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“I once was blind but now I see … Was lost but now am found.”
- John Newton, Amazing Grace 

Only those who have experienced human brokenness for themselves know how powerful the lyrics of Amazing Grace can be. I used to think they were cheesy, and I’d roll my eyes whenever it was sung. But I have been broken. And God knows I have been lost and blind in the darkness of my shame. I have also been found. My story is not an easy one to tell. 

For so long, I believed I had no value. That I was some grotesque monster, alone in the world. Unlovable. You see, from the age of twelve, I was addicted to pornography. And yeah. I’m a woman.

There Was No Way Porn Could Be a Girl Problem

It started with a book series, which I won’t name. I have always loved books. One could say that was my downfall. I trusted the words, and I trusted that the authors would never write anything that would hurt me. Being a lonely child, pages were my refuge. Nothing bad could lurk there that couldn’t be slammed shut. And hey, I was twelve. I was a grown up! I could handle whatever the world threw at me. I was in control.

I remember how fast my heart beat when I read that first explicit scene. Grown-ups do that!? Woah. There were many such scenes in those seemingly innocent books. I read them over and over. Craving more, I took to the internet. Fanfiction became my go-to site. People there take the characters they love and turn them to their own sauce, making someone else’s work whatever they want. Often, what they want isn’t exactly healthy or pure.

Again, I convinced myself I was in control. I could stop if I wanted. I just didn’t want to. Right? Plus, as the all-knowing gods of the internet assured me, it was perfectly normal to seek out such details. Healthy, even. For men, anyway. And just don’t tell anyone. And don’t admit it to yourself. Don’t talk about it. But yeah. Totally healthy.

It became an obsession. Turns out, I couldn’t stop, not even when I wanted to. I got scared a few times, and I did try. Sometimes I could go for three whole days without visiting the site. Usually, I was back on by the next day. I had no idea that what I was viewing was pornography. Having been raised in a good, healthy Catholic family, I was vaguely aware of what pornography was and that it was a bad thing. To me, it was men looking at pictures of nude women and being unfaithful to their wives because of it. They were bad people who ran with mobsters and drank beer. I was safe, seeing as I was single, young, and, most importantly, a woman. And I wasn’t looking at pictures! There was no way pornography could be a girl problem. No. Way.

Trying To Stop, Pleading with God 

Now for the big question. Did God enter into it? I had had the incredible opportunity, as a child, to grow up very close to the Lord. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends, and He was my big comfort. I could spend hours sitting still before the Tabernacle, just watching, listening. As I grew up, particularly as I started getting deeper into sin, He went from friend and protector and comfort to strict parent-figure I didn’t want to displease. I was pretty sure, however, if I didn’t think of Him while reading then He’d never find out.

The more time passed—the worse I felt. It was like I had two ‘selves,’ I had the good girl and the other one. My anger could not be directed at myself without admitting I was in the wrong, so I turned on God. I resented Him deeply, though if asked I could not have said why. I didn’t know myself anymore. I was completely blinded by fear, bitterness, and the puffed-up vanity of those who hate their own guts. Sad to say, that was only the beginning.

One day, when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, I came across a word I didn’t recognize. Smarty-pants that I was I couldn’t let that slide. So, I figured I’d just go ahead and Google that. Couldn’t hurt. I’d only end up all the smarter for it and dominate all around me with my smartness that was better than theirs! Much like a drug addict, and without realizing what I’d just done, I moved from ‘weed’ to ‘meth’ from words to images in one little google search.

For the rest of my life that first video will haunt me. I will never get it out of my head. It was sick, sick, sick—and I couldn’t stop watching. That was the first time I really understood what I’d done. Unfortunately, the lightbulb moment came too late. Panicked, terrified, I tried desperately to stop. For two days I avoided the computer as much as I could. I wept at night, pleading with the God I loved and was so angry with to take away the images, to make me good again. Please, God. Make me whole. Free will?! Take it away! Take it back! I don’t want it. It’s too hard. Too much of a burden. I can’t do this.

Still, I kept my pain hidden, the shame buried as deep as I could get it. My two ‘selves’ split further apart. The good girl was an absolute prude wanting to see nothing gross, ever, especially not kissing! Eeew! When there was no one around—the other one would emerge and I’d wallow in self-pity and the smug certainty I was being rebellious, I was being grown-up. The all-knowing gods of the internet patted me on the back for it, assuring me I was doing the right thing by me, other people be durned. No one mattered but me and my own wants.

I had never felt more alone. If my family found out, they’d stop loving me for sure. Did they even really love me, since they didn’t know me anymore? I was a monster, unworthy of the smallest drop of affection. I was totally, absolutely—unlovable. The deeper I sank into the filth the more convinced I became that I was broken beyond repair. No one would ever want me if my secret got out. I was disgusting, not even a real woman. Because after all, porn is a man’s problem. The gods of the internet whispered it wasn’t even really a problem at all. But it was. And I wanted to die.

A Confession Like No Other 

Obviously, I am not dead. I am still here, still going, and you know what, life is pretty good these days. So, the question is, how did I get from the deep pit of awful I was in to here? Not easily. And not alone.

