Hi, and welcome back to Change of Heart!
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I just wanted to start by putting a little smile on your face before we dive into the deep waters of addiction recovery.
Ready, Set…Let’s Go!
Today we’ll discuss something that frequently fans the flames of contention on social media.
How do you feel when you think about…
Got that warm fuzzy feeling yet?
(I didn’t think so!!)
I was raised in a Christian family with staunch beliefs and strict expectations. They taught me that addictive substances (coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, and harmful drugs) were not only to be avoided, but that it was a sin to take them into my body. I believed (and had observed) that my family and fellow church members would look down on me in judgement if I engaged in such behavior (this is called stigma). And I knew that I’d be disappointed with myself and feel guilty (this is called shame).
For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that God is my eternal and loving Heavenly Father. I’ve also known that Jesus is my loving brother who suffered for my sins as my Savior.
When I fell victim to alcoholism, I decided to prove my belief in God. Because I believed in him, I actually chose to be ANGRY at him for the circumstances that he had allowed me to fall into.
I thought I could overcome this “little problem” myself. In my infinite wisdom, I was sure that I was better equipped solve this problem than God was. This is called pride…the first of the seven deadly sins.
I was well into my adult life and had a couple of beautiful little daughters (and another on the way) by the time alcohol became a serious problem in my life. In spite of my anger, I still knew that God was good. And even though I was mad at God, I wanted my daughters to grow up loving and knowing him. So I stayed active in the church and took my family to church faithfully, attending every week.
But I was STILL mad at God!
I can sympathize with you: I know what it’s like to want to find relief from addiction, but to NOT want to find it in religion. I get it.
Throughout my life I’ve learned by experience about stigma, shame and pride. I wanted yell loudly at those who told me that religion was the answer: “SURELY, there must be another way!” And, I decided, I would find that way, and I would do it all by myself!!
My intention today is not to start a yelling match–I’m guessing you’ve already done enough of that. On the contrary, I only want to see if we can all calmly expand our horizons a bit.
“Not everyone thinks the way you think, knows the things you know, believes the things you believe, nor acts the way you would act.
“Remember this and you will go a long way in getting along with people”–Arthur Forman
Let the Games Begin…
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (some people call us “Mormons”) I’ve taught many Sunday School lessons and given sermons (a.k.a. “Sacrament Meeting talks”). In doing so, I frequently draw spiritual parallels to some very non-religious every-day experiences from my personal life.
My teachings have included stories about deer hunting, riding horses, foolish childhood pranks, crashing motorcycles, and my propensity for the irresponsible use of firearms and fireworks.
And in case you’re wondering: Yes! I did actually shoot my eye out…but that’s a story for another day!
From the pulpit, I’ve quoted popular comedians, most memorably, George Carlin and Bill Cosby (now THAT should raise some eyebrows!) I’ve also quoted rap artists and rock stars, all in support of gospel topics.
Some people (including in at least one case, my bishop) have strongly criticized me for where I find “truth” and how I choose to impart it to others. But that’s not going to stop me from sharing true principles. I’ll also continue sharing the odd and unorthodox ways I have come to believe in these truths.
After all, as I’ve already admitted repeatedly in my posts…
MY BRAIN DOES NOT FUNCTION EXACTLY LIKE YOURS!
Deal with it! 😉
South Park… a Source of Wisdom??!?!
I’m NOT a big fan of South Park (an incredibly irreverent adult-themed animated TV sit-com). However, I want you to consider the story of Gary. He is the little “Mormon” kid who moved into South Park and who was relentlessly persecuted by his new classmates. After being teased, belittled, bullied, and challenged on his beliefs, he blurted:
“Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches is loving your family, being nice and helping people…“–Gary Harrison (The “Mormon” kid on South Park)
Maybe I’ve officially crossed the line with this quote. My fellow Mormons will scoff at my use of this particular source. And they will definitely object to referring to our teachings as “crazy stories”. Likewise, I have non-Mormon friends who will be put-off when they see that I’ve highlighted the positive reference to the Book of Mormon.
In a world where political correctness is held in even higher esteem than God himself, it’s almost impossible to address sensitive topics (something this blog is ALL about) without stepping on toes on both sides of the aisle from time to time.
