I can handle Legos

LEGO Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley

Recently I’ve focused my recovery reading on the first of the Twelve Steps of addiction recovery: “Admit that I am powerless over [my addiction] and that my life has become unmanageable.” My addiction is sexual lust.

The idea that a person can have zero power over something is still a tough one for me to grasp, and yet my life to this point has demonstrated that I am one of those people.

The word “powerless” is an interesting one in this context. It means “without ability, influence, or power.” Its synonyms include impotent, helpless, ineffectual, ineffective, useless, defenseless. Defenseless catches my eye.

On my own I am defenseless against sexual lust. My own efforts to withstand it are ineffective and useless. I cannot simply “change what’s playing on my brain’s stage,” or distract myself with a good book. That’s not enough anymore. Even remembering my loved ones is insufficient. These things, while helpful in any other struggle in my life, are ineffectual when it comes time for me to do battle with sexual lust.

In most areas of my life I am disciplined. I know how to set a line and not cross it even when I want to cross it. I know how to set and keep limits.

For example, I really enjoy creating new things with Legos. I have enjoyed it since I was a child. Legos cost a pretty penny though, so I can’t always purchase them when I want to. If I did I’d have monster credit card debt! I know how to plan a budget and stick to it, even when that Lego set I’d really like to have goes on sale. When it goes on sale, I stick to my budget. “It’ll just have to wait,” I tell myself. I feel tempted, to be sure; and I don’t have a perfect record. But I can say No without waking up in the middle of the night with a sudden overwhelming urge to make the purchase.

Here’s another example. My dad taught my siblings and me how to work hard at a young age. I started getting small summer jobs when I was twelve so I could pay for the Legos and video games I wanted. When I was fifteen I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. I was also in high school, marching band, Boy Scouts, and a number of other extracurriculars. But I wanted money to pay for the things I wanted. My parents taught me self-discipline and I exercised it often and well for the most part. Fast forward twenty years and I served an honorable two-year service mission for my church, I have a solid career in software engineering, I’ve completed a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and I work hard to teach and train my children. All thanks to God, without a doubt! It wouldn’t have happened, however, had I not worked hard, delayed gratification, and followed God’s and my parents’ counsel.

Put me in a room alone with a smartphone and an Internet connection and I have discipline up until the moment something catches my eye. At that point something changes. At that point I no longer have self-discipline. If I don’t reach out for help, I will inevitably succumb.

Doesn’t sound right, does it? The idea that a person can have self control one moment and zero control the next. Seems like an all or nothing sort of deal, or so I’ve thought. Either a person has the moral fortitude and practice to Just Say No, or they haven’t learned that skill yet. Or maybe they don’t want to Say No, not badly enough. Maybe they could Just Stop if they really wanted to.

I cannot recall how many limits and ultimate plans I’ve made to keep myself safe from sexual lust. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve drawn a line and genuinely pledged to my loved ones, myself, and my God, and said, “no further,” only to find myself across the line days later, wondering how I got there. Those moments are bewildering and frightening.

“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.”

Jesus Christ, Ether 12:27

According to Jesus, there are some things we cannot do on our own.

I’m not talking about staring down a plate of warm cookies (unless you face a food addiction). I’m not talking about the self awareness to walk out of the kitchen to escape the scent of those cookies. I’m talking about a prison wherein one is unable to escape the pull on their own, when one’s brain stops functioning inside the frontal lobe where reason and decisions are made and instead shifts into autopilot.

Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it’s like to know deep inside your heart and gut that what you’re doing or about to do is wrong and harmful to yourself and others, and you want to stop with all your being, but you don’t know how? Have you ever felt that kind of fear, the kind that surfaces when you know you need to stop because your job, marriage, or life depends on it, but you can’t? Have you ever wanted so badly to stop your behavior without knowing how that suicide seems like the only way out?

I know what that’s like.

Today I understand that even though my willpower is insufficient when it comes to sexual lust, the fact is I still have agency and options because I know a Being who has more power than me. My Higher Power is my only way out, and often I lean on my brothers in recovery to help me stay close to Him in moments when I feel the pull to start walking paths which I know from experience I cannot safely navigate.