I hit my lowest point my freshman year of college. The stress of being far from family, from home, of classes and managing cliques and friends, was just too much. Stress has always been my trigger. It’s my kryptonite. I sank so deep, I actually considered just walking into traffic and seeing where that got me. I don’t think I would ever have actually done anything, I’m a bit of a coward at heart and I’m not a fan of pain, but there you have it. I couldn’t take anymore. So, I made a deal with the Good Lord. I told Him that either He helped me out of my mess, or I was done.

He delivered. I gave the ultimatum on a Thursday. On Friday—Good Friday, because of course, it was—I found out that the college was hosting a dozen or so priests to hear confessions all through the night. So, I grudgingly went, and I got in line. And I waited. And waited.

It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to go to confession. Each time, the words just wouldn’t come. Telling my secret to someone else, especially to a priest in such a setting, would have required an actual effort to change my life. I was convinced I didn’t have the strength for it. Some mean, bitter part of me also clung to what I’d become, reveling in the filth like a pig in a nice, deep puddle. I believe we’ve all got something like that within us. Call it sin, call it the devil, whatever it is, it can be hard not to give in to it. That same ‘thing’ was also actively trying to discourage me from waiting in line, telling me over and over how I wasn’t worth saving, how I was weak and unlovable, and how confession wouldn’t change anything, that it was too late.

When I went in, at last, I fully intended it to be like any other confession I’d made before. Shallow, avoiding the hard stuff, and then moving on with life as best I could. I set my butt down in that chair, opened my mouth, and the most extraordinary thing happened. Again, it’s very difficult for me to describe. I can only call it an extreme sense of physical warmth flooding through me. Then a rush of pureness, of a love so intense I can’t begin to say what I felt in my body and in my soul. With that came the absolute certainty of something I had doubted for many, many years. I was loved.

No judgments, not just a part me, no—all of me. All of me was loved with a burning passion, my faults, my sins, and my failures, all of it. It was a love worth dying for. It took maybe a half a second for it all to happen, a few seconds more for me to register it. You cannot imagine, what it does to a wandering soul to find a home.

My Whole Family Knows and Still Loves Me!

Overwhelmed, I lost it. I cried as I had never cried in my life. Part hysterical joy, part wretchedness at the realization of how unworthy of this love I was, it exploded from the very depths of my being. I think I might have scared the priest a little, or at least startled him. He understood once I’d calmed and made my confession. And after? Oh! It was just the beginning! I left with renewed sobs of joy. People talk about feeling like they’re on a cloud. I was beyond that, straight to the low gravity of the moon and over it. I decided it was better to calm a little before freaking out my roommate, so I went to a hill on campus and laid down in the grass. I stared up at the stars and soared on unimaginable waves of pure happiness. 

The next day, I called my mother, as I had been doing nearly every day of that freshman year. She had been pushing me to go to confession for a while, and it is in big part thanks to her that I found the courage to go at all. I really didn’t plan on telling her my ‘secret’ at all, but I was in such joyful turmoil over the previous night that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I’ve found that that’s usually how my telling my story happens: it’s a spur of the moment, rarely ever planned. And you know what? She still loves me. My whole family knows, now, and a few special friends. And guess what? They still love me! To feel loved and supported and understood by fellow human beings is the most wonderful thing in the world.

It's Only Impossible When You Do It Alone

So with the help of Heaven and Earth, I’ve made it. That Holy Week remains one of the most amazing times of my life. I went to Mass every day in thanksgiving, and good golly how I was rewarded! I couldn’t go into a church without weeping. I saw little miracles everywhere. The sight of the Eucharist was enough to undo me entirely. I could have danced for the joy of being alive and free. Easter Sunday was magnificent. I celebrated in a way I’ll only celebrate again in Heaven. I felt a whole host of saints and angels present with me. I was surrounded by the warmth of a grace that cannot be described in human words. Even when the church was dark, there was light around me. Even when walking home from the Cathedral in the darkness of night, I felt no fear. Only pure joy.

That doesn’t mean life was easy, or that my addiction was gone entirely after that first confession. I fell countless times. After being clean eleven months, I fell again. That was a hard moment to live through. I had people I was now held accountable to that I had to go to and admit my failure. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

It’s been six months since my last fall, and life has never been so sweet. I’ve learned to live again. To feel again. A terrible weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I have rebuilt myself, rebuilt my life. Happiness really is a choice. It’s one I try to make every day. And yeah, some days I fail miserably. The difference with the past is that now I have the ability to bounce back, to find joy in life again. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t make it impossible. It’s only impossible if we try to do it alone. I am not alone. And neither are you.

This content originally appeared on Catholic Marriage Prep and is re-published with permission.

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Charlotte Sandoval is a writer and communications manager for Agapè Catholic Ministries. She has been married since August 2018 and lives happily with her husband and 3 cats in Colorado Springs. In any downtime, she pursues her passion for writing fiction and has three published books, one traditionally and two self-published.