Friday, October 07, 2005

My addiction

"What does cocaine make you feel like. It makes you feel like having more cocaine."
-- George Carlin

I have two interrelated compulsions that constantly threaten to consume my soul -- to Internet porn and to self-abuse. I can't say no to them, even though I know they are both wrong. And have repeatedly confessed to them through tears. There. I've said it.

In all honesty, before I had Internet access at home, porn was never a serious problem for me. Sure, I would steal glances or extra-long looks at masculine or beefcake images in legitimate magazines, TV shows and movies (I had done that since before puberty). But such furtive looks often occur in public and around others, so taking it to the next impure step was not an option. And an awareness of the closet and your public persona as a devoutly orthodox Catholic will do what fear of God's (future and thus in some sense unreal) wrath might not. Sneaking into the red-light district in a trenchcoat with a hat pulled over my face on a rain-swept night -- it was not me. I was better than that. Better than them. I knew that.

What's so pernicious about Internet porn that makes it qualitatively different from hard-copy porn is that it's available privately (so avoiding public shame), and just one click of the mouse away (or at most two; for the "subscribers-only section," where they keep the best stuff). I have already clicked the keyboard hundreds of times while working on this (at this instant less-than-half-done) post. In fact, and to my shame, I would sometimes post on some orthodox Catholic site about something-or-other, click twice, sate myself, and then go back to posting. Let's face it, most people (myself not excluded) are slothful about most things. We'll do what's most convenient. Internet porn is just too damn easy. To use economist's language, the barriers to market entry for the purchaser are nonexistent. It's like putting an unlimited supply of cocaine before the lab rat, available at a touch.

But it also contributed to my depression -- within five minutes of finishing, I'd be angry at myself for stumbling again. The humiliation would then make me want to act out again, and sometimes not especially for pleasure's sake, but as a way of deliberately hurting myself bodily or defiling my soul. I would be like someone who scratches himself bloody. And the bloody wounds itch, so then you need to scratch them some more, etc. All the while knowing I was doing something wrong and immoral, that I'd have to admit in shame to my confessor (now someone who knows me as a human being). But I'd had so much cocaine that I needed more cocaine.

I did some things around my computer space to deter myself. As I look to my left, I have taped to my desk overhang a laminated Divine Mercy card from the Archdiocese of Krakow, with a picture of the altar at St. Faustina's church. As I look in a prominent place to my right, I have from the health department the results of a negative HIV test (suffice to say the contrary result was not impossible). I can't say either helped tremendously, particularly since hatred and resentment toward God on the one hand and self-destructiveness on the other are factors that have motivated my bad behavior. And frankly, there was pleasure too and an inability from years of inexperience to imagine what life could be like without wanking daily. In St. Augustine's formulation: "Make me chaste, O Lord, but not yet."

About six weeks ago, a week before I launched this site, I had, to quote Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, what alcoholics call a moment of clarity. I won't detail what happened as it's too long for a digression, but when I described it all to Father during Confession after the chapter meeting the next Tuesday, he said in a peremptory way that the incident proved "how severe your problem is" and called my saying that I had my life under control "crap." One of my Courage brothers, a techno-computer-whiz I will call "Jim" and who had been involved in extracting me from the bad situation, said "when can I come over and fix up your computer." Not "can I" but "when can I." We had some technical difficulties, because I am a Mac person, and Jim only knows two porn filters available in Mac versions. One he couldn't install because the instructions were written in "japlish" so bad that they even stumped this man experienced in dealing with computer instructions written in that weird tongue. The second was SafeEyes, but my two-year-old iMac runs an OS version not compatible with the program. And then there was a couple of weeks stumbling around each other's schedules.

But then, I made the ultimate modern American proof of committment -- I spent money. I went to a Mac store to get the $100+ upgrade to OSX Tiger (which I never would have gotten otherwise; I was quite happy with my existing OS, though Tiger is sweet, I will say). "Jim" came by the next night and installed SafeEyes with no technical problems (well, one minor imperfection involving the ADMIN password, which we quickly corrected). The program is available here.

