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Finding freedom in the Church’s 12-step program: 7 tips from a former addict

It’s one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and I’m tired. I’ve been staring at the computer screen for far too long, trying to write the introduction for this article, hoping for inspiration to strike. I glance at the time, turn off my music (sorry, Hall and Oates; you guys still rock though), and think about what I want to have for dinner tonight. And then I get the urge.

It always hits when I’m fatigued. Or when I’m bored. Or anxious, or frustrated, or lonely, or stressed, or uncertain about my future—so, it hits me a lot, and sometimes it feels heavier than other times. But I know it will pass. I just have to breathe—in and out—and turn my attention back to the Savior, and . . . I’m all good again.

It used to take a lot more to keep me from giving into temptation. (Actually, when I was still addicted, it was impossible not to give in.) I’ve been clean for almost a year now, but still, almost every day I feel the urge to look at pornography as a means of taking away anxiety, boredom, frustration, or loneliness.

It’s difficult to feel those emotions and not know how to cope. It’s difficult to just let myself feel tired or lonely and let that be okay. I’m still learning how to allow myself to have “uncomfortable” thoughts and feelings and not turn immediately to pornography to make the feelings go away.

It used to be worse, though. I used to spend every day feeling trapped in my addiction, knowing that I wanted it to stop but fearful that I could never overcome it on my own.

But I know today that I’m not in it alone. I know from the years I’ve spent in the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) that I’m never alone. I know that Jesus Christ is also watching and waiting—but where my addiction waits for me to get discouraged, the Savior waits for me to give my troubles to Him. It’s a daily challenge, but every time I choose Christ over the addiction, He strengthens me and He carries me through.

I’ve learned in ARP that the power of the Atonement is real. I’ve learned that Christ gave Himself so I could have forgiveness in this life, so I could repent and change, and so I could know the true and lasting peace that comes to all who follow Him. Best of all, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as “too far gone” for a child of God who really wants to get better and is willing to try.

Applying the principles I’ve learned in ARP has changed my life forever. It’s given me the freedom to leave my addiction at the Savior’s feet, and to walk the strait and narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14). I’ve seen it do the same for other people as well. Below are seven tips that helped me through this program as I struggled to find freedom from my addiction.

1. Start Where You Are

Start the repentance process now, even if you don’t think you’re ready to see it all the way through.

When I started my recovery, I thought I had to be willing to give everything up before Christ could help me. I thought I had to prove I could do it all on my own. I thought I wasn’t worthy of His love unless I was ready to quit my addiction for good.

And yet, every time I opened the study guide or went to a meeting, a seed was planted. Every time I met with my bishop or prayed for Heavenly Father to take my addiction away, more seeds were planted.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t totally overcome my addiction, yet. The seeds were all there and every small step I took toward recovery was like nurturing my own little garden. Over time, all those seeds took root, and I started to give in to my addiction less often. I started to see real change happening, even when I didn’t think I was ready for it.

2. Involve a Trusted Friend or Family Member

Addiction thrives in secrecy and isolation, and in order to maintain my sobriety, I had to include other people in my journey. I needed someone who I could turn to when I didn’t feel strong enough to bear my burden alone.

One of the reasons people can become addicted in the first place is because they don’t think they can share their feelings with others. So it’s really important to find someone you can be honest with. I recommend finding somebody who you can talk to without judgment or repercussion.

Don’t ask this person to hold you accountable if you’re not ready for that; instead, look for someone who you can identify as your “safe place;” someone you can go to at any time who will just listen and let you talk things out. My safe place was my older sister, who listened patiently to me whenever I would reach out for help and always encouraged me to keep trying to improve. Along with ARP, my sister was always there to help keep me anchored.

Whoever you designate as your safe place, having somebody you can just talk to will help you learn to open up to others, while still assuming responsibility for your own progress. Opening up also helps to avoid self-isolating in the future, which makes it easier to stay clean after you’ve given your addictions to God.

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3. Practice Giving Your Troubles to God

An important part of obtaining spiritual freedom is to give all our problems to God and never pick them up again. This is a tall order for any of His children, regardless of their struggles, but by learning to give God the small things, you’ll find it easier to give Him the really big things.

I learned to give my addictions to God by starting with much smaller problems. Maybe somebody made a rude comment to me, and it hurt my feelings any time I thought about it. Or maybe I would feel envious of someone else’s talent for getting along with others, or their ability to connect well with perfect strangers.

Instead of letting those feelings control me, I would practice asking Heavenly Father to take them away, and to bless me instead with peace and with a kind, loving heart for everyone I met.

Over time I noticed that my hurt feelings didn’t get me down as much as they used to, and instead of envying others, I was able to feel appreciation and admiration for the things they could do. This encouraged me to believe that God could take away my addiction, and it gave me strength to trust in Him one hundred percent.

4. Attend Meetings and Share Your Struggles

Group meetings will help you to learn and apply the principles in the 12 steps. They’re also a great place to talk about your struggles and to find understanding and acceptance. But they’re so much more than just that.

There is power in group meetings that I couldn’t find anywhere else. As I would gather with others who were seeking the Spirit in their lives, I could feel the Savior’s love for me. I knew that someday, when I was ready, He would be able to take my addiction from me.

As I interacted with other addicts, I found strength, comfort, and acceptance. I came to know that God loved me exactly where I was, and that He stood ready to help me regardless of where I was in my recovery.

Sharing my journey helped me realize that I wasn’t alone, and that there were people and resources to help me to grow into the person I wanted to be—the person who’s able to lay their addictions at the feet of the Savior, and not pick them up again.

It may take months, or years, of attending meetings before you can lay your addictions at the Savior’s feet. That’s nothing to fret over or be ashamed of. It takes time to lay down a solid foundation for long-term sobriety, and the members who facilitate group meetings know to let people progress at their own pace.

The important thing is not how long it takes. It’s what you take from each meeting that will ultimately determine your success.

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5. Dig Deep into the Study Guide

The ARP study guide, “A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing,” has been the key to lasting relief from my addiction. Through the study guide I’ve come to know myself better than ever before. I’ve developed a deeper relationship with Heavenly Father than I thought possible. I’ve learned to rely on the Savior, and to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and I’ve discovered that I am not beyond saving.

Not only did this guide teach me what I need to know to overcome my addiction—it taught me to truly live the gospel, to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to want His blessing and His direction in my life.

For me, the ARP study guide has become part of my “scriptures,” and something I still refer back to in difficult times. It’s such an integral part of my story I couldn’t imagine my life without it. If you can only do one thing in regard to ARP, read the study guide and answer the questions in each chapter. Doing so will pay tremendous dividends.

6. Focus on Serving Others

Addiction can be selfish and self-centered. When I used to give in to my addiction, I only thought about myself and about my needs. I didn’t care about the people around me the same way that I do now, but now that I’m clean I find that providing service to others is a great source of joy, and an easy way to stay close to Heavenly Father.

When I turn my thoughts and my attention to helping others and rely on God and the Holy Ghost to guide me, I forget my own worries. I forget my cravings and I lose myself instead in bringing joy to another person.

Sometimes all it takes is baking cookies for my older sister or saving the last slice of pizza for my nephew. Sometimes it’s jumping on social media to share my recovery story in hopes of encouraging somebody else to seek help.

It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as your intention is to serve, uplift, or edify another. Just the act of focusing on others takes your attention off your own problems, your own urges and cravings, and empowers you to bless the lives of those around you.

7. Never Stop Trying

Recovery is a gradual process. The bonds of addiction can be tight, and it may take a long time to break free. Like everything in the gospel, it happens line upon line (2 Nephi 28:30). It often feels like one step forward, two steps back, but that’s okay. That’s what it’s supposed to feel like. False starts and relapses are part of the process.

It took me a long time to overcome my addiction. I started and stopped my recovery efforts multiple times. Most people do.

In the beginning, each relapse would make me feel like the whole thing was hopeless. I would tell myself that even though ARP was working for other people it could never work for me. I really thought that I was too far gone to ever overcome my addiction, and each slip just seemed to confirm my fears that I would never be able to quit.

I can all but guarantee that you will feel the same way in the beginning, too. The secret is to keep trying and to keep believing that you can overcome, no matter how many times it takes. If you keep believing and keep following the program, you will get there.

It can take years sometimes for a person to find lasting relief from their addictions. As long as you’re willing to keep trying, God can meet you where you are, and give you the things you need to keep moving forward. It won’t always be easy, but in the end, it will all be worth it.

My Life after ARP

Before I gave everything to God, my addiction had complete control over my life. Now, with God’s help, I get the experience every day of choosing to exercise control over my urges.

I get to exercise my agency.

I get to say no to something that used to control me and say yes to a life of feeling God’s love and following His teachings.

I don’t know if the urges will ever go away, but when I live in ways that are in line with the gospel, I’m able to find strength beyond my own to resist even the greatest temptations. That is the life that everyone can find by applying the principles that are taught in ARP.

With God’s help, I have learned to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to leave my addictions at the feet of the Savior. I know I can go forward in faith, confident in God’s ability to carry me through any trial or temptation.

Lead image: Courtesy of Michael Scott Glenn
Author bio cropped

Michael Scott Glenn, Contributor

Michael Scott Glenn is a recovered addict on a mission to show others the good God can do when we turn to Him. When he's not writing, he's probably baking an irresistible traditional European dessert. You can follow his recovery journey at facebook.com/MichaelScottGlenn.

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