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If There's No Water, It's Hard to Put Out the Fire
A member of our Chizuk List tells his story and of his recovery through our website, the phone-group, therapy, hard work, and by rediscovering himself anew.
I first encountered pornography in the back of a convenience store when I was about 10 or 11 years old. There was a whole "Adults Only" section with no one in it and it was separated from the rest of the store so I could browse with ease. Whenever I had a chance to go, I'd slip in and take a look. My mother once dropped me off for a haircut at a nearby barber shop and while waiting for her to pick me up, I browsed. When she drove up and I came from another direction (she hadn't seen exactly which store I came out of), I turned bright red and she asked why. I said I'd gone to check out a new store that had opened up and she left it at that. Why??? Every picture was etched indelibly on my mind, every suggestive phrase became a mantra I could repeat over and over again in my thoughts.
I went away to yeshiva, staying in the dorm, right after my Bar Mitzvah and "forgot" my taava for 2 years until I discovered masturbation in 11th grade. After that I would go through the motions of learning and davening, but my mind was on sex. All the time. I'd write down words and phrases, even whole stories, to fan the flames for the next time I masturbated in the bathroom. I felt guilty and marked down each time I failed…I did Teshuva many times…but I always fell again. One night, desperate to get to the "next level" and buy a magazine, I borrowed a friend's bike and rode to a convenience store that sold Penthouse (Playboy seemed too tame). The cashier asked how old I was and I said 17. He said I couldn't buy it and I left. I didn't lie…I wanted to stop, to get caught, but it wasn't enough!
Despite my problem, I managed to gain a reputation as a "good bochur and big ba'al kishron" who could do very well if I just applied myself. In first year Bais Medrash my Rebbe asked me if anything was bothering me or holding me back. I said no…and that I felt bad "taxing Rebbe's sense of responsibility" because I was fine and he didn't need to worry. He let it go and I kept on following my taava.
By this time I was old enough to buy magazines, and buy them I did. I overcame my initial shame and reluctance to entering a nearby adult bookstore (although I always took off my yarmulke to prevent a Chillul Hashem…as if my white shirt and dark pants with tzitzis hanging out didn't give anything away) and stocked up on back issues of magazines at discounted prices. I hid them in my dorm room and skipped sedorim regularly to "use" them. I was never confronted…could it be that no one knew?? It got to a point where I'd do disgusting things in the shower that I wrote here briefly and then deleted because I couldn't read them…just for the thrill. I'd buy books with provocative stories (even "best sellers" that were not marketed as pornography) and read them during the year and in camp during the summer.
I went to another yeshiva in New York for a year and spent my time during night seder listening to recorded shiurim on tapes…which never actually played. Instead, pornographic radio talk shows absorbed my night while an open Gemara sat in front of me. Every Motzei Shabbos when there was less supervision, I'd slip onto the New York subway and ride to Times Square where I'd browse the adult book stores and watch peep shows as well as full length pornographic films in theaters until I was numb.
I went to yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and access to porn was very limited although I managed to find some here and there anyway. The completely unrestrained "European" style porn was shocking…and so exciting.
I came back to the U.S. and stayed relatively clean for a while, although not because of any new insight or conviction. I went to therapy…but mentioned porn only in passing and was not treated.
I got married and was clean for 3 years until I got a computer at home. When my wife worked on Sundays, I'd surf porn sites and wait while filthy pictures slowly filled the screen on a dial up connection. When I went to work, I found peep shows to keep my "satiated" since I didn't have many other opportunities.
Finally it was time to stop. I made a neder never to walk into another adult store again and stayed clean for 2 years. Then I fell and have resumed watching peep shows on and off since then.
My story covers more than 20 years of my life and I am scarred and bruised. I recognize that my perception of women is skewed. If my wife asks me "doesn't so and so look good" (referring to a female friend of hers), I can't answer her! My reaction is not consistent with her question. Every woman looks good! Instead I cultivate a "disinterested" attitude that encourages even more open and dangerous "innocent" dialogue about women…because "he doesn't really care".
