Fight the New Drug

FTND status update that hit me real hard today and inspired this outpouring of real talk you’re about to read.

I cannot stress this enough: pornagraphy is dangerous. It is harmful. It is damaging. Pornography addiction is a very real thing– don’t be deceived, it is something both men and women  struggle with.

To be real with you? I used to struggle, too. It started small and grew into something more… at first I was disgusted and looked away. But there was something about it that drew me in deeper. Within weeks I was addicted to lesbian pornography. I went further into that realm of the Internet than I EVER intended to go. I even recall being so intrigued by the idea of being pleasured by another woman that I created dating profiles on sites strictly for women in search of others who just wanted sex. 

I was also drawing pornagraphy in the form of furry art. And for the longest time, I saw nothing wrong with it. Because friends were into it, I figured it was harmless…. but it hindered more than just my spiritual growth. I bought into the lie that it is okay to experiment sexually. I fell into the trap that so many others have. I saw how certain friends were living and began to grow curious. I delved into the world of lacy lingerie, adult toys and lubricants, bondage and even considered experiencing dungeon activities.

I had never felt so lost and empty. 

It bred insecurity. It unearthed new anxiety. It unleashed a part of me that I lost control of for a little over 3 years.

It wasn’t until I had women looking at my profile wanting to hook up that something broke inside of me.

It wasn’t until I caught myself lying to my mother about Pure Romance and why I was willing to sell it that I realized how far I had gone from the “good Christian girl” I was supposed to be.

It wasn’t until I proudly showed her the more “tame” of my scandalous art and hid the nudity and sexual scenes on a private Instagram account before I finally saw how I was appearing to others:

A hypocrite.

A sex addict.

A contributor to the sex and porn industry.

I called myself a Christian but I was living in sin. Not only on my own but with my boyfriend at the time. I was sitting in church, on the rare occasion that I visited it, pretending that things were fine. Every now and then, I would attempt to make changes but they never stuck.

“Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, not to awaken love until the time is right.”

– Song of Songs 8:4

I understand this verse now more than ever. There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11), including sex.

God designed sex! It is supposed to be a good and blessed thing– between a man and a woman who are married to one another. When you are deep in sexual addiction, it does something to you. You lose sight of what is “right and wrong”. All you care about is getting your fix, your high, your climax. 

Sex connects two people- two souls- mentally, emotionally and physically. A soul tie is created, or what scientists have called “sex glue”. Outside of marriage, this is dangerous! It complicates things.

In person, you are bonded with those you engage in sexual acts with once you’ve reached orgasm. It’s the same with pornography. You are connecting with an image on a screen in the most unhealthy and inhumane way….. and this is becoming the societal norm.

For years, this was my norm.

I felt broken and worthless. Porn didn’t make me feel any better about myself. It didn’t improve my life in any way. It didn’t help my self esteem. It landed me with an addiction that made me feel dirty. It made me feel like an object, cheapened to the status of just another sex toy- only slightly better than a blow up doll. And I let random strangers sext me and treat me as such. 

I was at an all-time low, and if you’ve been following my blog or know my story, you will understand how all of this and more lead up to February 9th, 2015.

…..

But God.

He brought people into my life who cared enough to be by my side and love me back to life.
God blessed me with a community of women from ParadigmKC who unknowingly gave me the strength to be vulnerable. Once I found my voice, I was able to overcome and recover, slowly but surely. 

Being heard and NOT judged was what I needed. Having others by my side who knew exactly what I was going through was what I craved- I was not alone. Hearing about their triumphant moments was encouraging. Seeing them live out life day by day, still struggling yet still holding on to the hope they had in Jesus was inspiring. Experiencing true biblical community lead to real life change for me, and I am forever grateful.

I am not the same woman I once was. And I don’t want to ever go back there.

I thought I could move past my pornography addiction on my own, but I am only as strong as my sinful nature and I failed time and time again.

I have only shared with a select few individuals in my life what my struggle used to be. I was terrified of being judged by the world…. 

But after more than a year of true community, I see the importance of transparency and vulnerability. You never know who may need to hear your story or see your scars in order to find their own voice, their own healing.

For years I had been ashamed of where I had been, who I was, what I had done…. I realize now that the past has no hold on me. Whether or not you, dear reader, decide to judge me for it is entirely your prerogative. 

