Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Wretch Like Him and Me: A Guest Post About Pornography Addiction

by Anonymous

I am not a martyr. I will not die for this. Or from it. I will not die at all.

For the first year of my marriage, this is was my mantra. It pulsed through my veins, reminding me, convincing me—heartbeat to heartbeat—that slipping into the mindset of a victim is a dangerous release.

My husband told me about his pornography addiction when we were engaged. I remember staring through the windshield, parked in the gutter of a Provo neighborhood south of BYU campus. I remember watching the loose cloud of hot breath carry his confession out into the winter air between us, out into the world. I remember feeling flooded with love and relief almost instantaneously.

“God has blessed me with a forgiving heart,” I told myself.

And that was that.

We got married on a Thursday in a beautiful temple, under a sparkling chandelier and a cloud of secrecy. He didn’t want anyone to know he wasn’t sure he was worthy to marry me there at the alter, dressed in pure white. He was one of the good ones, the quality ones, the happy-mannered, clean-cut ones that these things just don’t happen to. And I didn’t want anyone to worry about us. We pushed our doubts out of mind. This trial was a gift to make us stronger, deeper, more complex and interesting. And I was a gift to him, a savior of sorts, sent to pull him out of the hole he’d dug himself. He was helpless without me. I knew he was a good man. I loved him, after all, and sincerely wanted to be the one to help him. But I also felt distortedly privileged by the sacrifice. The fewer people who knew about it all, the more noble our triumph would be. That is how I thought.

It’s hard to remember the months that followed, hard to piece together the life that enveloped my shrinking self. It ebbed and flowed, good and bad, agony and apathy. There were times when the addiction waned and times when it raged, moments when we felt like glowing little newlyweds and moments when we pretended, for ourselves as much as anyone, that we were living a glowing newlywed life. Oh, how quickly I learned that forgiveness—the lasting kind—would not come in one fell swoop. Oh, how quickly I learned that this addiction would hurt me, no matter how firmly I decided it wouldn’t.

I remember the fights that started on our honeymoon in Mexico. I was afraid of sex—the physical pain and vulnerability. Neither of us knew what was “normal.” I trusted nothing. I remember threatening, at one point, to fly home alone.

I remember dread rising in my body when the nights got late back at home in Provo. Sex left me feeling numb when I obliged and guilty when I refused.

I remember asking my husband what terms he had searched when he “messed up,” and searching them myself when he wasn’t around, hating every faceless body he’d wanted more than mine, sickened and obsessed.

I remember fighting with him on the phone down the street from my friend’s wedding reception, booking an early flight home from Boston, telling my old roommates that my husband had “depression,” which I thought at the time was a lie, and saying that “the first month of marriage wasn’t supposed to be like this,” which I knew was the absolute truth.

I remember storming out of the house when things got bad, wandering around Provo alone. Sometimes I would make it all the way up to the doorsteps of my friends’ apartments, but I never knocked. I never felt like explaining everything. They had their own marriages to attend to.

I remember not going to work some days, lying about “family emergencies.” Sometimes I spent long mornings in bed, staring at the crack in our window, wondering if the neighbors had heard the yelling.

I remember cleaning up shards of blue porcelain from the floor, and crying over a broken chair from our kitchen table, a wedding gift from my parents that’d I’d thrown against the wall.

I remember saying words I never thought I’d say. I remember wanting so badly for those words to release some of the anger I had bursting in my chest. But they never did.

I remember hitting my husband, punching him, beating him, justifying it all by telling myself my little hands couldn’t hurt him and daring him to hit me back.

I remember fighting the urge to storm up to girls with short skirts and low-cut tops in the grocery store and spit in their faces. Didn’t they know who they were hurting?

I remember monitoring my husband’s eyes as we walked around Disneyland in the fall—erratic, frenzied. Who he was looking at? And how long was he looking?

I remember walking in the back door after work one day and looking up to see the kitchen knife block on top of the refrigerator, out of reach. I couldn’t remember who’d played the suicidal mess and who’d played the savior the night before.

I remember fantasizing about running into oncoming traffic.

I remember the night I called the police to come get my husband and the knife block out of the cellar. He’d locked the door and threatened to hurt himself. I remember watching him cuffed, face down in the living room while an officer held me by the arm in the driveway. I remember wanting to run to him, hold him, and push the cops away.

I remember writhing in a dark room in my in-law’s basement, crying to the ceiling, “There is no God. No, not to me.”

We were the stable ones, the A students, the seminary class presidents. Oh, how far and fast we fell.

I read every book about pornography and addiction on the market, wanting to know what we were up against, trying to edge out the problem by becoming an expert on it. They all made mention of “rock bottom” and how my husband needed to hit that, whatever it was, before he would really find the motivation to recover. I kept waiting for it, hoping for it, threatening to leave him. But he knew I never would. I was the martyr who’d married him. I’d forfeited every thread of my identity to do it, except the thread wound round being the savior who stuck by him.

Rock bottom never came.

Then I tried being a zealot. I tried believing we could fast and pray away his addiction. I ordered exactness from him in every aspect of righteousness: church attendance, scripture study, meetings with the bishop. I ordered exactness from myself, too. “It is by grace that we are saved after all we can do,” so the scripture goes. If God was going to pluck this trial away, we had to prove we deserved it. But we were drowning then, already too deep for consistent efforts of any kind, our faith too weak to move mountains.

It’s hard to remember how we emerged from all this, hard to follow the light that crept back into our cavernous souls. But it started when I began to consider that maybe “all we could do” involved more than living a checklist gospel in isolation. Maybe it involved professional help and support from family and patience with ourselves. I told my parents and a few friends about his addiction. They were messy conversations that left me second-guessing the wisdom of the disclosures at first, but they were steps toward admitting to the mixed-up woman inside me that I was not his savior—that he had one, but it was not me.

We moved across the country, saying goodbye to the cracked window and the cellar and the hell we’d been through. We drove away from that little house in Provo and settled in a new place. I isolated myself again at first—old habits—but soon, my church callings forced me out, and new friendships formed, and I slowly started opening up again, serving again, earnestly praying again. I started to understand what grace really meant. I found myself again, and, for the first time in my marriage, I found myself in love. We got a counselor and joined support groups. We found others who were learning to balance living with an addiction and trying to live without it. We started, in small ways, to tell our story, and every time we did, I heard my own voice more strong and clear:

I am not a martyr. I will not die for this. Or from it. I will not die at all.

And little by little, I started to believe it.

I am publishing guests posts this year on pornography and sexual addiction. If you have a story to tell, please email me at cjanekendrick (@)