My addiction to pornography and self gratification carried an immense amount of shame with it. I kept it secret, fearing I would be embarrassed, rejected, humiliated, and ridiculed for who I was. You see, I saw myself as a pervert; there was something really wrong with me because I was unable to be a “good Christian woman.”
I define shame as follows – I am bad as a person. There is something inside of me that is flawed and I am a mistake of a human being. Guilt is about my behavior being bad. Big difference. My thoughts continually focused on how I was unable to stop my behaviors of looking at porn (all types) and fantasizing about myself in those porn scenes.
So here is how my mind worked – as a single Christian woman, I cannot be sexual. I grew up being told not to play with my private parts, don’t allow boys to take advantage of you so no interacting or carousing allowed, and of course I am not allowed to be attracted to other women because the Bible says it is a sin. Yet at the age of 30+, my friends were marrying or already married and I was wondering what being sexual was really like.
It was then that I began masturbating. Oh the shame that came afterwards! I was mortified, certain I was damned to hell. How could I ever be forgiven. Yet, WOW!, it felt so good. I had never experienced anything like it. And it helped for a while with the lonely heart ache I had. It soon became my escape from the pain of loneliness and the fear that I would never be the love of someone special.
This is what shame does. It is all based on lies and the need to cover up what is flawed and dirty. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing. So I isolated myself from others more and more. I had very few friends and I began to pull away from my family – certain I would be judged by them and my church family. But the curiosity of the new Internet access in homes (private, anonymous, affordable and accessible) made it easy for me to explore – just what is it like to have sex with someone else? Boy did I ever get educated – in all the wrong ways.
You see, the shame drove me to think that in order for me to be sexual, I had to be punished for doing it. So I was soon drawn to porn websites containing bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM). I looked at gay and lesbian porn along with violent porn. I punished myself in my fantasies – wanting to be wild and out of control – yet “in control” in my fantasies. Twisted – isn’t it.
Soon the websites were not enough to bring me any satisfaction so the addiction grew in frequency and novelty – finding different and darker porn websites. I soon wanted to step out of the “safety” of my house and find it for real. This scared me into asking someone for help and risking revealing my secrets and my shame. I’m so glad I asked for help. My secrets were controlling me!
Shame runs in a cycle (see Patrick Carnes’ drawing (Figure 2.3)). It starts with the belief about myself that is shame-based and my identity is based on shame. This belief then leads to distorted thinking. As you can read above, I was certain no one would love me if they knew my secrets. I was sure I would be judged and rejected. So I had to find something outside of myself in order to feel better. Plus I was sure God was keeping score on my many sins so I couldn’t turn to Him for help.
So that source of comfort and satisfaction turned into behaviors of masturbating while looking at porn and fantasizing about myself in those scenes. It worked for a little while. That seemed to be better than the alternative of knowing I was unlovable – or so I thought and believed.
My addictions then led to more shame, despair, and isolation. My life was becoming unmanageable and out of control. This only cycled back and reinforced my belief that I was a mistake of a person and my shame-based identity. Not only did I cycle around and around in this shame cycle, I also spiraled downward, developing clinical depression. I tried harder to stop and to counteract the shame in performing at work to the point of being a perfectionist and workaholic.
Today, I am a recovering porn addict and recovering perfectionist. I learned in my journey of recovery that Jesus Christ redeemed me from my shame and sins; God renewed me into being identified as His kid, and He is daily restoring me to wholeness by His mercy, grace and sanctification. More on this soon.