The Interviews: Annette
Getting to Know You
How old are you?
What country do you live in?
Are you married and do you have children?
Nope, happily single J
How long have you been sober?
5 ½ months
What are your interests or hobbies?
I love to sing, I currently sing in the institute choir in my area. I enjoy doing/making crafts – if it’s on pinterest, then I probably like it. I also love to read fantasy novels.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself…
Um… I have a really loud and, as I’ve been told, contagious laugh. My face turns red very easily, and I wear flip flops just about every single day.
How old were you when your addiction began?
11 years old
What were the life events and circumstances that led to your addiction?
My family and I had recently moved to a new state and, as a result, I was left with a lot of extra time on my hands. I didn't have many friends having just moved. I discovered masturbation at 11 years old just by chance, although, at the time I had no idea what I was doing and no idea that it was wrong. I only knew that what I had discovered provided an “it feels good” sensation. And so I ran to its comfort many times.
How did your addiction progress?
I engaged in masturbation for most of my growing up years. I discovered it accidentally, but after discovering it, it became my main coping mechanism for when I was happy, sad, bored, excited, angry, lonely, etc. When I was about 15 or 16 I was given a book to read. The book could probably have been found at Deseret Book. It’s from the ‘80’s, a book my older family members had read. It was about two LDS teens, and followed them along their teenage years. One of the girls made good choices, and the other girl didn't The point of the book was to see how little choices can result in big consequences in the end. One step in the wrong direction can take you far off course. However, I found things in the book that stimulated similar pleasure and feelings that I had discovered with masturbation. I would return to specific pieces of that book over and over in order to facilitate that ‘fix’ accompanied with masturbation. At the time, I knew that reading what I was reading for pleasure was wrong, but I was unaware of the depth of my addiction at that time.
I had a boyfriend when I was 16 and 17. Much of our relationship was physical and looking back, I can see that I was able to get my ‘fix’ from him. I was able to experience those same feelings when I was with him.
When I wasn't with him, I would fantasize. Fantasy and my imagination were a big part of my addiction during this time. I would daydream/fantasize about inappropriate things. I told myself that my thoughts weren't dangerous, that I wasn't hurting myself and that since I wasn't having sex, I was OK.
I received my first computer when I was 18. I got it so I could take it to college in the fall, so I had it set up in my room for about 8 months before then. After reading that book, I began searching for things I had read about online. And I found them. And so pornography became involved in my life. It began with online reading material. But before too long, reading wasn't enough and so I began viewing what would be considered “soft core” pornography on YouTube. I justified and told myself it was YouTube, so it couldn't be that bad, it was harmless. Soon enough, what was allowed on YouTube wasn't enough for me to get my fix, as addictions are progressive. I began seeking out specific things on the Internet. What I was viewing became more and more graphic. What could once “satisfy” my craving was not enough. My addiction had an insatiable need that just kept getting worse and worse. At this point, I was fully aware of the seriousness of my sins. However, I was still unaware, or in denial, that I had an addiction. Viewing and reading pornography, whether online or in books, and masturbation continued all through college and even a few years after.
What experiences did you have that led to your breaking point, or your rock-bottom moment?
I swore after each time I engaged in my addictions that “this is the last time, I promise.” I promised to myself and to God so many times. Over and over and over. But I always eventually gave in. I was at a very low point in my life. I had recently been assaulted by a roommate, lost friends to suicide and lost my job. On top of that, I was 25 years old and moving back home to live with my parents. In my mind, I had failed. I was severely depressed and contemplated suicide just about every day.
About 6 months after I moved home, the Boise, ID temple closed. At the time, I felt relief because then people wouldn't wonder or ask why I wasn't going to the temple. I was trying, at times, to do what I was supposed to. I went to church most weeks, I went to activities once in a while, I accepted callings (just didn't do them). I hid my addiction as much as I could. During this time, I made excuses every time a trip was scheduled to go to the next closest temple 2 hours away. I thought of the temple often, but at the time, I felt I had forfeited all of the blessings the temple had to offer. So, thinking of the temple often increased my level of despair. I felt hopeless. I felt completely lost to anything good in my future. I got to a point where I would give in to a craving or temptation without a fight because I would think, “what’s the point? I've already done so much, too much… what’s one more time?”
About a year later, my parents were called as the executive producers of the Boise, ID temple youth cultural celebration that is performed before the dedication of each temple. The temple became a main focal point in my home and among my family. The more I thought about the temple, the more I began to experience a desire for the blessings of the temple in my future. I began to contemplate, realistically, for the first time, what I would have to do in order to get there: telling someone, my bishop, for starters. Something I had sworn to myself I would never ever do.
