Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dear Bishop: I Saw Love in Your Eyes

Dear Bishop,

I want to write you a letter and tell you how much you mean to me.  You were the very first Bishop I told about my problem.  The very first Bishop I really let in and trusted enough to expose how deep my addiction ran.

I remember that day very clearly.  It was a Sunday.  It was before church.  Sitting in the lobby waiting for you to call me in was absolute torture.  It took everything in me to not get up and run.

I'm not sure you know or understand how hard it was for me to come in and see you.  I was paralyzed with fear.  I thought for sure you'd think I was dirty and gross and never want to speak to me again.  I was terrified that you wouldn't want me around your family anymore and that my confession would affect my cherished friendship with your wife.  I don't really know what drove me to go in to see you.  I think the pain had finally become heavier than I could bear.  Gratefully, with the Lord's help, I mustered the courage to make an appointment.

When I told you that I was addicted to viewing pornography I expected to see revulsion and repugnance wash across your face.  But that didn't happen.  Instead of  disgust, I saw love in your eyes.  You were gentle with me as you asked me more specific questions to better understand the depth of my pain.  Those questions were very hard to answer, but I appreciated your need to better understand exactly what I was struggling with.  I also appreciated you taking me seriously.

Shortly after meeting with you, you were called as Stake President.  As happy as I was for you, I was devastated for myself.  I'd lost the first person I really trusted with my problem.  I didn't know how to handle that. I felt completely abandoned.  By you and by my Heavenly Father.  I was so confused.  I regret not expressing those feelings to you at the time.  I would do that differently, if I could.

I remember you suggesting that I talk to the next Bishop about my problem, but I couldn't.  I couldn't muster the courage for that.  The new Bishop had no idea that I was struggling  and as a result didn't reach out to me.  Without that contact I sunk back into fear and fell into inactivity.  My family soon moved away from the ward and I  was seemingly forgotten.

Reflecting back, I think the Lord was teaching me.  Teaching me that a simple confession would not cure me.  He was teaching me that I was powerless over this monster within me and only by the grace of my Savior could I be rescued and healed.  I had to humble myself to the point of complete submission in order to get better.  It took time.  But when the Lord introduced me to the recovery program seven years later the time was right.  He kept me searching for help for a significant stretch of time so that when I finally found it I would never let it go.  He is wise.  I had been desperately seeking for answers for so long that when I found it I was ready to be putty in His hands.

Even though I didn't have the opportunity to work with you closely during my recovery, you still played a key role.  You planted a seed.  A seed that grew into knowledge that I would not be judged harshly, looked down upon, scoffed at or shamed.  That knowledge provided courage for me to see my current Bishop.  That seed grew into a bed of faith.  You were a true representative of our Savior.  You shared in my pain and loved me anyway.  For that I will be forever grateful.

Thank you for being my advocate and friend.  Thank you for letting me rely on your testimony when mine was faltering.  And thank you for being gentle with me.

I love you.

A Beautiful Daughter of God

A contributed post in response to A Call For Input: Dear Bishop Letters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Journal: And That... is Enough.

**EDIT: You can now read what this post is referring to here.

I have recently been faced with a trial that has left me numb and completely emotionally checked out.  Numb is not a place I am comfortable being anymore.  I want nothing to do with it.  But I am so stuck in it right now and I have no clue how to get out of it.  This trial I've been given is worthy of freak outs, of temper tantrums, of bouts of rage, of frantic anxiety, of hysterical laughter, of headache inducing eye rolls and it is most worthy of soul cleansing tears streaming down my face, falling gently to the floor.  But I have felt none of it.  I have prayed and asked Heavenly Father to help me, to just let me cry, but still the tears will not flow.

One thing I started to do in hopes of pushing myself into a better place was I began comparing this trial to other's trials and also comparing it to what "didn't happen."  I did this, and tend to do this, in order to grasp some level of gratitude.  A good friend of mine noticed what I was doing and gently directed me toward Jane's blog post on this very topic.

I should mention that Jane was inspired by a post Julie wrote on gratitude. So thank you, Jane and Julie, for spreading your light so far...

I was gently taught by Jane's blog post that any comparison of my trials to other's trials, or to what I "should" be is unhealthy, even if my purpose in doing so is to catapult myself into a better place.

We hear it all the time:

  • After suffering a miscarriage: "Just be grateful you already have a child" or "just be grateful you can get pregnant when others aren't able to"
  • After the loss of a living child: "Just be grateful you were able to spend the time you did with your child"
  • After a spouse is unfaithful on some level: "Well at least they didn't...(insert next level of infidelity)"

The list is endless...

But all these types of statements are telling us is:

  • Your feelings aren't valid - stop feeling them
  • Your pain doesn't matter because someone else is hurting worse than you
  • You are a horrible person for feeling sad/hurt/angry

Julie is wise in her words when she says:
Gratitude is not born of comparison.  Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of joy." I believe that is true whether we are comparing ourselves to individuals we consider to be "above" us or those who seem to be "below" us.  Comparison robs us of joy because it forces us to rank ourselves on some imaginary scale of happiness, when no such scale exists.  Happiness is not linear, it's not a ladder to be climbed.  It is more fluid like water.  It moves around us and through us.  Sometimes it fills us, and sometimes we thirst for it."
Beautiful...

It is true, comparison does rob us of joy.  Comparison robs us of the freedom to acknowledge the situations and circumstances that bring us heartache.  Disallowing ourselves the agency to acknowledge our feelings leaves us sedimentary in denial.  When comparing we are not being honest about our own feelings because we are more focused on what others are feeling.  We cannot move through our feelings if we can't even muster validating them.  We are shaming our feelings and treating them as if they are unworthy.  And because we can't validate our feelings we are eventually robbed of the most beautiful and exquisite joy that comes on the other side of such heartache.  Joy that only the Atonement can bring, because that joy is derived from feeling the personal touch of the Savior's healing balm.  Such healing and subsequent joy can't take place if we don't even acknowledge our pain and deep need for His balm.

