*written anonymously. names and identifiers removed to protect identity.

A Snapshot.

I hope that sharing my story will help others to take a sincere and honest look at their current and lifetime use (or their partner’s use) of porn and the potential lies and destruction it can have on the user and on their relationships if not used in a healthy way. Dr. Juliana Morris has embarked on a courageous path to show partners, spouses, parents and family members how to take a sensitive and sometimes “private” topic and safely and honestly discuss the good and the bad.

Dr. Juliana Morris asked that I share a short snapshot of my personal “coming to terms” story with my porn use and my ultimate commitment to recovery.  

It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family has left the house – I am all alone – finally.  This is my trigger to indulge myself in a little treat of pornography.  I keep one eye on the images and one looking out the window to be sure no one is coming inside the house.  I draw the blinds so no one can see what is on my screen.  When I have 15 to 30 minutes, I sit down to peruse the “Latest scenes” “Updates” “Up Coming” “Top Rated” and absorb the images and videos.  If someone dared to come home early I would scramble to close my computer and hide the evidence and rush down to greet them – heart pounding, breathing as if I had run a 100-yard dash – then the lies, the anger, the annoyance and, if caught, the denial the blaming and the rage. 

I get furious if my spouse so much as “dares to even infer” that I am looking at porn. I go to great lengths to put it off on her. She’s paranoid. She’s crazy. She’s distrusting.  And if that doesn’t work, I blow up to make her get away from me.

I used if I was alone in the house. I convinced myself that looking at porn gave me some power over my procrastination. I convinced myself that by getting a “dose” to take away the anxiety, I’d get some of my best work done. I used after I got in a fight with my spouse. I used porn to reward myself for something great – or to “even the score” if my wife did something for herself. I used porn if I didn’t have much alone time and needed something ‘for me’. I used porn if my sex life was great. I used porn if my sex life was bad.  I used porn if I felt bored or excited. I used porn if a movie made me aroused. I used porn if I saw a pretty woman. I used anything for an excuse and reason for looking at porn.

This goes on for years. Same cycle. Same behaviors.  Except always a little worse especially in my horrible reactions to my wife who cared for me.

Soon I become incredibly proficient at hiding the evidence of my porn use – I’d buy secret browsers, private or use incognito settings, I’d clear my history, or even use a completely different browser – one that my spouse has never heard of.  I’d learn how to “hide files” and stash my growing collection of videos on my hard drive. 

At first I visited the free porn sites and found myself excited when a new one appeared on the Internet.  Sometimes I fell for the flashy ads and joined a few “pay sites” to feel like a “member” with exclusive content.  It wasn’t though.  Sometimes I’d run across the same videos that were on my pay-site on free sites.  I felt stupid at first but the addict in me told me that it was ok.  The truth would hit me but then my addiction would override it…. “You are just a normal guy with an over-active sex drive – right?” I would tell myself that my porn use was helpful to my relationship because it either kept me occupied if she wasn’t interested in sex with me or it gave me new ideas to try with her.  I also told myself that it raised my skill level too. I convinced myself that this was all attractive to my spouse. And when that turned out not to be true, I turned it on her – shouldn’t  it be attractive to her? Shouldn’t she appreciate it?   Seriously – How fucked up is that?  How fucked up is she?  

After years of porn use (probably 25 years that it was truly a problem) and numerous times at being caught by my spouse – so numerous that it may have reached triple digits – I soon began feeling overwhelming shame.  I began to notice that she was suffering from the pain, uncertainty, and distance caused by my habit.  I felt guilty about what I was doing and I wanted to stop. But when I failed – when I slipped and broke my promise – it wasn’t so much guilt that I felt for not living up to my promises to myself and to my spouse, it was the shame that had the greatest power over me.  I started to believe that I was a horrible person I began believing that I was a despicable, perverted sick, person for not having the control to “just stop”.   When my wife would plead to me “Why can’t you just stop?”  “Why won’t you do it for your family? For yourself? For ________ you fill in the blank?”  When it became clear she would leave me if I didn’t get help, I was motivated but still manipulating the situation.  And I was consumed by shame. It was still all about me.  I wasn’t ready yet to feel guilt about her.  When I had consequences from my addictive behaviors, I felt sorry for myself and only after hours to seeing her crying and hearing her pain, did I get to the place of feeling guilt for her and pain about what my behavior was doing to others. I was still mad that my behavior gave me consequences. When the shame got too much and the guilt hit me, I would go back to use or go to anger.  Anything but accountability.

