I’m hungry

In a previous post, I likened my addictions to hot water. Interestingly enough, the longer I stand in a hot shower, the more my body becomes accustomed to the heat, and the less hot water I have available for use.

Eventually the hot water will run out. Addiction is like this for me.

Another metaphor:

I’m invited to a great feast. The host has laid out everything I could possibly want to eat. I eat till I’m stuffed.

A few hours later, I’m hungry again. I return to the table and eat till I’m full. I feel better. I notice that I ate more this time.

Thirty minutes later I repeat my previous actions, only this time I have to eat even more before I feel satisfied. The food still tastes great, so I’m glad to eat more!

After some time I realize that I can’t get full anymore. I’m always hungry… always eating and never satisfied. But the food still tastes good.

What happened? It’s the same food, same menu, same table.

I look around and see others eating quite happily. They’re having a good time. Some of them look full and satisfied. Why can’t I still enjoy the food and have a good time?

I grab a pile of food and sit in a corner to eat and think. Next to me are seated other eaters with their own piles of food. They’re all skinny even though they’ve clearly been eating copious amounts of food. I notice I’m skinny, too.

I look around the room, peering into the darker corners of the great hall. I see men and women of all ages. They each sit alone, isolated and emaciated. They look horrible. They look miserable, but they’re still eating.

I’m still hungry but I can’t get enough food.

I get up to inquire about the food. Something must be wrong with it.

The host must have noticed my concerned expression because suddenly he’s at my side.

“What can I do for you?” he asks.

“The food isn’t filling anymore. Something’s wrong with it,” I reported.

“Oh, is that so? You’re probably thirsty. What you need is something to drink.”

“Of course! I must be thirsty. I am thirsty!”

“Here, let me show you to our open bar. You may have water if you like, but the drinks are much more satisfying…”

Over the past twenty years I’ve learned the truth. I learned it the hard way, but now I know. Now I know where to find real food for my soul—not the counterfeit stuff that the world offers me.

Jesus Christ had this to say about the water offered by the world:

“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

I now enjoy more peace than ever before. My soul finds satisfaction and health from my Higher Power daily. He is the bread and water of life for my soul, and when I partake, I am filled with His Spirit.

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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).

Quote

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)

Why God Loves Me

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I could choose to define myself using one or some of my many roles or titles.  I’m a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, grandson, Priesthood holder, student, employee, runner, addict, musician, etc.  But which one truly defines me?  Which one defines who I really am… which one defines my self-worth?  I have come to believe that although I am all of these things, I am—first and foremost—a son of God.  The order of this definition—that is, my being a son of God before I am (or became) anything else—has become a most treasured truth to me in my recovery from addiction.

One of the worst lies the devil persuaded me to believe is that my worth is determined by my behavior.  I’m not referring to self-esteem, although depending on its definition I suppose they could be similar.  I find it helpful to consider self-esteem and self-perception as similar things, as the lens through which one views him- or herself.  While the lens I was using to view myself did not provide an accurate representation of who I am, my real trouble has been how I determine my value as a person.

Here’s a definition of value: the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something.  Throughout my life—both before and during my addiction—I’ve struggled to feel important.  I largely allowed my social standing amongst peers to influence how I view myself.  As a child I was socially awkward, which led to some ridicule from my school classmates.  As I grew out of adolescence and developed social skills, I constantly retained a fear of rejection.  Social acceptance validated my worth.  Eventually my poor choices led me to depression and addiction, both of which challenged my incorrect method of self-perception.  I reached a point where I felt that I had no source of self-worth or value.  I thought, “Sure, it’s nice that people like me and that I have friends; but if they could see who I really am… my darker side, my pornography addiction…  then they wouldn’t like me. They would reject and despise me.”

For years I allowed my fear of rejection to prevent me from opening up to anyone.  And despite my self-loathing, I got pretty good at putting on a happy face.  I was leading two lives.  Thus my addiction’s roots grew stronger and deeper, and I learned to hate myself.

I even used scriptures and quotes from Church leaders to convince myself that I wasn’t worth anything.  Of course, I know now that I was using them outside of their intended context, and that the devil was behind it.  For example: “What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue” (Preach My Gospel, p.115-126).  Yes, that is a true statement.  In my despair, however, the adversary convinced me that this was about my value as a person instead of a measurement for a desirable attribute.  Sadly, I believed his lies.  Here’s how I read it: “What I choose to think and do when I’m alone and no one else is watching is a strong measure of my worth.”  I knew what I was doing when no one else was watching, and I hated myself for it.  “So,” I thought. “I must not be worth very much at all… I’m disgusting. I’m nobody.”  I allowed this instance, among many others, to warp how I measured my self-worth.

What a horrible state of being—where the enemy of my soul gained enough power over me to twist the truth against me, to lead me to believe that I was worth nothing to myself or to anyone else, including God!

Thankfully, this warped self-perception and measure of self-worth has been slowly corrected throughout my recovery from addiction.  It was a lie that developed into a pattern of thinking.  It affected everything in my life, and I held on to it for years.  Only within the past year have I finally come to learn and believe that my worth is NOT determined by my behavior.  This has required numerous wonderful experiences and moments of illumination from Heavenly Father.  One in particular comes to mind.

I was studying Clean Hands, Pure Heart by Phillip A. Harrison (a fellow addict in recovery).  I had been struggling to understand how God could and why He would (or even should) still love me despite all my faults and horrible choices.  Then I read this:

“God doesn’t love us because we are good.  God loves us because he is good” (source).

When I read this, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my soul in a very personal way that God does love me and that my poor choices (or even my good ones) haven’t affected that.  What relief and solace!  God’s love for me doesn’t depend on my behavior.  God loves me because that’s who He is.  I’ve believed that I’m one of His spiritual sons for as long as I can remember.  But why does, how can, and why should He love me after all the horrible things I’ve done?  He loves me because that’s who He is, and because I am His child.

When I think back to all the times I’ve sinned or come up short, I think of how He responded to me every time I prayed to Him to ask for forgiveness and help.  Not once did He ever say, “No, you’re on your own.”  He’s never turned me away or told me to come back later once I’d fixed my problems.  I knew that His love doesn’t excuse me from obeying His laws, but oh how much more I want to obey Him knowing that He still loves me when I falter.  In fact, He wants to help me when I falter!  Isn’t that one of the purposes of Jesus Christ’s Atonement: to run to my aid when I need divine assistance the most?  He doesn’t yell at me or get impatient with my weaknesses or tell me I’m not worth the effort.  Instead He encourages, loves, and helps me change.  And when I submit to Him and His will, He actually changes me.  I’m so grateful to Him for teaching this to me so gently and patiently.

I still feel tempted occasionally to think that my behavior affects how God views me, what He thinks of me, and that He loves me.  But now I have beautiful spiritual experiences to combat the whispered lies that come from the enemy of my soul.  My self-perception, or lens through which I view myself, has been corrected; and I now choose to define my self-worth with the knowledge that I am a son of God, and He knows I have an infinite worth.  To help myself remember this truth, this is how I introduce myself at addiction recovery meetings (I picked it up from a fellow addict in recovery): “Hi, I’m Mike. I’m a son of God and an addict in recovery.”  First and foremost, before anything else, I am a son of God.

God loves me; I know He does.  And nothing I do can ever change that.  Based on this truth, and on the principle that God is always the same, I can testify—and do testify—that He loves all of His children the same way.

I think the Apostle Paul said it beautifully:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).