This is the seventh in a series of posts addressing education on and recovery from pornography addiction and betrayal trauma. Please send questions that you have to hopeandhealinglds(at)gmail(dot)com.
Editor’s Note: This story contains the experience of the author’s sexual addiction and recovery. This post has been edited from the original.
I am a lust addict of 24 years.
There are a lot of people who would say that masturbating as a teenager is normal, that masturbating to pornographic images in marriage is okay if your wife isn’t meeting your sexual needs, that sex addiction is only a result of sexual repression and is a myth perpetuated by religious fanatics, and that free love and free sex are the cure to the myth. I am here to tell you that these philosophies are false. Sexual addiction is real and I am an addict.
I come from a very lucky upbringing. I had both parents in my home and they loved each other. My father worked full time; my mother worked from home and was almost always available to help her children. I have older siblings who set good examples in both church and school. I have had none of the incredibly difficult experiences that others have had to live with, including abuse, neglect, divorce or mental illness of parents, or other similar trials. Despite this, I still struggled to cope with the challenges that I did and do face, and that’s where my addiction comes in.
I was first shown pornography around the age of seven in my friend’s garage. I instantly knew it was wrong, but couldn’t help wanting to see more. I didn’t get to see much more in my childhood, but at age 12 I discovered masturbation. I could escape from reality for a few minutes whenever I wanted. I began to seek that escape often and it wasn’t long until I found pornography again. My friend could get magazines and if he didn’t have any, I could use my mom’s lingerie catalogues. I could store away lustful thoughts and photos until I had a few minutes to get away during the day. I was using this drug to escape my feelings of inadequacy, failure, and loneliness.
In church one Sunday, I heard a talk on masturbation and became convinced that I needed to stop. On the car ride home, I mustered up the courage to tell my dad. He was kind and loving and helped me make an appointment to see our bishop. I went in to see the bishop a few days later and came out with a plan to read the scriptures and pray more. I did these things, I was really trying, but within a few months had returned to old habits—only now I had more shame because prayer and scriptures study didn’t cure my problem.
This continued on for a couple more years with daily masturbation and regular pornography. I also began to view the girls in my classes with lustful eyes and then fantasize about them later. I kept these girls at a distance. I wouldn’t dare talk to them. I could only be friends with the good girls from church. I drew boundaries for myself and tried to keep my thoughts about them clean, but I broke that promise. I crossed that boundary. I was raised to respect girls, but my addiction wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to serve itself. I eventually ended up with a girlfriend, and pushed boundaries with her. She was smart enough to put a stop to things. After she shut me down, I broke up with her. My lust had moved on.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I engaged in other inappropriate behavior. I went to the bishop to confess the encounter with the previous girlfriend and he had me working through more prayer, scripture study, and reading church literature. I agreed to do these things. I lasted a couple months, maybe three, before I was back to masturbation—however I got rid of all the explicit pornography and told myself I was done with it. The lust was patient though. I was also very good at justifying my past behavior.
Even embarking on an LDS mission didn’t break me of these habits. I thought I was being “good” though, because I wasn’t watching porn. But I could lust all I wanted in my head. I had plenty of memories to keep my lust well fed for those four years before, during, and after my mission. Again, I tried to repent on my mission. I told my mission president and along with prayer and scripture study he asked me to fast, every other day if necessary. I did this, but again it didn’t last. Once more, the hopelessness set in along with shame, fear, and guilt.
I came home from my mission to the typical hero’s welcome. The change of scenery was enough to help me quit for three or four months. I met a girl. We dated and decided we wanted to get married. In the meantime, the lust that had been waiting in the background, ever so patiently, crept back into my life. Once again, I crossed boundaries with her that I shouldn’t have crossed. I was determined to be worthy of a temple marriage, so when the time came for my interview, I confessed again. I was denied a temple recommend and formally disfellowshipped from the Church. I worked with my bishop both at school and at home over the summer and managed about four to six months without masturbating. I ended my engagement and called off the marriage.
I dated a lot of girls after that, never really letting anyone into my life. I worked hard to keep enough of a barrier up that I wouldn’t ever get physical enough to cross lines again. Until I did. Senior year of college, I met a girl and crossed my boundaries yet again, and once again, broke up with that girlfriend.
I convinced myself that the only way I could overcome this “problem” was to get married so I would be allowed to have sex. I met my future wife that year, and we got engaged. Once again, I crossed boundaries. As before, I never actually had sex, but I knew I needed to see my priesthood leader for being too physical in ways that aroused lust.
We went to see our branch president to repent, but I only partially confessed my sins. I rationalized to myself that he didn’t need to know about all my other behavior since I was twelve—after all, I had already confessed them to several other ecclesiastical leaders. So, we got married. For a year, the longest stretch so far, I stopped masturbating and looking at porn. Then life and grad school got tougher and I went back to my old coping mechanism. I continued to ride the roller coaster. I would try losing weight and working out. I would rededicate myself to prayer and scripture study. I could stop for a few months at a time. We would move, or buy a house, or graduate, or start a new year. At all of these milestones, I would tell myself I was done and I would make a promise to myself that I would change. I never did. The frequency would change, but my inability to cope in a healthy way with negative emotion never did. Nine years went by. At the time of my disclosure to my wife, I was masturbating to pornography on average once a week.
