Hello, and welcome. My name is Michael Hargiss. I’m a son of God recovering from an addiction to pornography.
Just so you know, I’m an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. If I use terminology that seems strange, you’re welcome to send me a message or visit mormon.org.
I don’t consider myself a special case or a unique addict. I hope that by sharing my recovery I can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands to help bring more children of God to Him, particularly fellow addicts seeking recovery.
I’d like to be open and honest with you. This is a difficult task for me—both sharing my recovery in a public setting, as well as learning to be open and honest. It makes me feel very vulnerable. But I feel the Lord has guided me to do this, so I’ll trust Him and in His power to protect and provide. I’ll do my best not to mention inappropriate or graphic details. The last thing I want is for my recovery blog to trigger a fellow addict’s addiction.
My addiction to pornography began when I was a young teenager. Like most addicts, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My first exposure to it occurred in a social setting. After that, I was curious and began searching for pornography on my own using a computer and the Internet. My parents and church Sunday school teachers had already taught me to avoid the filth of pornography. I could feel that what I was doing was wrong, so I decided to stop and repent. Although I was still tempted periodically, I was able to remain clean by simply choosing not to indulge.
Soon thereafter I began dating girls. I say dating, but really it was known as “going out,” which only meant pairing up in a monogamous relationship, usually without any actual dates. I distinctly remember wanting to follow the counsel of my parents and church leaders, except for the part that had to do with avoiding serious relationships while still so young. I grew up somewhat of a loner—not many friends and often made fun of at school. Companionship was appealing. I wanted to know that a girl could like me. Sadly, I also let my physical desires get the best of me. I had periods of gallant reform and cleanliness, but I kept returning to inappropriate physical relationships. Although I wasn’t viewing pornography at the time, I know now that my dating choices then ended up creating a pyre, one that could easily erupt into the flames of addiction. Satan, also known as the devil, was carefully preparing me for it.
After making myriad poor choices, as well as a lot of good ones, I decided to stop being luke-warm and truly straighten up. I was about seventeen years old. I can still vividly recall the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the direction I chose for my life pleased God. I learned more about myself and God as He gave me spiritual strength and fortitude against temptation. I felt happy. It was a good time for me.
I began dating girls again, this time with the intent to do good. I was careful to be home by my curfew. I remember thinking at the end of a date that I needed to get home on time so that my mother wouldn’t get worried. I think I was in a good place then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful enough. Again I gave in to my physical desires. Pornography still wasn’t involved, but my sinful choices quickly rebuilt that pyre. Instead of bringing peace of mind, my choices led me to severe depression. I began having strange heart palpitations, which I now believe were psychosomatic. If it weren’t for a few exceptional friends, I wouldn’t have graduated high school. I just didn’t care enough and I certainly didn’t feel like doing anything worthwhile.
I graduated high school and continued in my depression. I got an easy job close to home and spent most of my time sleeping, watching movies, playing video games, and hanging out with my friends at Denny’s restaurants till the wee hours of the morning. I also stopped going to church or doing anything spiritual. I fell back into pornography, and this time I didn’t try to stop myself. I was able to share some of my struggles with those friends, but I never disclosed everything, especially not the pornography. If it weren’t for those late hours with my friends at Denny’s, I’m certain I would’ve sunk far lower than where I was drifting at the time. I felt so ashamed of myself, and so very depressed. Nothing felt satisfying anymore. I just didn’t care. I think those friends literally kept me alive.
I lived like this for two years, all the while continuing in debilitating depression and secretly indulging in pornography. I also continued with my past dating choices. My shame and depression deepened, but I felt so far gone that I didn’t think I was worth the effort to redeem. Looking back, I can see now that this was when my pornography problem really became a full-fledged addiction. The pyre that Satan had carefully deceived me into building was burning out of control. I didn’t realize it then, but I was using pornography as a means of numbing my depression and shame. I know—that makes no sense. Why seek relief through the medium of my destruction? To quote Alcoholics Anonymous, addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful” like that. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I couldn’t; I was addicted.
Eventually I reached a point where the pain was more than I could bear. I was fed up with myself. Still, I didn’t think I could ever get out of depression. I also had no idea I was addicted to pornography. I just thought it was a harmful, bad habit. My first relief from the pain came when I opened up to a residential doctor. The poor man didn’t know what was coming. I shared with him some of my choices as well as my depression. He handled it remarkably well. Perhaps doctors are trained for it. All I know is he was really good at listening and not judging me, for which I will always be grateful. I remember thinking, “Wow, that felt good. Maybe if I can open up to a stranger and experience some relief, then perhaps it’s possible to find more.” Some time passed before I decided to share my dark secrets with anyone else, but I had that positive experience to hold on to for the time being.
