Published with permission. Written by an addict in South Africa
After all my struggles, if addiction means being unable to control or stop behaviour that you know is destroying your life, then I have to confess that I am a full-blown addict. I realise that most people, and as a result I myself too, have not understood addiction. To illustrate, an example John Piper (whom I respect and look up to) often uses, is stated in this form in one of his writings (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/you-can-say-no-to-porn):
Addiction is a relative term. I would stake my life on the assumption that no one in this room is absolutely addicted to pornography or any sexual sin. What I mean is this: If the stakes are high enough and sure enough, you will have all the self-control you need to resist any sexual temptation.
For example, if tonight you are feeling totally in the sway of sexual desire—more blazing, more powerful than you have ever felt it in your life—and you believe that you cannot resist the temptation to look at some nudity online, and suddenly a black-hooded ISIS member drags your best friend or your spouse into the room with a knife at his or her throat, and says, “If you look at that website, I will slit their throat,” you will have the self-control you thought you didn’t have. You won’t click.
Or if a man walks into the room and says, “If you do not look at that nudity, I will give you one million dollars cash, tax-free, tonight,” you will suddenly have the self-control you thought you did not have.
Addiction is a relative term. The fact is, 99% of those who give way to lust in pornography or fornication or adultery, are not decisively controlled by sexual desire. They are decisively controlled by what they believe—what they believe will happen if they act on their lust or don’t.
However, that reflects an essential misunderstanding of the addictive process. Piper is right in his assertion that our behaviour is controlled by what we believe—as Carnes (2010, p. 33) points out, “the addiction cycle is embedded in a larger addictive system which starts with a belief system.”
Addiction, then, when the addict is thinking clearly, really does hold no ultimate power. A gun to the head does tend to force one to think more clearly. However, the truth about addiction, I think I am discovering, is that it undermines my very thinking, so that I do not think clearly, even despite very high stakes: The possible loss of my wife and children, and also all the upheaval, social disgrace, and financial hardship that would accompany that, and even the possible loss of my job if I should look at porn at work, again with similar, if not even more heightened attendant consequences than the former, are very, very high stakes. Granted, not the ultimate stakes Piper speaks of:
He opens our ears to hear Jesus say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29)—the final and ultimate ISIS attack. And he opens our ears to hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8)—a reward infinitely superior to a mere million dollars.
Carnes calls this delusional or impaired thinking. Addicts like me do not normally have a real gun to our heads, or a million dollars on the table. But we (I) have very high stakes with very real consequences. The problem, though, is not that I do what I do despite clearly seeing the consequences, but that my thinking is so messed up that when I do what I do, I cannot see the consequences clearly enough.
So addiction is not something that controls me, even when I see clearly what is at stake. No, addiction is something which subverts my thinking, and prevents me from seeing what the true stakes are. I think my failure to see this, and my belief that if I simply tried the right methods and applied myself hard enough, I would overcome pornography and lust, have blinded me to the fact that I cannot overcome it, that I am at my addiction’s mercy, and that, left to myself, I will simply spiral into self-destruction. All I need is enough time to create the necessary implosion.
My addictive cycle works like this: Preoccupation is triggered by a host of things. Generally, though, the underlying motive is, I believe, escape. If I feel that I haven’t had enough sexual stimulation from, or physical intimacy in, my marriage, and feel frustrated about that, then I don’t want to face those feelings of loss and deprivement. If I have to do work that I find boring or distasteful (routine tasks, like marking tests, or fixing something that someone else has made a mess of), then I seek escape. However, preoccupation need not be triggered by escape only. I could be walking in a shop, or viewing an innocent magazine (I know better now than to read fashion magazines, but that still hasn’t kept me from looking at pornography), or reading something on an innocent website, and see something that just triggers my sexual fantasy (in the latter case, something as simple as an advertisement).
My ritualization will then take one of several possible forms. If it has been some time since I have looked at pornography, and if I am a bit stronger in my own resistance, then my addictive nature first wears me down—I might start surfing, just to escape, or I might look to see if I can find a certain image or video, with the full intention (delusion!) of looking only at that one thing, and then returning to my work. I invariably do not. Finding something will inevitably lead to looking for something else, something more. Something more explicit, more sexual, more stimulating. And then if I do find something, I cannot stop looking, and I cannot stop searching for more. This compulsive phase can last for hours, or, in recent years, for hours on a day, several days in a row. I vow that I have seen enough, I vow that I will now stop, that I have got what I wanted (especially if I have just masturbated), but then I find myself back at it within a very short time. It is as if reality is trying to break through, but cannot. Normally only after a protracted binge will I eventually get to the point where I delete the history, delete the files I downloaded, and try to block the site from which it came. But porn sites on the internet are worse than garden weeds. For every one I block, three more will have sprouted by the next time I start looking. A strategy based on blocking bad sites found will always be several million sites behind. And so I find that I have no way to stop my compulsivity.
My colleague at work suggested that I rearrange my office so that my PC screen is visible from the passage, and that I keep my door open. That has not worked—it’s not that the added risk heightens the thrill—it rather detracts from it, for me—but rather that, even despite the greater risk, I keep doing it, or, if I can, I try to close the door for a time without anyone noticing.
When I do eventually come to my senses, and have deleted everything, I always determine that I will not do that again, although lately, I have become so disillusioned with my constant failure and my total inability to stop myself, that I rarely even bother any more—I know that, despite pledging not to do this again, I will do it anyway. So what’s the use of pledging not to? Even though I won’t admit it out loud, I do believe that I am resigning myself to the inevitability of my addictive behaviour.
Porn, then, is a major problem in my life. Although I will discuss the nature of the problem and mention specific consequences below, suffice it to say for the moment that my life feels unmanageable, and I know that porn in my life forms a major part of that—although, I think it would be simplistic to say that my life is only unmanageable because of pornography, and that if I could just get pornography out of my life, everything would be better. Far rather, the unmanageability in my life just fuels porn immensely, and porn, in its turn, just adds to the unmanageability of my life, in a perfect self-fulfilling, self-sustaining cycle. I have constant deadlines at work, and I often miss them because of time I have lost looking at pornography. That increased stress from the work pressure just drives me to more porn (again, I must add that escape from stress is not my only driver to porn—just plain lust and sexual frustration do that well enough too). Because of all of this, I find it easy to work extra hours at home, which means that my family life is affected and also seems unmanageable. And when I work late at night, the temptation to find porn is huge—even though I know I should be sleeping, and that looking at porn will keep me awake for several hours more.
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