A Journey Through the Pornography Sinkhole (Part 2 of Wendell’s Story)
Once again we thank Wendell and his wife for sharing their story with us. In this post, Wendell describes how the Lord raised him out of the pit of addiction to porn. (See Pt 1 Wendell’s Story) Porn, as we have discussed in other articles, is often an element in the abuser’s life. In this case, it is the story of a genuine Christian’s repentance and battle against sin.
Trigger Warning: This post may be difficult for victims of pornography abuse and should be read and interacted with cautiously.
Jeff C. asked me to write a follow up post as to my own struggle with pornography and how I overcame it. This is a challenging thing to do for a number of reasons. First, many of my early experiences are very personal, embarrassing and are hard to explain without being too graphic. The issues are often complex and take much time to resolve. For this reason, it is hard to write one article that will cover the bases for everyone, but I can give you insight into my situation in hopes that it will help someone.
Let’s start with where I think the roots of my addiction began. Please understand that I am not making excuses here for my own sin. These things did not cause me to get into porn, but I do believe they set up the psychological precursors that made it easier for me to take the steps into this mess.
As I have mentioned before, I grew up being emotionally abused by my mother. It was common for her to tell us she hated us, we were stupid, should never have been born, etc. My father, though a gentle soul, was not around much. He was a firefighter and had a business on the side that kept him from home a lot of the time, so he wasn’t there to moderate my mother’s influence.
In addition to the abuse, I had a number of medical issues, though not life threatening, were embarrassing and debilitating in some respects. The first was my extreme near sightedness, coupled with amblyopia from a lazy eye. I wore the traditional coke bottle bottom glasses and had no depth perception to speak of. The lazy eye was caused by the fact that my eyes were crossed for the first 12 or so years of my life. So, I grew up not being able to play sports, sitting at the front of the class so I could see and being mercilessly ridiculed by the other kids. All of this was a double whammy to my self esteem. Then you add chronic bedwetting to the mix. Though it was finally found to be a sleep problem and was corrected when I was 13, I was socially isolated and believed I could do no right.
Another contributing factor was that I did not have a good role model to help me channel my budding sexuality when I was a teen. I did not know how to control my passions and attraction to girls. For the most part, I kept it in check, but began regularly engaging in self stimulation. Even after I came to Christ, I struggled with that aspect. Porn wasn’t an issue in this, as I think it began mostly as a physical release to relieve stress, but it over sensitized me to the point that when I was 18, I became way too involved with a girl down the street. We did not go as far as full intercourse, but it was very close!
That almost destroyed me, making me doubt even my own salvation. Even though I had poured my heart out to God, begging for His forgiveness, I could not forgive myself. I felt that a true Christian could not do what I had done. My poor pastor kept telling me that God had forgiven me if I was truly repentant, but I was the man of “yeah, but’s”. I would always counter what he said with a “yeah, but …..”. During this time of counseling, I met the woman who is now my wife, and over the next year or so, they teamed up on me and helped me resolve the guilt. I am glad to say that we kept ourselves pure for each other and I have never been involved with another woman; however, even in marriage, self stimulation would be a problem for me from time to time. Again, not with pornography, as it still wasn’t easy for me to get.
Over the years, we built our marriage. We had our ups and downs, raised kids, etc. I started a career in IT, though I knew that at some point I wanted to be a pastor. In 1989, I left the branch of IT I was in and essentially started over so I could go to Bible College. I was active in church, licensed to preach and moving along in my studies. I had taken a huge hit financially and things were a horrible struggle, but we were making it. I got back into IT, but at a job that didn’t require the horrible hours of my previous specialty, so I could pursue my studies. This was during the 90’s, about the time the internet became widely available.
It was also at this time that my wife started going through an early menopause and with all the stresses, I started to become chronically depressed. The self stimulation began to get worse, though I kept it a secret. Shortly after that, I found out how easy it was to access porn.
At first, it started out downloading pictures from internet newsgroups. Then later I found out about free sites on the internet to get porn (yes, they do exist). Now, I didn’t have to use my imagination as I had ample visual stimulation to grease my slide.
To my shame, I started doing this while in church leadership and it was tearing me up inside. Like David and his sin with Bathsheba, that he kept secret for a time, I kept this very secret. I would preach, teach, sing and do all the things I was expected to, but was leading a double life. Over time, as my intimacy with God plummeted and my intimacy with my wife suffered, I was reduced to being even unable to sing our normal songs in church. All I could do was cry, at least on the inside.
I told myself over and over that I would stop, by sheer force of will. I begged and tried to make deals with God to deliver me. I would have some success for a short time, but always would fall. The temptations were too great. I had fantasized and ritualized so much that I was now paralyzed and demoralized (more about the cycle later).
I looked for excuses to be alone. I would let my wife and daughters go out to do things so I could indulge my lust, and be ashamed by the time they got back. This went on for some time, though I am not sure exactly how long, but as time went on, my shame became unbearable. I finally came to the realization that if I didn’t get some help, I would get to the final stage of a seared conscience and would lose everything that was important to me. I would be turned over to a reprobate mind.
Finally, I confessed to my wife what was happening. I told her that it was not because of her or anything she had done. I still loved her dearly, but I was now trapped in a prison of my own making. I would not have blamed her if she had decided to divorce me right there, but she didn’t. I can’t say she was happy, but she was very supportive and decided with me that we would stand together as a team to battle this addiction.
