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How to turn a close call into a relapse

How to turn a close call into a relapse

Matt, a friend of mine over at EmbracingPowerlessness.com, offers great insight to the insanity of addiction. Click the link above to read more.

Had it not been for the great friends I’ve made in the addiction recovery program, I would have ended today with numerous “close calls” and ultimately in relapse remorse. For the first time in my recovery, God answered my prayers of surrender with a simple instruction: “Call someone.” Of course, I struggled with the thought (“Oh wretched man that I am!”), but the Lord gave me the faith to obey Him.

Because of Him, and through my friends in recovery, I end today with a grateful heart knowing that I am powerless, God is not, and my only hope is to trust Him.

(Did I mention that Matt’s post is incredibly insightful? Please read it!)

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How my God judges my race

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“At a youth conference in Kungsbacka, Sweden, John took part in a 1500-meter running race. He had no chance to win. Rather, his was the opportunity to be humiliated, mocked, derided, scorned. Perhaps John remembered another who lived long ago and far away. Wasn’t He mocked? Wasn’t He derided? Wasn’t He scorned? But He prevailed. He won His race. Maybe John could win his.

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Next Time

I’ve been listening to The Garden almost nonstop for the past week. It’s an allegorical oratorio. I first heard the music when my home stake performed it years ago. I remembered I really enjoyed the music and lyrics. Turns out it has a song that I feel perfectly describes my hope, fears, and desires throughout my addiction. As I listened to it, I felt the Lord speaking hope and love to my heart. It depicts the thoughts and feelings of a ram who’s stuck in a thicket. It’s called, “Next Time.”

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Abide with me!

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

Click here to hear the music.

Text: Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847

Music: William H. Monk, 1823-1889

Hydrogen Peroxide

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This saying has been on my mind: “…individuals finally become willing to abstain when the pain of the problem becomes worse than the pain of the solution” (LDS Addiction Recovery Manual, p.1, emphasis added).

Why would the solution include pain? I think one reason is so that I can’t return to my sins without recalling how much pain they bring. Maybe it’s similar to why God lets me touch a hot stove and afterward obtain medical care, so that I learn what will wound me and what will heal me. Perhaps cleansing all types of wounds—physical, emotional, or spiritual—involves some measure of pain.

I’m thinking of when I got nasty gravel-covered scrapes on my knees and elbows after falling off my bicycle as a kid. My mom would first clean out the gravel and dirt from the wounds. As if that didn’t hurt enough, she’d then bring out the big guns: hydrogen peroxide. I think many of us can recall what that feels like. My mother usually had to repeatedly assure me that the “bubbly medicine” would be good for me. I’m pretty sure I often protested in fear of the pain that I knew would ensue. Eventually she would convince me to trust her and I’d let her apply the painful solution. She was right; it hurt every time, but the wound always got better.

Has learning to trust God been any different for me? I certainly know the pain of my sins and addictions, but I’m just getting to know the pain of repentance and recovery. I’m slowly getting better, and the pain becomes bearable when I plead for God’s grace to sustain me.  Just as Heavenly Father promised, I’m experiencing the healing power of Jesus Christ’s Atonement.

It seems to me that I have been given a choice in this life: either the never-ending sorrow of my sins and weaknesses, or the temporary pain of repentance and healing. My experience has been that the former brings even more pain, while the latter yields peace of mind and soul.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the following:

“Suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better. Only repentance leads to the sunlit uplands of a better life. And, of course, only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation. …whatever the cost of repentance, it is swallowed up in the joy of forgiveness.”

I crave peace and forgiveness. Healing hurts right now, but I can feel the Lord restoring health and life to my soul.

Running with a Friend hurts less

I’m working Step 4. I’m writing down my entire life… everything I can possibly remember and all that the Lord wants me to recall… all my pain, sins, mistakes, fears, achievements, strengths, weaknesses, and wounds. Everything, for the purpose of building “a framework through which [the Lord] could help [me] sort out [my] past honestly” (LDS Addiction Recovery Manual, p.31).

I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Doing step 4 hurts. Fragile is the best word I can think of to describe how it makes me feel. It’s a painful experience.

A few weeks ago I went for an early morning run in the mountains. After a few miles I turned to head towards a canyon. At the mouth of the canyon I ran into (not literally) another runner. He was from out of town and asked if he could run with me so that he wouldn’t get lost. I’ve found that trail runners are often friendly people.

We started up the canyon together and soon noticed that most of the snow on the trail had been packed into ice. I also realized that I had forgotten to bring my trusty ice spikes. Don’t ask me why we didn’t turn around right then and there… mountain running makes me feel invincible (maybe I can blame the altitude? :-) ).  We settled into a steady pace running up the canyon while we talked about races, favorite trails, and our families. We slipped and nearly fell frequently but we kept going. I was enjoying the run.

After a couple of miles we came to a fork in the trail. I told him where I was headed and he said he wanted to explore the other direction, so we shook hands and parted ways. I took a drink of water and then started running up the trail again.

Suddenly my legs were very angry with me, haha. They hurt! The terrain hadn’t changed at all. Why the sudden pain? I did a mental body scan to check my running form. No problems there that I could identify but experience told me it was time to end the run. I turned around to head back down the canyon. I immediately slipped with my first step and fell onto my back and elbows. Another mental body scan… I wasn’t seriously injured. My water bottles had broken my fall and burst open in the process. Better than a broken bone! I took my new friend’s earlier advice and ran down the dry river bed instead of the trail. Much safer.

I only considered it a running experience, one in which I had earned a few cuts and bruises (badges of honor, as my mission president calls them). About a week later I learned a wonderful principle about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I was having a rough day. Life happens. I prayed for strength. I prayed for the Lord to carry those burdens that I couldn’t and to help me carry the rest. He then reminded me of my run up the canyon with my new friend. I had felt pain all the way up that canyon. I even felt fear upon discovering the treacherous terrain. But the pain and fear were pushed into the background of my mind by the companionship of my friend. His company allowed me to focus on something other than the pain. Running up that canyon still hurt, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Because of his company, I was able to endure—and in some ways enjoy—a painful experience.

Upon reminding me and teaching me in that moment, the Lord relieved me of the burdens of the day and week. I felt peace and love from Him. I was able to continue my day and focus on my work. The pain was still there, but it was no longer the only thing on my mind. It had been pushed into the background because the Savior was now my companion.

I felt His companionship and grace again today.  I just read the following from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual:

“Even as you feel the pains of your own rebirth, remember that His suffering, not yours, ensures your redemption from sin. Your sacrifice is only a humble reminder of His ‘great and last sacrifice’ on your behalf (Alma 34:14)… Your fear of change will diminish as you realize the Lord understands the pain and hard work it requires” (p.41, 35).

I’m learning that my life can be a similar experience to that of my run in the canyon. I’ll have more rough days like today, but I won’t have to face them alone. The Lord is my friend and is walking the path of recovery with me.

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When I think I can’t continue on

“Every person, young and old, has had his own personal experience with falling. Falling is what we mortals do. But as long as we are willing to rise up again and continue on the path toward the spiritual goals God has given us, we can learn something from failure and become better and happier as a result.

My dear brethren, my dear friends, there will be times when you think you cannot continue on. Trust the Savior and His love. With faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power and hope of the restored gospel, you will be able to walk tall and continue on.

…We acknowledge that your path will at times be difficult. But I give you this promise in the name of the Lord: rise up and follow in the footsteps of our Redeemer and Savior, and one day you will look back and be filled with eternal gratitude that you chose to trust the Atonement and its power to lift you up and give you strength” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference, Oct 2013).

Sincere Failure

Fair warning… it’s about to get really open and vulnerable in here. :)

My Heavenly Father continues to bless me abundantly through the 90-day program I’m currently doing (check out arpsupport.org). This program includes my sharing my journal entries with my sponsor every night. It helps me practice accountability, honesty, and vulnerability, in addition to helping me establish healthy habits of daily self-assessment and “checking in” with Heavenly Father.

