On my Mind

Peace feels precious when I have reason to be afraid and choose peace anyway.

I also feel stressed.

On my mind:

  • moving
  • finding a new place to live
  • ending this stupid lease
  • my health
  • the weight I’m putting on
  • packing
  • the virus
  • do I have enough food?
  • looking forward to having my children for more time than I’m used to
  • feeling stressed about having my children for more time than I’m used to
  • how do I take care of myself when they’re with me?

The Steps teach me to turn to my Higher Power for serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference. They also teach me to get outside my head and talk to people for support.

My sponsor is showing me how to practice those ideas one day at a time. Some things I have power to change but not power to change in one day. Sometimes all I can do today is do one thing to move in the right direction.

For example, I can’t undo in one day the weight I’ve gained during this quarantine. I can exercise today. One action today to change what I can change.

I can’t control the COVID-19 virus. I can’t stop it from infecting me or my family, or stop it from impacting my job, or stop it from affecting the economy. Accept what I cannot change today. I can wash my hands and practice social distancing. And I can pray for the nurses, doctors, and others on the front lines. That’s all. Change what I can today.

I can try to fight reality or I can choose to surrender to it. Very simple. Also very difficult sometimes, but so much easier than fighting.

Fighting against reality drains me. It robs me of my freedom to choose. I become an object to be acted upon.

Choosing to submit to what I cannot control is freedom in action. I become an agent to act. I surrender my will and my false notion of control to God’s will and His all-knowing and all-powerful control. This gives me peace.

I am grateful for these hard times that are giving me the chance to learn and practice these principles.

I pray you and yours are well, all things considered.

Painful Lessons

I’m beginning to believe that pain might be good for me.

I’ve always tried to avoid or reduce pain. Get rid of it. Maybe that’s a futile effort.

I believe life is supposed to be hard and painful because it’s an effective teacher. It gives me opportunity to choose and learn. Until recently though, I hadn’t considered that maybe the pain isn’t always supposed to be soothed right away. What if it’s good for me to feel it?

Over the past year and a half, pain has entered my life in new forms. My former wife chose to divorce me after nearly ten years of marriage. My time with my children was reduced from daily to most weekends. My proximity to family went from two miles to nearly eight hundred miles. Relationships with in-laws changed in an instant, not because we wanted them to but because they had to. People who I thought were my friends ignored me in hallways at church or didn’t return phone calls. I moved to a new home in a new community in a new state. My depression returned in full force and stronger than ever. Thoughts of suicide. Wrecked finances.

Ten years of relationships, dreams, and hard work. All shattered, all because of this thing I call addiction. All because I chose to be selfish and self-medicate.

I miss my children every moment I’m not with them. I miss my old friendships and former family members. I miss my former wife, sometimes more than I can bear. I miss the surges of joy that accompanied tender moments with my spouse and children. I miss looking forward to finishing college and finally having more time with my family in the evenings. I miss being on the verge of financial security and the peace of mind that brings. I miss looking forward to so many things. Missing is painful.

Yesterday the pain of missing was unbearable. I spent nearly eight hours in prayerful meditation, reading, writing, running, and talking to friends, family, and brothers in recovery. At the end of the day, after struggling to find rest, I chose to self-medicate with masturbation. No pornography, thankfully. But still a step backwards.

I can see now that I felt frustrated that the pain wasn’t stopping. Certainly the grace of God lightened my load during the day, otherwise I would have turned to my addiction much sooner. I was alone all day. It would have been easy. But after all was said and done, I wanted the pain to be gone completely, not just lessened. I wanted to be free of it. I was tired of missing my former wife, my children, and my former life.

Of course, acting out only provided temporary and fake relief. Today I feel the pain of missing, along with the pain of acting out.

Life is already painful without any effort from me. I’m learning that some fears and pain don’t require (or deserve) my attention today. They are usually rooted in the future and can wait, so I give them to God because holding on to them leads me to my addiction. Others need my attention now and I can do something about them now, so I do that thing now because putting it off leads me to my addiction. And others, despite my complete inability to change them (such as the hurtful actions of others, or my missing people), demand my attention and consume my focus. Those are the really dangerous ones. They impact my well-being right now, and I am powerless over them.