I’m certain I wasn’t always powerless over sexual lust. I give myself plenty of credit for creating my addiction. I also give my Higher Power some credit because He gave me this weakness so that I would “learn to be humble.” He knew the choices I would make in this life. That’s also one reason why He died for me. Because of Him, I don’t have to remain a slave to my addiction.

I thought about quoting medical science publications and general conference talks to support what I’m saying. Those helped convince me, to be sure. If you’re interested in those then I recommend Dr. Hilton’s book, “He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” He quotes both kinds of sources.

“I can do this on my own” is the most effective lie Satan has ever told me.

“I cannot do this on my own” is one of the most important truths God has ever shown me.

The Good News is God has the power to restore any addict to sanity, and He freely lets me partake in His power. I believe His promises apply to me too. I have found that the more I submit my will to His, the more peace and sanity I enjoy.

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The Portal to Progression

With God, through prayer, all things are possible, and without prayer we lack the power to progress. Prayer is the portal to progression. As Elder Kevin W. Pearson taught: “Without prayer, there is no possible return to the Father. Without prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and the cleansing power of the Atonement are unattainable. Without prayer, sufficient faith to understand and keep the commandments is impossible. Without prayer, the necessary spiritual power to avoid temptation and overcome trials and adversity would be unavailable.”

Read the full article here.

Always

boy-and-landscape

Photograph by iStock/Thinkstock

 

It’s late, but I like to pretend I’m still young, so I’ll share some of my thoughts. :)  I am tired though and I know from experience the consequences of unwisely choosing to begin a work week without adequate rest. I’ll keep this brief.

“I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

Today was a good day. Our bishop gave an incredible talk in church about doubt, faith, weakness, and grace, among other things. I needed to be taught and hear these principles.

On numerous occasions throughout the past few months I’ve had reason to doubt why God would give me these trials. I’ve felt overwhelmed by fear that I would lose my wife to this pregnancy, or that we would lose our new baby, or that I would lose them both.

This kind of trepidation was new to me. Before recent events, I couldn’t fully understand the depth of doubt inherent in simply fearing for a loved one’s life. I know that fear now, and it is powerful! But by the grace of God I have gained a testimony of principles more powerful than fear. I want to share my testimony with you.

Many times in the last few months I have felt moments of distress and even anger. I’ve also felt sudden surges of joy and peace. I have learned that life guarantees the former. Disquietude, fear, uncertainty—these are inevitable, and I anticipate I’ll get more than my fill of them. I think we all will and do.

The moments of comfort and reassurance came too. They came amidst my roller coaster of imperfect faith as I struggled to place my trust in a painful plan. As the trial extended over several weeks, a pattern emerged and the Lord mercifully showed it to me. He showed me something I didn’t expect.

I’ve learned that I shouldn’t feel guilty for experiencing doubt. Undoubtedly, doubt is a good thing to experience. Doubt gives me the chance to exercise my faith. Without doubt, I would have no cause to trust. In fact, without doubt I could never learn to trust.

With that concept in mind, I’ve learned that my faith cannot exist without doubt. Indeed, what is faith but an open admission of doubt coupled with a determination to trust?

Like many principles of the gospel, this one seems a paradox to me. But it is true nonetheless. And just as assuredly as life brings pain and suffering, faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement brings relief, peace, and even joy. It always brings these things!

I know this is true because I am living it! When I place my faith in my Savior, when I share my doubts and fears with my Father in Heaven, They always encourage me. Always!

When I seek guidance and wisdom to know how I can better care for my wife and children, They always give it to me.

When I ask for Their blessing that I will do my job well during these trials so that I can provide for my family, They always give it to me.

When I sincerely plead for forgiveness after losing my temper and patience, They always give it to me.

When my trials scare me and I feel discouraged by my imperfect and weak faith, and I think that choosing to move forward in faith would not make sense… when I pray for faith and help to move forward anyway, They always give it to me.

“Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  – Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 27:29

I am a witness of God’s love for His children because I know He loves me and my family. He teaches me this repeatedly, daily even. I can depend on His every word. The more I choose to trust Him instead of my doubts, the more He shows me just how trustworthy He truly is.

These trials are hard, but they no longer feel impossible because I know the Lord is with me.

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:13 – 14, emphasis added).

