I was only eleven years old the first time I sought council from a spiritual leader for an addiction. I was terrified, but resolute. I felt like it was the only place I could turn for help. Without telling anyone else, I called on my own and made an appointment with my Bishop.
Being so young, my problem wasn’t a big one in the grand scheme of things, but it was big to me. And within my little problem lay the seeds of addiction that were already beginning to take root and would someday become the unstoppable force that would lead me to alcohol, tobacco, pornography, pills, and other self-destructive behaviors at different times in my life.
I tearfully explained my problem to the Bishop. I remember feeling exposed and unsteady as I waited for his response. His solution came along with a tone of voice that said it should be obvious and simple. He said, “Just stop.”
I left his office feeling misunderstood and, frankly, unimportant. However, I’m not saying it was that Bishop, fault. In 1979, who could blame the guy for knowing nothing about addiction?
And yet, if you pay attention, you will still hear those same sentiments expressed today.
“Honey, you keep putting on weight. Why don’t you just stop eating so much?”
“You have lung cancer! Why are you buying cigarettes!”
“Do you look at porn because I’m not pretty enough?”
“Don’t you think you have had enough?”
Even addicts themselves usually spend years telling themselves they will stop someday, eventually, when the time is right, soon.
The greatest gift God has given us is our agency, the power to choose our own paths. So why can’t people just choose to stop doing a certain thing?
If that were the case, addiction wouldn’t exist. We would have no need for the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) because everyone could control themselves. Let’s be honest, a little wine every once in a while isn’t going to hurt you. But the Lord in his wisdom knows that not everyone will be able to have just a little wine. That’s why the Word of Wisdom states that it is given for the “weakest of all saints” (v. 3)
As difficult as it is for me admit, I am the weakest of all saints. I gave up my agency a long time ago. I no longer have a choice. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve observed:
“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7).
It takes years, sometimes decades, for an addict to get the turning point when they can take Step One of addiction recovery: “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.” And that turning point is usually only found at rock bottom.
In my role as Group Leader of an addiction recovery support group, I have heard dozens of stories very similar to the one I told at the beginning of this post. Church leaders, employers, judges, spouses, children, and friends who tell the addict to “just stop” what they are doing. And they wish they could. They desperately wish they could. But they can’t. I can’t.
But there is hope. Take that first step and admit. Then take that Second step: “Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.”
The Addiction Recovery Program is nothing more than a workshop in how to use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Church leaders must become educated in this process and learn how to help those who suffer.
I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different had that Bishop in my youth been able to steer me onto the path of recovery. But I know I sin in this thought, because the experiences God has given me have been exactly what I needed to arrive where I am today. The only thing I can do is promise to help others who struggle. And maybe I will be able to spare someone else the anguish that I have felt.
Things are getting better. There are LDS Addiction Recovery support groups popping up all over. We help with every kind of addiction, and we help people of all faiths.
One of the fastest growing addictions we see is pornography addiction. It is estimated that 70% of men view pornography at least once a month. The Church says this number is the same within church membership, and they estimate that 40% of men in the church have a pornography addiction. And that’s just pornography addiction. When you consider alcohol, drugs, food, and the countless other addictions that exist, it boggles the mind.
Sometimes when we are in our little Addiction Recovery Meetings we joke that if everyone who needed to be there came to our meetings, we would have to rent Arco Arena.
So I tell my little group that they are warriors. They are the ones on the front lines fighting their demons and working hard to become followers of Jesus Christ. They are the brave ones. And they are being trained to help others do the same.
Someday, someone will come to them for help. And instead of ignorantly saying, “Just stop,” they will be able to put their arm around that person’s shoulder and share with them the hope they feel.