In Part 4, I shared about how my first experience of pornography on the internet began to shape me. Today, we’ll look at how the this exposure would begin to create a deeper hole in my heart.
Porn goes to college
I graduated from high school in 1997 with the vicious cycle of addiction beginning to take over. I went to Syracuse University in New York to major in acting where the Internet was newly available in every dorm room. While I was involved with the Newman Center and was growing in my Catholic Faith, with the exception of a roommate, there was nothing stopping me from getting my steady supply of this drug. I legitimized it because, hey, every guy in my hall was into it (one guy who I was teaching me guitar had a vast amount of his hard drive caked with porn images), and it was readily available elsewhere (the local movie theater on campus showed porn flicks all the time).
The situation grew worse. In my first two years in college, I experienced an emotional shutdown. I lived a “flat line” existence, feeling neither lows nor highs, except during fleeting moments when I indulged in porn. Pornography had neutered my spirit and my capacity to truly form bonds of intimacy with others. What was left was a dull ache in my heart, a hurt I thought could not be mended. I had a self-inflicted, gaping wound I did not know how to heal.
Even through the emotional emptiness, God was still trying to speak to me. Sometime during that year, because I still continued to pray (as well as confess nearly weekly my lustful habit), I received what I thought was a genuine call to the priesthood. The following year I moved back to Cleveland and transferred to Borromeo Seminary where I began undergraduate studies in philosophy. It was during this time that I truly met Jesus in the Eucharist, knowing He was alive and REAL, physically present for me in every Catholic Church (somehow, even with all of the years of religious education in my youth, I never really “got” this until then). Building off of what I learned at the Newman Association at Syracuse University, I continued to develop my relationship with Mary, our Mother, primarily through regular recitation of the Rosary. I felt that although I had lost my earthly mother, Mary was taking me under her mantle as her son. These two very Catholic elements would eventually help draw me forth from the darkness.
Throughout seminary, I struggled with my attachment to porn (like Syracuse, we had Internet in our room, as well as two large TVs where I could access scrambled porn). Through my brothers-in-arms, I came to realize that I was not the only one who was having problems. Because our formation did not really touch on this subject and my spiritual director would give me the typical advice most people are given who are trying to overcome pornography, there was no real victory, merely toleration. One guy named Joe, a man who was very open with his struggles, started a “Gold Star” program. For every day we did not masturbate, we got a gold star and whoever could go the longest would get some sort of a prize. Although it was good to realize we shared a similar problem, it did not move me closer to an answer, it only functioned as a coping mechanism. The fear of being found out was not enough to keep me from drinking the porn Kool-Aid.
Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
– Luke 6:39
Throughout my college years, I would often wear sunglasses during the day, even if it was cloudy. Part of it was practical, as I had a problem with brightness during the daytime even if the sun could not be seen. Mostly though, it was a reflection of my interior state; I did not want anyone to see me for me. I had a severe self-hatred and kept anyone from getting in. Although I got laser-eye surgery in the year 2000, which helped alleviate some of my problems with brightness, I knew I needed another type of “laser-eye surgery,” one for my heart.
On breaks throughout college seminary, I would return to my aunt and uncle’s house, where despite my best efforts, I kept giving in because the addiction was far too powerful. No one suspected a thing because, as a seminarian, I was presumably above suspicion. Yet my Mr. Hyde personality was killing me. All my best attempts to quit ended in failure. I told myself this was my cross and I would have to carry it for the rest of my life. I would never be free. Or so I thought.
To be continued…
Steve Pokorny is the founder of freedom-coaching.net, a one-on-one mentoring system devoted to breaking the power of pornified images. If you or someone you care about is hooked on porn, click on the link above to learn how you can be set free.