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Hi, My name is Tess, and I am a pornography addict.
Whoa, right? That was an intense first-liner. Let me back up. I'm Tess. I'm 22, I grew up in NY and now live in Oklahoma City. I have a bachelor's degree in Ministerial Leadership, and I have a full-time job that I love at an amazing church. I was a straight-A student my whole life, I'm good with my money, and I'm in a successful and healthy dating relationship. I am strong in my faith, I have amazing parents and friends, I am a virgin, and I am just your average, plain jane, run-of-the-mill blonde 22 year old christian girl. And guess what?
I am a pornography addict. Well, I was.
I didn't used to talk about it much. It's not like it just naturally comes up in conversation. And to be honest, why would I? In what way has this world made it easy for anyone to admit their weakness, let alone a young Christian girl who's addicted to porn? Oh, right, it hasn't. It has actually made it virtually impossible and unthinkable. But eventually, saving my world was worth disrupting the other one.
The first time I ever talked about it to a room of people, there were about 60 people in the room. 25 of them were girls. Of those 25 girls, 6 of them came to me after and said “I thought I was the only one,” and “I’ve never told anyone this before.” And that is just the girls who had the courage to talk to someone. And now, every time I talk to a group of people about my story, all I can think about is all of the hurting eyes looking at me who are drowning, because they think they have to go through it alone.
You may be reading this as a young person who struggles with pornography and you’re thinking, “I thought I was the only one.” You’re not. I am a good Christian girl who grew up terrified to lie to my mom or even to fail a test, let alone develop a sexual sin problem. I never thought that it would be me, and you’ve never met someone more ashamed of their addiction that I was of mine. And I was DEFINITELY convinced that I was the only person I knew with this demon, and that no one would understand.
Believe it or not, about 50% of Christian teen girls struggle with or have struggled with a pornography addiction.
According to a study done by Jeff Logue at SAGU, 40 million adults in the United States access a pornographic website on a regular basis. 17% of all women struggle with pornography, and 47% of Christians admit to pornography addiction being an issue in their home.
54% of Christian men are viewing pornography at least daily, and 17% admit to a daily addiction.
34% of women ages 18-30 admit to viewing porn at least monthly.
If you think you’re alone, please take this as a sign.
You are not alone.
And please please please, keep reading.
You may be reading this and asking, “What’s the big deal?” I get it.
43% of Americans now say that pornography is morally acceptable.
We live in a world that has normalized the sexual nature of human beings. So much so, that masturbation is a RECOMMENDED stress-reliever. Sex is considered necessary for a healthy dating relationship. And the idea of waiting until marriage to have sex is considered one of the most difficult standards of Christianity to uphold. Lust is justified as “instinct,” which lets us off the hook. If its biological, then we don’t have to claim moral or spiritual responsibility. The major misconception is that sexual attraction is a physical experience. When in reality, there is so much more to it than that. It is more than just an aching in your lower abdomen when your boyfriend touches you a certain way, or the way your heart races and you start to sweat when you see that gif of a girl giving a guy head on your Twitter feed and you imagine that she’s doing that to you. There is so much going on beneath the surface that is much bigger than we realize. In a world where sexuality is normalized, we have to be willing to not be normal.
“We have to be different, because normal is not working.” - Pastor Chris Baldwin
Addiction: The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
The worst part about being a 16-year-old with a porn addiction, is that no one is talking to you about porn when you’re 16.
Actually, let me rephrase. No one is talking to you about porn when you’re a 16-year-old GIRL. They are telling you how beautiful you are, and that you have a bright future, and to save yourself for your husband because that’s what God wants you to do. They sell you this idea that you’re a prized possession, and that no guy is good enough to receive the gift of *insert your name here*. Come on, we’ve all heard it. “That high school boy who is going to break your heart doesn’t deserve the precious gift that God has given you.”
We talk to girls about their virginity as if it’s something that all guys want but don’t deserve, and that they are the best thing since sliced bread.
When we talk to guys about sex, it’s as if we are reprimanding them for something they haven’t even done yet. “You guys are going to want to go after this, you’re going to want to do this bad thing, but don’t do it, it’s bad.”
