By Marriana Leach
Photo credit: Donna Irene Photography
“Why am I doing this? I don’t want to. I do not want to do this. I hate it. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it. It’s not going to make me happy. What is wrong with me? This is not who I want to be. Why can’t I just stop?”
These are the thoughts that go through an addict’s mind when they’re on the verge of a relapse. I know, because I’ve been there more times than I could count. I know what it’s like to feel chained to something you hate, to feel pulled towards something that kills you. I know what it’s like to finally feel as though it’s over; you’re free; it’ll never happen again. Then you to run back to the poison, hating it the whole time. You hate that you want it. You hate that you’re doing it. You hate yourself when it’s done. For some people, the “poison” is drinking, or drugs, or an eating disorder. For me, it’s lust.
When I was a little girl, I was ridiculously introverted. My best friends were books, and that’s how I liked it. I read everything I could get my hands on and my parents didn’t always monitor what I was reading. Why should they? It was just a book! I remember the first time I stumbled upon one of those pathetic “romance” novels. I was eleven years old and, though I’d heard about the birds and the bees, I was not ready for the explicit content I found in what I’d thought was a love story. I remember being surprised by the graphic scenes. I re-read them a few times, out of curiosity more than anything else, but then I put the book down. It was so poorly written, I didn’t want to keep reading. I didn’t even know the term at the time, but that was my first exposure to pornography.
As I got older, life got harder. My daddy was once my superhero, but by the time I was in middle school, he had become distant. Eventually distance turned into emotional and physical abuse. The bruises healed, but the heartbreak stayed. I remember sobbing because I didn’t understand what I’d done to make him hate me. Why wasn’t I good enough anymore? What did I do wrong? I became desperate for his approval, for approval in general. I realize now that I was looking for someone to rescue me, to cherish me, to see a beauty in me worth protecting. I was desperate for authentically masculine love.
Middle school provided a crash course in over-sexualized language. I was shy and innocent, and guys in my class would tell me dirty jokes just to watch me blush. I remember googling the word “masturbation” because I didn’t know what it meant. Some things are better left unlearned. Not too long after that, I came across another one of those novels, and this time the scenes stuck with me. I was already spending hours imagining different ways I might escape from the chaos at home, and “love” stories became another means of running away. Little did I know there was actually a physical, neurochemical dependency forming in my brain, just as though I’d been smoking crack. Pornography is a drug, and like any other addict, I spiraled. Before long, I’d graduated from reading trashy novels to watching hardcore videos. I tried to stop, but I always went back, and I hated myself for it. I stopped believing I would ever be free. I stopped hoping.
I remember hearing several chastity talks throughout my high school career. The women’s sessions were always about beauty, body image, modesty, and dating. The guys would be in the next room over, being offered encouragement, resources, and accountability to help them get rid of their lust addictions. No one ever acknowledged that women could struggle too. Never. I felt so alone. I felt as though I was struggling with something I didn’t have a right to struggle with. People always joked about how “pure” and “innocent” I was. They said I was beautiful, but I was convinced if they ever found out my secret, they’d be disgusted. I felt so dirty. My body image and self worth plummeted, and I grasped for control in dieting. I tried to believe it when people told me I was beautiful, but I was never convinced. The porn crippled my ability to love and be loved. My addiction wounded my femininity.
I now know that, as a woman, beauty is intrinsic to who I am. Despite what Cosmo may think, it’s not something that can be painted on or photoshopped out. Beauty is literally written into my feminine soul, and it’s intertwined with my desire to be radically loved. That’s why the porn was killing me. Every single time I tried to escape into a fantasy, I was yearning for someone to want me, to cherish me, to be captivated by me. I was desperately yearning to be loved. The thing is, lust is a counterfeit. It promised to fulfill my desires, but it always left me empty. It’s like drinking salt water when you’re dying of thirst. No matter how many times I went back, no matter how much farther I was willing to go in search of the high, it could never satisfy me. I was made for greater things. I was made for love.
Despite my dark secret, I was actively learning about and promoting chastity. I felt like a total hypocrite, but there was a truth about the chastity message that made me feel alive, so I kept coming back. The more I learned, the more I wanted it. As I formed relationships with like-minded people, I encountered men who truly loved me for who I was, not for how I looked or what I could do. The respect with which they treated me communicated that I was someone precious, and I began to believe in my beauty again. I met women I could trust, and I was able to open up about my struggle. They didn’t think I was disgusting; if anything, they loved me more, and they told me so. To this day, they encourage me and offer me the accountability I need. Love has changed my life. I’ve also learned one crucial piece of truth: I was never alone.
Over the last few years, many women, from seventh grade girls to forty-five year old housewives have shared with me that they too struggle with lust. Current statistics say one in seven women is battling a pornography addiction. Others have stayed clear of porn, but masturbation is crippling them. Others are seeking affirmation in sexting, chat rooms, hook-ups, and sexual relationships. Most of the women who approach me say something along the lines of, “I want to tell you something, but you’ll never look at me the same way again.” They expect me to see what they’ve done, but the reality is, when one of my sisters is vulnerable enough to share her struggle with me, she’s not showing me what she’s done. She’s showing me her heart, and every single time, I am awed by her beauty. No one hasever done so much that they can’t start over. We are human and we make mistakes, but we can always be made new. We can always be set free. If you are reading this and you feel chained by lust and the shame it brings, please, let these words sink in. It is never too late. You are not alone. There is hope. I encourage you – no, I beg you – reach out. Ask for help, and let love light up your darkness.
Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to not struggle anymore. Then I laugh. I’ve learned a few things on this crazy journey, and one of them is that freedom isn’t about crossing a finish line and never looking back. Freedom is the race. Freedom is choosing authentic love right now, in this moment. Freedom is knowing I am beautiful with my imperfections. It’s saying even if I fall again in the future, I swear, I will get up again. I will never, ever stop fighting. Freedom is choosing to believe I am not the sum of my failures; It’s rejecting shame. Freedom is vulnerability and honesty. It’s in giving and receiving authentic, selfless love.
The culture promised me lust could satisfy my desires, but it turns out my desires are too great for lust. Now I know love, and I know freedom, and I know what it is to be fully alive, and I am forever changed. I look forward to the day when the rest of our culture can say the same.
P.S. You are enough.
If you are a woman struggling with pornography and or a sex addiction, Marriana would love to hear from you. You can contact Marriana by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.