By Tara Thomas, Truth for Youth Social Media Manager
As I was growing up, there was always talk of anti-bullying. There were posters in the hallways, TV shows would show the underdog showing up a bully, and we were told to “love our neighbor as ourself” according to the golden rule of “treat others the way you want to be treated,” but in my experience that was ignored at the most important point in my life.
I went to Catholic school from second grade until I decided to leave college this past March. Out of all of those years, the most formative were when I was in middle school, ages 12 to 14. I was figuring out who I was, what I liked, what I wanted to be, and especially what I didn’t want to be.
In sixth grade, it felt like everyone else got better at what they did. Everyone who was athletic got sportier. Anyone who exceled in schoolwork got smarter. Anyone who was artistic got smarter. I didn’t feel like I fit into any of those categories. I didn’t try to make friends with anyone in my class for that reason. Instead, I found friends with whom I did fit in. I’d been told I was always mature for my age, so I befriended two girls two years older than myself.
All was great until an old friend from first grade transferred to our school. I was ecstatic because someone my age who I could relate to was there. Although one of the eighth graders wasn’t too happy about my old friend coming back into my life. And just like that, the girl I told everything to decided that we weren’t going to be friends.
It started with us hanging out only sometimes, then others she would avoid me like the plague. If she was going to choose to ignore me, I would just spend more time with this friend who transferred, which led to more bullying.
Tere was a day that my bully had decided that this friend of mine and I were lesbians. My immediate reaction was to laugh it off. This girl whom I’d told every single detail of my life thinks I like girls? Tell that to the crush on a boy I’d had for three years at that point… Then I started thinking about how I was very protective of my female friends. We weren’t super close, but if you hurt them then I would have been furious. “I’m just the mom friend though, right?”
I was so curious about this possible attraction to the same sex that I turned to pornography. I saw the naked female body and realized that I was attracted to it, so I started identifying as bisexual. At the time, I had heard that porn was bad, but I didn’t know how or why it was bad in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I also didn’t understand the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, so my newfound label didn’t worry me.
Those weren’t the only effects that my bully had on me. There was one day that I’d ended up crying. When we went inside from fresh air time and my teachers were about to let me pass right on until my new friend pulled me aside, telling the teachers that I had something I needed to tell them.
When I talked to the teachers, they heard all sides of the story. But not once did they listen. My friend and I were two sixth graders going against a seventh and two eighth graders. It felt as though as soon as we said our side of the story, we were on the losing side. In fact, one of my teacher’s reactions was “Well, some people think Mrs. ******* and I are lesbians, but that doesn’t mean we are.” It was like she missed the entire point.
To make matters worse, my bully came from a big, Catholic family. If this was what it meant to be Catholic, then why in the world would I want to be?
After this experience, my view of myself worsened. I was now the depressed, bisexual atheist who enjoyed watching porn in her free time. I found a group of people on the internet who only encouraged this even more.
My view on my identity has changed quite a bit, but there are still so many scars that need to be healed from that experience. Bullying can truly change a person. I just ask that whoever is reading this, be patient with people. You don’t know what wounds they’re still healing from.
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I am Tara Thomas and I am the office assistant at Pure and Simple Truth for Youth, Inc., as well as social media manager, podcast host, and now blog writer. In this post, I will share my overall journey in life. As the months pass, I plan on writing more details about different situations that happen in my life.
I turned 20 years old this month and have been a part of Pure and Simple for just over a year now. In that year, I have learned and grown a ton in exactly the areas that we talk about at our retreats: identity as a whole person and child of God, the importance of healthy relationships and how to have them, and how to tackle temptations against my sexual integrity.
I first joined because I have struggled heavily with sexual integrity in my life. As far as I knew, before joining the team, that’s what Pure and Simple was all about: combatting the growing consumption of pornography in youth and recognizing that there’s more to life than sexual desires. When I went to training, I was given a ton of information that I had already learned while at my local Catholic high school. But I also learned that there was more to Pure and Simple than that… much of which I was still working on learning myself.
The first talk I gave at a retreat for middle schoolers was on healthy relationships and all I really talked about was the lack of them in my life. It started with bullying in middle school and not having close friends who I could talk to about my depression and so many other things that had reared their ugly heads due to my experience of being bullied. Then I talked about my friend group from the first two years of high school – it was incredibly toxic and the entire group had the mindset of use. I also mentioned experiences of my ex boyfriend from freshman year because our relationship was full of infatuation and manipulation until I learned how to get out of it without guilt. Then I finished with how I started to learn what good friendship was my junior and senior year of high school, and how I was still learning.
After giving that first talk, I was finally ready to give the sexual integrity talk. My struggle with sexual integrity was so intertwined with everything else I had experienced up until that point in my life – and honestly, even now. It included the same timeline, I just had a different focus.
I started really enjoying Pure and Simple because after the retreats, the kids had the opportunity to talk with the team and they actually approached me to ask questions. The number of times I have heard middle school girls tell me “I’ve never told anyone this, but…” reassures me that I am doing what needs to be done by being a part of this organization. Young girls deserve to hear that they aren’t the only ones with these struggles and that there is hope.