I’ve learned the core of every one of my fears is the fear of more pain than what I’m experiencing right now. This distracts me from the present, which often looks like damaging, dampening, or delaying my connections with the people around me. It’s sad and tragic because real connection would actually ease the pain.

If I let them, my weaknesses and addiction will have me so wrapped up in self-medication for my pain that I can’t experience any pain at all. Not in the moment, anyway. Not as long as I have my drug of choice. Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it? Seriously! Who wouldn’t want a pain-free life? The Great Lie is that my drug will always work and that putting off pain won’t make things worse, or that “this will be the last time.”

Maybe another great lie is that the pain should go away, even in recovery?

I’m learning to face my pain. I have to get comfortable with it—not by myself but with my God and my support network of friends and fellow addicts seeking recovery. This invariably leads to moments of vulnerability, which gives me a connection with those people. With a real connection I’m able to understand my pain, accept what I cannot do about it, and find courage to do what I can.

Sometimes the pain remains after connecting with people and doing what I can to address it, and I’m beginning to think that’s OK. I don’t like it but I wonder if lingering pain might be normal. Maybe sometimes all I can do is connect with my support people and my God so that the burden becomes bearable. Not removed, but bearable. Then I can move forward with some comfort in believing it won’t last forever.

I have this idea in my mind that recovery will give me a supernatural medical kit filled with an assortment of instant pain relievers. I’ve been approaching recovery with an expectation that when I work the 12 Steps I will learn salves for any and all pain. Missing my former wife? No problem! Just work steps 10 through 12 and the painful missing will stop.

I think this is an erroneous way of thinking and a false concept of what real recovery actually looks like.

Besides, how would that be any different from how I viewed my addiction? I chose my addiction because I wanted instant relief from pain. Why should I expect the same from recovery? Feels off to me. Seems wrong. I think I transferred my expectations and stinking thinking from my addiction to my recovery.

I think perhaps pain is an opportunity. It reminds me what I’ve learned. It gives me a reason to ask for help and connect with my loved ones. I don’t think loving relationships would mean as much if I never needed others the way I do when I’m in pain. In that sense, I think pain gives life to my relationships in a way nothing else can, but only when I choose to turn to those people instead of turning inward for the solution.

The addicted life is one of pain, filled with isolation and despair. Maybe the recovered life is still one of pain, but filled with people, hope, and peace.

Maybe some day I’ll welcome pain. I wonder if this time period will turn out to be my “rock bottom” of pain. I hope so. I think that’s up to me. Today I choose surrender and connection.

Helpful Paradoxes

I read this article recently and read it again just now. Lots of wisdom there, I think. Rings true based on my experience.

Here’s an excerpt:

Your pain isn’t meant to be avoided; it’s meant to show you the truth about yourself.

… The thing you have to accept and make peace with in order to find what you actually want.

If you want love, get comfortable with feelings of abandonment.

If you want power, get comfortable with feelings of helplessness.

If you want abundance, get comfortable with feelings of deprivation.

Because once you accept and learn to exist alongside that big, scary fear that lives inside yourself, you will learn that it was only a façade all along.

Heidi Priebe

Read the full article here.

A New Way of Living

Since my last post I’ve been working Steps 1, 2, and 3 with a sponsor. He’s teaching me how to work the steps thoroughly and completely. I’ve worked all twelve steps before, and doing so gave me nine months of sobriety, but this time I feel I’m receiving sobriety and recovery. I’d like to share a few things I’m learning.

Number one, I cannot do this alone. Absolutely impossible. It’s not a self-help program. As a brother in my Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) group puts it, my “stinking thinking” got me into this mess; it’s not going to get me out. I have to change my way of thinking, my way of life. I can’t do that without my God and I can’t do it without a support network of brothers seeking the same change. For myself, I’ve learned I can’t do it without a sponsor—someone who’s worked the steps and has found recovery and sobriety. The hard-earned wisdom he offers is irreplaceable, and I find myself hungry for it. We talk daily. I talk with my God numerous times daily. I talk with my loved ones daily. I cannot recover sanity without these connections.

