I am a pawn addict: Impact on my marriage (Part 3 of 9)

Marriage

Published with permission. Written by an anonymous addict in South Africa

As I have indicated, my marriage has been severely affected by my addiction to pornography. But first some history. I had, by the time I met my wife-to-be, been heavily infatuated with a number of other women. All of these infatuations had come to naught, although I was careful to nurture friendships with them and not “go too far” (i.e., for me, that means I never really even dated any of them). Despite my infatuation with them, it became clear to me, each time, through the course of our friendship, that the feeling was not requited.

marriage rings

I did have earlier dating relationships, but that was before the more “pious” era of my life. And in two of those, as I have indicated, I did go too far on the physical side of things, with lots of French kissing and fondling and kissing those women’s breasts. Even now, thinking back to that fills me with a sense of shame. I wish I had never done it. I think, in large measure, my regrets over what I did in those two relationships formed a strong disincentive for me to get too physical in my later relationships, perhaps because I felt that I could not trust myself, but also in large measure because I subsequently came to believe (and still do) that it was wrong to get too physical.

When I met my wife, I was again infatuated with her. It quickly became clear, though, that this time the feeling was mutual. This filled me with joy and excitement. I was careful, at first, to build a strong friendship, and not to push the physical side of things. But she was so beautiful (she still is), and I so enjoyed being with her, that, one fateful day, I did what I think now was a mistake. If I could have done it again, I think I would have tried to speak to her about what I was feeling, to discuss what I wanted to do, and make a commitment that these would be the kinds of things we would do if ever we were to marry. I think there would have been reward and value in waiting. Nonetheless, what I did was kiss her. But not in the usual way, I think. Instead of getting close, creating a romantic atmosphere, and then trying to get lucky, I spent the evening talking to her, and when I felt the time was appropriate, simply asked her if I could kiss her. That, of course, opened to the door to regular and intense periods of French kissing over the next few months. Although I was careful not to fondle her, I would say that we definitely kissed so passionately that we moved into the area of foreplay, so much so that I even ejaculated on one occasion. How I wish now that we had rather waited then, and done more of it now! How I wish that I had rather used the time to build the friendship and the emotional intimacy. If only I had known how.

I did all of this, of course, even before I was certain that I wanted to marry her. Eventually, as I realised that it was getting more serious, I called off the kissing, and spent some time reflecting on the relationship. After this, I decided that I should either pursue the relationship to its logical conclusion—marriage—or call it off totally. Again, I asked her to marry me in an unconventional fashion. There was no engagement ring (although she had already indicated that she only wanted one ring), there was no romantic proposal. I simply sat on a couch and discussed our relationship with her and asked her if she would marry me. I really was not very romantic.

In our premarital counselling, the minister (who I dearly loved, but who I also thought was a bit too worldly) said that the sexual aspect would be one of the biggest issues to deal with in our marriage. I resented that, thinking that if we built a strong spiritual foundation, the sexual side of things would simply fall into place. I was so naïve. In a sense, I suppose, I was right, in that the quality of the sexual relationship is determined by other underlying factors, but I was foolish to think, firstly, that it would not be so important to me, nor, more importantly, to realise that my own failures in this area would wreak so much havoc in our relationship.

I had, of course, discussed my ongoing porn addiction with my wife-to-be. I did not call it an addiction, then. And it was relatively under control then, too—present, ever present, but infrequent, and not as dominating as it would become in later years. We believed that if we prayed, and worked together, we could overcome it. As is so often the case, the first few months of marital bliss meant that my porn habit was at a low ebb. But then reality set in. And porn came back with force. Over the years, I confessed several times to my wife (as the books about dealing with pornography which I was reading suggested), but that did not help. All it did was destroy our relationship (I must add that it was not the confessions that did the damage, but the repeated failures, even after confession). She lost her desire for me. She felt betrayed. She felt rejected. Our sex life died a painful death. She hated being touched by me, and she hated touching me. She felt claustrophobic if we touched, and doubly so if we kissed. Even now, I could probably kiss a family member like my sister more, and longer (without being at all inappropriate), than I kiss my wife. Again, this saddens me greatly to think of the mess I have made, of the damage I have done, and the hurt I have caused.

