“Bill,” age 28 (Counseling with Scott)
In the early months of my recovery, someone told me that it was his sincere belief that “There is no person more miserable on earth than a Christian who is not walking in accord with God.” I think that this aptly describes my life for the past 15 or so years, before I really accepted Christ’s mercy, and attempted to be sober from porn and masturbation.
I first started to own my Christian faith when I was about 12; this is also the same time that I started viewing porn on a regular basis. In those moments as a young Christian, there was no force in my life more powerful than shame. I knew that watching online videos or looking at pictures was sinful, and I even knew that it was hurting me. I just couldn’t stop. My “shame cycle” began to make me want to isolate myself. I had some friends throughout middle and high school, but not many; I definitely didn’t have anybody in my life who knew what I was doing when they weren’t around. Ultimately, I was afraid of being discovered and being labeled as “unfit” to be a Christian. My own inner-voice was the voice of condemnation.
When I was 16 years old, I had to give up something that I loved deeply. For my entire life, I had adored the game of football, and had always dreamt of pursuing something football-related in adulthood. My dad had been a high school coach for my whole childhood, and football was a very big (in hindsight, too big) part of who I was. Three weeks into my junior season, I suffered what was to be the last of multiple concussions in the span of fourteen months. Both my doctor and my dad said that I could no longer play. As a result, I was lost. It is silly to admit now, but football had been at the center of my life and had dominated my attention, time, and efforts. I didn’t know what to do without it. To escape the pain and the overwhelming lack of direction, I started viewing porn more than ever; at its height, I was watching maybe 3-4 hours of porn everyday/every night. I couldn’t sleep very well, I stopped working out, and I lost around 40 lbs in the span of 3 months. Although I was plainly upset over losing football, I now believe that it was the influx of porn and not just the absence of football that led to the depression and insomnia. I continued to doubt my faith, but somehow my faith managed to hang around in my heart, sometimes only by a thread. One of my previous youth leaders asked me to help in his youth group after I was no longer playing football, and I reluctantly said yes. I was being exposed to the truth and was hearing and reading about God’s grace as a youth leader, but it was hard for me to fully accept for myself. I felt like I didn’t deserve it and I could never reconcile that fact.
When I started college I had the opportunity to have my first experience with accountability. My roommates and I downloaded filtering software, so my internet access was limited for the first time. While there were some benefits to this, I was not yet willing to change entirely; the filter was a half-measure and I didn’t take the other necessary steps to change my heart. The filter on my computer only made me more desperate and “resourceful” in finding what I wanted to find. Masturbation became a part of my porn viewing, which only strengthened my connection to it. Part of me was ashamed of the lengths to which I was going to find porn: using other people’s devices, hiding in public restrooms, and spending hours looking for an unblocked site. The other part of me was always hungry for more. And while I was talking in much more detail than I ever had previously about my struggle with my two friends, I was still very guarded and in denial of the full truth that I had a serious problem. I never completely opened up myself to what true accountability could have offered me at that point in time. I was afraid to give up porn, even though it was such a clear struggle and was causing such turmoil in my heart.
I continually passed up opportunities for connections with Godly men and the brothers around me. I believed the insane lie that my problem with porn and masturbation would eventually go away. I told myself, “I’m just young and full of hormones,” “This will go away once I get married and can have sex,” and the worst of all, “It can’t be that serious if everybody struggles with it.” Miraculously, I met and started dating a Christian girl during my junior year of college. My problem with porn soon seeped into our relationship, and quickly after beginning our dating relationship we started doing things that we once said we never would unless married. Though we did not have sex, the things that we did do only compounded my shame and clouded my relationship with God, who I now believed could “fix” my problems, but just wouldn’t for some reason that I didn’t understand. It is only by the grace of God that we moved toward marriage (despite our failures) and were married one year after graduating college.
When my marriage began, I believed the previously stated lie, “This will go away once I get married and can have sex” for only about three weeks. Once the newness of marriage and traveling wound down, I felt a deep fear within me that I had not seen the last of my porn addiction. I maintained the false idea that this addiction was being done “to me” and was not something I was bringing on myself. I again looked at porn about three months into my marriage, and the habit slowly returned in the following months. Although I felt a conviction for my actions and knew that I needed to fight against my fleshly desires, I again chose some half-measures. I told my wife that I was “struggling,” but never said exactly what those struggles were. I always felt like I was fighting to gain some sort of victory and that no matter how hard I fought, I could not right the wrongs that I was doing in my life. Even though I cut off further access points, this once again made me more desperate, creative, and sneaky. I was looking for porn on work computers and masturbating in work bathrooms and empty rooms. This continued on and off for almost two years, with my shame building and my abilities and desire to be a Godly husband diminishing. After much conversation with my wife, we decided that I should look into counseling for my addiction.
I started counseling with Scott and Pureheart Ministries in April of 2016. To be honest, it was a slow process at first. When we first started talking, I found that it was good to talk with somebody about my struggles and what I was currently experiencing. Getting the truth out in the open was freeing, but I must confess that I was not completely sold that I could even be sober. My own doubts and insecurities prevented me from completely selling-out to my sobriety efforts. I still allowed my lustful thoughts and curiosities to come to the surface instead of taking my thoughts captive. I did start to reconnect with God, but I was not consistent in my efforts in prayer or reading; I did not pursue fellowship with anybody, and only ever talked with Scott about my sin. And still, I was not completely open and honest with my wife about my slips. I followed parts of the Pureheart curriculum, and put into practice some of what Scott and I had talked about, but I did not fully embrace all of it.