I have spent (wasted) much time comparing myself to others and especially to "what/who I should be" in order to find threads of gratitude to get me through this trial.  But as Jane says:
What I have is neither "more" or "less" than anyone else.  Gratitude is not found in focusing on the pain of someone else to belittle my own.
This trial that I have been given isn't more or less painful/devastating/horrible/hurtful than anyone else's.  It just is (period)... It... just.... is.

Our feelings and emotions are not good or bad, they just are.  They are real and they are worth validating.  Our feelings are real.

My feelings are real.

I am hurting right now.
I am sad.
I am angry.
I am frustrated.
I am scared.

Underneath anyway... underneath the crust of numb.

Jane moves on to say:
My pain is real, and comparing my pain to someone else's pain whether to make myself feel more self-pity because my trials are "worse," or to guilt myself into feeling gratitude because my trials are "better" is not productive.  Nor does it foster a healthy, compassionate empathy, but rather feelings of either jealousy or superiority.
I do not want to feel either jealous or superior to anyone.  We are all equal and I strive each day to love everyone equally.  What I do want is to find joy in my own skin.  So instead of searching for joy and gratitude by comparing myself to others or some unseen perfect 'me' I will find joy in things that are already true and good.

I find joy in the absolute knowledge that this trial will be for my refinement, if I let it.  If I let Him.  I may not feel so now, but I know it to be truth because I have a sure testimony that God absolutely would not send me through meaningless fires for no reason.  This blaze is burning hot and on the other side, as I exit this refining furnace - completely malleable, I will find my Master who will work swiftly to shape me into a stronger and more purified instrument.

Even though I cannot seem to break through the crust of numb that has encased my heart, I can and do find gratitude for that which I am facing.  I just no longer find it by way of comparison to others or by comparing myself to what I "should" be.

Instead I find gratitude in what I have.

I have my God
I have my faith

And that... is enough.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Interviews: Stacey

Getting to Know You

How old are you?
Early 30's
What country do you live in? 
USA
Are you married and do you have children? 
No and no. Happily Single.
How long have you been sober?
Over a year and a half. I stopped keeping track because sober anniversaries were really hard on me thanks to a certain devil. So, take that Adversary.
What are your interests or hobbies?
Travel. Books. Star gazing. Teaching. History. The Gospel. Great Britain. Ireland.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself… 
I am a crazy cat lady. And I love Elder Holland. Give me a topic and I can probably reference a talk he gave on that subject.

