The pre-release copies of my book showed up a couple weeks ago. I opened the box and started to tear up. I’m so relieved that this project is done. I’ll be introducing you all tomorrow.
One thing I struggled with the most as I worked on it was what to put on the cover. I could be all symbolic and find some stock image, or I could just work with some cool text design. Maybe a geometric shape. I even debated using an old (old) glamour-style headshot.
Eventually, I settled on a lovely black and white photo taken by friends a couple years ago. A black and white photo… of me.
As I looked at my stack of pre-release copies, it dawned on me: There is no undoing this. Any sense of anonymity is gone.
Why am I doing this?
Lately, friends have been asking about “the book.” They want to read it, and I think about parts of the story and think, “I don’t know if I want you reading it!” When the copies arrived, my landlord came down to celebrate with me. She flipped the book over, read the back cover, and said, flatly, “Oh, that’s nice.” And handed the book back to me. Ouch.
People always ask me “Why didn’t you use a fake name?”
Way back when I was first trying to decide how to share my story, I really didn’t have any desire to publicly associate with… myself. That’s one of the reasons the blog has its own name and isn’t something like “jessicaharriswatchedporn/./com.” (Not that I would ever even consider that). It’s also why the first pictures on the site were not of me. I thought of a nome de plume, but honestly, never thought my little one-page website would actually get anywhere.
A couple years into this, I realized I had a choice.
I had been writing for a couple different ministries, had been interviewed for a podcast and spoken at a couple small retreats, but that was really all there was to it. I was perfectly fine with that and was quite content to keep building the life I wanted with a side of obedience. Remember, I spent years hiding a porn addiction- compartmentalization was not a problem. At all.
I envisioned my life as a wife and stay-at-home mom who just blogged a bit on the side, offering women hope and help, and maybe someday writing a book. But it was not a big deal. I can write from home, and no one has to know who I am or what I am doing. I could run a website for years and no one would have any clue.
Speaking, however, posed a security threat. When you ask your mom to drive you to the airport and say you’ll be gone for three days, it merits a little bit of an explanation.
After my first large speaking event, in December 2010, I realized I had a choice. The workshop I was leading had maxed out. All of the chairs were filled. Women were standing across the back of the room and sitting on the floor in front of me. I watched as they shared their struggles, prayed with each other, and found hope and healing. It was completely overwhelming.
I stepped out of the room to catch my breath. Like any good Baptist, my session had gone way over the allotted time. Thankfully, the room was not being used after my presentation, so the women had time to work through things together. As I watched God work, in absolute awe, I realized I had a choice.
Those women had no idea who I was. The name Jessica Harris was not in lights. I was not a keynote. I was not anybody. Yet, my workshop had maxed out and big things were happening in it. They hadn’t come for me. They came for the message.
In that moment, I had to choose. Was I going to go all-in or was it going to continue to be a little secret side hobby?
I chose to go all-in, and, with that, came the choice to identify with my struggle.
It’s interesting because the defining points in my journey have all been about identifying with my struggle.
I had spent my teen years living a double, if not triple or quadruple, life. I was always everything everybody needed me to be. I was a shape-shifter, a mask wearer. I didn’t even know who I was.
When someone told me “women just don’t have this problem,” I gave up on playing the games. It wasn’t sustainable. So, the next time I entered a chat room, there were no lies. I told the guy exactly who I was, exactly where I lived, and gave him an exact description of my body. I was done. I identified with my struggle in the deepest way possible- I became it.
A year later, I identified with my struggle again. This time, in the form of confession. I said, “My name is Jessica Harris, and my stronghold is pornography.” Identifying with my struggle that time brought freedom.
So, it only makes sense to me now, that I would identify with it again when trying to communicate that freedom to others.
It’s not something I’m proud of, but how can I speak about grace and the absence of shame while being… ashamed?
Sin is anonymous. Porn is anonymous. That’s what makes it so enticing. Shame makes you think it’s better to be anonymous.
“If they find out, they won’t really love you.” That’s shame’s favorite lie.
You live in constant fear of someone finding out the truth and discovering the “real” you. Every day is a constant battle to make sure all the cover stories line up. You start asking about hypothetical situations just to get some pseudo-acceptance. “So…. I have this friend who….”
It’s not freedom. It’s not grace. It’s not joy, and it most certainly is not the abundant life we’re promised.
Can it be awkward? Oh yes. I even say in the beginning of the book that whoever reads it will know more about me than I would ever tell them in person.
I am always aware that some day one of my co-workers might figure out who I am and it will be the chatter of the office. I am always aware that my friends who are so excited to read my book, might read it and then say, “Oh… well… ummmm…” I am always aware that my family will never talk about what I talk about. It’s weird to be the writer and speaker who talks about what we won’t talk about.
So why do it, then?
Well, because I don’t do what I do for my co-workers, friends, or even family. My mission field (and I consider it such) is to those women who feel absolutely smothered by shame. They are living the double, triple, quadruple lives, cracking under the weight of it all and fearing the day it will break.
I get that. My nom de plume doesn’t get that, some “friend” doesn’t get that. I get that, and I, personally, have had an encounter with grace. I, personally, have found hope, healing, and freedom. It only makes sense that I go back and share that message, personally.
Really, it’s the message of the Gospel, just opened up and aimed specifically at a group of people. This particular group who feels like maybe it isn’t quite big enough for them. Women who feel maybe mercy doesn’t reach that far and grace doesn’t reach that deep. They’re trapped and blinded in the darkness wondering if they’ll ever see light. If I have that light, I can’t walk away, and I can’t send in a drone or a carrier pigeon.
“Here, I promise there’s no shame, even though I’m too ashamed to come and tell you that myself.”
I have to let them see me so they know that they themselves can be seen.
Sin and shame isolate, rob you of your personhood, and sap your life. Grace and love, reconcile, restore worth, and give life. More importantly, they’re personal.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, wounded sinners just like you, and just like me. It’s not about the sin. It’s about the grace. I’m not ashamed of grace.
That’s why I’m not anonymous.