Addiction Recovery in the “Age of COVID”?
Yeah, It’s a PROBLEM!
As a recovering alcoholic, I can tell you from my own experience… stay-at-home orders, business and school closures, and “social distancing” mandates are almost enough to drive a guy to drink! Clearly, not ideal for those of us who suffer from addiction.
Worst of all, my spiritual rituals were gone. No sacrament meetings, temple excursions, or LDS Addiction Recovery Program meetings.
As you can imagine, I was delighted when, a few weeks into the COVID-19 “lockdown,” the Church announced local area call-in/online video-chat options for the LDS Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) meetings. “Finally,” I thought, “We can get the support we’ve become accustomed to having.”
Then I attended my first “online” call-in meeting. I went downstairs to my home office, sat at my computer, fired up the webcam, and got ready to enjoy the Spirit that I’m accustomed to enjoying at these meetings. But oddly, I just wasn’t feeling it. It was challenging to hear some participants. The audio and video signal kept dropping out on others. Although we were discussing the same lessons, reading the same scriptures, and sharing the same testimonies, it just didn’t feel the same. I missed the smiles, the handshakes and hugs, and the personal interaction with a traditional 12-step meeting. Most distressing,
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I’m not alone in these feelings. I’ve heard from many of my “friends in recovery” that they’ve given up on LDS ARP meetings because it’s harder to feel the Lord’s spirit on a video chat or on the phone.
I totally get it. Honestly, I’d have given up after a couple of weeks if I hadn’t felt obligated to be there…because I’m a facilitator for the meeting.
However, in the past few weeks, something changed. The program didn’t change. Technology didn’t change. The teachings we discuss didn’t change. And it wasn’t the testimonies that were shared or the people who were sharing them that were different.
The problem, quite frankly, was ME.
So…I changed. And honestly, the fix was pretty simple. Today I’d like to take a couple of minutes, explain the problem, and more importantly, discuss the solution. I pray that we can ALL benefit from what I’m about to share.
What do you think of when I say “Sacred Space”?
Many people would consider these to be sacred spaces.
Perhaps you have not thought of it this way:
The LDS concept of addiction recovery is about finding SACRED SPACES…in our minds, spirits, and physical bodies. One of the hallmarks of our Addiction Recovery Program meetings is that we traditionally hold these meetings in places (churches, seminary/institute buildings, etc.) that have been set apart and dedicated as sacred spaces.
In short…it’s easy to feel the spirit in these places.
Remember my description of my first online ARP meeting? The meeting I was SO excited to be attending? My home office is downstairs, in a dark, windowless corner. My current office is in a finished basement, so the walls are paneled and the floors carpeted. The room is climate-controlled, but it still reminds me of something far more sinister:
When I was actively drinking, guess where I drank…? That’s right—in front of my computer in a dark corner of an unfinished basement.
News Flash: In case you haven’t figured this out yet,
TRIGGERS ARE JUST PLAIN WEIRD!
Without even realizing it, I was being triggered to use alcohol even as I sat down to participate in what was intended to be a religious gospel experience. The same (or similar) setting where I previously used mind-altering substances was NOT a great place to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ as you talk about addiction recovery.
As I participate in video-chat ARP meetings, I see people who, in need of privacy, are locked in their bedroom or other isolating space…sitting in the same chair where they view (or used to view) pornography or sitting on the same bed where they’ve passed out after using drugs or alcohol.
Not a good way to invite the Lord’s spirit to join us!
When I realized what was happening, I resolved to solve the problem. I set out to find my own SACRED SPACE. Changing my physical location during ARP call-in meetings has made all the difference. I now feel the same sweet spirit that I feel at in-person meetings (which, by the way, is the same sweet spirit that I feel in the Temple!).
This is what my sacred space looks like.