Change of Heart was conceived by a “Latter-day Saint” alcoholic. My goal is to help my fellow addicts (and their loved-ones) achieve recovery and find joy in their lives.
I make no apologies for my sources. Latter-day church leaders and modern revelations given to latter-day prophets will be quoted. I will also quote extensively from the Book of Mormon as well as from The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
If you’re willing to consider the wisdom in quotes from Harry Potter and Shrek, George Carlin and Bill Cosby, and (heaven forbid!!) South Park, I certainly hope that you will also consider the unlikely possibility that there might be something in the Book of Mormon that will help you in your journey.
Change of Heart is all about (as Gary says…) “loving your family, being nice, and helping people”…regardless of your personal biases, background, and beliefs. When you read my posts, you will see references and quotes from sources you don’t recognize or respect (yet). I only ask you to keep an open mind and to decide for yourself whether what I say has merit.
Who (or What) is Your Higher Power?
I want you to meet Judy and Joe. They operate Changing Lives Foundation, a non-profit in Boulder, CO that offers family substance abuse counseling. Back in the day (around 2008-2009), Judy and Joe were my clients. They have produced books, CDs and DVDs addressing addiction recovery issues. I was Judy and Joe’s “order fulfillment guy”, receiving online orders and shipping products to their customers.
In retrospect, I should have been their client…I was working with them at the very time when I was going through the worst of my struggles with alcoholism. Sadly, I was so deep in denial that I had no interest in reading Joe’s book “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” even though I had several pallets of the books sitting right next to my desk.
Recently I read a blog post from Joe (click here to read Joe’s full post). He talks about whether or not you have to believe in God (or a specific religion) for the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program to work.
Belief in God is not a prerequisite
The AA/Al-Anon version of the 12 steps do not refer specifically to faith in God. Instead, they direct you to trust in a Higher Power (or in some cases “God, as you understand him”).
“When I first started attending AA, I had no religious beliefs. All I had was a desire to quit using alcohol and drugs. Sometimes a person will not even have the desire. It is during times like this that the Higher Power (God) comes into a person’s life—to do for a person, that which he cannot do alone.—Joe Herzanek, Changing Lives Foundation (www.drug-addiction-help-now.org)
AA’s generic reference to your personal Higher Power works regardless of your religious background. It can be God, Allah, Jehovah, Christ, Brahma, Yu-huang, Gaia, or whatever other deity you believe in. Or if you’re an atheist or agnostic (or if you’re just plain angry with God at the moment), you can consider those around you (family, friends, or even your 12-step support group itself) to be your higher power.
This wisdom is profound. Most times your family, friends, and support group (your higher power) are actually praying to God (their higher power) for your protection and success. So whether you have faith in God or not, you will still receive God’s help.
World Religions and Common Ground
What exactly do the Bishop, the Rabbi, and the Imam talk about when they walk into a bar?
Actually, they all teach fairly similar stuff when it comes to addictive substances.
- Christian tradition tells us over-indulgence leading to drunkenness is sinful.
- Islam advocates avoiding “khamr” (intoxicants) because it weakens the conscience of the believer.
- Buddhism professes that intoxicants disrupt mindfulness and impede one’s progress. Most other Indian religions also prohibit intoxicants.
- Judaism: Wine is an important substance in many ceremonies. However, Halakha (Jewish law) permits the use of non-alcoholic wine for nearly all ceremonies. Excessive consumption and drunkenness are strongly discouraged; “Inebriation is entirely prohibited and there is no greater sin than drunkenness” and it is “the cause of many sins”.
- And finally, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that those who abstain from alcohol and addictive substances “…shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures’ and shall run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint.” (Doctrine and Covenants 89: 18-20)
Higher Powers and Holy Places
“Behold, it is my will, that all they who call on my name, and worship me according to mine everlasting gospel, should gather together, and stand in holy places”Doctrine and Covenants 101:22
Sounds a bit like a 12-step meeting in the making, don’t you think?
Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions all include the teachings of the Hebrew bible. So, lets talk about a couple of my favorite Old Testament stories.
Example 1–Moses, Children of Israel, and the Angel of Death
When I was just a little kid, we always looked forward to the night before Easter. Why? Because the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille version of the movie “The Ten Commandments” was broadcast every Easter eve. We’d all get together at Grandma’s house, eat amazing hot fudge sundaes, and enjoy the movie.
