Corrine and Neil Stokoe: Finding Healing From Pornography Addiction
Mint Arrow is a well-known fashion deals blog and brand. Husband and wife duo, Neil and Corrine Stokoe, are the power couple behind the operation. But in a social media world that frequently presents the ideal as day-to-day reality, the couple recently opened up about an underlying struggle that couldn’t be seen in their smiling faces: a battle against pornography addiction.
Listen to the Mint Arrow Messages episode featuring Kristen Jenson, the author of "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures," here.
Purchase "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures," here.
What Should I Do When I See Pornography? Video for Families
Watch the Church's new series about overcoming pornography here.
Videos specifically for parents here.
Videos specifically for spouses of pornography users here.
Read Neil and Corrine’s Real Life Love Story on Mint Arrow.
Read Part Two of Neil and Corrine’s Real Life Love Story on Mint Arrow.
Listen to their story on Mint Arrow Messages.
Listen to Part Two of Neil and Corinne's podcast episode about their experience with pornography.
An introduction to Mandi and Court Gubler's story from the Deseret News.
Morgan Jones: More than 125,000 Instagram users follow Corrine Stokoe for deals on the high end fashion. But as her blog, Mint Arrow, has grown in popularity, Stokoe has also become known as someone who frequently shares her faith as well as inspiring messages. In 2018, Stokoe and her husband Neil, who is also her business partner, opened up about another large part of their life: finding healing, hope and recovery from pornography addiction. The success of Corrine and Neil Stokoe's blog and brand, Mint Arrow, has been featured by Forbes, Business Insider, Adweek and Allure. They recently launched a podcast, hosted by Corrine, called Mint Arrow Messages. Additionally, they have been involved in helping the Church's Missionary and Media Departments with digital missionary work initiatives over the past several years. They are the parents of three daughters.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question what does it mean to be "All In" the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm Morgan Jones and I'm so grateful to have Neil and Corrine Stokoe with me today. Neil and Corrine, welcome.
Neil Stokoe: Thank you. We're excited to be here.
Corrine Stokoe: Thanks, Morgan.
Morgan Jones: First of all, thank you because I know that this is something that is personal and you have been so gracious in being open with your story and I feel like it will help so many people, I feel like it already has.
NS: Thanks for having us on. We're excited for the opportunity to be here.
MJ: Neil, when did you...let's kind of go back in time. When did you first come in contact with pornography?
NS: I was probably about I want to say five years old. So kindergarten-ish age. So I came across this was before the days of the internet. So I actually it was a magazine that I came across. And I think I remember it very clearly. Just the curiosity, and then also just a lot of shame with it. Like I just, I'm like, this just, this just doesn't feel right. So yeah, I was I was about five, I would say.
MJ: One of my favorite like exercises in life. This is kind of a weird thing that I like to do. But I like to think like if I could go back in time to my younger self, like what would I say to myself? And so for you, Neil, if you could go back to that little boy that first encountered pornography, what would you do differently? How would you think differently? And what would be kind of your suggestion to young boys that are encountering it? Because now it's rampant?
NS: Yeah, yeah. No, and that's a great question. I mean, back then. I mean, this would have been like late 80s, early 90s. You know, when I was first exposed and there wasn't a lot of talk at that time about "Hey, well here's what you do," or or even really, I think that obviously the problem was out there. I mean, if you go back, there's church talks and things that talk about it, but it wasn't really a topic that was coming up a lot, especially at that age for me. So thinking about that, one of the most powerful things that I think I could have done, and going back I would have done, would have been to talk to my parents. Ironically, that's like the last thing you feel like doing because of the shame like you see something, you just, you just want to isolate, and you want to turn away and like, turn inward and not tell anybody about it and keep it a secret. But that's the very thing for me that I found that drove problems and drove the addiction. So I think I would have talked to my parents and been able to hopefully establish some type of an understanding of like, Hey, this is this is what that is. This is you know, real life, women, this isn't accurate. This isn't how they're depicted. This is depicting them in a very negative, you know, kind of demeaning way and and help me to understand and separate that out so I think that's probably the most powerful thing that I could have done that I didn't is have that communication and be open with my parents about it or someone in a position of trust that would have understood how to explain that to me.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I just listened to your podcast, Mint Arrow Messages, and your interview about "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures." And I think if for those who are listening, that are parents, that are wondering how to talk to your kids and facilitate conversation about this, that's a tremendous resource. So thank you guys for doing that.
CS: The church has also come out with an amazing video. It's a short video that's not intended for like group settings or for in church, but it says, you know, show this at home to children, we've shown that to our kids a couple times. And it does a great job of showing kids "This is what bad pictures look like and feel like." I mean, it doesn't show them an actual picture. But it just explains to them, here's how to identify it, here's what to do. And in just I don't know, maybe like two minutes. And yeah, we've used that for little Family Home Evening lessons in our home. And that's such a great resource. So maybe you can put that in your show notes.
MJ: Yeah, yeah. And your kids are, are tiny. And so you do have to start so young?
NS: Yeah, I think that kind of takes me back a bit to think that our oldest right now is, is going to be turning seven. Wow. That's crazy. And to think at that age, I had already been exposed to pornography. And so now seeing it through an older person, you know, an adult lens. I'm like, wow. So having something, having a plan, and being able to explain it to kids in a way that they understand like, "Hey, here's what you do. This is pornography. You know, call what it is, come and talk to me about it," and and establishing that upfront. Because I think we've, in my life and in, you know, the circles that I run with, with recovery, we're all...I've come to the conclusion that everyone will be exposed and it's just a matter of what you do with it. So being able to communicate that to our kids is something that's super important.
MJ: Yeah. Okay, so fast forward. And, Neil, did you struggle with that all through your adolescence?