I also recognize that I need to analyze my feelings to identify when I'm feeling pain and am therefore vulnerable. I also need to analyze my reactions to identify which are really prompted by the yetzer hora who would be happy to lead me down a path of eternal destruction, both in this world and the next.
Finally I need Kedusha to counteract Tumah. I need it regularly, and it will replace filthy thoughts with powerful desires to grow in a positive way. I know it works, I've experienced it and tasted the exhilarating sweetness and freedom that living "confined" to the guidelines of Torah truly represents. Postings and books on other porn-addiction websites essentially describe the struggle between the yetzer tov and the yetzer hora but don't really have a substitute for being filled with filth. If there's no water, it's hard to put out fire even if you know it burns.
I am now clean for 90 days. As expected, the single most important factor in staying clean was and is a connection to Ruchniyus. However this doesn't happen by itself. 3 main factors helped me establish that connection. The beginning is "sur merah" – stopping the addiction and the downward slide. The goal is "aseh tov" – improving and growing in Torah and Yiddishkeit. And the common denominator is the process of self discovery through therapy. More specifically, here's how those 3 elements work for me.
1) After reading about other people's struggles and recoveries on the Guard Your Eyes website, I revealed my addiction to my Rav, a therapist and my wife. The last part was the hardest and caused the most excruciating emotional pain I have ever experienced in my life. B"H we have a good marriage, and not knowing how she'd react and whether I would cause irreparable damage to the relationship was a huge hurdle that I had to overcome. No one could make that decision except me. Some may say that causing her pain is unnecessary and keeping this from her is not dishonest because it's for her own good and you're "hiding" a positive thing…your recovery. This did not work for me and ultimately, telling her and going through a painful period has strengthened our marriage. This is also one of the biggest ongoing reasons to stay clean…I don't want to go through that again!
2) I began seeing a therapist on a regular basis. The root cause of the addiction has to do with avoidance of emotional pain usually caused by a difficult childhood with unmet emotional needs and unreasonable expectations. Identifying this, recognizing that there were/are emotional needs that are legitimate and that adopting certain unreasonable expectations without questioning them will cause pain helps make you self aware. And if you're self aware, you know when the Yetzer Horah is talking and can decide not to listen! Also, it helped me identify and begin to overcome my resistance to learning Torah. When you're told from a young age to "learn, learn, learn" and your emotional needs are not addressed, you hate learning and associate it with all that pain. However real Ruchniyus is individual, not the result of doing what you're told but rather the result of a real connection with Hashem. This helped develop the third component of my recovery…
3) I began to learn and grow in Ruchniyus. The primary method that works for me is Mussar but not the way it's usually thought of in terms of doing more and being more medakdek in Mitzvos. Rather, it's an emotional journey. I focus on absorbing the Hashkafah – what our purpose is in the world and how to actualize it internally. Whether anything changes on the outside or not is irrelevant! I'd be happy to discuss in more detail if anyone is interested (write to email@example.com to be put in touch).
Finally, the practical day to day steps that help me avoid a fall are thinking of who I am, what I'm about to do and the consequences (thanks to the healing hotline!). I have a written list of the consequences of acting out as well as the positive consequences of keeping clean that I review periodically or when feeling weak. Now that I've told some key people about my addiction, one of the consequences is the need to reveal any failures to them…and that's a strong deterrent. I've identified "good" activities, "bad" activities and "middle" activities and set up fences to avoid the risk areas. I remind myself to just get through today. And I remind myself not to get too confident. I'm vulnerable and may always be – and I can't let down my guard.
Looking forward to staying clean…not for the next 90 days, but "just for today" (as they say in the 12 step groups).
