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Porn kept me trapped in my secret shame

Kate Mardis, a pastor's daughter, hid her porn addiction for 13 years. Confessing to friends began her journey to freedom.

About 16 years ago, I stayed home from the 8th grade one day pretending to be sick.

How do I remember that? Well, mostly because of what happened when my dad got home from work that day.

He called out my name in the way you know you’re about to be in trouble. And not just “you-left-the-milk-out” trouble, but the kind where everything you see as important and worthwhile and fun is going to be taken away or altered for a while.

He had just come home from the church, where he was a pastor, and opened our computer to find the windows of porn still open — that I was sure I had closed — to avoid just this situation.

That day was the first time I ever got caught with porn. Actually, that was also the last. It definitely wasn’t the last day I looked at porn, though. I just got better at hiding it.

I was using porn as a Band-Aid for a heart broken by so many things, so many times.

Fishing on a local lake is one of my favorite ways to spend the day and connect with God.

Sorrow and Shame

During any of the following 13 years, I never would have told you that I had an addiction.

After all, I was a female and a pastor’s daughter. People in neither of those categories, much less both, would have a porn addiction. Plus, I didn’t look at it everyday or even every week.

So I would look at it, feel shame about it, go to some Christian conference or youth group and pray for forgiveness and promise myself and Jesus that I was never going to look at it again.

And I didn’t — until I did.

I would be disappointed by something, feel rejected by something or someone, or feel like I had failed at something, and I would find myself pulling up those same websites all over again.

I would finish watching and find myself covered in sorrow and shame. There were times I couldn’t even physically bring myself to look in the mirror because I hated who I was and the secret I was keeping. I felt like there was no way I could overcome it, and there was no way that Jesus could love me or use me because of it.

I was using porn as an escape whenever I felt like I was out of control, unworthy, and not good enough.

I felt like porn was this ocean I was drowning in. I decided to try to make every other area of my life “good” and “right” so that, hopefully, I wouldn’t feel as bad about the one area where I felt like I had no control.

Because I was saved and had a relationship with Jesus, I mistakenly decided that if I went to church every Sunday, served in student ministry, studied at a Christian university, worked my summers at a Christian camp, listened to Christian music, and read my Bible, I would eventually stop feeling so bad about the porn. Maybe, I’d be able to stop looking at it all together.

The problem was that porn wasn’t the problem. It was only a side effect.

My sickness was buying into the lie I was not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or skinny enough to be the beautiful creation the Bible told me I was.

I confessed my porn addiction for the first time on this bus ride back from Gauntlet 2014.

Confession and Freedom

In December of 2012, someone came into the restaurant where I worked and invited me to Christmas services at NewSpring. Shortly afterward, I attended membership class and began serving in KidSpring and Fuse.

But it wasn’t until I went to Gauntlet as a leader in 2014 that I had a week of “Aha!" moments. Jesus spoke to my heart that I was using porn as an escape whenever I felt like I was out of control, unworthy, and not good enough.

He not only spoke to me in times of worship but also when walking down the street talking to other leaders and students about things they were struggling with.

I was using porn as a Band-Aid for a heart that had been broken by so many things, so many times.

On the bus ride home, I confessed what I was struggling with and made a promise to every girl on the bus that I was going to get out of this addiction by relying on God’s strength rather than my own.

Although my friends can’t fight the battle for me, I realized I could not win it without them.

Over the next year, I followed up on my confession by putting in the effort.

It would be easy to think porn was a fight I started alone, and I could get out of it alone. That could not be further from the truth, though. I had to learn to struggle out loud by letting in the people closest to me. Although my friends can’t fight the battle for me, I realized I could not win it without them.

I gained accountability from five Christian women closest to me. I also had a friend put restrictions on my phone and computer so content I shouldn’t be looking at is a lot harder to access.

None of them were, and still aren’t, afraid to ask the difficult questions to make sure I am staying on track.

My friends have been essential in offering the support and accountability I need to walk in freedom daily.

Practically, it was not a devotion, software program, or phone restrictions that changed the game for me in fighting this addiction.

Not only did I have to lay down the addiction at the foot of the cross, but I had to lay down my pride alongside it. Fighting porn, or any other addiction, is waking up and choosing daily to walk in the freedom Jesus calls you to.

In the last three years, not every day has been easy or full of victory. But through the steps I took and continue to take, along with God’s strength and grace, I am porn-free.

By sharing my story with other women in a home group, writing about my experience for NewSpring, and using my story in care conversations with students at Fuse, I have seen others confess addictions and walk in freedom, too.

Because of that victory, I can wake up every day believing my best is truly yet to come.

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