Tag Archives: silence

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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“The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.” – Sophocles

For me, there came a point where the self-hatred and shame diminished. A point where I was able to think about porn without despising myself for what I did, where I could accept that I made bad choices but recognise the place of pain from which those choices came.

That’s when the grief set in.

When I was pushing the truth away, not wanting to acknowledge that I’d ever chosen to watch porn, I had this little fantasy in my head. I knew I would have to face my past eventually, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was certain it would be pretty awful, actually. But I had this tiny hope that after the awfulness was over, it would all go away. I thought that by “dealing with porn” I’d be able to put it behind me and it would never bother me again. I thought I would be able to live my life as though I’d never heard of porn, never chosen to watch it, never been caught in its trap. I never articulated it but I know in the back of my mind I was just waiting for the moment where everything was okay again.

Of course it was nonsense, that fantasy. How could things be ‘okay again’ when they were never okay in the first place? I didn’t watch porn because I was happy; I watched it because I was in pain and I wanted to make the pain go away. And once I’d watched it, everything changed for me. It set my life on a path, and even though that path was temporary I can’t pretend I never travelled it.

So now I am feeling grief as I realise that porn is, irrevocably, one of the things that has shaped my life. I can’t change that, ever. I can’t go back and unsee the things I’ve seen. I can’t go back and erase unhealthy fantasies. I no longer feel the shame and self-hatred I once harboured, but I can’t live as though those feelings were never there. No matter what I do, I can never again be happily ignorant about porn.

Part of me rebels against that. I don’t want to be that woman, the woman who watched porn. I don’t want the knowledge it gave me. I don’t want to know what addiction feels like. Even as I take pride in how far I’ve come in my healing, I desperately wish I’d never had to make the journey at all.

And yet, here I am. I have made choices, and watching porn was one of those choices. Because of that, I have scars; and although I no longer feel the sharp pain of the wound, sometimes the scars still ache. I can’t change that, and so for now I have to live with the grief. I grieve the happy oblivion I thought I would have once I started talking about porn. I grieve because nothing can take away the images I have in my head. I grieve what might have been, if I’d never taken this particular path. And I can’t help grieving the death of my dream-self, who existed only in my mind, and who has no scars at all.

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Damaging silence

“Revealing the truth is like lighting a match: it can bring light, or it can set your world on fire.” – Unknown

By far the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life is to tell my counsellor about my history with pornography. I’d been seeing her weekly for two and a half years before I built up enough courage to tell her, and even then I could only do it over email – after which I spent a horrible five days before my next session wishing I could take the email back.

I kept silent about porn for more than ten years. I started watching it in about 1999/2000 and stopped early in 2004. At that point I still hadn’t told a single soul about it, which meant I was trying to stop without any support at all. In hindsight that was a terrible idea, but I was so completely petrified of what people would think if they knew about it that telling anyone was out of the question for me. I couldn’t bring myself to be vulnerable because I had all these beliefs in my head that kept my mouth firmly shut. Beliefs like:

Women don’t watch porn.
Women older than 20 don’t watch porn.
Christian women don’t watch porn.
Women who are aroused by porn are depraved.
Unmarried Christian women shouldn’t have sexual urges.
Women who masturbate have no self control.
Women who watch porn are disgusting and perverted.
Feminists would never watch porn.
It’s normal for men to watch porn but not normal for women.

See the common thread here? It wasn’t just about me watching porn, it was about me as a woman watching porn. I had all these beliefs about what women should and shouldn’t be like and I’d never, ever heard of a woman struggling with compulsive pornography use. Then throw into the mix my beliefs about what a Christian is like, with the only porn testimonies I’d ever heard all coming from 19 year old Christian boys (but never girls, never women, never older men unless they were paedophiles) and I was left with the conviction that I was a freak. The two things that defined me were my Christian faith and my womanhood, but by watching porn I felt like I’d failed at both those things. That left me with nothing – nothing to define me, nothing to give me worth.

With all of that going on in my head it’s no wonder that I couldn’t bring myself to get help. In my imagination, revealing my porn addiction meant revealing my worthlessness in the most humiliating way possible. I didn’t even recognise it as an addiction; I thought it was just indicative of my perverted character.

My reluctance to share my secret is understandable. Given what I believed – and I believed all of that right up until I told my counsellor – I’m amazed that I ever managed to tell anyone at all. I don’t blame myself for staying silent, but I wish I had realised the damage I was doing by not confiding in someone.

Struggling alone, it took a long time to get free of porn. Every time I went back to it I felt like I was proving my beliefs – if I weren’t so worthless and vile then surely I would have been able to stop first time, right? But the far more damaging belief was that only someone worthless and vile would have gone near porn in the first place. The fact that I stopped watching porn proved nothing. My seven years of silence after stopping meant that I had seven years of telling myself that I was abnormal. Seven years of shame. Seven years of believing, every day, that the worst thing in the world would be for anyone to find out about my porn use, because then they’d find out who I really am. Seven years to firmly cement in my brain the lie that I am a freakish, worthless, non-woman, and that there is no one in the world as bad as me. I thought my silence was protecting me but all it was doing was hurting me.

If I could go back in time and tell my past self one thing, it would be this: “You are not alone.” If I had known that other women – lots of women – struggle with porn addiction, it would have changed everything.

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