“Same dances in the same old shoes
Some habits that you just can’t lose
There’s no telling what a man might use
After the thrill is gone”
– The Eagles
A few months ago, I was going back and forth in a text conversation with a friend from my home 12-step group. Though I haven’t seen him in a few years, we reach out to each other every once in a while. We both shared that we were struggling with acting out. As the conversation continued, he admitted how hopeless he feels about recovery. He felt a sense of dismay when he reflected on his continual struggle with pornography despite the drastic efforts he has made to get sober.
I was a bit shocked and disturbed by this. My friend is someone I deeply admire. He is actually one of the people who convinced me to go to inpatient rehab because he had been there himself. I believe that he’s an extremely strong human being and he has been influential in my own recovery. And to hear that he felt hopeless was a shot to my gut. It’s not that I’m disappointed but I’m surprised and a bit hurt because of my admiration for him.
This got me thinking. What do I believe in, despite my continual failures, that keeps me striving to rid myself of my pornography usage? Why do I have hope?
After the Thrill is Gone
I can remember the feeling of first coming to 12-step meetings. It was something very novel to me and I was definitely nervous. But I loved the vulnerability of the meetings. I think I was blessed at my home meeting I attended faithfully for about a year and a half—quite frankly, I still haven’t found a group quite like it. Perhaps this is because I entered with a blank slate and didn’t know any better. But I’ve attended meetings in four different states and about a dozen different cities and no meeting has compared to my home one.
I can vividly remember a certain “magic” in the air when I first attended meetings. I had a sense that God was moving in my life. I looked forward to coming to each meeting. It felt like a family, with each person playing an important role. We constantly had to get more chairs because the room was full.
People would show up out of the woodwork who hadn’t been to meetings in forever and it was like I was getting to meet old war heroes that everyone talked about. The stories were absolutely riveting. I was actually excited about doing the homework of trying to understand my trauma. Working the steps and meeting with my sponsor affirmed that I was heading somewhere positive. Sitting here typing these words, I do honestly wish that I could go back to that point in time.
But, truth be told, I’m not in the stage I was in when I was a “newbie.” As The Eagles song goes, “the thrill is gone.” I’ve been going to meetings for four years now and I’ve grown a lot. But that first-time excitement is gone. And yet, I’m still trying to get sober. I don’t mean to say this in a negative way. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship or has done something such as become Catholic knows what I’m talking about—the initial zeal or wanderlust has rubbed off. So, now what?
A Reason for Hope
My pre-12-step approach to recovery largely included going to confession weekly and trying to stay sober. I remember falling and once writing a letter to myself, sharing my heart and disappointment in myself. I was totally alone in my efforts. I hunkered down in my own little world.
In some ways, I didn’t know how to face my struggles—I felt like such a hypocrite calling myself a Catholic while engaging in sinful behavior. But my greatest sin wasn’t lust—it was pride. My struggle with pornography has humbled me to the point that I have realized I’m really no different than anyone else. I share the same struggles.
During the years prior to my entrance into the program, I not only had a very poor image of myself but a very poor view of my sexuality as well. And it wasn’t long before I started acting out with pornography that I was trying to suppress my sexuality altogether. But the Twelve Steps and therapy have helped me see my sexuality as inherently good, from God, and something to be expressed in a healthy way.
I reflect on this past version of myself with a sense of optimism and an awareness of just how naive I was. That 22-year-old guy had no clue about the community found in 12-step groups. No idea about the relationships he would form and the stories he would hear. No idea about the therapists he would see that specialize in sexual addiction. No idea about all the hard work he would put in to understand himself. No idea about the experience and blessing of inpatient rehab. No idea about EMDR therapy. No idea about healing found through Heart of the Father Ministries. No idea that things would get better between me and my dad. No idea about all the positive experiences outside of recovery that have formed me in a positive way.
In my gut, I feel that to give up on the hope that is found through Jesus Christ would be silly. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who has had a straight path to sobriety—nearly every story I’ve heard or read about includes struggles and challenges. Life, as the analogy goes, opens up to us more and more as we take steps forward.
Though I will spend my whole life trying to understand and embrace being a son of the Father, I can say that I have come a long way. To give up on my fight against pornography would be to give up on Jesus’s endless love, my own efforts and personal goals, the people who have contributed to my recovery, and everything that is bound to unfold in the future. But with Christ, who knows what is just around the bend?
Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.