Here’s why this isn’t the best approach. As a guy, you hear that and think “Well, its just how I am, I’m always going to think this way and want these things.” So, when they have lustful thoughts, it’s no surprise. But, it’s also justified because it’s “how they were made.” We are telling guys that they were basically created to fail in this area; killing their confidence in their ability to overcome temptation, and giving them an out by writing it off as a part of their DNA.
For the girls, we are painting the male as the bad guy because they are lustful. Well, what happens when that beautiful, innocent little princess has a dirty thought? When she sends a naked picture, or watches something she’s not supposed to watch?
Little 16 year old Tess, who once saw herself as a treasure, a beautiful princess, is now forced to see herself as just as dirty and lustful as the boys who don’t deserve her for that very reason. And that is exactly what happened.
All of a sudden, I was dirty. I was lustful. I was a sinner. If a boy didn’t deserve me because of these things, then I didn’t deserve anyone or anything because I was no better than them. I wasn’t a treasure anymore. I wasn’t pure. I was tainted. I had failed. For the first time, I had something real to be ashamed of.
I want to make it clear that I am in no way blaming my issues or my addiction on the actions of others. I am fully aware that it was my own free will that was exercised in the decisions that led me to where I am now. And I know that we all have the best of intentions in the way that we speak to youth and young adults about sexual sin. But, I think that there are some things that, if shifted slightly, could help eliminate sexual sin and lustful tendencies as a cultural norm(which it is, whether we want to admit it or not.)
When we are talking to guys about sex and lust, porn comes up very quickly. That is because pornography is associated with extreme lustful thoughts and behaviors, which for whatever reason are associated with the male species. Pornography is also, to be fair, very much marketed and catered to guys in its creation. Women are usually portrayed in a way that allows the man to be the dominant character, making a male viewer feel powerful, which would naturally lead to arousal for a male easier than a female. It’s safe to say that the majority of porn is made with the man in mind, not the woman.
I think it is incredibly important that we talk to guys about porn, and warn them against its dangers. However, as the church, as parents, as friends, as teachers, etc. we are severely failing in offering the same warnings and conversations to our girls. I can’t count on one hand how many times I was spoken to about pornography as a child or teenager, because I don’t have a hand that has zero fingers.
I’m not kidding. I literally do not recall a single time that someone talked to me, or a group of girls I was in, about pornography. I didn’t know what it was, or why it was bad. I remember back in the day, we would split up the girls and the guys at youth group when we talked about sexual stuff. The girl leaders would stand up and talk to us about why we shouldn’t have sex, and why we should save our virginity. They would give us stats about teenage pregnancy and STD’s and they would do the little milk example where they drop food coloring into a glass of milk, and then drop another color, and use it as an example of what happens to you spiritually when you have sex with multiple people. All of these things are GREAT things to talk about. We should be talking about sex. I remained a virgin until I got married, and I firmly believe that part of the reason is that I went to a church that wasn’t afraid to talk about sex with us.
I was a virgin. Goal accomplished.
But wait, I was a virgin, with a pornography addiction.
And I know now, that I wasn’t the only one. There might have been a time when pornography wasn’t a problem for women (I doubt it, but it’s possible). But if there was, it has long since passed. The young women in your life NEED you to talk to them about pornography, just as badly (if not worse) than they need you to talk to them about sex.
Again, I'd just like to say, I grew up in an INCREDIBLE church. They did everything they knew to do to teach us and protect us and raise us up to be Godly women. I am in no way blaming my addiction on them, or on anyone else. I just think that we go through things in order to help educate others, and to help shed light on something that was once our darkness. But there is always more that we can do. We can always do better. And, in this area, we HAVE to do better.
The first step to recovery, is admitting that there is a problem. I’m not saying that the church is the problem, or that parents are the problem, or that schools are the problem. Pornography is the problem. But what if we- parents, pastors, churches, schools, friends- what if we could be a part of the solution? I believe that we have to be.
I wasn’t really into social media that much when I was a teenager. I wasn’t even allowed to have a Facebook until I was 16, and my parents had just stopped taking our phones into their room at night when we went to bed. So I never really got super into the internet.
