I finally mustered up the nerve to ask the older, wiser, spiritual mentor, “Why do I still want to look at pornography? I can give you a hundred verses as to why it’s wrong, but I still just want to look at it.” After asking a few more pointed questions, he made a shocking statement of fact: “Pornography is meeting a need in your life.”
“What?” I immediately thought he was off his rocker. I quickly replied, “The only need it is meeting is the need for lust. It provides the necessary stimulus for me to masturbate. I am such a lusty guy. The only ‘need’ porn is meeting is sexual.” I said it somewhat confidently, even arrogantly in my sinfulness.
He just stared at me. He asked me, “What is your earliest childhood memory?” I responded, “Fifth grade, my dad walked out on my mom, leaving her with five kids to raise.”
He asked, “What about before that? Fourth grade? First grade? Anything?”
I shook my head, “No.”
He asked me to describe the night my father left. Even that was blank.
He gave me the following assignment. “Go and ask your three older sisters and brothers and ask them for every detail that they can remember. I want a report of what the house looked like, the arrangement of the furniture, the color of the wall paper, where your Dad was standing, where your mom was standing, where each of the kids were located, who said what to whom and when it was said…I want every possible detail imaginable…”
Learning Not to Cry
It took a while, but I compiled a report. The major facts were remarkably consistent between my three older siblings. My mom was on the floor, crying, and literally holding onto my dad’s leg, begging him not to leave her. My dad was yelling at my mom to let go of his leg. My dad and mom both yelling at all of us kids to “Go to your rooms and stay there until told to come out.” My mom’s sister, my aunt was sitting on the fireplace hearth, laughing and saying, “Let him go, Avon, he’s no good for you. Out with the old, in with the new…” And these outbursts were followed up by more, weird laughing.
Then, my dad left. The only sounds to be heard were the sobs of my mom, the weird laughing of my aunt, and then deafening silence. The whole household was stunned. Our foundations were destroyed. My dad ran into the arms of another woman who was only seven years older than my oldest sister.
According to my siblings, I cried non-stop for three days. During that time, we got into a car and actually drove around town, looking for my dad’s car. On the fourth day, my dad came out to the house and sat in his car with his new “girlfriend.” When I went out to see him, he told me, “Everyone is tired of your crying. If you want to be a man, you need to grow up and stop crying. Real men don’t cry…Do you want to be a man?” I nodded my 10-year-old head yes. Internally, I made a vow, “Never cry again.” I didn’t realize it at the time but my dad had reached into my soul and taken my cry-box out and stomped on it. He effectively said, “Men don’t ever share emotions. Stuff everything that you are feeling. There is nothing more important in life than to be stoic, unemotional. People around you, your family does not like to see men cry, so stop feeling.”
Casting My Cares on…Porn
When I told the counselor my findings, the unveiling of my suppressed past, he challenged me again. He said, “The next time you find yourself looking for pornography, ask yourself this question, what emotional button is being pushed inside your soul?” I literally scoffed at him. My unofficial life theme was Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock.” “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.”
I asked him, “What do you mean: emotional buttons?”
He said, “Things like anxiety, fear, confusion, maybe feeling out of control, or like a failure. Maybe things like joy or sadness, maybe shame or guilt; there are hundreds of different emotions that may be churning around in your soul.”
I was skeptical. But he would not let me go until I promised him that I would do an emotional self-examination of my soul when I was about to look at porn. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I was “acting out.” I was driving around, looking for a bookstore. As I parked the car and before I went in, the Holy Spirit brought the conversation with the mentor to mind.
I stopped and talked to God about my desire to look at porn. “Holy Spirit, please search me. Is there an emotional button that is being pushed right now that is somehow connected with porn?”
Immediately, the Spirit said, “Yes, you are fearful.”
I asked Him, “What about?”
I was and am a faith-based missionary. Once a month, we would receive our paycheck in the mail. Whatever money had been donated in the previous month would come to us and being “faith-based,” our income would vary sometimes as much as one to two thousand dollars per month. Every month, I would start to feel anxiety and fear as the date for receiving the paycheck would arrive. Immediately, I asked the Lord, “What am I supposed to do with these feelings?” Again, graciously and immediately, the Holy Spirit brought a verse to my mind that I had memorized. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).
Instead of going into the bookstore to look for porn, I spent the time in the car, praying and casting my anxieties onto Jesus.
A week later I again was looking for porn. Again, I stopped and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal if there was an emotional link to my desire to consume porn. Again, He revealed another emotion—feeling out of control.
This was a major breakthrough. I had never thought that my dad’s sins might impact me. I had always rejected the “psycho-babble” of blaming parents for everything thing. I did not want to go down that road. Yet, in my ignorance, my dad’s actions did affect me profoundly.
Within days of my parent’s separation, one of the other boys in the neighborhood showed me my first pornographic picture. Three other families on our street, all with boys my age, were undergoing divorce/ separation at the same time. In an act of solidarity, all the boys, aged between 10-15, would sneak out adult magazines that our dads possessed and bring them to a tent in my backyard. There we learned how to lust after women. Under the tutelage of Hugh Hefner, Playboy became the primary source of our sex education. But something deeper was going on. I learned to find refuge and escape in porn.