Jesus Christ redeemed me from my past choices! It is all covered by His blood! In Him, I have been made new ♡

“If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

– 2 Corinthians 5:13-17

I share this part of my story now because it’s not about me

God deserves the glory for my story.

Because of God, I am not where I once was- extremely insecure, overwhelmingly depressed, addicted to porn and craving sexual attention, feeling hollow and alone. 

God saw me and met me in my messy life. He held me close and brought me to a place where I could find healing alongside other broken and hurting individuals. He sees you. He knows your struggle. Will you cry out to Him?

“In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. He reached down from on high alongside did took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”

– Psalm 18:6, 16

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Looking Back

Time seems to move at a more rapid pace as the years pass.

It can be rather easy to lose track of time, waste time, take time for granted, and even forget tidbits of time we once had. 

It can also be tempting to purposefully ignore the good times because in our minds, the bad outweighs the good. But is that really how things are?

All I have seen lately on social media are copious amounts of updates blaming 2016 for so many things: crime, death, failures, humiliation, racism, financial issues, relationship struggles, misery and woe, etc. Almost every post declared war on the past year and seemed eager to put everything behind them, making idle threats to 2017 that it had better be a “better year” or else.

As if that would change a thing.

This next year will be no better or worse than the last one without effort from us. As cliché as it may be, we have to be the change we wish to see (and I am preaching to the choir here, folks). No amount of complaining and passing blame will change much of anything.

Sometimes, life is extremely difficult. It can be painful and full of situations that seem to either make or break us. In my experience, it’s the reaction during the storms that make the most difference.

As I look back on 2016, I can hardly believe just how much really has changed. It was not an easy year. If someone would have had a written account made of my year and read it to me in January, I would have scoffed at them. I couldn’t have imagined my future without some of the people I had clung to so tightly. I wouldn’t have been able to dream up the different scenarios I faced and obstacles I overcame. There was absolutely no way I would have willingly let go of certain relationships and things. But that’s exactly what had to happen in order for growth to occur.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to havest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and and time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” 

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Some chapters have to come to a close in order for the page to be turned.

Even amidst the mess, there was beauty in 2016. Yes, there was pain, heartache, and loss. Brokenness and hatred seemed to spread like wildfire. Even so, if you take the time to really look? There was also love and life. 

Couples that had been trying for years one day woke up to the beautiful realization that their prayers had been answered and a new life would soon enter their world. Kindness was shared when people chose to see the good in those around them rather than accept the status quo of fear. Lives were saved by individuals who have dedicated their lives to protecting and serving others. Children in desperate circumstances found out that home isn’t so much a place as it is a new family who gets to show them every day that they are wanted and deserve love. Elderly couples celebrated anniversaries of well-over 60 years of dedication and hard work with one another. Lives were forever changed as children and adults alike fell in love with Jesus Christ. Mothers made the bold choice to give their baby life even though circumstances were not at all favorable. Someone decided to put down the blade and has gone 6 months without cutting themselves. A father chose to quit smoking for the sake of his children. A mother has been 2 months sober and has a new view of just how precious life with her husband and kids can be. A couple decided to seek help from pornagraphy addiction and are experiencing freedom for the first time together. Someone became a grandmother for the first time- others for the third, fourth, or even fifth time. A teen decided not to take their own life and is taking things one step at a time.

There is beauty even in the ashes.

I look back over this year and I see God’s hand in so many things. It almost feels like the events that occurred did so over a span of a few years rather than one.

February was hard. After celebrating a year of life on the 9th after my suicide attempt in 2015, I said goodbye to one of my best friends on the 28th… I had been convinced that I was going to marry him one day. But after 3 years, time seemed to move forward without that promise. I was living in sin, and as much as we tried, the cycle was never fully broken. God spoke to me through my community and while I loved him, I let him go. I honestly never thought I would make it out of that and find healing or love again.

God had other plans.

On April 2nd, I traveled back to the campus of my ex and that was one of the hardest days amidst my heart trying to find healing. But that day in itself was therapeutic. I had my sister and my parents by my side, and God saw fit to speak through me to a crowd of hurting individuals who had lost someone to suicide. I saw my ex volunteering, pouring into others. It was awkward, but it was necessary to see him and for him to see me. That was the last time.

Speaking to a crowd of around 300 people about my story, which cannot be told without Jesus Christ. It was an emotional day.