It was about five months into being a part of the team that I finally gave the identity talk. This was such a rough patch in my life. I was losing sight of my identity – the same thing that I was supposed to be giving a talk and guiding young girls to find. I had no clue who I was and I was going to be talking about it at the school I grew up in.
It took quite a bit of time but eventually my view of myself shifted from seeing my value determined by what I do to a beloved daughter of God. I’m still learning a lot of these things, but that’s okay. Life is a journey and sharing the ride to help as many as possible is what makes it worth it for me. I hope you will come along for the ride. You can subscribe to our blog to get notifications when we post!
This testimony is shared by, "A.H", a member of our Truth for Youth Team, in hopes of helping bring encouragement and strength to someone who may be struggling as he did.
Last year I spent a Saturday morning doing a variety of tasks around my church like uprooting weeds and unwanted bushes, taking removed tree branches to the dumpster, and cleaning floors inside. I had a blast for the entire morning, engaging in good work with my friends and sharing some laughs along the way. After a brief lunch break, I headed over to the playground area where they were cutting down some unnecessary trees with chainsaws to see if I could help. I was fascinated by the huge logs these men were taking down, sawing through thick trunks like nothing.
As I watched on in wonder, the wind changed direction and a stray wood chip flung out from a far-off saw and lodged in my left eye. I immediately shut my eye and winced as the pain started to set in. I knew I had to flush it out, so I bolted inside and went to work with a simple water fountain, forcing my eye open as I shot water into it. A teacher at the school passed by and asked what I was doing; when I told him my issue, he got his set of teacher keys and quickly took me into the science room where there was an ancient eye flushing station. As I leaned over the sink with my eyelid over the eye flusher, the teacher asked for my parents’ number so he could get them to the church. I reluctantly gave it, not wanting even more inconvenience out of this whole mess, and sadly thought about what I was missing out on outside. When my parents arrived, they got me in the car and checked on me as they informed me we were going to the emergency room. I instantly protested, letting them know that I had seen the wood chip come out of my eye after flushing it and there was nothing more that needed to be done.
Despite my misgivings, they drove me to the ER and got me in as soon as possible. After more uncomfortable flushing and an assessment, they discovered I had a corneal abrasion (fancy term for a scratch on my eye), they set me up with an eye doctor appointment soon. As it turns out, the appointment consisted of getting a bunch of pictures of my eye – the pupil dilation it required made doing my homework a little difficult since my left eye was blurry. But after all this the optometrist shocked me with a strange diagnosis: although my eye damage would be gone soon with eye drops, I had a genetic eye condition known as blepharitis. It turns out it doesn’t affect life too much other than daily eye washing, but I am glad that I know about it now.
Maybe you’re wondering why I spent so much time telling you any of this. As it turns out, my experience with the wood chip in my eye nearly mirrors my transition period from middle school to high school.
Back in 7th grade, I was an awkward, shy, self-absorbed kid with a natural sense of curiosity. I spent a lot of time reading and surfing the internet, exploring anything and everything that sparked my interest. Unfortunately, as can be expected, eventually my unfettered curiosity led me to see images that pierced my innocence. It was nothing that would be considered “explicit”, but it was enough to hook my brain and draw me in to explore deeper online – something that I regret to this day. As happens with this kind of rabbit hole, before I knew what I was doing I had been exposed to pornography. It’s an ugly word and sadly one that is becoming more prevalent in today’s society. And I experienced firsthand the destructive effects it has on individuals.
Growing up Catholic, I once heard that four out of five Catholic men (yes, Catholic) have struggled or currently struggle with pornography addiction. Speaking from personal experience, it’s not hard to see why. Without delving into too much scientific jargon, pornography essentially rewires your brain by artificially overwhelming your brain with dopamine, eventually leading to overload and subsequent destruction of dopamine sensors. After sinking deeper into this harmful habit I soon realized that I needed to change.
Using the wood chip in my eye experience metaphorically my instincts kicked in as the pain from the “wood chip” of lust began to overcome me. But just as I hesitated to submit to the much-needed ER visit in my story, I refused to open up and seek help from anyone with my burden of this harmful addiction. Porn had its cruel hold on me and, try as I might, I could do nothing to shake myself free for more than a couple weeks at a time. I fell into a near-constant misery but continued to isolate myself because I could not come to terms with the vulnerability required to get help. I lived like this for a whole year and a half, frequenting confession and struggling to remain afloat as I fell time after time. My mental and spiritual state was at an all-time low. My brain had been hardwired to objectify women and that added to my pre-existing social challenges and hurt my relationships with others. In short, my life was falling apart, and I was scrambling around trying to pick up the pieces all by myself.
But God had not forgotten me.
