For two years I traveled with Josh McDowell, helping to wake people up to the fact that pornography has become an epidemic in America — despite the fact that few seem to recognize the problem. But I know first-hand the devastation it causes, and how easy it is to become addicted and enslaved by shame. Here’s a bit of my story.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I walked into the room at our youth group’s winter camp, only to be greeted by the tears of a good friend. It was sixth grade and I was 12 years old. He blurted, “I need to tell you something.” Before I knew it, he was spilling out a story all too familiar to my own: his deep struggle with pornography. I sat, shocked, as guilt and an enormous conviction flooded my soul.
I was first exposed to porn at just nine years old, but curiosity led me to seek it out when I was eleven. That unwise decision birthed an 11-year addiction that devastated that period of my life. For almost a decade, pornography became my source of intimacy, gratification, and acceptance.
When I was lonely, porn was my comfort.
When I felt like a failure, porn gratified.
When I felt like I was worthless, porn gave me a sense of worth.
My desire to be fully known and loved began to be satisfied by this counterfeit source. Porn was an escape into a pleasure-soaked world. I soon became emotionally withdrawn from family and friends, as shame and isolation grew within me.
Hiding My Shame
At church I was the pastor’s son; I looked like I had it all together. I learned all the right answers and how to perform for others’ acceptance. Opportunities arose for me to lead worship, small groups in my youth group, and even speak. Mentors and friends encouraged and complimented me, but their uplifting words filtered through my shame, diving me deeper into desolation.
I lied, ran, and hid in moments of vulnerability. Honestly, my life looked good, but the unrest of my double life tore me apart.
I heard at church and Christian seminars that if I confessed my sin to Jesus, and developed accountability with the boys around me, I would find freedom from my addiction. I tried this for years, confessing my sins over and over again with accountability that failed. This traumatizing cycle of guilt, confession, short periods of change, and relapse continued throughout my addiction.
As I repeatedly failed, the guilt of my failure moved to shame when I viewed myself as the failure.
Rock bottom was a rude awakening in my junior year of college. I had lost hope and was deeply depressed. Failure, worthlessness, and shame consumed my thoughts as I tried to keep my act together. On the morning of March 28, 2017, I finally reached out to the two people that I knew loved and cared about me more than anyone else, my parents.
I called home and confessed. And in that moment I experienced pure grace.
My parents spoke worth into who I was as a child of God — and as their son. That morning launched my process of finding health: cutting the supply of pornography, true repentance, true accountability, and counseling.
Finding healing has been one of the hardest journeys of my life. I struggle to use the term “freedom” because I struggle to believe that we can find true freedom from sin here on earth. That full freedom is what we look forward to when we are reunited with our Creator.
But I can say that I have found a new level of health. This level of health consists of a life of no secrets, intimacy with God, processing emotions, and reaching out in relationships. Do I still watch porn? No. But am I truly free? No. Because porn is not just a problem, it is a medication for an underlying problem.
When I was lonely, porn was my comfort. When I felt like a failure, porn gratified. When I felt like I was not enough, porn gave me a sense of worth.
We all medicate with something when we have desires that go unmet. Instead of healthily going to God and the people around me to be loved and known, fear drove me to a counterfeit. Through counseling, I realized that I was not just dealing with an addiction to pornography, but wounds of my past. Porn addicts are not perverts; they are hurting and looking for love, acceptance, and gratification in the wrong place. As my friend Ben Bennett says, “Unmet desires lead to unwanted behaviors.”
Leaning on Christ
There is much pain in my story. But that pain is nothing compared to the deep love of Christ. I can sit here today with the strong conviction that I am a beloved child of God, with immense worth to my Creator. That is cause to celebrate! Nothing compares to my intimacy with the Lord and the people around me. I hold strong to these two verses that my parents shared with me the morning I confessed my addiction:
John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Pornography is wrecking our nation, our churches, our families, and us as individuals. It is undermining the very groundwork God put in place for people to relate in healthy intimacy. The global stats of this struggle are overwhelming, but there is hope, starting with the Church choosing to deal with this struggle directly.
As the Church, the bride of Christ, let’s start talking. Let’s normalize the topic of sexual addiction, which has been taboo for too long in the Church. Until we are willing to talk about this openly and compassionately, porn addicts like myself will continue to hide in their shame. I ask you: Is it the purpose of the Church to condemn — or to help lead captives to freedom?
I believe Jesus came to show us that it’s the latter.
For more on my story, check out the Long Story Short podcast, where my good friend Alex and I discuss the shame, medication, and breakdown of solutions to pornography.