…can we just be Broken Together?

Empty Houses, Pt. 2 (Casting Out the Unclean Spirits)

Empty Houses, Pt. 2 (Casting Out the Unclean Spirits)

“If there’s no demon within, the demon outside can do us no harm.

–African Proverb

Welcome back to our second “Empty House” installment (You might want to read Empty Houses, Pt. 1 if you haven’t already).

Assuming this isn’t the first “Change of Heart” post you’ve read, you’ve probably already figured this out…I love finding gospel wisdom from unorthodox sources. So, I guess you shouldn’t be surprised to see this little gem pop up here:

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Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes! Uhh…No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.
Shrek: No.
Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.
Shrek: NO. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh…you both have layers…Oh. You know, not everybody likes onions.

If somebody else called me an Ogre, I’d be insulted. But this is my story, so I’ll have to tolerate the comparison. 😉 I’m pretty sure my wife Julie would agree that when I was struggling with alcoholism, I was an Ogre. They stink? Yes! Uhh…No…OK, sometimes. They make you cry? Yep. Other gross stuff? Maybe…ok, yeah, I guess so. They’re not much fun to be around, so not everybody likes them. And do they have layers like an onion? Absolutely! Lots and LOTS of layers.

If you’ve lived with and/or loved an addict, you’ll agree with Julie…the comparison to Shrek is a fair one. Gruff, grumpy and ugly on the outside, but if you peel away enough layers, you know that there’s a soft heart somewhere in there that is capable of doing good things and loving others. You just have to keep on peeling.

So let me shed a couple of my layers for you…

What We Think, We Become

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become deeds.
Watch your deeds, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.

–Attributed to Margaret Thatcher; from “The Iron Lady”

Being an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my entire life, I’ve been taught since I was a small child of the evils of drugs, alcohol, coffee, and tobacco. Growing up in a small predominantly Mormon town, it was pretty easy to avoid these substances–it actually took considerable effort to get them, and most of my friends were pretty good kids too. So, it wasn’t horribly difficult to stay straight until high school graduation.

Those of you who have grown up “Mormon” probably know something of the pressures a young man starts to feel as his 19th birthday approaches. For those who don’t know, worthy young men are eligible to serve as church missionaries at age 19. Almost all of my male cousins served a mission and it was assumed I’d follow suit. Part of me wanted to go, part of me didn’t. Being a “muddled teen”, my thought processes were… well… muddled.

The Muddled Mind…

I thrive on pleasing people…I couldn’t just go to my parents and grandparents and say, “I don’t want to go on a mission”. THAT would not be pleasing or pleasant. No, that wouldn’t do! Hmmm…what to do? What would keep me from going on a mission without having to have the “missionary discussion” (lol) with my parents. And then the muddled mind heard the voice of the adversary whispering: “People who smoke and drink coffee and alcohol aren’t allowed to go on missions”. Oooh…I could work with that. And just like that, my addiction-prone soul started the slow left turn toward the dark side.

I’m not sure why I was comfortable with “I’m not worthy to go on a mission” when I was not comfortable with just saying “I don’t WANT to go on a mission”, but now the thought was there, and I thought about it A LOT.

And it’s true…What we think is what we become.

And so it began… as a college student, access to “forbidden” substances was so much easier. At least I had enough common sense to not get into drugs, but soon alcohol, coffee, and tobacco were a part of life. My upbringing caused me some major guilt, and my consumption levels of alcohol were pretty low, but I could feel the cravings even then.

In an upcoming post, we’ll chat about what I call “Ministering Angels”, and I’ll share more details of this story. To be brief, I’ll just say that I experienced the first of several spiritual awakenings. I suppressed (but did not treat or beat) what would prove to be a life-long challenge.

As I prepared for my mission, I thought my addictions were very difficult to overcome. In hindsight, I’d have given anything to have it be that easy to quit the next time…or the next…or the next!

I quit smoking cold-turkey with only a couple of “false starts”. Step 10 in the LDS 12-step program is “Daily Accountability”, and my girl-friend (someday to be my wife) Julie was a great help with my accountability. I knew every day that I’d have to report to her that evening on how I was doing. And I couldn’t lie to her, because all she needed to do to verify my tobacco-free status was to give me a kiss–the smell and taste would give me away. It went pretty well, but my cravings were intense and although I never went back to smoking, my daily cravings continued pretty much for the entire duration of my mission and beyond. It eventually got better, but 25 years later, I’d still crave a cigarette if I was having a bad day.

There’s the back-story…now lets talk about those empty houses!

Jesus Teaches about Empty Houses

Christ is a master teacher, and the more I learn, the more I recognize the sheer genius of his parables. Most people recognize the most popular parables (for example, the “Prodigal Son” or “The Parable of the Talents”); some are less familiar. I’m sure I’d read the parable of the empty house before, but it never really jumped out at me until now… as it turns out, it’s a brilliant explanation of how Satan can take over the addiction-prone mind.

Here’s how it goes:

“43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he [the unclean spirit] walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

“44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

“45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first…”

Matthew 12:43-45

It may seem that Jesus was telling ghost stories here, but the parable makes it’s appearance in Matthew’s gospel just shortly after several incidences of Christ casting unclean spirits out of people. In fact, the Pharisees who he shared this parable with were discussing what power was used to cast spirits out just prior to Jesus giving this parable to them, so it was totally in context for him to discuss casting out devils.

The prophet Nephi tells us that we should “Liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).

