Monday, September 18, 2017

Faith and Fear

"What if I stopped trying not to sin and instead just tried to always repent?" This question struck me during a discussion with a friend, and I know there is something to it. I think we spend so much time trying not to sin because we are afraid of sin. We are afraid of messing up. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid of what others will think. We are afraid of what it says about who we are. We are afraid that we can't overcome.

I've learned through some very real experiences that when we act or respond in fear, it is never helpful. A while ago, I made a plan to kill myself on my birthday (don't worry, I made it to my birthday and beyond). As I told a friend about this plan I made, she was awesome. She was incredibly helpful, supportive, and loving. However, the next day, she was freaked out. She was afraid. And rightfully so. If roles were reversed, I am sure I would have freaked out just as much, if not more. But what I learned was that she was not able to help me when she was responding from a place of fear. I told others about what was going on, and those who responded without fear, and instead had faith, those were the people who were able to help me through that difficult period.

This has caused me to think a lot about faith and fear.

I haven't blogged for a long time, but long story short (perhaps I'll elaborate later), I am in a really good place. Like really good. Maybe the best ever. I feel like a miracle has happened in my life. Most of it has to do with getting rid of my fear. It is acting in faith. I have been able to embrace my sexuality. I am no longer ashamed that I am a sexual being. I am no longer afraid to have sexual feelings. I am no longer afraid to hear an inappropriate song. I am no longer afraid to go to a bachelorette party where people are going to be talking about sex. I am no longer afraid of an inappropriate thought entering my head. It's a miracle.

But what I've found is that I've started listening to inappropriate songs. I don't watch much tv or movies, but if I did, I am sure I'd watch more inappropriate movies, because I'm no longer afraid that they will trigger me and march me straight back to pornography. This weekend I realized that just because I am not afraid of these things, does not mean that I should be entertaining them. So I still need to avoid them, but the motivation is different. It isn't because I am afraid of what it says about me, or what it will do to me. It is because I know that God doesn't want me to be doing those things.

After having these new insights, I still listened to inappropriate music today. And so I repented of it. And it is likely to happen again tomorrow. I am thinking that seeking to repent always, rather than seeking to never sin is a better way to Christ. There is less shame. There is less fear. There is more hope. There is more faith. There is more reliance on our Savior and His great Atoning sacrifice. And that is the point of all of this. It isn't to never sin. It isn't to never fail. If that were the point, we would have no need for the Atonement. If that were the point, we probably would have chosen to follow someone else in the pre-mortal world. The point is to repent. The point is to use the Atonement. The point is to rely on Christ.

I feel like I have a lot more to think about and to learn from this question. I think that shift in mindset is really important. My thoughts here feel very incomplete, but I felt like I should get them down tonight. So here they are, for whoever might stumble across them.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Small Successes

Ever since I started writing again, I think I've been a little too worried about what I was saying, or how I was saying it because I knew that more people (meaning more than 0 people) were going to be reading it. When I started, it was kind of just a place for me to throw my thoughts out to the interwebs and I just hoped they'd find and help someone. Now I think too much about it, and honestly, it keeps me from writing a lot.

So I'm done with thinking too much. I'm done thinking about people who will be reading it. I am just going to write as if nobody's looking, and throw it to literally everybody, and the same time, to absolutely nobody. This is the joy of the internet. If it happens to find someone and it helps them. Great. If not, who cares. At least I'm writing and it's helping me and it's making me happy. Is that selfish? Probably. But I don't care.

So I just wanted to share with everybody/nobody that I had a small success this week. And I'm kind of proud of myself. I feel like lately I've been having anxiety about a lot of things. At least I think it is anxiety. Maybe it's not, but it's what I assume anxiety feels like.. Anyway, I think I sometimes will feel anxious in a moment, but right now there are a lot of things, all at the same time, that are causing a lot of anxious feelings. My chest gets really tight, my mind is consumed with irrational thoughts, it disables me, and I just can't shake it. It can be quite debilitating and I have a really tough time doing whatever it is I need to be doing. It's been bad lately.

Here's where the small success comes in. When I've felt like this in the past, it typically is a trigger for me. And sure enough, these feelings were again a trigger for me. But even though this was more anxiety than I've felt in a long time, maybe ever, this time I was able to navigate my way through it! It wasn't easy, but I'm so happy about what I've learned!