But, a bunch of my friends used this app called Tumblr, which seemed like it was exclusively for the edgy, alternative kids who drew dragons and wore band t-shirts. My best friend Sara (who was arguably very edgy) would always show me cool pictures or funny stories that she found on the site, so I decided to create an account, despite my stunning lack of being described as any kind of edgy.
Any of you that have ever had a tumblr account can vouch for the fact that no matter what accounts you follow, somehow, somewhere, an artsy black and white photo of a naked human is bound to pop up on your feed, one way or another.
For me, that was the first pornographic image I ever saw (excluding random scenes in movies I watched with my parents that my mom shielded my eyes from with her hand. Every. Time.) But, if you had asked me in that moment if I had just seen porn, I would have said no. If they can show naked people in a movie theater and its not porn, then this wasn’t either.
3 months later, when I was daily scrolling through twitter accounts that were nothing but gifs of hot make-out scenes and sexual encounters, you could’ve asked me if I was addicted to porn, and I would’ve said no. When I was searching “movie sex scenes” on YouTube in my bed every night before I went to sleep (or more accurately, SO that I could sleep because I couldn’t if I didn’t do this first), I was never doing so and thinking to myself, “I’m watching porn right now.”
This may just be because I didn’t want to admit it to myself, or maybe I was just way more sheltered than I even thought I was. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because not one person had ever sat me down and explained what pornography was to me.
I get it, we don’t want to think about the fact that our little girls might be watching RedTube when we think they are watching cute puppy videos in their room at night. But the reality is that they aren’t having to go looking for porn. It’s looking for them. It’s coming for them. It came for me, until eventually it didn’t have to anymore.
30% of existing internet content is reported as pornographic.
It wasn’t until I searched “Sex gifs” in twitter that I had the revelatory moment. An account called @dailypornsupply popped up, and my heart dropped into my stomach. You all know the feeling. That feeling when you find out that your best friend slept with that guy she knew you liked, or when you find out that your dad is cheating on your mom. Except this time, it wasn't someone else that betrayed you. No one else hurt you. It was just you.
The words “sex” and “porn” are ranked 4 and 6 in the top ten most commonly searched words on the internet.
The shame, the guilt, the anger. It’s indescribable. In that moment, it became reality. I’m addicted to pornography.
I tried deleting my Twitter a couple times. At this point my guilt was enough to make me want to at least try to stop. I thought that if I didn’t have it then I wouldn’t watch those videos all the time. Then I tried deleting YouTube. And Safari. And it worked for a minute. But eventually I would just re-download them all when I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
That’s the thing that’s different than about pornography than any other addictive substance. In order to feed your addiction, you usually have to leave your house, and purchase your drug of choice. You had to put in effort, and make a sacrifice of time, energy, and money in order to satisfy your need. You used to have to do that with porn. Back in the day you had to go to your local video store, and walk into the back room that was closed off by curtains and deal with the shame and judgement when you took it up to the counter to rent it out for the night.
Or you had to have your older brother by nudie magazines for you and you had to hide them under your bed so your parents didn’t see them. Either way, it was a much longer process back in the day. But now, thanks to the internet, we can literally find our drug anywhere, any time, and it costs us nothing (well, at least financially).
The fact that a 16-year-old can access pornography from the comfort of her own bed by doing nothing other than switching to a private browser and searching google for it and know that no one will find out, is a scary bi-product of the age that we are living in. But, what it is not, is an excuse. I mean, you can use it as one if you want. It will work for a while. You’ll even feel better for a minute or two, if you just tell yourself, “It’s just so much harder for us now than it used to be.” I think a lot of us use this as an excuse in general for the issues that are facing my generation. It is an easy coping mechanism, rather than admitting that we as a culture and as leaders, family members, etc. might have had something to do with it. Taking responsibility for the part we may have played is way harder than just simply giving credit to the times we are living in. No matter how selfish that is.
