I came across something on social media the other day that hit me: the topic of suffering.
When I first got into a relationship as a rebooting porn addict with serious porn addiction problems, I was scared. So scared. In fact, I had a mental breakdown at one point. I met a genuinely good woman, innocent, well-raised, feminine, beautiful, caring, and so out of my league that I was convinced God was playing a cruel trick on me.
Would I hurt her with my behavior? Could I keep my commitments? Could I, a filthy-minded porn addict who had acted out in the most disgusting ways, deserve such happiness? What if she found out about my past, the drunken weed- and porn-filled nights that I woke up from? Should I tell her? How much? And what if I lost her?
These thoughts hurdled through my mind with such intensity that I was rendered useless for weeks. While driving to work one morning I randomly and inexplicably burst into tears. I remember pulling over to a gas station, bewildered and confused, and calling my mother. I was sobbing uncontrollably out of nowhere and didn’t understand what was going on.
That relationship did a number on me. My heart literally hurt whenever I was with her during our first year together. The pressure of my shame and low self-worth crushed me from within. I went through the motions of daily life like a zombie with dread in my heart and a seemingly permanent lump in my throat.
I couldn’t handle intimacy.
I couldn’t handle someone loving me.
I wasn’t worthy.
A part of me craved intimacy while another part was terrified by its potential. I was scared of the long, four-hour calls at night. I feared cuddles and long hugs. Hand-holding was so alien to me. I remember hearing the words “I love you” on the phone for the first time and they elicited this internal reaction akin to an addict living in secrecy for years.
When sex is exclusively used for pleasure and escape from your irresponsible reality, intimacy in any form is a threat to your existence. Eventually, I became convinced that if I did not take drastic measures I was going to lose my mind.
I went on a long silent meditation retreat and what followed were the most painful days of my life. No access to the internet, no phone, no books. Just 11 days of silence and 10 hours of meditation per day.
My urges, which I thought were under control at that point, rose with a vengeance. I had wet dreams almost nightly. I woke up with panic attacks and fear so severe that I wet the bed on two occasions. All I could do was whisper to myself, “Please, God, make it stop.”
When the sun rose each morning it was a sweet relief from my agonizing, lonely nights. But after a few hours, the sleep deprivation sunk in and all my fears gathered like a dark storm. They enveloped me almost the entire time I spent at that retreat.
I learned the true nature of pain and suffering.
Have you ever experienced a mental pain so intense that you would have one of your limbs sawed off in exchange for relief? That’s what it felt like. That’s how painful it was during the last few days of the retreat. I slowly realized the pain was not going away, either. Not any time soon.
There was no way I could continue living with this insanity but I had to accept that it might never truly leave me. It was my hell on earth, the price I had to pay for my years of compulsive sexual behavior and running from the pain.
Something peculiar happened when I returned from the retreat, though. As I slowly accepted the insanity and suffering, I stopped resenting it. As I saw with it, it became slightly more bearable. But the moment I tried to run from it, it became intense again.
I realized that if I stopped struggling, stopped wishing it would go away, then I could manage it. It was still painful but it was bearable moment to moment. I finally experienced some relief.
The sense of relief has grown throughout the almost 15 years that I’ve been porn-free now achieving porn addiction recovery completely. I still experience some unwelcome visits from time to time. Occasionally I have nightmares and wake up with feelings of pure terror and panic. But those are fewer and further between the more time goes by.
I know I’m not the only man who goes through this. Many men are forced through that experience of their self-made hell. I want you to know that if you’ve experienced this, or you’re in the middle of it right now, it’s okay. You don’t have to walk alone. You’ll have to do the work on your own and come to your conclusions in solitude, but I’m here to walk by your side.
I will keep you company through that landscape of irrationality, fear, dread, depression, and temporary madness. I’ll be there until you arrive at your destination of understanding. The understanding that I had to come to myself. The realization that while pain is a requirement of the human condition, suffering is only optional.