Sunday, February 21, 2016

Excuses, Excuses

I read this quote by Stephen King months ago when I read his quasi-autobiography, On Writing. As a recovered alcoholic — someone who's been through the process and knows what addiction feels like — King's comparison justified my frustration with former bishops, family members and friends who have encouraged me to do any or all of the following to kill my addiction:
  • Just read the scriptures more.
  • Pray more.
  • Try harder.
  • Just stop.
Porn/sex addiction is a sickness of the brain. This isn't like me deciding whether or not to get out of bed in the morning. There are powerful emotional, psychological and physiological undercurrents at work. So when someone tells me any of these things, I shut down. Because as much as a non-addict thinks they understand what it's like, they don't. And I hope they never do.

That third one, "try harder," is a toughie, though, because it opens the door nice and wide for excuses.
Having been lukewarm for much of my recovery, though, I know there are plenty of areas where I can try harder. Here are a few, along with some excuses:

Reaching out

I hate reaching out. I'm introverted by nature and generally prefer to work through things on my own. I'm afraid of what others would think of me if I reach out constantly. Will they wonder if I'm actually trying if I keep having triggers? I've also had some bad experiences when reaching out to other addicts. Generally, they have a should-fest and start telling me all the things I should and shouldn't be doing. When in reality, I just want them to tell me they know how I'm feeling and maybe share what's worked for them in their experience

That's a lot of excuses right there. And honestly, I think some of them are valid. But just because they're valid doesn't mean I should let them stand between me and recovery. Reaching out has always been scary for me, even when I'm really on my recovery game. But I know, deep down, that I need to overcome that fear if I want to do this. 

In the end, reaching out isn't about checking off a box when I'm triggered. It's about connection. And as we learn in the video below my therapist shared with me, "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection."


I'm too busy to give dailies the time and attention they deserve. I mean, between getting up early to work on my side job, working my full-time job, helping out with our son and making sure I get enough time to spend with Kilee, I just don't have time to spend significant time reading my scriptures, working the 12 steps, going to group, exercising, connecting with other addicts, meditating, checking in and doing something for self-care. And when I do have time to do that stuff, I don't want to because I feel burnt out from everything else. 

Again, I don't think these excuses are without merit. But excuses are excuses if I'm letting them stop me from working recovery the way I'm supposed to. It all boils down to how I view them. Are they means to an end or are they the end themselves? The point of dailies is to keep you engaged in recovery. Is my day going to come crashing down if I don't have time to do 27,000 recovery-related things every single day? No. What matters is the diligence and sincerity I put into what I do have time to do. 

I once asked some guys in a support group what their dailies are to get some ideas, and one guy shared 45 things he does every day. Yeah. I immediately thought, hey this guy's doing it. And I suck. Now, I don't know if he really does those 45 things every day, and I don't know if it's working for him or if he's completely overwhelmed. But after thinking about it, I realized that recovery isn't a list of dailies. It's finding what works for you and making a priority.

Submitting to God

I feel like I've done a pretty good job of preventing future triggers. I have a Chrome extension that blocks certain websites where I've historically started down the path of acting out. So when I do come across a big trigger, I feel like I get blindsided. I don't even think to reach out or pray and ask for help. I'm already in the lust funnel and don't have the presence of mind to resist. 

Ugh. Just writing that makes me feel ridiculous, and that's because I am. This excuse has no validity. Sure, it's harder to make the right decision when you're already heading down that path, but fortifying yourself spiritually and making turning to God instinctive can help with that. I know because I've done it before. As I was preparing for my mission, my mind turned to God every time temptation hit. I'd sing a hymn or say a prayer, giving it to God, and it worked. So there's really no excuse for this.

No more excuses

Writing this has been good for me. When I started, I didn't really know what to write. I just wanted to explore what's kept me from getting to where I need to go. Now that I've worked through it, I'm looking forward to finding ways to overcome it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Recovery Goals for 2016

Recovery is hard work. I wish sometimes that I could just ask God to force me to do everything I need to; that I could literally give Him my will so He could make me do whatever is necessary. Of course, that's not how it works and it won't keep me from going back to it in the future.

In the past, I've been terrible at setting and reaching goals. After all, it takes time to set a goal, make plans to achieve it and assess and reassess my progress throughout the whole process. I'd much rather spend that time doing something else.

But over the last couple years, I've learned to improve on my goal-making skillz, specifically in setting ones that are both meaningful and attainable, and creating quantifiable action plans to ensure that I maintain motivation and actually have a chance of succeeding.

So here goes...

1. Attend group at least once a week - I'll be honest, I don't like going to group. I haven't ever since we lived in Arkansas, where we had a missionary who was going to school to become a therapist and decided that we were his guinea pigs. But I know that it's an important part of a healthy recovery, so I need to make sure I attend every week. Because of the schedule in my area, it may not always be possible to do it in person, so I'll also utilize the Sexaholics Anonymous phone meetings.

