One Powerful Step

I admitted I am powerless over lust and that my life has become unmanageable. (Step 1, Sexaholics Anonymous.)

Years ago I worked this step as a married man, desperate to save my relationship with my wife. This time I worked this step as a divorced man, ready to admit I have no control over lust and that my choices have led to a life I cannot manage on my own. Feels very different this time. I feel that I’m owning it more.

The last time I worked this step I had the guidance of a good man serving me as my sponsor. I’m working with a different sponsor this time, and his guidance has proven just as indispensable.

I’ve tried working these steps on my own without a sponsor. Every time I’ve failed. The only times I’ve felt real recovery and enjoyed real sobriety is when working closely with someone who’s successfully worked the steps and is still working them daily. I don’t believe there is any other way to do this. Not for me, anyway.

It makes sense, I think, that I would need a guide. By working the Twelve Steps I admit I am powerless, that my life has become unmanageable, and that I am practicing insanity to some degree (Step 2: “came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity”). I used to believe Jesus could be my guide. Certainly He can and I do ask Him to guide me. Now I believe that He often guides and helps me through other people.

For Step 1 my sponsor invited me to make a list, an autobiography of sorts, to document every thing and every way in which my addiction has made my life unmanageable. The purpose is to help me work Step 1 in my heart as well as in my head.

It was effective! I wrote down everything I could remember—every attempt to abstain and every relapse that followed (or at least the periods of time in which that cycle perpetuated given I cannot recall the thousands of individual attempts and relapses). I wrote down every relationship my addiction killed or damaged, every person I harmed with my selfish behavior. I noted my progress and and my failures over the years. Escalations in pornography content and new behaviors that evolved when the old ones no longer provided the same high.

Writing and reflecting made me sad to see how much time and effort I’ve spent trying to manage my life as an addict. I’ve learned a lot to be sure, but I’m still addicted. I’m still stuck in this. Clearly I cannot do this on my own. I am literally powerless over lust.

I write that last sentence and immediately recognize how foreign a concept it must be to those who have never been an addict or loved one up close. It made no sense to me for years and I’m still learning what it means (obviously, given I’m on Step 1). “Why don’t you just stop? If you wanted xyz enough, you would just stop.” I remember thinking those words to myself many times. The solution can be that simple when addiction isn’t the problem. There are myriad self-help books for changing behavior and habits. I’ve read dozens of them, all very helpful. I’ve also read a handful of books on addiction and I am telling you they are not the same beast! Telling or expecting an addict to “just stop” is as helpful as telling or expecting a sick person to just stop feeling nauseated. I have to remind myself this often, because I still speak unproductive words to myself from time to time.

I need spiritual healing, yes. But studying scripture, praying, repenting for a relapse, and confessing to my bishop is not enough.

I need physical health, true. But exercising, eating healthy, and having a healthy sex life with my spouse is not enough (also, the latter being an option I’m no longer willing to include in my life now that I’m divorced).

I need emotional intelligence and mental health, absolutely. But meditating, therapy, communicating, learning to cope healthily with life’s challenges aren’t enough.

I need to recover myself from an addiction. It’s literally an enslavement. I’m learning that my recovery requires a very specific, well-defined, and proven program fueled by connection to God and fellow addicts seeking recovery. So far I’ve found more success in working these twelve steps than I have found in any other idea or program, and I’ve tried many.

Reading my Step 1 to my sponsor today felt good. We talked about my history after I finished reading it. He shared his experience in working his Step 1. Felt good to feel understood. When he left I felt a burden lifted, but different from what I feel after confessing sin to my bishop. This wasn’t a confession but a shared understanding. He knows exactly what I’ve done and what I’m doing now because he’s done it too. I know he knows it, and he knows that I know. There’s power in that, which cannot be overstated and which I am struggling to describe.

Now I’m working Step 2. I still have a gnawing fear that the twelve steps won’t work for me. But I’m choosing to believe it can.

Moving forward!

Writing this blog helps me reaffirm what I’m learning, so thank you for reading.

Free Delivery and No Hidden Fees

I have so much to share but little time right now. Suffice it to say I am working the 12 steps and enjoying freedom from my addiction! I also finally accepted my divorce and am experiencing rapid healing and growth now that I’ve let God back in. It’s truly amazing and a miracle.

I just read this and want to share it:

But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.