What was your perspective of yourself at this point?
I hated myself. I thought I was a freak and must be the grossest person alive to think of engage in such perverted things. I felt icky and was severely depressed. I had no friends and little self-esteem. I didn't think I was worth loving or being around.
Where did you turn for help?
After receiving a text message from the ward executive secretary asking if I could meet with a member of the bishopric (for a calling), I asked if I could meet with the bishop beforehand. I had been praying for a push or nudge into the bishop’s office. However, up until that point, I couldn't imagine anything more scary, which I now know was a tool of the adversary to keep me bound and isolated. My bishop was so kind and patient and non-judgmental. I felt better than I had ever in my life up until that point after speaking to him and confessing. I learned that I was not lost and that I could be forgiven and had hope to return to my Father in Heaven someday. I learned that the blessings of exaltation were not out of my reach if I worked hard to get there and gave up my sinful behaviors. I was told to “go, and sin no more.”
What was the turning point of your addiction?
I think my turning point was finding out about recovery. My bishop hadn't told me anything about the Addiction Recovery Program, or even mentioned the word “addiction” when we had met. After confessing to my bishop about my “problem with pornography,” I was able to abstain for about 4 months. During that time I prepared to receive my endowments and was running on a major spiritual high. I thought that meeting with my bishop had been the “magic pill” that I had needed all along to stop for good… I slipped just a week before entering the temple. I was devastated. But I justified and rationalized my behavior. Within the next few months, I slipped a few more times. I began to really look at myself and my behaviors. I really began to question why I was doing what I was doing and why I couldn't stop. Obviously one confession was not the “magic pill” as I had supposed. And so, I made another appointment and confessed my slips to my bishop. I was told to “stop it” and sent on my merry way. I was more determined than ever to never slip again. Less than a week later I slipped. At that point, I began to research sexual addictions among LDS women. I read about the Addiction Recovery Program and I found Sidreis’s blog and reached out to her. I couldn't believe there were other women struggling as I did! I was shocked and amazed! I couldn't believe I wasn't alone as I had assumed for so many years. Reaching out, learning about the ARP and then discovering that my “problem” was actually an addiction and deciding to begin recovery were all huge turning points for me.
How did you experience the Atonement of Christ?
I experienced the Atonement first when I confessed to my bishop. I felt the weight on my shoulders leave – a weight I had not even realized was there. I know Christ took that from me instantly. That, in itself, was a huge miracle. Working hard and repenting and then feeling the sweetness of forgiveness for my Savior is one of the sweetest experiences I have ever had. And that continues as I continue to require His forgiveness in my life all the time. Now, I know that I can reach out and that He’s always there. Always willing and waiting and ready for me to reach out for Him.
What difference did Christ's Atonement make in your life?
The difference Christ’s Atonement has made in my life, and continues to make, is amazing. Trying for so long to take care of my addiction on my own never worked. As soon as I began involving my Savior in my life and was willing to accept Him and His help on my behalf, I began to make progress. I experience an inner strength that I have never known was there before. I know that the grace of the Atonement is at work in my life. Christ’s Atonement keeps me strong, stronger than I ever could be or ever have been on my own. In my weakest moments, His grace is there, strengthening me, helping me overcome temptations and weakness. Each Step that I work in recovery is a reminder of just how much the Atonement is at work in my daily life. Because of the Atonement, I continue to grow. I continue to get back up after making mistakes. I continue to shed great amounts of shame I have carried around for years and years. Christ’s Atonement makes all the difference in the world in my life.
How is life different for you today?
How is it not different, really? J I no longer turn to my addictions for comfort from the storms of life. I no longer seek to numb my feelings, but am learning to find joy in them! I am so much happier. I can’t believe how much happier. Once in a while I forget just how dark and terrible my life was before and forget how good things are now. But they truly are so much better!!! I have friends now! I strive to maintain healthy relationships. I strive to focus on my Savior at all times. I take it one day at a time. I don’t beat myself up when I fail. I reach out to others. I am active in my ward and I fulfill my calling, something I have never done before. I am honest, about the big and little things. I fess up when I’m dishonest. I strive to recognize my manipulative behaviors, and not engage in them. I strive to take accountability and do take accountability for my actions. I don’t blame others. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the number one most important thing in my life. I study the scriptures and the words of the prophets. I have peace in my life, and during hard times, because they still happen, I know where to go to find peace. I attend the temple and word hard to remain worthy of my recommend. I look forward with hope for my future in this life and in the life to come – things I had resigned in the past.
What is your perception of yourself?