I didn’t know how to handle these deeply felt feelings, all the negative emotions that I felt when my dad walked out on my mom. My outlet was to cry, and I cried buckets. Then, at the exhortation of my father, I dried up. I learned to and trained myself to stuff every emotion. Instead of understanding them, processing them, talking about them, or even praying about them, I just ignored them or tried to anesthetize them. My chosen deadening agent was to run to pornography and masturbation.
No one around me knew my background. All the “accountability partners,” prayer partners, spiritual trainers and advisers—none of these knew this deadly truth that I had hidden.
The Thermal Layer
Another aspect of Naval warfare highlights this deep truth.
A submarine can stalk a surface ship while hiding under a thermal layer. The sub is already designed to be quiet and to operate in stealth. A “thermal layer” is when the temperature of the water drops quickly over a short distance of depth. When you add the environmental elements of a “thermal layer,” it effectively “cloaks” the submarine, making it invisible to sonar searches from the ship. Sonar from the ship will actually bounce off the layer, hiding the sub.
In the same way that a sub hides, I had learned to hide my “true self,” the core of my emotional soul under a layer.
I hid or stuffed every negative emotion that I felt. I developed habits of running to pornography as an emotional refuge and as an escape. I didn’t want to feel afraid or out of control. I didn’t want to hurt and became committed to doing anything to not hurt like I did when my daddy left our family. In my fantasy world, Miss January and February and August could give me “hugs” and I could escape momentarily whatever emotional pain that I was feeling.
When I would look at the image of a beautiful naked woman, I could fantasize that she wanted me. I could think, “I could satisfy her”…or she could and would please me…or that she loved me…or that if I were with her, it would prove that I was a man…or a hundred other false assumptions. Then, following up with masturbation and the joys and pleasures of orgasmic relief, the “feel good” hormones that God designed our bodies to feel with sexual expression, I could deaden the pain that I felt from negative emotions.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but as a 10-year-old boy, I was deeply, emotionally wounded. Porn became the balm to soothe my wounded soul. Every time I felt lonely, I ran to porn. Every time I felt abandoned, I found comfort in the company of porn. Every time I felt out of control, I could control my own body sexually by masturbating. Every time I felt any negative emotion that I wanted to escape from, porn was my ever-present companion.
Casting My Cares on God
Now, fast-forward 20 years. I had become a believer. I love God and want to serve Him. I felt called to leave my career in the Navy to serve Him “full-time.” I had memorized vast amounts of Scripture to prepare myself for ministry. Now one of these verses started flashing in my brain. Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” The Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, “God can handle your emotions. Every emotion you feel, you can tell God. Pour our your heart to Him and stop pouring out your heart at the altar of porn.” The Spirit went on to say, “Every time you turn to porn to meet your needs, you are bowing down to an idol…You are committing idolatry by continuing to use pornography…”
I needed an internal overhaul. My soul was damaged and I needed to undo the carnage of the wrongful vows and decades of destructive habits. God was saying to me, “Instead of porn being your refuge, I, the Lord God who made you, I want to be your refuge. You can run to Me and pour out your heart to Me. I can handle all your emotions. I want you to share your emotional hurts with Me. Pour out all of your heart to me.”
I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know if I was “allowed” to pray that way. When I was scared, was it okay to tell God that? When someone was being mean to me, assaulting me verbally or with obscene gestures, was it okay for me to ask God to “smash him,” to hurt that person and to take vengeance on them on my behalf? Was it okay for me to tell God all my secret thoughts and longings? I had never been taught to pray that way. I had been taught to pray the exact opposite way. Even Jesus says, “Pray for your enemies.” I was confused. My prayer life was emotionally constipated.
As the Holy Spirit taught me about these things, He directed me to the Psalms. David was called a “man after God’s own heart.” I studied the prayers of David as recorded in the Psalms. David was an EMOTIONAL man and prayed emotional prayers. He asked God to “break the teeth of his enemies.” He asked that God would make “their wives widows and their children fatherless.” He prayed that God would “blot them out of the book of life.” These are emotional cries of desperation. Is this what God wants from me also? As I prayed and studied, the only answer that I could come up with was yes, yes, yes…God wants my heart. God wants my emotional heart. God wants to hear my complaints, my fears and my anxieties. “Pour out your hearts before Him, God is a refuge for us…”
God had to do some deep work in my soul that is still ongoing. I am a work in progress. First, I couldn’t even recognize more than 4 or 5 emotional feelings that I possessed. I had to study and think about what emotions I might or could be or should be feeling. I was totally emotionally ignorant and detached. Secondly, I asked God to heal me internally so that I would not have a “lag time” between feeling hurt and mentally recognizing hurts. Bad things would happen to me and I was so out of touch with my emotions that it would take 2-3 weeks before I felt the negative emotion. I asked God to shorten the lag time so that I could become mentally aware of my emotional state immediately. Then, I asked God to teach me to pray emotionally, to pray like David. I started praying the very things, using the same words that David used. I am learning how to “cry out to God,” how to ventilate to Him, I am learning how to “pour out my heart” to God. In essence, I am learning how to make God my refuge.
Learning this has been another key principle, a key tactic in learning how to overcome a lifetime of consuming porn. The mentor was right. Porn had been “meeting a need in my life.” It had met an emotional need. As a 10-year-old boy, I had learned to run to the poisoned waters of porn to satisfy the emotional hurts that caused thirsts in my soul. I didn’t yet know the Lord. Now that I knew Him, He was reclaiming the wounded part of me.
God was saying, “Trust in the Lord at all times, pour out your hearts before Him, God is a refuge for us.”