“You are more broken than you think.” Words to haunt me. Those words were spoken to me by my therapist, and, of course, I know they are true, no matter how hard I may find it to own up to that fact and admit its truth. It’s one thing to objectively assent to the truth of something. If he says it, I could even find myself agreeing quite easily. But do I really believe it? Do I believe it in the way that it can actually change the way I think, change the way I live? Can I, in other words, not just agree that I am really, truly, completely, broken, but accept that I am really broken, truly messed up and out of control?
It’s hard to do that. Outwardly, most people would say that I am quite successful. I have a wonderful family, a good home, a good job where people respect and praise the work I do. I would say it is going fairly well financially. I am healthy. In short, to most people, it would seem as if I have it all together. I have achieved quite a bit, not to make me a “celebrity” in any area, by any measure, but still more than the average person at my age might lay claim to. And yet, the irony of my existence is that, on the one hand, I cannot stand the hypocrisy of my life. My life is not “all together.” My life is not a great success. I fight a losing battle against pornography. My marriage is a lifeless mess as a result. I long for marital intimacy, as, I am sure, does my wife, but I am unable to get it. Spiritually, where once I was seen as a leader, now I feel dead. Lifeless. That word lifeless might very well summarise my life. Seemingly active on the outside, but lifeless on the inside. I wish people could see it. I wish people could know the truth. Just having that hypocrisy lifted would be such a relief.
But on the other hand, I fear exposure like the plague. What I actually want, when I really sit and think about it, is not that people should know the real me, but that the real me should be the idealised image that people see. And when it is pointed out to me that I am not that, that I might (probably will) never be that, I don’t like it. I can admit that I am broken. That I have problems. But I am really struggling to accept that I am totally broken, that all I have achieved actually means nothing, because I have been willing to sacrifice it all (my family, my job, my spiritual life, my reputation), for the illicit, broken well of porn.
What really makes it even worse is that, again, on an intellectual level, I agree that porn really is a broken cistern. It cannot satisfy me. It never does. When I leave it, it is not because I have had enough, but because my revulsion at what I am doing has eventually risen to the level that I can, again, for a while, break with it. But I keep coming back. I know that it will not satisfy me. But I believe that it will. That can be the only explanation for why I keep going back. And accepting that false belief seems to me to be much, much harder than admitting it. I can talk to someone and admit that, on the basis of the evidence (my own behaviour), it simply must be true. But I cannot seem to get myself to accept that truth.
How I got here
My story, I suppose, needs to begin at the beginning. I was born over four decades ago, the third child of, as I was later to learn, a deeply troubled marriage. My father and mother had had a shotgun marriage many years before. My father was a wholesale porn addict, in a time when porn was, compared to today, relatively hard to come by. My father’s hobby was photography, and I now believe that it was merely so as to aid his love of porn. More about that later. My parents were to divorce when I was in Standard 7—fifteen years old. That was when my dad had his third affair, and I think neither he nor my mom could take it anymore.
I suppose, given my father, it was inevitable that I would be exposed to porn, but I was actually exposed to it in a number of different ways. My first exposure was from a friend, in Standard 1, I think (I would then have been all of eight years old). He gave me some porn magazines, Lag-’n-Bietjie-Daar, although porn magazines in those days were not what they are today. They were small, A5 size, I suppose all the better to hide them (but of course that meant that the pictures were a lot smaller). The poses were also not as explicit, and, with South African censure what it was then, stars carefully hid the nipples, and, it was pretty much forbidden to even show anything else under a star. Even a rear-view shot of a woman had to be hidden behind a star. Quite frankly, I had no idea what to do with the magazines, I just wasn’t emotionally ready for them. What I did understand is that they were contraband, and I duly hid them, albeit poorly, and so my mother discovered them. I sometimes wonder what she thought, although, even today, I daren’t ask. She must have (should have?) feared that the affliction that was already assailing her husband was now encroaching on her children. However, I can’t recall her discussing with me why porn was bad, just telling me that I shouldn’t be looking at it. I took the magazines back to my friend (she should have made me burn them).