One Sunday I decided to go to church. A man I knew when I was younger was returning home from a mission and he was going to speak that day. His time as a missionary had been cut short by a severe bicycle accident. I wanted to show him some support, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. He was not the same man. He was still himself, but he was a better version of himself. And he was so full of something that I wanted! Despite his injuries and trials, he seemed to be at peace with it all. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I remember thinking, “I want what he has.” Somehow by hearing what that man had to say that day, the Lord blessed me to believe that by aligning myself with what He wanted for me, I could receive the same peace and happiness. Soon thereafter I met with my bishop (ecclesiastical leader, similar to a Catholic priest in role and responsibility) and began my repentance process.
For the next year I worked hard and changed my ways to God’s ways. I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be for me. I still didn’t know I was dealing with an addiction, and as far as I know my bishop didn’t know either. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the urge to indulge in my addiction that I couldn’t sleep or eat. I love music, so I took up learning the guitar to give me something to occupy my mind and thoughts. I also read a lot. Most nights were a constant struggle to abstain from my addiction. Reading the Book of Mormon was key. I felt power to do good and abstain from evil when I read it. One night I was reading Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey. He offered a profound lesson that I took to heart: Everything will be better in the morning. I found that if I could make it through each night, I would feel better in the morning. And I did. I had numerous relapses, but I always chose to repent and move forward. I also spent a lot of time with the missionaries. Watching people receive power from God to change their lives inspired me to seek the same. Those missionaries and those good people showed me what trusting God looks like.
My good bishop was there with me every step of the way. He was encouraging and truthful in his counsel. I grew to trust him with everything, and over time I was able to share everything with him. It wasn’t easy at first, but it was always rewarding and relieving. He helped me come to know the Savior, who led me out of depression and sin.
Eventually I became a totally different person. I was at peace with myself. I knew that God approved of my life’s direction. I no longer felt ashamed. Now, instead of wanting to serve a mission because I wanted to become someone better, I wanted to serve a mission because God had made me someone better, and I wanted others to experience the same miracle. I served a two-year, full-time mission. It was incredible, and incredibly challenging. I was able to help lead others to Christ. It was the most joy I had ever experienced. I loved those two years and the privilege to serve in that capacity. I came to know God in a very personal way during that time. I came to call Him my Friend, and I felt that I was one of His. I remained sober for those two years. I honestly believed that my pornography habit was in the past.
I relapsed within six months of returning home from my service as a missionary. I was in disbelief. It didn’t seem possible. How could I return so soon to my former cycle of self-destruction? I told my dad and my ecclesiastical leader about it right away. I received forgiveness and I moved on. Then it happened again. Again I was disgusted with myself and in disbelief, and again I repented and moved on. This cycle repeated itself with increasing frequency and sometimes with extended periods of sobriety. All the while I found myself asking, “What’s wrong with me? Do I just not want it badly enough?”
A year after returning home I began talking with my then future wife. We hit it off pretty quickly. Building a relationship with Jess gave me more motivation than I’d ever had to forsake pornography for good. I managed to “white knuckle” longer periods of sobriety, but the cycles continued. I never stopped seeing my Bishop about my problem, and I think that kept my addiction from getting much worse.
Jess and I became engaged. Like many fellow addicts, I was convinced that marrying the woman of my dreams would end my problems with pornography for good. I honestly believed it. The Lord gave me the strength to be clean for our wedding in the Washington, D.C. temple. I’m grateful I was clean for that beautiful event.
I remained clean for a few months into our marriage, only to find myself full of remorse and again asking myself, “How did this happen? How did I end up here again?” Addiction is baffling like that, but I still had no clue what I was dealing with. I talked with my dear wife and then talked with my Bishop. He gave me a copy of the LDS (Latter-day Saint) Addiction Recovery Manual, which contains a revision of the original Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps to recovery. I thought, “This is nice and interesting, but it’s not really for me. I’m not an addict.” Yet again, after receiving forgiveness for my sins, I thought that my troubles with pornography were over.
