By Steve Wood
Here are twelve very important steps which, if all are followed, should greatly assist you in breaking your addiction:
1. Destroy all of your pornography
Destroy all pornographic magazines, photographs, videos, floppy disks, and all pornographic Internet bookmarks and files on your computer. Do it right now! You can’t “just sort of” want purity and expect to obtain it. You have to make a heartfelt decision to break free of pornography, and then act upon that decision.
2. Take radical steps to re-orient your life
The Catechism says, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person” (par. 2332). Therefore, if you are under the influence of a life-dominating sexual sin like pornography addiction, you need to take radical steps to re-orient your life. You must develop a protection plan in order to avoid both the remote and the proximate occasions of sin. This may mean: shopping at different stores to avoid even glancing at pornography; taking a different route home; breaking with any routine likely to result in sin; carrying small amounts of cash; canceling subscriptions to newspapers containing lingerie ads and inserts; canceling certain cable channels – or getting rid of cable altogether; and/or stopping channel surfing. Take these steps now!
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14)
(Note: St. Augustine once turned to this passage at random. Reading it prompted a radical conversion and a turning from his licentious lifestyle.)
For the Internet you need to either install a good filtering program where your wife or a good friend holds the passwords, or subscribe to a “clean” Internet provider. You also need to move your home computer to an open location in the home. Similar steps must be taken with your workplace computer; The Industry Standard has reported that 70% of Internet porn traffic occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (cited in the National Catholic Register, 6/19/00).
If your right eye [i.e., computer monitor and Internetconnection] causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand [i.e., click, click with the mouse] causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is
better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
3. Find a priest to work with you
Try to find a priest experienced in helping men overcome pornography addictions. Make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance. Be honest and forthcoming. Remember, a priest cannot diagnose a cure unless he has all the facts in hand.
I have encountered Catholic men addicted to pornography in every community I have visited over the past three years. I am not talking about inactive Catholic men, but the men who take their families to Mass every Sunday. Except for parishes with less than a dozen families, it would be safe to say that there are Catholic men involved with pornography in every parish in North America. This is a monumental problem that has invaded the hearts of men in the Church. It is not going to disappear on its own. Action desperately needs to be taken at the parish level.
Small pornography recovery and accountability groups need to be started under the direction of parish priests. Establishing accountability groups is a perfect opportunity for Catholic men’s groups to cooperate with local priests and parishes in meeting one of the most critical needs of contemporary men.
4. Find an accountability friend
Find at least one accountability friend who you can call on 24 hours a day if needed. The telephone can help you avoid temptation at vulnerable moments. This telephone strategy is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, where a person tempted to return to alcoholism can call on a friend anytime for prayer and encouragement. It may also be helpful to have a daily (or even a morning and evening) checkup call from your accountability friend. At a minimum, your friend should ask you every week if you have kept yourself free from sexual sin. This accountability is invaluable in helping you get through times of temptation.
Douglas Weiss, himself a recovered sex addict and a nationally-known lecturer on sexual addiction, has stated, “I have not experienced, nor have I met anyone who has experienced sexual addiction recovery alone” [emphasis mine]. Don’t be tempted to skip steps #3 & 4. You need the help of others to have a realistic hope of breaking your addiction.
And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
5. Begin a life of daily Scripture reading
There isn’t a quick and easy way to erase pornography from your mind. It took just a few clicks to get into it, but it will take mental discipline to get out. One cause for the extreme difficulty in erasing pornographic images from the mind is that, when a man views pornography, a chemical called epinephrine is released in the brain. This release of epinephrine causes a deep imprint of the visual image to be stored within the brain. When an act of self-stimulation accompanies the pornography viewing, an even stronger release of epinephrine occurs, thus making the imprint of the image even stronger. Such images can plague a man for decades. Rest assured, there is a way out of pornography addiction – but don’t fall for the promise of an easy way out.
One of the few effective means of getting these pornographic images out of your head is spending time reading and memorizing Scripture every day. For many of you it might be particularly helpful if you have a Scripture time both morning and evening. In addition, you need to begin a program of memorizing Scripture. In my experience, a disciplined plan to memorize Scripture is necessary to clear the rot out of your brain.
Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be. (St. Thomas More, Voice of the Saints by Francis W. Johnston, TAN Books, Rockford, IL 1986, p. 67)
Get a copy of the two Pure Mind Scripture Memory Kits – and use them diligently. Scripture can supernaturally transform your mind. This is not a theory, it really works!
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Be aware that things might appear to get worse when you begin an extensive exposure to Scripture. As the Word of God, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit, is cutting out deeply implanted pornographic images, these very subconscious images will surface in your mind. When this happens you are in the initial stages of being cleansed from the inside out.