I wrote the following in my journal on 6 Mar 2014:

“Isla got up at who knows when this morning and woke me up at 6:20, which is progress for her. We’ve been training her to sleep till the sun ‘wakes up,’ but the poor kid has a hard time discerning when that happens because of nearby construction lights. We give her some chocolate milk with breakfast when she gets up with the sun. This morning we went downstairs and she said disappointingly, ‘I guess I can have some milk?’ I told her, ‘Yes, of course! Don’t you want chocolate milk? You waited till the sun woke up.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, no. Look,’ and she walked over to the window, opened the blinds, pointed at the construction lights, and said, ‘It’s not light outside yet, Daddy.’ I stifled my laughter and told her she did a good job waiting longer today and she thought it was light outside, so she could have some chocolate milk for doing her best. She smiled and excitedly accepted, haha.”

In response, my sponsor posed this question to me:  “I think there is a lesson in your little girl’s early wake-up experience. How is her reaction to you as her father—her questions, her concern that she wouldn’t get the blessing of chocolate milk—similar to your experience with Heavenly Father? Put yourself in your daughter’s shoes.”

Once he pointed out the potential similarity, I began to see it intellectually; but I did not feel it. I could not understand how God could feel toward me what I felt toward Isla that morning. Yes, Isla is my daughter and I am one of God’s children. Yes, He has shown me mercy when I did not deserve it (isn’t that why it’s called mercy?), but I thought this experience with Isla was different. She was doing the best she could. I couldn’t fault her or be disappointed in her for that.  But me? I’m an addict. I’ve relapsed countless times after sincerely repenting. Surely there’s no similarity between the two beyond the father-child relationship.

I needed almost a week of frequent and deliberate pondering to see the similarities between the two relationships—mine and Isla’s, and mine and God’s. I received my answer from my Heavenly Father while doing my step work on the morning of 13 Mar 2014:

“Q: How does the Savior’s infinite Atonement increase your hope for repentance and healing as you go through the recovery process?
A: Its in-finiteness has become appealing to me because I can trust that it doesn’t run out. I can trust that I don’t have a limited number of chances for repentance, and I’m certain I’m going to need many, many more chances for repentance and learning. I’m not perfect yet, so I’m going to need more chances for healing from my sins and mistakes. The people I love will also need healing from my choices. I feel hopeful knowing that there’s no limit to that miracle.

Q: How does this apply to other aspects of your life?  How is this comforting and reassuring to you?
A: I think it means that failure is okay. I can stumble and fall while I’m learning. I think that’s a part of learning. It must be, otherwise I don’t think Father in Heaven would’ve sent me to a fallen world. I need to live in a fallen world in order to learn that God will always be there for me when I fall and not just when I make the right choices. This is comforting. I’ve feared failure for as long as I can remember. I fear it because I don’t want to disappoint others. I [now] believe that my failures don’t disappoint God; instead, He empathizes with me when I fail. Perhaps He loves me even more when I fail, like the love I feel for my daughter when she’s doing the best she can. In those moments I feel proudest of her.

I think this relates to what happened and how I felt the other morning when Isla honestly thought she had waited to wake me till the sun came up. She was sad because she felt she had disappointed me, when in reality I was feeling a surge of love and understanding for her. I felt proud of her sincere efforts to do what she, her mother, and I had been working on together. Her sincerity and actions merited my praise, not my disappointment. Perhaps my Heavenly Father feels this way about me when I sincerely approach Him and fall short of perfection.”

I believe this principle to be true. I felt it when I learned it in that moment of prayerful study, and I’ve felt it multiple times since then.

I just can’t get over how much He loves me—how much He loves all His children. There’s no end to that. There’s no limit to His mercy. Isn’t that amazing? His love doesn’t run out after one-too-many (or five-hundred-too-many) relapses or angry outbursts or failed attempts at recovery. No, now I believe that He loves me best when I falter. He mourns with me when I struggle. And He forgives me time and time again when I approach Him with full purpose of heart, hiding nothing from Him, and being willing to do anything He asks of me. I’m learning that sincerity means a great deal to God, especially when we fail while sincerely approaching Him.

The prophet Zenos wrote the following, which captures well the thoughts and feelings of my heart:

“And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 33:11).

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Faith when it Hurts

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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I can’t, God can, I’ll let Him

“…handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.”

C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, p.147)