I want to share my story because I felt like I tried everything and just wasn’t getting better. It would have been so much easier if someone told me what I know now. Eventually, I did get to the root of the problem and it changed everything. Here’s my story:
Where It All Started
I saw hard-core pornography for the first time around first or second grade. The effects in my life were similar to those of abuse. I was reintroduced to porn at a bookstore as a middle-schooler. Those were confusing years for me and I felt so isolated and alone. I didn’t have close relationships with my family members and I began to feel depressed.
At the lowest point of my depression I often fantasized about being in car accidents. I was desperate for connection and thought ending up in the hospital would bring me some sympathy. Often, I would just wish that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. I didn’t think I could trust anyone with the real me. I feared I was too much to handle. Porn felt like life, something good in the midst of a really bad time in my life. I got hooked.
I grew up in church, but there was always this dark side to me. I started to feel guilty about using porn in high school, and learned it was better not to talk about it. I thought I needed to figure it out on my own.
Maybe you’ve fought a similar battle. Maybe you’re fighting one now, or know someone who is. You’re not alone.
When I was 21, I attended Bible school in Austria. I thought I knew what it meant to be a Christian, but in Bible school I learned that Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with me. I decided to enter full-time Christian ministry. (As a side note: You may not believe in God, but I do think what I’ve learned can help anyone who struggles with a porn addiction).
Unfortunately, I brought my pornography addiction with me. I was living two lives, and my shame started to grow. I knew my addiction was hurting my relationship with God, but I didn’t understand why He wouldn’t heal this area of my life. So I hid it at whatever cost. I took a year away from ministry to focus on healing my addiction so I could minister with integrity. It was a great year, but it didn’t help with my addiction. I attended counseling, where I learned about shame and began to see my emotional wounds, but it didn’t stop me from looking at porn.
I concluded that I was broken beyond repair, or that maybe God wasn’t real. I was in despair, completely hopeless. I had tried everything and stopped believing I could be free.
The Real Change Begins
A chance encounter with Ted Roberts, founder of Pure Desire Ministries, International, resulted in my wife and I beginning his counseling and recovery program. I had finally met someone who could make sense of the addiction in my life. Ted and his wife began navigating us through sexual addiction counseling.
It took many hours of counseling, reading, journaling and emotional conversations but I learned the keys to becoming free.
What I Learned
I learned that at the core of sexual addiction, there’s often an intimacy wound. When you were young, you might have been hurt by those closest to you. This can create a wound in your ability to share who you really are with another person. Now when I struggle, I understand what’s happening and have resources to help. My intimacy wounds are healing, and I’m learning how to trust God, my wife and others with all of me.
I can now say I’ve had several years of solid sobriety with no acting out. I’m taking what I learned from Ted and teaching others. People are desperate to hear. What’s the solution?
Everyone wants a book, and there are some good books. But you can’t solely read or pray your way out of this. You were likely wounded in relationships, and that’s where you’ll find healing. Within the context of safe community groups, you must focus on four areas:
First, you must confront denial. You can go to a group and talk about struggles with work or alcohol, but when you say you struggle with sexual issues, it kind of clears the room. There’s so much shame around this topic. We feel the need to hide our sexual struggles, so we learn to hide from and deceive even ourselves. Commit to honesty at all costs.
Understand How the Brain Has Been Altered through Porn
You also must understand the nature of your battle. There’s more knowledge on how the brain works now than ever before. Sexual addiction isn’t just a moral problem; it’s also a brain problem. We’re not merely making a poor moral choice when we choose to indulge in pornography or other forms of acting out. A powerful chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine, or the “gotta have it” molecule, is released in our brains when we view porn or act out sexually. We may develop a brain problem with moral implications that can’t be healed by moral solutions alone. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds and we must find healing for our wounds. But how does this happen?
Find the Wounds
By accessing the wound that drives your need to return to things you know are unhealthy. We live in a broken, fallen world. You can grow up in a perfect family with tons of support and still get hurt. Some people can process their pain relationally with others, but many of us can’t do that. We don’t know how. We find ways to numb our pain, and that can become addiction, whether sexual or to something else.
Ultimately, you must go on the exploratory journey of your own life and ask, Where have I been wounded, and how do those wounds affect me today? Abuse, divorce, high school? If we don’t identify these wounds, we’ll end up treating the symptoms rather than the root problems. You must go on the journey of your own story with safe people. Discover where you’ve been wounded, and allow yourself to process that pain with others. Then you can find healing.
Practice Preventative Accountability
Finally, you must practice preventative accountability. If you don’t know how to do accountability well, you’ll find yourself in relapse over and over again. You fail, you confess and pray. You fail, you confess and pray. Eventually, you stop being so transparent, because it’s simply not helping. Begin to look at the circumstances around you and identify stressors, such as marriage, work or finances. Look for the triggers, and then choose to stay in the pain and process it with others rather than trying to numb it with porn or something else.
Be watchful when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired (think, H.A.L.T.) Start talking with your accountability group about what you desire when you are in these states. Process together ways you can respond better. Be relational with your pain. The biblical idea of “weeping with those who weep” and “rejoicing with those who rejoice” is a learned skill for many of us. Let others into your pain, celebrations, joy—living life in color with close friends rather than just keeping things on the surface.
When I stop letting God and others in, I feel the temptation creep back. When I let shame bully me into hiding and isolation, I begin the slippery slope back toward bondage. But when I trust God and others with all that’s going on inside, and make the hard choice to admit my need for help, I’m able to walk in victory. The beauty of true intimacy is that I’m known and accepted for who I am. This encourages me to live honestly, trusting God and others with the real me.
Pornography is an empty substitute for love and intimacy. While I certainly have found a significant level of healing in a safe group of friends, I was created to have these needs met most deeply by God Himself. It’s only by being in relationship with Him that my heart will be fully changed. Experiencing God’s love through my friends is what continues to transform and heal my heart.