Twisting and Untwisting

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Last week was the first week of living in my new home apart from my wife and children. I missed my children terribly. I work from home and I’m accustomed to seeing them frequently every day. But now we’ve begun shared custody and I’m only with them on the weekends. It was painful, and I missed my wife. I felt very lonely. By the end of the work week I had relapsed. I felt angry and sorry for myself.

Friday morning I had a session with my therapist. What he shared with me moved me off the dark path I was thinking and walking. I want to share it with you here.

He calls them Cognitive Distortions. They are common patterns of unhealthy thinking, especially prevalent in the minds of people who suffer from major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and others. I imagine all of us have thought in one or more of these ways whether or not we suffer from a mental disorder.

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. RATIONALIZATION: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions. One form of this is also known as “Mind Reading.” You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. There’s also the “FortuneTeller Error.” You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement). Or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause

I had fallen into all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and rationalization, among others: “I have failed at the most important thing in life—my family. I’ve lost everything important to me. I should have known this would happen because I always fail at everything to do with this addiction. Why did I think I could beat this addiction? I’m an idiot for getting into this addiction. I hurt Jess and my children, and now the pain has spread into both our families through this divorce. I want to be with my children. I am miserable and depressed. I can’t change this. I don’t want to live separated from them during the week. I miss my best friend. I can’t be happy without my children and wife.”

Interestingly and surprisingly, simply reading the list of cognitive distortions out loud helped me see the truth. It awoke my brain. I could clearly see the error in my thinking and I felt as if a fog was lifted from my mind: “Yes, this is extremely painful for many people including myself, but I can still be healthy and happy in this life. I can still be a good father to my children; they need me. I can still beat this addiction with God’s grace. I am in pain and I am sick but my soul is not dead.”

Last night, however, I felt the same fog descending on my mind and heart, and my addiction called to me. This morning I woke up feeling depressed and forlorn. I remembered the cognitive distortions. I read them and the fog lifted from my mind, but my heart still felt heavy. I couldn’t focus. So I took the day off from work to focus on my wellbeing. I cleaned, read scriptures, watched uplifting videos on lds.org, listened to uplifting music, showered, told a couple of friends what I’m feeling, and more. And now I’m writing this blog post. I still feel the pain but it is bearable now, and I feel important.

Hopefully readers will find similar relief by referring to this list of cognitive distortions in moments of pain and darkness.

 

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French Bread

Not sure what to say except I’m in a lot of pain and I felt a prompting to write about it here.

“Pain” is the French word for “bread.” So there you go.

My wife decided to divorce me. I feel hesitant to share details, particularly what she’s told me about her thoughts and feelings behind her decision. I don’t want to misrepresent them here and I don’t want to paint her choice in a negative color. Suffice it to say I think her choice is understandable and she deserves to feel loved and emotionally safe in her marriage. My multitudinous relapses over nine years made her feel the opposite.

Of course I feel sad. My emotions have been all over the place since she told me a couple months ago… depressed, lonely, angry (a lot of that one), abandoned, scared, fearful, stressed, confused (a lot of that one too), guilty, ashamed, lost, and I’m sure more which I can’t recall at the moment.

Oddly enough I also feel relieved given any future relapses won’t affect her directly. Not in the same way at least.

So now we’re figuring out this thing called divorce and I hate it. The state law here requires a twelve-month separation period before filing for divorce. I haven’t decided yet whether I like this law. A growing part of me wants it to be done and over with because it’s so painful… just rip the bandaid off already, please! Another part of me wants to hope that something will change her mind between now and the end of the twelve months. I’m afraid to hope for that. At the very least, this separation gives us some time to figure out the depressing details such as finances, when I’ll get to be with my children, etc.

Given my depression and this divorce I’m amazed I can still function at all. I have God to thank for that. Despite my choices causing this nightmare, I’ve felt His support with more intensity and focus than I think I ever have in my life. I purposefully distanced myself from Him after Jess told me her decision, particularly the specific guidance she received from Him while making her choice. Since then I’ve periodically turned to Him when I feel lost or overwhelmed, and every time He’s been right there for me in a powerful way. I felt Him sustaining me through the final weeks of my college education, enabling me to study and retain information even though I felt only half awake and couldn’t recall my coworkers’ names or remember to eat. I felt Him guiding me while I searched for a new place to live even though I hated doing it and I had no idea where to begin except that I want to live close to my children… He gave me three distinct confirmations where I’m supposed to live now, and I’m scheduled to move in before the end of this month. I’ve felt His support while working; He makes my brain think clearly enough to do my job well despite the restlessness and inability to focus which has now become the norm for me. I’ve felt His immediate reassurance every time I scream-pray in the moments when I feel an overwhelming surge of loneliness, anger, confusion, and fear. I don’t know how to describe it… He’s just there and He fills me with love every time I turn to Him, more quickly and more deeply than I’ve ever experienced before. This gives me hope and faith to keep moving.

