I guess I was first exposed when I was in middle school. I mean, I knew about it before then -- I had two older brothers -- but my first personal experience, the first time I actually did it myself, was when I was 12 or 13.
Honestly, I was curious. I wanted to know what the big deal was. I heard my brothers talk about it, I heard about it on TV all the time, I heard kids at school. And I wanted to know why. What's the big deal?
But even more than that, I think, I didn't want to NOT know. I didn't want to seem naive or like I didn't know what I was doing. I wanted to be prepared for, you know, if I was on a date or at a party -- I didn't want anyone to think it was my first time. So it was sort of like information-gathering. Like research. That's how I justified it anyway.
But once was all it took. That was, looking back, the first and last time I actually chose to do it. After that, it was like I had to do it. Like I needed it. It wasn't a choice anymore. It really didn't take long at all for it to become an addiction, even though I didn't know that's what it was at the time.
I knew it was a problem, or at least... I knew that my conscience was bothered by it. Growing up, we were always taught that it was bad. You know, my parents are pretty religious people, so yeah... I knew I shouldn't be doing it. I didn't feel good about myself. And I didn't always want to be doing it. But I would feel like, "Oh, it'll help me unwind," or, "I know I'm not going to get anything else done until I feed this craving first." I didn't want to want to do it. But I always had a reason that I needed to do it.
And I hid it from everyone. It's usually a pretty good sign that what you're doing is wrong if you feel like you have to hide it from everyone. But I don't think I realized it was a real addiction until I was married. Until it almost ruined my marriage.
Like I said, I hid it from everyone, and I was able to hide it from my wife while we were dating and even while we were engaged. But it's a lot harder to hide something like that from someone you're sharing your whole life with.
She... caught me in the act. And it was... mortifying. I tried to justify it in a thousand different ways, but it didn't matter. She said it explained so much. Even though I had successfully hidden what I was doing, the consequences of it couldn't be hidden.
It had, from the very beginning, driven a wedge between me and my wife. Because I was more interested in my addiction than I was in her. When we were together, in intimate moments, I wasn't all there. My mind was on this thing that was consuming all my thoughts, all the time. And she could tell. Of course she could tell.
So when she caught me, she gave me an ultimatum: It was her or the porn.
I wanted to choose her. I told her that I chose her.
But it doesn't work that way with an addiction. I didn't have a choice. I was a slave to my addiction, and I couldn't choose anything else.
That's when it hit me. That's when I realized, really, truly, I have an addiction. It's not just a bad habit. It's controlling my life, ruining my life. And I can't make it go away on my own.
I was embarrassed -- extremely embarrassed -- to seek help for a pornography addiction. But I knew I was never going to conquer it on my own. And I knew I wanted to conquer it. So I went, with my wife, to the Mental Health clinic on base.
They did this form of therapy with me called cognitive behavioral therapy. It helped me recognize a pattern of what thoughts or emotions usually preceded my desire to use porn. And so I could think of those as triggers. And once you know what your triggers are, you start recognizing them in the moment, when they're happening, and you can do something about it other than the negative behavior.
When I wasn't in therapy alone, I was going with my wife to couples counseling. Our relationship definitely suffered through all this, but I'm so thankful she was there to help me.
Our therapist had us do what's called acceptance and commitment therapy, which was basically a way of acknowledging -- not avoiding -- our feelings, and being mindful of our reactions to them.
I don't know if I could have gotten through this without my wife.
After a couple months of these weekly visits, once I was more comfortable talking through my issues, she encouraged me to join a support group with other addicts. So I joined a group at my church.
This kind of addiction -- probably any kind of addiction -- there's a lot of shame and humiliation. But having a support group, you realize you're not alone. You're not a freak. It's a good way to uncover that shame, so it can heal. So you can heal. So I can heal.