2. Daily gospel study and prayer - One of the things I've struggled with in the past is shaming myself if I don't read X amount of minutes or if I don't study the Book of Mormon every day. This year, I want to just focus on spending 10-15 minutes a day studying the gospel, whether that's reading the scriptures, a biography about one of the prophets or apostles or the Ensign. I just need to fill my life with goodness every day. As for prayer, I've struggled with it lately. So not only do I want to make sure I pray at least twice a day on my knees, but I want to take some time every day, 5-10 minutes, and meditate.

3. Exercise - When healthy, I want to exercise at least 4 days a week. I say "when healthy" because over the past few months I've hurt my back twice, both times it's hurt to sit let alone move around enough to consider it exercise. Walking is probably still on the table, though, so I'll do what I can.

4. Reach out - I'm having a hard time setting this goal because I've royally sucked at reaching out. I don't know why. It may be that I'm ashamed to ask for help, or that I want to do it on my own — or that, in the moment, I want to give in. It doesn't really matter why, all that matters is that I work on improving. Because I've done a pretty good job at preventing certain triggers but once I'm in the moment, it's difficult for me to react well. So the goal for now is to reach out at least once a day when I'm struggling. That can be to my bishop, another addict or my Facebook support group.

I was going to add more, but the more goals I have the worse I tend to do at reaching them. So that'll be it for now.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

He Just Cried With Me

I was going through my old mission binder tonight and found this story. It's been a long time since I've read it, and I had to hold back my tears while I did. It reminded me, once again, that letting Christ in is the only way to overcome this world and everything in it. And that His grace, love and understanding are deeper than I can fathom. Read and enjoy :)

by Joshua Harris

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index-card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read "Girls I Have Liked." I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn't match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named "Friends" was next to one marked "Friends I Have Betrayed."

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. "Books I Have Read," "Lies I Have Told," "Comfort I Have Given," "Jokes I Have Laughed At." Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: "Things I've Yelled at My Brothers." Others I couldn't laugh at: "Things I Have Done in My Anger," "Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents." I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 20 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked "Songs I Have Listened To," I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn't found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked "Lustful Thoughts," I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: "No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!" In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn't matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore "People I Have Shared the Gospel With." The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that they hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus.
I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn't bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn't anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn't say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.

"No!" I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was "No, no," as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn't be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don't think I'll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, "It is finished."

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why I No Longer Support 'Fight the New Drug'

Fight the New Drug has made huge strides for the anti-porn community through education about what's wrong with it and how to overcome it. For a long time, I was a staunch supporter of the movement; I even wrote for their blog for a few months.

But since that time as I've become more aware of what they're posting and it's frustrating.

First, they regularly post pictures on their Facebook page of "fighters" who send in pictures of them wearing FTND swag. But have you noticed that every single one of them looks like a model? Are no regular people sending in pictures? Doubtful. It reminds me of a Carls Jr's statement: "We believe in putting hot models in our commercials because ugly ones don't sell burgers."

Another thing is their recent post that says: "Real men don't have time to search for women online, they're too busy searching for ways to love the woman in front of them."

Instantly, I thought of a meme I saw a while ago that says: "Dear girls, immodesty is like rolling around in manure. Yes, you'll get attention, but mostly from pigs. Sincerely, real men."

Shaming someone isn't the way to get them to change. It's also a terrible way to treat someone who is trying to change. And this isn't the first time I've read something like this on FTND's Facebook page or their blog.

Let me be clear. Just because I don't support the organization anymore doesn't mean I don't believe they're doing good. For example, I also don't support March of Dimes or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It's not because I don't think they're helping people, rather because they spend so much of their donors' money on marketing, fundraising and salaries, which make up roughly one-third of donations. I'd rather support organizations that are more efficient with my donation.

The same goes with FTND. I don't want to support an organization that's so focused on its message that it only features "beautiful" people fighting for their cause. I also don't want to support an organization that's supposedly dedicated to helping people like me learn about and overcome my addiction that turns around and makes me feel like I'm not a real man. I'm a real man because I'm fighting it. Is my recovery perfect? No. But have I given up? Absolutely not.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Does it Mean to Submit?

I've been working Step 3 for about a month now and it's been slow going. The main reason for that is because I've been experiencing this stage:
At first our efforts were anxious and halting. We kept giving the Lord our trust and then taking it back.
On one hand, it's frustrating because I know I can't move on to the next step until I've really got this one down. I did that the last few times I went through the steps and they didn't work for me. On the other hand, I've come to the same realization every addict comes to at this point in recovery:
Eventually each of us realized that we not only had to give up our addictions, but we also had to turn our entire will and life over to God. 
That scares me because I feel like there are certain things outside my addiction that I don't want to give up.