I don’t say all of that to let us as a generation off the hook, myself included. As much responsibility as our culture and leaders can take, we have to take more. You can convince yourself that you have no control if you want. You can tell yourself that you stumbled upon this addiction as if you didn’t have to choose to watch that video or touch yourself there. There is a huge misconception about addiction in general that says that you have no choice. That it’s a disease, and that you are powerless. Heck, that’s the first step of the world’s most famous recovery program. “We admit that we have become powerless over alcohol.” While I believe wholeheartedly in that program and that it has helped so many people get sober and overcome addiction, there is a very difficult truth to be faced that opposes it slightly.
The word “addiction” is derived from the latin language word “addictio” which means “a giving over; surrender.” The very definition of the word implies that acquiring an addiction requires an active decision to surrender. A “giving over.”
You are not powerless.
Your free will means that you always have the power to choose. It’s a harsh reality to admit to yourself that you’re choosing to do something you’re ashamed of. People often say that it’s hard to admit when you’ve lost control of something; that people want to be in control. That may be true in some areas of our lives, but when it comes to decisions that we regret or are ashamed of, we would rather chalk it up to the fact that we “don’t have a choice” or “can’t control it.”
This part is the hardest. Some of you may even get mad and stop reading this. But here it is.
I have some bad news. You have control. You made a choice. You make a choice every single day to watch that, or listen to that, or touch that. You chose this addiction, and I chose mine.
I chose pornography. Were there temptations that I had no control over? Yes. Did all of the surrounding elements of my life and culture make it a lot easier for that choice to be made? Absolutely. But did someone sit me down and force me to watch it? Is there some force from another dimension putting my hand in my pants for me?
No. That’s all me. Every single time, I’m making a conscious decision.
I have the power to stop, just as much as I had the power to start. It’s that simple.
Not easy, I didn’t say quitting is easy. It is actually the hardest thing you may ever do in your life. It’s not easy, but it really is that simple.
You can only blame it on other things and other people for so long. Admitting that you have a problem doesn’t mean admitting that everyone and everything around you created the problem. It’s not admitting that porn itself is a problem. You will not beat this thing until you can look at yourself and say, “I chose to watch porn, and now I am addicted to it.”
But, I have some good news. You have control. You made a choice. You make a choice every single day to watch that, or listen to that, or touch that. You chose this addiction. You chose pornography. You had control when you started, and that means that you have control now. You are not powerless over pornography. That means that you have the power to stop. It’s that simple.
Not easy. Never easy. But simple.
"The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem."
I grew up attending AA meetings with my mom since before I can even remember. She’s been sober for over 20 years now, but she was an alcoholic for a lot of years including the first couple years of my life. She was a single mom, and she got sober when I was about 2, so that meant that I became her official date to the Saturday morning meeting.
My favorite part about going to meetings, was the breakfast. Every Saturday morning there was a spread of delicious pastries and baked goods that I was convinced were just for me. I would grab a donut, put my earphones in (once I was only enough to have an iPod), and I would read whatever book I decided to bring with me that day, with whichever of my trusty stuffed animal friends was lucky enough to accompany me that morning. After the meeting every week we would go out for breakfast with some of my mom’s friends. I would eat chocolate chip pancakes with extra whipped cream while everyone drank their coffee and caught up on their week.
There was this one guy who would come up to me every week and hand me a 5 dollar bill, and he would say, “Go buy you and your mom some ice cream.” I love ice cream. I loved that guy. I loved the pancakes. I loved Saturdays.
The best meeting, though, was the monthly birthday meeting. At this meeting, members of AA got presented with a chip celebrating how long they had gone without a drink. A close friend or sponsor would give a little speech, present the recipient with their chip, and everyone would clap and cheer like someone had just won the lottery. At the end of the meeting, everyone got to eat cake. It didn’t matter that it was 9:00am. That day, cake was a suitable breakfast. I would always sneak back to the kitchen area when they started cutting the cake so I could scope out the best piece before they passed it out to everyone. I loved cake day.
Obviously at first I loved it because, well, duh. Its cake. But as I got older, I started to love it for other reasons. I loved celebrating with people. I may not have been able to totally understand what was being celebrated and why it mattered, but there were people in that room that helped raise me, and were there for me and my mom through some pretty tough times. Some of them I watched get their first chip for being sober a month, and then got to see them get their chip for being 3 years sober. I watched my mom get birthday chip after birthday chip, and even watched her present them to her friends and the people she sponsored. For a young girl with a single mom, those days didn’t feel like an AA meeting with a bunch of recovering strangers. It felt like I was attending a birthday party with family, for family. That’s all that mattered.
