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Breaking the chains

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Citing the pervasive nature of pornography, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde recently issued a new edition of his pastoral letter "Bought with a Price," in which he reminds people that the church teaches that pornography "perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other."

Below, three married individuals talk about how they descended into pornography, how it affected their lives and where they are now.

Addicted to lust

For Joseph (the names in this article have been changed) the issue was lust. Pornography was his "gateway drug" that led him to other types of adulterous affairs. He tried stopping for years, but the behavior kept creeping back.

"As Bishop (Loverde) said, you can't do it alone," Joseph said. "We need God and other people, means outside of ourselves."

After battling for years to keep his addiction at bay, Joseph discovered Sexaholics Anonymous, a recovery group for men and women that uses the principles and 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Following the steps, having a support system and strengthening his relationship with the

sacraments has helped him to stay "on the wagon" for almost 10 years.

"I had to do something drastic," he said. "Going to SA (before), I had the misconceptions that many Catholics had, wondering 'Am I an addict?' How many times do you need to go to confession with a mortal sin to know you have a problem with lust?"

His problems with purity and sexuality started with a traumatic experience. When he was 5 years old, Joseph witnessed an act of incest at his friend's house, which warped his sense of sexuality.

Once he saw pornography as a teenager, the images were burned in his mind for 30 years. He saw sex as bad but also exhilarating until he realized that "lust leads to a culture of death."

"You begin to think of it as natural," he said. He added that even if a person tries to stop looking at pornography, feeding lust in other ways makes it a constant risk.

He was part of a large, strict, traditional Catholic family and would feel guilty when using pornography, which, he said, led to another addiction.

"I started drinking in high school," he said. "In college, it became a regular pattern that I would go to confession and it would always start with 'I went out and had a few too many drinks and then I did … .'"

He would hop from one priest to the next because he didn't want to go back with the same sins. After college, he realized he had a problem and admitted being powerless.

"I wept; I got angry at God," he said. "I told Him, 'Who am I fooling, coming here to say I'm sorry when we both know that next week I'll bring the same exact sin.' I quit, I said, 'If You want me to be good, You have to help.'"

He met his wife that night, somebody who held the values of purity he believed in but could not practice. He tried stopping his addiction during their courtship but relapsed when they fought. Joseph thought that getting married would solve his problem with lust and pornography, but he was disappointed.

"No wonder I was let down," he said. "(Intimate relations in marriage) were something good and holy and I was not looking for good and holy."

He said he did not learn about sexuality through his parents but through pornography.

Financial problems made him drink and struggle with purity when traveling on business. After going to a strip club for the first time, he became afraid that he would lose his marriage and the love of his daughters. He sobered up after that trip but fell back into watching pornography three years later.

His spiritual director suggested a total consecration to Jesus through Mary and attending Sexaholics Anonymous. At the meetings, Joseph was repulsed by some of the other participants.

"I felt 'holier-than-thou'. I judged them," he said. "I thought, 'These guys are perverts, I am a normal pervert.'"

He went back to his Alcoholic Anonymous group and decided to deal with his other addictions there. After his total consecration to Jesus and Mary, he was doing well but then had his biggest fall during a trip to London.

"I was trying to find a strip club … a massage parlor," he said. "I was in a trance, like a zombie. There was no alcohol to blame, it was all premeditated.

"I hit my bottom," he said. "After I woke up, I felt devastated. I had crossed another boundary. … I was scared that the addiction took over."

After he came home, Joseph went to another SA meeting and hugged the people he did not want to touch before

- the lepers in his life had become his brothers.

Through the support group, he got a sponsor, went to daily meetings and asked God to take care of his marriage. He said he tried avoiding lust triggers. He received the sacraments often, and his estranged relationship with his wife started to change.

"I was really receiving the gift of seeing her as a person more and felt the closeness in our relationship," he said.

A year later, Joseph realized that he was having a spiritual conversion when he was 33 years old. "I was afraid to lose my marriage and family and what I found was Jesus."

He is now a sponsor at Sexaholics Anonymous and has a good relationship with his wife and children. He renews his consecration to Mary every year and now goes to daily Mass, prays the rosary and meditates daily in front of the Eucharist.

"It's beautiful, the way God worked in my marriage and my family and the gifts I have now," Joseph said. "I can be happy, joyous and free."

Watching porn to save a marriage almost destroyed it

The consequences of pornography can affect all members of the family. In a blog post called "Porn almost destroyed my marriage," a woman talks about how her husband convinced her to watch pornography.

