Looking back to that monumental day full of innocence, nothing- no one- could have ever convinced me that 8 years later I would be a single mom, divorced, basically education-less at the ripe age of 26 years old. Nothing- no one- could have ever forecasted what I was about to experience.
If you've been following this blog for quite some time, you know that I've already written much about all of that. I find that when I am trying to help others who are in my same boat, I continue to heal. That's why I write. But somewhere along the way, I've missed writing one very important post. I have yet to write to me: the 18 year old Jacy, whose dreams were unbreakable. But this post isn't for me because I've already lived it. Instead these words are for the young women who are getting their college degree's, who are building their professional resumes and who are looking for that very special person with whom they'll share their life with, grow their family with, and build their home with.
This is for you if you are dating now, are currently dating someone seriously, are engaged, or if you are a newly wed.
Dear Younger Version of Me,
Isn't this part of your life just amazing? The vast opportunity that your future holds? It's very exciting, I know. I've been there. Finding your true love and the thoughts of beginning a life with someone is so wonderful! It's a time like no other before. But in between all of the butterflies of being on cloud 9, in between all of the cutesy wutesy text messages, in between the fun dates that you never want to end, there is a very troubling actuality that MUST be discussed. There is something BIG that is threatening marriages and families everywhere. There is something that you and the man you are dating are up against.
Oh, how I wish I was writing you because I had some out of this world fashion advice that would enhance your confidence. Sometimes I wish I was the one behind the successful beauty, crafty, or cooking blog as they offer so much excitement and energy around the newest craze. People are drawn to them like magnets because it's fun. I understand why- because those blogs are lighthearted and usually avoid the things that are "difficult to talk about"- but someone has to talk about the crappy stuff. Someone has to talk about what often happens behind the smiling "picture perfect' family photographs.
Welcome to My Name is Jacy: the blog about a woman whose life unexpectedly fell apart. The blog about how a woman lost her hope, her love, her faith, her home, and her traditional family all in one blow. The blog about a woman who is trying to rebuild all of those things with a broken, confused, traumatized heart. The blog about how two words that most people cringe when they see or hear changed her life: sexual addiction.
Believe me... I don't like the words either. And the hundreds of beautiful women I've come to know because of those two words also despise them. Sadly, these two words have become a difficult reality we are forced to face. The words aren't just uncomfortable words anymore, these words have created significant challenges in our marriages, these words have squashed our self esteem, and for many of us, these words have created the dissolution of our marriages. These words have changed our lives.
Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20. I cannot tell you how many people have asked if I would go through it all again, knowing what I know now. I have answered this question many times and the answer has always remained the same: YES! The answer is actually a million times YES! Because if I said no, I wouldn't have my son, I wouldn't have this new found compassion, understanding and perspective, I wouldn't have the amazing friends I've met on this journey, and I wouldn't have the beautiful marriage I have with Seth. So, no, I would never change it.
Please know.... that it is not easy. No part of it. In fact, it sucks sometimes... (and I hate the word sucks as I think it's quite classless and immature).... but there is no other way to describe it. I cannot stress enough how brutal it has been. I cannot stress enough how real it is. So even though I would never go back and change it, I can use my experience to help others. That's the point of this whole journey I'm on. To share my story so that maybe, just maybe, one person out there won't have to experience what I have. Or at least that person might be more prepared than I was.
So, I've created a guide for you. This is what I would adhere to if I were in my young single adult hood again. This guide is not perfect, it won't solve your problems, it won't keep pornography away forever, it's not doctrine but I think it's a powerful place to start.
A Guide For The Young Women Who Are Dating: Pornography Addiction is SERIOUS!
(Pornography addiction is sexual addiction. Sexual addiction is pornography addiction. Don't let the words scare you off or make you think it doesn't apply to you. It's all the same and as such, I refer to both in this guide.)
1) DO NOT TURN A BLIND EYE
Sometimes ignorance can be momentarily blissful. Sometimes ignorance seems like the easier route. If I pretend like it's not an issue, it'll just go away. Well, that only works until it all comes crashing down and the problem surfaces and rears its ugly head. Do not avoid the problem. Don't avoid this issue. It is real. It is prevalent. It is bad. Recognize the seriousness of it and get the conversations rolling, even if it's really really really weird and awkward to do so.
2) DO YOUR RESEARCH
Be brave and be smart by getting educated. There are websites, blogs, books, recovery programs of all kinds that offer education and support. Even if you don't think sexual addiction would be in your stack of cards, learn about the real threat it is and can be to not only your marriage, but your family, and even possibly your own health.
New research is saying that first exposure to pornography is happening between 8-11 years old. Hard core porn. So yes, the man you are dating, engaged to, or are married to has seen it. How much? How often? I can't tell you.... but he has most likely seen it. Which is why NOW is the time to figure out how often, if it has become something he can no longer control, and how it will affect your relationship moving forward.
3) ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS
I never liked asking the questions when I was back in the dating world as a single mom, but I made myself do it. On a date, over pizza and root beer, I asked one fellow this question:
"When was the last time you looked at pornography? And when was the last time you looked before that?"
He about choked and he looked at me like I was crazy. But I don't think it's a matter of IF anymore, it's WHEN.
I know it's very blunt and I know it can be scary, but if you find yourself getting into a pretty serious relationship (or are possibly thinking about marraige) ask the hard questions!
4) LEARN TO DISCERN
Once you've asked the questions, instead of only listening to the words in his answer, listen to your gut.
I know this can prove to be really difficult because you're so in-love (and understandably so! This is the best time of your life- I get it!), but try your very hardest to listen to what your gut is telling you.
Now, if you're anything like I was 10 years ago, my gut felt great because I didn't know the first thing about pornography addiction. I had not the slightest clue as to what I should be looking for. And if someone would have showed me this guide then, I'm not sure I would've paid a lick of attention to it. I didn't give this sexual addiction mumbo jumbo two seconds of thought. As far as I was concerned, it was never going to infiltrate my life.
Please listen to me.... don't be ignorant and naive like I was! Learn from those who have traveled before you and have learned the hard way.
So, back to discerning.... how do you do this when you're madly in love and not really sure what you're looking for?
Trust what you feel in his presence.
Do his words feel too good to be true? Like to the point that it feels almost impossible for it to be this great? Does he answer every question about sex, masturbation, pornography with a "never"? Does he tell you everything you want to hear? Has it never ever ever been a temptation for him?
I would view these types of responses as red flags. My gut screams that this is not accurate. Is it possible that he's never viewed porn or masturbated in his life? Seth and every other man I know would say absolutely not and he is lying. While it's not really fair to make general blanket statements, is it possible there are some who never have? I suppose so. Is it probable in this day and age? I'd go ahead and say no. It's possible, not probable. That's the way I see it.
On the flip side, does he get defensive and weird when you ask the difficult questions about pornography and masturbation? Does he shy away from talking about it? How does he respond to your genuine concerns about the issue? Does he react defensively and say "I cannot believe that you don't trust me!" Does he blame you? Does he call you crazy, controlling, or prudish for asking these types of questions?
When it's not all butterflies in your belly and make-out sessions on the couch, how does he respond to the not so pleasant parts of life? Discern how you feel. Watch closely to see his reaction. I've found that you can learn a lot about someone by how they react. In my very humble opinion, if a man is being honest and open and is non-defensive when being asked these challenging questions, it usually means that he is somewhat sexually healthy. To what level? I could not tell you. But non-defensiveness and a willingness to actually engage in the hard conversations is a great starting point and a positive sign.
5) PROCESS HIS ANSWERS BUT DON'T FREAK OUT!
However he responds to your questions, be calm. Even if you are burning inside, try listen to what he says before you just blow up, react and accuse. Let him answer the questions as honestly as he can, as they are hard for him too.
If he responds with:
a) "I've never done it!"
This concerns me. "Never" is typically a very unrealistic response in this day and age. Perfection does not exist.If he responds with:
b) "I look at it a few times a month maybe, but don't worry... I've got it under control. It's not a problem."
This concerns me because every one's definition of "frequent" and "problem" is different.If he responds with:
c) "I've struggled with it before or I'm struggling with it now"
This concerns me for obvious reasons: addictions have the potential to cause harm.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Every response is concerning to me. Call me paranoid, call me Debbie Downer but from my perspective, it is all concerning at this point. Now, this by no means means that I think every man, no matter what his answer is, is an addict. But I do think that it's worth exploring the conversation more beyond a simple "never", "I've got it under control" or "it's been a struggle before".
So, what do you do? Don't freak out quite yet. Don't break up an engagement. Don't try to play therapist.
6) DON'T TRY TO FIX IT YOURSELF- SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!
I would schedule at least one appointment with a sexual addiction specialist and I would go, together. YES! I am being 100% dead serious. When you've seen the thousands of tears I have seen, when you've heard the hundreds of seriously sad stories from women just like me and just like you, and when you've witnessed dozens of family's falling apart because of sexual addiction, it is SERIOUS. This is not a game. This is not a joke. This is your life.
By booking an appointment with an in-tuned therapist, they will be able to offer support to you both. And depending on how severe the usage is, the therapist will help you navigate moving forward. And perhaps you'll discover that pornography is not a serious issue, there is no harm whatsoever in addressing the very threatening problem. This, alone, will be worth the 60 minutes of your time and the $100 it will cost you.
7) THOUGHTFULLY (AND WITH HUMILITY) STUDY THE REALISTIC SITUATION
Acknowledge what exactly it is you are dealing with.
Is this a problem now?
Given the past, could this be a problem in the future?
If addiction is admitted, ask yourself if this something you want to take on?
"Do I understand what marrying an addict really means?"
