Mountain skyFrom
A website supporting individuals battling pornography addiction.

In the mountainous region of Kamaal, there is a small, flowering plant that grows in what even the people of Kamaal consider the remotest of locations.  It is known as the hiuspis.  The flower itself is pretty enough with muted shades of purple covering the outer edges of otherwise white petals.  The single flower stands at the top of a dark stem which reaches down to long, jagged leaves that clump together where the plant reaches into some dark crevice where it was first conceived and now grows.

The plant, a natural anesthetic, was prized among the people of Kamaal for its medicinal qualities.  The men of Kamaal would sometimes chance upon a hisupis plant or might search them out where they grew from the fissures in ancient gray rocks that stood halfway up the mountain.  But the young plants were fragile, requiring attention and care, so the men of Kamaal learned to devote themselves to the special needs of these powerful plants.  The flowering plants grew best out of the blistering sun, so the men of Kamaal learned to hide and shade them from the light; sometimes turning their backs to the sun and using their own bodies to guard them from the sun.  The plants grew best in isolation, away from trampling feet and from those who might abuse or steal their find; so the men of Kamaal learned to guard the location of their prized plants by devising elaborate routes to keep their paths to and from the plant hidden.  The plants grew best with constant care, so the men of Kamaal grew accustomed to the time it took to feed their hiuspis plant.

For those who know the story, it was usually much later that the poisonous properties of the plant were realized.  The effects were immediate, but mild; and they were more often than not clouded by the anesthetic effect of the plant.  It was usually much later that the men of Kamaal understood the full impact of their error.  And by then, of course, the poison had eaten away much of what was inside and the numbing effect of the plant had become more important than ever.

Pornography, for me, had always been a private affair.  From the very beginning it was a hidden thing.  There are some, I’m sure, who took a different path.  For some, the introduction to pornography may have had a social root–sitting with a friend in the basement, gawking at Dad’s recently discovered magazine collection; or, going to topless bars with friends from college.  I remember my brother-in-law being given some Playboy magazines by his dad as some rite of pubescent passage.  For me, it was different.  I wouldn’t get caught dead looking at pornography.  I tempted the fates many times on this, of course, in the depth of my addiction; but it has always been a solemnly secret indulgence.  And as much as I’ve tried to justify these indulgences with arguments ranging from “normal sexual behavior for men” to “important psychological escape”, I’ve always believed it was wrong; felt and known it was wrong.  And so I acted out in private.  This, of course, fueled a shame at the duplicity of my life—the responsible, rule-abiding, church-attending, gospel-believing self, and the hidden world of pornography and masturbation.

Healing, for me, began by bringing that which was hidden into the light.  I first confessed to my Bishop, then my wife.  Later I began meeting with a professional counselor.  Over time, my parents and my brother and sister were pulled in to help support me in my recovery.  It was never easy.  It’s not in the nature of man, I don’t think, to disclose one’s worst.  The shame and embarrassment can be overwhelming.  But, I discovered that the weight of the burden often slid off in large layers like so many unwanted pounds.  Confession itself was important, but more than that it was learning to live an honest life; to stop pretending.

There’s honest, and then there’s honest.  Complete honesty doesn’t come easy.  Complete honesty includes openness and, at first, a conscious removal of the everyday filters that everyone seems to use.  We tiptoe around certain issues, we skirt others entirely.  We use soft words when we’re trying to cushion a verbal blow.  Sometimes we lie.  Sometimes those lies are little white lies.  “No really, you look great!”  Other times, they’re grey.  Sometimes they’re black.  Through all the years I was deeply addicted, I never looked on myself as a dishonest person.  The outright lies, the black ones—about my addiction, about anything—were few and far between.  No one knew, no one asked; I didn’t have to lie, not outright anyway.  But, at the same time, I was learning the power and subtleties of nuanced communication.  I learned to deflect conversations that might corner me into having to make a decision between lying or disclosing too much.  I learned to answer with what I knew rather than responding directly to what was asked.  I learned to direct the overall ebb and flow of a conversation, to take it where I wanted it to go; away from the dangerous shoals of complete honesty.

I remember an account call with my boss during this time.  The meeting was running over.  She closed the meeting and excused us by suggesting that she had a two o’clock flight to catch.  Her flight was at four.  I remember being mildly disappointed in her for lying to these people.  And it worried me a little.  I wondered what little lies she told me.  At the same time, I was thinking, “that was completely unnecessary.  If she were any ‘good’, she would have worded it differently so she didn’t have to risk being caught in a lie.  She could have talked about ‘important matters’ to attend to, or some other commitment.”  It never dawned on me at the time that a nuanced deception, one that prevents the individual from getting caught in a lie, might be worse than an outright lie because it cankers the soul and creates an atmosphere completely free of accountability.

“Fully functioning” addicts in particular, I think, can become expert at dishonesty.  I developed an aptitude for telling the truth without being honest.  For others, it’s outright lies and the ability to track them.  There’s so much to hide, and there’s so much at risk.  We have this ugly blight in our lives that is all consuming, and we have to conceal it from the world.  It’s the art of hiding the proverbial “elephant in the room” and everything it takes to make that happen.  Dishonesty, in this sense and in the sense of self-deception, is also an incredibly useful tool for the addict because it allows him to ward off the negative emotions that he’s growing less and less capable of handling normally.  By medicating these negative emotions with our addictive behavior, we learn to push them aside and ignore them, hopefully indefinitely.  Dishonesty does the same thing.  It allows the individual to push the pain associated with confession and honesty out to some future date.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t actually “say the words”.  I wasn’t being honest with the people closest to me in life, and it had been going on for many years.  Because of all the years my wife trusted that “all was well”, when it wasn’t, my wife developed an insatiable need for complete honesty in our relationship.  As a part of this, I promised to confess whenever I faltered.  At first, it took me a day or two, sometimes more, before I could face myself and tell her.  The continuing dishonesty killed her.  Usually I would play the old game: not lying, not telling the truth.  Other times I would say, “everything’s fine” and then a day or two later I’d confess.  Over time, I got to the point where I was able to confess immediately.  It was painful and hard and embarrassing, but it also meant I was able to share my burden, and keep at least this one commitment.  Knowing that I was going to confess, knowing that I was going to confess every single time, had an effect on me.  As I acted out, I realized that someone was going to know about it.  This realization has proved critical to my ongoing recovery.

Mold, as it turns out, tends to thrive in dark, damp places; but it really struggles to sustain itself–let alone grow–in the bright light of day.