Friends and family have also been amazing. People reach out to me almost daily, close friends and family as well as friendly acquaintances who offer their sincere support. I feel lost most days but after talking with one of these people I feel calm and able to take another painful step forward.

Of course no trial would be complete without Satan. I am extremely vulnerable right now and he knows it. He’s been kicking me while I’m down, taking advantage of my weakness. He really must be miserable if picking on a person in my current state is his favorite thing to do. He’s a jerkwad. Get thee behind me. (Modern translation: “Bye, Felicia!”) That’s all I’ll say about him.

A big part of me wants to be angry at my wife. A part of me is angry and I think that’s OK for now so long as I don’t seethe or let it steer my thoughts and decisions. I feel angry at her for leaving me when I need her most, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that a marriage relationship should be unconditional. Patient, yes, among other virtues; but not unconditional. (She stayed with me through nine years of relapses so I’d say she nailed the patience and long-suffering parts.) She told me she genuinely believes I will get better and conquer my depression, trauma, and addiction. Because of this I don’t believe she’s giving up on me, thought it’s extremely difficult not to feel that way. When I let myself think about this I end up at the conclusion that I’m simply not worth the pain to her anymore. I don’t know what to think of that conclusion but I’ve decided not to let my mind settle on any interpretations for now.

Some good has come out of this though. The day after she told me her decision I knew I needed to finally tackle the sexual abuse trauma I’d experienced in my youth. I’d put off working on it with my therapist for over three years because I was terrified of reliving it. I don’t know why or how to explain it but despite finding myself suddenly drowning in a new traumatic experience, I knew in my bones that I had to begin healing from the trauma of my youth and I had to do it *now.* (Maybe my mind and body could sense it would all be too much for me to bear if I didn’t start unloading?) My therapist and I dove in, and the sessions were extremely painful… but the healing has been powerful! I feel my addiction has less power over me because I’m finally processing those core events. It’s like I finally let a surgeon remove a decades-old, acid-leaking, miniature car battery from my chest. Breathing is easier and I feel more free.

Oh, and everything makes me cry now, so much so that it amuses me haha. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying—I believe it’s healthy and normal. But lately even the dumbest radio commercials and bumper stickers will get me teary-eyed. I just think it’s kind of funny and it makes me laugh to myself every now and then, which is nice.

Like I said, I’m not letting myself hope that my wife will change her mind. Of course I would welcome that but for now I feel a strong need to focus on Me. I cannot control her choices. A dear friend counseled me to seek Heavenly Father’s will for me and focus on that. I’m trying to do that and it helps. One day at a time helps too. Also, choosing to trust Heavenly Father that I can be healthy and happy without understanding Jess’s decision or His direction to her… that helps too. I feel His loving support now as I write this.

Thanks for reading. I feel better.

Honesty and Vulnerability go well together

night_sky_stars

 

A couple weeks ago I attended a Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) meeting for the first time. It was powerful! Everyone was so welcoming and helpful. I was also struck by how honest and vulnerable everyone was.

I’ve been to multitudinous LDS Addiction Recovery Program meetings and they’ve helped me immensely. In those meetings I first learned I’m not alone in this war, and through those meetings the Lord gave me faith to not give up. The most memorable and meaningful ARP meetings I’ve attended were the ones in which I and my brothers were vulnerable, when we openly shared our fears and doubts with each other. No hiding, no shame, just open honesty.

Unfortunately in my experience a common theme in many ARP meetings I’ve attended is “hope-imonies.” Instead of being vulnerable by sharing what’s on our minds, or being honest about where we are and where we want to be, the meeting becomes a “testimony” meeting where we all say we “know” that the 12 Steps work… except most of us haven’t worked them to full recovery (with the exception of the facilitator and a veteran or two), so we don’t actually have a witness that they work. We certainly want them to work, and we may believe that they work, but that’s not the same as knowing it. I was describing this to my therapist and he said, “Ah yes, a hope-imony meeting.” For me those kinds of meetings aren’t so helpful because they’re not honest, vulnerable, or even truthful. And don’t get me wrong—I’ve done it too. I have shared many a hope-imony in those meetings.

