Life, Culture

I'm that Christian Guy Healing from Porn 

Tears were already in my eyes as the gray New York City subway doors slammed to a close.

I felt so weak, filled with such a self-hatred and despair at the same time—familiar sensations when I’d fallen so many times in the years before.

Then I heard God’s voice in my heart, and it almost brought me to my knees.

“You’re killing my daughters.”

And, uncontrollably, I wept.

I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a poster child for pornography consumption. Maybe that’s the point.

Growing up, I always thought that porn meant single, unfulfilled bachelors in their parents’ basements, shades drawn, wearing pizza-stained t-shirts, lusting after images of women they’d never meet, let alone have that kind of interaction with. 

I didn’t picture well-adjusted, middle-class sons of faithful Catholic families. 

And so, just as it has for millions of men and women, porn crept silently and stealthily into my life.

When I speak to men and women with this struggle, they all remember the first time they were exposed to porn. I’m no different. 

Middle school sleepover at a friend’s house. HBO after midnight. No parental supervision on the TV in his room.

But I do remember knowing, from the first moment I saw it, that the way those women were being treated wasn’t okay. 

I turned away and asked the friend to shut the TV off; I told him I didn’t want to see it. But he left it on, and for some reason I couldn’t help glancing back over my shoulder as I lay facing away. 

I left in the morning feeling unlike myself, unable to get free of those pictures I’d seen. I was a legalistic kid when it came to morality, and I knew it was wrong.

But something about those women and the experience of seeing that kind expression of the body for the first time just wouldn’t leave my mind.

So, over the course of years, the curiosity grew—as did my battle with identity, with self-confidence, body image…you name it. And with that curiosity, the nature of my internet searches started to change.

That’s where my battle truly started: knowing what I was doing was wrong, but having such a low image of myself that I didn’t think I was worth any more than the blue-light affection of a computer screen. 

I had plenty of people around me who loved me, amazing parents and siblings who I cared about despite all our silly squabbles. Nothing was lacking in my life, except the direction of my desires.

Porn was the escape, because it was one of the few places I could forget, even temporarily, what I thought I was missing out on.

These women on the screen never seemed to reject me. They even seemed to want me, to encourage me to return when I was feeling low.

The devil knew he couldn’t get rid of my moralistic mind, so he slowly but surely led me down the rabbit hole until there were days when I found myself searching things that lacked even the perception of innocence. The earlier images just didn’t give me the same feeling of acceptance any more. I needed something new.

In fact, it seemed to accelerate as I went on into college. I was actually adjusting well to classes, to groups of friends, to the campus culture.

But porn didn’t go away.

I started to realize I was no longer in control, and that this wasn’t simply about being “dissatisfied” with my popularity or athletic ability.

Maybe I’d never been in control.

All this had been doing something dark to my heart, something much more sinister than I’d realized. While I was saving my body for marriage, I’d been giving my heart away for years to women who existed only to me as pixels.

I couldn’t bring myself to admit I was trapped. After all, I was in a college dorm room, not a beat-up armchair with the lights off in the basement.

That couldn’t be me.

I’d even been going to confession fairly often when I fell, though not every time. Sometimes, I just couldn’t bear to sit down in front of the priest yet again to admit I’d done the same thing today that I’d been forgiven for yesterday. 

I even started to distrust confession at times, wondering why the sacrament wasn’t somehow magically freeing me of this chain. One of the worst days was realizing I wasn’t free in part because, well, I didn’t want to be.

Sometimes, the digital was preferable to the risk of real relationships.

As C. S. Lewis put it, over the years I had come to “love the prison” of “shadowy brides,” among whom I was “always adored, always the perfect lover,” with “no demand made on [my] unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on [my] vanity.”

The fear of being rejected by women again, as I had been in high school and the years before, had a vice grip on the freedom of my heart. While my external personal life blossomed and flourished, my heart was being torn apart.

And I didn’t even realize how devastating the effects would be for my ability to love going forward. 

Leaving college, my faith itself began a true conversion as I signed on to be a full-time missionary, and it was that summer when I truly fell in love with the person of God, understanding and experiencing daily relationship with Him.

The impurity of heart, though, didn’t just leave.

