In light of a recent IsraelNationalNews.com article on Internet pornography, I decided to come out of the closet - or in my case, the garage - by confessing my shameful personal nightmare, in the hope that my experience will help others escape their own cyberspace hells.
"Anon Y. Mous"Anon Y. Mous is our way of letting you know that this is worth reading, even though we don't know who wrote it.
I can attest to Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi's assertion that the problem of Internet pornography is not limited to Jewish teenagers, and that "respectable" and frum [religious] adults like me are not immune to the temptations of nocturnal surfing. Probably like me, many of the Internet's victims never dreamed that they would fall into such a terrifying web of pollution and deceit. But this is exactly what happened, suddenly, after fifteen years of a happy marriage, in a modern Orthodox, New Jersey community, where I worked as a successful accountant.
It all started when the company I worked for ran into some financial problems and I was laid off. At first, I didn't panic. We had some money in the bank, and I looked at the layoff as a chance to catch up on some work in the yard and at the synagogue, where I had been serving as treasurer for the past several years. But when two months passed and I couldn't find a new job, I started feeling nervous and depressed. My wife complained that I was coming down on her with greater frequency. When she became fed up with my gloomy moods and outbursts, she decided to take the kids to her mother's for a few days.
Meaning that I was a bachelor, alone in the house, with a computer.
I guess that was all that my evil inclination needed. I was doing a job search in my makeshift home office in our two-car garage when some foolish whim flew into my brain and got me to type a dangerous word on the keyboard. I told myself I would just have a peek to see what it was all about. Of course, I had heard about the problem of pornography on the Internet, but I had never been drawn to it before. What can I say? I was startled. Amazed. Blown away by this exciting, forbidden world at my fingertips. With a racing heart, I typed in other words, and made more brazen searches. My forehead was sweating.
When the telephone rang, I almost fell off my chair in fright, as if I had been caught in the act. It was my ten-year-old daughter, calling to wish me goodnight. Did I ever feel like a bum. But I was hooked. I kept on, eyes glued to the screen, driven by some monstrous passion. The next thing I knew, it was four in the morning. I had been transfixed in my chair for six hours. Horrified, I shut down the computer, closing the lid on the Pandora's box that I had opened, hoping to trap the devilish genie inside.
A few hours later, the alarm clock woke me in time to make Shacharit prayers at the shul. But on my way to the car, the genie got me again. Laying my tefillin aside, I switched on the computer. With a terrible guilty feeling, I sat down at the screen and typed in words and phrases that I had never dared utter with my lips. I didn't eat. I didn't pray. With a racing heart, I stared and stared at the erotic images, knowing that I was doing something terribly wrong. But I was driven - unable to stop.
When the doorbell rang, I panicked. I sat frozen at the computer, feeling like a burglar in my own garage. Without breathing, without making a sound, I waited for the intruder to go away.
Then, I remembered that the computer saves everything, so I frantically started to trash all of the endless lists of embarrassing internet history files that I had created. What would be, I thought, if my wife suddenly came home and caught me in this adulterous sin? But when the evidence was erased, I started up once again. All that day and night. I am not sure if I even ate. I know I didn't sleep.
When my wife got home, she found me crashed out in bed in my clothes. I told her I was feeling sick. I was unable to look at her, as if I had truly committed some terrible sin.
That's how it was for the next several months. I lived the life of an adulterer, hiding my horrible secret, hardly able to look my wife in the eyes, ashamed to face my kids.
But the burning shame didn't stop me. Every opportunity I had, I was back in the garage. I told my wife I was searching for a job on the Internet, tracking down all possible openings. During the day, I would go for a drive to get out of the house, telling my wife that I was going to job interviews. I felt like a chronic gambler, sneaking off to make an illicit bet; like an alcoholic with a hidden bottle. I hated myself for lying to her, but what could I do? I didn't know how to stop. As far as I knew, there wasn't an Alcoholics Anonymous for Adult-Site Surfers like me. I would run away from the house to get away from the madness, but the minute I came home, I was back in the garage. My children complained that I was hogging the computer, so I went out and bought them one of their own, to keep them away from mine.
Believing I was suffering from depression, my wife begged me to find work, any work, before I went out of my mind. She even suggested I speak with a shrink. Our intimacies ceased. I felt so low and loathsome, I couldn't bring myself to be with her when my mind was filled with so many haunting images.
There is no point in prolonging the story. On the Sabbath, I had a break from my madness, but come Motzei Shabbat, I was back in the garage.
One night, I turned around and was shocked to see my fourteen-year-old son staring at me in wonder.
"Damn!" I screamed. "Look what popped up on the screen!"
Wildly, I smashed at the keyboard, trying to wipe out the image. Finally, I yanked out the plug. "Now you know why I don't want you on the Internet," I yelled, leading him back into the house, as if he had done something wrong, not me. The boy was speechless. He started to cry.
My God, what am I doing to my family, I thought?
"You wouldn't believe the pornography that popped up on the Internet," I told my wife, to provide myself with an alibi before my son told her. "We have got to get a server with a censorship device to protect the kids."
I guess that's when I hit rock bottom. I felt so ensconced in impurity that I wanted to jump into a mikvah [ritual bath]. But the mikvah in our community is only opened on Fridays for men, and that was five days away. So, I got in my car and drove out of town to a small forest lake.
"Please, God," I begged. "Help me to get out of this mess."
It was close to midnight when I parked by a secluded edge of the lake, stripped off my clothes to total nudity, as is custom when going to the mikvah, and dove into the water. I immersed myself again and again, trying to wash off the insanity that was enveloping me. Then, from out of the sky came salvation.
When I got back to shore, my clothes weren't there. Back and forth, I ran along the beach, searching and searching, but nothing was there. The only thing the thief had left behind was my cellphone. Standing there naked, without clothes, without wallet or identity, I knew that it was from God. I knew with a soul-shaking shudder that the horror and humiliation I felt had come to cleanse me, to make me understand how far I had fallen.
I had no choice but to phone my wife. I told her I had gone for a swim. That a thief had stolen my clothes and the car. I huddled alone, like Adam, shivering, hiding naked in the bushes, until she arrived. She gazed at me like I was crazy. What could I say? We drove back home in silence. Her eyes were filled with tears. That's when I made the decision to stop.
The next day, I went to the rabbi and told him my tale. Like an alcoholic at an AA meeting, I came totally clean. I told the whole story. For the first time in months, I felt a sense of relief. He didn't give me a sermon. He didn't have to. He told me to come every morning for Shacharit prayers and invited me to learn Torah with him for a half-hour each day. By the next day, he had found me a job with a very good firm. He never said a word about the computer, as if it never happened.
It has been over a year now since I broke the habit. I go to the synagogue every morning and learn Torah for a half-hour with a friend. In the evenings, I learn Torah with my son, and three times a week with a neighbor. For now, the evil genie is back in the bottle. To be sure he stays there, I switched to a porn-free server. I can't say that the temptation has left me completely, but knowing that I have to face the rabbi in the morning keeps me out of trouble. And things, thank God, are good again at home.
So that's my story. I am sure there are many others like it. I was lucky. God answered my prayers. This Hebrew month of Elul [the month of repentance preceding the Rosh HaShanah holiday], if you are one of the anonymous victims of the Internet, may He answer all of your prayers, too.