Two-year-old me couldn’t see their hurt. And 5 -year-old me didn’t understand their addiction. 11-year-old me didn’t have the capacity to know if they were the “type of person” who became an addict. They were all just people.
We are all just people.
I think we hear the word “addict” and there’s a very specific image that comes to mind. We think of someone who walks hunched over and is kind of dirty with huge bags under their eyes whose life is falling apart and everyone can tell. But they were all just people. Some had jobs, some had kids, some were married. Some of them were living with their addiction on their sleeve, but some of them were doing their best to hide their problem everywhere they went outside of those four walls. The truth is, no one wants to admit that addiction can happen to anyone. But it can, and it does.
I mean, if you met my mom today, you would NEVER in a million years say to yourself, “Man, I bet she had a serious alcohol dependency back in the day.” Most people are actually really surprised to hear my mom’s story. She was salutatorian of her high school graduating class. Her parents were very successful. She went to college, she’s had plenty of decent jobs, and despite how she came to be one, she’s a fantastic mother. And among all of those things, she is also a recovered alcoholic.
I was a great kid. I never broke the rules, I loved going to church. I got straight A’s and I never gave my parents anything to worry about. I dressed modestly and was nice to everyone. I had good friends and I loved puppies and wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher and no one would’ve ever looked at me and thought, “Yeah, she’s gonna end up a porn addict for sure. You can see it all over her, she’s got all the warning signs.”
Addiction is no respecter of persons. And if there is one thing that I am so glad I learned as a regular attendee of AA, its that we are all just people who have problems.
The only difference is, for some of us, our problems have us.
My mom and I attended those meetings together until I was a teenager, and even though I usually brought a book or something to keep myself busy and distracted, I got to hear a lot of stories over the years. Stories of people overcoming addiction, those who had fallen back into their addiction, and those who had been sober for 30 years and just came to be there for other people. I watched them celebrate everything together, whether it be that someone hadn’t picked up a drink in 2 days, or 20 years. I also watched them rally around each other in the toughest of times. It was as if, that room, in the basement of a little dusty church in a small town in upstate New York, no matter who you were or what your struggle was, you had a safe place.
Most people wouldn’t think that a small child attending AA meetings would be a super beneficial or healthy thing, but honestly I'm so grateful to have attended those meetings. I got a glimpse of the real world, and what it looked like to face your issues head-on. I also got to watch my moms set an example for me of what it looked like to surrender, and what it looked like to selflessly help others.
In addition to all the things I picked up at AA, I also memorized the 12 step program, and all of the cliché statements that they would recite as a group so that I didn’t feel left out and could say it along with them. One of my favorite parts of the meeting was the very end. They would always stand up at the end of the meeting, grab hands, and recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison. And it didn’t matter if you were a Christian or not, you prayed the prayer anyway. And at the end of the prayer, they would all chant something that didn’t matter to me then, but matters a lot to me now.
“It works if you work it, so work it. You’re worth it.”
Looking back on all of the people I watched come and go in that church basement, and all the stories I heard them tell, there’s one thing that kept people. There was a difference between the people that got sober and stayed sober, and the ones that didn’t last longer than a couple months or maybe less. One thing could make or break your sobriety.
You had to believe that you were worth it.
Others could tell you that you are worth it. That you’re worth saving, and that you’re worth the pain of the process. That you can do it. But it’s not enough for them to believe it. You have to find something within yourself that believes you are worth fighting for. The other part of that statement is also true. “It works if you work it.”
The process of overcoming any kind of pain or problem only works if you put in the effort. But the only way you’ll put in the effort is if you can see why it’s worth the work. YOU have to be worth the work, or you won’t work it, and it won’t work. (Does “work” even sound like a real word anymore?)
If you get nothing out of this, please read this. Highlight it, underline it, tattoo on it on your wrist if you need to so you can see it and read it every single day.
You are worth it.