One day I watched a TedTalk by Brené Brown explaining difference between guilt and shame.  Guilt says, “I didn’t live up to my own expectations and I need to do better.” It’s actually not an inherently bad thing. I slipped at my promise to stop looking at porn, and I’m never going to let that happen again.

Shame, on the other hand, says “I didn’t live up to my expectations, and that makes be a bad person.” Guilt is what I do, Shame is who I am.

The cycle began – I am a sick, despicable person, and if I was a sick, despicable person, I couldn’t expect to behave any differently. Every time I gave in to my addiction, it reinforced this concept and soon pushed me deeper and deeper into my use of porn.

Soon, when the pain of that shame became unbearable, my addiction sadistically turned this around and pointed the finger at whomever or whatever it could to “justify” the “slip” – the most frequent victim would be my wife.  My addictive brain said: “This shame and pain you are feeling is all because of HER distorted and conservative view of porn, she should let you have your indulgences – you deserve it”. I bought it, I deserve to go indulge myself for a generous dose of “my” porn . . . until I came to my senses and realized that I have crushed – no eviscerated – this person I love.

I needed help.  But where do I go?  How do I tell my workplace that I need to go to a rehab outside my area because nothing near me specialized in porn addiction?  How do I tell my extended family what I’m going through? My friends?  This shaming fear didn’t motivate me to get help, it made me want to run away from it and lie about the extent of the problem. And that led me to more porn use and more blame towards others. More excuses. And more stress. The cycle continued.

The Power of Denial.

I cannot express enough how powerful denial is. “I am not an addict.”  “I can handle this on my own.” “This is normal. Everyone is lying about his or her use.” “I don’t look at it for hours.” “I took that on line test and it just said I should consider my porn use as problematic.”

I did not have the “escalation” that I read about when looking at the lists of “signs” I was still looking at the same heterosexual man-on-woman scenes that I did for as long as I could remember.  I did not find myself looking at more and more graphic or “different” or deviant images or movies. I didn’t look for longer and longer periods of time.  My taste did not change – so I must NOT be addicted!

I haven’t lost my job because of it. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t lost thousands….I haven’t. I haven’t. I haven’t.

I bargained with myself to limit my porn use to once a week. I told my spouse that I would quit all together but that was ridiculous.  That lasted about four months on my best “white knuckling” period.  Pretty soon I was right back in the throes of vising the sites without trying to limit myself.  In some weeks I’d indulge up to 4 or 5 times.

I would get up in the middle of the night to look at sites and one time disturbed my wife when I got up. She walked into the bathroom and caught me on the toilet, underwear at my ankles scrolling through porn like it was Facebook.  It was a humiliating moment for us both.  I couldn’t accept the shame so I turned it around on her.  She’s so fucking ridiculous I HAVE to get up in the middle of the night to look at it. If SHE was normal, I could look at it at convenient times.

It is amazing how many times I got caught and I would believe my own story to her that “it must have been one of our teenagers using my computer” or “I swear that it is a virus and it just pops up on my screen” or “I clicked on an innocent link in my email and it popped up and I tried to close it” (after I followed several other links). I was standing there EVERY time . . . I was caught making up a story and all the while my spouse was looking at me with layers of shit all over me, smelling of a putrid, foul and gagging smell and all the while I was believing that I could convince her that I smelled like perfume.  Or if she could not be convinced – well then it was her fault, or something was wrong with her.

I perfected my addiction to the point that I didn’t ‘need’ to look for long at porn to get a fix, a high. I could get it within minutes.  I didn’t need to masturbate to it. I just needed to look at it. A few minutes would work. I thought that I wasn’t addicted or at the least I thought it meant I was getting better.  I didn’t know it meant my addiction was getting worse.

The Losses.

Oh, I wish I didn’t have this addiction. It is torture.  It is embarrassing. It has cost me so much.  I’ve lost friendships, respect, work productivity, and most of all the love and respect from my spouse and somewhat from my kids. It has taken a long time to realize the losses were more than due to “just” the porn. It was also because of the lengths I’d go to protect my porn use and my reaction to it.  At the least, my preoccupation kept me distant, at the worst my anger made me violent.  In between all of that is my inability to be intimate emotionally, made me look and treat women as objects (which my wife and children witnessed) and kept a constant states of chaos in my home.  I misused porn since I was a teenager and didn’t learn coping skills that most did – like stress relief and problem solving, and honesty. My addiction robbed me of friendships.  It gave me a false sense of protection.  It distorted what a good relationship should be.  I viewed women as objects to serve me.  The images of women in the videos and photos were not real!  I convinced myself that I was not hurting anyone by looking at porn.  Lie!  They are human beings, daughters and sons of mothers and fathers all with feelings, needing to be loved and needing to share love. 