NS: Yeah. So I, you know, it just seemed like it was always around. It was like someone's older brother or someone's uncle or someone's you know, it just kept coming up. And it was something I, you know, always I never felt good about. But off and on, I just, I would try and stop. I'm like, okay, I don't want to do that. But then it would like come back around and it was just this pattern of trying to get away but kind of, it just kept coming up for me. And I think the first time that I actually talked to somebody about it was a bishop, you know, maybe a year, a couple years in high school, as I was trying to, you know, contemplating going on a mission for our Church. That was the first time that I mentioned it, but really, I'd struggled all the way from, you know, adolescence, up into, you know, up until that point, and without talking to anybody about it.
MJ: Yeah. And then you met the girl that you wanted to marry. Corrine, can you tell us a little bit about how the two of you met?
CS: Yeah, we met on a Lake Powell singles trip, and I was just instantly attracted to Neil. The thing that attracted me the most to him was that he was not too cool to talk about the gospel. That really was my number one thing and he never acted like "Oh, that's dorky like that's for, you know, church nerds or anything." We had a really open discussion about our testimonies pretty much right off the bat. And that really was so attractive to me that he was confident in his belief.
MJ: Yeah. And so then obviously, in any kind of relationship setting, you get to a point where you feel like you need to have a conversation about this. I guess some people don't, but some people do. And you got to this point where you felt like you needed to break up with Corrine, or tell her about it.
NS: Yeah, that was kind of a decision, I'd had a pattern. It was like, it was an ongoing joke in my family, like, oh, "Neil dates, he, you know, he can't hold on to a girlfriend for longer than three months."
CS: His mom told me that, like, you know, "He doesn't date anyone longer than three months." And I was like, "Oh, that's nice." And then...
MJ: That's promising,
CS: Sure enough, he dumped me at three months.
NS: And I think looking back, I mean, it's just like, that was the grace period that you can kind of hang back and put up the front and people thought you're great and perfect. And then, you know, at some point in the relationship, you start having to be you know, open and vulnerable and all these things and I think that part of me was something that I, you know, just withheld and kept secrets, like, I knew that I really liked Corrine and I knew...man, I feel like I'm getting emotional here, which is, that's creeping up on me. Um, but but I knew that I really love Corrine and and I knew that she was somebody that I could spend the rest of my life with. And so I talked to my brother at the time, who was someone that I talked to a lot about my addiction that I was open with at that point and, and he actually encouraged me, he's like, Hey, man, you know what, like, just be open about it, just lay the cards on the table, put it on the table, and just be honest. And I think he gave me the confidence, recognizing that that was something that potentially would hold me back from getting married and you know, receiving the blessings of that, and being married in the temple and all these things. And so, I made the decision. I'm like, alright, you know, I'll do it and so that's a decision that I made to have that conversation with her and let her know, "Hey, this is something that that I've struggled with my whole life."
MJ: Yeah. And how did that conversation go Corrine?
CS: Well, I will never forget when Neil, you know, I wasn't sure what to expect. We went on a drive it was right after he dumped me right before Christmas.
NS: Don't do that by the way.
CS: And we sat in this car and he said, I will never forget when he looked at me and said, "I have a problem with pornography." And nothing could have prepared me for him saying that, it's the last thing I would have expected. But it was just crazy, looking back that I immediately felt the Holy Ghost just comfort me and tell me "You know what, it's okay." And I think he expected me to run. I think if you would have asked me how I would respond to someone like that. I probably would have told you that I would run but the spirit just hit me and I was like, "Okay, you know, tell me more." And we ended up getting back together and started dating again. And yeah, it just was, it was an immediate like peace that, you know what? It's okay that he's not perfect and that he's telling you this thing that he struggles with.
NS: And I, for me, I honestly told her I mean, we'd broken things off. And, you know, it kind of came up like, "Hey, what happened?" And we had a communication afterwards about what happened. I thought things were going great. So there was a part of me I think a big part of me that was kind of like, okay, for closure. I'm going to tell her this and she's gonna run. And that's really what I fully expected her to be like, "Okay, yeah, thank you. I'll see you later." You know?
CS: Have a nice life!
NS: And that was the expectation like, "Hey, we'll part ways as unlikely friends." It was surprising to me when she just sat and she listened. And she listened and asked questions, and I'm like, "Wow, this is crazy." Because I thought she would be gone and just be like, "Alright, see you later." Really cool. I think that was just a really powerful experience for the both of us.
MJ: Yeah. I think that's amazing. Because I think that that's something that now as people are trying to be more open about this more people are having those conversations. And I think the way that you handled it Corrine is so spot on. But I want to talk a little bit, I can't remember if it was in your blog or your podcast, but you said that there were some things you did right. And some things that you did wrong before and after getting married in how you handled facing this challenge of pornography addiction. Can you speak to some of those things?
CS: Sure. Yeah. I think we had the best of intentions and we, you know, you're in such a desperate state when you want to overcome something and I definitely took on that classic codependent mode of, "Okay, now I'm going to fix you like I'm going to take this problem and I'm going to help you and we're going to get you all better. And I mean, we did a lot of things that didn't work like, you know, I kind of became Neil's sponsor for a while or he would like check in with me on a regular basis. And we tried. We tried daily, we tried weekly, we tried, "Okay, this isn't working because it's upsetting me like, now check in with your Bishop," or we did some outpatient recovery stuff that was very expensive. Neil has different feelings about it than I do but we tried couples therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, and none of those things really worked for us. I will say that we worked closely with our Bishop and he was amazing because he really, he was so hard on us that we were terrified to do anything wrong and we owe our temple marriage to him because we were so careful. We were so clean cut about making sure that we were prepared to go to the temple and and I think that the day we got married, Neil and I were both in such a good place spiritually. We were going to the temple weekly together, but after we got married, you know, and I think Neil likes to say that's one of the myths is that, oh, if you have a sexual addiction or a pornography addiction, when you get married, that'll go away. And, you know, for so many, like good members of the Church who see intimacy that way, they feel like, oh, if I can just make it there, then it will all disappear. And it doesn't, because that's not how addiction works. So we had to kind of start all over again, once we got married, and that crept back in and I don't know, maybe you can talk about what you think about that question what we did right or wrong?