You’re worth the fight. You’re worth the pain of the process. You’re worth it.
I think that was the missing link for me for a long time.
Shame told me that I wasn’t worth it. It told me that I would never be better than my addiction. It defined me, and kept me from trying to get better. There wasn’t a “Teenage Porn Addicts Anonymous” for me to join. I didn’t think I had a safe place. And even if there was, I didn’t feel like I deserved one anyway. At least with an alcohol addiction, its really difficult to hide from people. Eventually, someone is going to catch on. People who care about you won’t be able to ignore it forever. You don’t really choose who you hurt or let down, the alcohol makes that decision for you most of the time. With porn, the only one who was hurting was me. And I felt like I had to keep it that way. If I told anyone, it would become too real. And no one was going to find out if I didn’t tell them, so I kept the hurt to myself.
There were no signs. There were no tells. No one around me knew. Which meant that, for a little while, I didn’t have to admit it to myself. It was like there was a fight going on inside me. My shame was telling me that I could never tell anyone, while my pride told me that there was nothing to tell. I was like the person who comes to the AA meeting because their job or their probation officer is forcing them to. And the first thing they say is, “I don’t even know why I’m here, I don't have a problem with alcohol.” But they had vodka in their coffee before they left the house, and they can’t sleep at night if they haven’t had a drink first. They just can’t bring themselves to say it out loud. Because for some reason, being an alcoholic is okay, but hell will freeze over before they can say out loud, “I’m an alcoholic.”
But, really, sometimes you just don’t know. We’ve all had that moment where we woke up one day and thought, “How did I get here?”
You always hear pregnant women say it. “It's like I woke up one day and I couldn’t see my toes!”
Obviously their circumference didn’t actually quadruple overnight. But when something changes little by little, it’s hard to notice what is actually happening in real time. For a lot of people, they didn’t just wake up one day with an alcohol dependency. I certainly didn’t just stumble upon a pornography addiction all at once. It’s a process to to acquire a problem, just like its a process to get sober. If you have to work your way out of it, you probably worked your way in.
But the way out works if you work it.
Eventually I got old enough to stay home alone on Saturday mornings, and I stopped going to meetings with my mom. I wasn’t repeating the same statements over and over again, or hearing them every week anymore. But it’s like song lyrics. Once you know them, you can’t forget them. And all of the truths and the statements that we said over and over every Saturday, I never forgot them. And we have all heard a lot of them too.
There is one thing that everyone and their mom seems to know about addiction, and I heard it countless times growing up with a recovering alcoholic mother, and even throughout my life as a joke on many occasions, and as a genuine encouragement on others.
Alcoholics Anonymous words their first step to recovery like this:
“We admit that we have become powerless over alcohol; that our lives have become unmanageable.”
A more common use of the phrase would be,
“The first step to recovery, is admitting you have a problem.”
The Way Out:
Admitting it to yourself isn't the way out. It helps some, but self-awareness in this particular area usually breeds shame that is nothing other than a driving force for your addiction. The truth is, the more aware we become of our addiction, the harder we try to hide it. Whether it's to allow ourselves to operate in denial, or simply to protect ourselves from the judgement of others, we keep it in the dark. We hide this part of ourselves. We live in the dark. But things die when they are kept in the dark.
We die when we are kept in the dark.
When I was 17, I met a boy. I had actually met him a couple years before at my youth group. His church came for a spoken word concert we were putting on, and we had a mutual friend who introduced us. But I never really talked to him again until a couple years later. I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to do it, but one day I was at the mall for a college fair with my senior class, and for whatever reason I texted him and asked him if he wanted to meet me for lunch there. Which, for the record, was very unlike me. I had never even had a full conversation with him before, and now I was asking him out for lunch.
Nevertheless, he came. We ate food court pizza, and played air hockey, and the rest was history. I was ready to marry him in that small town mall arcade right then and there.
