Friday, November 16, 2012

Overcoming Addictions

I recently attended a meeting where a couple therapists discussed how to counsel people with addictions, specifically an addiction to pornography. I thought a lot of the things they said were awesome, so I wanted to pass them along. 

One thing they talked about was how to know if you have an addiction, or if it is just a bad habit. Here were the signs of an addiction that he gave:
·      Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop
·      It is interfering with life functioning
·      It is building and increasing in intensity
·      It causes personal distress
·      Engaging in risky behavior (example: viewing pornography at work even though it could result in being fired)
·      Constantly thinking or worrying about it

I thought that was a good list, and it reminded me that although I try to talk myself out of it sometimes, I am an addict. Sometimes more than others, but I related all too well with each of these to deny it.

At one point, they listed tempting thoughts that addicts have.
·      My life is already messed up
·      I already messed up today
·      I’ll stop tomorrow
·      What I do doesn’t matter to anyone
·      I’m useless anyway
·      A little won’t hurt
·      I just need a break

Again, these all hit incredibly close to home. I’ve thought each of these before, and sometimes it can still be a battle to keep myself thinking positively. 

He talked about the brain. I’ve read a few things about addictions and the brain, but he said some things that I hadn’t heard before, and I don’t know all the technical lingo, so I’ll do my best to describe it from what I remember. Basically he said that pornography is a drug, and it creates a release of dopamine. Then there are dopamine receptors (I think), which make the connection with the dopamine. Well then when the dopamine is gone, there is a deficiency in the brain, and so it begins to crave it. When something triggers it, the brain automatically starts the process on its own. So basically what I took away from it was that when something triggers you, the brain will automatically start the process, and this is why you can have an awesome day, full of the spirit, etc. and then find yourself looking at pornography just minutes later. I’ve had that happen so many times, and it is so discouraging. The good news is that this damage to the brain isn’t permanent; however, it takes a lot of time and work to change. 

They talked about ways a spouse can help. I’m not married, so you’d think this wouldn’t apply at all to me, but there was something that almost brought me to tears. He said one of the worst things a spouse can do is to have the addict promise that they will never slip again. The promise that should be made is that they will never give up, never stop fighting, and trying, and learning. I have promised myself time and time and time again that I would never have another slip up. And every time I’ve made that promise, I’ve broken it, and that is incredibly deflating, discouraging, and depressing. But I know that I will never give up. I will never stop fighting. I am so glad he said that, because it made it okay for me to just focus on the things I am going to do, and how I’m going to make it.

Speaking of slip ups, he said that addicts have a tendency to think they are back at square one whenever they have a slip up. This thinking should be discouraged. If you have just gone 3 weeks without a slip, and then have one, you aren’t at zero. You have still progressed through those weeks, and although you have had a small set back, you are still much better off than you were. Instead of 21/21, you might be 20/21, but that is still awesome progress.

Identify the reasons you want to change. If you aren’t committed to the change, it isn’t going to happen. List the advantages and disadvantages of changing. Once you see that by not changing the behavior you are giving up something of incredible worth for something meaningless, it will provide additional motivation.

Other recommendations he had were to engage in a consistent exercise plan. I know from personal experience, that I am much better off when I am exercising, just be careful that it doesn’t turn into an addiction to exercise, cause although that is less bad, it still isn’t healthy. Also, be as social as possible, it will help build meaningful relationships, and it helps to stay connected to real people.

Most importantly, involve the Savior in the work. All change comes through Him. I know that is true. I know that the Atonement is real. With addictions, it isn’t enough for someone to tell you to stop it, and to just pray and read your scriptures more. Outside help is often needed, and that is okay. In fact it is good. Though difficult, talking with others about my struggles has brought much healing and peace.

Monday, August 27, 2012

God is Full of Mercy

How do I forgive myself? This is a question that has been on my mind lately, and I don’t think I’m the only one who has it. A friend of mine alluded to this yesterday. She was reading some notes from a talk by Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient.

The older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

I have felt this, even with out making it to that final judgment. I have felt Christ begging me to stay, but me pushing Him away, because I didn’t feel worthy. I have felt His grace, and felt completely forgiven for my sins, but at the same time felt quite confused. I didn’t understand how it could be done. How could I go from a state of despair and turmoil, to a state of such peace in an instant? How is it that I could do wrong, yet still be loved. I think Isaiah had some insight into this.