It started with recognizing what was going on. I first recognized that I was feeling quite anxious. Then when the urge to find pornography came, I stopped myself and asked why I was having this urge. I realized it was because I was feeling anxious, and I wanted to just disconnect from my life. I wanted to escape. Recognizing why I was being tempted helped me see a bigger picture. I needed to let myself experience all of these feelings, and find my way through them, rather than just push them out as quickly as I could. I let myself feel the anxiety. I let myself feel the temptation to view pornography. I let myself think about why. And I figured it out.

I didn't try to suppress my temptation, rather I put my focus and energy in trying to get over the debilitating anxiety. I worked on thinking rationally, and taking control of the situation, even though I just wanted to run and hide. I was able to act, and eventually I realized it wasn't all that bad, and my whole world wasn't going to fall apart.

I've been thinking about the Atonement lately, and about the strength that it gives me. I know I don't recognize it enough, or give it the credit it deserves, or really even understand it at all. But I know that it is what got me through this one. It gave me the strength to not only avoid a slip up, but also to overcome these anxious feelings. Anyway, that's my story for tonight. Thanks for listening. :)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

I found this Ted Talk, and I had to write about it. It's called "Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong". I have lots of thoughts on it, and I'd love to hear what other people think as well. If you don't want to watch it, I'll give you some of the highlights. But there's a lot more. So you should watch it.

Johann Hari discusses how rats that are isolated in a cage with nothing to do, prefer water laced with heroin over pure water. These rats will use the heroin until they eventually overdose and it kills them. However, rats in a cage set up like a "rat park" where they have fun things to do and other rats to socialize with, prefer the pure water over the heroin laced water.

Johann raises some questions about this phenomenon. "What if addiction isn't about your chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your "cage"? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?

"Maybe we should call it bonding. When we're happy and healthy we bond and connect with each other. But if you can't do that because you're traumatized, or isolated, or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now that might be gambling. That might be pornography. That might be cocaine. That might be cannabis. But you will bond and connect with something. Because that's our nature. That's what we want as human beings."

As I listened to this, I reflected on when I first got involved with pornography. I was at a point where I felt more alone than I ever had before. I was miserable in my "cage". I could see no good in my environment. I was like the lone rat, I felt completely alone and had nothing to do. So I found something to bond with, and that something was pornography. Throughout the years that followed, I have definitely used pornography as an escape from life. As Johann puts it, "A core part of about not being able to bear to be present if your life." It became my go-to coping mechanism. So when I needed an escape from the guilt and shame of using pornography to cope, where did I turn? Yep. Usually I turned to more pornography. It is a viscous cycle.

Later, Johann talks about recovery and how it is best accomplished when real connections with real people are made. He says that he tries to "say to the addicts in my life that I want to deepen the connection with them. I love you whether you are using or not. I love you whatever state you're in. And if you need me, I'll come and sit with you because I love you. And I don't want you to be alone, or to feel alone."

I guess Johann's words are exactly what I want to tell other women who struggle with pornography. I love you. I love you whether or not you are "using" pornography. I know what it's like, and if you need me, I'll come sit with you. Because I get it. And I don't want you to be alone, or feel alone. And believe that if you can feel that, you will can also begin to understand that God loves you even more than I do.

"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection." If you haven't made a connection with someone, if you feel totally alone, lean on me. Let's connect. I may need it just as much as you. And hopefully together we can strengthen our faith in Christ, and learn more of just how much he loves us.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

There Remaineth An Effectual Struggle To Be Made

A few years ago I was at work and found myself viewing pornography, yet again. I needed to just get away from work for a while, so I walked outside to a nearby park and just sat on a bench to think. I kept going over what had happened. As I sat there, I started to recognize a very important pattern. It didn't have to do with things leading up to me viewing pornography, but rather what happened to me after.

At that point in my journey, I was really good at shaming myself. I felt worthless. I felt like I was never going to get over this. I felt like I was a failure. I felt just about every self-degrading thing I could think of. This often led, or contributed to a steep downward spiral that seemed to make it much more likely for me to return to pornography, and generally just made everything worse. What I realized as I sat on that bench was that I was letting Satan win twice. He was winning not only when I viewed pornography, but also when I beat myself up afterwards. I got knocked down, and then promptly began to kick myself, ensuring that I stayed down.

