In one of the Recovery books I have been reading, it talks about a technique called blocking. They explain that “blocking” can be used to help keep errant thoughts at bay and to control temptations by putting them in a mental box and pushing them out of your mind. It is my understanding that men do this naturally. We often refer to it as compartmentalizing. We have a singular focus and “Zone out” to everything else.
Women on the other hand are much better at seeing the whole picture all at once. As I read about this technique of blocking, something clicked in my mind. I recognized that process instantly because I had been using it my whole life. Not for pushing the evil thoughts away but for putting each area of my life in its own little box. When viewing each compartment by itself, it became my full focus… it became the only thing that mattered at that moment. I could give it my complete selfish attention and not even consider the ramifications that the decisions made in this box will have on the rest of the boxes.
Let me explain it a different way.
Do you remember the old view master toys from the 80’s? (sorry I am a child of the 80’s, did they come out before then?) Imagine you are looking through a view master as the cartridge spins to a slide. Lets call this slide… ‘Home and church Life’. While looking at ‘Home and Church life’ I am able to give it my dedicated focus. I would feel complete and whole there. It was all I could see in the view field and so it was where my full attention went. In my view of home and family, I was honest and worthy and able to do all that was required of me as husband, father, and Priesthood holder. I could, because I did not have my life of porn in view. I knew it was around the corner on another slide in the viewfinder. I knew it existed, but as long as I couldn't see it in this moment, I was able to ignore it and feel clean.
Sadly, when the urges would come and the temptations presented themselves, all it took was a quick pull of the lever. Now with only the pornography slide in view, I can look and indulge and even say and do things that I know would be hurtful and harmful to both my wife and my worthiness but since they are not in my view right now, I am blinded to them and the pain I am causing them. They are out of sight and out of mind, thus postponing the guilt until after the feast. Flip the lever again and now I am staring at work and able to focus and concentrate and be the manager and boss that I am expected to be.
I know it sounds crazy, but this is the best way I can think to explain the way my mind worked. I could feel worthy at times, even when I knew I wasn't. It actually sounds kind of like a sociopath… but its not. It is the maddening mind of an addicted person. There is no question I was lying to myself in order to cope.
I share this little detail for 2 reasons. One, I don't think I am unique in this device. In fact I think many addicted men and women use this as a way to allow themselves to continue in addiction with less guilt. And two, I am hoping this will help you understand where my mind was during this next portion of my journey.
We arrived home and changed our clothes into Sunday dress for the meeting with the Stake president. We were both anxious. We began speculating immediately. We assumed what it was going to be, but maybe it was something else… we really didn't know for sure. My wife was so excited. My sweet and wonderful wife was quite aware what a call like this could mean to our family. She knew it meant heavy burdens that I couldn't reveal and she knew it meant less time home with the family for me. But My wife has always been my cheerleader. She loves knowing that she was married to a good man who the Lord could trust with callings and responsibilities. I knew this was the case and because I had so much love for her, I never wanted to let her down.
After several tense minutes the knock came to the door and we invited the Stake President in. We all sat together in the living room for a few minutes then after the pleasantries were over he said “Brother and Sister Arnold, I am here on stake business and to extend a call to Brother Arnold. Sister Arnold, before I proceed, I would like to meet with your husband alone to conduct a worthiness interview. Would you mind giving us a few minutes?” She agreed happily and left the 2 of us alone.
He began again, “Brother Arnold, may I ask you a few simple questions before we invite your wife back in?” I responded, “of course President”. (Click! The slide titled ‘Church Leadership’ falls into place.)
“Thank you”, He continued. “I know that you hold a current temple recommend. Do you feel worthy at this time to have and use it?”
With ease and comfort I answered him far too quickly, “Yes, of course”.
I felt heat in my cheeks. Could he see me flushing? Did he see that I was shaking? Perhaps he just thought I was nervous.
Then came the question that I was not ready for. He had just asked the question that covered them all. So a follow up was not needed or so I thought. He said Brother Arnold, “Do you now or have you in recent months viewed pornography?”
Click! the slide titled ‘Full Truth’ falls into view.
If only he could have heard the piercing scream in my head, “NOOOO! I cant face a direct question like that!” There was no grey area in that question. There was no way to sneak around the edges or hide in the shadows of a partial truth.
The battle in my mind commenced. “How long can you continued to lie about this? How deep will you let yourself go? Will you really continue to lie and accept a calling that you are not worthy to hold or act in?”
