He Who Would Save His Life
Apr 21, 2012
Question: What do depression and lust have in common? Quick answer: everything.
But wait, lust is fun, and depression isn’t! Lust is when there’s something you want to think about but shouldn’t, and depression is when there’s something you don’t want to think about but can’t help it. Right?
Sort of. I remember being sixteen1 and wondering, already for the squillionth time, how I could get out of the impossible hole I was in. Everybody else seemed already to know who they were, and to be more or less happy about it. Whereas I was constantly in flux, because any time I’d see somebody who seemed happy, I’d try and figure out a way to remap my life to make it more like theirs.
It’s exhausting, reinventing yourself every day or two, and it’s depressing, because you’re always years behind: I want to be like X, but X has been himself for sixteen years already. And, of course, it never worked.
So I tried an experiment. I’d give myself two weeks without plans, stratagems, maps, or plots. Two weeks in which, to quote Thurber, I would Let My Mind Alone. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, back to strategizing.
What a relief it was! I think I lasted all of three hours.
But it was a pretty good three hours. Looking back on it, I see one reason it didn’t last: trust. I trusted God about as far as I could spit a rat. I was certain that if I lost focus on my own happiness, disaster would strike. I knew he wasn’t going to take care of me, so I’d damn well better, the only way I knew how.
★ ★ ★
Present day, I’m sitting in the chapel and thinking about how I haven’t looked at porn in just over six months, and haven’t done the Other Thing in about four. I remembered what got me here, and that it wasn’t willpower or cleverness or strength. It went like this.
- On a daily basis: meditation on chastity from Clean of Heart
- On a weekly basis: accountability to Father T., and most importantly,
- On an hourly, or minute-ly, or second-ly basis: Ask for my Mother’s help the moment temptation shows up, before I have time to think about whether it’s a good idea.
That’s the gist of it, but the whole thing is here. What amazed me then and now was how quickly and utterly each and every temptation vanished — if I asked for help right at the beginning, instead of waiting for the hurricane to build.
So it occurred to me, Why not try the same thing here? Because lust and depression tell the same lie: Grab it now or you will never have it. Whether it is happiness or sex,2 the principle is the same.
It’s paradoxical but it’s true: some of us hold on depression because we want desperately to be happy, and the only way we [think we] can get there is to force the issue.3 God won’t take care of you, says the enemy, the liar. He only cares about spiritual things; he doesn’t give two sh★ts if you’re miserable, so long as you’re holy — whatever that means. So if you want to be happy, you better see to it yourself.
So, like suckers, we give in to worry time and again, until that mental fissure is worn so deep that we’re trapped in our own habits as surely as any addict.4
So I’m trying a new strategy. I got ahold of a book of 50 meditations designed for the purpose. I don’t care if they’re corny, I don’t care if they’re poorly written — Clean of Heart was both — I’m gonna read them all. And most importantly, every time some worry suggests itself, I won’t give it a fighting chance. Doesn’t matter what it is: You’re too far behind to ever catch up, or You’ll never shake this, or You need to rethink your entire life, right now — the answer will be the same.
The answer: “Mo-ommm! He won’t leave me alone!” And she’ll arrive, just like she promised, just like she did last time.
Will the pain go away all at once, and will it go away forever? So far, no. But, like the AA-ers say, One Day at a Time, one prayer at a time: taking every thought captive for Christ,5 and giving myself a little room to breathe.