However, since I wasn’t technically allowed to date and he was 4 years older than me, we had to stay “just friends” for a while. And we did, sort of. We did our best for two people who were very attracted to each other, both physically and emotionally. But, It didn’t take too long for us to become really comfortable with each other. We did that thing where you pour your heart and soul out to someone, and tell them all your hopes and dream sand childhood fears and family drama and favorite food and color and movie and it feels like they suddenly know you better than anyone ever has. I wasn’t exactly one to open up very quickly. But there was something about it all; the fact that he was willing to wait almost a year until I was allowed to date to be with me, and that he was okay with just being my friend for however long it took. You really just don’t find that every day. And in the meantime, he really became my best friend.
I had people in my life that I considered my best friends. Granted, my mom was one of them, but still. There were a couple. But I had yet to meet anyone that I felt like I could tell about my “problem.” My Christian friends would judge me, and my non-Christian friends wouldn’t understand why I was trying to stop. And telling my mom was DEFINITELY not an option. For so long, I couldn’t even imagine telling another human being about what I was dealing with. But for the first time, with this guy, I at least wanted to. I wanted to tell him just so I didn’t have to be the only one who knew. He was the first person to make me feel like maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t lose him if I told him. That he wouldn’t see me any differently.
Still, it took a while. I mean, he thought I was perfect. He saw this straight-A student who played keys at her church and was mature enough for a 21 year old to be interested, and who had really never done anything wrong. If that was why he liked me, then telling him could ruin it all. There were so many times that we were on the phone, or hanging out, and I almost just did it. I almost just looked at him and said, “I have a porn addiction.” But I just couldn’t find the strength to do it. There was still a 50/50 chance that he’d run for the hills, and I wasn’t ready to lose him. I couldn’t.
One day, he came over to my house for dinner and to hang out for a little while before church started that night. We were laying in the backyard on a sheet, reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” together, and all I could think the entire time was “I should tell him.” It was eating me up inside to be keeping a secret from him, and as afraid as I was to lose him, I also wanted to know just how much he loved me. If he stuck around after he knew something as atrocious as this, then maybe he really did. I know, not the most healthy thing in the world using your addiction to test your love-interest. But that’s where I was at. It gave me more of a reason to tell him.
He could tell something was wrong, and he kept asking me if he’d done something wrong. I told him that I was really scared, and I didn’t know if I could tell him. I told him that what I was going to say could change everything and that he might not see me the same after. But eventually, the energy it took to keep it all inside ran out. So I told him. “I struggle with a pornography addiction.”
He just laid there and looked at me for a minute. I couldn’t read his face, and at this point I had already convinced myself that that was it. Its over. He’s going to run. My heart was about to beat right out of my chest and the tears I had failed to corral were finding their way down my face and onto the sheet under us. After a period of silence that felt like an eternity, the first thing he said was, “Really?” I wasn’t really sure how to take that reaction, so I just said “Yeah, really.”
Everything he said after that were the most judgement-free, loving, and understanding things I had ever heard. He told me that he struggled with it too, but he never would’ve guessed that I did. He told me that he loved me, and that it was okay, and that I could always tell him anything. He hugged me and wiped my tears and made me feel like I was still me.
In that moment, for the first time in over a year, I felt light. Not in a way that made me feel justified, but I felt like I wasn’t carrying it all alone anymore. I had someone I could trust with this. Who loved me through it, and in spite of it. That boy was the first person I ever told, and that was the first time I ever actually said it out loud.
On my 18th birthday he asked my parents for permission to date me. We were together for over 2 years, and then we weren’t anymore. There’s obviously a lot of things that happened in between; some good, some bad. Nothing to regret, and some things that to this day I still don’t totally understand. One thing I know for sure, though. I will forever be grateful to have shared that moment with him. He was exactly who I needed to tell, for whatever reason that I’m sure only Jesus knows. And among so many other times, him being there for me the way he was in that moment, changed my life.
You need to tell someone.
You need to let someone in. You got yourself into this mess, but you need other people to get out. Not because they can make the decision for you, and not because you are powerless. But this thing is heavy. Why carry it by yourself when you don’t have to?
I didn’t immediately become free from pornography addiction after I told him. It wasn’t some kind of instant cure. But opening up meant letting light in on something that had never felt light before.