April was also the month I served alongside my sister and many others who participated in Love KC with Abundant Life. It was also the month my nephew Nikolai was born! It was a month of searching and growth, and moving forward.

Precious little Nikolai

May 1st, my parents and I took the Next Steps class to become members of Abundant Life. 

May 3rd, God and answered prayer from April 27th about funds for a mission trip. He came through and I was absolutely astounded by how He provided…. this was also the first day in a year that I picked up my alto saxophone and played.

May 7th, I spent the entire day with my brother, Jeremy, and my dad. We went fishing and I caught the only fish for the day. That was the first time since we were little that we spent quality time together. It was awkward but fun, and hasn’t happened since then but… I am hopeful. God can restore even the most broken of relationships.

My brother, Jeremy, and I enjoying the breeze at the lake.

May 15th, I became an official member of Abundant Life, my new home where God has me spreading my wings and growing roots.

June was an exciting time! 

From June 6th to June 10th, I went on my very first mission trip. My sister, Brianna, was right there with me. We went to Detroit, Michigan with a team of fantastical individuals and that was a pivotal time for me. Seeing the desperate situations and experiencing what it is to show love and overcoming racial divides was something I will never forget.

Our row of excited faces on the plane about to head off on an adventure to be living proof of a loving God to a watching world!

June 26th, Brianna’s birthday and the day of my third and final baptism. I was surrounded by loved ones as myself and 49 other individuals of varying ages were baptized in the Blue Springs Lake. It was a beautiful day and I will never forget that experience. It felt amazing to be out in nature, following in Jesus Christ’s footsteps- a picture of my old life dying and the new life beginning.

My mom captured my smile right after the public profession of faith. My heart was so full that day.

Even during the blissful and life-altering moments, I had weak moments, too. Moments where flesh won out. Moments where, despite my best intentions, I went against everything I told myself I would never do again. 

Never say never.

I met a young man at Paradigm. He was not who he appeared to be… and I was wounded in more ways than one after that brief and highly toxic relationship. Insecurities resurfaced and new ones formed after that door was closed… insecurities I am still struggling to stifle. However, I needed to go through that storm. I needed to grow and learn more about myself and God, and gain even more perspective. I thank God for that experience- there were sweet moments within the bitter. I discovered two toxic relationships because of my time with him and have since then moved on. God showed me exactly what I didn’t need and prepared me for what He had in store. He gave me comfort and reassurance that He would accomplish infinitely more than I could ask or imagine…

And He did.

August held so much growth within it. August 19th through the 21st, I experienced my first Paradigm Retreat: AWAKEN. Testimonies were shared, love and truth were spoken, bonds were made and chains were broken… Sky Ranch in Oklahoma will forever hold a special place in my heart. God is using a people at that place to rejuvinate His people.

The prayer walk at Sky Ranch in Cave Springs, Oklahoma.

Throughout the next few months, I experienced personal growth through Lysa TerKeurst’s Unglued and Uninvited. Those books and the studies that occurred because of them are such a blessing. Rejection and emotions can be hard to deal with, but God uses His Word and the words of His servants to reach the hearts of others… 

My baby, Chewy, and a few of my favorite things: my Bible, my journal, and Uninvited.

September 8th through September 10th, I experienced my first Women’s Retreat with Abundant Life: BRAVE. Oh my goodness. The amount of healing that occurred that weekend… my mother and I shared that experience together. I am so thankful for the growth that we have shared since then as mother and daughter.

The dynamic duo: my momma and I right before leaving for Oklahoma.
Conquering fears and embracing Joshua 1:9 at the BRAVE retreat. This rickety bridge was an obstacle on the hike up to the zipline.

October brought with it new challenges and experiences. As a result of a Digital Media and Design class, I had an internship that was interesting to say the least. God used that time to grow my spiritually and I am thankful for that. 

Sunday October 23rd, God brought a man into my life who has since then been showing me exactly what the answered prayers of a 5 year old girl look like… God has blessed this relationship. It has become abundantly clear to the both of us why we met when we did. It took two churches falling apart for us to meet. It took years of heartache and a lot of personal and spiritual growth to prepare us for one another. As we experience life together and talk about where we have been and where we are now, the things we both went through make sense. Everything is clicking. Obviously things won’t be easy, but knowing we are on the same page with one another in innumerable ways makes my heart soar. There are no doubts, no gut-checks from the Holy Spirit, no constant undercurrent of sin-issues, no lies…. just answered prayers, God’s grace and obvious fruits of the Spirit on both sides… and love.