The Story

How old were you when your addiction began?
I would say I was eight/nine or so.
What were the life events and circumstances that led to your addiction? 
It was several things. I had a cousin touch me inappropriately one night (he got in trouble) and I also had an aunt around my age that used to play with me and the pretending involved rape. Which I didn't understand at the time. Then one night I was reading an article in a popular magazine about a taboo subject and discovered masturbation although I didn't know that was what it was. I liked how I felt.  I've always felt out of place in school, in church, in my family and this was an escape from feeling lonely and the stress of school/life. Like the manual says, “I felt free.” I would come home from school and fantasize and masturbate and fall asleep. I had fantasies involving my addiction and I also created a fantasy world starring me. Also, reading magazines or books to escape reality as well. When I found out masturbation was wrong, I tried to stop and I could usually make it a while, but I always slipped. Now I realize that what I was reading and fantasizing about was building up to that “mess up” as I used to call it. Then I was given a romance novel (written porn) for a birthday present and my addiction intensified. I have wanted to be married since I was 16. I was so desperate to be married, because then I would be happy. I had to be loved by a man to be of worth.   My addiction really accelerated three years ago when I found a website with all sorts of books on it, but, most importantly, written porn (or “romance novels,” which is a laughable use of the term). And I could read them every day. Any time. And my addiction intensified. I was going through a really rough time emotionally. I’d had to leave a city I loved. A place I adored to come home to the middle of nowhere! I had no job. I wanted to go back. I worried about the future. I was feeling very lonely and also bitter toward God. So this was exactly the escape I was looking for. 
How did your addiction progress?
Okay. How much room do you have? There are phases to my addiction. The first phase, when I was young, changed when I was introduced to written porn. I was disgusted and threw away the book, but the damage was done. I knew exactly what to look for. Still, I didn't read those books in public. I didn't check them out. You would not find me openly reading a romance novel. But I knew where to find them. So I would go to where they were. Libraries, bookstores, grocery stores, etc. I also could buy them from any Deseret Industries. Plus, I had created a lot of fantasies based on this reading and I could find triggers or ideas for those fantasies in ANY reading. So, for a long time I didn't need the “bad” books. Then a couple friends, who had a bunch of the “clean” romance novels, got me interested in them. And it was okay to read those, because they were clean…ish. But then I had to seek out the harder stuff.  It was a cycle. I would start to feel guilty, or act out and so I would resolve to do better and I would either get rid of those books, or cross out the “bad” parts, because I liked the story. It just had one bad part! (The lies I would tell myself.) I took pride when I would read a book like that and skip the “bad” parts. But I’d always end up reading the bad parts. And then I would get to the point that I acted out and then I’d feel guilty and resolve to do better again. I actually didn't like written porn! But I had to read them. I would be good for a while, then I would get lonely or something would happen with a guy I liked, or something I read or saw in a film or TV scene, would trigger me and this fantasy world I had built in addition to the other fantasies would provide an escape and I would find myself in the cycle again. I also told myself I need to know these things for when I was married. Which is a big fat lie.   And then I found that website and I was on my computer almost all the time since then. Or in a store. It would take me hours to shop, because I would be in the book section for most of that time. Day and night. I lost a job because I was up late every night indulging in my addiction and was constantly late for work. And it was going to get a whole lot worse.  For most of my life, I was completely active in the church. I was leading a double life. I went to church, had callings, etc. Once in a while, I would masturbate and then repent (heck, I’d shower and change my bedding, even) and do okay for a bit, until the next time. I did seek help from a couple of bishops. One actually asked me if I had a more serious problem, but I was in denial and said I just had to watch what I read. Because pornography is pictures! Right? No one is addicted to books. Pornography isn't books! That’s what I told myself. I even went through the temple and was clean for a year. However, I soon went back to my addiction (not knowing that my fantasies were part of my problem) and I did try to change. I wouldn't go to the temple if I felt unclean (mostly). But I tried to do it by myself. I’d pray to Heavenly Father to help, but I wasn't completely turning it over to Him. I was not being sincere. I was reaching for my addiction instead of reaching for Him and telling myself it was just a bad habit. I was Jekyll and Hyde and didn't want to admit it.
What experiences did you have that led to your breaking point, or your rock-bottom moment?
I have two. In February of 2009, I had a rough month and that led to the written porn. And of course, the fantasies started and I acted out again. I did wonder if I had an addiction. I actually downloaded the manual and looked at ARP group meetings online. Unfortunately, the nearest meeting was more than an hour away (at that time). I made an appointment with my bishop, then didn't show up. I didn't “feel right” about it. Ha ha ha. The next day, I ran into him at the small corner store by my apartment! He said he had sent me an email. I was scared it was an angry email accusing me of wasting his time (because he lived far away from the church). But, his email said that he had broad shoulders and I could burden him. So I did. He is the one who asked me if I had a more serious problem, but I denied it. Honestly, I wasn't ready yet. Heavenly Father needed to arrange people and other things to put them in place. So I went through the basic repentance process and was good for a long while with acting out and avoiding certain books. But, I kept the fantasy world. I stayed clean less than a year.  Two years later, in 2011, I had another horrible February. It was a month of darkness and despair. I had very serious panic attacks. I felt surrounded by doom. There was no joy and no happiness. Just despair and depression. I had several blessings. The only thing to get me through those dark times was constant prayer, scriptures, music and conference talks on my IPod and I would listen to them all the time! But, when I felt better I would go back to my addiction! So, as the panic attacks faded, I took up my addiction again, but this time I plunged into it! In addition, I was feeling very lonely and single. And now I had access to those awful books 24-7. So, for an entire month, I was up all night reading. I’d get to sleep around 6am. I didn't go to my university classes. I missed church every Sunday. I just plain didn't show up one day to teach a lesson. I was late to meet friends. I was almost always on my computer or in the book section of a store. For hours. And I was being led into darker and more perverted reading to get my high so I could act out. I hated what I was reading or watching… but I couldn't stop! I couldn't  I was acting out a lot. I lied to people about where I was and what was going on and, I wasn't fulfilling my calling. And then I realized I acted out on a Sunday. Sundays had always been off limits! But this was ON Sunday. That’s how I knew something was seriously wrong. I was disgusted with myself. I felt disgusting.
What was your perspective of yourself at this point?
I was hopeless in some ways. I hated what I was doing. I hated what I was reading. It was so sick and disgusting. But, I couldn't stop doing it. A past fear came back, I wondered when God was going to give up on me, like He had the Nephites.  Would He destroy me? Maybe I’d gone too far this time. Maybe it was too late to try and change. I’d tried so many times before and I always failed. So I decided to go see my Bishop so he could help me.  I knew I had to try. I didn't want to be this way anymore, well a small part didn't  I hated myself. Yet, I still had some hope because God had helped me before. I really had reached the point where the pain of my addiction was worse than any solution.
Where did you turn for help?
I went to see my Bishop! Because he would tell me that I had a bad habit and I would go without the sacrament for a bit and then I’d be fine! Ha ha ha. The hardest part was that I was friends with my bishop. He had just been called. It took a lot of courage to make and keep that appointment.   I struggled because I thought I couldn't tell him! He would think I was weird or sick. He would hate me. But I went. I stayed on the bench. His first appointment went past my appointment time. And I really, really wanted to leave. I kept an internal dialogue saying “He hasn't seen you. You can leave. He’s late anyway. Change the appointment!” But, I stayed.   Then, instead of a slap, I got a punch. The Bishop told me I had an addiction. Not a problem. Not a bad habit. An addiction. He said I should try going to the ARP group.  I was stunned, and a little in denial.   And then he told me a sister in the ward had the same addiction. He asked for permission to contact her and give her my information. I was stunned. I wasn't alone? Someone else was just like me? I had thought for so long I was the only one. The only one this sick.  That’s how I met my sponsor, K. She is my friend. I owe her so much. Plus, the ARP meetings were closer now.  Heavenly Father knew what I needed and He provided all of it. At the right time.  Now my recovery was a progression too. I had this concept, after finally admitting this wasn't a bad habit, that I would go to the meetings and do the program and be fixed by Step 12, which wouldn't take long, one week for each step, right? Ha ha ha. Then I would go back to normal, i.e., doing everything I did before, but without temptation because I would be fixed!  Oh, I was so naive.
What was the turning point of your addiction?
Realizing that I had an addiction! Realizing that it was more than just masturbation. I remember meeting K and she asked me when I had last indulged in my addiction and I proudly announced not for a week and she asked when I had last read a romance novel. Um… well… that day. So, she said, I wasn't sober.  Bam. Had never thought of that! Reading the filthy disgusting books was part of my addiction! Lightning bolt to the brain!
How did you experience the Atonement of Christ?
I turned to Him. And He helped me become one with Him again. He still is! I learned to pray to him in a moment of temptation or memory (my brain loves those) and ask for help or forgiveness. I replaced my addiction with HIM. Via scriptures or conference talks or music or prayer. He helped me turn to Him.  I know He’s there now. As Elder Holland says, “Every time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He’s been anxiously trying to reach us. So we step. We strive. We seek and we never yield.” I know my Savior is so anxious to help me. That He cries every time I cry. For so long I hated that pain I gave Him. Via my panic attacks and especially my addiction. I hated that thought. But, He is the only way back to Heavenly Father. He doesn't withhold His love because I cause Him pain. He wants to help me heal.
What difference did Christ's Atonement make in your life?
My brain was broken and He fixed it. He HEALED me. ME! For so long I thought I was unfixable. I am not a finished product. I still struggle with many character weaknesses, but I know He understands. Jesus Christ knows how I feel. I understand the Atonement better now. I've experienced healings, had blessings, etc., but now I know that I couldn't have come this far in recovery without Him. I've learned to turn to Him. Even when I’m mad at Heavenly Father, I still pray to Him.  I came to know my Savior, my Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost and their love for me. So now when I’m tempted, when I want to run and hide, I turn to them in some way and not to my addictions.
How is life different for you today?
I have hope. Even when I feel hopeless, I am still obedient. I go to meetings and church. I don’t turn to my addiction. I have been struggling with so many trials lately. Feeling hopeless, but now I turn to Heavenly Father instead of my addiction. I pray for help and guidance. I do not always get an answer, but I get peace or hope or love. And I don’t stop seeking or striving. Step 3 (Trust in God) is a step I am constantly going back to. But even in my darkest times, the Lord helped me stay clean. When all I wanted to do was give in, He blessed me with distractions or courage to stay away.
What is your perception of yourself?
For so long I wanted to be loved. My dad was emotionally and physically abusive, so for so long I tried to be lovable  so that he wouldn't hurt me. I wanted him to love me. Part of me believed my family would never truly love me. I was unlovable. So I told myself that I would only be whole or lovable when a man loved me. Then I would be worth something. Well, Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost love me and I am blessed with an abundance of love in my life. The Godhead, my ward sisters, my friends, my family, my co-workers, my PASG groupies! I have love in my life and I don’t have to have romantic love to be of worth. I AM of WORTH! I am freaking awesome!  I am still imperfect in some ways, but I’m trying to do better. I’m trying to be better. I’m praying for strength to make it through each day. This week I’m working on selfishness. I don’t think I’ll have it conquered any time soon. So, I am not perfect, but I am trying to be a little better each day.

