January 16, 2014

Enough Shame

I am hearing more and more lately about people with a spouse struggling with pornography.  It is a tough subject to talk about, but I want to talk about it today.  I read an interesting article the other day, which you can read here: http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/03/20/porn-training-motivation/  It talks about the environment that can set the stage for boys to become interested in porn.  One quote in particular stood out to me and it is this; "The porn world is a refuge where people go to escape the realities of their lives. It’s a risk-free haven where the addict can be in control, while satisfying his weary mind."

Not a lot of people talk about women and pornography.  I am going to talk about it today.  For most people, pornography is something men view on the internet.  But there is a whole other category of pornography marketed just to women - romance books.  I spoke with a bishop about it once when he asked me if I understood the draw.  Being that I had experience with just such an addiction, I was able to answer that question.  "The porn world is a refuge where people go to escape the realities of their lives. It’s a risk-free haven where the addict can be in control, while satisfying his weary mind."
It is a place where people who are hurting can go to escape. Just like alcohol or drugs, it numbs the mind from the pain a person is feeling.  In a romance book, good always wins, the hero always rescues the damsel in distress.  As in any book, a person can escape into someone else's story for a while and pretend that things will be alright.  But also just like drugs and alcohol, pornography in all its forms, doesn't just numb the pain, it numbs the spirit too.  It doesn't just take away the bad, but all the good as well, so that the only place to go to feel anything is further into pornography.  You feel like the only way to escape the shame of pornography is more pornography to dull the mind and spirit.

When I was growing up I was bullied.  I hate to use such a strong word because it is such a hot button topic in today's media, but I have to finally be honest and say that yes, it was bullying.  When I rode the bus to school there were older kids who teased me mercilessly.  I remember one occasion in particular when two high school girls put handfuls of little torn up shreds of paper in my hair and then taunted me about what kind of shampoo I used.  I was maybe 7 or 8 at the time.  I don't know why I was chosen as a target, but they kept at it day after day until my older brother stepped in.  I will always be grateful that he did.  I was teased about my weight by just about all the kids I knew.  People calling me a fat cow, that no one liked me because I was fat.  People constantly telling me that if I just didn't eat that I wouldn't be so fat. I look back at pictures of me now and I can't understand what they saw.  I was a beautiful little girl. But in the end, it became a self fulfilling prophesy.  Food is just as much a drug as alcohol or pornography.  In junior high, the teasing got worse.  I remember once a girl in my class put chewed gum in my clothes during gym class.  A letter I wrote to a boy I had a crush on got posted on the wall during a basketball game.  It was so bad that a teacher took my entire gym class to task over it.  He told a story about how chickens will peck any chicken that is slightly different until it dies.  He never mentioned names, but everyone knew it was about me.  On top of it, he made everyone late to lunch, and it just threw fuel on the fire.  He was trying to help, but in the end, it just made everything worse.

At the same time, an adult friend of the family was telling me I was his princess and leering at me, telling me how pretty I was, how pretty my hair was, and basically making me completely uncomfortable.  I don't remember much more than that, and I think I am okay with not remembering. I went to an overnight party at my best friend's once and when the father thought we were all asleep on the floor of the living room, he turned on pornography in the tv.  When I was 12, a man called the house asking if there was anyone of babysitting age.  Assuming he wanted a babysitter, the phone was handed to me.  As I sat shocked, the man said vile things to me, describing a previous babysitter and the things he 'caught' her doing, so he had to hire a new babysitter.  I don't know why I sat frozen and listened to him. I finally got up the nerve and hung up on him, but I never told anyone about it.   I was teased about being Dolly Parton by a kid on the bus who always tried to grab my chest or slap my butt as I walked by him to my seat.  And I kept everything to myself.  I didn't realize at the time that it was all abuse.  I don't think I even realized that anyone would help me if I asked.  And I felt at fault for it as well.  I thought, somehow I had done something to deserve everything.  People treated me that way, because that is what I was worth - nothing.  At least that is how I felt.

For a child, this was plenty to make me seek refuge anywhere I could.  I loved books, so it was a logical escape for me.  I read anything and one day I picked up a romance book.  It became my escape for years.  I had a romance book with me everywhere I went.  Whenever there was free time, I had my nose in a book, so I wouldn't have to feel anything in the real world.  Eventually I did dabble a bit in internet pornography, but I always came back to romance books.  I also overate for the same reasons.  You may not know this, but sugar creates chemical changes in the brain in the same way drugs do.  It triggers dopamine release in the brain, the feel good chemicals.  It truly does make us feel better, if only for a short time.  And then you come back for another hit when you come down from the high.

