For many years, Dennis lived in two worlds: one that everyone knew about and one that no one but himself did.
“In recovery, we talk about having two words until we get discovered and then those words come crashing together,” Dennis said. “My wife discovered my addiction this past August and I owned up to it. It was, of course, devastating for her and our marriage of 42 years.”
Dennis’s habit of masturbation started when he was 12 or 13 from the newspapers and magazines he was reading at the time. He was also painfully shy when he was younger, which he believes affected how he related to girls growing up.
“I grew up in the 60s and 70s with the sexual revolution. I came from a very Catholic family, attending Catholic school from first through 12th grade. I moved out of the house and after a couple of years into college, I stopped going to church, stopped practicing my faith, increased my abuse of alcohol, and lived a selfish, superficial, immoral lifestyle.”
After he graduated he moved to a small college town, enabling him to continue this lifestyle.
“I moved to a university town working in sales and continued the womanizing, the alcohol abuse, and living that lifestyle,” Dennis shared.
He eventually met a Catholic woman and began attending Mass with her. They eventually got married, though Dennis’s masturbation habits continued. Although his wife had suspicions, he for the most part kept his addiction a secret.
This went on for decades. He was triggered by women he saw throughout the day or “euphoric” memories from his sexual past. He sought forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation from time to time but continued to struggle on his own in secret.
“My wife and I are both practicing Catholics,” Dennis said. “I had been going to confession and trying to curb my masturbation habit for years. I would go but two or three weeks later I would fall again.”
In the five years before he retired he gained access to an unsupervised computer for the first time in his career. It was then that he began looking at online pornography. Once he retired, it became easier for him to view pornography on his home computer and this increased over time.
After his wife’s discovery, he immediately went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He began recovery by getting involved in a Catholic organization called Integrity Restored for men struggling with sexual sins.
“After my wife’s discovery, I went to confession and started with Integrity Restored. I also began reading Dr. Peter Keponis’s and Dr. Kevin Skinner’s books on pornography addiction. From these resources, I learned the need for a three-pillar approach to recovery. These pillars are therapy with a qualified sex addiction therapist, spiritual direction and increased spiritual activity, and a men’s 12-step recovery group. I began meeting with a Catholic priest for weekly spiritual direction and attending the Catholic in Recovery General Recovery meeting on Mondays and the Catholic in Recovery Men’s Lust Addiction Recovery meeting on Wednesdays and Fridays,” Dennis said.
Dennis made it very clear that to be successful in recovery from lust, masturbation, and pornography one needs to adopt these three major pillars.
“A lot of people will do just one or maybe two of the pillars and, often, that isn’t enough,” Dennis said.
These three pillars entail a number of concrete actions. Dennis attends daily Mass, receives spiritual direction once a week, works the Twelve Steps with a sponsor, attends three Catholic in Recovery meetings each week, receives virtual therapy from Dr. Keponis once a week, relies on a program called Covenant Eyes on his phone to guard against temptation, and has an accountability partner. He has adopted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to his lustful thoughts and behaviors.
“I just don’t take that first step. As soon as I see an attractive woman or have a lustful thought I now immediately say some Hail Marys,” Dennis said.
His commitment has paid off, and he hasn’t acted out with masturbation or pornography since starting his recovery over ten months ago. But his journey has not been easy.
“The painful issue for me is the betrayal trauma that my wife is going through,” Dennis said. “It has been very difficult. In my Catholic in Recovery men’s lust groups, there are others going through that as well with their spouses.”
Yet, being in the company of other men who understand his struggle with lustful temptations and the pain of betraying a spouse has given him the strength to continue recovery.
“In my Catholic in Recovery groups, I’m meeting with like-addicted people who are going through what I am. I can share my issues, concerns, difficulties, and problems and these meetings are very helpful in my recovery,” Dennis shared. “As the Serenity Prayer tells us, they help me accept ‘hardship as a pathway to peace.’ Life at home and seeing my wife’s pain is very hard but I take it one day at a time. I’m with people who are going through similar situations at Catholic in Recovery meetings and it gives me encouragement to get through each day. It helps remind me that my recovery isn’t a destination but a lifetime journey.”