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Men share their darkest secrets and find healing

The names of the men quoted in this story were changed to protect confidentiality.

Larry had a secret – and it was slowly destroying his marriage.

For years he had struggled with an addiction to pornography, trying many times, unsuccessfully, to stop.

“I lived two lives – one public and one totally secret,” he said. “My outside life looked like a devout Catholic should be, but my secret life was the devil’s workshop, full of mortal sin.”

“My wife knew something was wrong with our marriage, first blaming herself, but finally figured out it was me,” Larry said, although she was still unaware of the root problem.

Things reached a tipping point when his wife caught him watching porn videos. “She should have kicked me out and ended our marriage at that time,” he said. “Thank God she didn’t.”

But, Larry realized it was clearly time to get help.

 That’s when he found hope and support through the archdiocese’s PATH (Pornography Awareness, Truth and Healing) men’s accountability group.

Formed in 2016, the group is an outgrowth of efforts by the archdiocese’s PATH Task Force to raise awareness about the problem of pornography and to offer help in the form of support groups, retreats and other resources to those who need it.

Using an approach similar to a 12-step program, accountability group members share their struggles in a setting of complete confidentiality, said Father Scott Hastings, administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield, archdiocesan vicar for clergy and facilitator of the group.

“Oftentimes men who come to the group have been living with a deep secret, so the ability to come into a room and say, ‘Here’s the thing I’m most ashamed of,’ and have everybody in the room say, ‘Joe, it’s good to have you here,’ – you do that a few times and you realize ‘this is my honest place.’”

Group member Ed said he values that “culture of honesty, where people are free to talk and say what’s really going on. The culture of everyone who comes there is that their opinions are valued, and no one’s greater than the other person.”

“Being able to share those details in a place where that is accepted is helpful to recovery,” he said. “It is a tool. God keeps me sober and chaste, but it is a valuable tool that he uses.”

And, members often form close, supportive friendships that help reinforce accountability through regular phone calls and a daily text messaging group.

“What the men in the group would say is that ‘I came here trying to kick the habit, and I stay because I realize that I need you guys for my life to be happy,’” Father Hastings explained.

About 50 men have taken part in the group’s weekly meetings since 2016, and about 12-15 typically take part any given week, he said.

“Our motto is ‘Get help, be free.’”

FAR REACHING EFFECTS

The effects of pornography addiction are far reaching, Father Hastings said.

“Habits of sin dilute everything in our life that is good,” he said. “They become the most important thing for us, even if we wouldn’t vocalize it as the most important thing,” much like other forms of addiction. “So, life becomes about seeking that thing.”

And one of the most damaging effects can be that which is wrought upon marriages.

“It creates huge division between husbands and wives,” Father Hastings said. “Wives often experience this as a form of betrayal, and it creates huge distances in relationships.”

Scientific research finds that pornography addiction is so difficult to overcome because of its effects on the human brain.

Quoting these studies, a Daniel Spadaro article titled “Wash Me Thoroughly: Healing from Pornography Use and Addiction” states: “At a neurological level, our brains become attached to viewing pornography because sexual arousal stimulates dopamine in the brain … the type of images found in pornography cause over-stimulation of the brain, which then wants to repeat the activity and is ‘triggered’ by anything associated with it.”

The article, which is part of the “Create in Me a Clean Heart” series of articles on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, www.usccb.org, continues: “Eventually, repeated over-stimulation … decreases our ability to experience normal levels of pleasure and reduces the brain’s ability to regulate impulse and mood.”

ONLINE PREVALENCE

The prevalence of pornography use, even among people of faith, can be eye-opening.

A 2014 study of pornography addiction in Christian men, commissioned by Proven Men Ministries, found that 32% of men ages 18-30 believe they are addicted to pornography and another 12% think they may be, while 64% of men ages 31-49 said they view pornography at least monthly.

Contributing to the problem is the ubiquitous nature of the internet and smartphones, Father Hastings said.

Research shows that three quarters of men and a third of women who have smartphones looked at porn in the last week, he said.

“The availability of online pornography has made the habit incredibly hard to break,” said group member Brian. “I was able to quit nicotine by just not buying it at the store. But with the prevalence of online pornography the ‘store’ is in your pocket or on your computer in your house, instantly, at all times.”

Men who are addicted to pornography can be powerless against the temptation, Father Hastings said, “when you’ve had a beer, sitting in your chair when your wife’s gone … it’s gonna happen.”

“The wrong solution is isolation, trying to pray it away,” Father Hastings said. “A new guy to the group always says, ‘Oh, I just want God to take this away from me, God’s gonna fix it, I’m gonna kick the habit.’”

As important as prayer is, most men also need the support of others.

“The solution to this problem is accountability, friendship, honesty,” he said, “and to use a 12-step slogan, ‘sobriety is connection.’”

A LIFELINE

The PATH men’s accountability group has been a lifeline to those struggling with pornography addicition.

“It’s fantastic to see how their lives change,” Father Hastings said. “A week does not go by when somebody doesn’t say, ‘I love you guys.’”

“This group has really helped me,” said group member Shawn. “Now I have accountability and the support of other men struggling with the same addiction. It has brought home to me just how tough ending this addiction can be.”

Visit archomaha.org/familylife/path/ for more information. Men interested in attending the Omaha group should call 402.557.5664 and leave a message. Or, for the Cedar County rural group call 402.557.5694 and leave a message. The group facilitator for each group is the sole retriever of messages and will return the call within 48 hours.