I was interacting with God more often, but I continued to bring a false self to God; because I was lying to myself it was easy to lie to God as well. I felt like I kept hitting a wall and although it was my own sin that caused this, I grew in my frustrations with God. I could not attain to Christ’s standard of purity because I was not willing to become a true disciple. I was holding onto my sin, even though my sin had wrecked me. I knew what I should be doing (seeking accountability, pursuing Godly wisdom, reading and praying, honest confession), but I was in denial that those things would truly help. Although I still experienced slight growth in my first 5 months working with Scott, I was still guarded and in fear, so I did not flourish.
About three months ago, my wife caught me in the act of watching porn. In that moment she came face to face with my problem and decided that she could not continue to watch me struggle. Unknowingly, my sin had slowly been draining the love and the life from her. But I remained in denial until she left our house—bags packed, dog in-tow—two weeks later. It was in that moment of intense pain that I had a choice to make. God had brought me to the end of myself. I had exhausted my manipulation, and my schemes to keep my problem hidden had failed. I had to decide to either plead to God for His mercy and to follow Him, or to turn fully to my sin, never to regain my confidence as a man and possibly never to regain my marriage.
The Bible tells us to flee from sin. We flee something when we see it as something that is dangerous and capable of destruction. Previously, my denial had kept me from seeing my porn addiction as a destructive force that I should flee from. I had not heeded the multiple warnings in the many years before. Though I had taken some necessary steps throughout the years, my steps were never enough because I had never fled my sin; I always flirted with my sin and so it hung around. But when I watched my wife walk out our door and drive away, I finally accepted the damage that my addiction had caused. I finally saw my sin as dangerous, and I knew that I had to flee.
I am so thankful that I had already established a relationship with Scott before my wife left. Her absence was a shock, but Scott was knowledgeable about the separation process and was able to walk me through the necessary steps that I was finally willing to take. When we talked, I was beginning to have some “light bulb” moments with the topics that he had been leading me through for the previous six months. I began to get some clarity and direction. Within twenty-four hours of my wife leaving, I established daily check-ins with accountability partners, and started a discipleship relationship with an older gentleman from my church. I was afraid of both of those things in the past and so I avoided them. But my pain had become greater than my fear, and so I was able to take those needed steps in my recovery. Both of those steps allowed me to grasp that God was with me through all those years; even though I felt abandoned, He did not abandon me. I had felt miserable because I was not at peace with Him. In that moment I decided that I didn’t want to be miserable any longer.
Though I was always thinking about her during the separation, I knew that my pursuit of sobriety had to first be for the purpose of reestablishing my relationship with Christ. I was not strong enough, nor even capable of fixing my marriage; that had to be something that God did if He so willed. I informed my wife of my progress while she was gone, but I did not make any attempts to woo her back. We entrusted each other to God, which I believe has been the most important component of our recent reconciliation. I was able to prove to my wife that I was pursuing purity, and remaining sober for 30+ consecutive days. As per her move-out conditions, she agreed to come back home at that time.
Working with Scott and going through the Pureheart curriculum has helped me realize that Jesus is able to equip me to live in freedom. My anger with God and sense of hopelessness were replaced with a newfound hope once I embraced the help that God and so many others were offering me. Scott helped me to see what my self-imposed isolation had produced. It was hard to come out of isolation; it was hard to be open and honest with people I did not know very well; it was hard to come to God, knowing that I had been running away from Him for so long. But in doing all of those things, I allowed God to demolish the strongholds that porn and masturbation had over me. Working with Scott helped me to establish consistency in the things that I “say yes” to. So much of my past was fixated on the things that I was trying to “say no” to, such as porn, masturbation and fantasies. The Pureheart curriculum helped me to establish consistency with my yeses. In the end, defense measures (internet filters, “cleaning the castle”, purity plan, etc.) are not an end in themselves. They are great, but when all I had was a defense, I failed. I did need to defend against temptation, but I also needed to pursue God. I needed consistency in my devotions, my prayers, my worship, my exercise, my diet, and my sleep. Pureheart helped me to form practical habits that would not only help me to flee sin, but to pursue God in its place.
Pursuing ferocious purity (as my wife calls it) has been a daunting task, but one that has been more than worthwhile. I started by doing what was absolutely necessary: confession, accountability, and a purity plan. Then I began to do what was hard, yet possible: reading multiple devotions per day, committing time and effort and vulnerability to my discipleship relationship, and eliminating fantasies. After awhile, I was even able to start thinking about the things that had long seemed impossible to me: long-term sobriety from porn and masturbation, a thriving marriage and friendships, and even possible future opportunities to help other men with this struggle. Though the future is unknown and possesses new temptations and stresses, I know that God will walk with me through it. I am currently three months sober (exactly three today). James 1:2-4 has been especially true in my life: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”