I spoke with my Bishop about that anxiety last night. To give him some background of how I view turning my entire will and life over to God, I told him a story: When I was a senior in high school, I decided I was never going to read a non-church related book ever again. Also, six months before I left for my mission, I decided not to go on any dates. I was giving up that thing I enjoyed to serve God better.

I know it's extreme, but for some reason I've always expected more of myself than others do, even God. My Bishop confirmed that when he said that God doesn't expect us to give up everything. I can still watch Netflix — I just shouldn't binge watch 10 episodes of Gotham in two days. I can still play games on my phone — I just shouldn't let it interfere with my family and other important things. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

What it boils down to is that submitting my will simply means being who God needs me to be.

In Matthew 23:23, Christ talks about how the scribes and Pharisees were so focused on giving the best for tithing, but they "omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith." Submitting my will is so much more about studying Christ's life and becoming more like Him — giving up those character weaknesses that don't fit the mold — than it is making sure I keep all the commandments.

Don't get me wrong. Keeping the commandments is essential to salvation, but there's more to it than that.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Man Without the Wedding Garment

One of the things I'm working on to come closer to Christ is to actually seek when I'm studying my scriptures. This morning I read a passage that I've never understood, but now I do with the help of the New Testament institute student manual. Here goes:
"And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing and teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 5:11-14).
To give you a little background, the parable the Savior discussed previously in the chapter was about how the king invited a bunch of people to his son's wedding, only to learn that the invitees ignored him (and some even beat the servants who invited them). It symbolizes the reaction of the Pharisees and Sadducees at the time of Christ. So then the king tells his servants to round up people off the streets who are willing to come.

So coming to this part, I've always read this in the past and thought, well the guy's there, isn't he? You invited him. Maybe he doesn't have wedding clothes. Should he be punished for that? But here's what I read this morning in the student manual:
"In ancient times, it was sometimes the custom for wealthy individuals, such as kings, to provide invited guests with proper clothing to wear to events such as weddings. Despite being invited to the wedding, this man chose to attend on his own terms rather than those of the king, and he was not permitted to remain. There are requirements for entering the kingdom of God, even though everyone is invited" (New Testament Student Manual, pg. 66).
Cue the a-ha moment. This explanation is just another reminder to me that I can't keep trying to do recovery and discipleship my way. I can't keep lying to myself that selective diligence and sporadic dedication are enough to experience the miracle of recovery. I'm also reminded once again that recovery requires that I submit my will to God in all things, not just in things pertaining to sobriety.

I never thought I'd say this, but this is hard. After years of trying to do it my way, it's hard to give up my will. I can't expect it to happen overnight, though. I just need to keep chipping away at my selfishness and pride and put my relationship with God at the forefront of my mind.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Beginning Anew

I started blogging about my recovery two and a half years ago. At the time, I felt I needed to open myself up to a new kind of accountability and share my story with others who are also going through this insidious addiction. 

After about a year, I moved my blog to its own domain, Let Him Heal Your Heart. I wrote often for a long time, but in February of this year, my wife had a baby. A month later, I started a new job writing for a living. Between the dwindling free time that comes with having a newborn turned infant and a lack of desire to do what I do all day when I'm not working (writing, that is), my blog died the death.

I had another blog while all this was going on. I wrote about my hobby, personal finance (that's actually how I got my job writing full-time). The problem is that when I started Let Him Heal Your Heart, the blog's hosting was on the same account as the personal finance blog. So when I sold that blog and it was subsequently resold, all the files for my recovery blog were deleted. 

This is how that felt:

Anyway, I thought I could go back to my old blogspot blog, but I set up a redirect on it a long time ago to the new blog and I have no idea how to remove it. Anyway, not that it matters. It feels good to begin anew, especially with a new direction.

You see, my recovery over the past five years or so has been largely self-driven, meaning I've been doing it my way. Do I want to go to group? No. So I don't. Do I want to work the steps? No. So I don't. I've picked and chosen what I wanted to do and hoped that would be enough.

I've been reworking the steps lately, however, and have been on Step 3 for a while now. What it's come down to is the fact that I've been afraid of submitting my whole self to God. I want to give up my addiction, but nothing else. Because honestly, I like my life beyond my addiction. (OK, honestly, I also like my addiction. I wouldn't still be here writing about my struggles with recovery if I didn't.)

But in order to qualify for His help, I really do need to start doing recovery His way, seeking Christ throughout the day, putting Him first and trying to become a better person. It'll be a long road. I've digressed quite a bit spiritually from before my wife and I got married, so it's not going to get fixed in a day.

Also, I'm trying to lose some major weight. 50 lbs. to be exact. So two things at once. Here's to fighting the good fight.