Chapter 6: Defeating Online Temptations


larkinMy name is Nate Larkin, and I’m addicted to pornography. When I say “I’m addicted,” I don’t mean that I’m actively using pornography. I mean that I can never use pornography again—not even in its milder forms—without soon spinning out of control. I’m very much like the sober alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 10 years but still calls himself an alcoholic. That guy understands his weakness and embraces it every day, and in doing so he protects his freedom. He stays away from alcohol because he knows, from bitter experience, that “one drink is too many and a thousand is not enough.” I’m like that guy.

For years I tried to stay away from pornography all by myself, without admitting my problem to another person or asking anybody else for help. For me, it was a matter of pride—or, more accurately, a matter of shame. I was ashamed of my appetite for porn, ashamed of the things I looked at, the things I liked, and I was deeply ashamed of the things pornography led me to do.  No doubt about it, pornography took me plenty of places I had never intended to go, including marital infidelity. And I was a Christian! I was a pastor, for Pete’s sake, until the stress of my double life finally drove me from the ministry.

I tried to escape the tyranny of pornography by running to private religion, seeking refuge in my personal relationship with Christ. That relationship was (and is) real, but I could never induce Christ to grant me a secret miracle that would free me forever from lust. Time and again, I begged Jesus for a private solution to my private problem, but He never gave me one. Looking back, I now understand that by refusing to make me morally self-sufficient, Christ was actually allowing my sin to drive me toward what I really needed—real relationships, real humility, and love.

The pain of pseudo-recovery

I got my first taste of hope 12 years ago, when I attended a 12-step meeting in a desperate, last-ditch effort to save my marriage. In that meeting I found other people with stories like mine, people whose lives had been governed by sexual obsession but who had found victory in surrender and freedom in fellowship. These people talked openly about their brokenness, speaking in the present tense, without shame. They exhibited a very real faith in a loving Higher Power.  Most of them, it turned out, were Christians.

Several of the recovering addicts I met in the 12-step meeting had disconnected completely from the Internet, just to keep themselves safe. That was not a viable option for me because I make my living on the Internet. Others had installed Internet filters or accountability software, measures I found repugnant. I wanted a solution, not a babysitter. In my opinion, products like Covenant Eyes were crutches for people whose recovery was defective. I was sure that if I just did the work of recovery right, I would build up my resistance to porn and would not need a crutch.

I approached recovery as though it was a subject to be mastered rather than a lifestyle to be adopted, and to nobody’s surprise but my own, I stumbled badly in the early years. Striving mightily to out-think my addiction, I relapsed again and again. I was religiously arrogant, refusing the help of non-Christians because, well, my Higher Power could beat up their Higher Power. I found it terribly difficult to be honest. I wanted to be an ex-addict, not an addict, so I trumpeted my successes and remained silent about my failures. With every relapse, my feelings of guilt and shame intensified. I found myself lying to conceal my guilt and hiding to cover my shame. In the end, the twilight of early recovery was almost as soul-killing as the old days of full-blown addiction.

I’ve heard it said that most of us never change until it becomes less painful to change than to stay the way we are. That’s certainly true for me. When the pain of solo pseudo-recovery finally exceeded the pain of initiating an honest relationship with another person, I relented. I got myself a tough sponsor and started calling him every day, talking with him in detail about what I was feeling, what I was thinking, what I was doing, and what I was thinking about doing. I also installed a filter and accountability software on my computer. It was at that point that the trajectory of my recovery finally changed.

Called into community

The new lifestyle of collaborative recovery opened doors and windows on the gospel that I had never seen before. I came to understand that Jesus offers a personal relationship to each of His disciples, but He never, ever offered anyone a private one. He first said “Follow me” to two guys, not just one, quickly collected ten more, and had the whole group follow Him around for a couple of years as He taught them the connection between loving God and loving each other. Whenever He sent His disciples out to minister, He sent them in pairs. As He was approaching His crucifixion, He told His disciples: “I’m going away now, but I will still be with you…Whenever two or three of you are gathered in my name, I’ll be there.”

Eventually I started sharing my story with Christian guys I met at church or in Starbucks, giving them the sordid details about my addiction and the hope I was finding in recovery. Most of the guys I talked with were not porn addicts or sex addicts like me, but all of them could relate to my story. Every man has something in his life that is bigger than he is. Eventually, we started a group, a mutual aid society for Christian men called The Samson Society. The Society is a place within the church safe enough for a guy to be completely honest, a place where he can find authentic, no-bull brotherhood.

The Samson Society is not a 12-step group. We don’t have sponsors, but we do encourage every member to designate a traveling companion, a guy he can talk to every day. We call that person a Silas. I serve as a Silas to several guys, and most of them have followed my advice and subscribed to Covenant Eyes. I subscribe myself, and my Internet activity reports are sent to my Silas, a guy named David.

David is a good friend, because he reviews my Covenant Eyes reports closely, and he calls me whenever he sees anything that looks even slightly fishy. “I see you made a Google search for ‘swimsuit’ last Thursday night,” he might say. “Can you tell me what that’s about?” He asks the question directly and graciously, as a request for information rather than an accusation, and I know that it’s safe for me to give him an honest answer. No matter what the truth is, he won’t condemn me for it. He’s there to help me.

It’s good that David has access to specific information about my Internet activity, because I’m a guy who tends to omit details, and that tendency has gotten me into trouble in the past.  When I’m afraid or angry or out of sorts, I feel the natural urge to escape those feelings. If my judgment is impaired by something like hunger or fatigue, I might seek escape in some excursion on the Internet—not a trip to pornography exactly, but a walk in a gray area, to a place others might consider innocent. This is very dangerous behavior for me, because once I wander into the fog I am in grave danger of slipping over the edge—if not this time, then at some point in the future. Armed with Covenant Eyes, my accountability partner helps prevent that disaster from happening.

For me, subscribing to Covenant Eyes brings an enormous spiritual benefit. It is an act of surrender, an admission that I am not bulletproof, a confession that I am incapable of living the Christian life alone. It signifies my acceptance of the fact that I do not belong to a federation of autonomous individuals but to the Body of Christ, a living, breathing organism whose members are so interdependent that they can only move together.

Covenant Eyes cannot make me any more acceptable to God (Christ has done everything necessary on that account), but it does make it easier for me to walk in the light, where positive change takes place. As the old disciple observed: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).