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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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Guest Post by my wife: Hope, Healing, and the War Chapters

I was sealed to my husband almost 5 years ago. Six months into our marriage was the first time he told me about his recurring problem with pornography. Since that time, what at one point was a “few times a year” problem, exploded into an addiction. His personality began changing. I saw his temper much more frequently. I saw his addiction drive him into a deep depression. And for all my desires to change him or help him get better, I soon learned there was nothing I could do.

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“Of a truth thou art the Son of God”

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Heavenly Father just helped me through a very powerful temptation. Almost two seconds (not kidding) after my wife left for her support group meeting tonight, the devil launched one heck of an assault on me. I felt overwhelmed. I am grateful to God for giving me the awareness to see what was happening and what my brain was doing: starting my ritual for acting out.

I have learned that transparency and honesty are effective tools for keeping the adversary and my addictions at bay, so I immediately prayed for strength and reached out to my sponsor. I also knew that sitting idly and silently never ends well for me, so I turned on some peaceful tunes and started doing bodyweight exercises in my dining room. That helped me stay connected to the Lord and remain mentally awake.

As I was exercising and praying I still felt the overwhelming pull of my addictions. It felt more like repeated tugging or yanking, really… like a tide of irresistible yearning, first subsiding and then consuming me with alarming strength. I felt so powerless. But the music and exercise were still helping me stay focused on the Lord and grounded in reality instead of being lulled into complacency or swallowed up in fear.

I continued praying, exercising, and texting with my sponsor until I felt a sudden peaceful invitation to kneel and pray. I stopped what I was doing and did just that. Immediately Heavenly Father lifted the burden of stress and fear from my heart and mind. I felt His calming assurance that He is with me and will not forsake me. I felt loved. I felt important to Him. The overwhelming pull of my addictions was gone.

I feel so relieved and grateful! My fear and anxiety have been replaced with peace and reassurance. Talking with my sponsor really helped; I can’t emphasize that enough. I think any addict attempting recovery can relate to the insanity of the addiction once it’s triggered… it’s like my brain and body go on autopilot, the plane nose-dives into an immediate spin and I’m watching it go down in flames knowing that there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It’s a terrifying feeling.

That’s addiction! I am powerless! Once my brain flips the switch to auto-pilot-addict I can’t stop it. That’s not a cop-out, that’s just addiction. A cop-out would happen if I leave out this next part: God is NOT powerless! God CAN stop it! In fact, He took over my burning plane. I wanted to act out, so I submitted my will to my Heavenly Father and pleaded for Him to do for me what I cannot do for myself, and He took control. He did that for me tonight and I feel so grateful to Him for always being there when I need Him.

“Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things” (The Book of Mormon, Jacob 4:6–7).

I’m reminded of the account of Peter walking on water… the man walked on water! Surely he did that with the Lord’s power and not his own. I feel like the Lord just enabled me to walk on water. The storms, wind, and waves of my addiction and the devil’s power were upon me and I was so very scared, and just like Peter, I cried out to Jesus Christ, “saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught [me], and said unto [me], O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” That’s what I felt when I knelt in prayer tonight—Heavenly Father lovingly reminding me that I don’t need to be afraid of my addictions because He will always be there for me. I’ll certainly keep my distance (of course), but I can move forward with complete trust in God’s ability to save and strengthen me.

Just as He strengthened His disciples’ faith that night on the stormy Sea of Galilee, He has strengthened mine. And just as his disciples proclaimed on that ship with Him, I feel I can proclaim with them:

And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.  Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (The Holy Bible, New Testament, Matthew 14:32-33).

How do I surrender?

When I first heard the word “surrender” in an addiction recovery context, I really didn’t understand it. I still find it difficult to describe clearly as I’m still learning how to do it. The more I learn about surrender, the more I understand that it’s synonymous with repentance.

C.S. Lewis captures this concept well in my opinion. He’s one of my favorite authors, and not just for his timeless Chronicles of Narnia series (I also highly recommend his science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet). Lewis wrote the following about repentance/surrender in his book, Mere Christianity:

“Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor– that is the only way out of a ‘hole.’ This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person–and he would not need it.

“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.”

Likewise, I recover from my addiction because Jesus Christ recovered from my addiction in His Atonement for me, and because He holds my hand while we do it, while He teaches me recovery (i.e. the 12 Steps, a.k.a. the gospel of Jesus Christ). I love Him so very much. I can’t do it without Him.

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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).

Honesty

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After two years of attending addiction recovery meetings and nearly fifteen years of wrestling this beast called addiction, I can finally and gratefully admit defeat.

This is Step 1 of the addiction recovery program, originally inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous’ (“AA”) 12 Steps:

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

I did not want to admit that I am powerless to overcome my addictions and that I can’t control of my life. That concept goes against what I’ve believed all my life. In many ways it contradicts what my culture (including common but not official beliefs within Mormonism) espouses…

Self-reliance. Independence. A strong will can overcome anything. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish. God will never give you more than you can handle. Some accomplishments might take longer than others, but anyone can ultimately achieve the same things with enough time and hard work. You just have to want it badly enough.

