Women & Pornography

Porn Addiction, Sexual Trauma, and Why I’m in Counseling

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve recently started attending counseling. This is different from the premarital counseling my fiance and I are going through together.

This is huge for me for so many reasons. I can’t say that I’ve ever really cared for counselors.

Recently, I was interviewed by a room full of counselors and psychologists and it made me feel like a lab rat. I listened as they talked about me, assessing different parts of my story, comparing me to “textbook cases” of this and that. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had as a speaker and I almost quit speaking because of it. Then I met a man who is a counselor… and I’m marrying him. So that makes things interesting. I went from not liking counselors to marrying one, but even still, I wasn’t convinced.

I was raised in an environment where counseling was seen as something for the weak and extremely broken.

If you just loved Jesus hard enough, you wouldn’t need “counseling.” You had to be super messed up to need counseling and then, by getting counseling, you were even more messed up.

Super messed up is exactly how I felt the day I scheduled my first appointment. In fact, it’s why I scheduled my first appointment.

I battle anxiety as a general rule. It’s a mix of my personality (which sees every possible outcome to its conclusion) and trauma. I’m not a glass half full person. I’m a “please tell me there’s more water when this runs out… should I take a drink now or wait? What if there’s no more!” person.

The day I scheduled my first counseling appointment, I was fighting a full on panic attack. I do suffer from them but almost all are directly related to a traumatic event in my past. This one felt like it came out of nowhere.

I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t eat. I’ve lost six pounds in the last three weeks, and it has nothing to do with wedding planning.

A conversation from the night before had unearthed a trauma- an e-mail from one of the early readers of this blog years ago. He was a supposed Christian man and would frequently e-mail back and forth with me. During one exchange, he told me I needed to lighten up, called me neurotic, and detailed, very graphically, how he would show me how to lighten up by raping me. Because, he said, that’s what “girls like me” needed. In fact, according to him, it was secretly what we wanted.

His e-mail inspired one of the most popular posts from that time period on the blog. I fought back with my words, and moved on.

I hadn’t thought about it for years, but there it was, taking over my mind… just weeks before my wedding.

I suddenly had this revelation that I’m a victim of sexual trauma.

I haven’t had to square with that, because I’ve never been just months away from getting married. So, I ordered a bunch of books including “Not Marked” by Mary DeMuth. I was determined to fix this.

Side note: Not Marked is phenomenal. Mary has a story of sexual abuse as a child and pornography addiction as a teenager and she walks through her own healing journey. It’s been healing for me to read her story, to see how she’s dealt with triggers, but also to read her husband’s thoughts (he writes part of every chapter) and see how it affects their marriage. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

 

After ordering a bunch of books, I reached out to a dear friend and told her about the conversation with my fiance the night before, which, to be clear, had absolutely NOTHING to do with the content of the aforementioned e-mail. I shared how I was feeling and asked for her take on some different things he and I had talked about. One of her texts stopped me cold:

“You need to see somebody.”

Those words cut into my heart like a knife. I felt broken. Abandoned, and a little bit hopeless. Maybe I should call off the wedding. Maybe I wasn’t healed enough for this.

The week before I had done a pre-interview for a radio broadcast and talked all about how shame wasn’t a common part of my life anymore. Now, I felt like a hypocrite. I reached out to a counselor my pastor had recommended and asked if she had experiencing counseling victims of sexual trauma.  Then, I felt guilty for doing that.

How could I go to counseling for sexual trauma? I was a former sex addict. I was the person doing this stuff. I wasn’t the victim here. I needed to suck it up and deal with it and stop “whining.” Grow up, Jessica.

So, when the day came, I sat in the parking lot, fearful of dredging up my past in a room with a counselor who would pry into wounds that were already healed. Who would judge me. Who would tell me I was messed up. Or, my biggest fear of all, would tell me I shouldn’t get married.

And then my focus changed

I’m sitting outside of my first voluntary counseling appointment trying to remind myself I’m ok. . Growing up, I was always taught counselors were bad. That if you just loved Jesus hard enough, He would fix you. Going to counseling was wrong. Now I’m marrying a counselor. #irony . So, setting up the appointment was hurdle #1. Now, believing I haven’t failed is hurdle #2. . I’ve been thinking about it all morning, struggling with feeling like I’m super screwed up and that’s why I need to be here. If I had just tried harder, worked harder, I would have been able to figure it out. . I had @nicholenordeman ‘s “Every Mile Mattered” on repeat all morning, trying to drum up the courage to come here. . Then it hit me why I’m here. . I’m not coming to counseling to “get over my past.” I’m coming to be able to embrace my future. I’m coming, not because I’ve failed, but because I’m free. . Free to heal. . Free to live without shame. . Free to love. . Free to find joy. . Free to be unafraid. . Free to be weak. . Free to ask for help. . Free to forgive others. . Free to forgive myself. . Yes, I’m going to go in there and feel like my guts have been cut out. I’m going to ugly cry and talk about super personal things with a complete stranger and go to war with my trust issues, and my control issues. . So I’m terrified, really. But I’m free to be that too. . #freedom #counseling #premaritalcounseling #healing

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I am pleased to report that the first counseling session went nothing like I expected.