As an adult, I still struggled with self esteem.  I still struggled to make sense of what I had been told from all angles.  I am fat and ugly.  I am worthless and only good as a sexual object.  How does a person make sense of all that?  I couldn't.  I felt unworthy all the time.  I had gone to bishops for help who had no understanding of a woman's addiction to romance books.  They basically said, stop it, and handed out consequences.  Finally, I was able to get referred for some professional counseling.  It was an eye opening experience.  I had been swimming in regret and guilt for years, which just led me back over and over again to pornography so I wouldn't feel the pain and shame for a while.  Shame doesn't help anyone. I cannot say that strongly enough.  Shame doesn't help anyone.  Sorrow is different than shame and guilt.  Feeling badly that you have taken yourself away from what you know is right and good is worlds away from feeling like you are trash only fit to be scraped off someone's shoe.  Shame does not give you hope, it keeps you trapped.

My counselor said something to me I will never forget.  She told me to let go of the shame.  She told me to be grateful I had romance books. Huh?  Yup, you read that right. She explained further.  Romance books were a coping mechanism.  They were my way of protecting myself, when I didn't have any other way to protect myself.  They shielded me from pain and suffering when I had no other way to cope.  Then she said, now that you know that, you can learn new coping methods that truly help.  Once you do that, you can let go of those old coping mechanisms.  You can be grateful that you had them when you had nothing else, but you can move on to something better.

I wish I could say that I changed overnight.  That the lightbulb went off and I suddenly felt worthy and worthwhile and walked away from my addictions.  But it still took me a while to really feel what she was saying. I still had a year where I put myself in situations that were dangerous for me because I felt worthless, like it didn't matter what happened to me because I wasn't savable anyway.  I still had to work with a bishop who had no idea how to deal with me as I tried to work through everything and make my life better.

Then one day, I met a man who, unlike many others, saw me as a worthwhile person.  He didn't see an object, he didn't see a fat/ugly person. He didn't see me as a person who could be taken advantage of because I had low self-esteem as the last person who had asked me out did. ( That man flat out told me he liked dating fat women because they were easy.)  He saw me and treated me with respect.  He was not of my faith, so even though we dated for a while and became very good friends, it didn't last.  But he saw in me something I hadn't seen in myself basically ever, a good person that was worth his time to get to know.  He helped me to start my journey to really loving myself.

Eventually I met and married a man who also sees the worth in me.  I love him more and more every day for loving me unconditionally.  He loves me despite my flaws and struggles, maybe even because of some of them.  I can't praise him enough for being the amazing husband and father he is.  Every day, he does everything he can to make me happy, to provide for us despite a job he dislikes, to make sure we have everything we need.  He is kind and gentle and sweet, everything that I need.  I would not be who I am today without him and I can't thank him enough for seeing me, truly seeing me, every day.

I wish I could say that everything is easy now that I have learned about what works.  Just use other coping methods.  Read my scriptures, pray, go to church, do things that make me happy, etc. etc.  But old habits die hard and it hasn't been the easiest road to let go of things that kept me safe for so long.  But as I learned the true value of doing things that helped me feel good and fulfilled, the need for those old coping methods slowly left.  There are still days when the idea of being numb is attractive, but I have learned that it is far better to feel the pain and let it go, than let the pain tear me down.  It is far better to work through tough spots than get sucked back into the abyss.

I wish I would have truly known years earlier how to fix this.  I cannot repeat enough that shame doesn't work.  I lived in shame for so many years, thinking that if anyone knew the truth about me, they would hate me.  It drove me back to the very thing I was trying to escape over and over again.  White knuckling doesn't work. Stopping cold turkey doesn't work.  Just trying to avoid it doesn't work.  Trying to lock it out of your life with internet programs and such won't stop you forever.  Support groups may help, but it isn't the whole solution.  Talking about it can lead back to it in some cases.  When you need the fix badly enough, you will find a way to get around it.  The problem isn't a lack of control, so trying to control it won't work in the long term. The problem is in how you feel about yourself and the coping methods you use to try and numb whatever pain you are feeling about your life and your worth.  When you realize you are worthy of saving, when you realize you can do other things that truly will help you feel better and don't deaden the spirit, you won't need those old coping methods anymore.  They will fall away as you grow and learn new ways to fulfill your needs, and feel more of your worth.  Let go of the shame.  Realize that you are coping in the only way you know how, and seek to learn new ways that truly help instead of making things worse.  Don't get down on yourself for slips.  Know that you are learning and growing and you will get better every day.  Don't get sucked into the shame when you make a mistake. It isn't helping you.  Feel the sorrow it is natural to feel when you do something that isn't good for you, and let that sorrow lead you to a better tomorrow.