I’ve also learned that the last time I worked these steps I left out an essential part that must change: Me. In my first attempt I was trying to remove the compulsion to lust. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, yes, but woefully incomplete. The SA White Book states the following:

“If we are content with ourselves, simply minus the compulsion, there can be no recovery. Recovery is more than mere sobriety.”

Sexaholics Anonymous, p. 87

I’m learning that my character weaknesses need to change. My pride (what I think others think of me), selfishness, impatience, my desire to be right—I cannot keep these defects and be free of my addiction. Character defects are stubborn things (have you ever tried to change who you are before?). I’m not implying that one has to achieve character perfection in order to receive recovery and achieve lasting sobriety. What I’m learning is that I cannot hold on to them like a favorite darling toy and expect to change into the kind of person who can learn a new way of life.

This isn’t a new principle. I’ve heard it my whole life in my Christian upbringing. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me and offer me your whole heart as a sacrifice” (paraphrased). He doesn’t say, “Come unto me and offer me everything except the parts of you that you don’t want to give up yet.” I’m learning that my willingness to surrender my pride, selfishness, impatience, etc. is a necessary prerequisite to freedom from my addiction. Because underneath my addiction is a sick way of thinking and a host of weaknesses which, if I don’t surrender them, will pull me back into my addiction no matter what I do to distance myself from the obsession.

No wonder Step 4 is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, Step 5 is to admit to God, myself, and another person the exact nature of my wrongs, Step 6 is to become ready to have God remove all my defects of character, and Step 7 is to humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings. Ether 12:27, anyone?

“And 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.”

Jesus Christ. Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon.

The last time I worked the 12 Steps and relapsed after nine months of sobriety, I was disheartened to say the least. I questioned whether the Steps would work for me. Turned out I hadn’t worked them correctly. I didn’t understand that a moral inventory (step 4) needed to include learning about myself. I thought it was a way to dump all my trauma, heartache, and regrets onto paper, to get it all out and off my chest so that I could move forward from it all. I think that’s part of it, to be sure. But I missed the part that would help me learn and change.

With this realization regarding my need to give up my character defects, I’ve also learned an incredible and life-altering truth. I’d learned in my first pass through the 12 Steps that I don’t have to whiteknuckle my way to sobriety with sheer willpower and grit. That’s impossible and inevitably leads to failure. Now I’ve learned that the same principle applies to my character weaknesses! I think a real life experience may illustrate this best.

A couple weeks ago my daughters and I were cooped up in our home on a Saturday. It was cold and rainy outside, one of the girls was sick, and I was feeling low after a challenging week. The girls were starting to talk with whiny voices and I could feel my patience waning thin, so I took a second to breathe. That helped. Five minutes later, the whining hadn’t ceased, and I felt my fuse was about to run out, so again I took a second to breathe and relax my muscles. That helped. This repeated for about twenty minutes until I could feel myself about to explode. My willpower was spent. Then I felt the Lord quietly encourage me, and I asked Him to help me because I didn’t want to yell at my children. Instantly I felt relief, the tension lifted, and I was able to enjoy that time with my children. Breathing helps, for sure, but I’m an idiot if I think I can handle life on my own (hey, there’s some of that “stinking thinking” that got me into my addiction!). I need more goodness and more patience than I currently possess, and I cannot obtain those core changes with deep breaths and more oxygen. And that’s OK! God doesn’t expect me to whiteknuckle my way to patience with sheer willpower and grit. Now when I feel impatience growing inside me, I take a deep breath and I say a sincere prayer to offer up my impatience and ask for patience to replace it. That’s tough when I want to be angry, but the result of surrendering my weaknesses makes life so much easier.