I love myself. Of course, I still have rough days where that’s hard to see, but overall, I do love myself. I know I am a beautiful daughter of God with infinite worth and value. I know, now, that I have a purpose in my life and that things happen for a reason. I understand, now, that I am not my past, and that I am not my bad behavior. I can do hard things, and I do do hard things.
What was the scariest thing about going to your first ARP Meeting?
The unknown. That has always been a major point of fear for me. Not knowing what to expect, what I’d be required to do/say. The anticipation of being put on the spot. Admitting my addiction to myself and to a whole bunch of strangers.
If you could go back in time, what counsel would you give to yourself about going to a meeting?
I would tell myself to relax. J I would tell myself that going to meetings will become somewhat of the highlight of my weeks and a safe place for me to feel the spirit and to learn about the Atonement and how to access it. I would tell myself that I am going to learn so many wonderful things and to drink it all in, and allow the spirit to teach me while I’m there.
Everybody reads the confidentiality statement. What is your experience with confidentiality?
Never had a problem with this. What happens in the meeting stays in the meeting.
What is your experience about finding support from others in the meetings?
I learn so much from hearing of the experiences, good and bad, of others. It’s great to learn about similar struggles and learn, over and over, that I am not alone. I’m not the only one dealing with what I deal with. There are others who get it. It’s wonderful, also, to learn of the successes of others and to know that working the steps and working recovery is doable and fruitful. Others do hard things and survive and get through them, so maybe I can too. J
Experience with Priesthood Leaders
What was the role that your bishop played in your recovery?
My bishop hasn't played much of a role in my recovery. I did confess to him initially a few times, but he did not ever tell me about the Addiction Recovery Program. I informed him of my findings after I found out about them from my own research. I set up weekly appointments for a short time with him. However, most of my advice from him was to “move on, stop dwelling on things, stop over-confessing.” I didn't find that to be helpful, and only found more shame when I was unable to move on or stop dwelling on things. I have since canceled appointments with him. I met with my stake president and was extremely well received. I was able to express my concerns and feel safe doing so. I was able to find priesthood support through him, and eventually did my step 5 with him, which was a huge blessing to me.
What advice would you give to a bishop working with somebody with your addiction?
I would ask that they take it seriously. It is an addiction. Take it as seriously as they would any other addiction. It is not something that we can merely stop just by saying so as much as we want to. Be patient and help us learn the difference between guilt and shame. Learn about the Addiction Recovery Program offered by the Church. Attend a meeting or two. Meet regularly with the member. Your meetings may be the only safe place where they can always feel of the spirit. And that in itself is extremely necessary to recovery. Let them be accountable to you. Be accessible to them. Let them text you or email you. Be interested in their progress. Learn the Steps. Be willing to learn about addictions and recovery. If nothing else, be available to just listen and offer love and support and encouragement. Lots of that. Please do not tell them “stop it” and send them on their merry way, because that won’t work.. Also, please do not minimize their addiction. Hold them accountable and as I said above take it seriously, because it is serious. Know that this is most likely something they have struggled with for a huge chunk of their life and will take time and hard work to begin healing. Also know that just stopping addictive behaviors does not mean a person is “all better”. There’s a ton of muck underneath the behavior that the member may need professional help to work through. Be willing to assist in the facilitation of that help if it is beyond your scope.
What advice would you give somebody who is considering speaking to their bishop?
DO IT! The relief and hope and peace that come after confessing to your priesthood leader are beyond description. I wish I hadn't waited as long as I did. I’m so glad I went. It is not at all as scary as you think it is! Satan doesn't want you there, which is even more reason to go! Bishops are nice and sweet and kind and patient. You will feel of the love of your Savior.
Working and Maintaining Recovery
How did you find recovery?
I found recovery after researching sexual addictions among LDS women. I was led to the Addiction Recovery Program website. I also was led to Sidreis’s blog where I learned about recovery in a personal way through her words.
Working the Steps, beginning with the very first one, admitting to myself that my life had become unmanageable and that what I had labeled a “problem” was an actual addiction that I was powerless over was the biggest step. That began my journey in recovery. That allowed me to allow God to help me. Without His help, recovery is not possible.
What have you had to do to achieve and maintain sobriety?
One of the first things I did was get Internet protection on my devices (computer and phone), where I don’t have the password. I have had to continually admit to myself and to God that I am not in control. I have had to learn how to trust Him and rely on His power to keep me sober. I have had to give up things that contributed to my addictive behaviors. I have had to work hard, very hard. Taking one day at a time, but giving each day my all. I have had to put my fears aside many times and trust God to help me. I have had to reach out to others, which is hard, but so very vital. I have had to admit hard things to myself about myself, learn about my rituals and patterns that lead to addictive behaviors so that I can recognize them before I get too far. I have made scriptures study a part of my daily life. I work on developing a relationship with God and Jesus Christ daily through study and prayer. I turn to them throughout the day for strength and comfort and guidance in good times and in bad. I have had to stop relying on myself completely, because I cannot do this alone. I have tried so many times and only when I have involved God have I found any level of success.