After Jim left, I did three or four tests of my most-commonly-used porn/hookup sites -- not to get around it, but to "test the locks" like the heroin addict who has locked himself in a room to go cold turkey. (There was also an element of "trying out the new toy," I will admit). Now if I try to go to a site (I just tried one obviously-banned site to get the wording. Honest.), I get a page reading "The website was denied because of the banned sites categories your administrator has selected. You will not be able to reach websites which fall under banned categories unless your administrator removes the ban on those categories." In addition, "Jim" gets weekly reports of my attempts at banned activity, broken down by day. That was 11 days ago, and I'm amazed at how much easier life has been. Obviously a technical fix isn't interior chastity, and I'm under no illusions about the size of the mountain a yearslong habit is. But I have lived porn-free close to perfectly; less so with self-abuse though still far better than before. Anyone with a computer at home should get one of these filters -- there's no reason not to.

There's no way to overstate the importance of not having a gazillion pictures at my fingertips. No way. And hard to see what possible benefit there can be to have it THAT easily available. If there are, let us stipulate, people who can consume porn without it warping them as badly as it does me (I don't doubt that, though I also don't believe it can have no effect. It's purely a matter of degree in given cases), it shouldn't be too much difficulty to expend some effort. I'm realistic about what a liberal society can do, so I've become more convinced than ever than porn needs to be ghettoized, both in "live" life and the Internet. If it can't be banned (for now), everything that can be done to make it more difficult and awkward to acquire is for the good. Even if such laws can be gotten around by those determined. My confessor once said something to the effect of "part of the reason I rail against TV is my own weakness. If I watched it, I'd likely just waste my time with Adam Sandler movies or somesuch." The reason society exists and laws passed, after all, is to benefit or protect the weak and vulnerable. The rich and strong don't need government; they can generally handle themselves naturally.


bpqd said...

Interesting read...very honest and revealing. I actually run a couple porn sites and have my own conflicting thoughts about it. I can say though that religion (and I am and was raised in a religious background) can and does (especially catholicism) instill fear, guilt and yes, even self-hate for one's weaknesses even when signs of weakness are not necessarily signs of a "bad" person - afterall, we're only human. I tend to have the "fuck it" mentallity when at all possible because, though I do care, I tend to think that God did not intend for me to live me life being afraid, angry, self-loathing, etc, etc. Anyway, good luck with your wanking thing! :-)

Fr. John said...

Congratualtions on an honest post, and a crucial decision. Porn is addictive and corrupting. It wastes time, diverts us from pursuits that build us up, and generally demeans us. Its proximity puts us in at least a near occasion of sin. All told, you have done a very good thing.

colleen4u said...

Thank you for a heart wrenching post, cm. I wish I could be so open and honest.

I will pray that your addictions lessen and this cross gets lighter for you.

Believe me, porn is addictive for people of all sexual inclinations - even straight ones. It's like a ladder... first you start on the bottom rung with fairly innocuous porn and then that's not enough and you go to step two... and pretty soon you are so far up the ladder you can't get back down. It can consume your life and color all your thoughts and some of your actions.

But you are disgusted with yourself and you know you are caught in the web... chained down by your own actions. - What a messy lot we are! - You are going to overcome this, you are on the right road. Your courage in seeking Confession gives me courage for confessing my own sins in their full ugly bloom. Maybe not the same sins, but just as ugly and soul wrecking. I thank you for that!

May God bless you and keep you Courage Man.

RC said...

A priest on the 'net recently asked me, a computer geek, about software content filters, as he's heard many confessions involving 'net porn.

Thanks for posting about your experience with filtering software. I sent him a link, so your example will probably end up helping other Catholic guys, too.

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

Thanks for your honesty and integrity in admitting those severe struggles in your life.

May God grant you the grace and power that only HE can provide in overcoming these struggles.

He is your source and provider. He will see you through.

Count on it!

Xenophon said...

There is no cure for porn addiction. The chemical that is released in the male brain as a result of sexual stimulation is far more addictive than heroin or nicotein. Sex is literally addictive for many people. Once you're hooked, the only way out is to seek professional counseling or turn to spiritual solace. But even if you do manage to shut down the impulse to masturbate and seek sexual thrills through visual stimulation, you will never be cured. The addiction is for life. Any visual or audible cues can lead you right back into the labyrinth. You have to be eternally vigilant and seek help. May the people who run these porn enterprises burn in hell for their perfidious deeds. They are truly humanity's scum. I'd rather be stuck in an elevator with Adolf Hitler than have to share space with a porn merchant.