Twenty-six-year-old Tom lives alone and works in a drugstore. He has been in recovery for three years. His life had revolved around porn for as long as he can remember. “My dad kept a stash of hundreds of Playboys, Hustlers, and Penthouses in a cabinet in our garage,” Tom said. “I stole from his stuff to make my own secret stash. My dad never said anything, so I figured it was okay. Apparently my mom got upset one day and made him get rid of his stash. He did, but it wasn’t long before I found a new collection of porn hidden in a compartment under his waterbed. Sometimes I’d even hide behind my dad’s recliner and watch the Playboy channel with him without him knowing I was there.”

It upset Tom that his dad did not pay attention to him. “Dad was gone a lot, and when he was home, he never spent time with me. We never played sports or worked on a car together. I was angry that he didn’t seem to care about me, so looking at his porn kind of gave me a feeling of connection to him. This secret is what we shared in common.”

When Tom was eighteen he got a job as a security guard and had some extra money of his own. “I’d stop by the adult bookstores and watch the videos there. It was something completely new. Suddenly I didn’t have the desire for Playboy and the like any more. They were too soft. I was still a virgin and seeing actual intercourse fascinated me more. I’d buy a whole bunch of videos. I ended up getting a blow-up doll and stuff like that. I was surrounded by it. I still lived with my parents, but I was lost in my little porn world.

“I had a strong desire for porn, but it was just eating me up,” Tom told us. “A couple of times, I remember breaking the videotapes, ripping all the tape out, and taking everything and throwing it in the trash can. I didn’t want to become like my dad. I felt disgusted with myself. I desired porn physically, but in my heart I knew it was not what I wanted to do. My porn abstinence would last for maybe a month and then I would tell myself, It’s okay, and then I’d rent a movie and watch it at work. Since I worked security, there was nobody around, so I would masturbate to porn at work.”

Tom started watching and hiding porn videos at his parents’ house too. He was masturbating to porn five or six times a day and it was taking a toll on him emotionally. “I remember leaving the adult bookstore with my stack of videos, going to work, and crying because I felt like this huge weight was bearing down on me. I wanted to change and I couldn’t. I didn’t know where to go for help. I was only nineteen and I couldn’t get away from it. Even when I stopped for a while, I still had problems with the pornography in my mind. All the images I’d seen were still there. I still struggled with it. I couldn’t sleep at night because my mind would be running everywhere with thoughts of porn.”

The constant exposure to porn started to affect Tom’s ability to set healthy sexual boundaries in the real world. “I began fantasizing about the women around me. I had sexual thoughts about my three sisters. I fantasized about the women who worked for the security company. I felt so much shame. I thought if my sisters and other girls knew what I was thinking about them, they’d want nothing to do with me. The shame was overwhelming. I struggled with it a lot.”

When Tom found out that one of his married coworkers was de­pressed and that her husband went out of town a lot, he justified begin­ning an affair with her by thinking he could make her feel better. He was still a virgin. “She was twice my age and married, but she was open to it. I ended up in an adulterous relationship with her for quite a while. After the first time I had sex with her, I started crying because it just wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought there was going to be a lot more pleasure. I thought sex with a real woman was going to fill all my being and it was just going to fully engulf me and make me completely happy for the rest of my life. But it didn’t. It was just like masturbating to pornography.

“That first time, and for most of the sexual encounters that followed, I had a really hard time reaching climax. My girlfriend said it was proba­bly because I had masturbated too much. But I know now it was because I had so much junk in my mind that came from having watched porn. I had a hard time focusing on one woman, being with her. I felt so much shame for all the masturbation, all the images I’d seen, and the thoughts I’d had about women. I didn’t feel worthy to actually be with a woman. I felt I didn’t deserve to reach climax and have pleasure because of how I victimized women in my mind.

“When I was masturbating it was easier to handle the shame. I’d tell myself: This is part of life. It’s okay. I’ve dealt with this before. I’d feel the shame for a split second and then I’d automatically just stuff it deep inside. But with a woman it was more challenging. Porn kept me focused on my genitals. I didn’t have to focus on a person. So even though I had a girlfriend, an actual person there, I still wasn’t happy. I blamed the woman for not making me happy, even though I was the one who wasn’t able to really be intimate.”

