Paola is a woman from central Italy. The name is fictional, and we will not mention the city in which she lives, to respect her request for anonymity.
We will only say that she is between 40 and 50 years old and today lends herself to interviews and private meetings to help others. She likes giving her testimony as a recovered person in order to prevent those who listen to her from making the same mistakes she did, or to prompt any listener affected by the same disease to seek for help.
As soon as she sees me, Paola smiles. And I understand that it's the smile of someone who made it, of someone who made it through the dark tunnel, of someone who has many "thanks" to offer.
Because Paola really did end up in a tunnel that led her to despair: she became addicted to sex, after having started, just for fun, to join chatrooms that were open to everyone and which are accessible with disarming ease. The Internet was her trap. "We shouldn’t demonize this tool. It also has good potential” –says the therapist who assists us during the interview and wants to emphasize this point-, “but we must be aware of the dangers."
And with us, she breaks through an open door: in Family and Media we are well aware that the Internet can be a valid tool for simplifying everyday life and even be educational, but we also know that it can cause tremendous damage in various fields, even in the intimate sphere of people (on the scourge of pornography read for example: The trap of pornography, Interview with Prof. Thomas Lickona , or Pornography and Violence, Is there a Connection? )
Those empty loves that leave a scar
Paola is a mother and has a husband who loves her, and yet, at the threshold of middle age, her inner sufferings, that were there and never really solved, came to the forefront. Additionally, Paola goes through a very dark time, carrying with it great stress. Her father becomes ill, so she takes care of him up until his death, which truly disorients her.
She feels worn out, lost. Her life seems to be devoid of stimuli and so, just out of curiosity, she says, she decides to "look for something that makes her feel alive." She starts looking for sites to "make friends," and meet people. "I admit that initially I wanted to have a new experience. I wanted to see what it would be like to be with a woman," she says with complete frankness.
Then, the vortex: Paola was sucked in by a tornado bigger than her.
Addiction Makes You Lose Touch with Reality
Soon a "game" turns into an obsession. She would stay online day and night. She could no longer free herself of it.
Those sites, those conversations with strangers for Paola became a drug. She never knew who she was dealing with and was sometimes frightened by this; but, the adrenaline, the excitement that provokes certain conversations, was too strong and it became increasingly difficult to resist.
Moreover, that screen seemed to protect her, seemed to assure her that nothing bad could happen.
Everything seemed to be under control. "Yet, it wasn’t so. I was afraid. If you enter such a world, you can't help but see dangerous situations… ." She stops as if not wishing to talk about it, and I respects her silence.
In fact, Paola no longer was at peace. She could no longer spend time with her family. Her husband, meanwhile, noticed the discomfort and will be the key element of this whole story: he would do everything to ensure that Paola agrees to get help.
From an Empty Love to a Proof of Love
If a lack of love has led Paola give herself to anyone and not recognize her immense value and to give herself to poisonous relationships, an act of love has saved her. Her husband, who could not prevent her from slipping, did not abandon her to the illness. With an extraordinary lucidity and care, he first forgave her for those repeated betrayals and then tried to help her recover from what he understood to be, in fact, "an illness." Yes, there are not only addictions to gambling or drugs. You can also become addicted to sex.
Mauro - a pseudonym - contacted a facility that helps people with various kinds of addictions and brought his wife there, supporting her throughout the process of healing. He took an active part in the therapy.
He stood by her - even "in dark times" when so many others would have walked away.
Paola's eyes are watery when she talks about her husband. "He's a very strong man," I tell her. She nods and smiles.
She knows very well that he is one of the many people to whom she has to say thank you. But there have also been other important people who have helped her on her way to recovery, without whom she would not have that smiles that exists today. They are the operators of the facility where she went to detoxify herself, and the therapists, who combined professionalism and sweetness in order to help her reach a new self-awareness and free her from this prison.
"I'd like to tell everyone not to look for love that way."
"Ask for help if you're sick, but don't do what I did. Initially, it may seem normal, harmless. But it's not. You'll end up destroying yourselves”. So Paola answers the question "What message does she want to send out, so that others don't end up in this trap?"
She says she's worried about how easily you can get sucked into a bigger world than we are: "To my son's friends who post photos of themselves in their bras, I'd say, be careful!"
Paola knows today that the web is full of wolves and that young people are fresh meat, ready for slaughter. She wants to tell everyone, especially the girls, to protect themselves. She recommends not talking to strangers, not seeking affection from those who do not actually give it. The body should not be sold out, but guarded. And we must only ask for help from trustworthy people, not from fictitious profiles, behind which unscrupulous people or, perhaps, even more fragile than us hide themselves.