I remember the first time I heard raw vulnerability in an ARP meeting. That evening I went because I needed hope. I had recently relapsed and I wasn’t sure the meetings were helping me. When my turn came I passed. A couple shares later, one man’s words caught my attention. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m grateful to be alive. Years ago I was in a dark place. I had borrowed my drug of choice from a dealer I’d known for a long time, but I didn’t have the money to pay him. A couple guys showed up at my apartment, dragged me into the basement, tied me to a pole and beat me till they thought I was dead. By the grace of God someone found me and I woke up in a hospital some time later. I should’ve died in that basement. But God rescued me and gave me another chance. I’ve not been perfect since then, and I’ve relapsed since then, but after that night I knew God was with me—not just because of the fact someone found me, but because when I woke up in that hospital I felt it. I felt Him with me. I thought, ‘How can you be with me? I’ve done so many terrible things. I’ve hurt everyone I’ve ever cared about. I’ve pushed you away countless times. How is it you’re still with me?’ And I felt His love for me there in that hospital bed. That’s how I know God loves me. So I’m grateful to be alive today. I still have things to learn and I’m still working on this addiction thing, but I know God’s with me. And that keeps me going.”

This man’s story gave me hope! It still does every time I recall it.

I’ve found this genuine openness and honesty in numerous ARP meetings since then and it’s powerful every time. For whatever reason, I find it more often in SA meetings. And I love it! I need it! It strengthens me and encourages me to be honest and vulnerable with myself, others, and God. In my experience, honesty breaks my cycles of acting out, and vulnerability keeps me from going back. So I try to be honest and vulnerable when I share in meetings. I get so much more out of them when I do. I’m learning to practice these principles in all relationships and areas of my life.

I want to be clear I’m not trying to encourage people to abandon ARP meetings in favor of SA ones. I plan to attend both meetings. I only want to share what’s helping me on my road to recovery. I hope someone reading this finds it helpful.

Healing Wounds I cannot Heal

Close-up of a dandelion

 

“Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ. …

“I repeat … there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.”

President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995.

I pray as I repent of my sins that the Lord will have mercy on me and heal the wounds I cannot heal, especially the ones I have inflicted on my loved ones and myself.

 

Finding Courage now that I can See

flower_courage

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” – C.S. Lewis

A teacher in Sunday school today shared this quote. It reminded me of the moments when I sense temptation growing and I know it’s time to do battle with my weakness. I faced those moments numerous times this past week. By the grace of the Lord I was victorious despite my frailty.

Recently while meeting with my therapist he taught me a principle I had not considered before. I had always believed if I wanted recovery badly enough and worked hard enough then the Lord would remove my weakness through His Atonement. With this belief in my heart I’ve often felt frustrated when I felt I was doing my best and the Lord wasn’t delivering me—not fully—from my addiction.

In those moments of frustration I felt tempted to think I was being cheated, or that I wasn’t good enough. Recurring clinical depression reinforced those thoughts and eventually I came to believe that for some reason the Lord in His wisdom was going to let me struggle with depression and addiction for the rest of my life. I thought I was destined for an endless cycle of sincere repentance and relapses with periodic sobriety and respite from depression. I had accepted it and decided I wouldn’t give up, that I would keep trying because that’s what the Lord wanted me to do. Maybe some folks receive healing from addiction but that blessing wouldn’t be mine till the next life so long as I was faithful and didn’t stop trying.

A series of alarming choices recently awoke me to the subtle destructiveness of these beliefs.

I now find myself continuously pondering what my therapist taught me, which is this: the Lord doesn’t remove weaknesses, rather He strengthens and teaches us to live righteously despite them. He does this because as He has said, He “gives [us] weaknesses that [we] may be humble.” One of the reasons I came to this earth is to learn to rely on Him in all things. What better way to accomplish this than by learning to rely on Him for the rest of my life because I cannot handle my weaknesses on my own? And instead of asking Him to remove my weakness, what if I were to ask Him to show me how to live with my weakness without giving in to temptation?

“If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

As I sought to apply that principle this week, I found new meaning in the Savior’s promise that “[His] grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before [Him].” He has always been there for me and given me grace in times of need. But there was something different about it this week. This week I stopped looking for healing from addiction and instead started looking for strength to abstain from my addiction. In so doing, it felt as though I was no longer attaching a condition to my relationship with Him, but instead was enjoying a relationship of trust with Him wherein I knew that He and I were working together and that with Him I could do all things. It was like I no longer looked to him as a doctor I would visit when feeling sick, but as a personal trainer with whom I was constantly working to progress and move forward to avoid sickness in the first place.

