Trying in a new way, a less worried way

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In my last post I attempted to explain that the amount of recovery I receive is not in direct proportion to the amount of work I perform.

I do believe, however, that the level of recovery I experience is directly related to the level of trust I place in my God. In other words, the more I submit my will to His, the more recovery I receive.

I don’t have all the answers, but this has certainly been my experience as I’ve sought recovery.

“And now… I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Book of Mormon, Alma 38:5).

For nearly two years I attended addiction recovery meetings almost weekly. If I went out of town, I looked up AA meetings and attended those. I found strength from interacting with fellow addicts. I no longer felt alone.

I was self-evaluating, reading scriptures, praying, fasting, exercising, eating healthily, worshiping in church, and serving others.

I was learning about addiction, reading numerous books and blogs, and meeting regularly with my bishop. I even managed a couple stretches of abstinence, one of which lasted long enough for me to worship in the temple again. I was working hard and progressing.

But I wasn’t getting sober. I kept relapsing.

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Next Time

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.”

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Patiently running my race

I’m going to start my Step 4 inventory tomorrow (again). I’m feeling mixed levels of excitement and fear. I’m doing my best to trust the Lord in this. I believe He wants me to do it, so I’ve decided that I won’t let my fears stop me from moving forward. Easier said than done, obviously, but I feel good about it.

The 12-step recovery guidebook counsels me to be patient with myself as I work this step. Patient? I want to get this done as quickly as possible! I’m told I also need to be thorough in order for this inventory to be helpful. So, patience… yeah. Until a few weeks ago I still wanted an immediate recovery.

Heavenly Father reminded me recently of one of my high school cross country races. I can’t recall every turn and hill in the course, but I still remember vividly the emotions and adrenaline of that day.

I remember the cold air searing my lungs with every breath. I remember my coach kindly yelling reminders to relax my shoulders. I remember running through muddy stream crossings and charging up slippery grass hills. I remember feeling confident as I passed other runners on the course. I remember feeling discouraged when other runners passed me (I felt discouraged more often than I felt confident :-)  ). I also remember thinking to myself, “I should’ve worn an extra layer of clothing.”

Perhaps more clearly than any other memory of that run, I remember two things. Here’s the first one: as a relatively inexperienced runner, I quickly learned that I wasn’t running against everyone else on that course; I was running against myself. My brain was the one telling me to slow down, not the boy running next to me. My body was the one screaming for rest, not the spectators on the sidelines. Running can be a constant battle within myself between what I want now and what I’ll actually want later.

I’m sure you’re picking up on the metaphor.

By the end of the race, everyone’s body was approaching exhaustion. Well, mine was at least. At what turned out to be the final bend in the course, we exited a clump of trees and entered a red- and yellow-flagged straightaway to the finish line. Once the trees and foliage no longer obstructed our view, we saw that the straightaway went nearly straight up a grass-covered hill. Did I mention it was wet? The course was still soaked from the previous night’s rainfall. I didn’t much like the race organizers at that moment.

An interesting thing happened. Some runners continued with their same pace at a slightly quicker cadence (similar to how one might shift to a lower gear while riding a bicycle up a hill). Other runners took off at a full sprint up the hill. Some attempted to follow them. Others began plodding up the hill.

Guess who ended up literally collapsing from utter muscle exhaustion. Nearly without exception, they were runners who sprinted up the hill. Who do you think made it to the finish line without falling over or crawling on their hands and knees (I’m not kidding)? Some of them were the plodders, a select few were the sprinters, and most were those who knew to shift their running gear, so to speak, and pace themselves up the hill. Which one was I? Well, I’m not telling. It has nothing to do with the metaphor. Haha.

I remember people sliding and falling and crawling up that muddy hill. Most of those sprinters who were initially so full of energy and spirit were literally falling over. It was an incredible sight. I think most of us who were running behind them were surprised to feel discouragement instead of motivation to win upon watching them fall.

By the end of that race I thought I was going to pass out. I nearly did. I did manage to learn my second lesson though: I need to learn to run slowly when I want to run fast. Now, as I look back on that race, I describe that lesson using slightly different words: I need to learn to run patiently.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t win (not even close), but my team members congratulated me anyway. I think my peers were proud of me because they could see not only pain but satisfaction on my face. I was pleased that I didn’t give up. I knew I had given it everything I had, and that was a great feeling.

This scripture has always been one of my favorites. I like to think that the Apostle Paul enjoyed running, too.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (The Holy Bible, New Testament, Hebrews 12:1-2).

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).