Everything changed my Freshman year of high school when I finally admitted my pornography struggles to one of my best friends, one of the strongest and holiest men I know to this day. He not only kept me accountable by checking in to see if I had given into porn temptations, but additionally he kept me accountable for my prayer life and inspired me to dive deeper into mental prayer and develop a personal relationship with God, something I had failed to do consistently up to this point. Just as God gave me the teacher to help me flush the wood chip out, God placed this incredible friend in my life to help me flush out this horrific habit. The journey was far from over, but God showed me the light at the end of the tunnel.
I wish I could say that there is an “aha” moment and porn addiction disappears. But like any good thing in life, breaking free does not come easily. It took countless confessions, prayers, removing temptations, check-ins with my close male friends, and intense mental battles before I was free. The funny thing is, I can’t even tell you a specific day of when I was finally clean. It is one of the most impactful moments of my life but I honestly think that speaks more to the nature of overcoming porn. One cannot simply wish porn away or go through some brutal “detox” program and expect it to be gone in a matter of days. It is a series of battles that must be fought, one by one, as the individual gradually undergoes a dramatic paradigm shift. I did not “defeat” my porn addiction by mustering up enough will power to shut it down; rather, I eventually got to the level spiritually, physically, and mentally where I realized that there is so much joy to be found elsewhere.
Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying you can just “think” addiction away. As I said before, it is a day-by-day process that takes immense self-mastery that can only come through God-given graces. I struggle to put the transformation that I went through into words, but the closest I can get comes from an amazing book, The Soul of the Apostolate, by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard.
When there is a question of detaching a soul from sin or of leading one from fervor to perfection, the love of Christ is always the best means of all. A Christian who has sunk deep into the mire, yet who is able to sense, in another, the presence of a burning love enkindled by invisible realities, and who, on the other hand, considers the deception and hollowness of earthly loves, begins to feel intense disgust at sin. He has understood something of God, something of Christ’s immense love for his creatures. He feels within himself the stirrings of the latent grace of his baptism and First Communion. Christ has appeared to him, living and real, for the love of his heart has shown itself through his minister’s countenance and voice. The sinner has caught a glimpse of another kind of love, one that is pure, ardent, and noble, and he has said to himself: ‘So it is possible, after all, to love on this earth, with a love that transcends the love of creatures!’ Yet a few more intimate manifestations of the God of Love through his herald, and the soul will emerge from the mire in which it was held fast and will no longer fear the sacrifices that must be made to acquire the love of God, which, up until that time, had been something almost unknown in its life. (164-165).
While I apologize for the lengthy quote, the entire excerpt is essential in describing my transformation. So often people view porn addiction as something that needs to be beaten out with deprivation and negative actions. While it is vital to remove obvious temptations, it is just as vital to the process to come to a fuller realization of what love is, especially God’s love. As stated above, I began to sense a supernatural, burning love for my friends that I desired more than anything – even the temporary dopamine rush of porn that I could not stop craving. As I felt the “stirrings of the latent grace”, I saw how much fuller love really is, “pure, ardent, and noble” and, consequently, how artificial and dead the “love” the pornography industry claims to have is. My eyes were opened to so much truth, goodness, and beauty rather than the deception, evil, and ugliness that had enveloped me before.
I have no doubt that it is possible for Christians and non-Christians to overcome pornography addictions. Speaking from my life experience as a Catholic, it has been a fulfilling process to return to God, particularly in the Sacrament of Confession, to beg forgiveness and receive robust strength from His heavenly graces. Just as the emergency room doctors and my eye doctor provided the much-needed expertise that I initially refused, the Divine Physician touched my soul and gave me exactly what I needed.
Once I overcame this terrible habit, my eyes were opened to some of the root causes of it. While my unfortunate eye incident led to a discovery of blepharitis, the spiritual growth needed to overcome porn led to a discovery of so many flaws beneath my surface. Self-awareness is difficult yet vital for anyone striving for wholeness; it is humbling but at the same time it is necessary to grow in virtue. When I look back and reflect, every major life mistake that I’ve made has exposed some vice in my life that I need to work to remove. There’s a virtue to combat every vice and learning from my mistakes is the first step to growing in virtue. It is certainly a process, but one that is made so much easier with good, accountable friends like the one I mentioned earlier.
I know my metaphor about the wood chip in my eye isn’t a perfect parallel. But I hope that perhaps it helped someone reading this to make a connection between my story and yours. Don’t get me wrong, this is not some shining testimonial about how I “beat porn forever” but rather a testament to how God gave me exactly what I needed to grow out of my addiction and how I responded. It’s a constant battle but once you have the tools to fight it then it becomes so much easier.
I’m not sure where everyone that’s reading these words is at on their journey with struggles like these. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to mine and have been “clean” for some time now. Maybe you’re in the middle of a porn addiction. Maybe you’ve never even been exposed to porn (praise God for that and do everything you can to keep it that way). No matter what, we are all on this journey to wholeness together.
So lean on your friends and family for help, fill up on grace, humbly search yourself for wounds to repair and love yourself and others, not in a hollow, objectifying way, but with an authentic sacrificial love.