Facing the Dragon

Innocent beginnings. Most big problems start with something that could hardly be conceived of as wrong, and certainly no one can foresee the ultimate results to which it may lead.

I don’t share my testimony to glorify the choices I’ve made or the temptations I’ve yielded to. Through my story I desire to show that 1) victory can be obtained and 2) only Jesus can bring that victory.

Here is my story.

I had everything going for me. I come from a pastor’s family and grew up in a conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled until I was fourteen and then attended a small, conservative boarding academy. But just because someone comes from a “perfect” upbringing doesn’t mean she is immune to temptation.

My junior year of high school, I met who I thought was the man of my dreams. We formed a relationship that lasted nearly two and a half years. I became very infatuated with and emotionally attached to this young man.

The relationship ended my freshman year of college, but the emotions resurfaced while I was overseas as a student missionary. Far from family and friends, I found myself isolated. Many of my fellow co-worker missionaries had boyfriends or were engaged. Loneliness began to subtly creep in and I began reliving the old feelings. I started searching for pictures of innocent couples holding hands, laughing, or doing an activity together. I found myself reminiscing about the young man I had been in a relationship with and wishing I could once again be with someone.

I found myself picking up romance novels and reading them eagerly, a little uncomfortable when some of the scenes got too explicit. On one occasion, I read a new romance novel every single day for an entire week.

The night I read the last novel of the series, I had gone to bed when I felt the already-dark room darken. My mind was suddenly flooded with terrible images of skulls and crossbones, horrendous creatures, and hideous faces. I became sweaty and shivery at the same time. I couldn’t think of one single Bible verse to say. I couldn’t even utter the name of Jesus. Finally, the words to the hymn “Blessed Assurance” came to my mind, and as I began to hum the tune, the evil presence in my room subsided. I immediately took the romance novel lying in my chair and placed it outside my room. Only then was I able to sleep.

Despite that experience, my appetite for romantic novels and pictures was only temporarily dampened. Rather, those novels had paved the downward spiral in which I found myself trapped.

It’s interesting how dependence on something develops. The same behavior repeated no longer brought the same satisfaction. Emotions I wanted no longer came with a simple romance novel or looking at romantic pictures of couples. I began searching various photo, anime, and fine art sites to find stronger and more stimulating images. Romance novels began to morph in to raunchy novels containing graphic scenes.

I wondered, “Am I forming an addiction to this stuff?” But I would immediately shoo these thoughts from my mind reminding myself that I had never watched an actual porn video. Even as I began viewing more and more explicit content, I became more adept in my ability to justify my actions to my disapproving conscience. Occasionally I would determine to stop viewing these questionable images, but would always find myself giving in after a month at the longest.

As I began reading explicit books and excerpts, I found myself wanting to replicate the feelings the individuals in these novels were purported to have experienced. I began researching masturbation and experimenting with it. Here’s where I really got on the roller-coaster ride of addiction. I’d try to stop and then beat myself up when I fell.

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to look at any pornography or practice self-abuse when I returned home from the mission field. I was going to make a clean start and put this behind me. The day after I arrived back home from my student missionary tour, I was back online reading explicit novels. I could not believe myself.

Then I transferred to a small, conservative Christian college where everybody studied the Bible and appeared very strong spiritually. “Surely,” I thought, “if I am ever going to overcome this issue, it will be at this place!” For three months, lack of Internet access and poor phone reception kept my addiction at bay. However, the minute I had adequate cell phone reception, which was before my first trip doing door-to-door outreach, I yielded to temptation–reading explicit novel excerpts and viewing pornographic content. I felt absolutely horrible. Here I was about to serve the Lord and I was doing this. During the program, there were times I’d feel so guilty that I wouldn’t even want to share the gospel with anyone anymore. I wanted to leave the program. I knew that everyone thought I was a strong, spiritual person, but I felt like an awful hypocrite. Some days I was so discouraged I cried.

The devil had control of my mind and from this time on he intentionally used it to discourage me and push me towards depression. He’d say, “Well, you have already broken your promise to do better. You might as well go all the way.” Unfortunately, I listened. When there were two deaths in the family, I assuaged my grief by viewing pornography and practicing self-abuse. This caused me terrible guilt and depression. The devil most certainly had a strong control of my mind. Terrible thoughts were always in my mind. I would mentally cuss at myself and reiterate how apparently dumb, un-Christ-like, and sinful I was. Again and again I listened to the suggestion, “You’ve already yielded to so many temptations. What is it going to hurt to just keep doing it anyways? You can’t overcome this.” At night, my dreams would be filled with pornography. It was literally something I could not escape.

There were two moments of incredible hope during this time. I shared with a close friend the struggles I was going through and she began to pray for me and share encouraging Bible promises. The other was when one of the outreach program leaders shared a worship thought on the power of the will and how Jesus can help us when our promises are just like ropes of sand. These two incidents gave me enough courage to press through that summer.