I tell you what, breaking free of those beliefs is tough. I’ve struggled vainly to hold on to them. I completely bought into the idea that I can do this, I can overcome my addiction… “keep on trucking, Michael, because you can do this. Just work harder. You’ll figure this out.” I meant well by trying to believe these ideas. I thought I was supposed to.

I am so, so very grateful that God is teaching me to abandon these powerfully appealing false doctrines.

Here’s an excerpt from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual:

“… the addiction was destroying our lives. When we honestly looked at the past, we admitted that nothing we had tried on our own had worked. We acknowledged how the addiction had only gotten worse. We realized how much our addictions had damaged relationships and robbed us of any sense of worth. At this point, we took the first step toward freedom and recovery by finding the courage to admit that we were not just dealing with a problem or a bad habit. We finally admitted the truth that our lives had become unmanageable and that we needed help to overcome our addictions. The amazing thing about this honest realization of defeat was that recovery finally began (page 1, emphasis added).

I just can’t get enough of those words! An honest realization of my defeat has liberated me from my pride and self will.

Until one month ago I would’ve challenged such notions… “Defeat? Who finds inspiration from admitting defeat? No, I’m strong! I can do this! I just haven’t figured it out yet, but I will!”  I toiled and cried and doubted and clawed my way through my addiction. I white-knuckled with a fierce commitment to sobriety. And I relapsed countless times. Interestingly, I thought I had already completed Step 1, but I hadn’t admitted defeat.

I pleaded and begged for God to help me. And He did help me. He blessed me with debilitating depression. He blessed me to feel and be utterly spent. He blessed me with exhaustion. He loves me so much that He let me break. He let me lose. He blessed me to see that I lost my war on addiction. I was defeated.

Never, not in my entire existence (I honestly feel that I can make this statement) have I ever felt so defeated and beaten as I did one month ago. I didn’t have any strength left. I had nothing left to give. I’ve ran up mountains (literally). I’ve served a full-time mission with every ounce of energy I had in me (I slept for a very long time after returning home). I’ve worked forty hours a week while attending college full-time with a wife and a baby. I’ve been poor enough to worry about how we were going to eat our next meal. I’ve contemplated suicide. But nothing beat me like addiction beat me. This was my very own “rock bottom,” as AA puts it.

In the very moment that I conceded defeat—in the very moment—God was there to lift me up. I didn’t feel a surge of hope or faith that everything would be alright. I only felt love from Him. I felt that despite my complete defeat, He was not condemning me. He was not forsaking me. In my moment of despair, He showed me that He will never stop loving me. That’s when I finally surrendered to my God. Yes, addiction won and I lost. But that didn’t have to be the end of it. No, I have the most powerful and loving Being in the universe on my side, and He’ll never abandon me. I now feel like I know this truth better than I know my own name.

So I’m no longer fighting this battle on my own because I’m no longer fighting according to my plans. I’m no longer struggling to win my way. My way lost. My way led to deeper addiction, more anger, and hardened pride. My will and not Thine be done was my way. “I’ll figure this out, and I’ll ask you for help when I really need it.” I’m leaving all that behind now, and I’ve never felt so free.

Now I work the steps of recovery every day and together with my Lord and Savior we are winning! We are moving forward. I still have rough days. I still have need to repent almost every minute, but I’m no longer losing against my addiction because I’m no longer trying to fight it on my own. I don’t have to win or lose anymore. I just need to learn to trust my Heavenly Father and in His power to deliver me.

And here’s the miracle: He knew that I would lose. He knew that I would desperately need divine help. He knew that I would literally need saving. That’s why He gave me a Savior! That’s why He offered His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice for my sins and fallen nature. He didn’t let His Son die because He thought I was a failure but because He knew I would fail, and He couldn’t let me fail without any hope of recovery. That doesn’t contradict the fact that He thinks the world of me as one of His children—it supports it! It’s the epitome of loving support.

God let His Son, Jesus Christ, die for me because He loves me. And Jesus Christ died for me because He loves me, too. I am that important to God. I am worth the best blood this world has ever seen (I think I heard someone use that expression before, but I can’t find it).

Twenty-seven days ago I went to http://www.arpsupport.org out of desperation. I asked for a sponsor and I got one. I thank my Father in Heaven for leading me to do that. My sponsor helps me to be rigorously honest and not overlook the details. He’s helping me work the steps of recovery thoroughly. He shows me that he cares and doesn’t condemn. He understands what I’m going through and he’s helping me come to know that Jesus Christ understands what I’m going through.

As it turns out, the steps really do work when I work the steps. I need to work them constantly, every day. That simply means I need my Savior constantly, every day. My Higher Power is my only way out of this, and I’m learning to do it His way.

Tonight in a group addiction support meeting I heard the most profound and sincere declaration that I’ve ever heard, and I heard it from a fellow addict in recovery: “Today I know that God loves me.” He was overcome with emotion, as were we all. I’m so grateful God led me to that meeting tonight so that I could learn from my fellow addict brother. I add my testimony to his, that today I know that God loves me. I owe everything to Him. I love Him!

“I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Book of Mormon, Alma 26:11-12).