NS: Yeah, I think what we did right is we sought help. I mean, we were meeting...I was meeting, I had been meeting with my Bishop for like, two years, we had a joke, I had the thickest, like stack of notes in his book, he's like, you have the thickest, you know, and we both laughed about it but I saw that as I'm like, "Hey man, like I'm willing to show up and make an effort." Like I felt good about that. NS: And you know, other people might see that differently so I think that was right. And I think, you know, the outpatient recovery program, I actually I got a lot of great tools out of it, I got a lot of understanding about the science behind addiction, why I felt powerless, that, you know, my brain had been using a part of my brain that had overridden the kind of the brakes of the brain to tell you not to do things that will get you into trouble and that's why I had this feeling of powerlessness. And I learned tools and...I learned a lot of great things that that were helpful. But I think the part that I was struggling with was working through the process of allowing the Atonement to be active in my life in a way that Christ could change that, could make that change, because only Christ and I came to figure this out later on in recovery. Only Christ can change nature like the natural man, it's only and we learned that through the scripture in Mosiah 3:19. That's one of my favorite scriptures that the natural man's an enemy to God and will be until I yield, or we yield, to the Spirit, to Jesus Christ. And so, while it was great to get tools that were helpful, and to have these, you know, these different things that we were learning, that wasn't the end all be all, and the change really didn't happen. And I think meeting with bishops was good, but I still was at a place where I personally, I don't think I was utilizing the Atonement at the level that I needed to in order to overcome the addiction. And so that, you know, was a struggle for me. But yeah, we made a lot of mistakes. I think I relied on her like Corrine was saying. You know, "Hey, I'll check in with you, you'll be my sponsor," and I think it created a lot of just back and forth, we were kind of chasing our tails a little bit. I was relying on her, I'd relapse, she'd get frustrated, I'd get frustrated. I'd get resentful, you know, it's creates a situation of feeling like okay, now this person is checking up on me and then you're getting resentful and that's driving the addiction or driving acting out more. So a lot of unhealthy things. And so it takes, I think, really where the solution came was when we finally got to the point where we both went to to therapy meetings together. And then we individually kind of started our own recoveries.
MJ: Yeah, I want to come back to the Addiction Recovery Program. And I actually want to focus a lot on that but backing up just a little bit. I think there are probably a lot of people that will listen to this episode who either are in a relationship with someone who is struggling with an addiction or love and care about someone who's struggling with an addiction. And I think sometimes there's like this struggle of like boundaries and also like, how do you know that you should go forward with marrying someone when they've struggled with this. Corrine, can you kind of speak to this? One thing you've said is that you felt like you knew that Neil's heart was good. How did you kind of come to know that?
CS: Well, it's it's definitely the exception to the rule that he came to me and was open about this before we got married. Most people, they get married and then find out. So that was one huge factor. And I would just say that, you know, there's nothing that's as reliable as the spirit to tell you whether something's right or wrong. Like we learned that in the Gospel, we learn it in the Scriptures, we learned it from the time that we're in Primary. And this is one of those things that I believe Heavenly Father cares so much about what our families look like, who we decide to create that family unit with. And with Neil, like I said, from the very beginning, I knew he had a testimony of Jesus Christ, I knew that that was the most important thing to him. And even he hadn't quite figured out how to overcome this challenge. I knew where his heart was. And when we prayed about getting married, we had a really, really powerful experience with knowing that that was the right thing. And that was something that I could never go back on. And if it hadn't been for the talk, and "Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence," by Elder Holland, we would not have gotten married, but because there were times when I hesitated and I got nervous. And is this really the right thing? But anytime I went back to that moment where we prayed, and I got an and absolutely unquestionable "Yes" from Heavenly Father, I knew everything was going to be okay, even though it wasn't perfect. And there were definitely years of struggle. I look back now. And I'm like, so grateful that I was that I took that leap of faith with him. But I think that, you know, the spirit is the ultimate...the Spirit will never lie to you about whether somebody's heart is in the right place, whether they're pointed in the right direction. I love the quote that you shared on Facebook last night today, about it doesn't matter the speed of you know what direction you're going in, as long as you're pointed in the right direction. And I saw that with Neil, I knew that just because his path wasn't the same as other people's. I knew he was pointed in the right direction, and eventually he would get there.
MJ: Yeah. For those listening the quote that she's referring to, I'll put it in the show notes. But it's by Kevin Worthen, who is the president of BYU. And it's a great quote. So we'll put that in the show notes. But I don't want to take any more time away from from this conversation. So one thing that I have been impressed with in the way that you've told your story and expressed this experience is that you talked about the difference between real life intimacy and marriage, and lust, and how addiction is being fed through lust. Can you explain, Neil, why those two things are different?
NS: Yeah, I mean, that's, there's a lot that goes into that. But I think that kind of feeds into that common myth that I think a lot of people share, like, "Hey, you know, once you get married, this is going to go away, you know, you're going to be able to be intimate with your wife, and that, you know, that part will be filled." Another myth, side note, is you're going to go on a mission, and it's going to fix it. And that was one that I, you know, I did great. And then I came home and got back into it. But yeah, back to your question. Lust is something that's very unnatural. So I mean, this is a super loose definition of it, and I'm probably gonna butcher it but it's something along the lines of taking something that's normal or natural or good and then using it in a negative way to serve like a selfish purpose. So taking something like that we have a lot of people who struggle with food addiction that come into the ARP meetings and so food's not bad. Food's good. You need food, we use food, but it's the way that that they'll speak to it, and how it's become problematic for them. It It sounds the exact same I mean, you could insert pornography or drugs or whatever, and it sounds the exact same. I'm like, "Man, I get so stressed out and I'm frustrated, I'm irritable, I'm restless, I'm discontent and I just go to this thing and I just start you know, I start eating a bunch of food or I eat a bunch of this and then I feel horrible afterwards. I feel shame. So the food's not the problem. It's the behaviors, it's what you're using it for. So with intimacy and with sexuality, and these things like obviously that's God given. Heavenly Father gave this power to us for a very important cause and central to his plan. So there's nothing wrong with it, with intimacy. But lust is something where I figured out at an early age for me that once I made that connection of like, okay, these feelings like are this is different. This is shame driven, it's objectification, it's all these different things like it was a whole different feeling, it was lust it was something that was very different. And it wasn't until you know later on and you know getting married and and being able to express and have true intimacy when you're living the commandments you're doing what's right and abstaining from, you know, pornography and all these things. It's a completely different experience. It's about the individual, it's about connecting with your spouse, it's about an expression of the commitment of your relationship and of your temple marriage and it's very connecting. And I think whereas lust is is disconnecting, it's isolation. It's shameful, it's, you know, driven by a bunch of negative emotions of fear, of resentment. I mean, the underlying causes and conditions that drive you to lust are shame, fear, guilt, resentment, all these negative things. So it's very negative, whereas intimacy is very connecting, connecting to a spouse and connecting to Heavenly Father. Lust is the opposite. It's very disconnecting, it's very isolating for myself and then for disconnecting me from God.
CS: So on a spouse's side, too. I think that it's really important to understand and, for me, it was super helpful when I finally heard someone explain that pornography addiction or really any type of type of addiction is just pain management. There's such an opportunity as the spouse of a pornography addict to feel like it's really personal, like, "Oh, I'm not beautiful enough" or "I'm not attractive enough" or whatever, or like, "I'm not fulfilling that so he's finding it somewhere else," when really has nothing to do with that. It's "I'm bored. I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'm anxious, I'm feeling stressed. And so I'm going to go to this 'drug' that I've gone to my whole life to numb out my feelings." And it's the same with any addiction, with a drug addiction, with alcohol, with, like he said, even food. And that, for me was very helpful to understand finally, when I did catch on to that, that it wasn't about, oh, like, "Our intimacy isn't good enough," or "He doesn't love me in that way." It actually has nothing to do with that and everything to do with someone who doesn't know how, this is kind of like an AA term, but people who don't live life on life's terms. They've never really felt a lot of the emotions that normal people feel because they just have been numbing them out for so many years that they don't even know how to deal with life in a normal way. It's just like more of a go-to to numb that out by looking at pornography or engaging in any other type of addiction.
MJ: Yeah. So obviously, hopefully people can hear, as you've been talking, how passionate the two of you are about the Addiction Recovery Program. And I think it's so cool to have people that have been through it talk about it, and how it's helped them. And so you had tried a bunch of different things before this. And you mentioned, Neil, that it was finally when you realized that you needed the Atonement, that you were able to make strides in overcoming this. Why is the gospel helpful in addiction recovery?
NS: It's a great question. I mean, really, if you boil down the 12 steps, the 12-step program, it is the gospel. I describe it as a tactical way of applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If you look at the steps, it's the repentance process. It's faith, repentance, it's baptism or commitment and feeling the Holy Ghost again, and it's very specific and sequential in applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And what I love about ARP is ARP, because I had been to a nondenominational 12-step meeting, which was great. And I truly feel in my heart that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were inspired, were very inspired by Heavenly Father to to create that. And they got that foundation.
CS: And we still use those same 12 steps. They're printed in the ARP manual on the front page.
NS: Yeah, the church adopted and with permission from Alcoholics Anonymous to use those 12 steps. So it's very, they're very much the same. They've added in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, but for me, in attending a nondenominational, 12-step meeting, I had that foundation, that background, but I couldn't connect the dots with the like the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as I knew it. And it wasn't until we started going to these ARP meetings, that there was the facilitator and the group leader of this meeting was old, old all-time AA guy, you know really rough around the edges from Philly, he'd yell at ya, you know, telling you like, that's what we needed. I just needed somebody rough but he would connect it to the Atonement of Jesus Christ because he's a you know, he's a member of the Church and he was a convert and so he understood that part. So he really was able to pull that together for me and I was like, wow, this is the gospel in action. This is a tactical way of applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ, where I recognize it's not me, it's God. And I need to get out of the way and allow Him to help me and I need to be honest with myself I need to be honest, part of the steps and step 5 talks about going to see your Bishop and talking to them and and you know, relating your wrongs and then working through that process to repair the damage you've done and then going and serving others. So it really is, it is the gospel for me, and that's how I see it.
MJ: Yeah. I'll never forget hearing Mandi Gubler talk about, she was talking about the Addiction Recovery Program. But she didn't say that that's what she was talking about. And she just said, this is how to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And the very end, she was like, these are the 12 steps. And I was like, "Wow, mind blown," but I think that that's so powerful to recognize.
CS: It really is.
MJ: Neil, you started to attend the meetings. And at this point, Corrine, were you attending with him or no?
CS: Not at first, we went to our very first ARP meeting together in Sandy. Okay, and it was just us and a senior couple. It was really awkward. We read through the stuff, we read through the 12 steps, we read through the step of that week. And then they said, Does anyone want to share I just looked at Neil.
NS: I was like, "Hey," I'd been used to going to meetings. So I'm like, "Yeah, what's up? My name is Neil, I'm an addict."
CS: And I shared and I shared but it was very awkward and but I felt the Spirit. That was really such a distinction for me because Neal had taken me once to like a weekend, like bring your family along kind of thing to his nondenominational 12-step group. And I just was like, "This is not for me, like, if this is for you, that's great." But they were like, people were in these "Shares," which I didn't even understand at the time, but it felt like a testimony meeting and people would stand up. And they would say things like, like, "My sponsor saved me and the 12 steps saved me," and I just walked out of there and was like, "This feels weird to me." But when we went to ARP, I felt the Spirit. And it was because like Neil talked about a minute ago, it was the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the 12 steps together, and it just felt right and it made sense. But when we got to San Clemente, and we moved from Utah to San Clemente, five and a half years ago, and we first got down there, I was just super burned out of recovery. We've just been doing it for so many years, and I was like, "You can do whatever you want, but I'm not going to meetings with you. I'm not paying for anything else. Just do whatever you want." And so he went for at least a year, I would say. And he started inviting me saying, "I think you would really like these meetings. There's this really great couple that goes and I think you would like the the wife and you know, you should just come." I was like, "Nope, not doing that." He probably had to invite me six or seven times before I finally was like, "Okay, you know."
NS: It was more than six or seven.
CS: Okay, well it was a lot of times.
MJ: So at this point, really quick, at this point, what was your marriage like?
NS: Wasn't in a great spot. I mean, I was trying I was in recovery. I was attending meetings. I wasn't really working the program and I kind of I just had a pattern of every six weeks or so like a relapse or what I would define as relapse or act out on my addiction and and I'm like, "Alright, you know, I'll go talk to the Bishop then try again."
CS: But most of the time it was me finding out not because you told me.
NS: Yeah, she'd find out, like kind of widdle it out of me, like, "Hey, something's off. What's going on?" And then I'm like, "Well, kind of been sketching out a little bit." "Okay, what does that mean?" "Okay, well, actually, yeah, I totally relapsed." And I just wasn't honest with her. Yeah. And I think that that's, you know, different people do things a different way but for myself a lot of trial and error, I realized I think where I finally did get traction and you know, we can speak to this little later, is when I finally recognized that I couldn't be sober and lie to my wife at the same time and just create a duality and I couldn't that dishonesty just weakened me spiritually so I couldn't, I just couldn't stay sober and kind of live in a lie. But yeah, our marriage wasn't great. At that point. There were a lot of challenges.
CS: We wanted it to be but it just was like we couldn't get out of the like cycles of like resentment and anger, frustration, you know, him trying but then like, slipping and then lying and then me being upset and it just was like this, like cycle that we just could not get out of. And I know a lot of couples struggle with that where they feel like, "Gosh, I want a good marriage. We're going to church, we're paying our tithing. We're trying to do the right things, but like, we just cannot figure out this problem. That's how it felt for us at that point.
MJ: Yeah. So at what point did you start to notice a change?
CS: So Neil finally talked me into going to ARP with him and we went together for I don't know, at least another year or so. Neither of us were doing the steps. I was really angry at first, just super resentful toward everything recovery. I looked at the meetings as like a bunch of addicts that sat around together and like pat each other on the back and are like, "Hey, like, you know what, like, you had a hard week? Me too. It's okay." And I was just like, I'm so over this, like people being like, rah, rah recovery. This is so awesome. So, yeah, we went to the meetings together for probably, I don't know, at least a year or so. And Neil's last big relapse was super hard on me. That was conference weekend, two and a half years ago, in October, and I found out that he'd been lying to me and I became, I was like undone by it. It was really, really upsetting to me. I had thought for several months, he was doing great. And I found out that he wasn't and I called Mandi Gubler, who ended up being my sponsor later, but she was the one that had introduced us to ARP. And I said, I don't know how much longer I can do this. I was just so upset and I didn't want to get divorced. But I just was like, I don't know how many more times I can...I describe it as feeling like somebody hit me with a semi truck and just laying in the middle of a highway. Like that's how it would feel every time I would find out that I had been lied to. And so she just listened to me for a minute. And then she said, "Are you calling me because you need someone to listen to? Or are you calling me because you want to do something about it?" And I was like, "I will do anything," and she said "Okay, you need to do the steps."
And so I started doing the steps for myself because I needed peace at whatever costs. And magically just like it explains in the book, "Codependent No More," and just like anyone who understands how to overcome codependency, when you start taking care of yourself and you stop taking care of the addict a lot of times they start taking care of their own problems because you're not sitting there trying to you know, manage their addiction, manage their recovery, so I really, I don't know I just kind of told Neil, "I'm done doing this for you so you can do what you want."
NS: And that was a powerful moment for me because I think a lot of the time I think I had gotten to a point where I just kind of got into a weird space. There's the codependency thing, you're kind of doing that dance of back and forth of exchanging you know, "You're hurting me," and "I'm resentful because you're checking up on me" or all this stuff that comes out. And I think finally when that broke, and I was like, first of all, I recognized, I'm like, "Okay, I just, I don't have this at all, all this great knowledge, tens of thousands of dollars that we pay, I've been going to these meetings for years. I'm just not getting it. I really feel like I'm like, I'm just terminally unique. I'm gonna die this way. Like, I know, recovery doesn't work for me. I've been to it, I've tried it, nothing works. I'm just one of those cases that it's just not going to happen." And I kind of was really at a low point after that. And so finally, that's when I was like, "Alright, I will pick up this manual. And I will just answer these questions and I'll study it and then I'll talk to, you know, there's a drug addict in the meeting that I really liked what he said. I was like, "Hey man, can you sponsor me?" So I started talking to him after I'd work a step and he'd kind of talked to me about the concepts and principles and helped me apply it to my life. And so I just I think at that point, I honestly started working the program. And when Corrine came to me and she said, "You know what, you know," and it wasn't vengefully or with resentment, it was just kind of like, "Hey, whatever you do, I will be fine. I will be okay. I've got a connection with Heavenly Father, I'm good. It's all you." I think that moment, it was almost freeing to me and just to be like, "Wow, okay, I can no longer use my wife as something, a reason to act out or like, an excuse to engage my addiction." I'm like, "It's all on me. If I sink or swim, it's all on me." And so at that point, I really was engaging in the program and working the steps and I think I got I got 100% honest with myself and with those around me at that point.
MJ: Yeah. You've mentioned a few times sponsors for those who are listening that may not be familiar, why is a sponsor important? What is a sponsor? And why is it important?
NS: That's a great question. So a sponsor somebody who's been through the steps, who has worked the steps and has recovery and is living them, who then in the 12th step, you share the message with others or or help others and so they are somebody who you can kind of work with in the steps, the manual, the ARP manual says "a trusted advisor." In Step five, it talks about it explicitly and says, someone who you can share your experiences with that can can give you the feedback, because a lot of times, it's hard to tell, like, addiction for me, and I think for a lot of people is all about lies, and it's built on lying. So you lie to yourself first. So it's hard to tell what's real and what's not. And trying to work out like, okay, where am I just lying to myself and totally in denial? But having somebody that's in a good spot that's worked through the steps, who understands that and goes, I remember being like that, and I remember thinking and saying the exact same things, but who can look at it more objectively and say, like, "Hey, man, you're lying to yourself," and kind of call you out where needed, but also at the same time, say, "Hey, man, I understand where you're coming from. Like, that's super challenging, and I've been through that exact same thing." It's kind of, you know the analogy of, if you're going to climb Mount Everest, you want to go with someone who's climbed Mount Everest, you want a guide who's going to going to help you work through that and goes like, "Here's where you need to put your foot. We need ropes here, there." But you're the one who's got to do the footwork.
CS: Yeah, I think it's interesting that Morgan is asking us too because the sponsor thing isn't something that every ARP group adopts. In the ARP culture where we live in South Orange County, California, we're very blessed because we have people who have a really solid foundation of AA and that traditional 12-step program where you do chips to celebrate different lengths of sobriety. They're big on sponsorship where we live, where other places people don't really understand that or they haven't adopted that as much, but it is written right into the manual in several different places where it says, sit down with someone who's a trusted advisor. I know in step five, when you read your fourth step inventory to someone, you're supposed to do it with your priesthood leader and with a trusted advisor who is a sponsor. And then I think it again, in eight and nine.
NS: When you go to make amends with people, you want to kind of talk that through with someone who's a trusted advisor or a sponsor.
CS: So we really feel like that's been such a blessing for us to have that as, you know, people, like Neil said in the beginning, this guy that kind of started this down in San Clemente this really, really strong group of people who have then gone out and built other bigger meetings all throughout South Orange County. He was the original kind of guy that got that started in our area and he's an old school AA guy so he really believes in those chips.
NS: Super salty. I love it.
CS: That's something he really believes in, doing the steps with a sponsor. And I think that that's something that we've watched so many people's lives change, their marriages have come back together. Truly miracles happen right in front of our eyes, because of ARP and and I think it's just an added bonus to us that we have that like AA culture that has also kind of shaped how people do the meetings in our area.
NS: How AA started, I mean, the founders, you know, Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, they were just two alcoholics. And they found each other, they were trying to get recovery. And they found, what they found was there was something magical would happen when there was one alcoholic talking to another alcoholic, that somehow communicating together that they both found solution. They were both looking for help and as they communicated, and they were striving to recover, that that's where the magic happened and so that that's like a fundamental principle of the program. And that I find for myself is, there's something magical about two addicts talking to each other. It's almost like Heavenly Father steps in, and through that communication, He gives both people what they need. And then at the end of the phone call, it's like, "Hey man, thanks so much you helped me." and it's like, "I don't know what you're talking about, man, you totally help me." And it's like this cool miracle. It's like the miracle of recovery. And that's kind of what the whole foundation is built on. So that's where I think sponsorship is so important.
MJ: Yeah. Well, it reminds me of like our baptismal covenants, right? Like, mourn with those that mourn, being there for each other is something we've covenanted not only to Heavenly Father but to each other. Corrine, you did the 12 step program, you mentioned that and even had a sponsor, despite the fact that you are not the person struggling with addiction. Why would you recommend that to a spouse of an addict? And what advice would you give to someone who maybe wants to attend meetings, but they don't know how to jump into that?
CS: So I think there's two different levels of people that come into ARP. I think there's the one that like you just got hit by the semi truck for the first time and you're like, how do I even, I'm in survival mode, I'm literally in the ICU of emotional catastrophe. And for those people, I think that going to the spouse and loved ones, the website and that manual is so helpful because it's just very loving. It's very gentle. It's very reassuring that this isn't your fault that, you know, here's how to get comfort and peace from the Savior. Where I found that I needed something more was that my codependency of feeling like I needed to fix Neil and that I was never going to be happy, so long as he was choosing to act out. It had taken over my life and I was just tired of feeling like I was a slave to that. I was imprisoned by whatever his choices were. And that's where Mandi just had some real talk with me and said, "If you want this to change, you need to do something about it, other than just complain about it." So and that is a hard step for a lot of women that I work with, that I meet in ARP meetings. It took me a long time to get there. It took me more than a year of going to meetings, maybe 18 months of going to meetings and I went from being angry to kind of softening to just being at that moment of desperation where I was like, "I don't know how many more relapses I can live through. And I needed the Savior's Atonement as bad as any other addict who just feels like, "I can't survive this one more day." And people talk a lot about that rock bottom of some addicts need to hit rock bottom before they're willing to really like, seek out the solution. And that's what happened to me where I just was like, "I don't want to live like this anymore." And what I found in doing the 12 steps was that I needed Jesus just as much as everyone else did. And I found that peace for myself. I found that by working through my character weaknesses by writing down all of the things that I had done wrong and then admitting them to someone else and asking God to take away my character weaknesses and making wrongs right for people who I've done things to or let down in the past, and then trying to stay in these maintenance steps that we talked about 10, 11, 12 of trying to seek the Lord's will and have the power to carry it out and admit when I'm wrong as fast as I can, and then just try to help and serve other people and share the message like living in those 10, 11 and 12 steps are the key to me feeling like I have peace no matter what. And people ask me all the time like, "Well, what if Neil relapses again? Or what if he doesn't stay sober?" And I no longer feel the desperation of like, "Oh my gosh, if that happens, then we won't be happy anymore. I won't know how to feel peace." I know exactly how to get that for myself. And that was such an eye-opening thing doing each of the steps. That first of all, that there's no like I am higher up than someone else who struggles with a different kind of addiction. It just brings you down to the depths of humility, where you really have to look at all of your imperfections and character weaknesses and things you've done wrong. And you realize that we all need the Savior equally, we're all beggars. So that's a huge thing for me. And then just knowing to that, no matter what happens in my life, I never need to feel that desperation of "I don't have control" or someone else is controlling my happiness. I know that that's between me and the Savior. And I know how to access it too, because of those 12 steps because I live in those 10,11, 12 maintenance steps. And because that's what drives everything we do in our lives.
MJ: Neil, for those who aren't super familiar with the steps, Corrine mentioned 10, 11 and 12, being huge for her, is there a particular step that was influential for you?
NS: It's a good question. It's a hard question to answer because it's the steps as a whole and worked sequentially. That's where the magic is. So it's kind of like, you know, what part of the repentance process is most important. It's like repentance, you just gotta repent. But there are things, there are concepts, that took me longer and that I still have to come back to daily. I think if I really could have described the program in one word, it would be humility, like it requires, you have to be humbled, it's impossible to work the 12 steps completely thoroughly and truly and effectively without humility. So I think steps one, two and three, they're one, two, and three for a reason. Basically, it's admitting that you're powerless over your addiction, and then coming to believe that the Savior and our Heavenly Father can restore you to spiritual health. And then in three you allow them you, you turn your will over to God and that's the struggle because I think if you're anything like me, or an addict like me, like, that's just growing up that was so hard for me is turning that over to God or maybe there's, you know, there's fears or different things that you experienced in your childhood or upbringing to where it's like, you know that trust, maybe trusting in God is hard, it's difficult. Or maybe we have testimonies, but when difficult things come up, it's really hard to so step three, turning that over to God or kind of letting go and letting God, we talk a lot about the term surrender, which is basically surrendering to Jesus Christ and kind of instead of...if you envision you're on this battlefield, fighting this big, ugly monster and you got your little sword and you're poking at him. And instead of just, you know, trying to keep fighting, you just step back and set down the sword, put up your arms and be like, "Okay, I don't, I don't got this. This guy is going to destroy me." And then magically, when I do that, the Savior steps in and just takes care of it. And so, establishing that foundation...there's kind of a simple way that it's been explained to me in a meeting of step one: I can't. Step two: God can. Step three: So I'm gonna let Him. And that's just so powerful for me. And that's really what surrender means to me. And I have to come back to that every day. Because a lot of times I want to take back my will and say, like, "No, God, I got it. I'm good. Let me drive the bus." And then my life, just start squirreling out and I get, you know, it's harder and things don't come together. But when I let go, and let Heavenly Father take the wheel, miracles happen, recovery happens. But that one, two, and three is kind of where that happens.
MJ: Yeah, I feel like as you all talk, it's clear that this is something that you're actually grateful for, which is pretty amazing in light of all that you've been through. Why are you grateful for this experience? And how has it changed you?
NS: That's a big question. I think for me, one of the things that was most important for me in my life was to marry the right person, and for that relationship to go well, and I think at face value, looking at this being like, "Well, man, you kind of got...you didn't get what you wanted." But I think, on the contrary, I think I got exactly what I wanted. I think that because of the struggle, because of the challenge that we've had and that my addiction has brought into my life, we have a relationship that is uniquely closer than it would have been had we not had this challenge. And I think that I've learned what it means, I'm just getting overwhelmed here, to utilize the Atonement of Jesus Christ in your life and what that means. And when I get asked that temple question of "Do you have a testimony of Jesus Christ?" I always just tear up because that's something that I know, and and truly feel and believe and have experienced. And that's because of the addiction, ironically. But that's kind of my answer to that question.
CS: Thanks for that...Um. You know, Morgan I'm sure you've heard that quote by the man that sits in the Sunday School class and starts hearing people talk about the handcart company and they were critical of it and he stood up and said, This is what we endured and this is what it looked like and if this was the price, you know that we had to pay to know the Savior I would do it again and it was a privilege. I feel that same way about addiction, I used to be just so resentful when I would hear people in meetings say "I'm grateful for my addiction," I would be like, a. "What's wrong with you? And b. "There's no way that you experienced what we've experienced." And I now I'm totally that person that says in meetings, I'm so grateful that we've experienced this because I had to get to know Jesus in a way that I wouldn't know Him if I hadn't gone through the steps and if I didn't feel so desperate that I really was saying, I will do anything to overcome this and to feel better and to find peace and it is grueling. It's a grind. It's not easy to work the steps and it took me about a year but the miracle that I've seen in our relationship and in so many other people's, I think it's almost even more beautiful to see when you can help people find that joy and find that peace and really discover for themselves that it's so personal, like your relationship with our Savior is so personal. And I just don't know if I would get that in the way that I do if we hadn't experienced what we have here and for that, I'm very grateful.
MJ: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. I feel bad because we have no tissues in here. I'm looking around.
CS: It's okay. I'm good!
MJ: Before we wrap up, we just have, well actually I just realized that I have one more question here before our question that we always asked on this podcast so I'll give you an opportunity to answer this just in case you have something you want to say. But my question would be what would be your message for others...whose hearts may be aching as a result of addiction right now?
NS: That's a big one. I mean, first and foremost is I, I understand, I know how that feels. And I truly have felt that way where it's like, I really felt like for a long time, I mentioned the term terminally unique, (I felt) "I'm different. The atonement doesn't apply to me, these steps don't apply to me. I've tried it. I've tried it all. I'm just the way I am and I'm not gonna be able to change and I'm gonna die that way." That's a lie, flat out. And if you're listening and you're in that spot, that's, that's straight from the adversary. And that that's Anti Christ. Christ is the reason we can change and Christ's power is bigger than any challenge that you have. Christ can overcome and will overcome any challenge that you have and the steps and utilizing this program is the way that you can do that. That would be my message is that it sounds very simple and we hear it every week in church or wherever. But I think when you're faced with a big situation like that, that's just the truth.
MJ: Yeah. No, I think that's powerful. I think it's that idea that Satan wants to get you by himself. So then he can make you feel like you're defective, you're alone so I think that's powerful. Corrine, anything you'd add to that?
CS: Yeah, I would say to the spouse of someone who is struggling with addiction, that it can feel like a lot. It can feel like...I felt like for so many years, I was a prisoner. Like I said, earlier, I was a prisoner to whatever Neil chose. If he wanted to be sober, then I could be happy if he wanted to bring peace into our lives then I could feel peaceful but if not, I had no other choice. And when I did Step 3, which is the surrender step that Neil talked about, I literally physically felt Jesus Christ taking that burden from me. And it didn't happen until I was ready, but when I really was ready, and I really said, "Okay, Heavenly Father I'm going to do these steps and I want full credit for them." And He did it. He made that miracle happen and He took them away. And the other miracle that happened for me it was when I did Step 6 and 7 and I asked, Heavenly Father to take away that character weakness of always being angry at my husband...I was always a little bit mad at him for what he had done and there were certain events in our life and certain things that I felt like he took away from me that I was never going to get back. And every time I would get mad at him, those things would come up and I was like, I was mad at him for everything. And it was a miracle to me that when I did those steps, 6 and 7, thoroughly that God took that away. And I love him in a way, not only, you know, I think you feel like when you first get married like, oh, it's so blissful and so wonderful, and it's never going to be quite that good. Like, I love him in a way that exceeds that, that goes beyond that, because I don't hold those resentments, really the Atonement of Jesus Christ took that away for me when I did those steps, and I love him in a way that is so thorough and so deep, and that would not have happened had I not done these steps. So my message to someone who's feeling desperate and feeling like it's never going to get better is it's hard, but do the work, do the steps, get to a meeting, find somebody else who's done them and have them help you walk you through it. I mean, that's, that's it. That's where the solution really is. You don't need to pay for it. You don't need to have somebody else. You don't need to sit and spend thousands of dollars. You just need to get to a meeting because I love that somebody shared in a meeting once, everything you need in this life is free, you can get baptized for free, you can get married in the temple for free and you can get sober for free. Or you can you know, get that peace back in your life and love your husband again.
MJ: Yeah, thank you. Okay, last question for you all is what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
NS: I think for me it really comes down to I talked about surrender. I look at the roots of my addiction have to do with ego and have to do with pride and self-seeking, and the natural man and I think for me to be all in, what it means is it comes back to that scripture, Mosiah 3:19, that being all in is laying it down. The way up is down. It's kind of a one of the paradoxes of recovery we talk about, that to progress to become more like our Heavenly Father, we must humble ourselves and surrender. And allow Him to perform that miracle. And that's, you know, so many of the challenges of life and in my life have come about, because that's been the struggle, and it continues to be a struggle, but I have answers. And I have solution that enable me to do that on a daily basis. And all I gotta do is, is use the Atonement, and do the simple things that the gospel and the Book of Mormon talk about, and that's how I can maintain that. So being all in is surrendering to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
MJ: Yeah, thank you. Corrine?
CS: I think that, to me, being all in means keeping an eternal perspective, and not maybe in the way that I used to think of when we would hear that in Sunday School and hear people talk about it and like, "Oh, yeah, we should remember that someday we're going to see Heavenly Father and it's all going to be worth it." Not in that way. But in the way that when we do things that don't make sense, when we really do give our will to Heavenly Father and sometimes it doesn't look the way we think it's going to look. That was a big thing when we decided to be open with this story. And that was for Neil, a way bigger sacrifice than for me, he sacrificed so much of his pride and his, you know what people would think of him or whatever. But we did it because we wanted to help people. We did it because every time we went to the temple, we had such overwhelming feelings about like, "You need to tell the story so you can help people." And to me, being all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ means being willing to do whatever God wants you to do because it doesn't matter at all what people think on this, in this life, it doesn't matter how the things that matter so much to the world, how you make your money or what appearance you have to the world, none of those things are going to matter when we die. And we've had some, you know, really tender experiences this year in our family where it's just brought that perspective right to the forefront of what really is going to matter when we die? And all that's going to matter is did we keep the faith? Did we share it with others? Were we willing to do whatever Heavenly Father asked of us? And I'm so proud of Neil for doing that. And just, you know, feel like if we can just keep that perspective, then, you know, we'll make it eventually.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I cannot thank both of you enough for taking the time to be here with us, to share your experience. I just think that you're both amazing. So thank you so much.
NS: Thanks for having us on, thank you.
CS: Thanks, Morgan.
MJ: We are so grateful to Corrine and Neil Stokoe for joining us. For this week's episode, we've really worked hard to create a list of resources on our show notes that may be helpful to you. This includes links to podcast episodes Corrine has done about addiction recovery and specifically about pornography. Links to the Church's resources on the topic as well as other quotes and books that may be useful to you. You can find our show notes for the episode by visiting www.ldsliving.com/allin, again that's www.ldsliving.com/allin. If you have found this episode to be helpful, please don't forget to leave us a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts. A huge thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for making me sound okay and thank you for listening.