This fantastical human being has been such a blessing… God truly provides for His beloved. That much is clear. I have found the one whom my soul loves.

November and December have been a whirlwind of activity since our first date on November 5th. I said it that night and it rings true even now… it’s as easy as breathing.

Thanksgiving was my first away from my family and I spent it with Joel and his family. They are so full of love and life- already I feel as though I’ve known them for years on end.

Ladies vs. Guys photo: who wins? Ladies from left to right: Leah, Karina, Jill, and Laura. Gents from left to right: Josh, Chuck, Joel and Christian (such goobers).

December 18th, my family had a game night and Joel got to experience our silliness… He fit right in.

Heads Up shenanigans at the Battaglia household!

Christmas was busy, but worth it. I was able to spend it with Joel and his family, and my family as well.

Our little family. We have grown so much closer together this past year. My parents have helped me through some of my darkest moments and their love for one another has withstood copious amounts of trials. They show me every day what it means to love and be loved.

December 29th, I met my sweet niece Lilianna and held her for the first time in the NICU at Children’s Mercy hospital. 

Sweet little Lilianna. Holding her for the first time, I was overcome with emotion.

There have been so many coffee dates, testimonies shared, laughs and hugs throughout this year and I am so blessed to be able to go through life with such inspirational women by my side.

Coffee and Bible study dates have been a big blessing this year! Doing life together with my community has brought me so much joy and I have learned so much from the ladies I’ve met with.
My community group. We are experiencing life together, supporting one another, loving each other and growing through the difficulties… together. You cannot do life alone!
Alyssa and I: another sister of mine. She is a bundle of cute, sassy and geekiness. She is beautiful inside and out! I am thankful for her presence in my life.
Community Halloween Party!!! I won the costume contest as a sugar skull hehe. I’m beyond thankful for this lady pictured beside me. Kirstie is an inspiration and I love her heart!
Lauren, Brianna and I: my sisters. I love them dearly and cannot wait to see where God takes us!
With the Christmas Concert ended my year of serving alongside some of these ladies. God has done amazing things through ParadigmKC and I can’t wait so see what He has in store for us all next year.

2016 was full of growth. It was full of laughter and tears. I am not the same woman I was upon entering January 2016… since then I have let go of toxic relationships. I have gained community and new friendships, as well as strengthened the existing ones. With God leading my every step, I was able to overcome some difficult circumstances and close certain chapters of my life permanently. I have been able to move forward, looking back fondly on even the most painful of happenings because they have made me who I am. I will not stubbornly and foolishly choose to forget my past. I want to learn from it. I want to be able to look back and see God’s protection, His provision, His blessings and even the lessons He allowed me to learn and grow, and I have more thankfulness in my soul for Him now than I ever have, and I cannot wait to see even that increase.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

– Ephesians 3:20

This is why I journal. This is why I blog. I know I am not alone, and there is someone out there right now that is searching. I pray that God would use me and my words as He sees fit to reach those who have felt as if they were alone, or as if they somehow didn’t matter. 

This life is not easy. And each year brings forth new struggles but with those struggles are moments to strive for. Moments where you feel the most alive. Moments that remind you why you are here in the first place. Moments that take your breath away, and moments that push you to keep breathing, even when it hurts.

Your year, your 2017, is what you make it. If you want it to a better than 2016, then you have to be the one to make the change. Look over the past year and find the things you are most proud of. Recall the blissful moments, and yes, even recall the moments filled with sorrow. Look at where you are today and instead of complaining, find something to be thankful for and make it a goal to be somewhere else tomorrow. Even if it is a small step- like starting a budget, changing eating habits, losing 5 pounds, changing your hairstyle or cleaning out the garage- whatever you need to do to move forward? Promise yourself to take that baby step and do it. If not right in this moment, then mark the calendar and set an alarm to get started tomorrow.

Don’t let the time you have pass by without having done something meaningful with it.

My constant reminder to do the things I am most anxious of, because God did not give me a spirit of fear! Courage is NOT the absence of fear, but rather the conquering of it in the scariest moments… push through the anxiety. Push through the fear.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

– Joshua 1:9

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