One other area of concern extends further—to our children. Another incident which fills me with shame is remembering how I once sat with my eldest son, still a baby, not even able to say his first word yet, on my lap, and watched a porn video clip on my computer. I feel so guilty about that. I have lived my life as a father in the constant dread that I might do to my sons what my father has done to me, that my porn would become a source of porn exposure to them. Unlike his, my porn is (was) on my computer, and, increasingly, in the cloud on my internet history—what if they got onto YouTube under my profile and happened to see a porn video in my history? I always imagined that I would be able to kick the porn habit, and be able to guide my sons to be men of integrity, men who fled from porn and who kept themselves sexually pure throughout their lives. Now, they are both already approaching puberty, and I am still as addicted to porn as ever. All I can show them, it seems, is what my father showed me—what not to do. I seem totally unable to demonstrate, in my own actions, what to do.

A new era: Internet pornography

I have, in a sense, run ahead of myself in this story. In telling about my intimacy disorder, I have moved through marriage and parenthood, but I have not discussed what happened to my porn addiction after its more dormant years when I was in a spiritually strong and supportive student group.

Several things happened. As was inevitable, we all finished our studies and moved our separate ways. We still have contact with each other to this day, but the closeness, the constant fellowship, the times of prayer, were gone. And I was unable to find a replacement fellowship of friends—a big mistake.

Then, also, I started working. At first, I was doing well in the fight against porn, and it went well at work. Those were also the early days of Internet access at work, and the connections (and computers) were slow. But then one day, I made a fatal (but probably inevitable) mistake. I had watched The Return of the Jedi and wanted to look again at Princess Leia’s bikini. That was the first time I searched for something which I found sexually stimulating on the Internet, and that also became my introduction to Internet porn. I suppose that this is part of my struggle which may differentiate it from that of many others—that seemingly simple things, things which others might not even consider pornographic, I find sexually stimulating, and constitute pornography to me. Very few people would consider Leia’s bikini pornographic, and yet, while I have, over time, moved on in terms of the relative degree of explicitness, it is pornographic to me. Even in my current state, I might not necessarily find it stimulating enough on its own, and would undoubtedly still search for more, but if I were to return to that very film scene, I would indeed find something to lust after.

Nonetheless, in searching for this picture, I had crossed several boundaries. If my exposure through friends and peers like those early school friends was the start of the problem, and the discovery of my dad’s stash of porn was the start of the addiction, then this was the point at which the addiction started to systematically make my life unmanageable, and progressively dismantle my whole life.

Firstly, I had again given porn a new avenue—now, I could access porn over the Internet. Secondly, I had done it at work. This would become a major problem to me in years to come—if only I had realised it then. At first, I only watched porn once every few days or weeks on the computer at work. Porn then was also mostly pictures, and even when taken from movies, consisted of screen caps—the connections were just too slow to allow anything else. But the Internet has changed since then. And my habits have changed with it. At its worst, there was a time, in an earlier job, when I would easily spend three hours of every five-hour workday looking at porn, sometimes for a week or more, before it would subside a bit, and then flare up again later. Also, what I have watched has changed from mostly pictures to mostly video. While pictures do stimulate me, there is something different about video. I think it goes about the interaction, about the woman wanting, desiring, what is happening—even though, in reality, she is just pretending. That is part of the problem—pornography presents a reality that is not real. The woman is an actor, and she would never really do any of that for me. But the video makes it look normal, appealing.