“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver…” (Malachi 3:2-3)
Once the rooted-out images float to your consciousness, don’t dare to mentally delight in them. Pray at that instant, and use your mental discipline to put them out of your conscious thoughts. Be sure to pray for protection so that these images do not return.
Finally, put your focus on Christ – not on your problems. The most successful of drug, alcohol, and pornography addiction recovery programs are those which incorporate a vital faith component. It is extremely difficult to overcome
an addiction by a compulsive focus on the problem itself. The addictive appetites need to be redirected to the One who can fulfill our desires with good things (Psalm 103:5).
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether … Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good … Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone. (St. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologiae, 1-2, Question, Article 8)
The desire for God is written in the human heart … Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. (CCC, 27)
Our heart is restless until it rests in you.
Reading, meditating on, and memorizing Scripture will assist you in redirecting and transforming both your thoughts and appetites.
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans12:1-2)
6. Learn to discern and combat spiritual attacks
Sexual addictions and pornography open a person up to the influence of evil spirits. Before a spiritual attack begins you may be struggling with your own lustful thoughts. A spiritual attack begins when a spirit silently intrudes into your mind, adding intensity to your lustful thoughts, or implanting additional ones. You can detect this happening when an ordinary human lust arises and then suddenly erupts into a life of its own, one that seems nearly impossible to shake.
If an episode of overwhelming lustful thoughts involves a spiritual attack, you will not be able to shake it with just mental effort alone. It is very easy to get discouraged and feel completely overwhelmed by both lust and the accompanying spiritual assault. Yet you can quickly break the power of the attack by first realizing what is happening, and then by saying a prayer for spiritual protection to your guardian angel and St. Michael the Archangel.
One of the hardest parts in fending off a spiritual attack is learning to become aware when one is happening. Spiritual attacks are covert operations that need to disguise themselves to be successful. Ask God to give you continual discernment. After a spiritual attack is stopped, your mental disciplines will still be needed to control your thoughts.
7. You need grace – lots of it
The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, are like rivers of living water that bring fresh strength to your soul. Take advantage of every opportunity to receive grace by frequenting the Sacraments.
Also, use sacramentals like: holy water, crucifixes, St. Benedict medals (blessed by a priest with the exorcism prayer), etc. These can be very effective in overcoming or preventing spiritual attacks.
If your work requires travel, then you know about the additional temptations men face while on the road. I recommend wearing a crucifix or a holy medal during your entire trip, and a liberal use of holy water in your hotel room. Also, have friends praying for you on your trip. Have a friend to be accountable to upon your return.
8. Both vices and virtues are strengthened by practice
An addiction to pornography is never static. It starts with what seems like just a little dabbling in digital lusts. Before you know it you are hooked on the technological temptations. Next you begin searching for more graphic pornography. As your conscience becomes desensitized, the images that were disgusting when you started viewing pornography become enticing. The most dangerous step (one often fatal to marriage and family life) is when men want to start acting out the images they have seen.
The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.
If you are viewing pornography, then your vices have been strengthened by repeated practice, and the corresponding virtues of chastity and purity are very weak. It will take time, but the more you practice virtue the easier it will become. Changes resulting from the practice of virtue will give you hope and the strength to persevere. St. Paul said, “We do not lose heart … our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The more completely you break with your sexual addiction, the easier it will be to overcome it. Do realize, however, that it will take time, perseverance, and effort.
For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. (Romans6:19)
Pray the Rosary often. In God’s plan, the Blessed Mother is going to crush the serpent’s head. Mary can play a vital role by neutralizing the serpent’s venom of pornography.
St. Joseph, the guardian of the Holy Family and the protector of the Church, can powerfully assist you in the
battle against sexual addiction. St. Joseph, the just and righteous man, is the perfect model of purity for men. Every Christian man struggling with pornography should ask for St. Joseph’s protection and his intercession for purity.
The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:16)
Dedication to St. Joseph
Dear Saint Joseph, be pleased to accept this dedication of myself wholly to you, that you may ever be my father, my patron and my guide in the way of salvation. Obtain for me great purity of heart and a fervent devotion to the interior life. Grant, that, following thine example, I may direct all my actions to the greater glory of God, in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with you. Amen.
Prayer to St. Joseph to Obtain a Pure Heart
O Saint Joseph, during your earthly life, the Lord blessed you with the beatitude promised to the pure of heart, for you shared His life and lived in His visible presence.
