When Your Eyes Play Tricks On You
I was exposed to pornography for the first time when I was 5 years old! Yep, you read that correctly, 5 years old. I was in Kindergarten and my best friend at the time and his mother had me over to his house for a “play-date.” As I was playing at my friend’s house that day, we were outside in his backyard, and he said, “Wanna see something cool?” Of course, I wanted to see it, I’m a guy. Even now at 34 years of age if someone said that to me I’d be all in.
It was at this moment that my life was set on a course that I couldn’t turn back from, and at 5 years of age I saw pornography for the first time. My friend led me into a shed owned by his father, in their backyard, and begun to show me magazine after magazine which was filled with pornographic images.
Images are a powerful tool, which is why they are used in marketing worldwide because their impact in a human’s brain is well documented by science. What we see in life impacts how we see our life. It impacted me, so much so that for years after that moment I could vividly remember the exact images that I saw.
I wish I could say that this was a one-off moment in my life and that I was never exposed to anything like this again, but that would be a lie. As a matter of fact, by the time I had finished my kindergarten year I had been exposed to some form of pornographic content at least 4 times if my memory serves me correctly.
Now, it’s here that I feel the need to say that none of these instances came from the safety of my own home. My parents were vigilant and careful about what they let into their home and who they let impact their children. Every single instance I’m referring to came through the avenue of someone my own age, and at 5 years old it was completely out of curious innocence. No one meant me harm or was malevolent in exposing me to pornography. They simply wanted to share with me what they had seen. Where they saw it, I have no clue, and I pray for each of these people who are now adults because I know how it impacted me, therefore I can’t begin to imagine the impact it had on their lives as well.
So there you have it. Before my brain was even mentally capable of understanding what I was seeing, it was being told how to perceive women, myself, sexuality, and the world as a whole. For years I saw every encounter I had through this distorted lens, and it caused me to view every woman in my life as the objects that I’d been previously exposed to through pornography. Before my mother had a chance to impress upon me what the picture of a Godly woman looked like, my view had been skewed. I knew enough at that time to know it wasn’t right to be looking at those things, so it wasn’t something I was willing to talk to my parents about. They had no clue. I know this because we’ve talked through these moments of my life throughout the latter years of my journey.
I had many, many more encounters and experiences as I grew up and even into my teenage years, but to get into all of those, and to cover the breadth of this journey would take a book which I may write one day.
I know I’m not alone in my experiences, and that there are many whose stories far exceed that tragedy and horror which I can now see was thrust upon me. I don’t write any of these words with any sort of presumption that I’m good, or my story is incredible. Actually, I write these words with the sober knowledge that there are far too many stories in this world that are just like this, and far worse.
Fast forward to the year 2005, I was 23 years old, married and my wife and I were youth pastors at the small church we’d grown up in. On the outside, everyone looked at us as if we had it all together. She was about to graduate college with her teaching degree, and my career was beginning to bud, not to mention that we were also some pretty freaking cool youth pastors if I do say so myself. But nothing had changed for me. I was the same, still hiding my shame in the dark corners of my heart, and no one, not even my wife knew what was truly going on.
By this time in my life my constant exposure, and distorted view of the world had grown into a full-scale pornography addiction. There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t view some form of it. Sex was constantly on my mind, and while some say that’s normal for a 23-year-old man, I’d say that it doesn’t have to be. It had become my obsession, and to the point where even my wife was beginning to see that something wasn’t right.
The whole castle of hidden secrets I built came tumbling to the ground one fall night in 2005 when my wife had uncovered some of my dirty, but not so little, secrets. I was at a football game which one of our students was participating in, so I was about an hour from our home when she called me and demanded that I come home. I asked her why, and all she said was, “you know why” and she hung up. You know what? I did know why. I knew exactly why, and it scared the hell out of me.
My entire life had been built around not confronting this issue, and I had become an expert at hiding all of my failures, insecurities and shame in the hardest to reach places of my heart. Now, I had to make the hour-long drive home, all the while knowing that I was going to be confronted with an angry, hurt (rightfully so), and unforgiving spouse. What I didn’t plan on was that God’s redemptive justice is usually best shown to us through the avenue of mercy and forgiveness.
As I began to drive home I just started asking God why this had happened. Why would he let me stay in this addiction for so long, when I’d literally cried for freedom in the middle of the night countless times before. Why would he allow this to hurt my wife too? In my fear, and through my outcry, the presence of the loving God invaded my truck. I began to experience his love in a way that could never be explained only encountered. It was almost mystical. In those brief moments before arriving home God began to heal me and show me how much he loved me even though I hated myself.
By the time I arrived at my home I was no longer the same man who had sat down in the driver’s seat just an hour prior.
I was prepared for the worst when I walked in the door, and I wouldn’t have blamed my wife for one second if she had decided to leave me. But that’s not what happened. She didn’t leave. She stayed. She demanded answers, exclaimed her hurt and anger, and justly so, but she stayed nonetheless. So, I gave her answers. I told her my whole story. Every rotten detail of my life, which I thought I would never share with anyone. God had given me, for that moment, this amazing ability to be vulnerable with my wife. As I began to share my life’s story with her I could see healing happening in the midst. Her choice to stay would be the mercy that would bring true healing to my life and our relationship.
Over the next few months, we experienced an amazing infusion of love and compassion into our marriage. The years after haven’t been easy, as you can imagine. There have been times where trust wasn’t given, but earned. Her forgiveness and love had never left me, but her trust was something I’ve had to earn back, but I can openly say that our marriage is fortified by our ability to be completely transparent and vulnerable with each other. We know every single detail of each other’s lives.
I discovered in those days following what could have been the worst day of my life, that God had provided me with a moment in time where I could experience true freedom. This freedom didn’t come just from a one-time moment, but from a series of choices to forgive myself, and the choice made by my wife to forgive me. Today, I am a free man and am confident that you can live free as well.
If you’re struggling with an addiction to pornography and don’t know how to find freedom, then I encourage you to listen to our episode with Brendon Byrne (listen here). He has an amazing story of freedom, not too different from my own. I’d also encourage you to purchase his book, “Take Back Your Life”. In the meantime, here are some practical steps to overcoming pornography that have been working in my life for over 10 years of complete freedom:
1) Be Accountable – Find someone in your life who you trust completely. Be open, vulnerable and transparent with them about what you’re struggling with. You will begin to see that bringing the things which have caused you shame into the light will begin to produce courage and freedom in your heart.
2) Be Safe – Find a way to safeguard your heart. On the internet, TV, etc. There are so many avenues to access pornography today that it can be difficult to simply avert your eyes. There are a lot of great options for helping with this today, but one I would highly recommend is a www.xxxchurch.com. They’re amazing and have been helping men and women live in freedom, not just addiction management, for a long time.
3) Be Intentional – Chart out the times of day when you find yourself most susceptible to temptations. Is it in the middle of the afternoon when the late day lull hits you? Is it late at night, right before bed? It can be different for everyone. Chart these times, and plan times to read a book, read the Bible, pray, meditate/contemplative prayer during this time or have a conversation with a friend.
4) Be Adventurous – Do something risky. Not something that would risk your health or well-being, but do something you’re afraid to do, or something that gets your adrenaline pumping. I’ve found, as have many others, that the imaginative and adventurous parts of our life can actually be dulled and desensitized by pornography. So, fight this by truly living! Do something you love and that excites you, then invite others into that part of your journey.
These tips aren’t exhaustive, but they’ve helped me and I know they’ll help you too. You can live in freedom, and it’s not as hard as you think! In your journey remember that you are loved.
“… in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:37-39