From Bondage to Freedom
Taken from the Forum at www.jewishsexuality.com
If you are addicted to Pornography, please read my story. Maybe through my long and difficult journey, others will learn to break free as well.
Quick Intro: I was born and raised religious and have been known for the last 15 years as a Erliche Chassidishe Yid, married with children.
My story started when I was about 8 years old. While taking baths, I began to experiment with my body and found that by doing certain things and imagining certain fantasies I would get an orgasm. I had no idea what I was doing, and of-course there was no ejaculation at that age. I used to do this a few times a week. As I got a bit older, I actually thought that it was a "gift" that I had, because I found that while I was often aroused by things around me, I was able to release my arousals through masturbation. I was an good, frum boy, learning well and I wanted to be a Chasid when I grew up. I had no idea what I was doing. When I turned 13+ and saw the first drop of semen come out I was very scared. I recalled having seen something in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch about "Hotzaas Zera Livatala" and I quickly went to look it up. I was thoroughly shocked by what Chaza"l say and resolved never to do it again. Well, you can imagine that after 5+ years of doing it a few times a week, and having used this method to release all my arousals - it was impossible to stop. I found myself sick with arousal and I desperately needed to release the sexual tension inside me.
Anyway, I went to yeshiva, learned well, davened well, and repeatedly tried to stop masturbation through all sorts of Kabalos, and Nedarim. I cried to Hashem many times - with real tears - to help me stop. I even wrote myself long letters to encourage myself to stop, about how silly it is, how vain, how fleeting the pleasure is, etc... Nothing helped. It was impossible to reason with the burning arousals. I needed to release them. And I was aroused so easily, by so much. I was even aroused by the younger boys in Yeshiva (reminding me of girls). And the sight of a girl would make me almost swoon with arousal. I didn't realize then that feeding it for so many years had messed up my mind. Already at the age of 13, I was browsing books and magazines for stimulation when masturbating. I would draw pictures in the bathroom on tissue paper and masturbate an average of twice a day. I would search through garbage bins for magazines with any type of stimulation. At the age of 16, I was finally able to lay my hands on a porn magazine. I was at a point where I felt that if I couldn't have that, I would go crazy and maybe do much worse things. I felt that it was the right thing for me to do at that stage.
Sadly, this problem always held me back from really growing in Avodat Hashem. I always had strong yearnings for spirituality and could have possibly reached great heights in my Yeshiva years. But through all the years, each Aliyah was followed by a strong Yeridah, and trying to reckon with this force was beyond me.
When I was about 16, I gathered the courage to speak to a Chassidic Rebbe about it, and he told me that I could break free if I tried really hard, and he encouraged me to always be be’simcha (happy) no matter what. When I still didn't see any progress, I spoke again around that time, to a “religious“ psychiatrist. He encouraged me to try and limit masturbation as much as I could and to stay away from things that aroused me and brought me to do it. He also encouraged me to get married as early as I could.
So the years passed. I basically tried to follow his advice, but without much success. I came to Israel to learn and joined a Chassic group. But my arousal from every small thing continued to plague me. Every month or two I felt I needed to buy new porn magazines, and I did this as discreetly as possible. I thought that if I didn't have this outlet I would do worse things. Thank G-d, no one ever found out anything in all the years I was in Yeshiva.
I got married at a young age to a girl that I was very attracted to and I was sure that I would learn to stop masturbating all together. But I quickly fell back into my old habits (especially because of the times that the wife is not available for halachic reasons). Even though I was married, I felt I needed more variation and stimulation, and after a few months of marriage I bought and hid two magazines in the house to use when I felt I needed it. I always felt terrible about buying the magazines. I was always worried about a Chillul Hashem, but what could I do? Every few months I felt I "had to" buy new magazines and that this kept me out of worse things.
When I finally got the internet, I was elated. Now I didn't have to buy magazines anymore and risk a Chillul Hashem. It was all there, and I could have it all in the privacy of my home. In the first year of having a computer I would sometimes use the computer for stimulation and masturbation almost every day. It was too easy. My wife never found out, and because I had such strong desires I was still good in bed with her.
