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.”
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.
As an addict I can’t count the number of times in which I’ve needed more faith… more trust in God and in His plan for me, more hope that I can still be rescued from my addictions, even just a flicker of a desire to believe that I am not completely lost. Many times I have found such faith and hope by listening to others share their own in LDS addiction recovery group meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous group meetings, personal recovery blogs, and speakers in church.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (The Holy Bible, New Testament, Romans 10:17).
Every six months the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a live conference of faith and hope. It’s broadcast to the world via satellite, cable, TV, and Internet. It’s translated into hundreds of languages. Every time I watch this conference and listen for what God wants me to hear, I am lifted and I find faith and hope that God will help me through my challenges, trials, and weaknesses. I feel a belief deep in my heart that He is there and mindful of me, and that He loves me.
I invite you to participate in this conference. You can even do it from the comfort of your home or via the mobility of a device connected to the Internet. Watch the video for more information. May you find faith and hope in Jesus Christ as you watch and listen to the words of those who’ve felt His love and hope in their own lives.
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!
Text: Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847
Music: William H. Monk, 1823-1889
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).
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.
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.
“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).
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).
I’d like to address something that I once used as an excuse for indulging in my addiction. It’s an important topic to me, and I have formed very strong opinions on it. Because I feel so strongly about it, I’m concerned that I’ll come off as “preachy.” I hope I don’t. I only mean to convey the truths I’ve learned in a clear, unmistakable manner.
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (the Apostle John, 1 John 2:16).
There was a time in my addiction recovery when I got frustrated and angry with women who dress immodestly. I thought, “My recovery would be a lot easier if women would cover themselves more.” Perhaps others have had or heard similar thoughts. Here are a few that I’ve heard:
“Women (men) should dress modestly because it helps men (women) keep their thoughts clean.”
“It’s not a man’s fault that he has so many sexual urges. Women are just more virtuous than men.”
“Men naturally think about sex more than women do. They can’t help it.”
“I couldn’t help looking at her (him) because of what she (he) was wearing.”
“If women (men) would dress more modestly then I wouldn’t have such a hard time controlling my eyes.”
And the list goes on…
Here’s what I’ve learned: These statements are all lies.
Women are not responsible for a man’s thoughts or behaviors. Men are not responsible for a woman’s thoughts or behaviors. Women are not inherently more virtuous than or superior to men (and vice versa). Men are not inherently less virtuous or inferior to women (and vice versa).
I am responsible for my own thoughts and behavior.
I came to learn this after much thought, struggle, prayer, and study. I think it took me a while to reach these conclusions because their opposites (see the list of lies above) are much easier to believe. They encouraged and enabled my addictive behavior and thoughts. Subscribing to them made me a victim. “It’s not my fault that some women choose to dress that way. And because I’m a male, it’s so much harder for me to control my thoughts.”
Yes, being in public can sometimes be extremely difficult for me. Heck, living in this world can be difficult for anyone striving not to be of the world. Billboards, TV and radio commercials, Internet advertisements, music, movies… one doesn’t have to search long before finding inappropriate sexual material. In fact, in today’s world, one doesn’t even have to search for it in order to be exposed to it.
Nevertheless, God doesn’t excuse me from seeking to rid my life, mind, and heart of it:
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:28).
I also believe that feelings of attraction are not evil. They’re normal, even good, divinely-designed elements of being human. But there’s a distinct line between acknowledging attraction towards a person and coveting a person, between observing beauty and entertaining thoughts.
Instead of looking at other people as objects to satisfy one’s lust, I believe that God wants us to look at each other as His children—beings of infinite worth and potential. There’s a reason lusting after another person isn’t a praiseworthy or shameless thing to do. There’s a reason one feels uncomfortable or guilty doing it, and even tries to hide it. Like any other sin, it’s wrong not because God says it’s wrong; it’s wrong because it’s wrong.
Learning to deal with addiction in the moment of temptation has been very difficult for me. I can’t count the number of times when faced with temptation that my choices have required repentance and re-commitment, only to be almost immediately followed by another choice that requires repentance and re-commitment. My powerlessness over my addiction can become maddening and disheartening if I’m not in the correct frame of mind. But I have learned that God doesn’t expect me to face the difficulties of life on my own, and He certainly doesn’t want or require that I face my addiction on my own. In fact, He wants me to reach out to Him for help. He wants me to independently choose to depend on Him. So when I face temptation, I ask Heavenly Father to give me strength against it. Then I ask Him to take my addiction and give it to His Son to bear, because I am powerless over it. That’s a part of the definition of addiction: the actual loss of ability to abstain. (I’d like to write more about that in a separate post, but I felt I needed to include those nuggets of precious truth here.)
One of my sisters shared with me a very well-written article on this topic of seeing a person for who they really are instead of an object of lust. Some of my thoughts in this post echo those contained in the article, but I think he articulates the principles much better than I do. I highly recommend reading it. You can find it here: http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/