Recently, I have been reflecting on how my addiction to pornography began in the first place. This took me back to a dark place in my life during college, when I had broken up with who I thought was the love of my life, which left me directionless and unstable. I had no passion for what I was majoring in and no idea what I would do otherwise.
Further, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering silently with OCD, which has caused me a great deal of shame and despair. With all of this swirling around, I felt very depressed and hopeless, quite frankly. I certainly didn’t know how to ask for help. Pornography was a reflex-like response to my dismal situation.
Throughout my pornography usage, I have been known to become so obsessive that I abused my sleep patterns—even after I swore that I would stop. Sometimes, I would stay up all night binge-watching porn. One of my lowest points was staying up all night on Holy Saturday, falling asleep at 5am, and then waking up just in time for the last Easter Sunday Mass in the area.
There’s a certain irony in that one of my lowest moments occurred during the most important day in the Church’s life. Even though I didn’t put my sin to rest, I certainly knew that the Resurrection would be my source of redemption.
However, in my reflection, I have learned not to get too down on myself. Yes, even as selfish and pathetic as some of my actions have been, there can still be beauty found in them. That’s a unique caveat of Catholic morality—evil isn’t considered a thing in and of itself, but a lack of a thing. It’s a lack of goodness. So, even contained within an immoral act can be a distorted aspect of the good. This moral distinction has implications for our own lives.
For me, going back to when my addiction first started, I was completely heart broken by my ex-girlfriend. It has taken me a couple years to recover from the breakup. Pornography has been a substitute for relationship. The truth is, porn isn’t going to reject you.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, the pioneer in developing sex addiction recovery, defines sexual addictions as a courtship disorder. He believes that addiction starts because of a failure to bond with another person (or persons) correctly. Almost always, the pain goes way beyond sexual relationships. Categorizing different types of sexual deviance according to different characteristics, he has been able to decode not only why someone might be acting out in a certain way, but how one might work to improve that area of one’s life. I believe this perspective is reflective of the Catholic perspective on evil.
Finding our Strengths Through Misery
Building off of this, I reflected on the fact that I had been willing to spend a whole night looking at pornography. Why did I do this? How could I do that? Is there anything heroic in me that I would be willing to sacrifice my sleep for a noble cause?
I have come to realize that I have in fact stayed up all night for a good cause. Shortly after I broke up with my girlfriend, we remained in an awkward state where we were working together in campus ministry. I still wanted to be with her and I was convinced that she secretly did, too. I was always trying to put myself in situations where the magic might start up again.
One night, she got drunk at a party that I was at. I carried her back to her room, laid her on her side, and sat on the ground beside her, making sure that I was there in case she needed to throw up (to prevent any possible suffocation). I stayed up all night to be with her.
It may have been a bit excessive, but it was my first time caring for a drunk person and I didn’t know what I was doing. This loving action didn’t make us get back together—in fact, it was emotionally painful not to get the care reciprocated. I just did it because I cared about her.
Reflecting about this story brought me to tears. It made me realize how big of a heart I have and what I am willing to do for the people whom I love. From this standpoint, it’s much easier for me to look at the silly things that I’ve done in my addiction as a substitute for bonding with other people. It doesn’t make it right, but it makes it easier to have faith in our goodness. Truly, two sides of the same coin.
The thing is, if we don’t have something noble to really give our hearts to we sink into baseline, selfish, hedonistic patterns of behavior. Let’s face it—our addictions give us what we want, when we want it. And the ecstasy that we experience temporarily through them brushes up against our deepest human passions and longings. When we uncover our infinite capacity to be loved by God, we can begin to step into the people we are called to be. We can transform our passion that we have for our addiction to serve and love others!
What are the craziest things that you have done in your addiction? What are some of the best things that you have done for others? Do you see any correlation between the two things? And how can you transform your understanding of yourself in order to help your recovery?
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.