After writing my previous blog, The Monster, I felt a very heavy conviction that I needed to take more proactive steps toward healing the residual effects of my addiction and the events that led up to it. Although I have been free of pornography for almost eight years, I still struggle with sin in the same vein and often, when I either feel overwhelmed by those kinds of thoughts and desires or need control in my life, I will cope with my feelings through self harm. Cutting releases the same endorphins and dopamine rush and helps me feel empowered, seems to temporarily relieve stress, and it helps me manage pain in its own weird way.
Don’t worry, my psychiatrist knows, as do a couple close friends and mentors, and the nice fireman who takes my blood pressure everyday in what was one of the more interesting conversations I’ve ever had requiring the explanation that yes, I know, I’m not an emo teenage girl.
For the last year I’ve also been doing weekly trauma counseling to work through some of the events that sort of forged my addictive tendencies. In that I was able to identify some of the causes, make connections to why I feel and act the way I do now, and even work through some forgiveness, and I realized I needed to take responsibility for allowing the monster to grow. While I can point fingers for the first four years of the problem, the following twenty years are on me.
I did start to move forward somewhat about a year ago when I joined a ministry designed to help women like me find freedom, but I found it was too difficult to manage on top of the trauma counseling, and that the focus was too specifically on breaking pornography addiction and, therefore, didn’t exactly target the areas I deal with. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing ministry! The online community is awesome and the resources are life changing).
I now feel like I’ve reached the the point in my trauma counseling that requires taking action now and forward thinking, rather than dwelling on and reliving the past. I picked up where I left off with my online accountability, but still felt like the measures weren’t drastic enough. So one night I just flat out confessed it all – and I mean all – of it to one of my closest friends/accountability partners, even revealed my physical self-induced scars, in the hopes of bringing all the dark corners of my heart and mind into the light. The following night, with no prompting or asking or anything like that, a colleague/friend/mentee mentioned in passing that she was returning from an evening at a Christ-centered recovery group, asked if I had ever heard of it, and without knowing she had, inspired me to do a google search only to find that a church in my town hosted one of the only such groups around. Immediately I set out in my heart that I would go.
All day long I found reasons to put off going to the recovery group, many were perfectly valid and good reasons. I was terrified. I was ashamed. I had been sick all week. I had other things to do. I was still in trauma counseling, maybe I should wait. Most of all I wondered whether I’d be alone in my struggles, whether anyone there could even help me. And I feared greatly I might be recognized as I’m a rather public figure in town.
But I went.
On April 29, 2016, I took what is probably one of the greatest leaps of faith I have ever mustered the courage to take. I attended my very first recovery/support group to celebrate with other people who struggle with every type of addiction that Christ came so we might be free.
To begin, 100+ people like myself sang songs and recited familiar verses, stated out loud the steps of recovery and serenity prayer.We listened to the testimony of a woman I would have never suspected to share my kind of feelings and triggers, and of a man who lost everything because of his addictions and learned of God’s love because a judge gave him a chance at recovery.
It truly was a celebration. Frankly, I was quite overwhelmed – but for different reasons than you might imagine.
I shared a bench with thieves and addicts and felons. I received my Day One coin (pictured) alongside drug dealers, and clapped along with gambling addicts, anorexics, and alcoholics as others walked forward to celebrate their milestone – one month clean, three months sober, six months, one year, two year… nine years! And through the tattoos and scars, I saw tears in many eyes and smiles that were genuine and so pure, pouring out of hearts who know the joy of forgiveness in a special, deep way.
You might be wondering what I was doing in a room like that. (Honestly, I was at first, and I imagine there might have been a few others too). I’ve never been in trouble with the law (in fact, I must hide the fact that I work with the police), I’m well educated, I take care of myself (mostly), I’ve never done drugs and I’ve never had a problem with controlling my alcohol consumption. I didn’t understand half the references made during some of the sessions because it was all references to the department of corrections… I mean, I have a tattoo that’s technically on my neck – but it’s a punctuation mark and it’s hard to see unless you’re at an angle… And, oh yeah, I’m a missionary! I’m in ministry! My life hasn’t been shattered by my struggles, my story doesn’t involve a typical ‘rock bottom.’ And, yes, I’m an addict, but my current issues aren’t really an addiction, more of a habit or coping mechnaism… I really did wonder if I belonged.
But on the other hand, I knew full well that I shared that bench with thieves and addicts and felons because at the end of the day, I’m one of them. I am their fellow broken soul. I’m an addict. I’m a liar. I am the woman caught in adultery. I am a sinner in need of the same grace and same love that Christ pours out on each broken heart in that room, whose sins are no greater or lesser than theirs, whose habits and crimes and shortcomings are nailed to the same cross. And, like so many of them, I am a broken soul who wants restoration, and understands that only Christ can heal wounds so deep.
I felt honored to share the celebration with this strange crowd; this was a time of worshiping God in which there was zero pretense. Not a soul in that room believed they were worthy of anything, and most especially God’s forgiveness. None of them so much as hinted they were not guilty of their addiction or behaviour. Every heart, from what I could see, knew the extent of grace and treasured it in ways I’m not sure I have for a very long time.
After the big crowd broke, I attended a new members ‘class’ and learned more about what the program could offer. At its conclusion, the directors approached me and quite bluntly said they knew that I a.) didn’t just stumble in, but had a plan to be there, and b.) was probably looking for something different from typical alcohol/narcotic addiction recovery. I hesitated at first, but the woman confidently assured me that there was nothing I could say that would surprise her.
I’m not sure why (except maybe God granting me courage), without skipping a beat, without hesitation in my voice, and with barely a tear in my eye, I told her everything – the Bipolar, the PTSD, trauma recovery, my struggles with anger and depression and suicidality, addictive tendencies in sexual sin and pornography, coping through self harm, and that I want to live a life pleasing to God in every way.
The words “you’re in the right place” actually seemed reassuring, and I found myself on the way home and as I stared at my ceiling before falling asleep determined and full of hope that my life is about to change radically.
I ask you (my readers and followers) to keep me in your prayers as I work through these very personal and deep and even scary issues. I don’t know that the fear and scariness is going to go away anytime soon as I continue each Friday. But I do know that the smallest step of obedience is far better than the greatest of intentions (CS Lewis?)…. and this tiny little step has big ramifications.
My heart feels glad and excited. It’s time to celebrate.
Update: On July 29, I celebrated 90 Days with CR
On August 5, I celebrated Eight YEARS free from Pornography Addiction!