(Due to the sensitive nature of this article, the name of the author has been changed.)
Contributor’s Note: The following is not intended to be either a factual guide about or a comprehensive description of pornography addiction. The article contains a few observations, opinions and lessons I’ve gained from personal experience as a spouse of someone with an addiction.
“Hi. My name is Evelyn.”
“Hi, Evelyn,” responds the group.
Blood rushes to my face, and I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I’m embarrassed to say my name aloud and admit that I am the wife of someone with a pornography addiction.
I feel slightly comforted knowing that the other nine people here at the LDS Addiction Recovery Program meeting for spouses know how I feel.
I share a thought, as everyone does each week, and my turn is finished. As I listen to the other comments, I think, “How can I be here? How can so many of us be here?”
I am the wife of a man with a pornography addiction. Those words took me time to accept. They are scary to say, yet it is worse to say nothing.
I do not pretend to speak for all who experience the loss, betrayal and devastation that come from learning of a loved one’s addiction.
I speak only for myself. But how can I not share the little I know if it might help just one?
Let us be clear. I am normal. When not juggling my two sons, I let my artistic side indulge in party planning, interior design and the occasional advertising project.
I graduated with honors and married the most wonderful and handsome man I had ever met. He swept me off my feet, we married and we lived “happily ever after” — until a few years later when I learned of the years of struggle he had had with pornography and masturbation.
Yes, I said it. Masturbation. There are a lot of things I can say now without cringing, things I wish someone would have addressed openly and honestly before this world bombarded me. Pornography addiction is fueled by secrecy, lies and deceit. Silence only enables denial that this is a real, rampant plague affecting many, so I talk about this addiction to take away the power of secrecy and address what is real.
No Longer for a Few
“Sexual addiction” evokes images of an unkempt loner, hidden away in a basement with only the glow of a computer screen for company.
Though the pedophile image might have been true of people with a pornography addiction 50 years ago, the plague now rages among the best and brightest.
We no longer have to go into sketchy areas to find pornography; with technology, pornography can come into our homes.
No, for the most part, the people I have met with a pornography addiction have roles as spouses, parents, friends, employees, volunteers and sports and hobby enthusiasts, all while juggling their double lives terribly well.
That is not to say things do not suffer because of the addiction, but the addiction gradually becomes habit, and a nearly seamless transition between lives exists. Though people with addictions are generally secretive and careful about hiding their habits, indicators of problems exist.
Before marrying my husband, I had asked him whether pornography had been an issue for him. He answered that it had but was not any longer. Painfully unaware of the extent of this problem, I left it at that. Though my husband’s answer was honest, staying “sober” (not using pornography or masturbation) is only possible when people have recovery tools and a continued plan of action for future, unavoidable encounters with temptation.
I have learned that in many cases, “It’s no longer a problem” is an insufficient approach and is likely a sign of current problems. Many tools and action plans are available through recovery programs and counselors.
After our marriage, I noticed slight behavioral and mood changes in my husband: getting up in the middle of the night, increased irritability, and answers of avoidance or ones that reversed fault. He gradually distanced himself from spiritual activities such as personal scripture study, prayer and priesthood leadership in the home.
Combined, these habits indicated a greater issue, but I determined that I had worked too hard in life for such an issue in my marriage, so I brushed my questions away, unanswered. I was sure I had found someone impervious to this temptation.
But believing that pornography addiction could not touch my family or me kept me from seeing the signs that my life had become the very thing I had so desperately hoped to avoid.
“As of 2008, an estimated 9 out of 10 young men and nearly one-third of young women reported using pornography,” according to the September 2014 Ensign article, “Healing Hidden Wounds.”
If the numbers are not enough of a shock, think about the word “using.”
It is not merely the desire to look, but the effect of choosing pornography as a function, to serve a purpose. Though some may seek being entertained or excited, in cases of addiction, it is more likely to be used because it numbs painful feelings and makes someone feel good, even momentarily.
Some use sex as a way to regulate their mood or to serve as an escape from situations and for a myriad of other reasons, some of which they might not even identify.
The patterns of sexual behavior are much more complex than so many realize, and identifying the root issues of a person’s addictive behavior is imperative for recovery.
On or off?
One of the most difficult things for me to understand was that there is no “on/off switch.”
No matter how much I wanted my husband to immediately change his behavior, it was not that simple. The battle becomes much more than “look” or “don’t look.”
Physical changes have occurred in people with an addiction; the brain has shrunk and rewired itself in areas that affect decision-making and judgment.
They develop urges so strong that they sometimes feel as though they do not have a choice anymore.
None of this is an excuse for behavior, but I share it to explain, in a simple way, the extent of the damage that can occur. Understanding that might help us better understand what is required for recovery.
It’s Just Pictures, Right?
Pornography addiction involves much more than pornography and masturbation.
Behind the first door of pornography lies a maze of windowless rooms of deceit, never-ending staircases of residual effects, passages of shame and guilt and pits of breathless drops.
We — both the person with the addiction and his or her loved ones — are brought back to the light by a merciful God. Addiction is an unimaginably complex world, and only with time can a person begin to grasp the problem at hand, understand the fight their spouse faces and, most importantly, find ways for both partners to heal.
The hardest lesson I have learned was that each person must face his or her own demons.
No matter how hard I tried, there was no way I could change my husband’s heart, make him choose the better path or coerce him down the road to recovery. He had to choose, as everyone with an addiction has to do one will fully recover if they have not chosen to.
Both the person with the addiction and his or her spouse must break the bonds of codependency. I realized that I could not fix him; he had to accept that he needed help.
There is a difference between being supportive and doing the recovery on another’s behalf, a difference imperative to understand.
No man or woman is strong enough to overcome addiction on his or her own. Determination, willpower and self-discipline are powerful but insufficient in addiction recovery. For true healing and recovery, we need Jesus Christ.
Counselors and recovery groups can offer different kinds of support and tools that are necessary for, and that perfectly complement, a Christ-centered recovery.
Those who struggle with addiction can meet with a professional therapist or counselor or attend a 12-step program or addiction recovery group for help, guidance, support and tools.
I encourage spouses who find themselves lost about where to turn for help — for themselves and/ or for their spouses — to first involve Christ in their recovery but also to use the many fantastic resources available for pornography-addiction recovery. Help, hope and healing are at our fingertips.