I went to bible college at a church in Oklahoma City, and the senior pastor there did a message one time that talked about light. He told a story about his son, who loves to ride his bike. He said that he remembered the first time that his son crashed his bike. He skinned up his knees and his hands really bad, and he was covered in dirt and blood and it was a huge mess. He said that when he and his wife tried to take care of him, even though he was hurt, Boston grabbed his knee to hide the scrapes and told them no. They tried to tell him that they needed to clean his knee so that they could put medicine on it and make it better, but Boston said “No! It hurts, don’t touch it!”
The whole point of the story was to show how we as humans do that same thing all the time with our sin and our issues. If it hurts, we hide it. We don’t want anyone to touch it.
The problem is that things that are hidden can’t heal.
“But Tess, you told me to take responsibility for it. You told me that I have control and that its my choice to stop and it’s all on me.” You’re right. I said that it’s your responsibility. That you’re not powerless. And I stand by that. But there’s a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t just write a book that they send people in a package that is unrecognizable and that shows you how to get sober all on your own so that no one ever has to know. There’s a reason that they have meetings, and they make you get a sponsor. The entire program is build around airing out your dirty laundry, and coming clean to other people. Do you know why therapy is a multi-billion dollar industry? It’s because somewhere along the way humanity has realized that talking helps. Not just that, it’s actually necessary for recovery.
If you’re not talking, you’re dying.
Things that are kept in the dark, lose life. If a flower never gets any sun, doesn’t spend any time in the light, then it’s going to die. And addiction is one of those things that, if you keep it in the dark, it will kill you.
Imagine that you’re standing outside. Maybe you’re on a walk with your parents, or your standing in line for a concert, or your out apple picking. You choose, it’s your imagination. It’s a little bit of a cooler day, maybe the first crisp autumn day of the season. You’re standing in the shade, and there’s a little bit of a chilly breeze blowing. Your nose and your cheeks start to get cold before the rest of your body does. You don’t have a jacket on, so your arms start to get a little chilly too. You start to get goose bumps, and even maybe shivering a little bit. You’re almost cold enough to complain about it, or even quit and go sit in the car or find somewhere to be inside.
But then, the clouds move. The sun hits right where you’re standing. Imagine that first moment when the sun hits your cheeks, your nose, your arms. It’s so warm, and after a few seconds you can’t help but just stand completely still and bask in it. You close your eyes, hold your arms out in a full-on titanic pose, and let out a huge sigh. Just let the warmth of the sunlight hit you and it’s one of the warmest, most comfortable feelings in the whole world. It’s a relief.
That’s how it felt to tell someone. It felt like I was standing in the sun for the first time since I couldn’t even remember when.
You can be standing in the sun and still be cold. It can still be winter. You can still be shivering and your nose and cheeks still sting from the wind. The sun doesn’t stop the hurt completely. But that comfort and that warmth, it’s still there. And when someone is standing with you, at least they might offer you their jacket. They can wrap their arms around you, and hold you close until it’s over.
He wasn’t the light. Telling him didn’t mean he was pulling me out of the darkness, because no one can do that. I was stepping out into the light. I made the choice. Telling him just meant there was someone to stand in the sun with me.
It’s a bittersweet moment when you open up to someone though. Just because you choose to tell someone, doesn’t mean that they will always be there. But what matters is that they were there.
That boy and I broke up on less than great terms, and now we are both in relationships with other people and are living our lives completely out of touch. He wasn’t even in my life when I did finally get sober. He wasn’t the one who walked with me through it when it got worse than it had ever been. But telling him was the foundation of the courage I found later in my life to tell someone else. And then someone else. And now it gives me the courage to tell my story to anyone who asks or will listen. All it took was is a little bit of light, infiltrating the darkness.
“Dark cannot drive out dark, only light can do that.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
Please hear this today.
You are not alone.
You are not powerless.
You are worth it.
You need to tell someone.
Trust me when I say, there is a way out. And its found in the light at the end of the tunnel.
It doesn't start all at once, and it won't end all at once. You won't wake up tomorrow and be 100% free of your addiction. But you will wake up. A part of you that has been dying, or that maybe you thought was already dead, will find life. Just let the light in.
You can choose today, maybe for the first time since you can even remember when, to stand in the sun.