When I started with my current job, things went well at first. I was strong in the struggle against porn, I went for quite a while without a filter, and stayed away. When I did start again, I installed Covenant Eyes at work, and that again brought a long period of very little porn. But the problem was that keeping my porn habit in check was turning out to be much like stuffing an octopus into a bag—there were too many tentacles and I had too few arms. So if I could not find porn past the filter on my work PC, I would make other plans, like getting access to an unfiltered PC at a different place, or finding my way around it on my own PC (in those days, the university also blocked certain sites, like YouTube, in the interests of conserving bandwidth). But then two things happened which caused the addiction to burst into a wildfire—the university stopped blocking any and all sites, and the university made changes to the firewall which meant that Covenant Eyes could no longer block anything (nor, in fact, any other filter—I tried all that I could find). This was the start of another dark period, like the earlier one, during which I have downloaded and watched countless gigabytes of pornographic videos.

Theo B. Kriek
Huis van Seen: ‘n Plek van Aanvaarding en Waarheid
House of Blessing: A Place of Acceptance and Truth
Pastorale Terapeut/Pastoral Therapist
Pornografie en Seksuele Verslawingsterapeut
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
Sel/Cell. 076 165 1587
Kantore/Offices in: Pretoria en/and Krugersdorp, South Africa
Blog: http://theokriek.wordpress.com
Twitter: @theokriek

Knowledge is not understanding

Ever hear that phrase “It’s just like riding a bike?” It turns out riding a bike isn’t actually all that easy.  Take this bike, for example. It looks like an ordinary bicycle but with one tiny difference.  We are never tested in the way this bike rider was. 

How many other things do we do automatically? Now then, can we apply this same principle to change those things about ourselves that are injurious to ourselves and others, like our addictive compulsive behaviors, our reactivity, our defensiveness, our fears, our people pleasing, our righteous indignation… in other words our personality.  Can we in fact experience a paradigm shift?  Watch and learn!

I am a pawn addict: Broken intimacy Part 2 of 9

I am a pawn addict: Broken intimacy Part 2 of 9

Published with permission. Written by an anonymous addict in South Africa

A spiritual awakening

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Although I was initially drawn to porn, I also knew (going back all the way to the discussion in my Standard 1 year with my mom) that it was wrong. But that sense was more of a cultural sense of wrong (something you shouldn’t do), rather than a moral or spiritual sensibility. What did change, though, was that in my matric year I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ. I do believe that my conversion was real. It also awakened something in me that gave me a new sense of why this was wrong, as well as a new motive for fighting it. Porn now became not something I was merely drawn to and enjoying, but something I started fighting. Fighting, though, but not winning. I suppose, in a sense, I thought things would get better if I just kept working at it. Surely, with time, the pull of pornography would weaken if I kept fighting it. At the end of the day, though, the fight wore me down, and my will to fight started dying. But I didn’t know it at the time.

Those years (my university years) were, in fact, good years from a spiritual perspective, and thus also from the perspective of fighting pornography. I joined a group of friends who were spiritually devoted, and who supported me. We were involved in missions, we prayed, we opened our lives to each other, and we supported each other. The group has had an impressive record so far: Several did mission work for a portion of their lives. Some are still missionaries, working in three different continents, and several countries. I was a promising member of the group, and while I still have contact with them, I do think that I have, in the end, failed greatly.

One of the things we did on one of our mission outreaches was Bruce Thompson’s Divine Plumbline. We confessed our sins to the group, and I (and several other guys) confessed my porn watching. All of these things seemed to help, in that they did starve my porn addiction. But nothing could kill it. It was always there. Like a wart virus lying dormant, waiting for my immunity to weaken so that the warts could grow again.

I remember one time when I was staying in a student house with a lot of these friends. I used to hate going to my mom’s house, because there were magazines that were a temptation to me (just fashion magazines, but magazines with pictures strong enough to entice me, nonetheless). I asked them to pray for me. Then I went to that house, and still gave in to the temptation to look, and then to masturbate. Something was wrong. Something was failing. But I think I was still under a false belief that it would eventually come right. I did not realise that events like that were actually shouting out to me that my situation was utterly desperate. I felt despair, but more in the sense of not accomplishing something that I believed I could, and indeed should, be accomplishing. What I needed was not despair, but desperation. I needed to realise that my situation was beyond repair, that I was failing because I could in fact not (and would never be able to) accomplish what I was hoping to accomplish.