What things/behaviors have you had to give up in order to achieve and maintain sobriety?
I gave up having my computer in my room. It sits on the table in the dining area. I do not allow myself to lie down and be on my computer at all, only sitting. This also means I don’t watch movies at night to fall asleep on my laptop. TV – I gave up one show at a time until I realized that most TV shows are total garbage. I only watch shows on Netflix now, and if they are inappropriate, I skip or don’t return to the show anymore. I was sad about this for a while, but now I don’t really care and can see the benefits of not dulling my senses to questionable shows. If it drives the spirit away, I don’t want a part in it. I need to hold on to the spirit as much as I can. I have given up listening to the radio; I listen to the Mormon Channel App or a pre-selected playlist in my car. I threw away books that were written pornography and their movie counterparts.
What do you do in the moment when faced with a trigger in order to move through it and get past it?
I pray first. I ask God to forgive me and work had to get my mind on something else. Sometimes that means getting up and getting myself into a completely different environment. Other times that means turning up good music. Then I reach out. Ask for prayers. Tell someone I’m triggering (friends, sponsor, etc). Reading or listening to a conference talk helps too. Busying my mind. Working on something that takes a lot of mental work.
What gratitude(s) have you found for your addiction?
It’s strange that I have found gratitude for my addiction. But I totally have. Without it, I wouldn't have found recovery, and recovery has assisted me in developing such an amazing and exquisite relationship with my Father in Heaven and in my Savior, Jesus Christ. I have begun to learn a tiny bit how to access the Atonement, something I had never known how to do before. I am no longer apathetic or hopeless. I am happy. I know how and where to find peace. I am just very grateful for the Gospel truths that are becoming appear ant to me that I don’t believe I would have found any other way. I am learning that the Lord knows me so well. And He knew what experiences I would face and what I would need to go through in order to smooth out all of my rough edges and get me back to Him.
What lies did Satan tell you to make you think you were the only one?
He told me that no female would do what I was doing/had done. He told me that I was gross and perverted and disgusting. That talking to my bishop wouldn't help because he would have no idea what to do, since of course he wouldn't have ever even heard of a women struggling with sexual addictions.
Tell us about your teen years:
I had a fun group of friends; we were always doing things together. We weren't the “popular” crowd, but we had fun anyway. Most of the friends in my group of friends I knew from church or seminary. They were a good group of people, lots of good/positive influences. We went to stake dances every weekend, we had girl’s nights. It was pretty normal growing up stuff. I went to seminary during high school. I had a boyfriend most of high school, and when I didn't I was boy crazy. However, despite my company, I often felt alone and misunderstood. I had extremely unrealistic expectations of those around me and by so doing, set myself up for a lot of disappointment. I looked for people to blame for my negative feelings, and I pushed a lot of people away by doing so.
What has helped you shed shame enough to the point that you are willing to share your story here in this interview?
Learning that I am not alone, and that I have never been alone, in two aspects, has been huge in shedding shame. The first, meaning that the Lord has been there every step of the way. He will never leave me comfortless. That is what the scriptures teach me. The second, meaning that there were others, other women struggling as I have, the whole time too. I wasn't alone, I’m not a freak as Satan would have me believe. Learning those two things have helped me shed a lot of shame because those two things directly negate a whole bunch of lies the adversary had me believing for so long.
Being a woman in the depths of sexual addiction, and then being a woman in the depths of recovery has given me new eyes. Now I want to reach out to all those who are struggling and pull them out of their dark pits. I want to shine my light that has been lit, my new-found testimony of my infinite worth, as high as I can so that those who believe they are alone and lost can know that they are not! That there’s hope and happiness ahead! I know how vital learning that I am not along in this struggle has been to me, and I hope that others will read this and know that they are not alone.
Coming out to my friends and family through conversation and then through Facebook was a huge shame shedder. The love and encouragement and support, when I came out to the world, I have received from those around, those people who I truly believed would hate and shun me (lies of the adversary), loved me even more – THAT taught me so much about myself. That taught me that I am not my mistakes. When I told my dad about my addiction and the steps I was taking to repent and make things right in my life, he told me he was proud of me and that he loved me even more. That taught me and helped me to see just how much my Heavenly Father is proud of me and loves me even more for these choices I am now making. Those simple statements by my own father helped me shed a lot of shame and realize that others need to hear me. I have a story, and I have a voice and it needs to be heard.