By the grace of God, I moved into the same ward as the Addiction Recovery missionaries for my stake. My wife, still with no knowledge of my own addiction, read a book on addiction to pornography called He Restoreth My Soul by Dr. Donald Hilton, so a copy of the book was in our house. I also sat on the Board of Directors for a drug addiction recovery non-profit organization. All of these things helped me start to realize, and then admit to myself, that I was an addict. I’m so thankful God put these opportunities into my life to help me understand that what I have is not just a “problem,” but a real addiction. I have since learned several definitions for addiction, but the one that resonates with me most powerfully is this: If you have told yourself that you will never again repeat a certain behavior, and yet you find yourself repeating it, you are addicted. The frequency doesn’t matter—it only matters that you have said you don’t want to do it and you do it again anyway.
I share the above story with you so that you can see what the cycle looks like in addiction. When I lay it all out there in writing, you can see quite clearly from my story that I am an addict. I continually crossed boundaries that I promised I wouldn’t cross. I was continually confessing but always going back to porn and masturbation because I never learned the tools I needed to really change. I was continually returning to behavior that was hurting me and those I loved.
I knew all along that this would hurt my wife, and I believed the adversary’s lie that she wasn’t strong enough to handle the truth. I thought that if I told her, she would leave me and I would be all alone. One weekend, I had an amazing spiritual experience that opened my eyes to the love God had for me. He let me know that He could make sure that I would be all right, even if those around me weren’t strong enough to handle it—even if my wife left me. He could heal me if I would let Him. But that healing would only take place if I chose to let go of what I thought I wanted. I needed to let Him be in charge.
The following night after this experience, although I was terrified, I confessed to my wife my addiction. What has followed is a remarkable journey and a conviction that Christ really can heal anything in my life. I could not believe that she didn’t instantly run away, but could have compassion on someone like me. I could not believe that my bishop was so kind and understanding. I couldn’t believe that my parents were so forgiving and supportive. I couldn’t believe that my in-laws could see past the wrongs I had done to their daughter and continue to support and love me. I couldn’t believe that the ARP missionaries didn’t judge me or tell everyone in the ward about my problems. I couldn’t believe that there were other people in support groups who could openly talk about this addiction and support me in love. So after all these things that I thought were impossible happened, I began to truly believe. If God could give all these people strength to forgive and to help me, if He could give me courage to share my struggles, maybe there really was hope. Maybe this addiction was just part of my path to find Him. Maybe I needed to be beat down by it so I could learn to let go. To give my life to Him.
So, that’s what I have done and am continuing to learn to do. To give myself to God. To give Him all the good, all the bad, all of me. With this commitment, I have seen miracles in my life and the lives of my family. I am learning every day to let go, to surrender to God, to honestly say “Not my will, but thine be done.” I have found tremendous strength and support through the Addiction Recovery Program of the church, Sexaholics Anonymous, and my family. I am working the 12 step program on a daily basis. I am learning to be patient in recovery and be grateful for progress. Each day is a wonderful blessing and opportunity for growth. It’s been a little over a year now since I began recovery and I feel so thankful for the grace of Christ that has led me to where I am today. The Atonement is real. It is not just a nice theory for nice people. It’s power is real, and can heal even me. I used my addiction as a coping mechanism for the difficulties of life. I still have all those difficulties, but am learning to turn to Christ and others instead of my addiction.
There is work to be done. I do pray and read my scriptures every day, but that’s not enough to keep me from my addiction. I write in a gratitude journal every night. I formally check in with my wife every day and tell her my fears, pains, and challenges. I call my sponsor every night and tell him the negative emotions I’ve had that day, and if something particularly difficult happens during the day I call him then too. I go to two recovery meetings every week and church every Sunday. I have learned to set boundaries to keep me far away from preoccupation and ritualization, and to keep myself away from the cliff of acting out. I packed up my TV, put it in the garage, cancelled my cable, deactivated my Facebook account, and installed an Internet filter. I read the Ensign almost every day. I only go online when an adult is nearby. I don’t take my phone out while using the bathroom. I repeat the first three of the twelve steps every morning while in the shower to start my day with surrender to God. I pray regularly throughout the day. I pray for others and pray that God will free me from the bondage of myself.
I can see now, as I leave the fog of addiction behind, that my relationship with my wife suffered because of my infidelity. Porn is not harmless. I could never be fully intimate with her because there was always a barrier that I put up. I was always comparing her to the easy fix I could get from digital women. I could never tell my wife everything. I had to leave out parts of my life and parts of me to keep up the charade. This damaged our ability to be completely connected emotionally. I am learning that intimacy is much more than sex. The connection that I feel with my wife now extends beyond sex. Sex is a nice part of marriage, but it’s not even close to the most important thing in a marriage relationship. I am working hard to rebuild the trust I have broken. I have deeply hurt my wife and have caused her to question everything in her life. I am learning to accept that I caused that pain and that I can help her through it, but only by pointing the way to the Savior. Just last week, my wife had some very challenging feelings surrounding my recovery and the trauma I caused her. God’s power and grace enabled me to react in a way that was beyond myself. I can listen to the pain I caused and give that over to God. She is learning to trust me again as I continue to work my recovery. She can see the things I do every day to stay on the recovery path. Our marriage is better now than it has been for years as we are able to fully share all of our feelings and experiences. I have nothing to hide anymore. She can have all of me, including the bad. As I draw closer to God, He brings me closer to her.
I want recovery more than I want anything else in life. This may seem like an impossible list of “to-do’s” and I am not perfect at it. There is a saying in my group meetings: “It works when you work it. So work it, you’re worth it.” I am worth the Atonement of Christ. He did that for me. My efforts bring me joy. “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I gladly give the time and effort to do all of these simple things to be free from the pain of addiction. That is real freedom. Christ has real power. I am a witness of His power and grace. There is hope through Him and there is hope in recovery from sexual addiction.
Other posts in the series: