Escaping Porn Addiction (Eli Nash)

Eli Nash giving a Ted Talk on how he got free from porn after many years of being addicted.
Eli Nash delivering a Ted Talk on his inspiring recovery from pornography.

For Eli Nash, it all started with a lingerie magazine that arrived in the mailbox unexpectedly. As a child, he was simply no match for pornography’s allure. Pornography gave him a safe feeling that contrasted with the chronic discomfort he had grown accustomed to, but it always left him feeling worse than before. Eli became an addict, and every year made a promise to himself on his birthday that he would ditch the habit for good. However, it wasn’t until he found the courage to share his struggle with his therapist and meet other people who were in the same boat that he was able to overcome his addiction.

Eli’s goal is to never watch pornography again. And his mission is to share his story with the world in order to transform the shame that keeps so many people in the dark. Transparency has been a big part of Eli’s recovery process, and it can go a long way for anyone reading this. I’ve transcribed the inspiring Ted Talk below.

Eli is the CEO of JEG & Sons Inc. (mobile company) and Co-Founder of MicDrop (professional services company).

Transcript:

Sharing our hardships moves us through shame and into healing, both for ourselves and others. About a year ago, I’m sitting in my conference room with a couple of my employees, and one of them asks me, “Eli, what’s your goal?” “You mean my goal for this meeting?” I asked. He says, “No, I’m talking about your 10-year goal.” I looked him straight in the eye, I said “My number one goal is to never watch porn again.”

Both of them were shocked. I’m sure it wasn’t the response they were expecting. The first one kind of mumbled something like, “Is porn really that bad?” When I turned to look at the other guy, his face went from shock to judgment, then to disgust. Almost as if to say, “What’s wrong with you? What sort of pervert are you? How much porn much you have watched for your number one goal to be to never watch porn again?”

Why is there so much shame around porn addiction? Anyone who understands addiction understands that shame and addiction are inseparable, but if we were to stack the different addictions, and rate the one that has the most shame, certainly we’d put sex addiction, and included in that porn addiction, at the top. All of us, certainly me, have been at dinner and a friend would say, “I’m not drinking anymore.” Others would say, “I don’t gamble anymore.” But I haven’t met one person who publicly acknowledges the fact that they’re sober from porn and/or sex addiction. So now you guys have met someone.

You know the thing about shame is that shame is much bigger than addiction. According to some psychologists, shame is the single biggest cause of most averse psychological problems. So it’s certainly an issue that’s worth addressing. And if there’s an idea that can make a dent in the amount of shame we feel, certainly it’s an idea worth spreading. Fortunately, there are many subjects that were once steeped in shame and stigma and today are much less so–domestic violence, even HIV, child sex abuse, and many others. And what I’ve seen, and I think you’ll see if you look at it, for a conversation to change it needs people to share their stories, so we’re able to humanize people who once had this issue.

Take Ryan White, whom many of you may know. He’s a 14-year old kid living in Kokomo, Indiana, who got HIV from a blood transfusion. He completely shattered the stigma of what we thought someone who had HIV was–a 14-year old kid who got it from a blood transfusion. That’s not what we thought. The bill that Congress passed that funds the help & awareness around AIDs is actually called the Ryan White Care Act. It’s those personal stories that really allow us to change conversations and change stigma.

My only life, several weeks ago–you know I grew up Jewish and Orthodox. And I know many rabbis. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know of one who publicly acknowledged being sexually abused as a child. And several weeks ago, there was an article in a newspaper in Utah where a rabbi publicly acknowledged being abused over a 10-year period by his nanny. He credited his own willingness to step forward to hearing Ali Raisman, the Olympic gymnast who testified against her abuser in court–to him doing the same. Several weeks later, the second rabbi I know stepped forward. The rabbi in Utah was invited to speak on a podcast, and his host, a rabbi in Brooklyn, became the second rabbi I know, who publicly acknowledged being sexually abused. Sharing stories changes the conversation.

Porn kicked my ass, but before I tell you how I met porn, let me bring you back to who I was. I grew up one of 9 children in a small community in Brooklyn, New York. From a very young age, I felt a lot of fear. I felt on edge. Something was going to go wrong, always. The one place I didn’t feel this way was in the home of my grandmother. As soon as I stepped through the threshold of her apartment, it just seemed like the noise stopped. I wasn’t worried about something else happening. I was just present. And I looked forward to those times we went to her home. Unfortunately, over the years she grew ill. And our visits to her home became less and less frequent as did my feeling of safety.

The very next time I remember feeling safe again was when an older boy in the community 5 or 6 years older than I was took a lot of interest in me. He took me to baseball games. He took me to synagogue. He taught me to play computer games. And one day he brought me into his bedroom, locked the door, and used my 8-year old body to bring himself to orgasm. And on that day, again, my safety was shattered.