Now I want to tread on this very carefully because this is by no means an attempt to attack people who struggle with addiction. I know such people and many of them are really smart, wonderful, caring, loving, and successful people. In fact, a few of my most cherished friends have struggled or currently struggle with addiction (both men and women). To me, it's not the person with the addiction that's the threat. It's the addictive behaviors that accompany addiction because addiction, no matter what type, is HARD. And the crappiest part of addiction is that it hurts so many more people than just the addict.
So, again, ask yourself: "Is this something I want to knowingly marry in to?"
If after you've very thoughtfully considered all of the above and your answer is YES, promise me that you'll go back to the therapist. Seek help, seek recovery and gather as many of the tools as you can and get started on it now. Therapy can help you cope with the feelings you're already experiencing about the frequency of his pornography use, and they will also help you to understand and navigate through what a marriage with this type of addiction will entail. The other crucial part of this is ensuring that your partner continues to go back too, as a therapist will guide what recovery/sobriety will look like for him.
Don't assume that it won't or can't get worse. I promise you, it can. It does. It happened to me. It happened to hundreds of women that I know personally. Some addictions only go as far as occasional online usage. Some addictions get into more interactive stuff: cyber sex, chatting, dating, etc. And some addictions turn into physical infidelity: affairs, sexual encounters, prostitutes, strip clubs, STD's. Yes, it happens; to the best of women and men. It happens all the time. It is happening right now. And it usually always always always starts with pornography addiction. It is not an easy path, no matter how severe or not the addiction is... it ALL hurts the same, that I know to be true.
It doesn't mean that it can't work, or that there isn't healing, recovery, and happiness. Many of my friends have stayed in their marriages. They are making it work. Their husbands are in working recovery. There is such profound love and honor in that. But if you were to ask any one of them on any given day if it's easy, I am most certain they would all tell you that it is one of the hardest things they've ever had to do.
On the other end of the spectrum, if after you've very thoughtfully considered all of the above and your answer is NO, you do not want to knowingly marry in to addiction, please know that it is okay. You are not a failure, nor does this mean that you are unforgiving or unwilling to love. Too often we think that we can save people. Or heal people. Or change people. This is erred-thinking. People have to want to change themselves and we are only responsible for our own choices.
Being sexier won't make a sexual addiction go away.
Having sex every single day for the rest of your life won't make a sexual addiction go away.
Avoiding the problem won't make a sexual addiction go away.
As weird as it sounds, sexual addiction isn't about sex. It's about so much more and it takes a lot of time, energy and therapy to get to the root of the problem and work real recovery. You are not responsible to fix him, you CAN'T fix him and you are not a loser for walking away.
So, if you decide not to marry someone because of addiction, promise me that you will also go back to individual therapy. I cannot tell you how many women I know who have been traumatized just in the dating world. It's a big deal, don't ever minimize it. Get the proper help you will need to heal yourself.
8) REMEMBER YOUR WORTH
In this process, along with the many negative emotions that comes with sexual addiction, one that seems to almost always happen to the woman is a loss of self love and confidence. I think that just might be the most painful part of it all- how worthless we feel. But after 4 years of the most painfully beautiful experience, I've realized that it has nothing to do with me; it never did and it never will. I cannot control the choices anyone else will make but what I CAN CONTROL are my OWN choices- one of those being how I see myself, how I love myself, and how I care for my own wellbeing.
No matter what happens in your life, there is hope and you can rise above. Don't lose hope if you're not married right away; take your time and be selective. Don't lose hope if your fiancé admits to addiction; feel blessed that he was willing to admit it to you beforehand so that you can reassess the situation and go in EYES WIDE OPEN. Don't lose hope if you're a newly wed and you've just discovered secrets; yes, it stinks, but there is help for you both and there is so much hope.
I've seen women successfully fight for their relationships/marriages and it's amazing, I've seen women who have fought so hard there is no other choice but to leave, I've seen women who wanted to fight but have been left. No matter who they are, or what the outcome is, each of these women are all so resilient, courageous and absolutely beautiful. They are the most beautiful women on earth, I think.
If I can sum it all up, I'd ask that you press forward in this sexually charged world we live in with awareness, wisdom, and confidence. By following these simple tips, you'll be far ahead of where I was when I was your age. It's so important to understand how real and destructive sexual addiction is and hopefully this will give you some basic tools that will help you journey down this foreign path. Listen to the women who have blazed the trail before you- because we were young like you once and for most of us, we never thought this would be our reality.
We are here to help you... and hopefully make it a little bit easier...
You can do hard things. Never forget that.
All my love,
*For the sake of clarifying, I've gone in and edited/added a few things that I did not express as clearly as I would have hoped to. I know some will not agree with every word in this post and that is okay. Again, this is a guide coming from my personal experience, which was life changing for me. That's the beauty about writing and sharing our stories; we can pick and choose the parts we like and disregard the points we may not agree with.