Tom’s involvement with porn soon intensified even more. He began accessing it on the Internet on his girlfriend’s office computer at work and on his dad’s computer at home. Since his dad was now retired, Tom had to wait until his dad was done looking at porn before he could go online himself. “It made me really angry at times,” Tom said. “I’d justify my own porn use by telling myself: He has no right to do it, but I’m not married and I do. ”

Tom’s relationship with his girlfriend broke up and he immediately became involved in another adulterous relationship. It lasted only a few months. “At this point my parents were divorced and my dad had remar­ried,” Tom said, “so I was living on my own, alone. I was always on the Internet. I’d come home and would spend eight hours after work on the Internet looking at nothing but pornography. I was looking for the per­fect picture. I never found the perfect picture, but I would find one that suited me in the moment, that helped me reach climax. I never returned to the same one. Every night it was a different picture. Each one I looked at quickly got old and lost its power. I became really desensitized.

“My head was so full of garbage, thoughts of porn. One evening I was at my dad’s house giving my twelve-year-old stepsister a backrub and ended up massaging her breasts. At the time, in my mind it wasn’t bad, it seemed natural. After all, she looked eighteen. But then, I had an attack of conscience, just like the times when I threw all my porn away. I thought, WAIT A MINUTE! THIS IS WRONG! I left the house and on the way home I stopped my car, burst into tears, and cried uncontrol­lably. That was really the only time in my life that I ever seriously con­templated suicide. I felt completely controlled and ruined by the porn. I didn’t plan on doing what I did to my stepsister, but it ended up happen­ing that way. It was like I got tunnel vision and just went into that same state I did when I used porn, in which none of my surroundings seemed to be there. I was just focused on doing this one thing. I was being sexual and gratifying myself and thinking only of myself.

“My dad and stepmom confronted me about it. That was just what I needed, them saying, ‘What’s going on? What kind of life are you living?’ I broke down in tears and said, ‘Dad, I’m struggling with this, too.’ He started crying and said, ‘I thought I’d kept myself far enough away from you that my porn habit wasn’t going to affect you, but it did.’ ”

Tom turned himself in, and he was arrested for molesting his step­sister. At that time, he felt his life had been destroyed. “But now, looking back I can see that it turned out to be the biggest blessing of my life, the answer to so many prayers. I hated myself. I was turning into my dad and being controlled by porn. Bottoming-out like I did helped to set me on the road to recovery.”

Tom found out the hard way that a serious, long-term problem with porn can set a person up for sexually abusing someone else. His internal sexual fantasy world kept slipping into his real life. In his self-centered mind-set, his own sexual gratification temporarily overruled concerns about the impact of his actions on anyone else.

Looking back, Tom can see how he steadily progressed in his porn addiction to where he was bound to do something extremely inappro­priate sexually. He knew he had a problem with porn that was beyond his control. He had already crossed healthy sexual boundaries by having sex with married women and masturbating to sexual fantasies involving sibling incest. Porn had influenced his sexual thoughts and behaviors to the point where he was primed for committing a sexual offense. “I wish I could rewind time like you can rewind a video,” Tom said. “I’d do any­thing to have never stepped over that line and victimized my stepsister.”

A

s unsettling as hitting bottom is, all four of the people in this chap­ter eventually came to realize that there was also a positive side to their crashes. The one event that sent them sinking to the bottom of the porn pit was also the event that started them on the journey that even­tually gave them back their freedom. After losing his job, Mitch got in­volved in counseling, successfully started a new career, and later went on to help found and run a porn recovery program for men at his church. Following Hank’s breakdown at work, he entered an inpatient residential addiction recovery program and got help for his multiple addictions. He has been porn-free and clean and sober for more than three years. Marie became involved in counseling, healing workshops, and a twelve-step sexual addiction recovery program especially designed for women. She has reconnected with her children and has been making new friends. And, after fulfilling his legal responsibilities, Tom went into individual, twelve-step, and group counseling to help him quit porn and learn about healthy sexuality. He now feels confident that he can set appropriate sexual boundaries and has healed his relationship with his family.

Rather than ending in tragedy and more pain, Mitch, Hank, Marie, and Tom used their hitting-bottom experiences as something to push off from and begin a journey out of the porn trap.