It may seem a little morbid, so please indulge me while I tell you why this is my sacred space:
In the late ‘80s, I started to drink alcohol occasionally, and by 1991 I was a daily drinker. I was self-medicating for chronic pain and mental health issues and was convinced that what I was doing was medicinal. I did not begin to contemplate recovery until late in 2007 when a “random” series of events awakened me to what I was doing. These random spiritual experiences continued until the spring 2008 when I was finally ready to talk to my bishop about my drinking problem. Although I did not achieve full sobriety until early 2018 (yup…TEN years later!), these experiences are the genesis of my recovery story.
What else happened in late 2007??
Look at the death date on this tombstone. My grandpa—Don Porter Brough, died on November 4th, 2007. His arrival on the other side of the veil coincided precisely with those “random spiritual experiences” in my life. I passionately believe that this was NOT a coincidence. This was (literally) my “kick me in the butt when I’m doing something wrong,” grandpa. Ever since his passing, it seems I feel his steel-toed work boot on my backside whenever I’m doing something wrong! President Joseph F. Smith said,
“Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their friends and relatives upon the earth again, bringing from the divine presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof or instruction, to those whom they have learned to love in the flesh”.–Joseph F. Smith, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1959, p. 436, emphasis added)
Although I greatly respected Grandpa Brough when he was alive, I was not close to him emotionally. Still, it seems fitting that he would be called to warn and reprove me from beyond the grave. Unexpected though it is, Grandpa Brough’s gravesite has become my sacred space…quiet, peaceful, private, and a beautiful natural location. And… to me, it significantly connects to my recovery. So every Tuesday night for the past few weeks, I’ve been driving up to the cemetery, parking my car, and conducting my ARP meeting there. And guess what?? That “temple-level” feeling of the spirit is back…full force, despite the funky audio quality and occasional dropouts in the tech we’re using to share our testimonies with others.
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. According to the Church seminary manual (published in 2017):
“...Holy places are locations where we can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost, which helps us draw near to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and to learn of Them.”-LDS Church History Seminary Manual, Lesson #90
So… what do you do if you can’t change your physical location?
When speaking of Joseph Smith’s incarceration in Liberty Jail, Elder Jeffery R. Holland pointed this out:
“…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.”-Elder Jeffery R. Holland, Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (Lessons from Liberty Jail, Sept. 7, 2008) emphasis added
Addiction recovery is an exercise in CHANGE.
Elder Holland taught that if you can’t change your place, you can still convert your place into a sacred space.
If you can’t change your location, change your ritual. Start your own personal Addiction Recovery Meeting experience a few minutes before you log in to the chat.
- Kneel in prayer. Ask the Lord to grant you his spirit, and ask him to help you hear and feel the things that will help you change your life and heart.
- Read and ponder a scripture. At the end of each chapter in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program manual, there is a section titled Study and Understanding. Pick and read a scripture from the chapter we will discuss (or the step you are currently working on). Quietly think about this scripture for a couple of minutes and write down your thoughts and impressions.
- Listen to inspirational music. The video archives in the Gospel Library app and on ChurchOfJesusChrist.org are excellent resources. As an example, I’ve included one of my favorite “spirit starters” here.
The most potent “treatment” for addiction does not come from a bottle, a needle, or a pill…it involves sacred spaces. And one of the most beneficial sacred spaces available to treat the affliction of addiction is the LDS Addiction Recovery Meetings.
The 12 Steps to recovery are detailed directions on how to fully repent and to take maximum advantage of the Power of Christ’s Atonement.
I have an unshakable knowledge that Jesus Christ is my savior. His atonement is my primary agent of change as I have finally found a measure of success in my life-long struggle with alcoholism. 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. I know he will take away our pains and weaknesses if only we allow him to!
Again I say, he did it for me, and I know
he will do it for you too.
So…if you have given up on the ARP during Covid-19, try changing where you sit before you try to
change where you stand with God.
Prayerfully pick a sacred, private spot where the Spirit can be unrestrained, prepare yourself, then open up your smartphone and call in…
I promise you’ll feel the difference!