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From fear to hope, overcoming pornography addiction is possible

Couple shares story to help those suffering

Steven Croshaw was 36 when he determined he could no longer live a double life.

He had hidden his addiction to pornography from his wife, Rhyll, and their family for years. Now he had made up his mind; he was determined to come forward. It was the hardest thing he had ever done.

Rhyll and Steven Croshaw stand outside their home in Mapleton, Utah. After struggling with Brother Croshaw's addiction to pornography for decades, they found recovery four years ago and now want to help others know that hope and healing is possible.
Rhyll and Steven Croshaw stand outside their home in Mapleton, Utah. After struggling with Brother Croshaw's addiction to pornography for decades, they found recovery four years ago and now want to help others know that hope and healing is possible. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

To this day, the words "I need to talk to you" still burn in Sister Croshaw's mind.

"I told her essentially everything. ... It was this huge shock to her. She had no idea."

Simply said, Sister Croshaw was "blown away." She wondered what had happened to her life.

"I was very quiet and cried a little bit. I thought, 'I don't know what to do about this.' "

'Out in the Light'

Sadly, the Croshaws' story is replayed each day in homes across the United States.

Today, 47 percent of families in the United States report that pornography is a problem in their homes, according to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, an Ohio-based non-profit organization working to promote Christian values.

While dealing with her husband's pornography addiction, Rhyll Croshaw found strength from story of a brave handcart pioneer.
While dealing with her husband's pornography addiction, Rhyll Croshaw found strength from story of a brave handcart pioneer. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It is not a surprise considering the breadth and reach of pornography. According to Enough is Enough — a Virginia-based non-profit organization formed in 1994 to make the Internet safer for children and families — worldwide pornography revenue is estimated to be more than $97 billion dollars with $13 billion of that spent in the United States. The porn industry in the U.S. rakes in more money than ABC, NBC and CBS combined. Every second, 28,258 viewers are watching pornography and 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines, and every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the United States, according to Enough is Enough.

Recently Deseret Media Companies — Deseret News and Church News, KSL-TV, KSL Newsradio, Deseret Digital and Deseret Book — rolled out an initiative to educate, direct and unite women whose husbands have a problem with pornography. Through the initiative — titled "Out in the Light, women uniting against pornography" — Deseret Media Companies will combine resources to shed light on this problem that is impacting families. For more information about the initiative go to www.outinthelight.com.

'Something was wrong'

The oldest of nine children, Sister Croshaw attended Montana State University and met Steven in 1973. They married in the temple a little while later. During the next two decades, seven children joined the family. "I was raised with no television in the woods in Montana. … I didn't know anything about pornography or sexual addiction for many, many years. I had no clue at all of his behavior, past or present."

But she did know almost immediately that something was very wrong in her marriage. "There was an emotional disconnect that I didn't expect."

Instead of talking to her husband, she blamed herself for the problems and then focused on their children.

"I thought I had too high of expectations," she said. "Maybe I was expecting this romantic perfection. I was really hard on myself."

A betrayal

Dorothy Maryon, a licensed professional counselor with the LifeSTAR Network in Salt Lake City who specializes in counseling the spouses of those who compulsively view pornography, said it is a betrayal for women to discover their husbands have been looking outside the marriage for sexual gratification — even on a computer screen.

"I can't overemphasize the trauma part of it," said Sister Maryon. "It changes the way they view their partner. The damage that has been done changes the way they view themselves."

She said the vast majority of the women she works with have multiple symptoms of trauma.

"It creates a relationship for her that feels very unsafe," Sister Maryon said. "She wonders what is real. She doubts her own intuition, her own judgment. … It throws her faith into crisis. She views her body differently. She asks herself, 'How can I compete?' "

'I looked at it'

Steven Croshaw was about 6 years old when he first found a pornographic magazine in his brother's chest of drawers. "I remember very distinctly, when I found it I knew that it wasn't right, but I looked at it. It was something so different from anything I had ever experienced before."

Steven took the magazine to his mother. He told her where he found it. "She thanked me, I guess, for giving it to her, but we didn't talk about it. It was something we never talked about, in fact."

After that he stumbled across other magazines. "I would look at them. That was the last time I ever gave them to my mother."

As he grew, he became more involved in pornography. "I occasionally spoke about it with friends who participated in the behavior. But I didn't speak about it with Church leaders. I didn't speak about it with my teachers at school. It was just something I did privately."

He said the more he viewed pornography privately, the more he withdrew publicly.

Ultimately, he left college, found a job and moved to Montana.

That is where he met his wife.

"I brought into the marriage this behavior and I didn't tell my wife about it," he said.

Destroys families

Jill C. Manning, a marriage and family therapist in Colorado who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the harms of pornography in 2005, said when a North American woman — who views herself as her husband's equal — learns he has been viewing multiple images of other women, it is a sexual, emotional and spiritual betrayal.

"We have ceremonies called weddings that give witness to the exclusivity of that relationship," Sister Manning said. "We are to cherish and honor one another. The sexual relationship is the one thing that makes that relationship different than any other relationship."

She said pornography use is not just a bad habit, but something that has systemic rippling effects.

"We know that pornography is intricately linked to organized crime, prostitution, sex trade, sex tourism and it forms an evil web of oppression and abuse and crime that too often we don't discuss because we're uncomfortable associating, linking, this pornography use to those wider spheres of effect," Sister Manning said.