Broken intimacy

I think part of the truth, a part that, I might add, I have been very unwilling to accept, is that my brokenness is not only related to pornography, but to a deep underlying inability to connect relationally to other people, especially to connect in appropriate ways to women. Part of it, I think, was hidden behind an excuse of piety, when actually it was just me not knowing how to relate to women, and, in fact, being afraid of relating to women. Yes, I did relate very well to the women in that Christian circle of friends, but even there, I cannot say that it was without its problems.

I don’t know really how far back this goes, or where its roots lie. I remember, although I don’t think it is at all related, that when I was in Sub A, we used to have to ride the bus to school. The matric girls thought I was just too cute, with my long eyelashes, and let me sit with them. They didn’t do anything inappropriate, though.

I must confess that I don’t recall a very close relationship with either of my parents. My father was a strict disciplinarian, and always distant. I can’t remember really talking to him about anything, or even doing anything just with him. Maybe my memory is selective. He was also not big on physical contact. In fact, the things I remember about physical contact with him is things I detest—how he used to stop us in the house and squeeze out our pimples (that still grosses me out just thinking about it), how, even when we were adults, he would greet us by trying to squeeze us till our ribs cracked (proverbially!)—not an affectionate hug, rather the schoolboy’s macho display of strength, which was not befitting an old man in his sixties.

I was moreover a very shy person, an introvert. I suspect, further, that my attraction to pornography robbed me of the ability to relate properly to girls. I don’t know. I feel quite mixed up thinking about it. Then there was, as I was going through puberty, all the stress of my parents’ divorce. It was a messy divorce. Years later, when I was studying psychology at university, we covered the topic of divorce. Everything the experts say shouldn’t be done in a divorce is what we were put through. The fights, the derogation of my father by my mother, her bitterness and anger, his rejection of us, her asking us to spy on him, him not paying alimony, and us children having to go to court (my mother was not always willing) to get the alimony money, or even to appear in court in alimony applications. It was a very dark, very traumatic time of my life. There was the acute trauma, like the time my mother forbade my father to go into their bedroom, and he physically attacked her and I had to pull him off of her; but the real trauma was the chronic, low-grade stuff that just never relented.

My inability to relate to women, though, did not stem only from my shyness, but also, I believe, from a very severe lack of experience. What I mean is that although I was exposed to pornography from a whole variety of sources, I can truly say that I cannot recall a proper, mature, intimate relationship being modelled in my home as I grew up. Sex was, as far as I can recall, a topic never discussed in earnest (if at all). I do not think I really ever saw my parents engage in emotionally intimate discussions, nor touch each other just for the pleasure of touching. That they had a sexual relationship was something that, probably also due to my own naïveté, I seemed almost unaware of (barring that they would “retire” to their bedroom on Sunday afternoons, and from the sound of my mom sometimes laughing, we knew they did not always sleep). Their struggles, especially as related to my dad’s own struggles, were hidden from us as far as possible, until it all came boiling out when my parents divorced. Two things I do remember are a fight my mom and dad had about his photography—he had rigged his own dark room for developing his photos, and was probably developing some of those photos I have already mentioned). We were not told in detail what it was about.

Another time, when I was in high school and very involved with militaristic activities, I once waited until midnight and wanted to sneak out and clandestinely “explore” the neighbourhood (just a naive teenager in search of adventure, hopping over fences and sneaking through the shadows, imagining my super-heroic self!). On my way in the dark, though, I stumbled over my mother who was sleeping on the study floor. I was able to hide myself, and although I did awaken her, I made it back to my room safely. But I never did understand, nor dared I ask, why she was sleeping there. Only much later did I put the pieces together.

