Healing through Surrender

In my previous post I attempted to share my thoughts on whether I had erroneous expectations for recovery, particularly surrounding relief from pain. Last night I listened to a share and I think he hit the nail on the head!

“I [have] to be patient, because before I wanted [relief from pain] quickly, and it doesn’t happen that way… and what I’ve learned here is that there is pain in recovery, but there is healing when I surrender… I’m thankful for this program because there is healing in my life. I don’t have the fear that I [once had], and I can enjoy life.”

A Sexaholics Anonymous brother in recovery

BULLSEYE!!

I am learning this truth for myself. “There is pain in recovery, but there is healing when I surrender.” What a powerful way to live! It is so much better than the destruction my addiction brings.

I just found this scripture verse while searching for an image to attach to this post:

“For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord …”

Jeremiah 30:17

I’m grateful for the 12 Steps.

A New Way of Living

Since my last post I’ve been working Steps 1, 2, and 3 with a sponsor. He’s teaching me how to work the steps thoroughly and completely. I’ve worked all twelve steps before, and doing so gave me nine months of sobriety, but this time I feel I’m receiving sobriety and recovery. I’d like to share a few things I’m learning.

Number one, I cannot do this alone. Absolutely impossible. It’s not a self-help program. As a brother in my Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) group puts it, my “stinking thinking” got me into this mess; it’s not going to get me out. I have to change my way of thinking, my way of life. I can’t do that without my God and I can’t do it without a support network of brothers seeking the same change. For myself, I’ve learned I can’t do it without a sponsor—someone who’s worked the steps and has found recovery and sobriety. The hard-earned wisdom he offers is irreplaceable, and I find myself hungry for it. We talk daily. I talk with my God numerous times daily. I talk with my loved ones daily. I cannot recover sanity without these connections.

I’ve also learned that the last time I worked these steps I left out an essential part that must change: Me. In my first attempt I was trying to remove the compulsion to lust. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, yes, but woefully incomplete. The SA White Book states the following:

“If we are content with ourselves, simply minus the compulsion, there can be no recovery. Recovery is more than mere sobriety.”

Sexaholics Anonymous, p. 87

I’m learning that my character weaknesses need to change. My pride (what I think others think of me), selfishness, impatience, my desire to be right—I cannot keep these defects and be free of my addiction. Character defects are stubborn things (have you ever tried to change who you are before?). I’m not implying that one has to achieve character perfection in order to receive recovery and achieve lasting sobriety. What I’m learning is that I cannot hold on to them like a favorite darling toy and expect to change into the kind of person who can learn a new way of life.

This isn’t a new principle. I’ve heard it my whole life in my Christian upbringing. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me and offer me your whole heart as a sacrifice” (paraphrased). He doesn’t say, “Come unto me and offer me everything except the parts of you that you don’t want to give up yet.” I’m learning that my willingness to surrender my pride, selfishness, impatience, etc. is a necessary prerequisite to freedom from my addiction. Because underneath my addiction is a sick way of thinking and a host of weaknesses which, if I don’t surrender them, will pull me back into my addiction no matter what I do to distance myself from the obsession.

No wonder Step 4 is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, Step 5 is to admit to God, myself, and another person the exact nature of my wrongs, Step 6 is to become ready to have God remove all my defects of character, and Step 7 is to humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings. Ether 12:27, anyone?

“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.”

Jesus Christ. Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon.

The last time I worked the 12 Steps and relapsed after nine months of sobriety, I was disheartened to say the least. I questioned whether the Steps would work for me. Turned out I hadn’t worked them correctly. I didn’t understand that a moral inventory (step 4) needed to include learning about myself. I thought it was a way to dump all my trauma, heartache, and regrets onto paper, to get it all out and off my chest so that I could move forward from it all. I think that’s part of it, to be sure. But I missed the part that would help me learn and change.

With this realization regarding my need to give up my character defects, I’ve also learned an incredible and life-altering truth. I’d learned in my first pass through the 12 Steps that I don’t have to whiteknuckle my way to sobriety with sheer willpower and grit. That’s impossible and inevitably leads to failure. Now I’ve learned that the same principle applies to my character weaknesses! I think a real life experience may illustrate this best.

A couple weeks ago my daughters and I were cooped up in our home on a Saturday. It was cold and rainy outside, one of the girls was sick, and I was feeling low after a challenging week. The girls were starting to talk with whiny voices and I could feel my patience waning thin, so I took a second to breathe. That helped. Five minutes later, the whining hadn’t ceased, and I felt my fuse was about to run out, so again I took a second to breathe and relax my muscles. That helped. This repeated for about twenty minutes until I could feel myself about to explode. My willpower was spent. Then I felt the Lord quietly encourage me, and I asked Him to help me because I didn’t want to yell at my children. Instantly I felt relief, the tension lifted, and I was able to enjoy that time with my children. Breathing helps, for sure, but I’m an idiot if I think I can handle life on my own (hey, there’s some of that “stinking thinking” that got me into my addiction!). I need more goodness and more patience than I currently possess, and I cannot obtain those core changes with deep breaths and more oxygen. And that’s OK! God doesn’t expect me to whiteknuckle my way to patience with sheer willpower and grit. Now when I feel impatience growing inside me, I take a deep breath and I say a sincere prayer to offer up my impatience and ask for patience to replace it. That’s tough when I want to be angry, but the result of surrendering my weaknesses makes life so much easier.

Since then I’ve been seeing additional ways to apply this principle of surrender and it really is life-altering. I don’t have to do anything alone. Christ invites me to “look unto [Him] in every thought.” That includes finding a solution to a tough software bug for my employer, navigating precarious situations in important relationships, finding room for medical expenses in a tight budget, figuring out my new role as a non-spouse co-parent, and coping with threats. It includes things I cannot control and choices other people make. I don’t have to carry any of it by myself, and God doesn’t expect me to.

For me a core part of my new way of life is what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

St Francis of Assisi

I feel confident in the 12 Steps of Recovery and in God’s ability to restore me to sanity.

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.

Quote

HOW IT WORKS….

HOW IT WORKS

…we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with some­thing or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each per­son is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrange­ments our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when try­ing to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a pro­ducer of confusion rather than harmony?

… if the rest of the world would only behave…

What­ ever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Some­times they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the [addict] is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we [addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical con­victions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or try­ing on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, The Big Book, Chapter 5, p. 60-62

Trying in a new way, a less worried way

meme-bednar-alone

 

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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Link

How to turn a close call into a relapse

How to turn a close call into a relapse

Matt, a friend of mine over at EmbracingPowerlessness.com, offers great insight to the insanity of addiction. Click the link above to read more.

Had it not been for the great friends I’ve made in the addiction recovery program, I would have ended today with numerous “close calls” and ultimately in relapse remorse. For the first time in my recovery, God answered my prayers of surrender with a simple instruction: “Call someone.” Of course, I struggled with the thought (“Oh wretched man that I am!”), but the Lord gave me the faith to obey Him.

Because of Him, and through my friends in recovery, I end today with a grateful heart knowing that I am powerless, God is not, and my only hope is to trust Him.

(Did I mention that Matt’s post is incredibly insightful? Please read it!)

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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“Of a truth thou art the Son of God”

Jesus_saves_Peter

 

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).

How do I surrender?

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.