I felt fear. I felt dark. I knew I had just lied directly to his face and I was about to do it again. I suddenly realized just how deep in the enemy’s territory I had wandered. My pride would not allow me to say the words. I was stuck in the mire and felt no way out other than to to continue to perpetuate the story. I rationalized to myself that its only a small lie… because I am immediately going to stop it all forever. It will never happen again. I will never, ever look at it again. It stops forever today. Starting now I will be perfect and I will prove to my Heavenly Father that I am His faithful servant.
And then something happened as I sat there… And I kid you not… My porn addiction disappeared completely from my mind. I had been deceived by my own lie and thought, “You know what... I am a good person. I am loving and caring and I can be a good Bishop.” As I began to think these thoughts its almost as if my porn addiction simply disappeared and never existed. I believed my own lie.
And So again I looked at him and said “No”.(Click! then “Church Leadership’ was all I could see.)
“Thank you brother Arnold, Lets invite your wife back in now”.
I retrieved my wife and we all sat together in the living room.
“Brother Arnold, as you know, The Bishop has served for almost 5 years now. In a recent interview with him we have learned that he has some health problems that are making it difficult to continue serving. Therefore it has come time for us to release him and call a new Bishop for the ward.” He took a deep breath and looked at the 2 of us as we held hands expectantly on the couch. “I and my counselors have spent hours in prayer and have even been to the temple and we feel strongly that the Lord has called you to serve as the Bishop of this ward at this time.” I felt my wife squeeze my hand as if to say “See I told you” and then the Stake President continued. “Brother and sister Arnold can the 2 of you accept the call to serve for the next several years as the Bishop of the ward?”
Did he say they spent hours in prayer? They felt strongly that I was to serve? They felt the Lord had inspired them to call me at this time? Perhaps the Lord knew I meant it when I said I was done forever. He knows all things. He must know I have the strength to put this behind me and act as his servant. I told him “we would be honored” and we accepted the call.
Over the next several months I became very busy being the Bishop of the ward. I was pretty young to be a Bishop and was very intimidated. I did all that I could to prove to the membership that I was up to the task. I soon found that my concerns were unnecessary. These were not just random members of a ward. These were my good friends who knew me and loved me. These were my brothers and sisters who I have served with for years and who already knew what kind of a person I was. Their support and love came quickly and continued through my entire term as Bishop.
I felt so strong as I served the Lord. I felt his influence and direction often. I was part of and privy too many miraculous experiences and felt closer to my Heavenly Father than I could ever remember before. I spent 3 nights a week and all day Sunday in my assignment as Bishop. It was tough on a family of now 5 small children aged 10 and under. Between my full time job and my calling, I was spending almost 70 to 80 hours a week away from home. But despite the crazy schedule, we as a family felt the Lord’s hand in our lives and we were being blessed.
For the first 3 years or so serving as Bishop I did really well with my addiction. I still felt the heavy grip of the adversary tempting me daily and I would slip up a hand-full of times a year but I wouldn't let it turn into an ongoing habit. I hated slipping up as Bishop. I felt that I should be able to be strong enough to push it off. I would quickly repent, refocus and get back to doing good.
Something shifted in that 3rd year of my term. I'm not sure what the change was. The one thing that comes to mind is the suicide of a brother that had once served as my secretary. It was devastating and unexpected. As Bishop I spent a great deal of time with the family in their mourning process and then was asked to conduct and speak at the funeral. That was very difficult. I believed at the time that I had handled it well and was dealing with the weight of everything properly, but perhaps that was the catalyst that made it easier for me to let down my guard.
Not long after the passing and services for my friend, I began feeling the urges and aches heavily again. My own strength did not seem enough. I had allowed myself to become relaxed in my scriptures and prayers and did not feel the added support from the spirit that I had enjoyed before.
I again succumbed to the darkness and found myself indulging for hours at my office in my solitude. I fell deep into my addictive behavior again and let the habit carry on for weeks before finding the strength to right myself.
On again, off again, on Again...over and over the cycle went. Serving diligently as Bishop (Click! ‘The Bishop Slide’), being the loving focused father (Click! “The Husband/Father Slide’), and corrupting my mind in my free time at work (Click! ‘The Porn Addict Slide’). Until one day I discovered a web site that would suck me into a whole new level of my addiction. This was a new type of drug that wouldn't let me out of its grip for many years to come.
One day while fulfilling my quest for a way to satisfy my urges, I discovered a reference to a website. I don't think this website is still in existence but since I am assuming that some of those reading this blog are among the addicted, I have decided not to name the site directly. In essence it was a knock off of Myspace. This was just prior to the time of Facebook and Myspace was the model for social networking at the time. On this site you could make your own profile and leave messages for others. You could write a brief overview of yourself and even leave some pictures. The difference was, this site was entirely designed for adults to meet other adults. It was not a dating site. But it did allow you to communicate and even chat. The pictures people posted were almost always pornographic of themselves.
