He Who Would Save His Life

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 shts 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.

1 Prime season for both lust and depression! Whee, good times.
2 Which usually boils down to the desire for love — so, happiness again.
3 I owe this insight to a good friend, whose shoulder I have not only cried on but actually gotten snot on more than once in the last month. Thanks, dude, and sorry about the snot.
4 I mean, any other kind of addict. I do think depression can be a kind of addiction.
5 Thanks for @neillvspage for that one.

27 Comments on “He Who Would Save His Life”

  1. Thank you for an openness that enlightens and reassures! Your faith is comforting, and it reflects trust, love and a living relationship with our Lord and His Mother.
    As usual, a ‘AAA’ post! Thank you.

  2. Greg says:

    As someone who suffere from almost the same I appreciate what you have shared. At this time of the year after all the Holy Week and Easter ceremonies Depression rears its ugly head like the great black dog brooding by the door. I have to believe that it is Christ’s resurrection that has made all the difference.

    It has dissolved the bonds of original sin and opened the door to a new life, a life in which each of us can truly leave behind the chains of sin and selfishness in all their forms. The Resurrection is the key that opens the treasure of hope for each of us, no matter how mediocre, hypocritical, or self-absorbed we have been and tend to be. The Resurrection puts all good things within reach: wisdom, patience, joy, fortitude, self-control – in short, it makes holiness and lasting happiness possible for us.

    I have to believe this because I have to share this with others, that is what the Church is telling us: hope in Christ, leave everything aside to follow him, and he will work wonders in your life. It’s hard O God it is but I have no other alternative and so I often pray the old hymn “Nearer my God to Thee”

    Sorry for going on…

  3. I heard an interview with you on Catholic Answers Nov 1, 2011 (TuneIn Radio app). Interesting interview and brave of you. I have met many religious guys and have learned so much through the years. I also made an interview with a gay Catholic priest in Stockholm in the late 90’s for my anti-discrimination website (now down), and what I have found is that people growing up in a religious environment often are split into on the one hand, their gay identity/personality and on the other hand their religious belief. How have you handed this “enigma”, or perhaps you have come over it well, as I could hear from your interview. I’m curious to know where you are today, I mean in yourself. You have some good, deep thoughts on your blog, would like to learn more about your life journey. I was an evangelical Christian for many years (Pentecostal) but had to leave and now, may years later I have embraced Judaism. Do feel free to read more on my blog http://t.co/TeK25Ip.

    1. Hello M.O.T.,

      May I ask what your name means?

      Thanks for writing. I won’t answer at length here, but if you want to continue the conversation by email, that would be fine with me (steve-dot-gershom-at-gmail-dot-com).

      I’ve never had much of a gay “identity”, though there are certainly some aspects of my personality that it’s taken me a while to be comfortable with — sensitivity, introspection, even sentimentality — and I guess these might fall into that category.

      Insofar as it’s been tricky for me to integrate these parts of myself, though, I don’t put it down to Catholicism, but to certain elements of my upbringing which made me unable to “be myself.”

      Nowhere close to a complete answer but maybe it will do for now!


  4. Rachel says:

    Great post, Steve.

    What really strikes me is the contrast of the worldview to the God view, if you will. The world encourages extreme self-sustainability (only we can fight our own battles, e.g.). While an independent and strong spirit are great, without God it is useless and lonely.

    The more we pray and get closer to God, the more we realize we are nothing without Him. In a documentary about Carthusians, the monks make a pit stop during a hike to pray. The narrator said that to the monks, prayer is like breathing. They could not go without it for very long. That is an amazing image. Our bodies need to breathe to stay alive, but our souls need to pray to do the same.

  5. B says:

    as a post-partum mama for the 5th time, your solution works so well. for me, so does telling satan ,”shut-up, i’m too busy for you.” and turning around and saying, “Jesus, i trust in you to get my back.” sometimes i have to repeat it like a mantra, but He never lets me down.

    *yes, this was typed while nursing the baby. i still capitalized Jesus, so i win.

  6. Ron says:

    Excellent, as usual, Steve! It’s been about 2 months for me for both porn and The Other Thing, since the beginning of Lent. My strategies similar to yours: I told a bunch of people what I was “giving up” for Lent, and they held me strictly accountable. It would have been quite humiliating for me to tell them I gave in after all their encouragement and prayers. And, my the grace of God (certainly not my own strength), I’ve been able to continue into this Easter season. Is it tough? Yes. Is it doable? Absolutely!