ARP Meetings

What was the scariest thing about going to your first ARP Meeting?
It was a general ARP meeting and so I knew that men would be there. I was nervous. What would they say? Would I know anyone? What was it like? What did we do in meetings? Did I have to announce my addiction? Would they look at me and know what my addiction was? Should I say a pseudonym? I felt fear and confusion.
If you could go back in time, what counsel would you give to yourself about going to a meeting?
Just chill.  Anonymity is going right out the window. (This is a semi-joke. That night, I walked in and the facilitator called out my name, because he was in my ward. Now, anytime I attend a new group, someone who knows/recognizes me will be there. I've come to see it as a blessing from the Lord that he’s giving me friends when I need them).  I would also tell myself: You will feel love. Give it time.
Everybody reads the confidentiality statement. What is your experience with confidentiality?
I've never consciously broken anonymity and no one has broken mine. As a facilitator who goes out and helps the missionaries with their ARP presentations, confidentiality disappears a bit. At my last presentation, a girl I went to high school with was there. I have to accept that some people recognize me and now know I have an addiction, but they don’t know what my addiction is.  But if I can help someone realize that they need this program, that they have an addiction, then it is worth it. If I can give someone hope, then I am okay with being recognized.  One thing that I think a lot of addicts have is a paranoia. One night, about a month after I started attending group, I was at a Stake meeting and the ARP group leader walked up and gave me a hug. I was so nervous! As if somehow someone would see me with the group leader and know how we knew each other. Like somehow smiling or saying hi to someone from group at the grocery store makes “Addict” appear on your forehead.  I think it’s a way Satan tries to keep us separate.  One night my group went out for ice cream and the girl at the counter asked how we knew each other. One girl blurted out “We’re work buddies!” And we are!
What is your experience about finding support from others in the meetings?
I love meetings. 1)Because the Spirit talks to me during the reading, giving me guidance and help. 2) It brings my focus back to Christ. That is vitally important to my recovery. 3) Because I’m not alone. Because others give me hope! They've made it, so then can I! Someone will share and it will be exactly what I needed to hear. I love it when people text me or email me asking for help. I love passing along the hope and courage that others have given me. Also, the facilitators are awesome! (I am not including myself, yet). When I first started going to the general ARP group, the facilitator would tell these stories about the things he did in his addiction and I did not recognize that person. That was not the man I knew now. He gave me hope that I can do it! K gave me hope. That’s what I love about group. I take notes in my manual. I write down scriptures or thoughts that come to me. Each week gives me strength or guidance to get me through another week. And I, in turn, give that back to my sisters. I love it.

