Tag Archives: healing

Speaking out

I’ve been pondering the idea of disclosure about porn addiction. When is it appropriate? When is it helpful? When is it necessary?

I read many blogs and forums that focus on porn addiction and other forms of sexual brokenness. Many of them claim that full disclosure, as soon as possible, is vital to healing. I can certainly see the benefits to this approach. The secrecy of porn is part of its attraction and part of its trap. If everyone knows about it then you can no longer believe the lie that “one time won’t hurt… no one will know” – because there’s a good chance someone WILL know. In fact there’s a very good chance someone will ask about it, and unless you’re really good at a blatant lie your face will give you away. Don’t kid yourself about this; you will give yourself away. Being open about porn gives you accountability that you may not appreciate at the time, but will be thankful for later.

Disclosing your struggle with porn also gives you freedom to ask for help and to be honest about how you’re going. It means those who care about you will probably be more sensitive to things that might be a trigger and hopefully they’ll think twice before suggesting an outing to an R-rated film, for example. There are many advantages to full disclosure, and yet it’s not something I have chosen. I still have too many reservations and concerns about disclosure and I’m not sure I’ll ever go fully public with my story. Here are some of my reasons:

1. Identity
I’ve written about this before, and it’s still a concern for me. I see a lot of blogs and websites where people label themselves as sex addicts or porn addicts. The biggest problem with this for me is that “addict” becomes the person’s sole identity, not a part. Identity and behaviour are not the same thing, and separating my behaviour from my identity has been an important part of my healing. I spent years believing that my porn use proved I was disgusting and perverted, and until I was able to put ‘me’ and ‘my choices and behaviour’ in separate boxes I couldn’t get past that belief. Making that mental separation was key and enabled me to move forward in healing, to understand why porn worked as pain relief, and to forgive myself. If I’d gone public straight away with my struggle I would be forever identified as a porn addict. There’s no taking it back once you’ve said it. And in those early days of healing, I would have believed it. Now I’m much further down the road and I know my identity is not “addict”. I am a hurt and broken person who made terrible and unwise choices from a place of pain, and those choices became an addiction. I will always have the scars of porn addiction and it will always have to be a factor in some everyday things but even so, porn use is something I did. It’s not who I am, and I don’t want it to be who I am publicly.

2. Safety
My counsellor was the first person I turned to for help when starting to deal with my porn addiction. Disclosing the truth to her, even without going into any real detail about it, was a huge risk. Despite the three years of trust I’d built in our counselling relationship I still had no idea how she would react. Thankfully her response was compassionate and reassuring, and that alone was the beginning of my healing. In fact her response was vital, because if I’d had any hint from her of revulsion or condemnation I would have refused to talk about it ever again and my healing would have stopped before it began. I needed to know that she understood and I needed my disclosure to be safe. If I tell everyone about my history with porn I can’t predict the outcome and it becomes very unsafe. I have no way of controlling what people think, what they will say and how they will treat me. And when I feel unsafe, my instinct is to turn to behaviours that make me feel better… like porn. I can’t put myself at risk like that. Honesty is important, but my healing must come first.

3. It’s not just my story
Although my porn use happened solo and no one else ever participated, it’s not just about me. There is trauma in my past that is directly related to other people, and the pain of the trauma is part of what led me to porn. When I talk with people about my porn history they almost always ask what led me there. Most people understand that porn addiction is not just about sexual gratification, and it usually goes far deeper and further back than the time spent on porn. This is true for me too. My story is not about four years of porn use; it is about decades of pain, grief and denial that led to a number of self destructive behaviours, of which porn was just one. I can’t talk about porn as though it happened in isolation because that’s not how it works. There is a story, and if I went public with my porn use, the rest of my story would come out too. But there are people intimately involved in the chapters of my story, and I do not have their permission to share their part in it.

There are times when I wish everyone knew about my history with porn. It feels like it would be easier, even a relief. But in truth, I think it would do me more harm than good. Limited disclosure is controversial, but it’s right for me. Staying silent, and disclosing only to those I trust, keeps me safe. It helps me protect my heart. It helps me heal.

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Who am I?

“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.

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