Throughout the next school year, I still occasionally fell into self-abuse; and, where lack of Internet kept my addiction at bay, I then turned to mental fantasies. I fantasized so much that the thoughts began to come automatically. I found myself losing focus in classes, church, and mid-week services, while doing reading assignments and listening to teachers. I found it very hard to fall asleep at night because my mind would run to these fantasies. I began hearing voices–voices yelling at me, telling me how terrible, gross, dumb, and so many other adjectives, I was. I felt so incredibly guilty. I shared my struggles with no one because I did not want anyone to know how hypocritical I felt.

A new phone did not help anything. Now I had unlimited access to the Internet. Late nights until 1 or 2am were an occasional occurrence. I even remember some Sabbaths walking off somewhere with my phone to spend a few hours reading explicit novels and visiting porn sites. I would feel so horrible I would fantasize about suicide. It just seemed like such a great way to end this mess. Often I would visit a tall, rocky ridge with my friends and sometimes I would think, “What if I just jumped down and fell on those rocks at the bottom?” But I always rationalized that the rocks weren’t far enough down to do enough damage and I was too embarrassed to attempt suicide.

I hardly spent time in morning devotions and only read religious materials when it pertained to class assignments. A year passed this way. One night after going to bed a dark presence entered my room. Like before, my mind was filled with horrible adjectives and expletives as images of hideous creatures and faces filled my mind. I don’t even remember now how or when that presence left, but I hid, curled up under my blankets like a small child, wishing this evil away.

At the end of my first year in college I knew I had to get help. My attempts to quit pornography were all failures. My life seemed like one big farce and it really irked me when an individual approached me for help with pornography. How could I help someone else when I was struggling myself? I went to a trusted pastor friend and wrote a letter. I was at my wits end and here is how I closed that letter: “I’m just tired of all this. Tired of fighting a mental battle and not getting anywhere, tired of always falling back into what I know is wrong, tired of not being able to control my thoughts. I really want to overcome this…So, even though this really makes me feel utterly vulnerable and scared…could you all help me?”

Later, when this pastor counseled with me, I had a deep realization of hope like I had never had before! I was pointed to Jesus. This pastor flooded me with quotes and Bible promises all speaking of Christ’s love, how He wants to help each of us, how He can help us overcome. One of my favorite quotations was this:

“To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest (Desire of Ages 528).

He counseled me to read the book Desire of Ages, and following that advice proved to be one of the single biggest steps on my road to victory. This pastor pointed out that as we fill our lives and hearts with the Son of Righteousness, darkness will be dispelled. Just like when a flashlight is pointed into a dark space, the darkness is immediately gone in the presence of the light. I began devouring the Desire of Ages, underlining it, highlighting it, and realizing that the promises in the Bible and in the Spirit of Prophecy were intended for people like me!

Here is another quotation that gave me hope:

“If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned” (Steps to Christ 62).

I wish I could say that I was immediately free from pornography and self-abuse. But that which is developed over a long period of time may take some time to be eradicated. I did continue to struggle after I got help. Here is something I wrote during this time:

The dragon (porn) never fades, never takes his flight.
Only transitioning to another form of night.
Puts on a mask, another face,
To stop me, slow me down, lose the race.
He digs more holes, builds other traps,
He never sleeps, rests and never naps.
He seeks his prey through new and old ways,
Wraps the chains in lace and flowery bouquets.
Hides the stench and ugly rot
Seeking only to keep me caught.

But more often I would write things like this in my journal:

“Lord, please help my character to be more like you. Please take my dirty self, my ugly sins and wash them away. Please cover me with your righteousness and blot my sins out with your blood. I’m tired of serving self and sin. Help me be like you.

“Lord, you know my weaknesses, my dirty areas, the hard corners and rough edges. Please start changing me…Oh Father, even though this honestly scares me, and I feel like I’m stepping into the unknown, please do what You see best to help me grow- work it out in me please!”

I’ll be completely honest: There have been several times since I sought help that I have fallen to the temptation of pornography or masturbation. However, each time I was down, I bounced back more easily. As I read through Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ I found that my mind became freer from discouraging, depressing thoughts until, by God’s grace and strength, I no longer face these types of thoughts. I also no longer feel heavy guilt and shame and I no longer hear those crazy, demonic voices in my head. Gone, also, are the fantasies about suicide. As my mind cleared, my relationship with Jesus deepened, and is deepening!

Whenever I am faced with a thought or an unexpected image, the Lord continues to teach me that that thought is not my own and I turn it quickly over to Him. I choose to allow memorized scripture, hymns, etc., to replace that thought and the moment of crisis is soon over. It’s been a fight, but in Christ the battle has already been won! By God’s grace, He has given me the victory and I continue living a life of victory through Jesus! All glory goes to Jesus, because I tried in my own power and failed. It was only when I chose to fill my life with Jesus, surrender my thoughts to Him, and accept the love, value, and promises God has for me, that I overcame. Without Jesus, I can do nothing. Like the words of a favorite hymn, “He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall” (“Jesus is All the World to Me”)!

Elissa Tesch is a senior college student pursuing a degree in Secondary Education. She has a passion for teaching young people and sharing with them the beauty of a practical, life-changing relationship with Jesus! The devil is working very hard in these last days to trap the youth in any way he can. With this knowledge, it is her desire to allow the Lord to use her testimony as a means to help other young people who may be struggling like she once was and show them that through Jesus, victory over this trap of Satan is possible!