The next two years were a heartbreaking disaster for our marriage. I broke Jessica’s heart repeatedly. We had our beautiful daughter, Isla. I cleaned up in time to give her a baby’s blessing (an important event and ordinance in the Mormon faith), but returned to my sins soon thereafter. Depression settled into my mind and heart again. I became so busy with work and school that it was easy for me to retreat into isolation. Eventually the pain of the repeated cycles was too much for me to handle, and I closed off completely for months at a time, all the while indulging in an ever-increasing craving for my drug of choice: pornography. Like any addictive substance, this drug provided an ever-decreasing stimulation. My addiction really took hold of me during these dark years. I felt lost all over again, and I felt there was no way out. I felt helpless and powerless. Still, I didn’t know I had an addiction.
Finally I had hurt my wife enough to bring divorce to the table. It hurt, but I was glad she did it. She asked me to shape up, otherwise I was giving her no choice but protect herself and our daughter by leaving. I met with our Bishop again. He and I tried all kinds of approaches to beating my problem with pornography. I read and studied books. I fasted and prayed. I had pages and pages of detailed goals and plans for waging war against this thing… meaningful scripture study, tons of self-evaluation, etc. I followed through with most of them, and I enjoyed some longer periods of sobriety, but in the end it didn’t work. I remember feeling so forlorn. The tools I used to escape this problem when I was preparing to become a missionary weren’t working. Scripture study wasn’t working. Firm commitments and changes of heart weren’t working. “What’s wrong with me?” I was really starting to fear that I would never overcome this.
One week my good Bishop suggested I attend an Addiction Recovery meeting. I was willing to check it out, so I did. I felt a powerful Spirit of love and comfort there. It was a general addiction meeting, meaning anyone with any kind of addiction was welcome to attend and participate. I liked what I felt, and some people offered genuine support, but I didn’t feel a connection with anyone there. As far as I could tell, everyone else had normal addiction problems—alcohol and drugs. My problem was different, or so I thought. And no one there mentioned pornography. I figured it was a nice place to be, but I wasn’t an addict, so I didn’t go back the next week.
A month later a good friend of mine confided in me his addiction to pornography. I reciprocated. I am eternally grateful to that man for his courage and trust. Together we began attending weekly Addiction Recovery meetings exclusively for people struggling with an addiction to sex and pornography. Finally, after a few meetings, I learned that I’m an addict. Whoa. Not something I ever planned on becoming.
Dealing with my pornography problem for what it really is—an addiction—has been difficult. But despair has been replaced by hope. I used to think that maybe I was broken, that I couldn’t be fixed, not even by God. After all, all my honest repentance hadn’t fixed me. But spiritual wounds weren’t the only thing I was dealing with. I have since learned that addiction literally crippled me spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and neurologically. I’ve learned that I actually lost my ability to choose. That’s the power of addiction. It’s a beast, and I can’t deal with it on my own.
It would be nice to say that I’ve been sober since my first recovery meeting. That’s not my story though. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m grateful to God that I can say I am making progress. He is making me into a better person. Depression, anger, and loneliness don’t plague me as much as they once did. My marriage has been saved. My life has improved in all aspects. None of it is perfect, but it’s better and getting better, and I have my God to thank for it.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far is this: I can’t, God can, I’ll let Him. I can plead with God to rescue me in the moment of temptation, and He does it. Every time. Sometimes it requires patience and I have to ask more than once. But I’m never alone because of Him. He knows me. He understands me. And He never, ever turns me away.
I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. He literally saves me from my addiction every day. And somehow He’s healing me from the massive destruction of addiction. It’s not an immediate healing, for which I’m grateful. If everything were fixed easily, I’d probably go back to the addiction without much thought.
If you are struggling with the monster of addiction, I want you to know that you are not alone. God loves you. Nothing can ever change that. Recovery and healing is possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the way out and the way up. He’s the only way. I can say I know that because I’ve tried everything else. Nothing worked until I tried trusting Him completely with my life and my will. I invite you to ask Him for help. He’ll help you, and you’ll feel His love for you.
If you’re a loved one of an addict, I hope you know that it’s not your fault. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has support meetings exclusively for persons in your situation. My wife has been attending them since I started attending my own meetings. They have helped her find healing for herself and our marriage. Her learning and understanding has helped me immensely. I know that she understands what I’m going through. Sharing that understanding with her means more than I can express. I love my wife! And the answer to her pain and suffering was the same as it was for me: Jesus Christ is the way out and the way up.
I think that’s my story so far. Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to send me a message. I would love to hear from you.