M and I met 5 years ago as freshmen at a university. We realized that we were taking three classes together that first semester, so we became close friends as we studied together. I’m just using M as a placeholder for my friend’s name. She’s given me permission to share her story as long as I don’t use her name.
If you met M, you would see one of the sweetest and most amazing girls ever. She was friendly to everyone. She studied her heart out and received top grades in all her classes. She knew how to play the piano. On top of that, she played two sports in high school. She seemed to have a perfect life on the outside. But I soon came to understand that M didn’t see herself in that light.
We ended up spending a lot of time together because we took quite a few classes together over several years. The only thing I noticed about M was that she always spoke about herself in a negative perspective. She refused to accept even one good thing about herself, so I always thought she was being humble and courteous towards others.
Bottom line: I would have never realized that M suffered from an addiction to pornography.
I think there is this misconception that a person can distinguish someone who watches pornography – that something must be different about them – yet it is not that case.
We Need to Talk
In our Sophomore year, she said we needed to talk. I was thinking it was something about a project we were working on for class. But when she said, “Could you keep a secret until I say so?” I knew it had nothing to do with our project.
Hesitantly, she told me about her story about her addiction to pornography. She said she had lived a two-faced life since high school when she stumbled on it on the internet. At first, she closed out of the screen because she had been taught about the negative effects of pornography, but then she became curious and returned. She said that watching pornography made her feel good. So it became a battle between her will and desire. She knew watching it was bad, yet she wanted to do it.
She said that watching pornography subtly fractured her personality. To hide the fact that she was addicted, she said she tried to create this image that her life was perfect by being overly nice and overachieving in her classes, but it began to drain her mentally and emotionally. She said she constantly lived with the fear that someone would realize her addiction and no one would look at her the same way again. Eventually, she suffered from a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with depression. But she said the counseling was never truly effective because she never opened up about the true source of what was eating at her. So she went through the motions of trying to get better. Also, being the oldest in her family, she said that she felt an obligation to set a good example for her young siblings, so she did not have the courage to tell her parents.
Trust, Connection, and Progress
Looking back, we both still wonder what it was that made her open up to me that day. Maybe it was the fact that we spent a lot of time together studying for various classes. But it opened a new chapter in M’s life as well as mine. After she first told me about her addiction, she didn’t want to get professional help when I suggested it. She said she wanted to do it on her own, so she just updated me on how she was doing for about a year. Her progress varied a lot. Sometimes she would stay away from pornography for couple weeks. Other times, it would be couple days. She would get discouraged for slipping back but then would try again. All I felt that I could do then was to keep encouraging her and trying to help her recognize her positive attributes.
Eventually, she and I came to realize that she couldn’t do it on her own, yet she was scared to receive help. But she asked me if I would be willing to be there if she were to take the next step. Honestly, I was hesitant to say yes. I had doubts as to how much help I had been. But I felt that I had an obligation to be there for her. It took her a lot courage and trust to tell me something she kept so privately. She decided she would meet up with a counselor and started a recovery program. Though I didn’t go into sessions, we would catch up afterwards and talk about how it went.
Slowly, she began to recover. And I saw a remarkable change in M as well as myself.
M has been clean from pornography for almost 2 years now. Though she still hasn’t gone on a date because she doesn’t feel ready yet, her life has taken a turn for the better. She says the biggest change is that she is starting to feel like she no longer has to pretend. Though it is still a struggle everyday with tempting urges, she says she has never felt happier. She feels like she has taken off the shackles that were weighing her down and is able to be herself. M isn’t comfortable telling people about her past yet; however, she feels that she will eventually reach a place where she would be willing to share her side of the story to encourage others suffering from pornography addiction – that they aren’t alone and they can recover. As a friend who stood by her, I could not be any prouder of my friend. Her progress looked bleak and hopeless at times; however, she overcame it through her own strength as well as the help and support of those around her.
Connection is the Key
As for me, I just encourage people to be there for one another. You can never really know what your friends or family might be going through; however, your support may give them the strength and love they need to take that step forward. Also, don’t be so quick to judge. Being addicted to pornography doesn’t take away a person’s value. In fact, those who are fighting their addiction might have more compassion and sympathy for others because of their experience. Similar to M, they cherish the relationships they have and often can see the good that others ignore. So treat them like they are no different if you do find out.
Lastly, I’m about as average as you can get, so don’t think that you can’t help someone. One person can truly make all the difference in the world for someone else. Be willing to help if you come across an opportunity. There will be time-consuming and overwhelming moments, but I promise you it will be worth it – not just for him or her, but for you as well, because everyone involved will develop and mature in ways they never thought of.
Photos: Copyright: ammentorp / 123RF Stock Photo