My next exposure came through another friend. In late primary school and early high school, we were best friends. I was then about eleven going through to about thirteen or fourteen. His mother was a divorcee, a “woman of the world,” and she felt it was important that her son knew about the “facts of life.” So she had no problems buying him the big porn magazine of the time, the Scope—it was now already a bit bigger, A4 size, but the stars still shone on the pages. They lived in a flat, and I slept over there often. We didn’t have much to do there, so the evenings (and many mornings) were often spent watching videos. Of course, these often contained nudity, and here there were no stars. Even then, though, the movies seemed to be less explicit, sex scenes seemed to be relatively tame, and that was not our main focus—we were more into action and war movies. But it was exposure to porn nonetheless, and that was also the first time that I masturbated. This may well have been the start of my porn problem.
In high school, we together made a number of new friends, and he eventually shifted from the inner circle. But the same pattern continued with the new friends too. The culmination of this pattern, though, was in my matric year (seventeen years old then) when one of the guys got hold of a bona fide “blue movie” and we all got together to watch it. This was far more explicit than anything I had ever seen—it was a true porn movie—but I must confess that it didn’t work for me. It actually disgusted me a bit. Nonetheless, through this group of friends—or should I say, “friends,” because do friends really let their friends be exposed to things that will ruin their lives? (And yet, none of us knew how harmful this would be). But through this group of friends, over the course of about seven years, I was given a substantial volume of exposure to porn. Not very explicit stuff, mostly, but more than enough to do some real damage.
There were other exposures too. One of my brother’s friends once brought a stack of porn magazines and, my brother not being there, left them in my care to give to my brother. By this time, the stars had gone, and the poses were getting more explicit. The same person, at a later stage, gave us one or two pornographic novels—there were no pictures in these, but the descriptions were very graphic, and wildly fuelled my imagination. I have since read some other popular fiction novels with explicit sex scenes, but none since I left school.
Things were getting worse, I was getting more ensnared, but I did not realise it. If you had asked me, I might actually say I was lucky to see what I had seen. Even when my parents divorced, I did not initially understand the role that porn had played in it. I did not know about the previous affairs. All I knew was that my dad was having an affair, and that he had decided to leave my mom, and us, and marry the new woman.
But having said that, my father turned out to be one of the biggest sources of porn exposure in my early life, and that source also became one of the biggest facilitators of my addictive behaviour. In those early days porn was hard to come by, so my dad used to go to the CNA and page through the photography magazines, and he tore out all the porn pages and smuggled them out of the store. By the time I discovered his stash, it already amounted to two shopping bags stacked full of torn-out pages. There must have been at least a few thousand such pages. He hid the bags in the top of his clothes cupboard. This must have been about when I was in Standard 5 or 6. It did not take long to discover that my brother also knew about this stash. I cannot think that my mom did not know.
Over the course of a year or two (probably until my parents divorced), I steadily worked through that stack. A major portion of my addictive behaviour is a compulsive “collector” mentality—actually, it’s a thing I struggle with in many areas of my life: I struggle to get rid of things, I accumulate stuff, and I always persevere with things, liking reading a book through to the end, even when I am not enjoying it. So if I find a site with porn, I very often cannot stop until I have worked my way through all of its pages, even if it takes me days to do it. Just like I worked through that stack of my dad’s—I would look at some pages and masturbate, and then a few days later, I would be back, and continue where I left off. Looking back now, I would probably say that this point was where the porn problem became an addiction, although I did not know it at the time, and the addiction has ebbed and flowed over the years.
One of the worst moments of my porn life came through my dad’s stack. In fact, let me say the worst moment. As I was working through the heap, I came across photos that my dad had taken. He had gotten a woman to go with him to the transformer room at work, strip off all her clothes and pose for him. Those photos shocked me. There was just something wrong about it. Somehow, my mind justified my dad looking at photos of naked woman that others had taken, but to take those photos himself was somehow crossing a line. I was wrong, of course—the line had been crossed long before. But I didn’t understand that. That was also the first evidence of my powerlessness over my growing addiction, but I didn’t see that either: I vowed to stop looking at that stack. But a few weeks later, I was back—I was just careful to avoid those photos. I couldn’t stop myself from going back to that stuff. I was already, then, something of an addict, powerless to stop even despite the sense of revulsion. I just didn’t seem to know it.