Recognizing this destructive pattern was key for me. I realized that the Savior’s response to my sin and weakness would be much different than my response. The Savior would put His arm around me, love me, teach me to become better, and help strengthen me so that I could. So I tried to be more compassionate to myself. The change hasn’t come overnight, and I’m still working on it. But trying to shift my mindset has helped me progress in ways I wasn’t able to before. I still have to remind myself all the time to stop kicking all the time. But when I remember to trust God and follow His example, it is easier to repent and I get back on track so much quicker.

One scripture that I often think about is Mosiah 7:18-19. “O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made. Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God."

Sometimes my struggles seem to be completely in vain. It seems like no matter what I try, my enemies still have power over me. But like king Limhi, I also trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made. I trust that all the struggles that seem to be in vain are actually important exercises that will help us. If we let them, they can teach us, strengthen us, and prepare us for that effectual struggle that still remains.

Changing my attitude toward myself after I fall has helped my struggle become more effective. What do you do to make your struggles more effective? I’d love to hear and learn what you are trying.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Place of Healing, Not Hiding

Being open about my struggle with pornography has changed my life. I haven’t been wide open about it, but I have opened up to some very key people, and as you can see from this blog, I’m starting to share my stories and experiences with whoever wants to listen. Once I stopped trying so hard to hide from everyone, I slowly started finding room to heal. This ongoing transformation has been something I never could have imagined, and now I want others to experience it too.

In his last conference talk, President Uchtdorf said that the church should be a place of healing, not hiding. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready to stop hiding this at church. And I may never be, and that’s okay. But I think having another space where I can not hide, but be myself, and where I can listen and learn and share with others who really get what I’m going through would not only continue my healing, but also would help others have the courage to stop hiding and start healing. 

One of the key people I’ve been very open with is my therapist, Daniel Burgess. Working with Daniel has been an enormous blessing. He has helped me change the way I think about things. He has helped me learn a lot about myself, the Atonement, and how to better handle my struggles. I was recently checking in with him and while discussing what passions I have that could focus my energy on, he threw out the idea of writing a book together. Everything we talked about reminded me of the exact reasons I started my blog years ago - it was a way I could try to help someone else.

I thought and prayed a lot over the next few days. I dusted off my old blog, read through some old posts, and logged back into the email account I had set up specifically for this blog. I was absolutely shocked to see an email from a woman who found my blog, and even more shocked to hear that my blog somehow helped her! The crazy thing is she had sent that email 2 years ago, and I had no idea!! I was overcome with the sweetest feeling of joy, I can't even describe it. For the first time in my life I felt like I knew how Alma the Younger felt when he said “my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20). I have corresponded a bit with this woman, and I think she is just a wonderful soul.

Realizing I helped someone, in some small way, fueled my desire to pursue this project with Daniel. Every time I prayed about it, I felt nothing but an outpouring of the Spirit. I’ll be honest, it is a little scary. It is definitely going to push my comfort zone, but if I can help someone else, it will all be worth it.

Daniel and I met to talk about the book, and we decided that in addition to writing a book, some sort of online support community for women could be very helpful. So we are giving it a shot! I want there to be a safe space where we can share, and listen, and learn from each other. If we can create that, I believe it will be an awesome place full of healing, not hiding, cause let's be honest. Hiding is exhausting!

So there you go. That is where I am, and where I want to go. It feels like a daunting project, and sometimes I feel totally inadequate to even think about trying to attempt something like this, but I am also incredibly excited about the potential for good. So if you want to get involved, offer support or have thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or comments, please let me know. And stay tuned for more info!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Trust the Process

We live in an "On Demand" world. How often do we watch our favorite TV shows at their regularly scheduled time? We (as a society) want what we want, and we want it now. We want nice cars, big houses, fancy trips, designer clothes. We want to look great, lose weight, and get in shape. But we also want to eat french fries, desserts, and anything else that looks tasty. We want our questions answered, our testimonies strengthened, and our burdens removed. And we want it all right now, or maybe by tomorrow afternoon if it's too much to ask for now. Thanks God, you're the best! 

Sometimes I get caught up in this, and I crave that instant gratification. Sometimes I indulge, sometimes I keep a longer-term focus. But I'm finding again and again that when I'm motivated and act on these impulsive desires, I end up feeling empty, unsatisfied, and also quite inadequate. I keep thinking about a story Elder Ballard tells in his talk, Finding Joy through Loving Service. If you'd rather watch the story, here you go.

