Mercy brings healing from porn addiction

Tom Ryan found his first pornographic magazine underneath a recliner when he was 9 years old. That experience and the sexual abuse he’d suffered two years earlier from neighborhood boys started him down the road to pornography addiction.

After 27 years on that road, he is finding healing from the destructive thoughts, desires, actions and habits of addiction so he can move forward on a better route toward physical and spiritual wholeness.

Unchecked consumption

Ryan, 40, grew up attending religious education classes at his Minneapolis parish, but lessons about sexuality came from sources outside class who told him the Church’s views on sexual morality were outdated.

As a teen, he discovered more magazines at home and also looked at the ones his school friends had. When Ryan turned 18, he started buying magazines, which he stashed in his bedroom.

While attending college in Wisconsin, Ryan printed pornographic images on a dorm printer late at night. “I would find ways to sneak it without anybody ever detecting it,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.

Pornography not only gave him pleasure, but a sense of control he didn’t feel he had in other areas of his life.

After college, Ryan spiraled deeper into porn after breaking up with a girlfriend. His two jobs didn’t provide enough money to satisfy his desire for the materials. “When she broke up with me, I got myself in credit card debt,” he said. “I was doing balance transfers all the time from card to card.”

In his late 20s Ryan moved to Stillwater, Minnesota, where he continued to work two jobs. His growing collection of thousands of videos, books and magazines filled his 700-square-foot apartment. He never answered the door for fear of being discovered. Ryan estimates he spent up to $100,000 on his addiction.

He filed for bankruptcy in 2007. After that, he spent less but downloaded images and videos at the public library to watch at home until he got home internet.

Because he didn’t understand the Faith, Ryan didn’t believe he was committing serious sin. “It’s like I was trying to preserve the sin, thinking there was no consequence to it, that I’m not hurting anybody.”

Besides, he thought, pornography brought peace and balance of mind and body. “I was always justifying,” Ryan said. “I was always feeding in those lies that the body needed it. My mind needed it to stay balanced.”

But satisfying his craving while trying to keep his addiction a secret was exhausting, Ryan said. “Deep down inside, the Holy Spirit was working in me, and I had the desire that there had to be something more, that this can’t be the life God intended for me, knowing I was getting worn out.”

Mercy and conversion

Through it all, Ryan never stopped attending Sunday Mass. “I always felt a renewal at Mass. I always felt there was something there, even though I didn’t really know it was the True Presence.”

One Sunday in Lent in 2012, he saw an announcement in his church bulletin for the upcoming Divine Mercy feast day service, the Sunday after Easter. Not knowing much about it, he decided to go, thinking it might help him.

At the service, Ryan felt God’s mercy. “I just knew that I needed God in my life more than I had, and it had been nagging at me for such a long time.”

He hadn’t been to confession in six years and didn’t go that day. “It took a few months before I actually went, but I know it started there. I greatly desired to go to confession, because I knew I had things to confess, and I knew I had to bear some weight off.”

Porn takes its toll
Millions of Americans find themselves ensnared by habitual pornography use. Here are a few statistics that paint a picture of the scale of the problem.

In 2013, Ryan joined a parish group studying Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscover Catholicism” (Beacon Publishing, $17.95), which was another turning point.

The book inspired him to attend daily Mass and go to confession regularly. Once after he’d confessed, a priest asked more questions and, learning how involved he was in porn-related sin, told him what no one else had said before — that he was addicted. He started going to meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous, one of several sex addiction 12-step groups. “I was moving into a prayer life that pushed the porn out.”

At a parish priest’s insistence, Ryan destroyed the pornography, a difficult project that took two years. He also committed to serving his family, parish and community.

Freedom amid struggle

Since he began recovery more than four years ago, Ryan said he’s especially made strides during the last two. The craving is still there, and he occasionally relapses, but he believes he’s gaining ground.

As Ryan tries to move away from destructive thoughts and habits, he’s dropped his home internet and has no data coverage on his phone. He relies on prayer, the sacraments, supportive people, exercise and his 12-step program, and he is looking for a therapist. Most of all, Ryan said, “If you want to cast out pornography, period, it’s got to be humility.”

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

He watches for temptation triggers, including using Wi-Fi in private places, fatigue, the desire to search, stress and emotional upheaval. He also avoids the temptation to have a “nightcap” of porn after a good day, choosing prayer instead.

While Ryan is hopeful for his future, he regrets the time and energy wasted on pornography — and lost opportunities to marry and have a family. But through pro-life work, he’s found opportunities for spiritual fatherhood.

He’s also seen his entire family begin to have devotion to the Divine Mercy, and he prays frequently the Divine Mercy prayer: “Jesus I trust in you.”

Though full recovery will take time, Ryan knows he’s not traveling alone.

“God can work with that. He’s making that bridge for people to come to him to find truth,” he said. “When we’re walking with God and we’re depending upon him for everything, that’s so pleasing to him. Even if we get off track, and we think we’re doing God’s will, and we’re not because we’re poorly formed, it’s pleasing him that we’re trying.”

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.