The woman, "Ruth," shared her experiences anonymously on the website conversationwithwomen.org, an online forum for women to talk about their faith journeys.

Ruth felt she needed to talk about the problem of pornography and wanted women to be better equipped to defend themselves against pornography than she was.

Soon after she married, Ruth's husband took her to the adult section of a video store. She left feeling repulsed, but her husband started renting movies regularly and pressuring her to watch them with him.

"I would tell him that they were wrong and I wasn't interested. He would tell me that I was frigid and a prude and there was nothing wrong because we were married," she wrote. "I didn't know how to articulate it, but in the depth of my being I knew these movies were wrong. … I was Catholic, but I didn't know my faith, didn't even know what a catechism was."

She felt isolated and discouraged and his persistence wore her down.

"I started to believe him," she said. "Maybe there was something wrong with me. … Why did I feel like he had been with another woman when he was only watching a movie?"

She began watching the movies with him, "feeling death inside" most of the time. Some days, though, she felt curious, ashamed and confused; the movie-watching was creating more tension in her marriage.

"The darkness wasn't over when the movie ended either; it lingered," she recalled. "What irony! I watched pornography to try to improve my marriage."

She said that several blessings changed her life Their next neighborhood did not have an adult movie store and they started going to a local Catholic church around the time Internet porn started to become popular.

"One Sunday, our pastor preached about the evils of pornography," she wrote. Then she understood that "sex is something filled with beauty and dignity, and watching others do it degrades it."

Through confession, she received absolution and forgave herself for watching pornography; it took counseling to forgive her husband.

"Marriage is a journey to Christ, and our detour into pornography was both damaging and dangerous," she said. "But the beauty of Catholicism is that all things can be redeemed through the sacraments and Christ."

Local men support each other in the battle for purity

Soon after reading Bishop Loverde's first letter on the scourge of pornography in 2006, "Dan" started an accountability group for men who struggle with pornography called Augustine Brothers.

Like Joseph, he said that breaking out of isolation is necessary to recuperate from a porn addiction or purity struggle.

"You need the support of a group or individual to be accountable to," he said. "You are not going to get anywhere by keeping it a secret."

At their weekly meetings, the Augustine Brothers pray the rosary, read books related to addiction and healing, hear from priests, and share their difficulties, successes and failures from the week. Members challenge each other to go to confession or an extra Mass each week, put filters on their computers, seek counseling, and call other people in the group and check in with them.

"You are not only helping yourself but the other person; you are in the battle with them," he said.

Dan went to a porn shop for the first time when he was 21 years old.

"This became my way of escaping what I had found too difficult to face," he said.

He had been sexually abused as a child and into his late teens, and he tried to medicate his deeply embedded wounds through pornography. He, too, thought marriage would "take all this away," but it didn't.

"I was living two different lives - a husband and father and as an addict," he recalled. "It changes you, there is no freedom."

His addiction continued for 40 years, and it wasn't until he found an accountability group in another state that he felt like he could defeat this and be honest with his wife.

"Knowing that I was not crazy, that other men struggle the same way that I did, made me think I could break free," he said. "I needed the support of a group to really find the strength."

He said that, like many other men, his addiction was not about sex but wounds, insecurities and fears.

"We go there to escape the pain of our lives," he said. "Sometime as children, when you are un-fathered and told that you don't have what it takes to be a man, you try to find your masculinity in other ways."

His recovery process began in his 60s when he realized that he could not bury the problem anymore. He tried to go to a group in a Baptist church in New Jersey, but he was drawn to the sacrament of reconciliation. He also went to counseling.

He said that growing up in an age when this was not talked about made things difficult until he found the support group.

The group has two weekly meetings: Mondays at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Thursdays at St. Veronica Church in Chantilly from 7 to 9 p.m. There are about 100 participants, and recently, people have come from Pennsylvania every week to recreate the meeting's format in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Dan also is hoping to start another group in the Manassas area this fall. He specified that the group is not only for porn addicts but also for any men who find it difficult to be pure. According to Dan, many men have achieved great progress, and some have stopped looking at pornography.

"We talk about things that create in us a spirit of courage and the determination that we can do this," he said. "We will be able to break these chains."

Negro can be reached at mnegro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @MNegroACH.

Find out more

To learn about Sexaholics Anonymous, go to sa.org.

To learn more about the Augustine Brothers purity group, go to arlingtondiocese.org/purity/addiction.aspx or call 727/207-2856.

To read "Bought with a Price," go to arlingtondiocese.org/purity/pastoral_letter.aspx.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014