Suffice it to say, then, that during high school I did not really find it easy to form romantic relationships. Yes, I had female friends, like the girls in Church. Yes, I did like girls. But the whole thought of going out was just too intimidating for me. This made me the butt of many jokes and much ridicule at school, some of it far less kind and far more damaging than the people behind it might have realised. Even my family tried to “help me right,” like when my brother tried to take me on double dates with one of his new girlfriends’ sisters.

Towards the end of Standard 9, and then during matric, I did start some more serious relationships (although “serious” only from my perspective). The first girl I “went out” with ended in disaster when she got quite sexual (kissing, genital fondling) with my best friend (we hadn’t even kissed at that stage yet). That was devastating to me, and also put me off getting too serious too quickly. I did go on some more dates with several other girls after that, but kept things very noncommittal.

University gave me more freedom, and more female friends, and some more serious relationships did start. Sadly, this also included a holiday fling at the end of my matric year where I kissed a girl’s breasts (I stopped short of getting my hand under her pants), and also a long-term relationship where I did the same thing again on about three occasions.

But then I got involved with the Christian group, and I got round to the idea that developing close friendships, without getting too physical, would be better. That keeping myself pure was a good idea, and that there was no need to rush the physical side of things. While I still believe that to be true, the simple fact of the matter was that I was still desperate for someone to love, and to love me, and I was infatuated with numerous girls, all of whom did not return the affection. So I did not really learn much by way of developing emotional intimacy with anyone.

In fact, infatuation could probably be the word that best describes my relationship skills. Which is not a good thing. It is so easy to get infatuated. That’s about the first step of a relationship. My problem was that I would be smitten by a girl, but then not know how to proceed. So there I would stay, feeling attracted to her, but not doing anything further to express that, and rather waiting and hoping (in vain!) that she would also show signs of being attracted to me. And then feeling rejected and wondering why nothing happened when it came to naught. And struggling and fighting with God about it, always hoping that one day He would give me a wife whom I could love, and who would love me.

Looking at the twelve components of courtship defined in Facing the Shadow (Carnes, 2010, p. 74–75), this infatuation-fixation of mine is easily seen. I feel as if I am stuck in the beginning of the whole courtship process, and am actually unable to move further in a meaningful way. So noticing is something that forms a continuous part of my existence, even though I have been married now for fifteen years—I notice very attractive females that cross my path, all the time. Attraction also figures regularly: Even though I never act on it, and even though I know it is unrealistic, I still find myself wondering about what it would be like to be in a relationship with every attractive woman that I interact with in a more-than-passing way (i.e., not those that I have “noticed,” but those whom I find attractive and have to interact with). But as soon as I have to move on beyond those points, I find it very intimidating, and just plan difficult to do. I suppose that, in a sense, that is a good thing, since it keeps me from doing anything with these women that I shouldn’t. But sadly, I find that it is also the case even with my own wife. Demonstration, in the courtship “preening” sense, is something I just don’t do. Period. Not even now, not even with my wife. Romance, of course, is something that takes a lot of effort on my side to express (and I do try), but receiving the passion is harder for me. Of course, because of the consequences of pornography in my marriage (which I will come to), having to receive passion is not something I get a lot of practise in, either. Individuation is well nigh impossible for me. I dread conflict and I cringe at the thought of disapproval. Just relating to my wife (let alone anyone else) in a way that I think might not be approved of, is something I try to avoid at all costs. Because of this, it has been very difficult for me to truly open up, whether to my wife or to anyone else, and let myself truly be known. My life is devoid of emotional intimacy, because I am too scared to make my feelings known. I would rather project the aura of competence than reveal the scared child hiding within.

