Sin, slavery and addiction
In response to my last post on pornography addiction, I received this story of pain and redemption from a Christian man in Sydney. For the sake of his family he has asked to remain anonymous, but his story is endorsed by a member of a Sydney Anglican church. He asked if I could share his testimony as a witness and help for others. I found it a moving account of his long term struggle: only as he really grasped God’s for him and came clean about his sin, did he manage to break the cycle. Much of that was mediated through the firm and loving response of a wise clergyman. Maybe you can help someone caught in the grip of pornography addiction in the same way.
“It's taken 25 years for me to make a break from porn addiction.
The breakthrough wasn't a matter of counselling, repenting, technology, accountability or trying harder. It was theological. It was coming to believe that God actually loves me. And, oddly enough, God decided that it would happen outside of church.
Like a lot of blokes, the problem started in my teens. Just at the time I was most uncertain about myself, I found porn: from school mates, neighbours and, painfully, from my Dad's Playboys. Porn became a sure refuge of acceptance when I was ridiculed at school. The images became certainty of my value. I became a man before them, when I was most unsure of my masculinity before my parents and my mates.
Around the same time, I became a Christian, through some holiday camps. I was thrilled to hear that God truly forgave all my sins in Christ. I wanted to live for Him. I became a passionate evangelist. At university, I developed a headstrong faith. I took pleasure showing the intellectual superiority of the faith. I loved running youth groups and camps.
But every few months, I'd turn to porn. Then I'd beat myself up. Hate myself. Repent. Pray. Weep. Beg God for release. Sometimes I'd tell a good friend - though it was always enormously awkward. And no one really ever wanted to hear about it. Sometimes, these periods of repentance and abstinence would last for up to a year. Then, some crisis would lead me to questioning my worth, my manhood, and I'd rush to porn again.
When I married my beautiful wife, I assumed I'd find the sexual satisfaction I'd craved all my life. But no woman can deliver that kind of validation. My sexual hunger outstripped anything any marriage could deliver and it crippled her confidence. Horribly, as our marriage was put into crisis, the internet, with its cornucopia of porn, opened up.
Internet porn became the perfect sin. It was private. It let me be anonymous. I could go there and (I thought) not hurt anybody. It was instant and I could apply the emotional salve to my heart at any time. As my career took off - and the pressure intensified - it became the sure place I could find encouragement.
But porn bought my family a firestorm of hurt. My wife of course discovered me eventually. If her confidence was low before it was obliterated now. Then that gutted me with shame. I faced a God who, I was sure, was angrier than He ever was with Saul or Judas. After a few cycles of this I developed, unsurprisingly, full clinical depression. Medication helped a bit. Counselling somewhat. I got back to being even keeled. But our marriage didn't. Sex was joyless. Church was done dutifully. We went to Pentecostal counsellors, did high-church ceremonies, long programs of cognitive behavioural therapy. I'd be good for six months. I'd share my issue with a wider circle of friends. I'd set up accountability software. Then I'd have a crisis and find a way around everything I'd set up.
I lived in these chains until two locks began to open.
The first was when an older minister I'd known for years took an interest. He was somehow much more brutal and much more tender with me. He demanded the whole truth. Gory details and he didn't flinch. I don't actually remember him saying "I love you" but I knew that he did. And he loved my wife. And he loved our marriage. He got both of us talking about our sin and our failure. Suddenly both of us could start talking like redeemed people. Not good people, not bad people, but redeemed people.
But there was another failure to come. A period of stress. A desperation for love and approval. A heavy season of porn and failure. I made up my mind that if my wife asked me how I was doing with porn, I would lie.
Then that moment came. And I couldn't lie. I'd discovered that, even though it's painful, it's sweeter to tell the truth.
That was when the second lock began to turn. We opened up to friends about the struggles in our marriage and one of them suggested we looked at 12-step recovery groups. I joined one called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. My first meeting was revolting. I looked at the pathetic porn users and prostitute customers and despised them for their weakness and the lives they'd damaged. Slowly I accepted that I was just like them. I began telling the truth about me. I got a sponsor and started the most intensive period of truth telling I've ever gone through. And through all that, they encouraged me to admit that I am powerless before God. (What they call "your higher power", but whom I knew to be my heavenly Father.)
As all my skin came off, and the cancer of my addiction was laid bare, I was ready for the judgment. Almost wanted it. I was exposing myself to God now, actually desiring to be confronted by him. So I began reading the Scripture with a hunger I don't think I've ever had. This is where the Bible shocked me. God was like the old preacher we'd met. In story after story, I kept seeing that the God of the Bible wanted to know me, with my sin, and wanted to spare me from judgment. He wanted to have a forgiven son come home.
Looking back, I wonder whether I'd understood the Christian gospel. I just don't know if I really believed that God loves me. If I had, I just don't think I would have run back to porn again and again. But now I think He does. Groups like SLAA, and the Christian addicts support group Overcomers Outreach have really helped. It's only been able to happen once I started telling the truth before people who actually know me. The whole truth. That's when the light started coming into the room.”
In the words of the old hymn:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
Photo credit: Know Malta/Peter Grima