I never stopped trying to work on myself though. As the years passed by, I learned to control myself more. I began using the computer only twice a week. And for the three years prior to my recovery, I learned to limit using the computer for stimulation to only once a week. I did this by using vows to limit my usage until a certain day each week. However, on that one day, I could masturbate six or seven times! And even without the computer I would masturbate still here and there. I tried working on myself to guard my eyes in the street. There was a whole year where I was able to guard my eyes from looking at anything arousing in the street, but I was living a life of contradictions since once a week I was still using the computer! Also, I never was able to keep guarding my eyes for a long time, even in the street. After that year, each time I tried working on Shemiras Ainayim I always fell again. When I felt horny I just couldn't control my eyes! I also tried to limit masturbation by making a vow for one year to go to the Mikvah each time I masturbated. That helped me a bit, but I didn't renew the vow after the year was up because it had gotten too hard to keep.
I never knew or acknowledged that my problem was an addiction. I just thought that I had tremendously strong passions and that I was different than everyone else. I also thought that if I didn't have these outlets I would sin with other women, something which - by some divine miracle - I have never done until this day, thank G-d. I always prayed that Hashem not test me with women because I knew that I stood no chance. In his great kindness, he at least protected me from that.
Anyway, for close to 20 years I struggled with this addiction but I was unable to make any serious progress.
One Purim, some eight years into our marriage, I got drunk. I was reading Psalms and I cried and cried to G-d, like never before, to help me out of the bottomless pit that I felt I could never leave. That very day, my wife was browsing through pictures we had taken from Purim on my computer and she happened upon pictures of porn. She confronted me that night about it and I felt that the time had come to tell her all. I was expecting that when she heard my whole story, and how young I had started doing these things, she would accept me for who I was. But G-d had heard my cries that day and had determined otherwise. My wife reacted with disgust and anger, albeit with some understanding as well, but she cried for days. She refused to accept that this was who I was and that this was who she had married, and she forced me to re-examine that which I had already given up on ever conquering.
Broken, threatened with divorce and yet not believing I could ever stop, I had finally "hit bottom". I wrote to the renowned religious psychiatrist, Rabbi Avraham Twersky, the author of many books and a leader in dealing with alcoholic addictions. I told him my whole story and I asked him if there was anything I could do to break free. Here is what he answered:
"Your case is not unusual. I say this because I can tell you what works and what does not work. Sexual compulsions come in a variety of ways, but the common denominator is that the person has a compulsion which he finds it very difficult to resist. He tries all kinds of ways (like you did) but nothing works, including marriage. This kind of compulsion is essentially an addiction. The only thing that works, in my experience, is participation in a 12-step recovery program similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is called either Sexaholic Anonymous or Sex & Love Anonymous. They have meetings everywhere, including Israel. You should be able to locate a meeting via the internet.
There are many excuses for not attending meetings. What happens if someone sees me? The bottom line is, if a person wishes to be cured from cancer, he'll do anything. If one wishes to overcome a destructive sexual addiction, nothing should stand in the way. There are two important books to read. (1) Sex and Love Addiction (SLAA) Anonymous and (2) Cybersex Unhooked. Both are available at www.hazelden.org/bookplace. Get these books and you'll find out what it takes to free yourself of this problem. Psychotherapy is the frosting on the cake, but the 12 step program is the cake. When you attend SLAA meetings, you may be able to find the name of a competent therapist. Many psychiatrists and psychologists have not been trained in addiction.
The particular type of sexual compulsion does not make much difference. A beer drinker can be as alcoholic as a whiskey drinker. The core problem is the inability to restrain oneself from doing something that one knows he should not be doing but appears powerless to control it. A number of religious people have been able to do with the 12 step program what they were not able to do with mussar (religious ethical texts). Perhaps this is because of the group support. We may learn mussar together, but we don't practice it together, which is what happens in a 12 step meeting. Read the books. There is a book "12 steps and 12 traditions" which describes the 12 steps. It's worth reading. Although it was written about alcoholism, one just substitutes the particular compulsion in place of "alcohol."
Rabbi Twerski's answer made me realize for the first time that I was dealing with a serious addiction. I bought the books that he suggested and began to learn about conquering addictions. My wife was supportive but she didn't want me going to the SLAA meetings. For about 8 months I struggled with recovery and I promised my wife that I had changed, but I slowly fell back into it. One thing that made me fall fully back into it was the advent of "high speed" internet, and also that my wife left the country for about week around that same time.