One of the interesting things I have noticed over the last few years is that I am ironically very desirous of, or dependent on, physical touch, but at the same time totally inept at actually doing it. I seem to have thoroughly imbibed my father’s immature touching habits. So, on the one hand, I would never touch a woman that I was not in a relationship with. People even made fun of me because, for example, if I was giving out prizes, I would not even give a female prize winner a pecking kiss. I, of course, hid that behind the façade of being strict about purity in my relationships. If only that were the truth. I think it would not be a bad ideal, but the reality, I think, is that I was bluffing even myself. It was not my piety that kept me from doing that, but my fear. At the same time, if anyone would touch me, even just a friend lightly placing her hand on my arm, that would just send all kinds of feelings through me—not inappropriate ones, but it would bring about a flush of excitement just to be touched like that. The simple truth is that I have no idea how to appropriately touch other women in public, when it would be appropriate to, and when not to, and if appropriate, what and how would be appropriate. So I just don’t.

But even in my marriage, touch has been a big issue. At first, I simply assumed that it was my husbandly right to touch my wife any way I wanted, any time I wanted. This resulted in a lot of pre-sexual touch at times when we were not being romantic. At first, she allowed it, and then she started withdrawing and resisting. Eventually, I have learned to settle for just “familial” touching most of the time—hugs, small kisses, light touches. And nothing even hinting of sexuality. Sadly, though, I find that my own need for being touched is not being met. My wife allows me to touch her, so long as it is appropriate, but she almost never touches me, or at least, not nearly as much as I would like. She does not kiss me either. Not passionately. I can still remember the last time she did that, and it is now approaching the point where it is already close to a decade that has passed since then.

If touching is such a problem, even in my marriage, then it follows that foreplay is a huge issue. We do not touch at all in a pre-sexual way, and any verbal foreplay is non-existent. It is as if we just don’t have the time for it, but I think the real truth is that we just don’t know how. And even just thinking about it now, I keenly feel the sense of loss, as if there is a gaping hole in my relational life that I just cannot fill, and it saddens me immensely.

One might think, then, that intercourse was something that just did not happen in our marriage. Given my fears and intimidation in relating to others, it is understandable that I cannot even imagine having intercourse with anyone else. I stay stuck there in the early phases, of noticing and attraction, but would really not know how to proceed if anything further were to arise (although, that may be a foolish statement, landing me in trouble sooner than I think). Certainly, when things were going really badly, chiefly as a result of my continued failure to deal with pornography and my total inability to form true relational-emotional intimacy with my wife, intercourse did stop. At one time, for over ten months. More than once, for more than six months. And many times, for shorter periods. Even now, when we seem to have made some progress (I think I should say, my wife has made progress—I don’t know how much progress, if any, I have made), intercourse is still far too infrequent and far too ritualistic for my liking. It often feels as if we are going through the motions, but as if there is very little (or even no) passion. I feel, in an abiding way, that she makes love to me because she feels that it is something I need, not because she desires me. Thus, even sexual intimacy is tainted by the dreaded feeling of rejection, of not really being wanted. This does not mean that I do not enjoy sexual intimacy, nor that I am implying that my wife does not enjoy it, but rather that, while physically satisfying, it is not forming part of, but rather seems to stand separate form, an emotionally intimate relationship.

It is also understandable, then, that I feel very inadequate in terms of commitment and renewal. I feel that I am not properly committed to the relationship with my wife, because I betray her every time I look lustfully at another woman, and I betray her every time I look at pornography. I even look at pornography with a photo of her on my desk. I have even, when things were going very badly in our sexual relationship, looked at pornography on the day of our wedding anniversary. This brought about immense feelings of guilt, although I justified it by convincing myself that my sexual needs were not being met. And renewal is something that I feel we also do not really understand and practice. Yes, I surprise my wife with flowers. Yes, we go through the rituals—Valentine’s day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries. And I suppose things could be worse. But in terms of the day-to-day tending and stoking of the fires, I feel that we are failing miserably, and that our hearth is lifeless and cold, embers buried under layers of ash.