Mosiah 29:20, The Book of Mormon

He is mighty to save, and all that is required is my surrender and trust. No gotchas, no fine print, no legal jargon, no hidden fees. No fees at all! His salvation is free, and only He can give it. I am grateful!

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Small and Simple

red_leaf_fall

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass…” (Alma 37:6)

 

About two months ago I was driving home from work and feeling overwhelmed by the changes I wanted to make. My faults and sins seemed to outweigh my efforts to repent and change. I prayed for help and wisdom. The Holy Spirit reminded me of certain principles I’ve learned in software engineering named Scrum.

 

One of my favorite parts of Scrum is the retrospective phase that occurs at the end of every work “sprint.” The purpose is to assess the team’s progress and identify the largest bottlenecks, then decide on the smallest changes the team can make that will have the greatest positive impact.

 

As the Spirit reminded me of these principles, I felt the Lord say to me, “What are your largest impediments to progress right now?” The answers came quickly: not taking the sacrament, and not exercising consistently.

Suddenly the changes I needed to make felt doable and my burdens instantly became lighter. I shared my experience with Jess, my therapist, and my bishop. He and I worked together so that I could take the sacrament again, and I did by the grace of God.

That was one month ago. Since then I’ve felt more peace than I have in a long time. Heavenly Father, Jess, my bishop, and my therapist help me keep a healthy perspective. I’m still working on the exercise part, but I’m gaining momentum there too. I am grateful for the faith, hope, and progress the Lord gives me.

It isn’t a Sin to be Weak!

The following questions–among numerous others–have been bouncing around in my head for the past few years:

Should I feel bad for my weaknesses?

Do my weaknesses influence my worthiness?

This weakness isn’t going away. Is something wrong with me?

Why hasn’t the Lord made my weakness a strength yet?

The Lord has been answering these questions piece by piece through wonderful people He’s placed in my life. Today He gave me another piece.

My wife shared this article with me. It is so good! I’m saving it. I can’t stop reading it! I hope it helps and uplifts you, too.

I get to choose my Ice Cream

image source: joaquinfsousapoza.com

image source: joaquinfsousapoza.com

 

I’ll be surprised if a theme or message comes out of this post. I have plenty of thoughts and I’m not sure what to do with them.

I think I’ve been trying to do recovery on my own again.

I recently took on a new role at work and the stress has begun mounting along with mixed emotions of fear, excitement, and “Holy moley I have to figure out this role and no one here knows how to fulfill it or even define it and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.” Make it up as I go? I dunno. I ordered four books yesterday. I hope I find some guidance from them.

New thought: I can surrender my fears to my Father in Heaven and ask Him to guide my efforts at work. That sounds good.

I’ve also been feeling a lot of sorrow lately. Many of my friends in recovery have relapsed recently. I know their pain and it hurts to see them go through it. I look up to all of them, and some of them had years of sobriety. I still look up to them. I’d be lying if I said their relapses didn’t frighten me. I’m afraid I’ll make it to a year or more of sobriety by the grace of God and then relapse. I think I feel afraid that such a course is what God has planned for me.

I don’t want to think that that kind of thinking makes sense, but I have my doubts. I guess it could be that God has a relapse planned for me, but that would have to accompany the notion that I don’t have a choice in the matter, or that my life is only a script written by someone else.

I think God knows whether or not I’ll relapse, but I don’t think that His omniscience determines my choices. That would be like saying I can control my mom’s choice of ice cream simply because I know that she’ll choose butter pecan over strawberry.

I think God knows me so well that He knows what choices I’ll make in any situation. No, that doesn’t determine my actions. Actually, I feel some comfort in knowing that my Father in Heaven knows me that well. Given that my eternal progress and happiness is His top priority, I can trust that He will always prepare a way for me to remain sober.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Nephi:

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7, Book of Mormon).

That feels right. I feel hope when I consider these words. God will not require me to submit to my addictions when He asks me to submit to Him. His will is not my misery or damnation. His will is my joy and progress. His will for me is my recovery.

I’m grateful to the Lord for revealing my fears to me. I feel much better now. I’ve been feeling afraid without being willing to surrender my fears. I feel relief now. I feel hope again. Thank God for my Savior who provides a way for my salvation, even from myself!

My wife just turned on Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. I gotta go. :)

Also, I have the coolest wife ever.