I had an implicit belief that things like missionary life or marriage would be silver bullets for any sort of sexual transgression. “Sign the contract or put on the ring, and this will all just go away. Love, God.”

I didn’t realize how much the years of porn, which had slowly increased both in their habitualness and extremity, had worn down my capacity to truly give of myself. 

I’d confided in priests, friends, and mentors. I’d gone to every “overcoming addiction” testimony at conferences, listened to every CD on the “Five Steps to Overcome Porn.” I joined a prayer group specifically aimed at encouraging purity; I started some semi-regular prayer to overcome temptation.

At one point, I put accountability software on my laptop. I even managed a few stretches where I’d go months without sinning in that way, and I realized how differently I saw everything. 

So why wasn’t I free?

Then I had an experience that never let me see my battle the same way again.

I’d just returned from leading a mission trip abroad, and in my exhaustion and significant illness, I let my defenses drop again. I fell right back into the sin, breaking a significant stretch of purity. 

In an attempt to fight back and not let myself fall prey to the despair the devil so often visited upon me, I went on Facebook to ask a couple guys for prayers.

There, at the top of my feed, were posts about the death of a young woman who seemed to be dear to so many of my faithful Catholic friends. She was faithful and beloved by many, yet it seemed that a debilitating mental illness caused her to take her own life.

And I felt responsible.

Not because I had somehow directly caused the sad circumstances, or her illness, as I’d never met her before. But because I realized in a new way His daughters were hurting, and my surrender to pornography was fueling that fire. 

I stumbled outside to the A-C-E train near my apartment to head up to midtown Manhattan, feeling sick and dizzy—now no longer ill from the trip abroad but from my own feelings of disgust.

That’s how I found myself sobbing deeply in a very public NYC train car, near falling to my knees to beg the Lord’s forgiveness.

I went to confession at St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street, and I spent hours in the adoration chapel writing a reflection on beauty in the hope that I’d finally change my ways and let the Lord heal me. 

I wish I could say that was the moment I changed for good, and that from then on I never fell again. But what He did teach me then was that none of my emotions, despair, or self-hatred would help me overcome this sin.

It was only going to be His Mercy acting in my faithfulness

Starting then, I had my longest stretch of purity at the time, extending through the summer. But when my memory of that encounter with the Lord and zeal faded over time, and after a fresh rejection, I returned to that old sin.

I’d made so many excuses over the last decade. First, I told myself that I wasn’t dominated by this sin. Then it was, “Every time I date a woman, I stop falling into porn,” because, well, that was my experience. While I was dating women for any period of time, I was able to overcome temptations pretty much altogether. 

But that behavior often stemmed from the shame I knew I’d feel if I fell while in a relationship. I was exchanging a sexual sin for a sin of pride like a kid with trading cards. 

But even when I began to admit I was owned and shackled, whenever I experienced the end of a relationship, I returned to porn to cope.

I didn’t realize the depths of self-hatred growing inside me, or even the distrust of God that my own habits were creating.

It’s hard to express the absolute depths of shame and embarrassment this long battle with pornography can bring a person to, but maybe you can relate.

There were some days I couldn’t look in the mirror. Days I cancelled plans with friends because I didn’t feel worthy to be around them. Sometimes I so desired to feel innocent again, and forget all I’d seen, but I couldn’t forgive myself.

This doesn’t mean that life was always miserable, or that pornography was all I thought about day in and day out. That’s certainly not the case. The joy of my faith and relationships were, more often than not, strong and meaningful.

The challenge was often the fact that I was allowing my heart to be broken in this sin time and time again, then making excuses for not addressing the problem by looking at how much I was growing elsewhere. 

I’d always expected to find my way out of porn in some intense spiritual experience like the one I mentioned above—that God would come down with angels and lock me up with a chastity belt (a la Robin Hood, Men in Tights) if I prayed enough. 

Basically, I just wanted it to “go away." 

But, as deep and unearned as the Lord’s mercy is, He still wanted me to participate in the action He would take in my life to heal me.

As my prayer life and desire for the sacraments grew, so did my desire to overcome this sin in my life. When I fell, I was gradually able to recognize that the Lord’s mercy and love for me remained.

