tonight I am crying myself to sleep. Not in so many years has the agony been this intense and this raw. Today I downloaded several talks by Matt Fradd and Jason Evert from Catholic Answers on pornography and chastity. And I weep. I heard a quote today, attributed online to Bishop Patrick O’Boyle, that “no one can live continually in sin and continue to say the Rosary. Either he will give up the sin or he will give up the Rosary.” Lord, may this be true. Tonight I most truly offer my tears up to Heaven. I cast all my burdens upon the Lord, and offer my breaking heart to Him.

Our Lady of Purity, please pray for me. Saint Joseph, Protector of Virgins, please pray for me. Saint Agnes, my patroness, please pray for me.