From ages 12 to 20, I was addicted to reading erotic stories on the Internet. Here's how God lifted me from the pit and renewed my self-worth.
I had never cried that hard in my life. Huge, creaking sobs spilled out inside my car. I was parked in the farthest corner of the local high school's parking lot, the closest place I could think of for privacy. It was just a few weeks after college graduation.
"Sarah, please stop sending me these emails," the note had read. "I am not interested in a relationship with you now, or ever."
These emails? It was only the second one I'd sent this college friend, the first one months before, because conversation about relationships face-to-face seemed so awkward. He had replied, when asked if he was interested in me, "I hadn't thought about it." That surprised me, because he certainly seemed to be acting as though he was interested. So then, of course, I had thought he would give the matter consideration and get back to me. Meanwhile, I kept the intensity of my feelings locked down, well-hid. Chilly, even. I was good at that. Nobody could have guessed how much I liked him, including him.
So now, here I was in the parking lot, a total train wreck. I had built an entire future with this young man — inside my own head. Nowhere in actual reality was there even a hint of what I had imagined. And now my private universe had imploded in utter violence. There was no way my protective emotional shell could continue to hide this disaster.
Worst of all, I had known from the start a relationship would never work out because I was black and hideous on the inside. Unlovable.
How It All Began
If this was a Greek tragedy, one could trace the events that led to this cataclysm back a decade earlier to the bespectacled, 12-year-old version of myself in my family's living room. Somehow, amidst our rambunctious collection of 11 people, I had managed to find a moment alone. I whisked the S volume of the encyclopedia off the shelf and quickly opened it to the entry for "sex."
What? No way!
Surely I couldn't have understood what I just read correctly. So I did what any curious homeschooler would do next — I went to the Internet for further research. And what I found there changed my life. I read and saw things that both fascinated and disgusted me. Things I knew I should not have in my mind. Things that would haunt me for the next eight years of my life, the years of developing adulthood.
My parents were homeschool leaders, and in those early days of the homeschool movement you couldn't admit flaws. There were too many people waiting to tear the entire movement apart. Those were the habits I had built, too. So when I first started to realize I had a problem, I tried to solve it on my own. I tried to just stop viewing and reading sexual material on the Internet. I had taught myself to masturbate, but now I invented ways to distract myself from wanting to do it. Sometimes from sheer willpower I could stop for a few weeks. But when I imagined myself stopping "forever," I knew it was impossible, so I would just go back to it.
Most of the stuff on the Internet is directed toward men, so next I took to shoplifting romance novels at the grocery store. I didn't do this very often — maybe once or twice a year — but it was stealing nonetheless. My friendly, loving daddy would have been very unhappy to know that his daughter was hiding a $6 romance novel in her purse down the next aisle while he was loading the cart with $300-plus of groceries for our family.
During these years, I had not yet built any sort of adult relationship with God. I knew most of the Bible because of my dad reading it out loud, but I didn't know anything about prayer. The Bible seemed dry and dull to me if I ever opened it on my own. I read about Jesus, and I tried to work up some kind of emotion about His death, but I felt nothing. At the same time, I completely believed Christianity was real, and I would debate apologetics with other teens.
So picture this: All day long, I was a "good girl." One of the best. I did the work of an adult for my parents' business. I scored in the 99th percentile in all my academics and won scholarships and essay contests. I performed top leadership roles in all the activities I joined. But inside, I was locked in a never-ending battle that ended, more often than not, in failure. Publicly, everyone loved me. Privately, I hated myself.
Enter college. With a choice between a full ride scholarship to Texas A&M University and a somewhat lesser scholarship to Patrick Henry College, I chose tiny little Christian PHC. It was a good decision. Nobody at college knew about my private addiction, but their Internet screening software prevented me from accessing the material I could obtain at home. Most important, with so many peers around me living vibrant relationships with Christ, I began to interact with Him on a personal level. I learned how to pray. I found Him faithful in difficult situations. And I even told a few close friends about my wearying battles.
By the end of my sophomore year, I was completely free of any desire to seek out more filth on the Internet. I hated it violently, in fact. Unfortunately, the results of eight years of addiction still stuck. I still masturbated, and the images and stories already in my mind would not go away. I was stricken and sorrowful. I read about how people like me were permanently damaged in their future sexual relationships with their spouses, and that certainly didn't help either.
Worst of all, I ventured into the strain of Christian courtship stories that focuses on absolute perfection. In these tales, a young Marine deployed overseas views the absolutely stunning photo of a friend's sister. He contacts her father, already knowing this girl is destined to be his future wife. She has meanwhile been inspired by God to pray for her future husband the entire month prior. The two come together in fairytale perfection, ending with a proposal photograph near a mountain lake. Him on one knee in uniform, her with her curly blond hair cascading down to the middle of her back. It is a beautiful thing.
I was already disqualified. I was filthy. We homeschooled girls were taught to want marriage, and rightly so. But what kind of person would ever want to marry me?
So I was terrified; I hid. When I had a crush, I hid harder than ever. This last time, however, God wouldn't let me follow the same pattern. He made me face my fear and ask the young man if he was also interested. And this is how it turned out? It was a disaster! Here I was, crying in my car, no hope in sight. I was broken, shattered, busted.
God wanted to make me new, but He had to destroy me first. Little by little, my emotional and physical resources had been depleted — hardly surprising, considering the academic load I had given myself all the way through PHC and also ongoing upheavals in the college itself. I therefore had no reserves to draw on to cope with rejection. I was severely depressed for at least a year. This manifested itself as non-stop headaches. At my new job back at PHC, I took regular breaks throughout the day to cry in the farthest stall of the women's restroom. At times I just thought I was going crazy.
I had to look at my darkness. In fact, the challenge was to stop looking at it. Where before I usually felt equipped to teach anyone about anything, now all I felt was my failure and unworthiness. I had to press on to survive, but I was no longer strong enough to do so with all the baggage I had been carrying. I was blessedly weak.
Piece by piece, day after day, as the circling images of my past tormented me, I stopped whatever I was doing. I sat before God, and I pictured myself carrying each image to the foot of the cross and leaving it there, asking Christ to take it because it was too much for me. I began the habit of telling Christ every day that I was needy — that I would not survive unless He showed me joy that day. And He always did. Finally, helplessly, I began to taste true freedom. I accepted that I am a sinner in need of grace, like every other human, no better — and no worse. As the depression lifted with the help of God and friends, I came out lighter than I have ever been in my life.
Who is Sarah Pride? These five years later, I am a woman unafraid of her old demons. They have no power over me. If I fall, I return to the foot of the cross and ask Jesus to have His way with me, even if it hurts. I have a great tenderness for suffering and a heightened compassion for weakness. I am much more useful. Do I wish I had a different story to tell? Yes, I wish that. But I don't. This is my story, one where Christ is faithful to the bottom of the pit.
Copyright 2012 Sarah Pride. All rights reserved.