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Utah couple learned recovery from porn addiction is possible

Published: Friday, Sept. 24 2010 9:00 a.m. MDT

Rhyll and Steven Croshaw pose for a portrait in front of their home in Mapleton on a recent Saturday. The couple struggled with Steven's pornography addiction for years until they found recovery four years ago through therapy.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rhyll Croshaw couldn't answer the therapist's question: "Can you stay with this man as long as he is in recovery?"

At that moment, she didn't know if she wanted to save her marriage or not, but that wasn't the cause of her confusion.

The problem was more basic: After more than 30 years of living with her husband and his pornography addiction, she wasn't sure what recovery was.

Steven Croshaw had already confessed his secret life to his wife twice before. Each time, years went by before she learned the behaviors hadn't gone away.

Now they were back in therapy again.

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

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

Recovery is possible

Rhyll is one of thousands of women in the United States affected by their husband's pornography use. According to the Witherspoon Institute based in Princeton, N.J., a growing body of research suggests that the habitual use of pornography — especially Internet pornography — can damage people of all ages and both sexes, hurting relationships, productivity, happiness and the ability to function in society.

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?" said Dan Gray, licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of the LifeSTAR Network. "Absolutely. Exclamation mark!"

Gray said healing happens as people are engaged in the principles of intervention and work with a religious leader, 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."

A way to peace

It is the first-hand knowledge that pornography can be overcome that inspired Mapleton residents Rhyll and Steven Croshaw to share their story publicly for the first time in today's Deseret News. "There is a way to happiness," she said. "There is a way to peace."

Rhyll wishes she had known that years ago.

The oldest of nine children, she attended Montana State University and met Steven in 1973. They married 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."

Keep battling

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

It is no surprise considering the breadth and reach of pornography. According to Enough is Enough — a Virginia-based nonprofit 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 looking at pornography and 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Every 39 minutes, a new pornographic video is made in the United States, according to Enough is Enough.

Todd Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the LifeSTAR network, said despite the gloomy statistics, there is great reason to hope.

"Recovery is possible if the person works hard, is transparent — which includes honesty — and they keep battling," Olson said.

Didn't speak about 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, Steven 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."

Steven 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 Rhyll.

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

A new reality

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?" says 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 said. "Absolutely."

Recent science, he added, has vindicated those who, for years, have noted that natural addictions, such as compulsive pornography use and drug addictions, behave the same. "Now we know that functionally and physically they are very much the same," he said.

"In the past we'd look at sexual addiction and say, 'Well, it's a behavioral thing we should just stop.' Why don't they stop? Why don't they think about it a little bit, change their behavior, pray harder and quit? Some are able to do that. But a majority find that, like a yo-yo, the forsaking part is very hard to accomplish and they go back."

That's because overcoming compulsive pornography often requires professional help, he said.

"Unfortunately, many who struggle with pornography and sexual addiction will go to multiple leaders and seek spiritual help and that's important but, with an addiction, it's not enough," he said.

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."

A double life

Steven thought that marriage would satisfy all his sexual needs and that pornography would no longer be a part of his life. But "what I hoped would be the case was not. I began to live very much a double life," he said.

Looking back today, he sees he wasn't willing to give much of himself in his relationship with his wife. "I was unwilling or unable to put myself 100 percent in our relationship and I know that was a very difficult thing for Rhyll."

Then when he began to travel for business, the behaviors intensified. He began to carry the burden of his actions.

"I determined at about age 36 that I could not continue in this double life. I had hid it. Rhyll knew nothing of the behavior. So I determined that I had to come forward."

Talking to his wife, Steven says, was one of the most challenging experiences of his life.

"I told her essentially everything. I can remember it being a lifting experience for me, more so than I thought that it would be. But I could see obviously how challenging it was for Rhyll. It was this huge shock to her. She had no idea."

Rhyll said to this day, the words, "I need to talk to you" still bring "fear to my heart."

"I was blown away, not with anger. It was, 'What has happened to my life.' I was very quiet and cried a little bit. I thought, 'I don't know what to do about this.'"

He felt hopeless

Steven'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.

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

Rhyll 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, Rhyll 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 Steven.

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.' " Steven 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, Steven 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."

'Out in the Light'

Earlier this year the Witherspoon Institute undertook a multifaceted, multidisciplinary, scholarly exploration of pornography and the Internet age.

"Widespread pornography consumption appears to pose a serious challenge to public health and to personal and familial well-being," according to the executive report detailing the social costs of pornography. "With concerted action from legislators, the therapeutic community, educators, policymakers, and responsible corporate leaders, however, some of the negative effects of pornography consumption can be combated."

Steven and Rhyll agree.

The couple recently dedicated space in one of their commercial buildings to their foundation, S.A. Lifeline.

The Croshaws started the foundation to deliver "a message of hope that recovery from pornography addiction is possible."

In the space 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 Steven. 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 Steven and Rhyll 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," said Steven. 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, Steven explained.

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

Sometimes she looks at the painting and thinks about the moment in the therapist's office five years ago when she couldn't define recovery.

The therapist had promised her then that she would recognize recovery when she saw it.

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

e-mail: sarah@desnews.com

Talk about it

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 she has discovered five common factors that are healing and helpful for women whose husbands view pornography. She summarizes the needs of these women with the acronym CAVED:

Connection. It is helpful for women to connect with resources and other people — including qualified, trained professionals —? who can help them navigate the crisis.

Advocacy. Women should find someone that can help them stand up and say, "This has got to stop," Manning said.

Validation. Women whose husbands compulsively view pornography need someone to validate their feelings of hurt, she added.

Education. Education, said Manning, can help women depersonalize the situation and see what recovery looks like. "It is so important that women get resources, get good information that can help them know where to go, what to do and that this is not their fault."

Direction. Women need a place to turn for help, including reading lists or support groups. "In our society, generally speaking, there is still this outdated thinking that pornography is harmless, a form a free speech that needs to be protected at all costs. And even though we have mounting research showing how harmful and destructive this material is, there are still too many who downplay and minimize what this material is and what it is doing." But we must talk about it, she added. Pornography, Manning said, is a dark, heavy subject. "It is not one of those subjects people wake up in the morning and want to think about, want to talk about."

Talk about it

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 she has discovered five common factors that are healing and helpful for women whose husbands view pornography:

Connection. It is helpful for women to connect with resources and other people — including qualified, trained professionals —? who can help them navigate the crisis.

Advocacy. Women should find someone that can help them stand up and say, "This has got to stop," Manning said.

Validation. Women whose husbands compulsively view pornography need someone to validate their feelings of hurt, she added.

Education. Education, said Manning, can help women depersonalize the situation and see what recovery looks like. "It is so important that women get resources, get good information that can help them know where to go, what to do and that this is not their fault."

Direction. Women need a place to turn for help, including reading lists or support groups. Heady

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