If There's No Water, It's Hard to Put Out the Fire
I first encountered pornography in the back of a convenience store when I was about 10 or 11 years old. There was a whole "Adults Only" section with no one in it and it was separated from the rest of the store so I could browse with ease. Whenever I had a chance to go, I'd slip in and take a look. My mother once dropped me off for a haircut at a nearby barber shop and while waiting for her to pick me up, I browsed. When she drove up and I came from another direction (she hadn't seen exactly which store I came out of), I turned bright red and she asked why. I said I'd gone to check out a new store that had opened up and she left it at that. Why??? Every picture was etched indelibly on my mind, every suggestive phrase became a mantra I could repeat over and over again in my thoughts.
I went away to yeshiva, staying in the dorm, right after my Bar Mitzvah and "forgot" my taava for 2 years until I discovered masturbation in 11th grade. After that I would go through the motions of learning and davening, but my mind was on sex. All the time. I'd write down words and phrases, even whole stories, to fan the flames for the next time I masturbated in the bathroom. I felt guilty and marked down each time I failed…I did Teshuva many times…but I always fell again. One night, desperate to get to the "next level" and buy a magazine, I borrowed a friend's bike and rode to a convenience store that sold Penthouse (Playboy seemed too tame). The cashier asked how old I was and I said 17. He said I couldn't buy it and I left. I didn't lie…I wanted to stop, to get caught, but it wasn't enough!
Despite my problem, I managed to gain a reputation as a "good bochur and big ba'al kishron" who could do very well if I just applied myself. In first year Bais Medrash my Rebbe asked me if anything was bothering me or holding me back. I said no…and that I felt bad "taxing Rebbe's sense of responsibility" because I was fine and he didn't need to worry. He let it go and I kept on following my taava.
By this time I was old enough to buy magazines, and buy them I did. I overcame my initial shame and reluctance to entering a nearby adult bookstore (although I always took off my yarmulke to prevent a Chillul Hashem…as if my white shirt and dark pants with tzitzis hanging out didn't give anything away) and stocked up on back issues of magazines at discounted prices. I hid them in my dorm room and skipped sedorim regularly to "use" them. I was never confronted…could it be that no one knew?? It got to a point where I'd do disgusting things in the shower that I wrote here briefly and then deleted because I couldn't read them…just for the thrill. I'd buy books with provocative stories (even "best sellers" that were not marketed as pornography) and read them during the year and in camp during the summer.
I went to another yeshiva in New York for a year and spent my time during night seder listening to recorded shiurim on tapes…which never actually played. Instead, pornographic radio talk shows absorbed my night while an open Gemara sat in front of me. Every Motzei Shabbos when there was less supervision, I'd slip onto the New York subway and ride to Times Square where I'd browse the adult book stores and watch peep shows as well as full length pornographic films in theaters until I was numb.
I went to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and access to porn was very limited although I managed to find some here and there anyway. The completely unrestrained "European" style porn was shocking…and so exciting.
I came back to the U.S. and stayed relatively clean for a while, although not because of any new insight or conviction. I went to therapy…but mentioned porn only in passing and was not treated.
I got married and was clean for 3 years until I got a computer at home. When my wife worked on Sundays, I'd surf porn sites and wait while filthy pictures slowly filled the screen on a dial up connection. When I went to work, I found peep shows to keep my "satiated" since I didn't have many other opportunities.
Finally it was time to stop. I made a neder never to walk into another adult store again and stayed clean for 2 years. Then I fell and have resumed watching peep shows on and off since then.
My story covers more than 20 years of my life and I am scarred and bruised. I recognize that my perception of women is skewed. If my wife asks me "doesn't so and so look good" (referring to a female friend of hers), I can't answer her! My reaction is not consistent with her question. Every woman looks good! Instead I cultivate a "disinterested" attitude that encourages even more open and dangerous "innocent" dialogue about women…because "he doesn't really care".
I also recognize that I need to analyze my feelings to identify when I'm feeling pain and am therefore vulnerable. I also need to analyze my reactions to identify which are really prompted by the yetzer hora who would be happy to lead me down a path of eternal destruction, both in this world and the next.
Finally I need Kedusha to counteract Tumah. I need it regularly, and it will replace filthy thoughts with powerful desires to grow in a positive way. I know it works, I've experienced it and tasted the exhilarating sweetness and freedom that living "confined" to the guidelines of Torah truly represents. Postings and books on other porn-addiction websites essentially describe the struggle between the yetzer tov and the yetzer hora but don't really have a substitute for being filled with filth. If there's no water, it's hard to put out fire even if you know it burns.
I am now clean for 90 days. As expected, the single most important factor in staying clean was and is a connection to Ruchniyus. However this doesn't happen by itself. 3 main factors helped me establish that connection. The beginning is "sur merah" – stopping the addiction and the downward slide. The goal is "aseh tov" – improving and growing in Torah and Yiddishkeit. And the common denominator is the process of self discovery through therapy. More specifically, here's how those 3 elements work for me.
1) After reading about other people's struggles and recoveries on the Guard Your Eyes website, I revealed my addiction to my Rav, a therapist and my wife. The last part was the hardest and caused the most excruciating emotional pain I have ever experienced in my life. B"H we have a good marriage, and not knowing how she'd react and whether I would cause irreparable damage to the relationship was a huge hurdle that I had to overcome. No one could make that decision except me. Some may say that causing her pain is unnecessary and keeping this from her is not dishonest because it's for her own good and you're "hiding" a positive thing…your recovery. This did not work for me and ultimately, telling her and going through a painful period has strengthened our marriage. This is also one of the biggest ongoing reasons to stay clean…I don't want to go through that again!
2) I began seeing a therapist on a regular basis. The root cause of the addiction has to do with avoidance of emotional pain usually caused by a difficult childhood with unmet emotional needs and unreasonable expectations. Identifying this, recognizing that there were/are emotional needs that are legitimate and that adopting certain unreasonable expectations without questioning them will cause pain helps make you self aware. And if you're self aware, you know when the Yetzer Horah is talking and can decide not to listen! Also, it helped me identify and begin to overcome my resistance to learning Torah. When you're told from a young age to "learn, learn, learn" and your emotional needs are not addressed, you hate learning and associate it with all that pain. However real Ruchniyus is individual, not the result of doing what you're told but rather the result of a real connection with Hashem. This helped develop the third component of my recovery…
3) I began to learn and grow in Ruchniyus. The primary method that works for me is Mussar but not the way it's usually thought of in terms of doing more and being more medakdek in Mitzvos. Rather, it's an emotional journey. I focus on absorbing the Hashkafah – what our purpose is in the world and how to actualize it internally. Whether anything changes on the outside or not is irrelevant! I'd be happy to discuss in more detail if anyone is interested(write to firstname.lastname@example.org to be put in touch).
Finally, the practical day to day steps that help me avoid a fall are thinking of who I am, what I'm about to do and the consequences (thanks to the healing hotline!). I have a written list of the consequences of acting out as well as the positive consequences of keeping clean that I review periodically or when feeling weak. Now that I've told some key people about my addiction, one of the consequences is the need to reveal any failures to them…and that's a strong deterrent. I've identified "good" activities, "bad" activities and "middle" activities and set up fences to avoid the risk areas. I remind myself to just get through today. And I remind myself not to get too confident. I'm vulnerable and may always be – and I can't let down my guard.
Looking forward to staying clean…not for the next 90 days, but "just for today" (as they say in the 12 step groups).