One of the more memorable portions of the movie depicts the plagues of Egypt. The account of the plagues in the movie plays out like a WWF cage match. On one side is Rameses’ Higher Power (“Ra”, supported by the Egyptian priests with their magic and wizardry). On the other side, we have Moses and his Higher Power (“I Am”, The God of Israel).
After a lengthy exchange of curses and counter-curses, we come to the climax. Moses tells Rameses that if there are to be any more curses, that it will be by his (Rameses’) command. Rameses, thinking himself clever, decrees that curse. He declares that the first-born child of each Israelite family will die. Moses is a first-born son.
What came next was the most disconcerting scene to 5-year-old “me”. We kids called it the “vapor of death”. It appears to ooze out of the moon and descends on the city. As the mist touches people in the street, they scream and crumple to the ground. At age 5, I was terrified of this scene. By the time I was a teen I was just morbidly amused. Still, it made a powerful impression.
In response to Rameses’ curse, Moses instructs the children of Israel to place lamb’s blood (representing the sacrifice of Christ–the Lamb of God) on their doorposts to signal the angel of death to pass by their household.
Do you remember this scene?
Moses and his family are gathered in a room. The door is opened to allow Joshua to enter, and Moses says “Eleazar, do not look. Close the door and let death pass”. Then the door is shut.
Were Moses and his family standing in a holy place? And what would have happened if they had moved out of that special holy place on that particular night?
We find out few moments later as we see a house where there is no lamb’s blood on the doorpost; the creepy green vapor enters the house. Then we hear the screams of the first-born occupants of the house as they die. What made the difference and kept the Israelites safe while the first-born Egyptians died?
- The people were given an instruction from God (their Higher Power) that would keep them safe
- They realized that they were powerless to save themselves without help from their Higher Power. (If this sounds familiar…it’s a paraphrase of Step 1 from the 12-Step Program.)
- They created a “holy place” by following God’s instructions (involving the blood of the lamb) and then prayed for deliverance
- And finally, they gathered together, stood in their holy place, and were not moved
Example 2–Daniel and the Lion’s Den
I’m sure you remember the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Let’s do a quick review:
Daniel was not only a prophet, but also a highly influential political leader. He had been placed in a position of high power by King Darius.
Knowing that Daniel was a man of God, his political enemies staged a little “set-up”. They talked the king into signing a decree banning prayer, knowing that Daniel would continue to pray to God. The decree included a death sentence as punishment for those offending the law.
Daniel’s enemies spied on him and when Daniel was caught praying, they had him arrested and brought before the king. King Darius reluctantly pronounced sentence and cast Daniel into the lion’s den. As Daniel was cast into the lion’s den, King Darius said to him “…Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” (Daniel 6:16)
The king did not sleep all that night, but instead spent the night fasting and praying. Early in the morning he “went in haste” to the lion’s den. The king called out to Daniel and asked if he was still alive.
“Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.
“My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
“Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den.
“So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”Daniel 6:20-23
Let’s contrast these two examples.
The children of Israel were able to choose and prepare their holy place before staying there and standing firm. Daniel had no chance to prepare his holy place or choose it’s location.
Take a look at this picture…does this look like a “holy place”? And yet to Daniel, this dreary and dangerous pit became holy; a place where an unbelievable miracle took place, and where he received the grace of his “higher power’, The God of Israel.
Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve has said:
“…when you have to, you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, let me say that even a little stronger: You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.–Jeffery R. Holland (Lessons from Liberty Jail, BYU 2008-2009 Speeches)
Daniel did NOT get to pick his “holy place” or to prepare it. He had no choice but to trust in God, stand fast, and not be moved. Through Daniel’s belief in his Higher Power, by the power of prayers of those who cared about him (Darius), and by the ministering of angels and the grace of Jehovah, he was protected from danger.
Meet STEP 1
A journey of 1000 miles begins with step one. No, I didn’t stutter, and I didn’t misspeak…STEP ONE, not “one step”. Without accomplishing Step 1, there is no hope (which as luck would have it is Step 2).
Step 1 states that you must “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.” In other words, you cannot overcome your addiction by yourself. You need the help of a higher power.