Somehow though, I knew that I couldn't stay this way forever. At one point I felt that I couldn't go on anymore fooling myself and my wife. I felt I had to do something drastic. A thought entered my head that maybe I should run away from my home and my computer for a while, and go somewhere holy to learn Torah all day, daven and recover. Not trusting myself though, I opened up a random sefer lying next to me and put my finger down the words of the Ohr Hachayim Hakodesh in Parshas Lech Lecha. There, the Ohr Hachaim explains that Avraham Avinu had the idea to leave Charan first on his own, and only afterwards did Hashem agree and tell him: "Lech Lecha" - "Go!" (Go for your self, for your own good!).
Shocked at this open sign from Hashem, I overcame my natural feelings of uncertainty and fear (it felt like I was literally killing myself) and I packed a few items and ran away from my home to the Kever of Shimon Hatzadik in Jerusalem. I left my wife a note that I might be gone for up to a month. I felt I had to break my yetzer hara and I planned on davening and learning Torah a whole day and sleeping on the stone benches there until I became a true Ba'al Teshuva. However, that night, the first night of Chanukah, in the cave, alone, as the cold rain fell outside, I felt so dried out from a whole day of davening, crying and learning. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay there much longer. Also, I realized how much pain I must be causing my wife, having run away and not being home to light with the family on Chanukah. So I cried and cried by Shimon Hatzadik's Kever for Hashem to help me truly change, and I took the trip home. My wife had seen the note and knew I had run away and so I had to tell my wife the truth about why I had done it, which was that I hadn't fully changed and had fallen back to my old ways. Again, she took it very hard, got mad and cried a lot, but this was my salvation! I knew from then on that I had no choice but to change!
After taking advice from my spiritual advisor again, I began psychotherapy with a religious psychiatrist. From that point on, I really had a strong determination to change. But my G-d, was it hard! He tried to teach me the 12 steps, how to "let go and let G-d", and how to be happy with what I had. We tried meditation techniques. We learned from the Holy texts. Slowly I began to learn control. But he was shocked at the intensity of my addiction. I was intensely aroused by the slightest things. I couldn’t even walk in a normal, religious street without becoming aroused. I had messed up my mind so bad, over so many years of seeking stimulation from almost everything I saw.
After almost a year of psychotherapy I was showing good control, but the obsessions were still there, like a monster ready to burst out of the cage. Finally, at his wits end, my therapist suggested that I be evaluated for medication by a prominent, non-religious psychologist who was well acquainted with this field. When I met with him and explained the intensity of my obsessions, he diagnosed me with "hyper-sexuality" and suggested that I take special shots (Decapeptyl, which in the United States is marketed as Trelstar). These shots would rid me altogether of sexual desire. He said that the shots would allow me to feel a new freedom in my life. (This treatment is routinely given in Israel to convicted serial rapists and pedophiles. The shots reduce the testosterone in the body to zero, removing all sexual desire and there are almost no side effects). The psychologist also offered me the option of SSRI medication, but he said he did not believe that the medication would be enough to really help me break free.
Understandably however, my wife was virulently against me taking the shots. Besides the loss of intimacy that it would cause us, she felt I should be working on myself to slowly get rid of the garbage in my head, instead of just closing the door on it and leaving it all there. She was so against it that she even threatened divorce. Having no choice, I started with the SSRI medication that the psychologist had also suggested as a possible choice (Recital, Cipromil, Lustral), 20 mg twice a day. After a while, together with my determination to break free and the psychotherapy, it really did begin to help. The obsessions began to lessen somewhat. They were still there, but were more controllable (and the side effects of the medication were negligible). I began to learn control, and it seems that the medicine helped me in my struggle by taking an "edge" off of the bottomless void that I used to feel when I was in desperate need of a "fix".
After another few months, I felt strong enough to stop the psychotherapy altogether.