Experience with Priesthood Leaders

What was the role that your bishop played in your recovery? 
He was a support. I didn't see him every week, but I did see him when I needed to. I knew I could turn to him for anything. Just knowing he was there, that I would have to confess to him, helped me maintain sobriety.
What advice would you give to a bishop working with somebody with your addiction?
Just love them. Keep a prayer in your heart. Follow the example of the Savior in your response.
What advice would you give somebody who is considering speaking to their bishop?
Do it! It’s going to be scary and it might not be a perfect experience, but he can help you! My bishop helped me see the truth, find my sponsor and kept me honest. It was such a boon. It’s like Step 5! Don’t put it off! Go! The Lord will help you both.

Working and Maintaining Recovery

How did you find recovery?
For me, it was a progression. At first, I had this idea that I would go, do one step a week and be fixed in 12 weeks! Then I could go back to being “normal.” The Lord taught me that I would be dealing with this for my lifetime. I hated that thought! But I saw that I had wandered into the mists of darkness and once I was back on the path to Him, well, I would become a new person and I wouldn't want the mists anymore.  The withdrawal was horrible. I was a space cadet for a month (thought for sure I would fail my classes). A daily big, huge headache. I was craving chocolate. Triggering every day. Ugh. But at the same time, I felt so close to my Heavenly Father. I had a slip-up and that nearly derailed me. I felt so worthless. But I got back up and went forward. I learned what to avoid next time. And the headache went away and I learned to turn to Heavenly Father and my Savior for help and strength. They helped teach me what I needed to give up and how to reach for them when I needed help.
What have you had to do to achieve and maintain sobriety?
Pray. Study the scriptures. Work the program. Attend church. All three meetings! Fulfill my callings. Go to ARP meetings! I bear testimony that these help! They are such a foundation for me.  In addition, I put a serious internet filter on my computer to block certain websites. I have to watch what I read very closely.   Most importantly, I turned to the Lord! In the first months of recovery, going to the grocery store was hard! Because the book section was RIGHT THERE! So I put CES Fireside and Conference talks on my IPod and I would take it with me. I also had a playlist of songs, my Dailies, that I could play. Church songs, etc. So when I felt tempted, I would say a prayer and then turn on a conference talk or a song and I could finish shopping. I still do this. I recently put the ARP manual on my IPod.  I gave up certain movies and television shows and music.  I try to study the scriptures every day! Not just read a verse, but ponder and think about what I’m reading. Study! Also, I try to read Steps 1, 2, or 3 each night. It hasn't been happening lately, but sometimes I’ll read a scripture from Study & Understanding. Something to help me each day turn to the Lord.
What things/behaviors have you had to give up in order to achieve and maintain sobriety?
Books. Television shows. Music. Films. Daily internet habits (idleness). The Lord is still teaching me what I need to work on. Just recently I gave  up a TV show that I really loved because I realized that I was fantasizing about it. Even if the fantasies aren't sexual, I need to get out of the fantasy world. It was really hard (for a week or two, I kept tabs on it), until I realized that it was stupid. Was I gaining any benefit from it? No! It’s still hard, but I don’t want it in my life. I have  a rule in regards to TV. If there is any shot of nudity and or sex in the previews, I won’t watch it. And violence. That can be a trigger for me somehow. I use the website Pluggedin.com to review music, movies and television shows. And I avoid reading the sexual depiction section. Hello triggers!  So if I look and it’s longer than a paragraph, I’ll usually skip the film.  I’m down to four shows that I watch regularly. And one may have to go soon, as it is getting more and more inappropriate. Plus, I realized that I don’t want to tell Heavenly Father that I didn't make it to the temple as much because a TV show was on.   I went through and deleted a bunch of music from my laptop. Even recently I was going through my playlist and found a bunch of music I needed to delete. It can trigger me. But now I have a playlist that I love and is safe. I listen to a lot of Christian radio now.  Books have been one of the hardest because I love reading. I love books. Now, I really, really have to monitor what I read (sometimes even reading recovery literature can be a trigger because my brain recognizes certain words and gets all excited because, well, it’s trained it to do that). And there is sex or sensuality in almost all books now. So, there’s a Christian website that I review. If not, I can usually read the blurb and figure out if it’s worth trying to read. However, I tend to stick to classics (as in Jane Austen), children’s and non-supernatural Young adult. Anything involving witches, vampires, etc, I will not read.  And it is hard! For example, an author I really love put a link to an excerpt from his short story on a website I have blocked. Sooo tempting to switch that block off, but then I thought, it’s not worth it. So I didn't   It is hard. It’s frustrating (with my internet filter, some Mormon Messages videos are blocked! So I can’t watch them on YouTube!) But it is worth it! Having a close relationship with my Savior is worth any sacrifice.  I’m still working on giving up the fantasy world. I struggle. I slip back into it almost without realizing it. Yet I am so grateful for the Lord’s help in overcoming this!  I am doing a lot better with His help. With pure thoughts, I am more worthy for help, guidance and the Spirit. Isn't that better than any book, fantasy or television show?
What do you do in the moment when faced with a trigger in order to move through it and get past it?
I say a prayer. If it’s a memory/recollection (which my brain does a lot) then I ask for forgiveness for remembering. I start singing a hymn to myself. If I’m in the car or at home, I switch the radio to a Christian station. Or turn on my IPod to a conference talk. On my IPod/ITunes, I have a Dailies playlist I can switch to as needed.  When I was first in recovery, I would send a text to K or, later, the group leader, asking them to pray for me. Usually they would reply and ask how to help.  Distraction. Now, I can usually self-manage. If I ever feel that I can’t, then I’ll text someone. Reach out! God gave you a support group/person for a reason!
What gratitude(s) have you found for your addiction?
I know my Savior better now. I know the gospel better. I have a stronger testimony, especially of the atonement. I know of my Heavenly Father and Savior’s love for me! I have great friends. I am able to be closer to my Father in Heaven, my Savior and the Holy Ghost.