Next, I went to my pastor and confessed to him. He also was understanding and agreed with me that I should step down from leadership in order to heal. I was scheduled to speak that next Sunday and he allowed me to go on, knowing what I was going to do. I believe I preached on Psalm 51 and David’s sin with Bathsheba and at the end, tears in my eyes, I called the senior pastor up to the front and I confessed to the congregation my sin. I did not go into detail as I did not wish to lead anyone else into temptation. I openly submitted myself to the discipline of the church and its leadership and took an indefinite leave of absence so I could be counseled and examined to see if I was really repentant or not. One thing that happened on this Sunday was my daughters, who had no idea, came up to me to comfort me, but when my youngest asked me why I had not told them, I really broke down.
My pastor and I started having weekly meetings with accountability built in. He had me read a book by Don Crossland titled, Refocusing Your Passions: A Christ Centered Approach to Overcoming Addictive Behavior. Slowly, we worked through a number of issues, including my past, hurts, the addictive cycle I was in, forgiveness and eventually restoration.
Over time, I learned that the porn was a symptom of a much deeper problem in my life and until I had addressed that, this behavior would continue. In essence, I felt spiritually and socially isolated with my background. I did not have healthy relationships and had a big emptiness. My sin was in how I chose to deal with that emptiness. Rather than seek out those relationships and become closer to God, I sought to fill my life with instant gratification in the form of sexual lust, which eventually resulted in my pornography addiction. Rather than letting God take the unworthiness I felt due to my physical problems and previous abuse, I turned to other things that gave me immediate, but only temporary satisfaction. I had to learn to deal with these through the gentle but firm tutelage of my pastor, through my wife and others. I had to learn to forgive my mother for the abuse and even God for “making me” the way I was.
The next thing I learned was the cycle of addiction that I was in. Starting with the self stimulation as an early teen, I learned to keep secret my behavior, though at first it started out as simple experimentation, it quickly turned into fantasizing, driven by a lust that was just beginning to develop. The fantasizing was joined by ritualizing the fantasies. I had a pattern that I would normally follow and the more I engaged in the ritual behavior, the more set it would become. Eventually, the rituals morphed into something closer to realizing the fantasies, through the addition of viewing porn. After a time in the porn, I became paralyzed, feeling like there was absolutely no escape from it, which demoralized me to the point of almost wanting to just give in fully to the lust. I was slowly desensitizing myself to it and but by the grace of God and the strong conviction of the Holy Spirit, I would have seared my conscience.
In learning about this cycle, I learned that the cords that were binding me were of a three strand nature. First there was the physical addiction. Doing what I was doing was releasing powerful brain chemicals that gave me a sense of well being, temporarily. Temporarily is the key. Like all addictions, you need more and more of the addictive substance/behavior to get the same high, and you need it more frequently. The second was emotional. You see, we all have certain emotional needs and when we feel these needs are not being met, we can look for them to be met in either healthy or unhealthy ways. I chose the latter. The sexual addiction I was building was a salve to my damaged self esteem and my perceived failures. Instead, I had to learn how to let God supply the emotional needs I had through His spirit and through building positive relationships that affirmed me as a person. The final chord is spiritual. Now I am not saying the devil made me do these things. I take full responsibility; however, the enemy does come in, whispering in the ear and raising doubt about God and His sufficiency, love and strength. Simply, I had done the same thing that Adam and Eve had done and listened to the lie of the serpent, trading God’s perfection for candy coated sin.
It was this cycle that I had to work to break, by going back and replacing key components of the ritual with healthy attitudes and behaviors. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was probably the hardest thing I had ever attempted!
Over the course of a year, my mentor helped me realize these things and I slowly, but surely started to rebuild relationships, starting with God and extending to my family, friends and church. I was very slowly allowed to return to leadership, eventually becoming Associate Pastor, but I had to build trust again and maintain accountability.
To any man who is going through this, I can tell you that the earlier you seek help, the easier it will be, but you have to absolutely want help. Denial will only further damage you and your relationships. It will be embarrassing and shameful to you as our sexual nature is so core to our beings in this life. It must be done though. You cannot go it alone!
Seek out someone you can trust with this issue. There are many people in the church who will not forgive and will use these things against you, but there are also many who sincerely want to help. I had to get to the point that I would endure any punishment or treatment for the sake of freeing myself from this sin. It is a risk, sure, but it is that important! If you have a pastor that you know you can trust, go to him. Find a Christian counselor. Look for a sexual addiction support group. Get help.
I know that some may disagree with this, but at some point, you will probably have to tell your wife. Believe me, it is a lot better to go to her first rather than waiting to be caught. I sincerely believe that one of the big reasons my wife was able to forgive and work with me was because I came to her in humility. Your circumstance may be different, especially if your wife is an abuser. In those cases, you might wish to seek wise counsel as to how to proceed.
Be aware that there will be days you will fall. Like any addiction, you will need to be constantly on your guard against the triggers in your life that will cause you temptation. Know them and take steps to avoid them. Like an alcoholic who needs to stay away from the bars he used to frequent, stay away from the things and places you used in your rituals!
Face it, some days you just aren’t as strong as others. If you do fail, it is not the end of the world. It does not mean you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes for the rest of your life. Pick yourself up, look at what happened and learn from it. As you proceed down the path toward wholeness, the times of falling will become fewer and fewer. With God’s grace and being diligent, you can overcome. God’s forgiveness will still be there for you when you slip. The important thing is to keep moving forward.
Finally, I pray that for anyone trapped in this way of life, that you will listen to God’s Holy Spirit and begin the journey back into the light. I pray that God will give you strength and the love of Christ will do a healing work in your heart. I pray that you will soon know fully the healing power of God’s love and that you will be able to put behind the old things and walk in the truth that all things certainly are becoming new.
Editors’ note added 7 Feb 2014: “Pornography: Lies, Truth and Hope” is a helpful booklet by the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. It can be downloaded for free as a PDF.