I believed the lie that I was “deserving” of using people for whatever I could get from them, whether it was stealing a lingering glance at a beautiful woman or taking advantage of people when it served me in whatever context.  They were people to be used not people to be loved.

Eventually I became the stereotypical addict that would have triggered an alert on those on-line quizzes.  I broke every one of my rules. I progressed in what I looked at I got riskier and riskier with my behaviors. I cheated with hookers, I chatted on-line with random women. I made stupid mistakes like giving them my name and cell number. I gave personal information to these women on line. I hid money and I spent thousands.  

The Secret.

I was too embarrassed to admit I looked at porn much less admit that I “thought” I had a problem with it. My wife talked about it with me when we were dating and I would lie about my history and was shocked she admitted to some use. I wanted to tell her but since I had already lied about it I didn’t know how to go back and tell more of the truth.  I vaguely remember some conversations among my guy friends about their frequency of porn viewing in my late 20’s.  Not one of them admitted to viewing porn more than once or twice a year.  I believed them – even though statistically that was most likely improbable.  How could I admit to viewing porn 2 to 3 times a week? Or . . . How could I admit to them I’ve had spans of weeks that I viewed porn almost daily?  No one was talking about it and I wasn’t about to be the first one.  

The Why.

I hate I have this addiction – this particular addiction. I wish it were alcohol. Or maybe even drugs . . . but porn or sex addiction is just perverted.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve asked why I have this addiction.  Why this? Why me?  I can go back to my parents, to my father. I can look at genetics and role modeling. I see the holes in my self-esteem. I remember the pain of rejection from women growing up. I can remember the pain of my personal failings and not knowing how to seek fulfillment that lasted.  The only consistent things in my life have been avoidance, bullshitting and porn.  It feels pitiful writing this but it is the truth.  In the end, I don’t know why.  

The Stigma.

A recovering alcoholic is accepted in society but a recovering porn addict is not. Not yet. The stigma buried me deeper in my pain and caused me to want to grasp on to any logical piece of bullshit I could muster to convince myself that I was an addict. I struggled a hidden struggle – one to this day I have difficulty admitting to anyone in my life.  To admit to that would mean that you have to face the fact that others will instantly judge you and slap a few more unjustified labels on you – pervert, child molester, sleaze ball, untrustworthy, even dangerous.  My low self-worth, having been a principal, driving force in my addiction, is now in danger of adopting those labels. I struggle with the fear that I may start to believe that I am one or more of those labels.  

The Recovery.

Conversely, this very stigma may actually be the thing that makes being in a recovery group (like Sexaholics Anonymous) such a powerful and indispensable part of my recovery.  When I realized that the people in your group are suffering with the same or similar struggles, and are, nevertheless, equally loving, and caring and responsible and trustworthy in all other areas of their lives, it opens up the door for healing and recovery.  The level of trust in my group is boundless.  There is NO judgment. That is such a powerful environment to face my fears and tackle them head-on.  I would not be in recovery but for this group. I go to meetings multiple times a week, talk to my sponsor almost daily and sometimes multiple times a day if I am feeling triggered.  I also seek and read literature about recovery. I’ve been working on learning the natural coping skills I should have learned growing up.

I have to admit, recovery isn’t easy and facing the consequences of my actions make me want to dive back into my “comfort zone”, but I am trying to work on this huge hole in my life while maintaining my work, trying to repair damage with my ex wife and children and trying to find what joy looks like in my new normal is most important.  Many won’t feel sorry for me but it isn’t easy and that difficulty makes recovery even harder. It is a daily struggle.

My Hope.

It is hard to write this even anonymously.  I hate facing the truth even after all this time. My hope, though, is that my story can help put a ‘normal’ face to porn addiction and that it can help reduce the stigma surrounding it so people like me can get help.  I hope that if someone reads this story and sees a little bit of him or herself that they won’t feel alone.  I hope if someone reads this story and this sounds like their spouse or child that they will have the courage to start a dialogue and if necessary, seek help and support.  Addicts need help, their spouses need help and their children need help.

My hope is that porn addiction no longer is seen as the ‘bad addiction’ and that more SA meetings are formed throughout our country and more treatment centers are formed in rural and urban areas so more can be helped.  

My hope for myself is that I can not only be free from the torment of fighting addiction daily but that I can become a man who is thriving in recovery and enjoying emotionally intimate and healthy relationships with friends, my children and ex wife and future romantic relationships.