Additional Thoughts

What lies did Satan tell you to make you think you were the only one?
Lots of women read these books and they can stop! What’s wrong with you? You’re weird. No one else has this problem. Women don’t have this problem. You’re not normal. 
Tell us about your teen years:
wasn't unpopular, but I wasn't popular. I had friends. I was involved in Speech and Debate and Drama and Choir. I participated in the YW sports with my ward. I went to basketball games and football games with friends. I had a boyfriend (tender mercy story right there). I ran for student office. At the same time, I felt lonely a lot. Now I realize that it was part of my addiction.
What has helped you shed shame enough to the point that you are willing to share your story here in this interview?
I am passionate about getting the message out that pornography is NOT just pictures and movies! And it’s not just men who can be addicted. As Sidreis has said, it’s a human problem. Elder Oaks defined pornography as anything designed to titillate or stimulate. I realize now that it’s everywhere! TV, Internet, books, magazines, even in conversation! Pornography is more than images and is found in many, many places. We all need to be vigilant.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Angel Baby Ben

Mid year 2010 I found out that my dear good friend and Visiting Teaching companion, Kristen, was pregnant with her first baby.  I was so excited for her and her wonderful husband Randy.  The months to follow were spent  comparing pregnancy symptoms, cravings, pains and birthing techniques as I had just delivered my own third child that May.

Kristen absolutely glowed and as her due date of February 25th (2011) approached I would constantly tease her that she was going to deliver early and have a Valentine's Day baby.

February 14th, Valentines Day, came and went mostly without incident, until Kristen's water broke at 4:30 that afternoon.

February 15th was much more eventful.  It was time for little Ben to enter this world and he did just that at 11:35 that morning.  Doctors were a bit concerned because Ben didn't cry when he was born but attributed it to trauma during his birth and put him under observation.  The following day his symptoms had not improved and upon the doctor's suggestion he was transported to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City for further testing.

Initial tests at Primary Children's Hospital revealed that Ben's Glycine (a neurotransmitter) levels were high and after 4 days of testing he was diagnosed with non-ketotic hyperglycinemia (NKH), a genetic disorder that inhibits regulation of Glycine levels.

Ben was given six months to live...

But as the hours progressed into days the reality of how advanced Ben's NKH really was settled in and it was realized that he would not have much time here on earth.  Knowing the inevitable was to happen, Kristen and Randy requested to take him home to spend as much cherished intimate time with him as the Lord would grant.  Doctors stabilized Ben's feeding tube and in the afternoon of day 8 he came home.

My heart just broke for Kristen and Randy as the weight of the situation came to light.  I had suffered a miscarriage myself at 16 weeks some years prior so I was familiar with loss, but nothing in the realm of what they were faced with.  I can't ever fathom the pain and heartache involved with losing such a precious gift so soon after receiving him.

When I heard that Ben had come home a thought formulated in my mind and I immediately wanted to meet him.  I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this, because it seems so selfish in the midst of all that was going on. But admit it I will, because the lesson that followed is important to me, and I want to honor Ben by sharing it with you.  The lesson Ben taught me will stay with me forever and I want to express my gratitude to him for teaching me, even during his short life.

I wanted to meet him.  I wanted to touch him and hold him and breathe him; breathe in his celestial perfection.  But mostly I wanted to whisper to him.  I wanted to tell him to please pass on a message to the Savior for me.  I wanted him to tell the Savior that I loved Him and missed Him.  You see, even after a year of recovery I still felt a distinct separation from my Savior and I felt like Ben was the perfect messenger to deliver a message to Him for me.  Ben, in my mind, reduced the degrees of separation between my Savior and I down to 1.

It was the perfect plan.  The problem was I didn't want to disrespect Kristen in order to facilitate my own selfish agenda.  I kept a safe distance and gently sent a text on day 9 asking if I could come by and see Ben. She was kind and suggested that I come the following day because he was having a bit of a hard time at that moment.

I fell asleep that night perfectly content that I would be able to whisper my message to Ben in the morning.  I just knew that the Lord wouldn't take Him before I did, I just knew the Lord would want to hear my message.  He would want to hear that I loved Him.

Right?

I woke up the following morning, February 25th, to the news that Ben had passed away at around 1:am that morning.  February 25th...his original due date.

I was devastated.

I wasn't devastated for myself (not being able to deliver the message)... that came later.  But I was devastated for Kristen and Randy.  I think often times when we convince ourselves that we have 100% accepted the inevitable that we still secretly hold out hope that the impending result will be different.  Heavenly Father is a God of miracles right?  He loves us and would not want us to suffer?  It makes complete sense to hold out hope that He would save that which we love the most.  That's how I felt.  I still had hope that the Lord would perform a miracle and heal Ben.  So when Ben passed away the weight of reality crashed down upon me, as I'm sure it did for Kristen and Randy.

The reality of not being able to send my message to my Savior didn't sink in till a while later.  I was more confused than anything.  I was so sure I'd be able to whisper those words to him.  I felt ripped of the opportunity to use that one degree of separation to speak to Him.

Later that morning I was walking to the church building and happened upon Kristen and Randy as they were getting ready to make funeral arrangements.  I wrapped Kristen up in my arms and through tears expressed to her my sorrow and heartache for her.  I didn't know what else to say.  I also expressed to her my selfish desire to use Ben as a messenger to my Savior.  She took the news graciously.  Maybe one day I'll have the courage to actually ask her what she thought when I told her.  Maybe one day.  Not yet.

