It was a Monday night and I was sitting on the edge of the bed in my guest room at a Franciscan monastery where I was on retreat. I was antsy and trying with every ounce of my will to resist getting in my rental car and driving to an adult book store. I desperately wanted to obtain pornography. I was experiencing my first signs of withdrawal.
I was on the west coast for the wedding of my nephew, at whose marriage I would be officiating the following Saturday. I had just run a marathon the day before with him and three other members of the wedding party. I was going to spend the few days in between on retreat at a local monastery.
But I knew weeks earlier while I was making my plane reservations that I needed help. I was excited about running the marathon with my nephew and looking forward to officiating at my first family wedding. But more than anything, I wanted the freedom to go visit adult book stores and feed my addiction to pornography.
When I realized, as the weeks closed in toward the weeklong trip, that I was looking forward to the pornography more than the marathon or the wedding or the retreat, I admitted to myself that it had overtaken me. I had to do something. This compulsion sure didn't align with my values as a priest. I had the foresight to look up some 12-step programs and find a meeting near the retreat center. I went to my first one that Monday evening.
I knew the dangers of addiction early in my life. My father died of alcoholism just shy of his 66th birthday. I swore I would never let that happen to me, so I chose not to drink myself. Problem solved, or so I thought.
But I was a dry drunk. The addictive personality was lurking below the surface looking for the weakest spot to infiltrate. That came through pornography.
I was exposed to a significant amount of pornography at a relative's house beginning when I was 13 years old. It didn't become a problem until the Internet provided unlimited access to a large and mostly free volume of graphic images and videos. At first it was curiosity-driven. But the visits became more frequent.
My wife caught me a few times and I promised to stop, but I simply couldn't do it on my own. It was in control of me, so I finally mustered the courage to seek help.
The Monday evening of my first meeting was one of the longest of my life. I remember the enormous shame and embarrassment I felt walking into that room, but at the end of that hour, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. It all made sense, the stories that I heard. Those were my stories. These were people just like me. One person there was even a pastor. I wasn't the only one.
But returning to the monastery was so hard. I was so conscious of wanting to find a book store instead. The desire was stronger than I had ever felt it. It was the addict in me fighting for control. I had many times seen my father attempt to dry himself out and I remember when he would get the DTs of withdrawal and how scary that was for me to watch as a teenager. What I felt that night was my own version of it. I spent most of the night awake praying for the power to stay put and get through the night. I did--with the grace of God. And I found another meeting the next night.
That's how my recovery began.