I feel my words don’t adequately describe the shift in thinking God is giving me, so I pray His Spirit shares it with you and that I let it sink deep into my heart so that I understand it well enough to explain clearly. In just one week it has changed the way I view my relationship with my Savior and my Father in Heaven. I feel a new kind of faith in Him that I haven’t felt before, or perhaps haven’t felt in a very long time; and for that I am grateful.

A scripture comes to mind: “… one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9).

None are Forbidden

Open-Gate

 

Frequently Satan tries to make me feel shame. Sometimes he dredges up old, painful memories related to sins for which the Lord has already forgiven me; other times he whispers lies about my self worth, that I am not cut out to be a good man, or that there’s no point in continuing onward given my history of repeated failure. Whatever the play, when I listen the effect is the same: I end up feeling like a lost cause.

What a crock!

I am not a lost cause because Jesus Christ has cleared the path for everyone! No one is too lost, too addicted, too depressed, or too beaten to fall beyond the reach of the Savior. He gently prompts me to not give up, to keep going especially when I see no point in trying; and He never misleads me. When I choose to listen to His voice, the effect is always the same: I feel uplifted.

These scriptures from the Book of Mormon have comforted me the past few weeks:

For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.

Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.

Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

2 Nephi 26:23-28

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The Portal to Progression

With God, through prayer, all things are possible, and without prayer we lack the power to progress. Prayer is the portal to progression. As Elder Kevin W. Pearson taught: “Without prayer, there is no possible return to the Father. Without prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and the cleansing power of the Atonement are unattainable. Without prayer, sufficient faith to understand and keep the commandments is impossible. Without prayer, the necessary spiritual power to avoid temptation and overcome trials and adversity would be unavailable.”

Read the full article here.

Perspective

autumn_red

 

“I believe every human being carries in his or her heart some form of fundamental questions regarding life itself. Where did I come from? Why am I here? What will happen after I die?

“These kinds of questions have been asked by mortals since the dawn of time. Philosophers, scholars, and pundits have spent their lives and fortunes seeking for answers.

“I am grateful that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has answers to the most complex questions in life. These answers are taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are true, plain, straightforward, and easy to understand. They are inspired, and we teach them to our three-year-olds in the Sunbeam class.

“Brothers and sisters, we are eternal beings, without beginning and without end. We have always existed. We are the literal spirit children of divine, immortal, and omnipotent Heavenly Parents!

“We come from the heavenly courts of the Lord our God. We are of the royal house of Elohim, the Most High God. We walked with Him in our premortal life. We heard Him speak, witnessed His majesty, learned His ways.

“You and I participated in a Grand Council where our beloved Father presented His plan for us—that we would come to earth, receive mortal bodies, learn to choose between good and evil, and progress in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

“When we passed through the veil and entered this mortal life, we knew that we would no longer remember the life before. There would be opposition and adversity and temptation. But we also knew that gaining a physical body was of paramount importance for us. Oh, how we hoped that we would quickly learn to make the correct choices, withstand the temptations of Satan, and eventually return to our beloved Parents in Heaven.

“We knew we would sin and make mistakes—perhaps even serious ones. But we also knew that our Savior, Jesus Christ, had pledged to come to earth, live a sinless life, and voluntarily lay down His life in an eternal sacrifice. We knew that if we gave our heart to Him, trusted Him, and strived with all the energy of our soul to walk in the path of discipleship, we could be washed clean and once again enter the presence of our beloved Father in Heaven.

“So, with faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you and I accepted, by our free will, Heavenly Father’s plan.

“That is why we are here on this beautiful planet earth—because God offered us the opportunity, and we chose to accept it. Our mortal life, however, is only temporary and will end with the death of our physical body. But the essence of who you and I are will not be destroyed. Our spirits will continue living and await the Resurrection—a free gift to all by our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. At the Resurrection, our spirits and bodies will be reunited, free from pain and physical imperfections.

“After the Resurrection, there will be a Day of Judgment. While all will eventually be saved and inherit a kingdom of glory, those who trust in God and seek to follow His laws and ordinances will inherit lives in the eternities that are unimaginable in glory and overwhelming in majesty.

“That Day of Judgment will be a day of mercy and love—a day when broken hearts are healed, when tears of grief are replaced with tears of gratitude, when all will be made right.

“Yes, there will be deep sorrow because of sin. Yes, there will be regrets and even anguish because of our mistakes, our foolishness, and our stubbornness that caused us to miss opportunities for a much greater future.

“But I have confidence that we will not only be satisfied with the judgment of God; we will also be astonished and overwhelmed by His infinite grace, mercy, generosity, and love for us, His children. If our desires and works are good, if we have faith in a living God, then we can look forward to what Moroni called ‘the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge.’”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Full talk here.