Webmaster responds to the update:
This is one of the most beautiful and precious e-mails I have ever read! It is one of the best examples to date, of a "success story" that is directly connected to our website, the weekly phone conferences, and to the advice you received from them. Your story is also one of the most inspirational and useful that I have read, as far as the concrete steps you have taken, and I believe it will be able to help many others follow your example!
You can be now a powerful asset to our site and forum. The tools, techniques and experience that you have learned on your own skin, are invaluable for helping others. You would have a great Zechus in doing this, and it would also be a big tikkun for the past :-) Not only that, but helping others is a very strong form of therapy for you as well...
You can already start to look back on your life and begin to understand how the trials and tribulations Hashem sends us are really for the best. You are coming out of this struggle as a real hero, in this world and for-sure in the next. Not only that, but you have come out of it with a better marriage, a healthier self image, stronger spiritually, and I'm sure also a much more happy and productive lifestyle all around!!
Yasher Koach, and may Hashem be with you and give you the strength to keep going Me'chayil El Choyil and acheive a true connection with Him!
Elya K, who moderates the Jewish Healing Group comments:
This is a beautiful story and makes our work worth every second.
I will say, if a person has a good relationship with their wife now, I concur that getting it over with, eliminates the secrets and lets you live a life of freedom. Marriage is a true partnership, with ups and downs. No one expects perfection. However guys, before you just blurt out anything to your wife, PLEASE speak to a professional beforehand to help guide you through it. It can be very traumatic for your wife and damage your relationship. Some people do it with a counselor in the room.
Another comment by the story writer:
I also had an insight that I wanted to run by you. Now that I've been working on this for a while, I am a lot more sensitive to triggers. It doesn't take much to get my mind racing and I'm a lot more aware of it. This helps me set up more relevant boundaries in more areas and is a great sign of the ongoing recovery process.
The interesting thing is that I can recall thinking "oh, I can handle pornography. I'm in control, not like those guys who's eyes bug out when they see something..." Obviously that was the yetzer hora talking, not me. I obviously couldn't handle it, in fact I was a lot weaker than "those guys" and very vulnerable. It occurred to me that this is probably true in many areas of Yiddishkeit, not just shmiras einayim. For example, if you think you're honest and wouldn't dream of taking a penny that's not yours and therefore don't spend much time thinking or learning about G'neivah, you're probably right in the yetzer horah's pocket. Sure you may not rob banks, but there's a lot more subtlety to the menuval's ways, he doesn't stop there. I know this isn't the focus of GUE but I thought I'd pass it along and see what you thought. At a minimum, we can all take chizuk from the fact that working on shmiras einayim can and does help us become better Jews in EVERY area.
Webmaster's initial Response (to the first part of the story):
Thank you for sending us your story. I have put it up on our Story section under Stage 3 - "Determined to Quit". I am looking forward for the time when you will tell me to move your story up to Stage 4: "Stories of Recovery", once you have been free for a while and you just know you won't go back there again!
Unfortunately, your story is not unique, and lately, as our site grows and becomes more well known, I am getting stories like this every few days... Just yesterday another frum young man wrote me a similar story but doesn't want me to publish it yet. And in the past week alone, the following stories were sent in - click here, here and here. The common denominator with all these stories is that these are all frum, believing Jews, who want deep down to serve Hashem like you, but were given this great test in life which has always held them back from reaching their true potential and is threatening to destroy the little that they do have left in yiddishkeit.
The fact that you are a believing Jew does give you a head start. Using a Neder is a very powerful tactic, but you didn't know the techniques and that's probably why it didn't last. You can learn some techniques here, but in short - 1) Never make a neder to "never" again do something. It needs to be for short amounts of time at first, making them longer in increments as you become more confident. Maximum up until Yom-Kippur - kol nidrei, when all vows are nulified. (Each year after Yom-Kippur, renew your vows...) Also, don't make a Neder not to do the actual act you are trying to avoid. Rather, the vows should be for "fences", keeping yourself away from the things that BRING you to fall. Like not to open goyish magazines, etc, things you know you can prevent.. And thirdly, the vows can be used to convince you not to want to go through with the act. Like vowing to exercise 20 minutes before giving in, or alternatively, AFTER giving in. Either way, with these type of ideas can be used to convince yourself that it's just not worth it...