The next time I remember feeling that familiar, or not-so familiar, feeling of safety. That feeling that I was once again in my grandma’s home. I was sitting on my couch and I heart a clink in my mailbox–something was delivered. I ran over and I saw a catalog with a picture of a nice-looking woman on it. So I flipped through it, and I made my way to the lingerie section, and as soon as I saw those pictures, I just felt this peace come over me. I was present, I was completely there. And through this magic mailbox came all sorts of things. It became somewhat of an obsession of mine to check the mail. One day, Victoria shared her secret with me right through that mailbox. And then the highlight of my year became–some of you may know this–the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. So much peace, so much safety.

But despite the fact that I felt good when I was engaged in viewing these catalogs, I felt really bad afterwards. I felt like I was doing something wrong. And I wanted to stop, and I promised myself that every year for my birthday–every year for my birthday I promised myself I’m done. I’m done watching porn. And every year on my birthday I broke my promise to myself. It’s not because I wasn’t committed. I really really really wanted to.

As a matter of fact, when I was 22 years old I woke up one morning with an irritated eye. It was bothering me pretty badly. So I made an appointment at the eye doctor and I went to Mt. Sinai Medical Center on Miami Beach. When I sat down in the chair and the doctor rolled over his stool and looked at my eyes through the machine, a look of concern came over his face. He said, “Eli, you have a corneal ulcer. I’ve looked at your chart–you’re allergic to some antibiotics. Ulcers are notoriously resistant to antibiotics. That’s not a good thing. They can cause blindness. What I’m going to need from you is to come to my office every single day for the next 14 days so we can monitor how the ulcer is reacting to the antibiotics–is treatment working.”

I left his office in sheer terror. I was convinced I was losing my eyesight. And I was further convinced that the reason I was losing my eyesight was because I was misusing my eyes. I was watching way too much porn. That moment I made a deal. I made a commitment with the universe, with God, with karma, with whoever had this power. That if somehow, someway this ulcer would clear up, I would never watch porn again.

The second day I returned to the doctor, no improvement. When I left his office, my commitment was that much stronger. That much more firm. I was never going to watch porn again if this ulcer would clear up. The third day, I came back to the doctor, he looked at me, and he said, “I got good news.” He thought he was sharing one piece of good news with me, but he was really sharing two. He shared with me that the ulcer was responding to the antibiotics and that I’d be OK, although he did want to see me. He did want to continue to see me. But the second piece of good news was that I was done with porn. I had a deal–it was over. I was never watching porn again. I left his office ecstatic. I never felt so good.

My friends, I did not last one week away from porn because it’s not about commitment. It’s not about willpower. It’s not even about consequences. I was in a place where I was too uncomfortable too even ask anyone for help, to even talk to anyone about this. You know, if someone called me today and said “Hey Eli, I just went to an eye doctor, and I think I’m losing my eyesight because I watch too much porn.” One of the things, I would do is laugh and tell them you’re not going blind because of porn. If that was the case, you’d have a lot of blind people.

The statistics are pretty staggering. There’s a website, fightthenewdrug.org, an organization which combats pornography. Every year, they publish the year in review of porn. What did 2018 look like? 100 million people logged on every single day to see the nearly 5 million videos that were uploaded in 2018. That’s one video every 60 seconds or so. Which would mean that if I was to start watching the first one today, I would never have to watch the same one twice for 115 years. And that’s just one website.

So a lot of people are watching porn, but I wasn’t comfortable talking to anyone, so much so that eventually when I got into therapy–and I spoke to my therapist about everything. My childhood sexual abuse. My relationships, or lack thereof. My goals, my wishes, my desires, my work. I didn’t tell him anything about porn. I didn’t tell him anything about me trying and failing for so many years with it. It was too much shame.

5 or 6 years into therapy, I began dating a girl, who would one day become my wife. When I met her, she reminded me of my grandmother. There was just this similar feeling of safety and peace. And for the first couple months I was with her, not only did I not watch porn, I didn’t even think about it. It just felt like the obsession evaporated, it was gone. About 3 or 4 months into our relationship, we got into a disagreement. I felt uncomfortable, and I did what I’d been doing for years when I felt discomfort. I watched a little bit of porn. But I felt different this time. I felt so much more shame, and I knew that there was a lot more at stake. Before it was just about me. I had reason to stop, and I tried to stop, but this was going to jeopardize the relationship. And I certainly didn’t tell her about it. And as that secret grew between us and pushed us further away, I saw what I was risking.

