I want to take a few minutes and tell you a little bit about who I am am and what has made me who I am today. My prayer is that through my story, you will be encouraged if you are going through some difficult times yourself.
I have had a pretty easy life, compared to others. My parents are still together, I grew up in church and I always had food on the table. I was and still am extremely blessed. My hardship in life was easily hidden and from the outside it would have looked like I had the perfect life. I got really good at hiding the things that were affecting me, even my parents didn’t know for a long time.
It started when I was about 10 years old. That year was a significant year because it was the year my parents got us internet at the house. We had AOL dial up and it was exciting. Everything was great for a while, then one day I accidentally typed in a web address wrong and it took me to a website I never knew existed. The website opened a whole new world to me that I had never even expressed interest in before. I experienced pornography for the first time in my life and I was hooked immediately. Little did I know, the next 17 years of my life would be a battle that I would concede defeat to almost on a daily basis.
By the time I got into high school, I could barely go a day without getting a “fix”. I became extremely proficient at hiding it from everyone, but inside I felt like I was dying. I knew it wasn’t healthy and I knew it was wrong but I justified it because it wasn’t hurting anyone else, no one else knew. Little did I know at the time, it was severely warping my view of what a relationship should be and how to value a woman. It taught me that woman were an object not a person, and objects don’t need to be respected, only used.
I knew it was wrong, I had been told it was by my parents and pastors; not that they knew I was doing it – just in general. I figured, it wasn’t hurting people, I was just watching it and I wasn’t acting on it. I actually held that part of it on a high pedestal for some reason. Looking and watching was ok, but I didn’t want to physically do any of it.
Fast forward to my first year of college, 2003. It was truly the first time I had been sort of on my own, away from my parents. My school was about an hour from home so I came home a lot on weekends. I got really involved in my home church and our youth group. I became a youth leader and thought I was doing what I was called to do. I went to college as an engineering major and a youth ministry minor. I thought I was where I was supposed to be, all the while still struggling with my addiction.
Now growing up in my church for as long as I did, I had a lot of friends. One of those friends, a girl, became really interested in me and I in her. She was still in youth and I wasn’t anymore, I was her youth leader. We let ourselves get into a situation where our desires got the best of us, we didn’t have sex, but it was enough to make her feel guilty about it when she was at church the next week. She went up for prayer and told the youth leader she was praying with about what happened. As a responsible leader, the lady went and told the youth pastor. I was immediately called into the pastor’s office and we had a “talk”.
It didn’t matter who initiated the girl and I’s encounter, I was the leader and to make an example to others and as a reprimand, I was asked to leave the youth group and to never come back. To say I was devastated, is an understatement. I went back to school the next week and I felt like I had lost my purpose. I was a youth ministry minor. How can I be a youth ministry minor and have been kicked out of my youth group for “inappropriate behavior”? I became extremely depressed, I stopped going to church, I started being very introverted – even more than normal. I never left my room. Finally a friend convinced me to go to my home church again, main service not youth. I went, reluctantly, and sat in service between my friend and another friend, who was a girl. During service when I had left to go the bathroom, the youth pastor’s wife came up to me and said, “I saw you sitting in service with “so and so, ‘the girl beside me'” and I am watching you.
I left the service immediately and left back for school. I wondered why I had ever agreed to go back. I felt like being judged and thought of as “that guy” was something I didn’t deserve. I became hard and resented the church. That week at school, I dropped out of my minor because I felt I had lost my purpose and I wasn’t worthy of even being in that minor.
Looking back, I can see that my addiction to pornography directly resulted in me losing my purpose in life. I viewed my actions as justified. I didn’t have respect for those around me. It just happened to be that the first time I acted on them God allowed me to get caught and so severely that it shocked me awake.
I wish I could say I changed for the better, but my view shifted. I was good for a few weeks or months, but after that, I decided that pornography was bad and I needed to quit. To justify quitting, but still fulfill that desire, I became a “player” if you will. I knew I was good looking and I used that to my advantage to get what I wanted. I used women. I still, in the back of my mind, held the actual act of sex on a pedestal but that’s about it. I justified what I was doing saying, I’m not looking at porn, but a new habit took it’s place and it was even worse than the first one because it didn’t involve just me. I hurt people a lot, I used them, I didn’t care. I was only on a mission to serve me.
I can remember the day I realized what I was doing. The day I got hurt so bad I realized how I was hurting others. I was dating this girl and I can say for a fact, it was the first time in my life I was truly in love with someone. One day out of the blue, she decided that she was done and without any warning to me she declared it was over between us. I was devastated, demoralized. I hurt so bad and God used that moment to speak to me. He revealed to me that what I was doing and how I was living was hurting people and destroying me at the same time. I realized that these women I had used were hurt and it tore me up inside.
I took actions to change, I stopped trying to talk to women all together. I sought out those I had hurt and tried to apologize to the ones who would let me. Boy does God sure know how to humble a person when they need it. I started talking to mentors and pastors and chaplains. I started reading books that pertained to my situation. I can say there was one book that absolutely helped change my perspective about everything. It is a book called “Every Young Man’s Battle” written by Fred Stoeker, Steve Arterburn. It opened my eyes to just really how I viewed women. It helped me understand that I wasn’t alone and there is hope. I still have my copy of that book to this day.
I wish I could say I never looked at pornography again after that, but it is a battle. One I fought off and on for a long time. I took actions to prevent it as best as I could but I would fall. Through constant awareness of where my mind is and the situations I put myself into, I can proudly say it’s been over a year now since I have watched or looked at porn. I never thought I would be able to utter that sentence in my life and without a doubt, I would never be able to say that sentence under my own power. It is truly by the grace of God I have what I have in my life, that I am getting ready to marry the best thing that has ever happened, outside my Savior, to me. That I have an outlook on woman and my relationships with others of utmost respect and the thought of porn or using a woman repulses me. That I undersand what it means to be a man in every sense of the word and not the definition the world says a man is, but what the ultimate MAN set as an example for us to follow. I wouldn’t be who I am today without going through what I did and the experiences I did. I wouldn’t have the view of this life I do and the people in it. I thank God everyday for helping me and spurring me on to be a better man. For giving me a great support group of guys and especially for helping be the man I am in preparation for this beautiful woman I am marrying in two months. I can’t imagine dragging her into my mess as it was as short as a few years ago. I know I am still vulnerable and always will be. It’s part of being a man in this sinful world; but if I focus on my relationship with God and my soon to be wife, pray, read, have mentors and be honest, God will give me all the strength I need.
Shifting gears, you are not what your past says you are. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it is the same as mine or completely different. Your past helps make you who you are today but it does not define who you will be. I encourage you to do some soul searching, to figure out exactly who God wants you to be. To find out what point in your past was the defining moment that got you to where you are today. Take ownership of who you have been, whether it be good or bad. Accepting your mistakes is sometimes the first step to change.
I would like to end this talking about the title of my post, At My Darkest. That line is part of a lyric from a band I used to listen to. the full line says:
“Son, I love you at your darkest”
That line is something I have repeated over my life for the last probably 15 years. It reminds me that, no matter where I am, even at my darkest, God still loves me no matter what. He is right beside me and I have hope; there is always light up ahead, to never stop looking for it and striving to live up to the example He has set for me.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” – John 10:27-29