For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

I am realizing that Brad Wilcox is right. Christ wants all of us to come back. But we need to learn how to forgive ourselves. It is essential that we learn to forgive ourselves. It is essential that I learn how to forgive myself. God is much more perfect than I am, so of course He is going to be more forgiving than I am. I know that He is full of mercy. I know that He loves me more completely than I love myself. He wants better things for me than I want for myself. I need to trust in His grace. And if He tells me I am worthy, I need to trust Him, and forgive myself.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Daily Strength from the Atonement

So I don't remember exactly when it was, but sometime during Sacrament meeting today, I thought about the Atonement, in regards to a conversation I recently had with a good friend. My friend asked me what I thought the one thing was that if people understood better, it would help them understand the gospel, or change them, or something like that. My immediate response was, the Atonement. I firmly believe that. She thought for a sec, and then agreed, citing things like the Plan of Salvation. I realized that I hadn't even been thinking about the Plan of Salvation, sometimes that seems like something that will play out later in life.

Today I realized where my thoughts were. I realized this when I thought to myself, how can the Atonement help me, TODAY? What strength do I need from the Atonement right now? What can the Atonement help me accomplish now, that I otherwise wouldn't be able to do on my own?

Pondering these questions was very enlightening, empowering, and encouraging. I realized that I have some "heavy burdens" that I have been trying to carry around on my own. But I don't need to carry them alone. Or maybe I do need to carry them alone, but if I do, then I can be strengthened to be able to better carry the load.

I think I learned the lesson of needing to rely daily on the Atonement when I was really struggling to overcome my addiction to pornography. But apparently I am quick to forget. Lately, I have been struggling with, what I've come to know as a transfer of addiction. I have been struggling with an eating disorder. This has happened previously in my life, and I really don't want to let it develop into an addiction. It has been really hard, a battle from within. Eating disorders are different from other addictions in that we must have food. We can go without drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, etc, but we can't go without food.

Anyway, I realized that I need to DAILY be turning to the Atonement for strength. I need to be sincerely asking for the enabling power of the Atonement to strengthen me to overcome this, especially before it overcomes me. And once I thought of this, and began relying on the Lord, rather than the arm of flesh (myself), I immediately felt relief.

This daily reliance on the Atonement isn't just for me, it isn't just for me when I'm struggling with an addiction. The Atonement is there for everyone, all the time, for every situation. I began thinking of other ways I could benefit from the Atonement. I thought of things I need help learning, and remembering. I thought of things that I need help with at work, in my relationships with others, in my church calling, etc. I know that the Atonement is more powerful than we can understand with our mortal souls. I know that if we rely on the Atonement, we can reach our potential. We can become like God (GOD = MAN + WOMAN). We can do things that we otherwise wouldn't be able to do.

The Atonement is the key. Work to understand it better. Think of how it does, or how it can bless your life each and every day. Then ask for that help. Ask to be changed by the enabling power of the Atonement to be able to bear the burdens you are asked to bear. It will change your life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Divine Gift of Repentance

"Repentance means striving to change... Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such strivings." Elder D. Todd Christofferson, The Divine Gift of Repentance

This quote has been on my mind a lot lately. I have been in Relief Society meetings in a variety of wards where a lesson on this talk was taught, and this line always stands out to me. I think it stands out to me because I have felt the pain of those repeated attempts. I know what it feels like to start and stop, and start again, over and over. It can be incredibly discouraging, but I know that there is something refining and holy in striving diligently to overcome, and those repeated attempts are sanctifying. They help to cleanse your soul. I know this, because years of those repeated attempts is exactly what I needed to be able to overcome.

"Repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior's suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive to overcome, surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed "virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own (D&C 88:40). With repentance we can steadily improve in our capacity to live the celestial law." Elder D. Todd Christofferson, The Divine Gift of Repentance

As a woman in the LDS Church, who struggled with an addiction to pornography for years, I know that the gift of repentance is really divine. It is an amazing gift. I know that it takes time, a lot of time. I know that it takes effort, a lot of effort. I know that it is hard, really really hard. But I also know that it is all totally worth it. Satan will try as hard as he can to get you to believe otherwise. I  have seen him use so many different tactics on so many different people. Satan knows us quite well, and he individualizes his attacks on each of us. Unfortunately he can be quite effective in his attacks. But God knows us even better. His arms of mercy are continually extended toward us, and if we will reach back out to them, we can find so much peace, and joy, and safety in them.

If you are struggling, and feel like you can't do it on your own any more, ask for help. You may not struggle with pornography like me, for you it may be drugs or alcohol or sex or swearing whatever else you are having trouble with. You aren't alone. Don't be afraid to raise your hand, and say you are stuck and can't do it alone anymore. You might tell a friend, or someone in your family, or your Bishop, you can even tell me. But tell someone. Get the help you need. Get rid of any shame you are feeling, and start working towards recovery. The road is long, but it is worth it.