I love this story for a lot of reasons. At face value, it teaches an important lesson. The best way to get rich isn't by winning the lottery, it is through the "patient accumulation" of the little gold flecks, over time that brought the prospector great wealth. But the number of different situations this applies to is endless. Not eating for a week isn't going to make us thin. Working out for 10 straight hours isn't going to make us fit. Praying once for an answer isn't going to satisfy our questions, or relieve our burdens. Instead consistent habits of eating healthy, working out, and being fed spiritually each and every day will enable us to reach our goals. It is a process. And we have to trust the process.

Pornography thrives in this arena of instant gratification. We have access to so much of it, and it's there whenever we decide we want it. Avoiding pornography for a day/week/month/whatever doesn't mean we have conquered it. We have to work hard, and patiently accumulate those small flecks of self-mastery over time. And when we find them, we have to treasure them. Some days I feel like there is hole in my leather pouch and I've totally lost some (or all) of those flecks I worked so hard to gather. But when I am able to see it as an opportunity to patch up my pouch and make it stronger than it was before, I'm able to get back in the game much quicker, and I'm so much happier.

So for me, my "process" for accumulating these precious flecks of self-mastery includes really studying the scriptures every day. It is staying on my knees in prayer until I feel a connection with God. It is being disciplined in other areas of my life such as consistently working out to take care of my body. It is getting enough sleep. Any of these things on their own, or done just once, doesn't amount to much. And that can be VERY discouraging. It is often hard for me to see the end result. It is easy to let things slide "just this one time". I'm not always good at it, but I know that over time, the consistent effort does pay off. The process does work, I just need to trust it more. For anyone else out there, what does your process involve? What has worked for you? I'd love to hear and learn from you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

To Act and Not Be Acted Upon

One of the most important things I feel like I've learned about recently is the difference between acting for myself, rather than being acted upon. In the Book of Mormon, Lehi talks about this in 2 Nephi 2:26.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem 
the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from 
the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil;
to act for themselves and not to be acted upon,
save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, 
according to the commandments which God hath given.

So... Christ came to help us get over the effects of the fall. And because He did that for us, we are free and we know the difference between good and evil. And also, we have the ability to act, and it sounds like God doesn't really want us to be acted upon. So what does it mean to be acted upon?

I think that we sometimes give away our agency, and in some cases we accept and even embrace the fact that we are acted upon. If you put a warm, soft, chocolate chip cookie in front of me, I will eat it. It's gonna happen, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. No worries though, it's cool, I've totally accepted this about myself. But. Where is the agency in that? There is none! I think the power of an addiction is just this- it takes away your agency and leaves you as an object to be acted upon. How many times have you found yourself viewing pornography, and you really didn't make a choice to be there. It just sort of happened. For me, this has happened a lot. So what can be done? How can we reclaim our agency? How can we go from being objects that are acted upon to agents who act?

Well when everything you're doing doesn't seem to work, maybe it's time to try something different. I recently tried something different, and so far it has actually helped. Hear me out on this one... If God values our agency enough to lose a third part of His children, and He sent Christ to die for us so that we could act and not be acted upon, do you think God would rather us be agents or objects? Agents, right? So God wants us to use the precious gift of agency and to act. Ok, got it. But what if we aren't good agents? What if we choose the wrong? Do you still think God would rather us be bad agents than acted upon objects?

I think He does! I think He really wants us to choose to act, even if we choose wrong. So I tried it out. Sometimes when I feel like there is no way for me to avoid pornography like I know I should, I chose to do it. That's right, I chose to view pornography. What??? I chose to view pornography?? I'm crazy, right? Probably so, because who in their right mind would choose to view pornography, especially when that is exactly what they are trying to avoid? Well I did. And the outcome surprised me.

I found that by choosing, I started to become an agent again. I started acting. And doing so helped me start to reclaim some of that agency that I lost. And agents who act have more power than objects who are acted upon because agents who act can choose to become better. Objects can't really progress. They just get acted upon, and thrown around wherever. Choosing to act opens the door for the Atonement of Christ. It allows the Atonement to strengthen us, and to enable us to become better, It allows for the Atonement to begin to heal our souls. So that's my challenge for all of us. It's probably going to look different for all of us, but let's try to find something we can do to, to reclaim our agency, and to stop being tossed around.