Today, I am happy to say that I have been free from the pornography addiction and masturbation for more than three years. About two years after breaking free, when my wife was about to give birth, I became afraid again. I knew I would have to be "cold turkey" for about 6 weeks and I had never attempted total abstinence for more than two weeks at a time (when my wife was unavailable for halachic reasons). So I gathered the courage and again wrote to Rabbi Twersky asking him for advice on how I would possibly manage! Here was his answer:
At one time, it seemed like 2 hours was impossible. You progressed so that two weeks abstinence is possible (when your wife isn't available). Continue the methods you are using, but instead of thinking 6 weeks, think, "Just today I have to control," and that is feasible. You can't do anything today about what is going to be tomorrow, so don't take it on. Had you been in SLA they would have told you that the only success is by taking just one day at a time.
To my own amazement, I made it through the 6 weeks! Obviously, I was extra careful to guard my eyes during that time, and it really helped a lot. This major test did a lot to prove to me that I was finally in control of the insidious addiction.
Today, I have learned to guard my eyes where ever I go. I have learned to give up these crazy desires to G-d. I feel so free today, compared to the obsessed and compulsive person I used to be.
The medicine alone however, would not have been enough. I know this because I know myself only too well. The prominent, non-religious psychologist was indeed right. However, he had underestimated the power of determination and of religious belief and prayer. He underestimated the power of G-d to take a Jew out of Egypt against all odds.
Besides the above methods, I also continued using vows to make fences for myself, and I continue this practice until this day. For example, I vowed not to browse the internet unless my wife was in the room with me and not to go to inappropriate websites, I vowed not to watch movies with immodestly dressed women, I vowed not to open non-religious newspapers and magazines while alone. Maybe for others these things are not so bad, but for me it is poison, like a drug to my mind--analogous to someone who is quitting smoking who smells tobacco smoke. I vowed that every time I masturbated I would need to go to a "Mikva" (a ritual bath), as well as give a donation to charity. All these vows helped me tremendously, and I was slowly able to break free completely from the addiction. (In Judaism, vows are a very serious thing. I don't suggest anyone use vows unless they know they will be able to keep them).
I also began to use a fool-proof internet filter to block my internet access. I knew that I would never be able to stay clean with open internet access. It is too easily accessible and that makes it basically impossible to resist. I got rid of any magazines or pictures in my house which had pictures of women.
Anyway, I am happy to say that with G-d’s help, with the psychotherapy, prayer, determination, vows, medication, and last but not at all least, my wife's strong determination that I change, that which I always believed was impossible - actually happened, and today I am free! And after a few years of sobriety, I was even able to get off of the medication altogether. The obsessions have actually lessoned over time and the fantasies today are far and in-between. I have found this great saying of Chaza"l to be so true: "There is a small organ in a man, if you feed it - it is hungry, if you starve it - it is satiated". Because Chaza"l understood the nature of addiction.
TODAY I AM FREE - and YOU CAN BE TOO! G-d heard my cries and he hears the cries inside the hearts of so many of his people who yearn to be free. Talk to G-d TODAY about getting started. You will see miracles.
May G-d save his people from the tremendous power of desire that fills the world today, and may we learn to give our desires over to G-d and replace them with true love for him. Amen.
Here are some responses to this story when it first appeared on the forum at www.jewishsexuality.com:
Wow! Yasher koach for your honesty and for sharing your saga with others. I don't know what steps I will take to get over my own addiction, but you have given me a big push in getting started. May Hashem grant you continued success for yourself and success in helping others.
From Tzvi Fishman, the web-master of www.jewishsexuality.com:
Another guy wrote….
Another guy wrote….
I am a serious, hard core sinner...wasting seed
I HATE IT
Please tell me more about the shots to remove sexual desire
I need your help desperately.
I live in New York...How do I get these shots to eliminate all this garbage?
Another guy (almost 50 years old) wrote….
Thank you for posting your story. You can be truly proud of where you are now and how far you've come.
Your situation almost exactly parallels mine, except that I'm only in the very beginning stages of breaking out of the deep hole I've dug for myself. Also, I've sunk far lower in that I've used the internet porn as a springboard to actually meeting up with people to play out the sick scenarios I lusted after.
This has gone on for several years, and although I haven't been 'caught' I feel like I've hit bottom. The effects of my actions have definitely impacted my relationship with my wife and children. No one likes to be around someone who's nervous, distant, and incapable of intimacy. I hope that with Hashem's help my acceptance of my problem and my willingness to stop my self-destructive actions will bear fruit.