    I often tell guys I chat with that living with SSA is a one day, one hour, sometimes one minute at a time deal. The key is not to walk the journey alone.

    1. Mary says:

      Ron, I am so utterly struck by how similar your efforts to not act on your SSA were to my years of struggling with severe bulimia.

      It was a minute, by minute, day by day battle. It got easier to not act out, but the thoughts were still there….so for many years I was “clean” but my thoughts were not clean for years….then gradually they subsided. Occasionally (rarely really) the stinking thinking rares its head, but I am so much stronger now.

      I wish you well.

  7. Sky says:

    “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.”

    “…it feels good to understand and be understood.”

    ’nuff said. Thank you again, Steve.

  8. Sky says:

    K, I lied. One more quick thing.

    I was just reading the interview you gave in August 2010 for Faith & Family, and I can’t help noticing how many thoughts you’ve had that I’ve had: how we think of homosexuality/gender as a kind of spectrum, how the Church’s teachings needn’t change but its approach to the topic should, how you can’t pray it away but you can pray to make it better. Here we are, similar in a big way, but I’m only twenty years old, so very far behind….

    So I wonder if that’s ever crossed your mind – that some of us see you and your blog and your wisdom and think, “I want to be like X, but X has been himself for twenty-some years already.”

  9. Brother B says:

    I am thinking that “squillionth” is about the best new word I ever heard!

    As for temptation, kudos to you, Steve, for stating how important it is to cut temptation off at the roots. I have learned that as soon as I even see someone who is even remotely interesting-looking, I have to immediately avert my eyes and say a quick “Hail Mary”. Since I started to do this over a year ago, any strong sexual temptation has failed to overcome me. As St Thérèse of Lisieux would put it: “Have courage… run away!”
    Keeping you in prayer,
    Brother B+

  10. Ann says:

    Hi, Steve,
    Love your blog, and it looks like you’ve read some wonderful books! Have you read the books by Leanne Payne on these subjects? She’s prayed with people with SSA for many years (before it was an issue), and has some great insights into just what you’re talking about. Someone who’s walked where you’re walking, and wrote another good book about his journey is Mario Bergner, with “Putting Love In Order”. Maybe you’ve already read these, but just in case….

    1. Thanks, Ann. I’ve read one of Leanne Payne’s, and I did find some good insights in it. I’ll have to look into the Bergner you mention.

  11. Betsy Stokes says:

    Thanks so much, Steve for your blog! You are right. We all have struggles. And those who don’t are honestly not very interesting. 🙂

    For me, it’s my type-1 diabetes that I struggle against. The enemy hounds me; I fight a pity party. I want to eat whatever the h@ll I want to eat and not have to answer to my husband and children for eating myself into the grave. I think it would be easier to stop making all these “good choices” all the time.

    Then again, I don’t face ignorant judgment for it like gay men do. Except one time from a fundy who, God love her, meant well and really wanted to help me “believe” my pancreas back to life. 🙂

    I’m praying for you and being inspired by you! Love, and see you in heaven.

  12. Victor says:

    Betsy: Ha! People sometimes tell me that since they have urges, they have to act on them because it would be unnatural to suppress them. After all, we know what is good for us. I tell them in return that persons suffering heavily from Diabetes still sometimes love to eat a huge piece of cream cake although it is really bad for them. Thanks for confirming my (up to now largely hypothetical) position!

  13. zaidagal says:

    Steve – Im really enjoying your blog – great stuff! Listen Im hoping you can point me in the right direction. I am an almost-catholic (currently episcopalian) but have been getting private instruction from a priest and might be confirmed next month. My one struggle – very big struggle – is the issue of sexuality. I just cant find it in my heart to believe same sex relations are disordered, and my lack of acceptance of Church teaching makes me wonder if I can in good conscience be confirmed. Do you have any good reading material you can recommend? Also, how easily do you relate to your non-catholic gay/lesbian friends, and handle differences of opinion – Im just wondering how people retain strong relationships with others, if such core opinions about life choices differ? Thanks for any help from anybody!

    1. B says:

      I just wanted to chime in and recommend you ask your priest about this. As a confirmed Catholic I have had many things taught by the Church that I have had to grapple with. Sometimes I have had to simply pledge obedience for obedience sake with this prayer, “Jesus, I trust you. I trust your Church. I don’t understand this teaching but I will defer to the Church on it. Please help me understand this teaching better when you deem I no longer need the exercise of obedience in this matter.”

