In 2012, I sat at the bar in a coffee shop downtown. Next to me was my new love interest, who I was certain, even after just a couple of months, would become my wife.
We talked about a lot of things; most of them I don’t remember. But one subject still stands out in my memory. Porn.
The truth was that I’d struggled with porn since I was 10 years old. In the 12 years since I had first seen a naked woman on a screen, I’d built a castle of shame around that part of myself. I was so embarrassed and intolerant of my own process around sexuality in general—porn in particular—that I’d split myself in two.
There was one version of myself who had never struggled with porn. He’d seen it, of course, but it had never captivated him. He was the man I wanted to be. He floated through life with enviable ease and a grace.
Then there was the more accurate version. This boy had sought porn at a young age from a place of genuine curiosity. He had become fascinated and had found himself caught in a vicious cycle of shame, self-loathing, and artificial dopamine release.
When we think of what porn addiction looks like, we don’t often envision a happy, positive, confident, socially successful young man with seemingly unlimited potential. But that was me.
By 21, I had already worked in world-class recording studios, toured the country as a professional musician, and moved back to my hometown to start an innovative non-profit. I held positive relationships with friends and family, floated through social situations, and could strike and hold a conversation with anyone.
My social competence granted me the ability to posture as my ideal self while my true identity remained hidden in shadows. This was my secret. I told no one—not even my own brother or closest friends.
This truth—my secret—was unlovable.
So when my love-interest-to-be-wife eventually asked me what I thought about porn, I didn’t even hesitate. I told her what I wished was true: that porn had never really been all that interesting to me.
That was it. A quiet, simple lie.
After all, the truth was unlovable, and I was sure I could change.
Fast forward four years: We married, had two kids together, and were living in a beautiful home in the foothills.
One day she found a half-typed search term in the browser on my phone.
My world shattered. Her world shattered. Our home shattered.
In a singular moment, my greatest fears came true. My truth was unlovable.
The next two years saw us try like hell to fix things. Both of us tried to fix me. Both of us tried to fix our marriage. Both of us tried to bridge the divide which had grown between our hearts.
But after two years of arduous labor in service of love, we reached an impasse. We couldn’t go on. We were irretrievably broken, and all that was left to do was face the truth in that moment.
It’s been two more years.
I’ve learned some things. Mostly I’ve done a lot of work adjusting my relationship with truth.
I began to regard Truth, with a capital “T,” with a level of reverence that I reserve for my most influential teachers.
For most of my life, I’ve considered Truth to be a slippery, dangerous friend. Brash and brazen, Truth doesn’t always have everyone’s best interest in mind, I thought. Truth was a loose cannon.
And given the family-sized hole left in my old life, it might seem that this experience would serve to fortify my suspicious distaste for Truth. But the outcome has been quite different.
When my secret was exposed, I found myself drowning in regret, fear, uncertainty, and loneliness. But I also felt relief. The weight of my shame and my secret had been lifted. The facts were now out in the open and there was no longer space for shame. The heavy secret I had carried suddenly evaporated in the light of Truth.
Even through my tears and grief, I saw clearly that it had been Truth and Truth alone that had liberated me from that invisible prison.
I vowed on that day to never again forsake Truth. I began to understand it is never Truth that is the problem, but rather the reality it threatens to betray. And that in fact, Truth can liberate us from the shackles of shame if only we are courageous enough to face our actions and use the discomfort of honest assessment to create positive change.
I’d always wanted to be the man who was uninfluenced by porn, the man who floated through life with that enviable grace and poise. I didn’t think that my use of porn and the embodiment of that man could coexist.
But what I began to see was that, when I embodied Truth, I could be both the man who had struggled with porn, and the man who held an unshakable confidence in himself. When I accepted that my Truth was lovable, I opened the door to an even greater realization.
Men who walk with grace and poise have gained their strength from an honest and holy struggle. They have embodied Truth completely, not in spite of their darkness, but because of it. And it is from this stolid foundation which they draw their most enviable characteristics. It is not that they hide their Truth; it is that they face it head-on.
In 2012, my Truth was that I needed help. I struggled with porn, and I didn’t want to anymore. Hope told me that I could change, and that maybe I could change before Truth betrayed my present reality. Had I honored my Truth on that day, I may have saved my marriage.
Today, in 2020, my Truth is that I am a fallible man who is just as capable of making mistakes as I am of righting them. I am committed to Truth, even when it seems unlovable. I have become a fierce adversary of shame, and I have learned to wield Truth with compassion and grace. I have embodied the man I wished to become, not in spite of my darkness, but because of it. And it’s all thanks to loving my unlovable Truth.