No guts were spilled. Instead, a very gentle Christian woman sat across from me and listened as I detailed my story. She never accused me of making excuses or blaming my past. Instead, she would occasionally jump in with, “Well, that’s trauma…. and that’s abuse… and that’s trauma…”

  • Being abandoned by my father? Trauma.
  • Being molested by a boy in elementary school? Trauma.
  • Being exposed to pornography at 13?

Trauma.

I left feeling, of all things, hopeful. Hopeful that there was still a level of healing to be had, and that I was allowed to pursue it.

I was ecstatic.

I think there’s a time for counseling to “fix a problem.” I have several friends in this field who are counselors and walk people through fighting addictions. There are hard conversations and prying questions. There is a counseling that is very “in your face” and “get over yourself.” I’ve seen it. I’ve heard counselors talk about it.

But then there is the counseling that is about healing.

Realizing that distinction helped me immensely.

I’m not going to counseling because I need fixed. I’m going because I want to keep healing.

For my third session, I had my fiance come along. That was my idea, and the morning of, I regretted it.

Panic and anxiety all day.

As I got close to the counseling center, I wanted to turn the wrong way on the highway, drive until I couldn’t anymore, wander out into the woods and just get lost for a bit. But there was one thing I wanted more: healing.

With my fiance by my side we talked about sexual trauma and triggers and tools for coping. We got real about expectations of our honeymoon. So many times I would feel “This is all my fault. I did this to us. We’re having to have these conversations because I am a horrible person.” (for the record, that right there is shame)

You know what’s easier for me? It’s easier for me not to have these conversations at all. To skip along my merry way pretending there’s no issue and deal with it myself later. I don’t like feeling like a failure.

One thing my counselor said during that session blew my mind:

Stop looking at your past as addiction and sin and start looking at it as trauma and abuse.

Yes, I was addicted to pornography, but I was also being abused by it. Yes, it was wrong to watch it, but it was also traumatic. So while I take full responsibility for my choices and actions, I also acknowledge the damage those choices caused. It’s not my permanent punishment to live damaged. I am allowed to heal from that damage.

I’ve recovered from the addiction. What we’re dealing with now is the abuse both of pornography itself and that which I experienced before pornography.

I think sometimes, when we’re the ones consuming pornography, we feel we don’t deserve healing. We need to live permanently with the consequences of our choices. We can’t go to sexual trauma counseling because we’re the ones who “chose” the trauma. We belong in addiction therapy, we think, not trauma counseling.

Then, when we stop being addicted, we wander around wondering “now what?” We label ourselves former addicts and stake our identity in a past that’s been redeemed. We get stuck.

Answering that “now what” is so very important.

It was important when I first started searching for freedom, and it’s important now as I pursue a deeper level of healing. A counselor helps me do that.

Why share this? Because there are too many of us feeling we have to fight this on our own. There are too many of us who walk around limping and are ok with it.

There’s a stigma around counseling. There’s a stigma around sexual trauma. There’s a stigma around female sexuality. There’s a stigma around female porn use and addiction. In some circles, there’s even a stigma around sex.

That means if you’re a woman with a background of trauma, which is common among many older women (not as much today’s teenager’s) who struggle with porn, you have a barbed-wire fence of stigma keeping you from healing. If I can lend you a pair of wire cutters to help you get out, I want to do that.

Sitting in that counseling office hasn’t been half as hard as I feared it would be.

It can be difficult, but I don’t leave feeling violated or judged. I leave feeling hopeful. Hopeful that there are new areas of healing I’ve never known before.

It’s easy for us to believe we don’t deserve healing. That we got ourselves into this mess and it’s our own fault. That’s shame. That’s not grace. That’s not wholeness or health, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be authentically whole and healed than have to pretend I am.

If you’re considering counseling, let me leave you with this one question to ask yourself:

You may be free, but are you healing?

You aren’t just allowed to heal, you are called to it. Pursue healing. It’s worth it.

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