The miracle, for me, came the following day.  Again I was walking through the parking lot toward the church building.  I was mourning the loss of my message to Heaven when the Lord spoke to me.  Loud and clear:
I'm right here.  You didn't need to give Ben a message.  There are no degrees of separation between us.  I am right here...
I stopped frozen and let the revelation wash over me.  Actually, it didn't wash over me.  It sunk into me.  It spoke to my very soul.  It was as if my Savior was standing right next to me and His words  punched right into me...
I.am.right.here... 
That very moment, on a crisp February morning, in the middle of my apartment complex parking lot, the Savior spoke to me.  And from that moment on I have never wavered in my knowledge that there are no degrees of separation between the Savior and I.  It is just He and I.  Always, and forever.

Thank you Ben.  Thank you for not taking my message to Heaven.  For in doing so an exquisite opportunity was created for my Savior to instead deliver a message to me.  A message of personal love and hope.

There is one message I hope to deliver one day though.  A message of personal thanks to you.  For teaching me, even in the short time you were here.  For that I will be forever grateful.


Ben 


Ben and Daddy Randy


Ben and Momma Kristen


Together Forever

God Be With You Till We Meet Again...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I Wish I Wasn't an Addict"

I often hear by those that struggle with sexual addiction "I wish I wasn't an addict."  I used to feel this way myself  When I was in the pits of despair I wanted so desperately to be free of the chains of addiction and the only path I saw to freedom was God simply taking it from me.

As strange as it may sound, I no longer wish to be free of my addiction, but am now grateful for my addiction, for its negative force is what keeps me facing my Savior

I want to take a moment and just list some of the reasons I am grateful for my addiction by way of listing the many beautiful and marvelous things I would have missed out on if I weren't an addict, or if the Lord had simply taken it from me.

Now, I can't really use the statement "If I wasn't an addict" because I really don't know what I would be if we weren't an addict.  So I'm going to switch the wording up a bit...

BECAUSE I am an addict...
  1. I found my Savior.
  2. I now know Him, Feel Him, trust Him and truly love Him.
  3. I have experienced the exquisite light of grace on the other side of falling into the depths of despair.
  4. I have wonderful working relationships with not only my current Bishop and Stake President, but many of my former Bishop's and Stake President's.
  5. I now know that I am of value; an innately worthy warrior princess in my Father's kingdom.
  6. I have forgiven myself.
  7. I love myself.
  8. I have made some of the most beautiful and cherished friendships of my entire life.  Friendships that I hope will continue into the eternities.
  9. I have been granted some of the most amazing opportunities to help my Savior gather and feed His sheep.   
  10. I have a sure testimony of my Savior and His Atonement; that we each can be free to experience the most exquisite joy and everlasting life.
  11. I am no longer a fence sitter!  
  12. I have found the wonderful LDS Addiction Recovery Program and have adopted it's principles into my daily life.  I no longer read or study the steps... I live the steps, which means I no longer read or study the Atonement, I live the Atonement.
  13. I am a better mom.
  14. I am fearless.
  15. I love.  Wholeheartedly and unabashedly.
I have found that finding gratitude for my addiction has been the lifeblood that keeps me afloat when an entire ocean of life threatens to swallow me whole.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dear Bishop: You Helped Bring Me Home


Dear Bishop,
I'm writing as an LDS woman who struggles with sexual addiction.  I wanted to let you know how important you were in my journey to sobriety, freedom and forgiveness.
I had been certain that because of my sins (I didn't recognize it as an addiction at the time) that Heavenly Father could never love me or want me again.  Then, one night I let my walls down just enough to hear a whisper calling me back.  Because of that whisper I decided to finally come to you.  I was terrified.  I knew that what I had done would result in a disciplinary council.  But I came because I knew that it was either go see you or give up on any chance of ever returning to my Father. 
You were so patient and so kind.  It took me 3 meetings to fully tell you why I wanted to meet with you.  Part of it I couldn't even bear to speak, so I wrote you a letter and you never complained.  I never saw any judgement or hate or revulsion in your eyes, only love and I couldn't understand why. 
You were honest with me.  You told it to me straight that yes, there would be a council and that yes, this was an addiction. 
You met with me every week leading up to my council.  You gave me more blessings than I can remember as you helped to bring me home.  You took time away from your young family to give to me.  I will always be grateful.
At the council as I focused on you and Christ's love shining through your eyes, I felt like I was Peter, walking on the water, doing something that I couldn't do.  You were Christ.  I knew that if I just looked into your love filled eyes, and didn't look anywhere else, I could get through it.
After the council you continued to meet with me regularly.  I'll never forget the night that I came to see you because I was struggling and you invited me to clean the building!  I was so happy that I would be allowed to serve in some small way again.  When the council reconvened you were still there.  When I reached the point of 2 weeks sobriety and I got to take the Sacrament, oh what joy!  And then, several weeks later, when you surprised me by asking me if I wanted to do a temple recommend interview!  Going back to the temple for the first time in years and having you there while I did baptisms was indescribable.  You even helped me to get to the temple to take out my endowments.
Bishop, you were there every step of the way.  You cheered me on when I struggled daily and nobody else even knew about it.  You encouraged me to attend the ARP.  You believed in me, and more importantly, you believed in the Saviour and that He could rescue even someone as lost as I was.
I know, without a shadow of a doubt that I moved to a new country so that you could be my bishop.  I know that without your help I would still be stuck in the filth of pornography and adultery.  I know that My Saviour lives and I know that the atonement can heal all hurts and right all wrongs.  Bishop, thank you for helping to teach me that.
With all the gratitude of my soul,

A Beautiful Daughter of God


A contributed post in response to A Call For Input: Dear Bishop Letters.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Journal: Conquering and Vulnerability

I conquered something terrifying today!



I presented a group project today in class.  The Lord asked me to be vulnerable and I was.  My group was presenting on the personal power of influence and I was prompted to share my story.  To share how opening myself up and being vulnerable, authentic and honest can lead to some of the greatest influence.  It was very empowering to share my addiction and recovery in a setting I've never before explored.  I'm grateful that the Lord gave me the opportunity to stretch.

As cool as that was it's not exactly what I wanted to share here today.  I wanted to share some quotes from my new favorite person, Brene Brown.  She is a PhD Social Worker who researches shame and vulnerability.  How awesome is that!

She's so cool!:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” 

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.” 

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” 

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” 

Let us all strive to... 
look within ourselves
Discover ourselves
Get courageous with ourselves
Be truthful with ourselves
Share ourselves

But as much as I want and need to share, there are things that I can't.  There are things going on in my personal life right now that are more difficult than I have ever encountered.  My trust in the Lord is steadfast though, and He is supporting me through it.  I love Him.  I have witnessed His hand in this trial and I know it will be for my good.  I'm grateful and secure in that knowledge.

BUT IT STILL SUCKS

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Anniversary!

I randomly opened my Days Sober app and was greeted with this today!

Thank you my dear sweet Brother for rescuing me. I am so very grateful!

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Call For Input: Dear Bishop Letters

I have been posting interviews of sisters who struggle with sexual addiction for a while now.  One of the questions in the interview is asking what advice she would give a Bishop in preparation for a future sister who struggles with sexual addiction potentially coming in to visit with him.

A friend of mine, Christine,  responded to one of these interviews and said she would pass on that section to her husband, who is currently serving as a Bishop.

I would like to take it a step further and actually start a special section on my blog titled "For the Bishop's".. I think I might change it to "For Our Sweet Bishop's".. I dunno... I haven't yet decided on the title yet.  I actually already have it up with one item under the section.  

But I want to add more and one of the things I want to add are "Dear Bishop" letters.  These letters will contain advice and suggestions from sisters who struggle with sexual addiction about what has and hasn't helped them along their journey in regards to specifically working with their Bishop's.

So my call for input is from those of you who struggle with sexual addiction and are willing to write a letter to a Bishop ...  some things you might express to him are:

  1. Express your fears surrounding going in to see him.
  2. Express what has worked with you and your current/past Bishop - "do's."  Things you liked.
  3. Express what didn't work for you and your current/past Bishop - "don'ts". Things you didn't like.
  4. Express things you wish you'd/he'd done differently if you could go back.
  5. Express any gratitude you feel for current or past Bishops and why.
  6. If you have any listed do's and don'ts please add those as well.
(This is just a rough list - you can of course, add more.  It's all dependent on your personal experiences)

Some examples are:
  1. Please don't tell me women aren't able to be addicted to pornography, that it's just a bad habit.
  2. Please don't hold me up on a pedestal as if I can do no wrong.  That just creates more fear in me to actually come in and talk to you.
  3. Please continue to encourage me and love me, even in spite of my flaws.
  4. Please let me email you/text regularly for check-in's.
  5. Please don't be afraid to say hard things... 
Etc... you get the idea...

If you have any suggestions on this, please let me know!!  You can either respond with your letter in the comments or email it to me directly at bythelightofgrace (at) gmail (dot) com.

Oh, and this of course will be kept anonymous.  I'm going to sign each letter with "Your Sister in Christ" or something like that, just to keep everything uniform and anonymous.

Thanks guys!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Little Dare

I absolutely love this video.  It brings me so much joy and as many times as I have watched it I still laugh every single time.  I can't not!

I dare you to watch this and not laugh.   

GO!




So?

Did you laugh?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Facebook

I would like to invite those women that I love so dearly, both addicts and codependents, and any other reader, that I have interacted with on here to invite me on Facebook, if you feel so comfortable.  You are my friends.  I love you.  I want to feel of your goodness.  So if you would take me, I would love to be your friend.  You can find me HERE.

If I don't already know you by your name, for instance, if you have an anonymous blog, please let me know who you are in a message as well!

P.S.  Your anonymity is 100% secure with me.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dear China

So as most of you know, at least the bloggers know, we have a feature on our blog dashboards which allows us to track our audience.  Meaning, I can check my stats and see where in the world my audience is viewing from.  Percentages from each country have varied quite a bit over the past 6 months or so that I've been blogging but as of late each country has leveled off quite a bit.

However, the numbers have not landed as I would have expected...  I would have expected Canada or the UK to be in 2nd place.  But no, each week, China comes in a very strong second to the United States.  I just barely checked my stats and over the past seven days the United States makes up 72% of my views, China comes in 2nd at 18% and Russia a far 3rd at 3%.  This trend has been reoccurring for the past couple of months.

I'm happily curious about this.  I have readers in China!  HA!  Many of them!  I love it!

So, this post is for you China!



I want you to know that I love you, whoever you are.  I'm grateful you are here.  I feel connected to you even though I have no idea who you are.  It's as if any degrees of separation that may have previously existed have suddenly melted away.

China, if you would like to reach out to me even with a simple hello it would be most welcome.  It doesn't matter your circumstance - addict, codependent, LDS or not, random reader...  truly it doesn't matter.  I just think it's awesome I have readers in China.  :-)

I am truly grateful for today's advances in technology.  I'm grateful that the Lord directed me to write this blog.  I remember when I started I kept questioning who would read it.  I had no idea how anyone would come to find it.  The Lord gently told me that all I was to do was write and He would do the rest.  He truly has lived up to His end.  He has directed China to my blog.

So China, this post is for you.  Hat's off to you.  I honor you.  You are my brothers and my sisters.

I love you.

Sidreis

Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"