I no longer hated myself in the same way, by the grace of His gifts in the Christian life I was living. But the sin itself hadn’t stopped.

Then came two moments that crystallized what I truly needed to do to overcome this years-long battle.

A fellow missionary’s testimony, in which he detailed his own recovery from this sin, helped me realize that what was lacking was not God’s action but mine.

He referenced St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Hebrews, where Paul challenges his listeners to recognize that “in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (12:4).

That was me. I’d gone to the talks and joined the prayer groups, but I never truly committed to eliminating the root of the sin itself—and, more appropriately, to allowing Him to remove it.

Second, a priest reminded me during confession that, every time we confess our sins with good intention, we are given the grace to never commit them again.

It finally hit me: I’d never really and truly committed to the accountability, prayer, and fasting necessary to win in the battle for my own heart and soul.

I’d made weak efforts, applied temporary patches. If I had accountability software, the “accountability” was with someone far away who never really had the time to call me out on the sins I was committing. Eventually I stopped caring what they saw on my history.

I prayed only sporadically for deliverance, fasted only occasionally for chastity. Rarely did I let God show me how much He Loves me.

What the Lord revealed through these two encounters, and in small moments throughout my entire struggle, was that this battle would not be won by external reminders, dating relationships, or even my own good intentions. 

It was going to take all of me, all of my commitment—out of Love for the Lord and for myself.

I finally committed to an accountability partner, someone who would not only know if and when I fell, but who would come right to me and challenge me to do better.

I began fasting regularly for my future spouse, my chastity, and my general holiness.

And He has blessed these actions I’ve taken with the help of His grace. I see now how our “yes” to God in overcoming this kind of sexual sin is really about opening the doors of our heart to the grace necessary for healing—about knowing who we are, and whose we are.

It is not our actions themselves that will heal us, not all the accountability in the world, but how He blesses His sons and daughters who choose to resist until they shed blood, as He did on the cross—until we recognize that we are too weak to fix our brokenness alone, and let ourselves be lifted into His loving arms. 

Our relationship with Him in prayer and our reception of the sacraments, through which we receive His grace, are vital to healing.

God is asking us to choose: To choose to change everything we have to in order to resist, in order to win the battles we face. 

To choose to accept our God-given identity as a beloved son or daughter.

To believe again that I am worthy of love, to allow myself to be loved as a child. To receive His Love as a child receives love from his parents.

And so, even so far removed from this sin, I humbly have to admit that I am still in the process of healing and recognizing what porn has done to me: how it had shrunk my heart, rewired my brain, made me selfish. 

Today, I see and love the people around me on a different level. 

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8, Jesus says, “Nothing is hidden that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.”

I’d much rather be working to bring this battle to the light, that the Lord might be able to work more freely in my heart, and the hearts of those around me, so that we may all find freedom in the light that our hearts are made for—so much more than pixels and temporary fixes.

I am no longer under that domination, because every morning, every day, I strive to allow God to remind me that I am His son, and that no insecurity or weakness can erase that core identity. And I’m seeing everyone, and everything, with new eyes. 

It’s not that I think I could never fall again: Were I to go back to relying solely on my own efforts, there’s a great chance I would.

I do know, though, that leaning on Him more and more daily is making me a better man, and the kind who is more easily able to choose the beauty of waiting for fulfillment in my desires on His time, in His way.

The massive and gratuitous healing I’ve experienced in this journey already is testament to that, as I’ve been free from that sin for longer than I’d believed possible in the past. 

The temptations are easier and easier to say “no” to, because my heart is growing in its capacity for authentic love every day with every “yes” to God.

I still wrestle with late-night loneliness, or frustration with my lack of a spouse or children at this point in my twenties. Sometimes I don’t suffer joyfully. 

Sometimes it feels like all the suffering I would have experienced without the pornography to distract me is being poured on me all at once, and I fall at Jesus’ feet simply to tell Him I’m hurting and can’t handle this.

But now I live in a hope based on knowing that I am finally willing to bleed for Him, willing to choose the more challenging path for the sake of the Love I am made for—not by my own ability, but by His Grace in the sacrifices He asks me to make for Him, in every moment from here forward, that I might have joy.

And my joy might be complete.