Now, may your beloved Son hear your intercession on my behalf. Ask Him to help me, so that my conscience be right and true, and that my heart be pure. Free me of duplicity and malice. Fill my heart with hope so that I may never dwell needlessly upon my sorrows. With a simple and ardent faith I pray that I may serve my brothers and sisters with a generous heart. In this way, like you, I shall delight in the profound joy and peace of God’s gracious presence.
Prayer from Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal, Quebec
Don’t let the enemies of your soul keep you isolated. Ask for protection and strength from the intercessions of the saints. Ask for the intercession of your patron saint. In particular, St. Benedict’s intercession is known to be exceptionally powerful against wicked spirits.
Another wise step is to contact a contemplative religious order, and ask them to pray for you daily in their intentions (cf. James 5:16). Remarkable answers to prayer result from the intercessions of a holy religious order.
10. Practical physical precautions
Your spiritual defenses are weakened when you allow yourself to become run down from too little sleep, or too much work and stress. If you are fatigued, then take extra precautions against temptations until you restore your physical condition.
Too much alcohol or the use of drugs will dull your conscience and diminish your ability to make good judgments.
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Too much idle time and lots of time alone make a struggle against pornography more difficult. Fill idle time with
wholesome service and other activities. You might need to make other prudent changes in order to reduce the amount of time you are alone.
As mentioned above, pornography viewing releases chemicals in the brain that condition the mind to engage in repeated behavior so as to receive additional pleasurable stimulation. One sexual addiction therapist has experienced success with a simple exercise to help recondition the brain. The plan is to wear a rubber band on the wrist for 30 days. Every time an impure thought occurs the man snaps the rubber band, sending a neurological pain signal. Your brain is partially reconditioned as it begins to associate pain with impure thoughts.
11. Don’t give up after a setback
An overwhelming wave of guilt and discouragement can follow in the wake of a setback. If you do fall into a sinful setback you need to be prepared for an onslaught of condemnation. The Bible calls Satan “the accuser” of Christians (Rev 12:10). After a setback Satan will be ready to bombard you with doubts of God’s love for you. St. Paul says to take “the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). At this point you need to call to mind those Scripture verses of God’s steadfast love and mercy which you have memorized. Such verses can preserve you fromcondemnation and despair. (See the verses in the Pure Mind Scripture Memory Kits, and read Psalm 51 andRomans 8:31-39.)
You need to carefully discern between condemnation and conviction. Condemnation from “the accuser” has the effect of driving you away from God. Conviction from the Holy Spirit drives you towards God to find forgiveness and restoration. If you fall, you should certainly not give up the fight. Get to the Sacrament of Penance and ask for God’s forgiveness. It will always be there for you.
If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV)
12. Enlist the assistance of your wife
Your wife probably knows about your addiction already and is emotionally crushed by it. You are probably only fooling yourself by lying to your wife about your pornography addiction. Stop lying to her about it.
Lying to your wife about where you have been, where money has been spent, or denials about pornographic usage destroys trust and further weakens your marriage. Many wives find the lying about pornography as devastating as the addiction itself. You need your wife’s patience, prayers, and perseverance in helping you overcome this addiction. Lying can destroy your marriage. Stop the lying and speak the truth to her, no matter how humbling it may be. Most wives are willing to help their husbands overcome
an addiction – if their husbands are honest with them. A humble and honest husband will discover a valuable ally in overcoming pornography (See Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Stop blame-shifting – it is one of the world’s oldest ways of avoiding moral responsibility. Remember the lame excuse that Adam gave God for eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3)? Your pornography addiction is not your wife’s fault. It is the result of your sinful moral choices. The road to repentance and recovery begins when you assume responsibility for your actions.
Although men are often reluctant to do so, it would be wise to communicate your sexual needs in a gentle way to your wife. St. Thomas Aquinas when discussing the mutual obligation for payment of the marriage debt says, “Marriage is directed to the avoiding of fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2).” He mentions that this precept about the mutual obligation regarding the marriage debt is particularly important when a spouse is troubled by concupiscence. (See Summa Theologica, Supplement Question 64 at http://newadvent.org/summa/506400.htm.)
Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control.
(1 Corinthians 7:5)
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love. Why should you be infatuated, my son, with a loose woman and embrace the bosom of an adventuress? (Proverbs 5:18-20)
In all likelihood, you have harmed your marriage during the course of your pornographic addiction. Weakened marital communication, trust, intimacy, and sexual relations frequently accompany addiction to pornography. Take steps now to strengthen your marriage.
For a list of available organizations and practical ways to strengthen your marriage go to www.dads.org and scroll down to click on “Links,” and then click on “Help for Hurting Marriages.”
As you wean yourself from pornography your marriage life will improve. Likewise, strengthening your marriage will fortify you against the lure of pornography.