Normally making vows is frowned upon by our sages as with someone playing with fire, but when it comes to girding oneself from sexual temptation, we find that making vows is praised by the Torah and by Chaz"al. As the Pasuk says "Nishbati Va'akayeima, lishmor Mishpatei Tzidkecha" - "I have vowed and will uphold it, to guard your righteous laws". And also it says "Nishba Lehora Velo Yamir - Oseh eileh lo Yimot Le'olam" - "He who swears to prevent bad and does not nullify... he will never falter". And Chaza"l also say that Bo'az swore to guard himself from transgressing when Ruth came to him in the silo at night, as it says "Chai Hashem, Shichvi ad haboker" - "In the name of G-d, lay here until morning".
And the fact that you have been free, for even up to "years" at a time - is very, very important. It means that you KNOW that you CAN live without these things. And it means you KNOW you have the strength in you. And it means another thing too. Once you have been free for a year or two, you will never be able to live with yourself again in peace, when you do fall back to the old ways. You will, at some point, do something, anything - even drastic measures, to make sure you break free. And the fact that you are writing me now means you are ready to finally do what it takes to make sure you break free once and for all.
However, the journey is not an easy one. It means letting go of the self, giving up the addiction to Hashem, and trusting in Hashem to help you when you say no.
It also means therapy. The famous Rabbi Avraham Twerski, expert in addictions, told me a few years ago that people who truly want to break free must realize that they need group therapy, and possibly also a good therapist. Now, back in those days it was difficult for someone religious. Group therapy meant SLA (sex and love anonymous) which was a problem for a frum Jew for a few reasons. 1) They are non-Jewish, mixed groups. 2) Fear of Chilul Hashem. 3) A frum Jew is more sensitive to his name, and is worried about people finding out. Yet still, with all these reasons NOT to go, Rabbi Twerski held that people who are stuck in this problem must realize it is like a cancer and they have to be willing to do anything to get out. He also held it is not a chilul Hashem. As far as Therapists, they were also a problem for frum yidden for a few reasons. 1) It was hard to find a frum therapist, which is very important for a frum Jew. 2) Embarrassment of telling your story face to face. 3) Therapists aren't cheap. $100-$150 an hour for a few months is a lot of money! And yet, if you really needed it back then, you went to a therapist anyway. However today, our site has started a new revolution in this area. For the first time ever, a frum person can get group support, with frum yidden, full anonymity, along with a frum therapist, for only $9 a session!! (The money goes to the therapist). It's really unbelievable. There's no chilul hashem, because everyone is frum. There's no problem of mixed groups. No embarrassment since it's fully anonymous. And it's 1) group therapy, 2) accountability, PLUS 3) a frum therapist - all in one, for a cost of close to nothing! (Also, you may be able to find there a sponsor who call when you feel weak and vulnerable).
Therefore I say to you, my dear Jew, if you have had this problem for so many years, and you thought you were free but have fallen again, and you realize that this is a struggle that's not going away with your current tactics. And it's a struggle for your life, in this world and the next - then please do yourself a big favor and sign up right away with this group, for weekly therapy.
It is good that you have a sponsor meanwhile (me) and I will be looking forward to getting your e-mail every day about how you are free. After a while, you can write me once a week, if we decide together that you ready for that...
Remember to install reliable filters (or at least accountability software), and do read through the tips on our site, slowly, over time.
Keep davening to Hashem. He's the one who put you in this situation, and he will get you out. This is obviously one of the main tikkunim that your neshama came down to the world to do. Hashem has been waiting patiently all these years for you to make good progress, and I truly do think that you are finally on the way!