“Just because you got the monkey off your back
doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” – George Carlin
I miss porn.
I don’t know how to explain that statement, even to myself. I’m holding it alongside so many contradictory things. I mean, I hate porn. I hate that I watched it, certainly, but I also hate it for what it is: for the violence, the ugliness, the horrific treatment of women. I hate the way it destroys lives and tears families apart. I don’t even want to watch it anymore. I have images in my memory but I don’t replay them; I just want them to go away. I certainly don’t want any new images in my mind. I can still remember the hold porn had on me, the feeling of sheer desperation, believing I had nowhere to turn and no way out of behaviour that made me despise myself.
I hate all those things about porn but I still miss it. I miss its comfort. Even to me that sounds appalling. Comfort should be used to describe something warm and cosy – a fond memory of time with friends, a special toy from childhood, even a favourite dessert – but not porn. I know that porn was never comfortable, never nice, never even really enjoyable, but it was still a comfort to me. And I miss that.
There were other things, both before porn and at the same time. I self-medicated with alcohol off and on for years and I miss that too, in a different way. Over a period of just a few years I spent tens of thousands of dollars – all my savings and then some – in an effort to make myself feel better. And always, there’s food… binge eating continues to be my go-to comfort behaviour and I’m struggling to change that without getting caught in my other default behaviour of setting ridiculous and convoluted food rules for myself. So why do I miss porn more than the other things? Why was it different?
I think there are a few reasons. On the surface, porn has very few consequences. I could feel better instantly, in my own home and without having to spend a cent. I didn’t have to worry about damaging my liver or getting fat or not having any money in the bank. I could just go to my favourite websites and watch porn and it didn’t affect anything else. Of course I had the anxiety of making sure no one knew about it and I had to live with the shame and disgust afterwards, but none of that mattered at the time. When I watched porn I could block out every bad feeling in my life. Apart from the physical feelings I could be completely numb. Everything in my life that was hurting me just went away, instantly and completely, as though it had never existed. And I have nothing in my life now that will do that for me. When I’m hurting or feeling bad I have ways to work through it, but that’s the thing – it’s work. With porn I didn’t have to work through anything; I just made it all go away.
When I started depending on porn I was at my lowest point, far lower than when I’d been drinking or shopping or eating. Those things had all stopped working for me and I was feeling worse than I had ever felt before. Porn, despite all the awful things about it, kept me going. It was the only thing that kept me going, some days. Before porn I felt like I still had some coping abilities of my own, even though I was using alcohol and other things to help me. But when I hit the very bottom there was nothing left. I felt empty and helpless and it was porn that kept me going. Not me, not my own ability to hang on, just porn. I needed it. It didn’t matter that it made me feel shame and made me hate myself – I felt shame and self-loathing anyway, long before I found porn, so it didn’t make any difference. I know that it was an incredibly unhealthy coping mechanism but it did enable me to cope. It worked brilliantly and far better than anything else had.
I say that I have no fond memories of porn but that’s not true. I remember that it helped. I remember that it comforted me. Talking about porn and getting help has been great, but it means that I can’t go back. When porn was still a secret I could keep it as a safety net. There was this tiny thought hidden deep inside me that maybe, if things got really bad, then maybe it would be okay to go back to it. Just once or twice. No one would know and I could move on afterwards and pretend it never happened. But now… now I have people who care enough to ask me how I’m going, and I know I couldn’t lie to them. This is a good thing and I don’t regret coming clean about porn, not for a minute. But my safety net is gone and so I feel afraid about what will happen if I reach my lowest point again. Because all I will have is me – no porn, nothing else. And without porn, with just me… I don’t know if I have it in me to survive that place.