 

Moving Forward

You don't have to be alone anymore

 

Nearly five years ago I had a loving Bishop who met with me often concerning my addiction. I didn’t know I had an addiction at that time, but he gave me the love and encouragement I needed at that point in my life. He was a good leader and friend.

He often used a phrase at the end of our meeting together. He’d say, “Let’s move forward.” He said it so often that I now think of him every time I hear it. For me it has significant meaning. Not only did I hear it as an invitation, but I also received it as a promise of hope—eventually.

“Move forward? You mean there’s a way out of this hellish pit?”

I remember feeling hesitant to believe him… to give in to my desire to believe him. I’d failed so, so many times. Even wanting to believe that I could be rescued felt more like a burden simply because the idea carried so much fear of failure and of breaking my wife’s heart again. I couldn’t stomach the thought of it. I thought it best that I suffer alone… I couldn’t change what I’d done, but moving forward felt so distant and elusive.

I don’t remember when I felt willing to believe in hope again. It wasn’t a singular event for me. I think it happened gradually. I do know that it didn’t happen until I’d been attending pornography addiction support group meetings for a few months with a good friend of mine. Talking with him and interacting with those men restored a faint hope in my mind and heart that I could change permanently, that I could be healed, and that God would heal me. The men in those meetings gave me courage to believe that I could move forward.

This weekend has challenged my faith and resolve. I’m not talking white-knuckle resolve, although I started down that kind of hopeless thinking on Friday. I’m talking about the days and feelings that force me to either dig deep and decide to completely rely on God and others, or take a break from digging and isolate myself.

My wife went out of town for five days and she’ll return tomorrow night. The last time she went out of town I relapsed. I relapsed bad. It was a heavy binge that lasted for nearly a week. That was almost two years ago. I remember the moment she left the driveway… my adversary wasted no time. Immediately I felt overwhelmed by stress, loneliness, and cravings galore. Back then I still believed I had to muster strength and willpower on my own. “I got myself here, so I need to get myself out.” Didn’t work.

This time around I felt the stress and loneliness building in my heart and mind. My body began craving disgusting amounts of junk food and I gladly supplied it (often a precursor to my acting out). I felt the river of my addiction rising. Its power over me was about to sweep me downstream and back into my hell of pornography and pain, depression and despair. After a full day of doing nothing but idly passing time on the couch and white-knuckling, I went to bed exhausted, grumpy, lonely, and completely drained. Somehow God gave me the faith to journal and pray that night. I’m so grateful He did that for me.

Saturday morning I woke up with a clear head. I knew I couldn’t repeat the previous day’s efforts and end the day sober. My heart was filled with motivation to reach out for help, to do something productive, to spend quality time with my daughter, and to surrender to my God. Somehow in my heart I knew that I was receiving this blessing because of the loving and faith-filled prayers of my friends and family, especially my wife and sponsor.

Even after receiving this surge of faith, I nearly fell into lazy mode that morning, but then I started cleaning our home. Oh boy, did we clean! I think Isla, my daughter, was moderately concerned by my sudden behavior shift, haha. She cleaned and worked with me and we got a lot done.

Then we played just as hard we worked! At her request and to my blissful enjoyment we snuggled on the couch while eating lunch and watching Frozen. After that we went to a nearby fast food restaurant so she could run around in the play place. As we were leaving I pointed out the Y on the mountainside above BYU and Provo. She said, “Oh! Look at that letter! Let’s go up there and touch it!” So we did. We made it to the Y just as the sun began to set. It was the best hike I’ve ever been on. Then we held hands and ran down the mountain together. Yeah, pretty much perfect.

We spent some of the highest quality and most quantity time we’ve ever enjoyed together. My heart was filled with love, joy, and gratitude. Why did that happen? Because I chose to surrender my loneliness, laziness, and stress to my Savior, who in turn gave me more recovery and another twenty-four hours of sobriety. Had I not reached out to my friends and had my wife and sponsor and others not prayed for me, I would’ve had a much, much different day. I wouldn’t be sober.

So, reaching out, asking for help, having friends and loved ones to help me move forward in recovery—it all works much better than trying to handle things on my own. I think that’s why moving forward used to scare me so much. I was thinking of moving forward alone.

You’re welcome to contact me if you like. I can always use more recovery friends. I think we all can.