Thanksgiving blessing: A man unchained from porn

finney    It was Thanksgiving, and Tom, at last, was free.
    When a man is addicted to pornography, the waters of guilt and shame – a drowning pool from which there seems to be no escape – converge like whitewater rapids. Tom, 51, knew there was no way to save himself.
    But this Thanksgiving, as Tom ate his turkey and dressing, his wife and children celebrated his freedom.
    “I just felt grateful, having my family together, just being free,” Tom said. “I’ve been free from porn for almost a year. I don’t have this anchor dragging me down.”
    Tom regained his freedom in incremental steps. The biggest step came after his wife, who was ready to throw in the towel on their marriage, circled a one-paragraph blurb in the parish bulletin about the My House Men’s Group, an anonymous, Catholic recovery group for men struggling with pornography or other sexual compulsions. The group meets every Wednesday night.
    For two months, Tom conveniently found something else to do.
    “I made all kinds of excuses not to go to this meeting or that meeting,” Tom said. “I drove by a couple of times. Finally, I just walked in and met the guys. That first meeting is the hardest one. But when that new person walks in the door, he’s helping the guys who have been there for one or two years. You form a bond with these other men, and it’s total honesty. For the first time ever I was having to be accountable for my actions. It’s a humbling experience.”
    In learning and reading over the last two years, Tom has discovered that addiction to pornography is insidious and progressive, and it’s often passed on from generation to generation.
    “I really never did feel it was wrong,” Tom said. “I wasn’t taught not to look at porn. All my life I’ve been fighting this thing, but I knew within my spirit that something wasn’t right with my relationships.”
    Tom had gone through periods in his life when the guilt he experienced compelled him to try to control his lust. When he was 22 he threw away all of the magazines he had collected, thinking that would solve the problem. It didn’t. Then as cable TV and the Internet exploded, so did the temptations. The near occasion of sin was everywhere, and Tom was drowning.
    “I knew in my heart if I couldn’t stop this I was going to lose my wife – that this marriage was going to end,” Tom said. “I’ve tried things on my own. But what happens is God still allows the enemy to present you with things, and if you don’t have the right tools to combat it or an attack plan, you’re just going to fall every time.”
    Now, the rules are straightforward. Tom has the world’s lowest cable TV bill – about $19 a month – because he has no movie channels. If he is alone at work in his office, he gets up from the computer and walks to the back of the shop. There is the “three-second rule,” where he consciously decides to look away from a pretty woman to redirect his spirit and his thoughts.
    “I don’t have any (extra) channels on my TV, and my family complains, but at the same time I don’t want to hold them hostage,” Tom said. “I have this problem and I need help with it. You can’t eliminate all the temptations. Women are everywhere, and they’re beautiful. The temptations are still there, but it’s the response to the temptations that you need to change. I can never go back. There’s too many good things on this side that are happening for me to go back.”
    Amazingly, within the last six months, Tom has gotten a work promotion, and he and his wife are working through long-submerged issues that had been put to the side because Tom’s absentee spirit was never there to truly address them. Tom’s wife recently suffered the loss of two close relatives.
    “The beauty of the whole thing is that now that I have dealt with my addiction, as a husband I can give her myself and help her through her difficult times,” Tom said. “Before, I had a wall up and she had a wall up, and nothing was getting done. The biggest thing you can give to your children is that they know their parents love each other.”
    Now, Tom has seen the wife he always knew when he was courting.
    “The other day, someone told a joke and she was laughing so hard she was crying,” Tom said.
    Tom knows there are thousands of men who are trapped, just as he was. His advice: take the leap of faith.
    “You can have a great life,” Tom said. “You deserve a great life. The devil tells you you don’t deserve a great life. I’m learning now that God does want you to have a great life. I deserve it.”
    If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual integrity, contact the anonymous My House Men’s Group at 430-3060; email, myhouse@archdiocese-no.org; or go to www.archdiocese-no.org, Catholic links, Help for Addictions. The archdiocese is attempting to launch a similar program for women struggling with pornography.
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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