So, let me outline for you how this parable played out in my life.

With prayer, repentance, and lots of help from priesthood leaders and loved ones, I reached the point where I was worthy and felt comfortable with the idea of going on my mission. Unfortunately, I still had not reached the point where I really FELT the full power of the atonement. As a result, my mission was (unbeknownst to me at the time) a microcosm of my life to come. Soaring joy and deep pain. Obedience and blessings…disobedience and consequences. Intense focus and frustrating distraction. Starting strong and struggling to endure to the end.

As happens with many callings to gospel service, I was blessed with an extra measure of the spirit and received special spiritual gifts to help me in my calling. It was an amazing experience. I assumed my addictions were officially a thing of the past.

I returned from my mission, still on a spiritual high. Within 6 months I married Julie in the Ogden Temple. I naively thought that I’d “arrived”; I had accomplished some major spiritual goals. I’d worked hard. I thought “Gee, I deserve a break!”.

Good Intentions

I did not go out looking to sin, but I was not working actively to increase my spirituality. Little did I realize that…

“…in the gospel of Jesus Christ there is no neutral ground. You are either moving forward or you are moving backwards. If you say, ‘I am going to take a break,’ you are really moving backwards.”

–Stephen W. Owen, Young Men’s General President

I had, in the words of the Empty House parable, cast out the unclean spirit, and he had wandered, seeking rest and finding none. I actually made him wander for quite a while. He returned to find my house “empty, swept, and garnished”. In other words, I had cleaned the place up, redecorated it, and it was a nice spot! I had remodeled it and made more living space inside. But…I was not filling it with things that would keep the unclean spirit from wanting to move back in.

In fact, it looked so good, he invited seven of his demon buddies to come in and be his room-mates.

Seven Other Spirits, Even More Wicked Than Himself…

When I quit drinking before my mission, I was still under-age and my access to alcohol was still limited. I may have had 1 or 2 drinks every weekend. After my mission, it took me several years to fall, but once I gave in and started again, I was drinking 1 or 2 drinks every night (do the math…that’s literally the original sin times seven).

After a year or two, I felt guilty, cast the unclean spirits out (again), and went straight for a time. Long enough to repent a little, attempt to increase my spirituality a little, etc. But it didn’t last, and the next time I fell off the wagon, each of the seven demons brought seven more. 1 or 2 drinks a night turned into a half-pint of liquor per night. I was in total despair, and although I still knew God and Jesus lived and loved me, I was also convinced that I was beyond their help.

By the time I finally sobered up about 10 years later I was up to about a pint of liquor per night. It was affecting my health to the point that the blood donation center black-listed me because my blood chemistry and liver enzymes were off the charts and my blood was unusable for transfusions. This was a wake-up call, but I still couldn’t make myself stop.

Even though I’d stopped praying, stopped asking for help, and pretty much abandoned myself to destruction, I still had a loving Heavenly Father (and several loving ministering angels) who hadn’t given up. In answer to faithful prayers by Julie and other loved ones, the Lord placed me in a position where I felt OBLIGATED to go (and stay) straight.

“I can do it MYSELF”…

As I mentioned in my very first post here (“The Labels That We Wear”), I still hadn’t completely caught the vision, and thanked God for my new lease on life, but still basically told him “I’ve got this…I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” It took nearly 10 years of “forced sobriety” before my heart was broken enough and my spirit was contrite enough to recognize the truth. That truth is:

“The Atonement of Jesus Christ does not just provide a way to clean up messes; it provides the purpose and desire to avoid making more messes. The Atonement doesn’t allow us to ignore our appetites or pretend they don’t matter, but to educate and elevate them.”

–Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Atonement

I spent 30-something years in an empty house of my own making. Then in a period of about 6 months, I FILLED MY EMPTY HOUSE!

In our next chat (and the conclusion to the Empty House series) we’ll get specific on what to put in the house, and some of the logistics for getting there.

For now, if you’re where I once was, remember YOU ARE LITERALLY A CHILD OF GOD! I testify to you that he is a loving father who wants you to succeed and return to him.

Learning to Walk

When my children were learning to walk, I didn’t yell at them when they fell down. I didn’t turn my back on them and say “You’ll never walk, you shouldn’t even try!!” No, I picked them up, gave them a hug, kissed their bruised knees, stood them up, and said: “Try again”. And again…and again…and again…for as many times as it took for them to learn. Remember this example as you think of what Christ said in the sermon on the mount:

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Matthew 7:11

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you

Matthew 7:7

I offer you a promise in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ…if you humbly ask with the expectation of receiving the miracle you seek, your father who knows how to give good gifts and who can make all things possible can help you start the path to healing and will show you the way to fill your empty house with joy and meaning.

He did it for me, and he will do it for you!

As always, I’d LOVE to hear about your progress along this journey called life. Leave me a comment below, or PM me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE. And please, take a couple more minutes and check out this video–it pulls everything we’ve talked about today together beautifully:

“If there’s no demon within, the demon outside can do us no harm.

–African Proverb

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Husband. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Son. Pro Musician. Blogger. Inspirational Speaker. Mormon. And...recovering alcoholic. As a Certified Recovery Support Specialist, I share my story at ChangeOfHeart.LIFE, facilitate 12-step meetings for the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, lead Recovery Support Groups, and work for Davis Behavioral Health as part of the Recovery Support Services team.

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I've never really believed in ghosts or hauntings, but for a couple of decades, I experienced a "Haunting of the Empty House at midnight". Join…
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