I haven’t intentionally looked at pornography in two years now. I don’t talk about it as often as I did in the beginning of the recovery process, which is kind of a comfort to me because it shows the impact of it in my life has become smaller and smaller. But even though it feels kind of vulnerable to bring up now, I don’t want to grow silent. I want you, whatever your struggle is, to know you aren’t the only one who faces temptations that feel dark and overwhelming, or who struggles to walk in their integrity. We are all with you. And I think the more we bring those things into the light, the less power we feel they have in our lives. That has been part of my experience, at least.
I’ve talked before about how, even though I’ve been porn-free for a decent length of time, I don’t quite know how to respond when people ask me for advice, because I genuinely don’t know how or why I’ve reached this place. That’s still completely true. So today, on my two years free mark, I’m not writing a “how you, too, can do this!” post. I just have a few things I’ve come to realize along the way that I’d like to share, if you’d like to hear.
1) I am fully loved and welcomed by God no matter the state I’m in.
This is the one thing that I know has been the key to my recovery. The first time I looked at pornography, I sobbed and asked God to forgive me, over and over– and He did not say one single thing about what I’d done. He wrapped me up close, and reminded me of His promise to teach me to renew my mind, and that was all. He loved me, all of me, unwaveringly. If I didn’t have that, I know I would not have been able to enter into recovery, let alone make any progress in it.
If you take one thing from reading my words today, take this: God is not ashamed of you. He isn’t angry with you. He doesn’t bring up your mistakes. He loves you. He is on your side. He is faithful to you and will never, ever withhold one bit of Himself from you. And your healing is His desire and joy to bring to fruition. Nestle in, without fear.
2) There isn’t an answer or a formula, there’s only grace and a process.
I’ve touched on this before so I won’t repeat myself too much, but I’d just like to clarify that while this can be scary, it can also be an encouragement.
There are a lot of tools and resources offered to aid people in their recovery, and I am not at all against trying to utilize them. But in my own experience, as well as the experiences of many of my friends in their own struggles? Those things often don’t work, at least not for long. It can be so discouraging and shame-bringing, especially when we’re trying so hard to grow. But we have to remember: our efforts are important, but they are not our saviors.
I still can’t pinpoint what got me here. Maybe the timing has simply been right for me, or maybe I’ll discover later down the road what the specific tools were, but right now? I can only attribute it to God’s love for me and the process of learning to live out of that place of belovedness. And He has that same kind of love for everyone else.
So, please, don’t be ashamed of whatever hasn’t worked for you. You’ll find the things that do. And you might not even know what they are when you finally do find them, and that’s okay, too. I can’t stress this enough: lean into how loved you are, before you start anything else that could help you, because that is what will carry you through whatever your process looks like.
And if you’re reading this and you don’t have experience with addiction or struggles of this nature, please: still remember these things. The people around you who are struggling don’t deserve to be shamed for the tools that didn’t work for them. See them for who they are– someone deeply, unwaveringly loved by God– and let that lead your behavior and your speech.
3) Temptation is NOT sin or failure. And it doesn’t go away– but it does lessen.
I’ve spent two years without looking at pornography, but that does not mean I’ve spent two years without being tempted to do so. It makes me uncomfortable to say that, and I know it might make some uncomfortable to hear it, but I’m not about to pretend or lie about this. This is one of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve emerged from a church background that preached guilt and fear, and I don’t want to stop telling anyone who will listen:
Being tempted is not the same as giving in to temptation.
Jesus was tempted, and was without sin— and now the same can be true of us. This is part of the gospel, the world-shaking truth He wanted us to know so badly that He died to prove it to us. How graciously we view ourselves is hugely important to Him.
I used to think facing temptation meant I was already sinning, and having that belief in my core was so crippling to any forward movement in my life. I am so grateful for His truth, and that, even when it hasn’t fully sunk in, I can make the choice to bank on it anyway and He will be faithful to show me the reality of it.
I still have graphic dreams sometimes. I still have to occasionally unfollow certain accounts on social media, not because they’re posting anything wrong but because my mindset isn’t always right toward what they do post. I still catch ugly thoughts suddenly popping up in my head. But none of this means I’m failing. In fact, it is all a normal and natural part of recovery. It’s okay to make progress and still have more to make; not being at the finish line (which, again, I’m honestly not sure exists this side of eternity) doesn’t mean you’re not walking on the right path.
[Side note on the graphic dreams: scientifically, one function of dreams is your brain processing things so it can store them in less prominent places and bring more finality to them. If/when you have those dreams, it’s okay to be unsettled, but don’t let it lead you to believe that you’ll never be rid of those things. Pornography affects the brain in a lot of different ways, but your brain is also such a powerful organ and can heal itself with the right care; sometimes, dreams are a part of that healing. It’s difficult, but as much as it feels like a bad sign, it’s actually a good one. Take heart.]
You’re going to face temptation in your recovery. Guaranteed. Sometimes, it’s going to feel nearly unbearable. But don’t let the fear take over. Don’t let yourself give into the feelings of shame and guilt and condemnation, because God never hands out those feelings. And don’t let yourself believe that because you’re drawn to something again it means you’ve already taken steps backwards. I promise: you’re doing a better job than you think.
Things will get better for you. Those thoughts won’t always be in the forefront of your mind; they’re going to shrink and shrivel and fade, and you’re going to feel the reality of your freedom stronger and stronger in you. Believe in who you already are: a person deeply loved by God. Everything else will flow from that, with time and a lot of grace.
Thank you to everyone in my life who has supported me, cheered me on, walked with me, and shared their own struggles with me in these two years. I know I wouldn’t be the same without you, and I know I still need you.
And thank you, Jesus, for being my rock, my biggest fan, my comfort, my true north. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without you. I love you with my whole heart.