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.
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.
“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
I’ve been working on Steps 8 and 9 recently, which include forgiving others and seeking forgiveness for all the wrongs I’ve done throughout my addiction. It’s been very difficult for me… much more difficult than I had anticipated. Working these steps and recalling so many painful memories has directed my thoughts towards a question that I think both addicts seeking recovery and their loved ones have contemplated at least once: “How could an honest addict ever relapse?”
I can only share what I’ve learned and am learning, so I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I think there’s more to this question than what I’m about to discuss; but I think the following still merits consideration. It’s helped me, at least.
This is from an article written by the folks over at the Sexual Recovery Institute. It’s titled, “Sex Addiction: An Imperfect Path to Recovery“:
“While recovering alcoholics do the work to avoid taking a drink, and recovering drug addicts do the work to avoid using their substance of choice, the work a sex addict must do is different and possibly more complicated. [Sex] is a part of our lives simply by virtue of being human….
Working with oneself around sexual feelings, urges, and triggers is an important part of recovery and may well take a lifetime. In fact, it is not unheard of for people to continue to have patterns of addiction even after libido diminishes or sexual function fails; the root of sexual addiction is almost never about sex…” (emphasis added).
The article contains a few incongruities with the gospel of Jesus Christ (which I attempted to filter from the above excerpt), but I like the key points it makes. I think this sentence especially deserves attention: “…the root of sexual addiction is almost never about sex.”
From what I’ve learned about addiction, the aforementioned principle applies to any type of addiction. “The root of eating addiction/disorders is almost never about food.” “The root of drug addiction is almost never about drugs.” “The root of alcohol addiction is almost never about alcohol.”
The LDS Addiction Recovery Guide shares the following insight:
“Your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are actually the roots of your addictive behaviors. Unless you examine all your tendencies toward fear, pride, resentment, anger, self-will, and self-pity, your abstinence will be shaky at best. You will continue with your original addiction or switch to another one. Your addiction is a symptom of other ’causes and conditions’ (Alcoholics Anonymous , 64)” (Step 4, p. 21, emphasis added).
What are the “causes and conditions” that hide behind addiction? I think they vary and depend on the addict. No two persons’ lives are the same, and neither are their challenges or weaknesses. For myself (based on what I’ve learned so far), my weaknesses of anger, lust, self-will, fear of rejection and abandonment, a warped sense of self-worth, and a genuine craving for acceptance and love all combined to make me a prime candidate for sexual addiction. To be honest with myself, my past decisions to view pornography and indulge in inappropriate physical relationships also led to my addiction.
But why did I ever attempt to use pornography to numb my ill thought patterns, nurse my depression and anguish, or distract myself from misguided beliefs about myself and others? Why would anyone ever think to use alcohol or drugs or sex to self-medicate in order to handle life’s real problems and pains?
My experience has been this: My recovery from addiction began when I started working the 12 Steps. Why? Because the 12 Steps help me discover, examine, and cope with my real problems… the ones that lurk underneath my addictive thoughts and behaviors; and most importantly, they help me do so while wholly relying on a Power greater than myself. Those real problems—my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs—were conceived in the fog of sin, the despair of depression, and the pains of a mortal life impacted by imperfect people, including myself.
Facing these underlying problems is painful for me. It involves digging up memories that I purposefully buried with my addiction. It involves recalling hurts and pain and horrible experiences that I would much rather try to forget with distance and distraction. I can only speak for myself, but I think this is one reason why recovery can be so difficult for an addict, and why an addict who is honestly seeking recovery can still be susceptible to temptation and prone to relapsing. It’s not that the addict isn’t sincere. It’s not that the addict doesn’t want it badly enough, or hasn’t considered the consequences, or isn’t trying hard enough. It’s because recovery is painful. It can be a grueling, bitter, even traumatic process, and it isn’t the same for every addict. That’s why I’m learning that I simply cannot do it alone. I am incapable, in fact. I need my “Higher Power,” to quote the original AA 12 Steps. I need my Savior, Jesus Christ.
Being an addict in recovery also has its rewards. Today I’m more free of my addiction than I’ve ever been. I can feel it. I enjoy life more. I feel more. I have better relationships with my wife, my daughter, and my God. I understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ better. And the scriptures! I feel like they were written just for me… just for an addict seeking recovery and salvation from addiction. Thanks to my Heavenly Father and His Son, I now have hope.
Jesus Christ himself explains and promises:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon).