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.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I always see so much of myself in these stories. We all have our different paths to addiction or methods of acting out but the cycles, minimizing of blame and the deceit is there in all our stories.

    Sharing with each other is a great way to understand that we are not alone.

    Thanks!

    I Was Lost

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    1. Thanks so much! Exactly! It's so great to not feel alone! I think this is a great tool for that. -Stacey

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  2. Stacey,

    Thanks so much for sharing! I can see your humor through your experiences! What a gift. :) I'm so glad I found this blog which led me to so many other stories like yours to remind me constantly that I'm not alone. Love to you!

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    1. Erin,
      Thank you! I am so glad to help to be of help to others. For so long I felt alone and lost. Now that I know I can help others get through what I have been through... it helps me keep going forward. You can do it! :)
      -Stacey

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  3. Thanks for your bravery to share. I am always so grateful for those in a good place to share their stories. I feel the same way as you and although I don't have as much sobriety I'm on the right path. I feel passionate about getting this message out there, that this can and does affect everyone. Thanks Stacey! :)

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    1. Hi Jana,
      I remember being there! It can be so hard. But keep going! One day at a time. I still have to remind myself of that. I am so glad I was able to help. :)
      Love you already,

      Stacey

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Thank you for sharing a moment with me:-)

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"