I walked back into my therapist’s office and I told him the truth that I had been keeping a secret. I was watching a lot of porn and I really wanted to stop. To my surprise, my therapist suggested I meet with someone–of all people, another porn addict. I thought I’d get some advice from him, some suggestions, but no. He said the first thing I want you to do is meet this guy. I didn’t think–I want to be clear–I did not think I was a porn addict at that time. I wasn’t even sure that I thought porn could be an addiction. I’ve since learned better on both fronts.

But I went to lunch with this gentleman. When I sat down with him, I was surprised to find someone who was not only articulate and easy to relate to, he was also very accomplished. Very professional, successfully he ran a company with a couple hundred people, and as we spoke, he shared his story with me, and I found myself sharing more details than I’ve ever shared with anyone in my life, and in the process I felt the shame shifting. If we understand the science of shame, we understand why it was happening in that conversation. Dr. Brene Brown, the famous shame researcher, explained shame as a fear–the fear of not being worthy of connection. So when I’m sitting at lunch with someone, and of all things I’m connecting over porn addiction, the thing that has brought me the most shame. We understand why the shame would make way for healing.

He introduced me to a support group of many others who were also struggling with this addiction, and I was surprised at the people I met in there. Successful doctors, attorneys, people who had their lives together outside of this one area–not all of them, but a lot of them. And I learned a lot about why I was using porn, and I began asking my questions, “Why was I using porn? What are the reasons I’m going there?” versus “How can I get rid of porn?” The focus moved from porn to my own stuff. In a lot of ways I felt grateful for my addiction. I began to love it, except I hated one thing. I hated that it was a porn addiction. I thought why couldn’t I get another addiction? Why of all things was it this? I wondered what are ways we can change this?

I have a mentor and a teacher who says that if we see a problem and we dont’ see the solution, we’re the problem. But if we see a problem, and we see the solution, you got yourself a calling. So I knew the solution. The solution was for everyone in the support group to share their stories publicly. And if they did that, everyone would know what a porn addict is–and we’d be fine. But they didn’t. So I said, you know what, I’ll start doing it. So I began sharing in small ways. Sometimes one-on-one, like I did in the conference room with a couple employees that day. Some went better and some went worse. But I was enjoying what I was doing. And I said one day I’m going to do this in a more significant way.

About 6 months ago, the opportunity presented itself. Our company every year has an evening of story-telling. 7 or 8 employees get up, share their stories, share their message, and it really creates a strong family environment–family culture. It creates trust in there. And 6 months ago, I raised my hand and said I would like to share my story. So the facilitator asked me, what’s your message? What’s your topic? My message is the importance of asking for help when we’re in trouble, and my topic is porn addiction. You should have seen his face. You think you’re going to talk about porn addiction from that stage? I said yeah, absolutely. That’s my story. Eli, you’re the CEO of this company. People look up to you, people respect you. You are not talking about porn addiction. We went back and forth. Eventually the evening came, and I did not talk about porn addiction.

The next morning and over the next few days, I just felt iffy, maybe a little shameful. And I told myself that I’m going to share this from a much bigger stage. I’m going to share it from the biggest stage I know. I’m going to share it from the TEDx stage. Not only for the audience there, or the audience here, but also so that my story is on the internet. That internet–that magic mailbox which kicked my ass for so many years. Instead of being a vehicle of shame like it was for me. It will not be a vehicle of healing for myself and others. Because it truly is that. When we share our hardships, it moves us through shame and into healing, both for ourselves and others.

Not long ago, I received a text message. It read, “Since our conversation, I’ve been clean for 3 months. I haven’t watched any porn. I don’t remember the last time I was clean for a week.” I thanked him for sharing this with me because it feels really good when my story is not only accepted by someone, but they find it useful. It helps them. He followed that up with another text message. He said, “I’ll never forget who got me started.”

I pinched myself when I hear this thing because who got him started was someone who for so many years was so ashamed of this part of himself. So ashamed of the porn addiction. But one day I got so desperate that I asked for help and I was introduced to a community who shared their stories so freely and willingly with me. And in the process taught me such an important message–probably the most important message of all. My story is not only something to be ashamed of. It might just be something to be proud of.

So I ask you here, consider doing the same–talk about porn addiction. Consider doing the same. There’s no one here who has not experienced shame. There’s no one who has not overcome struggle. And there’s no one who does not have a powerful story to share. Because I can tell you this from my own experience there’s no better feeling than turning shame upside down, smashing it upside the head, and using it as a way to help others.

My name is Eli Nash, I’m a porn addict. And I want to thank you because there’s no better way I’ve found than this–sharing my story in front of an accepting room, an accepting audience. To give me the best chance of achieving my #1 goal–to never watch porn again.

Thank you so much.

Author: DL Admin

A Christian millennial passionate about seeing people live free from the harmful psychological and relational effects of lust.

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