Since then I’ve been seeing additional ways to apply this principle of surrender and it really is life-altering. I don’t have to do anything alone. Christ invites me to “look unto [Him] in every thought.” That includes finding a solution to a tough software bug for my employer, navigating precarious situations in important relationships, finding room for medical expenses in a tight budget, figuring out my new role as a non-spouse co-parent, and coping with threats. It includes things I cannot control and choices other people make. I don’t have to carry any of it by myself, and God doesn’t expect me to.

For me a core part of my new way of life is what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

St Francis of Assisi

I feel confident in the 12 Steps of Recovery and in God’s ability to restore me to sanity.

Finding Courage now that I can See

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“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).

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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.

Guest Post: What’s in a Name—Evelyn Grace

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Our daughters Isla (6 yrs old) and Evelyn

I’ve been asked a number of times where the inspiration for Evelyn’s name came from so I figured it was time to write it down. The explanation for her first name is easy: she shares this name with her great grandmother, Evelyn Darlene Hargiss. It’s a beautiful name. The not-so-simple explanation is needed for her middle name, Grace. This name holds particular meaning for Michael and I as it is a name inspired by all it took to bring this beautiful person into the world and into our lives.

In December of 2015 Michael and I began feeling that the time had come for us to have another child—that there was, in fact, a child waiting to come into our family. Despite my many reservations and fears (products of a difficult first pregnancy and even more challenging postpartum depression/anxiety), we decided to trust the Lord and begin trying. In mid-March I found out I was pregnant, and a week later I entered the hell of hyperemesis gravidarum. For those unfamiliar with this disease, it is severe nausea and vomiting that afflicts about 1% of pregnant women. Unlike “morning sickness,” this nausea and vomiting is constant. For ten weeks I laid in bed, unable to keep any food down. I lost 40 lbs. The muscles in my legs atrophied, and were used as food by my body for the baby. Most days I had trouble keeping even water down, and spent quite a bit of time at the hospital getting fluids. My digestive system shut down. My kidneys were beginning to fail. The feeding tube they put in (horrible) just made things worse, so I took it out. I was dying. But I didn’t. As suddenly as the sickness began, it stopped. My nausea medication started working. I stopped throwing up. My body began the painful and frustrating process of recovering. Then about two months later, as my belly finally started growing and my body was stretching, the constant pain in my legs and hips started. The heartburn got worse. The insomnia set in. Constant discomfort and pain. Hormones coursing through my body making me feel like I was going crazy. And for as horrible as all of that was, for as often as I cursed my body and sometimes wished I had never gotten pregnant, I have never been so richly blessed or seen so many miracles.

I felt the Lord’s love in the combined faith of those who prayed on my behalf. I saw so much of the Lord’s love in my husband as he cared for me. When people would bring dinner over for Michael and Isla, I saw His love. When people would stop Michael in the hallway at church and tell him they were praying for us, I felt His love. When I would get text messages from friends and family letting me know they hadn’t forgotten about me and were praying for me, I felt His love. That love sustained me. It saved my marriage, and my life. It took care of Isla when I wasn’t physically able to. And it is bringing me back to health.

I feel my Heavenly Father’s and Savior’s approval and love now as I recover. I feel it when I am being way too hard on myself for not being able to do more—for not cleaning enough, not cooking enough, not playing with Isla enough, not being more patient with Isla, etc. I feel it when I get frustrated that my hips still send pain shooting down my legs when I put my pants on in the morning. I feel it when hormones overtake my mind and I feel crazy or depressed or intensely irritable, and They remind me that it won’t last forever. And then I feel it again when I realize I’m being spared from experiencing postpartum depression.

And that is why Grace. Because when I look at Evelyn, I am reminded that His Grace hasn’t just saved me. It saved her mortal life as well. It allowed me to carry her to term. It allowed me to have the most beautiful delivery and to experience some of the most profound joy I’ve ever felt as I saw and held her for the first time. I get to be her mother because of His love and Grace. And I get to keep on loving Michael and Isla and experiencing my life with theirs. This has been an exceptionally challenging period of time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I never want to forget what happened, the good and the bad. Being saved by Grace doesn’t mean as much if you can’t remember or longer appreciate what you’ve been saved from.

Jessica Hargiss

Perspective

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“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.