Remember where I started today? Sin. Stigma. Shame. And PRIDE. “I can do it myself” is the polar opposite of Step 1. And why is it so powerful?
I’d seen glimpses of my addictive tendencies since I was very small. Even in my early teens, I had some premonition that if I ever started using intoxicants on a regular basis, there would be a problem. Later, when I became a professional musician, the accepted pathway to success led me through every bar in town and to every drug and alcohol infested private party…sometimes four or five or even six times a week.
Because of my pride, I had the mindset: “I know the rules, I have the gift of the Holy Ghost, I’m strong enough to DO THIS MYSELF and my surroundings will not affect me“.
Guess what…? It doesn’t matter who you are, YOUR SURROUNDINGS DO AFFECT YOU!
Step 1 teaches us that addiction makes our life unmanageable. It’s imperative that you arrange your life in such a way not to trigger your addictions. Knowing Step 1 means you need to choose not go places you shouldn’t, even if you think your Higher Power is with you. And even if you think you have the best reasons in the world (like your profession, your friends, etc.) to leave the protection of your holy places.
Because I left my holy places and ventured into bars several nights a week, I did not always receive God’s protection. My addictions DID make my life unmanageable, and I was powerless because I was without the protection of my Higher Power.
What will your Higher Power do for you?
If you are already on the path to recovery and/or have a firm knowledge of who your higher power is, the story of Moses and the children of Israel is for you.
You know you are in mortal danger (and that by yourself you are powerless to protect yourself). However, you also know there is a plan for your protection. You know you will be strengthened by your Higher Power as you struggle to stay clean and sober.
We have been given an inspired set of instructions for success (the Gospel of Christ, and the 12 steps). You have the ability to mark your doorposts with the blood of the Savior. You can prepare your holy place, and with your family, friends and others in your support group, you can “…gather together and stand in holy places”. This process will prepare you to make Christ’s atonement of effect in your life. His light will guide your efforts. You will feel the light and power of YOUR higher power. Your afflictions will be made bearable, and your addictions made manageable.
But what if you are like I was…angry at God, too proud to ask for help, and not particularly interested in leaving the lion’s den? Daniel’s story is for you!
Or what if you are like my friend Joe? Remember what he said? “I had no religious beliefs. All I had was a desire to quit using alcohol and drugs. Sometimes a person will not even have the desire. “
In this case, the story of Daniel applies. We have been cast into a pit which we can’t get out of by ourselves. We are surrounded by deadly forces that are both capable of and likely to take our very life. But we still have a higher power. Daniel had King Darius…somebody who cared for him and was concerned for his welfare. Darius was on the outside looking in with great concern. He prayed and fasted for Daniel’s well being. And his prayers were answered as an angel visited Daniel and shut the lions’ mouths.
Like Daniel, you have caring people around you…friends, family, employers, clergy members, and so forth. Whether you know or appreciate it, they care about you. Like King Darius in Daniel’s story, they are looking in from the outside. They are praying and fasting for your well being. And as I’ve discussed in a previous post “Addicts and Angels…An Introduction” they have the power to call down angels to bind the lions’ mouths and save you from certain destruction.
Everybody’s relationship with their Higher Power is personal and unique
Let me finish by telling you about MY higher power. I know that I am a literal spirit child of God, and that He is my loving Heavenly Father. He cares for and about me on an individual basis. He has a plan for me. He will inspire me through the power of the Holy Ghost to accomplish this plan. He has strengthened me and guided me by his grace, and he will do it for you too.
I have an unshakable knowledge that Jesus Christ is my savior. His atonement is the primary agent of change for me as I have finally found some success in my life-long struggle with alcoholism. I have no doubt (and you already know this if you’ve spent any time on ChangeOfHeart.LIFE) that my higher power IS my Savior, Jesus Christ. His atonement is the power that has helped me overcome my alcoholism. He suffered not only for my sins, but for my pains, weaknesses, and infirmities. He will take away our pains and weaknesses, if only we will allow him to! Again I say, he did it for me and he will do it for you too.
Thanks again for joining me today. Please take a couple of minutes and watch the video below. It teaches about Step 1 and ties together what we’ve talked about today regarding our need for a Higher Power.
As always, I’m inspired by your stories…both of success and failure. I’m also here to help. Respond on this page (below) or drop me a private message at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE.