Reprinted from Hamodia
I’m a twenty-one-year-old yeshivah bachur. I went to prominent American yeshivos all my life and am now learning in a famous yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. Modesty aside, I was at the top of my classes and shiurim, widely respected by my friends and rabbeim. I planned to learn many years and go into chinuch. I would find a perfect shidduch quickly, some rosh yeshivah’s daughter, raise a beautiful family, and spread nachas all around. A perfect life awaited. I was the frum community’s model son. As far as anybody knows, all this is still true.
When I was in the first year of beis midrash (age sixteen), my parents brought the Internet into our home, and my secret life began. To condense the story, I was very quickly hooked on devarim assurim. (Let’s not kid ourselves. Like every person on this planet, I was always curious, and all the blockers my parents set up fell away quickly, without their knowledge.) Like any person who becomes addicted to something, I quit many times, once for a whole year, for months, many times. I buried my head in the Torah to save myself as best I could. But it always came back. Going against everything I’d ever learned, I continued. I slowly trained myself to shut God out whenever I wanted to. That led me to more and more aveiros, Rachmana litzlan.
Without going into detail, suffice it to say that I’m terribly ashamed of myself, because I am not a loyal Jew anymore. But all this is secret. I allow none of it to show through. As much as I want to help myself, I’ve realized I can’t, but I can’t get help either. I can bring myself to discuss my dark side with no one. The only difference between me and others who went off the derech is that because I am afraid to face the people who would lose respect for me, I pretend to toe the line. And therefore, I am unhelpable. There are, hundreds, maybe thousands of yeshivah guys who are seriously addicted to a secret life such as mine. I know. I see it. It takes one to know one. You can imagine what kind of rocky futures are awaiting us.
I read all the Jewish Observer articles on the evils of the Internet. I want this letter to be published to say, you have no idea how prevalent and far reaching the effect already has been, and will continue to be. What you do see is less than the tip of the iceberg. My question to you is, how do I get out? Is this a behavioral addiction that only a psychologist could help? Can I turn to a rebbe (and avoid involving my parents)? Or is there a way I can help myself? Without being overdramatic, you are reading the last gasp of a drowning soul.
Rabbi Twerski Responds
The community owes you a debt of gratitude for your courage in bringing up a very severe problem. Your personal experience strongly reinforces the alarm by the gedolei haTorah about the dangers of the Internet. The words of Shlomo HaMelech certainly apply here: “Those who go there do not return; they will not reach ways of life” (Mishlei 2:19).
It is important that people who use the Internet for business purposes (in accordance with the guidelines set by gedolim) should not give in to their curiosity for even a single time. You are absolutely correct in calling the Internet indulgence an addiction. Once a person is exposed to it, it is like taking a powerful drug, which can addict a person in a single use. From there on, the person may be sinking in quicksand. As in your case, struggling against the addiction is like struggling to emerge from quicksand. One is truly helpless, and the Internet can pull one down into physical death, as well as spiritual death. One must avoid it like poison.
In addition to its toxicity, any behavior done in stealth that one would not do in presence of others is essentially a denial of the presence of Hashem.
You raise the question, what can those people do who have tragically fallen into the trap? Again, the similarity to other addictions provides the answer. Addiction to alcohol or other substances generally does not respond well to psychotherapy or psychiatric medications. The most effective help is with a support group, when people who share a common problem get together to share strength, hope, and courage. “One person shall help his fellow, and to his brother say, ‘Be strong’” (Yeshayahu 41:6).
The problem is that because a person might fear that attending a support group may expose his problem, there may be resistance to attending one, which might provide the most hope for help. While this is understandable, the consequences of not overcoming the problem are far worse. Furthermore, if Yankel meets Moshe at a support group, he is not going to tell anyone, because he does not wish to reveal that he, too, has this problem.
Very few therapists have had training in this particular area, but efforts are now underway to correct this, with the guidance of gedolim.
Rabbi Twerski read out the letter from the young man above at a parlor meeting for GYE in 2010 and commented as follows (verbatim):
I had nothing to answer him. Guard Your Eyes wasn’t around then. This was before GYE’s time. If I get this letter tomorrow, or something like this, I have an answer for him. There are very few people to whom I can refer to in terms of therapy, but even a good therapist in addiction can do nothing without a powerful support group. That’s the nature of addiction. That’s true of alcohol, of drugs, of food addiction, of compulsive gambling, of lust addiction, and it’s true of this. But to make matters worse, we don’t have many therapists that are adequately trained for this. And if I get a letter like this tomorrow, I have somewhere to send them to. This letter was extremely provoking to me because I felt helpless. But that was years ago. But now I can do something about it. Baruch Hashem, we have Guard Your Eyes.
Having had some experience in addiction, I know that addictions never stay still; they always progress and get worse. And unfortunately, in many addictions — in alcohol and in drugs, we can’t do anything until the person hits rock bottom. He has to get into some kind of crisis. Unfortunately, I know the crisis is going to come, and again unfortunately, by the time the crisis comes, the family life may be over with. The number of divorces that are resulting from women feeling betrayed because their husbands are looking at inappropriate material is very high. It’s very, very difficult for that kind of wound to heal.
But for those who are interested in getting better, we now have a source of help in Guard Your Eyes.
It is so difficult for a person to go to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous; they don’t want to be seen or identified. Imagine if they have to go to a meeting where there is going to be a clear identification of their involvement in a problem of lust addiction. And not all of these young men can be sent to SA.
By the way, why am I saying “young men”? Women are falling into this as well! I got a letter from a frum woman, it was a typical letter like the ones I just read, but she ends with, “I am not a young man or a yeshivah bachur, I’m a frum woman with a sheitel, and my children all go to yeshivos, but I need a computer to run my business.”
So maybe the prevalence among men is greater than among women, but it’s a problem with both genders. But who is going to go to a meeting of SA and identify themselves?
Furthermore, not all of these people need SA. You know, it’s like sending a criminal to jail where he can learn more things about how to commit a crime. And if you have somebody with an earlier problem with lust addiction, like inappropriate material on the Internet, if he picks up the wrong company, he can get worse.
So, Guard Your Eyes has a method: to put people in touch with each other in such a way that they can remain anonymous. You can have group meetings without anybody knowing who you are. You can talk to people to give you chizzuk. And there is now a part for the spouse of the Internet addict, to help her with what she has to go through, and hopefully to be able to save marriages.
There is one letter that I did not bring along, from a young man who says how wonderful it is that now their marriage is back on track, and as a result of Guard Your Eyes, their marriage has been saved.
We are talking about an affliction that is hitting thousands of families, and if it is not going to be addressed, if it’s going to be swept under the rug, not only will the families suffer, but the children will also grow up in undesirable conditions.
I don’t know if there has ever been a more serious problem in klal Yisrael’s kedushah than that which we have now. And the only weapon we have against it, the only one, is Guard Your Eyes. And that’s why it’s a pikuach nefesh.
So, I believe that anybody who has a cheilek in this mitzvah is really doing something for netzach Yisrael. And it’s everywhere, the idea of doing away with the Internet is like doing away with the telephone — it can’t be done. We just have to find methods of being able to save people, and that’s what we are here for.