I became entranced with the idea that ‘real people’ were posting images and video of themselves for anyone in the world to see. This was so much more exciting to me then looking at models who had been posed and scripted. It fed my fantasies and I found myself reading profile after profile for hours each day.
But eventually reading wasn't enough. These were real people that were basically making themselves available to chat with. My fantasies began to shift from just looking and imagining to actually chatting with the people on the site. This was a huge progression in my cycle. This would mean I would have to step out of what I knew was safe. Viewing and acting out to images and videos were one thing, but to actually make contact… that was stepping over the line. That would constitute a breach of my marriage vows wouldn't it? But perhaps not. I justified it this way: “Its not like I am meeting them in person! I would just be chatting with them online. I would never be able to do anything physical with them.. the most would be to chat….. sooo… this isn't that bad really…..right?”
I struggled for several days, fighting the urge to do more than just read the profiles. All the while my mind was conjuring up the fantasies that continued to feed my urges. At last, I gave in and created a profile with the intention of exploring this new discovery a little deeper.
Through the creation of my profile I began to discover just how skilled a liar and deceiver I could be. Given that I was married, it was never my intention to show my face, give my name, or share any personal details about myself. I swiftly conjured up fake information, copied pictures from the internet, and sent my profile live on the site. After a few days of sending and receiving messages, I began to learn the tricks to meeting people on the site. I felt that since I was already lying to them that a few more lies wouldn’t matter. Over time I would make up stories about being ill, or that I was rich. I used whatever it would take to keep someone’s attention.
The draw to come back to the site was insane. Here I was speaking to real people! They were telling me how much they wanted to be with me. Their words coupled with the fantasies in my head and the pictures in the profiles were a never ending feast of darker pleasure. I no longer felt the lust for the images and videos of pornography, but instead the drive to email and chat with real women.
I soon discovered that I could write one really funny or erotic message and then send it to 20 or 30 people on the site. Perhaps 5 or 10 of them would find it interesting and email me back. On any one day, I would be chatting with 5 women at a time.
In order to keep up with all of them I would spend more and more time in my new found location of sin. The conversations always went from innocent to disgusting. That was the purpose of the site after all. I finally felt that I was feeding the hunger inside of me… that ongoing drive that had held me bound my whole life and always seemed to be unquenchable. Had I finally found a way to satisfy the urges?
The process of daily partaking of such depravity and speaking with those that I had no right to engage with slowly began to erode my soul. Farther and farther down I fell. I always thought I could go no lower in my descent but I always found another level of the basement that had yet to be explored. I began feeling as though I had completely turned myself over to the adversary. It was no longer a battle in my mind, it was just what I did. I was in his power now and I would do his bidding. I had become an accomplished liar by this time. I could make these women believe almost anything I said. In return for my lies I received their personal images and fantasies.. all of which continued to feed my need. Finally after several months of spiritual corrosion, I watched a general conference talk about moral decay and pornography and again felt inspired to put it all out of my life. I felt the heaviness of the words spoken by an apostle of God, pleading with those who had succumbed to the enticing of the devil to heed the invitation of the Savior to take his yoke upon me... To give up the weight of sin.
I wanted so badly to heed that call. I wanted so badly to give it all up completely. But I also knew that would be impossible. You see, those who are addicted to pornography are trapped by a double edged sword. On the one side, the addiction is real. There is a real and physical desire to seek out the darkest of the internet and fill our soul with evil. To give that up is not really a simple action of saying goodbye to it. It is chained to us and it follows us everywhere. It has become a part of who we are and is difficult to sever. On the other hand, we are so buried by guilt and shame and disappointment in ourselves, along with the disappointment that will come from others, that we dare not ever reveal our nasty dirty secrets and sins. Who could possibly understand how a decent man could fall pray to this garbage? With the ache and hunger pulling me and the fear of revelation and embarrassment pushing me, I was in a snare from which I feared I could never find escape.
So, although I wanted nothing more than to find refuge, I just couldn't go through the full process of repentance... not the way it needed to be done... so I did what I always do...I immediately deleted all of my accounts, profiles and emails and vowed again for the umpteenth time that I would never again engage in such activity. I went to the Lord and offered my sins. I re-committed and refocused and again found myself emerging from my depths and feeling a sense of strength.