At home, she added, it destroys families.

She believes there is a disconnect in the thinking of married men who view pornography — which objectifies women for their own pleasures.

"I do not understand how human beings can be using and denigrating women in one area of their life and claiming to love and cherish a woman in another area of their life."

Dual life

Dan Gray, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the LifeSTAR Network in Salt Lake City, said many men who compulsively view pornography are very good at compartmentalizing their life. "They have a dual life going on."

On one side a man can be outstanding in his community or church, a good dad and a provider. "But on the other side he is engaged in pornography or other sexual behaviors that he has been able, for a period, to keep separate or secret."

Talking about the problem is often something these men do not want to do. They become ambivalent.

"If you disclose it and bring it forward, you are going to have to face the reality of having to curve this out of your life," Brother Gray said.

But eventually, he added, many men with this problem get tired. "The dual life is very draining," Brother Gray said. "It is emotionally exhausting. It is hard work to cover the lies and the deceit."

Many wives of those dealing with pornography also get tired of keeping up a good public face when their private lives are in crisis, he said.

"Most women can say, 'I can deal with him, even if he has a relapse or a problem. What I can't deal with are the lies and the secrecy.' "

Resolve did not last

Brother Croshaw's resolve to stop viewing pornography did not last. He enjoyed a few years of sobriety before the habits returned. "I know exactly the first time that I acted out again after coming forward," he said. "I know where I was and I know exactly what I did. I know the feelings that I felt."

He was so ashamed that he became more determined than ever to hide and lie.

It would be 10 years before he would come forward again.

He quit his job to eliminate the need for out-of-town travel and moved his family.

His wife became hyper vigilant in her quest to find the family help.

Thinking of the story of a pioneer woman who carried her husband in a handcart when he could no longer walk, Sister Croshaw determined to carry her husband through recovery.

Although the process of drawing strength from a strong pioneer woman was helpful to her, it wasn't helpful to her husband.

He was uncomfortable in therapy and 12-step groups. "When I went the first time I thought, 'Wow, I don't think I really belong here.' " Brother Croshaw said. "I did, but I didn't realize it. So I went to two or three meetings, then I stopped going."

Three years later he slipped back into the behavior.

By then, Brother Croshaw said, he felt hopeless. Filled with shame, he continued to hide until 2005, when he determined he would come forward one last time. "When I made the decision that I would come forward I knew that I had made it in my heart because the feelings that I had changed. They changed from fear to hope. And they changed from the attitude of can't do, to can do, and that I must do."

There is hope

Experts who treat those who compulsively view pornography agree: Pornography is destructive to individuals, marriages and families.

They also collectively agree on something else: For those who suffer, there is hope.

"Is recovery possible?" asked Brother Gray. "Absolutely. Exclamation mark!"

Brother Gray said healing happens as people are engaged in the principles of intervention and work with their bishop, a therapist and a 12-step group.

"It is hard work," he said. "It takes a willingness to do the work."

And, he emphasized, it takes time. "Sometimes there are relapses. You need to be patient. But healing is absolutely possible and we see it all the time. We see many people who overcome this problem and become better people because of it. We see relationships heal.

"They feel free from the bondage of this — no more lies, no more deception, no more shame. When they start to taste how good it feels to be free from the bondage of these chains, there is a sense of well-being. It is a wonderful thing to see that freedom."

Donald L. Hilton, a medical doctor specializing in neurological surgery in San Antonio, Texas, is author of the book, He Restoreth My Soul, a blend of scientific and spiritual advice for overcoming a pornography addiction.

"Can a person completely heal?" asks Brother Hilton, speaking of individuals devastated by pornography use. "The answer is unequivocally yes."

He calls pornography as addictive as any drug. "Is it destructive?" he asked. "Absolutely."

Pornography, he said, is "emotionally devastating" to a person. Worse, he said, its impact is growing.

"I think the days of sitting back and saying, 'It's no big deal. This isn't going to reach out and touch my family.' Those days are gone," he said. "We live in a new reality, in a new world and we have to prepare for it. We don't wring our hands; we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

Recovery is possible

Brother and Sister Croshaw recently started a foundation, S.A. Lifeline, to deliver "a message of hope that recovery from pornography addiction is possible."

In the space dedicated to the foundation hangs a large print of the painting "Gently Up the Stream," by Linda Curley Christensen. The picture illustrates two people rowing separate canoes. Upstream from the rowers "is beautiful light and trees and it just looks so inviting," said Brother Croshaw. Down stream, however, is a dark place with a large drop off, rapids and big rocks.

The print was a gift to the Croshaws from their son. The painting contains a message that still resonates with the entire family. Both Brother and Sister Croshaw have to make an effort in recovery and each has an individual role.

"I am not paddling her canoe and she is not paddling mine," he said. Instead they are each moving in the same direction, side by side. To reach the beautiful place they seek, both have to keep moving forward, he explained.

For the couple, recovery is a place of humility and honesty, Sister Croshaw said.

Sometimes she looks at the painting and thinks about a moment in a therapist's office five years ago.

"Can you stay with this man as long as he is in recovery?" the therapist asked Sister Croshaw.

"If he is in recovery? I don't know what you are talking about," Sister Croshaw told the therapist. "I have never seen recovery. How will I know?"

The therapist didn't hesitate. "You will know," he said.

"To this day, I trust those words," she said.

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