“Looking back, I can see that my faith growing up was based on a lot of fear and guilt, and I was always concerned with how people viewed me,” said Ivan Illarramendi. “My addiction to pornography began in high school, and I started to find my identity in the attention I would get from girls. I felt convicted from my sins in my early teenage years and reached out to my youth leader at church. I didn’t share about my pornography struggle, but I told him about the physical relationship I was having with my girlfriend, Martha. When I confessed, I was met with an overbearing feeling of guilt. I thought I would be helped after my confession, but I was chastised and shunned from church.
“I was really distraught because I thought I deserved this punishment for my sin. But I also felt completely left alone. I thought, ‘If this is what it means to follow Christ, I don’t know if I want to do it.’ I decided to leave the church.
“When Martha and I later got married, I didn’t confess to her the baggage and sin I carried. Slowly but surely, my problems started to surface. I thought for the longest time, ‘When I have kids, I’m going to change. Kids will change my priorities.’ But the reality was that even as my circumstances changed, my sins continued.
“At my job, I enjoyed the success and admiration I received for my hard work. I spent so much of my time on work, and little-by-little, all of my focus was shifted to away from my family. This led to multiple emotional affairs with women in my life. Martha was aware of this and would question me, but I frequently denied her questions. I knew deep down who I was and what my heart was like. I felt such a heavy burden.
“When my job moved our family to Dallas, Martha was pregnant with our third kid. In this new city, marriage only became more difficult without the help of our families. But when we connected with a friend from El Paso in Dallas, he invited us to Watermark. At the first service we attended, the speaker humbly talked about his brokenness and sin. That was the first time I saw Christians being so open and authentic. I left feeling encouraged but didn’t take any action.
“Over the next six months, my life continued to spiral down and my emotional affair at work turned into a physical affair. That is where I hit rock bottom. My emotions of guilt, shame, fear, and embarrassment left me defeated, lost, and confused.
“I remember crying out, ‘God, I really need You. I don’t know what else to do. Give me an opportunity to know that You’re real and that You still love me.’ In that moment, I thought I was going to lose everything – my kids, my wife, and my job.
“A few weeks later, my wife asked me to go to re|engage, Watermark’s marriage ministry. Immediately, I saw this as an opportunity for change. Slowly, we started to share more about our marriage.
“One of the week’s topics was on forgiveness; I knew this was my time to confess. I ended up sharing everything. I shared my pornography addiction, my emotional affairs, my lustful thoughts, my physical affair, and more. All of those things hit Martha hard, but for me, I felt like I was free. I never thought I’d be able to confess what I’d done in my life and who I really am. When I confessed to Martha and our group, I was met with acceptance, forgiveness, and grace.
“I wanted to give God one hundred percent of my life. No matter how bold or painful it was, I wanted to be faithful and obey what God said in Scripture. From there, I walked through the following days with obedience as my main goal. I prayed to remain in humility and repentance.
“Even after going through all of that, I still had moments of relapse, but with our experience through re|engage, I learned I can go to my wife and ask for accountability, prayer, and forgiveness. I still have moments of weakness, but I am learning to be more proactive. I have to allow God to work in my heart consistently and die to myself every day.
“One of the biggest impacts on both my walk with Christ and our marriage is community. I cannot overstate the value of community on the change in our hearts and marriage. We didn’t do this together on our own. It was a collective effort with other Christian couples in our lives to make sure that God was the forefront of our marriage. That continues to play a big role in our lives, even now. The level of accountability and sharpening has been insane. I know that’s a weird word, but it is insane. It’s not normal, but it’s pointed us to Christ. I knew of God when I was young, and I knew the story of Jesus, but it wasn’t until I was surrounded by a group of Christ-centered individuals that I was aware of the power of Jesus. There was no mercy or grace in my life, but now I know that my sin has been paid for. There is freedom in a life that honors Christ.”