Chances are good you were raised with an unhealthy view of your own body and sexuality. If your childhood was anything like mine, then the message you received was that sex was dirty, gross, and nothing to speak about or think about.
Fast forward to your first experience with pornography and you’ve just mixed a cocktail from hell. One part shame, 3 parts self-hatred, and 1 million parts dopamine. You surely can’t tell anyone in your family, they’ll disown you. You can tell Father in confession, but you know what he’ll be thinking. Last homily he told everyone to “distract yourself when temptations of impurity come along.” If it’s as easy as just distracting yourself, then you must be a real loser if you keep looking at pornography, right?
You are not your sins.
If you ever want to be free from pornography addiction, this is the first thing you need to understand.
For most Catholics, there is a tight correlation drawn between your actions and your identity. While it is true that our actions create our moral life, it is not true that our sins define us.
For the addict, this is even more true.
Addiction aside, if I consistently choose evil actions, I become a person with an evil character. But, I do not become an evil person. My personhood, which always finds it’s source and destination in God, is and always will be good. No actions that I take can tarnish the goodness of my personhood. The most wretched sinner is one act of perfect contrition away from Heaven.
Human persons cannot destroy their own worth as persons.
Now, as it applies directly to the addict, the element of choice is removed to a large degree, or even entirely. In this manner, the addict experiences a sort of split personality. In the throes of my addiction, I know what is right and choose what is wrong. But do I really choose? Many times it feels that way, but it is not always the case.
So can I just do bad things and get away with it?
I used to severely struggle with the idea that I was presumptuous when I went to confession after having a setback. My thought was that because I knew pornography was wrong and still looked at it, I was presuming that God would forgive me. This troubled me for years, and I would confess being presumptuous every time I went to confession for these setbacks.
Over time I began to understand that presumption is the act of choosing to sin BECAUSE “God will forgive me.” It is the idea that God must forgive me, therefore I can do anything I want and God will still take me back. Presumption is belief in a license to sin because God cannot withhold his forgiveness.
As I continued my journey, I came to understand that I was not being presumptuous. Even when I have setbacks, I do not engage in pornography because God will forgive me. There are times in my life where I would have looked at pornography even if someone had said they would kill me for it. My own choice in the matter is truly suspect.
Understanding this is paramount. You cannot make progress against porn while you labor under the misapprehension that you are actively choosing an evil and should be condemned for it. This is not reality.
Hate the sin, not the sinner (you)
If you are truly struggling with a pornography addiction, you are to be helped, not condemned. The greatest failure of the modern Church in regards to pornography is the environment of shame and condemnation that has been created. In the face of a truly egregious affliction that usually begins in childhood, Catholic porn addicts are made to feel weak, sinful, and truly wretched. The idea that I chose pornography as a 9 year old and that I understood the consequences of my actions is truly laughable. And yet, many within the Church, including some priests in my experience, make porn addicts feel this way about their struggle.
This brings us to the point of this lesson: you are not your addiction. The cycle of shame must be broken so that you can have peace and experience God’s love while you are on the journey. I spent many, many years of my life believing that I would only be worthy of God’s love if I beat porn.
I would get super excited about a particularly long sober streak only to lapse into utter despair when I had another setback. I would sink into despondency as I faced the “reality” that I was still unlovable. This cycle repeated for years of my life and my worth as a person was directly tied to my progress in my porn addiction. Seeing as how I made little progress, my belief in my own worth reflected that.
This cycle will never stop if you don’t stop it. You have a choice to make, and this is a choice that you can make. You can choose to either continue to live the stories that you learned as a child, or you can choose to seek truth and learn who God truly is.
You are not your addiction.
That is not who you are. You are a child of God, made in His image and likeness. There never has been, nor will there ever be another you. You are not a mistake, you are not a wretch, you are not disgusting or perverted or worthless.
Me telling you this means nothing. Your belief in the truth is everything. You have a choice. Your pornography addiction is real, it is a part of your life, but it is not you. Your life has meaning and purpose, even with a porn addict. Anything that you can do without your porn addiction, you can do with your porn addiction.
You may not be free of your addiction until halfway through your life. You may still struggle with porn until a week before you die. You may read this article and never look at porn again. None of that matters. What matters is that you understand that you are in the fight of your life, you are working towards freedom from pornography, but YOU are NOT pornography. You are NOT an addiction.
You are you.
With this in mind, take my hand as I share what I found to be true from 17 years of fighting porn addiction in my own life. Together, we will find peace, we will find God, and we will find freedom.