The same bishop who asked me why women read romance books also told me why he treats people who struggle with pornography addiction differently than most.  Most bishops, at least all the ones I had dealt with, go directly to taking away church privileges.  No taking the sacrament, no going to the temple, no praying in church, no calling, etc.  This bishop didn't believe that worked.  His recommendation?  Go to the temple as often as you can.  Be as active in your church calling as you can. Pray, read your scriptures.  Bringing the spirit into your life is incompatible with pornography and the more you feel the spirit, the more you start feeling it telling you about your worth.  You are worthwhile.  You are an amazing person and it is time to let go of something that is hurting you.  I wish I had met that bishop when I was struggling. He could have saved me a lot of heartache. I am so grateful for his perspective and SO grateful for his willingness to listen to me and learn what it is like for a woman struggling so that he could better help others who came to him with their struggles.  He is an amazing man and I am grateful to have known him.

If you are struggling, I hope this can help.  It is just my perspective and I am sure there are other experiences out there that follow a different path.  I am not saying my journey is the only way to take this journey. I am just hoping that my story can help someone else out there who may be struggling.  If you have a spouse that is struggling maybe reading this can open the door to compassion and understanding.  Know that pornography isn't about you.  It isn't that he is attracted to those women in the screen more than you.  Know that she isn't more attracted to the hero in a book more than you.  It is simply a way to numb the pain s/he is feeling inside.  Just as drugs, food, and alcohol do.  It is a coping mechanism that in reality has little to do with sex, even though it can drastically effect a person's ability to function in a normal healthy intimate relationship.   Those are also issues that need attention, but I won't address them here.  If there is anyone reading this who needs a person to talk to who won't judge, feel free to privately email me. gggbof@yahoo.com  There is hope.  There is life after addiction.  There are things that can help.  You are worthwhile.  You are a child of God who wants you to succeed, who wants you to be happy, who wants you to love and be loved, who wants you to feel true joy.  Let go of the shame.  Enough.  Its time to let it go.

January 09, 2014


I came across this poem in a story recently and as I have been thinking about starting a new tradition in the new year, it inspired me in my pick of a word for this year.  I have several friends who pick a word each year to work on in their lives and I have decided to try it this year.  I have a class this semester on adjustment - Psychology and the Challenges of Life; Adjustment and Growth, and one of the first things we talked about was the difference between adjusting to life circumstances and truly changing.  I would like to create true long lasting change this year in my life.  I feel like a word will fit the bill for what I want to do.  Enough.

I wish you enough sun
to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain
to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness
to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain
so that the smallest joys in life
appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain
to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss
to appreciate all you possess.
I wish you enough hellos
to get you through the final goodbye.

     I want to get enough of those things I need in my life.  Those things that have been lacking but are truly needed for my happiness; I need to stand up and work to get them into my life.  Those things that are too much, I need to put my foot down, and say no more.  I want to be happy with enough.  I want to learn to live and be happy with what I have that is enough and what I have done that is enough, and not feel sad about what I don't have or haven't done, especially when I don't really need to have or do more.  Enough.  Enough of the sad, enough of the glad.  Balance.  Enough. 

     Part of our family goals are financial. I remember receiving a blessing several years ago when we were considering having another child.  I was told never to hesitate in having children because of financial concerns because there would always be enough money for babies. Every time we have felt the prompting to have another child, we have walked forward with faith in that blessing.  We have been learning what enough truly means this last year or so and will continue to learn it even more in the future, I am sure.

 Part of my own goals are for personal fulfillment.  I just got a new calling which makes three until I am released from one.  Although fulfilling, I am not sure that I can handle everything and also be everything I need to be for everyone else.  I need to be a good student, I need to be a good mother, I need to be a good spouse, I need to be a good friend, I need to be a good Mormon, I need to find time for health improvements, etc., etc.   And that doesn't take into account all the things I want to be on top of it.  I am not sure that I can do everything well and I may need to say enough to something in order to let other things take precedence.

I am excited on the one hand for what the next year will bring, but I would be lying if I denied feeling a few trepidations about it as well. It is looking to be a year of changes in a lot of ways, and I hope this focuses my energy in the right direction as those things happen.