“Identity is such a crucial affair that one shouldn’t rush into it.” – David Quammen
I read a lot of blogs and websites about pornography use, addiction, recovery and other related subjects. One thing that really sticks out for me is the use of language. I see the word ‘addict’ a lot, with people referring to themselves as sex addicts, porn addicts and the like. Hand in hand with that are words like ‘clean’, ‘sober’ and ‘recovery’. People say things like, “I’ve been clean for 2 years, 3 months and 17 days,” or “I’ve reached 8 months sobriety”. What they mean is, they haven’t watched porn or engaged in other related behaviours for that amount of time. I’ve been reading these words and phrases for a while now and I have to say I’m not totally comfortable with them. Let me explain.
Firstly, the word ‘addict’. I’ve talked about addiction on this blog quite a lot so clearly I’m okay with that but I’m not okay with saying “I’m a porn addict”. Or even “I was a porn addict”. There is a whole lot of baggage that comes with that phrase, and not all of it is clear. If I call myself an addict, what am I really saying? Does that mean I have a genetic predisposition to addiction? Does it mean I have to spend my whole life conscious of that addiction, careful not to do anything that might set me off? Does it mean my environment, my childhood, even my free will, had no part to play in the choices I made about porn because I was always going to be an addict anyway? Was I born an addict and just had to wait for it to show itself? Does it define me?
The definition aspect is where it all falls apart for me. It’s true that my behaviour with porn was out of control and I felt like I couldn’t stop it. It certainly followed the typical cycle of addiction. But I followed that same addiction cycle with alcohol and shopping and, to a lesser degree, binge eating. So do I call myself an alcoholic? A shopoholic? A food addict? A porn addict? A combination of all four? And what about other things that define me? I’m also a Christian. A woman. A writer. I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend, a pet owner, a neighbour; I’m a person who struggles with anxiety and depression; I’m a counselling client; I’m a survivor of difficult circumstances. I’m someone with allergies. I have a big phobia that impacts a lot of things in my life. Which one of those things is me?
See the problem here? I’m not just one thing, and the minute I start defining myself by that way then I give the definition first place. My future decisions will be influenced by it. If I call myself a porn addict I am giving it more power and influence than it deserves. I was addicted to porn, no question about that, and it continues to affect many parts of my life and decisions like what I watch and read. Despite that, it’s only a part of me. It’s not, and will never be my entire identity.
The other thing that makes me a uncomfortable is a constant emphasis on ‘days sober’ or ‘days clean’. (I don’t like the terms sober or clean anyway, because despite my actions I don’t consider that I was either drunk or dirty. But I digress…) My issue with counting days is that it puts all the focus on abstinence, as though abstinence is the end goal in healing. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s very important to avoid unhealthy behaviours. However, I stopped watching porn more than seven years ago. I don’t know the exact date, but I can definitely say I had at least seven years “clean”. And you know what? That means nothing. It could have been 15 years, or 20. It doesn’t matter, because my healing didn’t start until I began talking about porn with my counsellor and a few trusted friends. It was only then that I could view it side by side with events from my past, and understand that porn had been a coping mechanism, something to dull the pain I felt in my life. Abstinence is vital to healing, but it’s not the goal. I don’t want to spend all my time desperately counting the days since I last watched porn, and desperately trying not to watch it again. I want to spend my time healing from the hurts that pushed me towards porn and other unhealthy ways of coping with pain. I want to concentrate on learning healthier ways to cope. Healing involves so much more than just avoiding porn and for me, counting ‘days clean’ takes attention away from the work I need to do as I heal.
So with all of that, who am I? I am a woman who was in pain for many years. I’m a woman who, because of pain, was addicted to porn and made other bad choices too. I’m a woman who is still paying a price for those choices. I am so many things, good and bad. But above all, I am healing.