      I think it’s really important to my spiritual journey to show that I really am willing to trust the Church is who she says she is. Often I’ve found that I find the answer I’m seeking very quickly after praying this prayer. This might allow you to be confirmed.

  14. Betsy Stokes says:

    Thanks, Victor! Glad I could help.

    And I wanted to add that the “Hail Mary” is wonderful for good food choices as well. So is the Eucharist, of course. So simple, yet just what I need.

    Steve, I told my dh about your blog last night, and he can’t wait to check it out. Thanks for being such an honest voice (and a lovely writer).

  15. Erin says:

    Hi Steve!

    First of all, I want to say thank you for your blog. It’s helped me with my faith, because you really know what you’re talking about. You’ve made my love of God stronger.

    Second of all, I loved this post! Because I had suffered with this (before) for a long long time. Lust and depression- all because I’ve never had a boyfriend… and I would go through weird phases of feeling I would always be alone.

    The way I got over it: I went to confession and admitted the “Other Thing” and watching those bad things.
    And? I’ve gone…. I think 8 months without it and I’ve only felt SLIGHTLY tempted here and there. It’s amazing the power of the Sacraments.
    It also helps that I don’t want to be the awkward creeper returning to confession only to say, “Well Father, I did it again… what a fail.”

  16. Paul H says:


    Sorry, this doesn’t have a lot to do with this particular post, but I didn’t see any contact information on your site, so I am adding a comment here.

    I wonder if you would mind to write a post with your thoughts on how best to address bullying and ostracization of homosexuals? I recently had an online conversation with a gay gentleman, who thinks that the only way to put an end to bullying of homosexual persons, suicides by homosexual persons, etc. is for society to approve of homosexual acts and relationships. (This would include re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples, having churches no longer teach that homosexual acts are disordered or sinful, etc.) I made the point several times that it is very possible to oppose the bullying and ostracization of people who identify as homosexual, without approving of homosexual acts/relationships/etc. (and that in fact that is the Catholic position on the issue, which I try to follow). I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this, if you care to write a blog post some time.

    1. Hi Paul,

      This is something that I’ve thought about, but I don’t think my thoughts are coherent enough for a post yet.

      If you do want to email me, feel free: steve[dot]gershom[at]gmaill[dot]com. I always respond, though it often takes me a while.


  17. Caitlin says:


    This is so awesome. I am such a worrier and it is out of control. And I worry that I worry, and I feel guilty that I worry. Definitely going to give this technique a try. Keep up the awesome posts.


    p.s. my made up big number word is bagillion…. but squillion is so much better.

  18. Ron says:

    @ Caitlin: squillion times better than my usual expression of “a zillion and two”

  19. chuck says:

    Have you considered that your true identity is God’s beloved son? When you let that sink into your heart (not just your head), I think you will experience less depression and will find you begin to look at things differently. Henri Nouwen’s book The Life of the Beloved helped change my life year’s ago. There is a relationship between identity and authority. Our decision is “who do we listen to?”. There are basically two choices. We can listen to the quiet voice of God telling us how much he loves us, or (by default) we listen to the noisy voices of this world telling us we’re no good unless we can prove otherwise. Who we chose to listen to is who we give authority to define us. I’m glad you’re choosing to listen to God. Once that realization sunk into my being, I finally understood what Jesus was doing (Matt. 21:23 ff) when the chief priests demanded to know by what authority he had thrown out the temple merchants the previous day. His question to them (“Was John the Baptist sent from God or Not?”) forced them to admit to themselves that their true center of authority was not God at all, because they valued their social status and the praises of men more. So they refused to answer publicly. Jesus follows up with a parable about a father and his two sons, making the point that what we actually do, not what we say, is the important thing.
    Your efforts to stop temptation immediately is exactly what Jesus says to do in the Sermon on the Mount. After talking about murder and anger, and then how those “lustful leers” also corrupt he says: “If you want to live a morally pure life, here is what you have to do. You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you find it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump, than your entire being cast in the dump forever.” (The Message). Emotions are powerful. You seem to be following Jesus’ advice. Good for you! Keep listening to the voice of the one who created you and remember each day that your real identity is God’s beloved son. He always has our best interest in mind. The world doesn’t.

  20. Ben says:

    Steve, you are super. Keep blogging. I dig it. I will pray for you, and I ask that you remember me.

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