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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Escaping porn's prison

I first watched porn when I was 15 years old. As a young teen, I thought “addiction” was a word reserved for drug users and alcoholics. I didn’t know that a collared-shirt Catholic school kid could be so controlled by the things he saw on his cracked iPhone 6 screen. As a soccer player, I heard a lot of locker room conversations. I knew porn was the norm among guys my age. Everyone in the world seemed to use it (91.5% of men and 60.2% of women). And even though it felt wrong, I did too. Months after I started, I began to research and understand the consequences of porn use. I learned about how it hurts people in the industry and how it was changing my brain. It was making me selfish. The girls in my life were becoming objects to me. This habit had taken the reins of what used to be a very free, happy life. As time passed, I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I wanted to stop. But I couldn’t. Porn is a unique beast to fight. With other addictions, you can at least trash the drug. With porn, it’s much harder to separate yourself from the temptation. Your drug remains in your pocket all day, begging you to lean into just one moment of weakness. Despite the challenge in front of me, I convinced myself that I was strong enough to defeat it. Day after day, I fought the addiction with detailed goals and gritted teeth. One year of fighting passed. Then two years. Then three. And after almost a thousand days of strenuous effort, I still couldn't break free from porn.That sort of failure causes a gut-wrenching, humiliating feeling. Those nights I spent many hours contemplating the idea of completely giving up. Why was I treading water if I knew I was going to drown? But there was one thing stronger than my nagging shame: my desire to love. I had this clear, detailed image in my mind of the man that I wanted to be. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be someone who is willing to sacrifice for the people he cares about. One who would give up everything — all success, all reputation, all power — before using others to their detriment. So, I kept pushing.I decided to join a video support group that I found online. I walked out to my car in the driveway for some privacy, plugged in my headphones and logged onto the Zoom call with my camera off. I wasn’t expecting much. However, what I saw changed my life. I was the only one in the meeting younger than 25. I watched in horror as over ten grown men, many of whom were married, took turns speaking about their never-ending battles with pornography. One even mentioned that this escalating addiction led him to seek an affair, irreparably damaging his relationship with his wife. But that wasn’t the most painful part for me. Toward the end of the meeting, the biggest, roughest-looking man in the group unmuted himself and began to speak. He was also in a car, his seatbelt crossed over his chest as he looked out the window into the darkness outside. After speaking for just a minute, he began sobbing loudly, his bitter tears running down his face into his thick brown beard. He had been trying to quit far longer than me, and he had never succeeded.All of the other guys stared blankly into their cameras as he wept. No one could think of the words to ease that sort of pain. What could they say that he hadn’t heard before? Through this man, I saw my future self. If I continued with this path, I would be him. Completely trapped, unable to give my wife the undivided love that I’d always planned to give her. I promised myself that day that I would never be that man. The way I saw it, I had two options: 

  1. Keep doing what I was doing. Fight alone, lie to myself about the future, keep failing and become that man from the Zoom call. 
  2. Humble up and get the help that I needed. Take the embarrassment and eventually be free. Do what it takes. 
I chose the second. No matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment, I would not be that man. I would never be that man. This time around, I didn’t want to seem strong. I wanted to be strong. History showed me that I wasn’t going to do that on my own. So, I got serious. I reached out to a friend and asked for daily check-ins. I told my brother to keep me accountable. I even talked to my parents about what I was facing.Exposing myself like this was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. It was terrifying, but necessary. If I would have kept fighting alone, it surely would have been a different story. I would have been perceived as stronger by others, but underneath the mask, I still would have been weak. Porn used to be the dictator of my life. Now, I’m 144 days clean. My life isn’t governed by the sporadic ups and downs of addiction. Through God’s grace, I’ve found freedom. When I look into my wife’s eyes at the altar, I’ll now know that my promise to her is true. That’s worth a little embarrassment. If you’re hooked on porn, you probably don’t deserve all of the blame for how it started. If you’re like most people, you were young and naive the first time you saw it. The beginning of the story was not your choice, but the end of the story is. Using porn might feel shameful, but seeking accountability should not. Asking for help is not weak, it’s heroic. It’s being brave enough to put your pride on the line in order to save the victims of the industry and the people you love most. So, if there’s one takeaway from my story, it’s the power of asking for help. The truth is that it’s not unusual to be battling this. And it shouldn’t be unusual to call in backup. A year ago, a friend and I had the idea of starting accountability small groups here on ND’s campus. We currently have the capacity to support 10 groups of 4, and we are looking to expand that. Fill out this interest form or email me directly at joshua.haskell.44@gmail.com if you are interested in finding accountability or leading a group of your own. I’m also happy to meet up to chat. To wrap up this story, I ask two things of you: 
  1. Genuinely decide who you want to be and if porn fits into that definition.
  2. If it doesn’t, sign up for a small group. Don’t lie to yourself. If the solo mission has not been working, do what it takes and bury this pain forever. 

Josh Haskell

Class of 2024

Aug. 26

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.