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November 8, 2015

One Day at a Time: Living in the Present

One of my favorite sayings in 12-step meetings is "one day at a time." Interestingly, I used to hate this saying and thought it was nonsense. I came into the recovery scene with a load of past regrets and future worries. My whole life was a mess and I needed a solution that would fix more than just the problems I was facing for the current 24-hour period. I needed a miracle. But over time, I began to see that so much of my "big problems" stemmed from my inability to focus in on the present day and simply take things one day at a time. In viewing the past, I hung on to resentment, guilt and shame. I re-lived past mistakes or confrontations over and over in my head, trying to come up with a better script for the way it played out. I engaged in a lot of "if only this would've happened, then I would be happy right now" kind of thinking. I spent so much time living and thinking in the past. When it came to the future, I worried even more. I feared upcoming deadlines, tests, interviews, social interactions, expectations, dates, reunions, etc. I would try to anticipate the details of those events and come up with schemes as to how I could best navigate them to ensure my success. I thought, "if only I can prepare and handle this situation correctly (or avoid it altogether), then my life would be good." Both ways of thinking kept my head constantly in the past or the future, but rarely in the present. As it says in the AA Big Book, “the grouch and the brainstorm” are the luxuries of non-addict men and women but they are not for us. When I am a “grouch,” I’m living in resentment of the past. When my head is in a “brainstorm” of worry and anxiety, I’m living in the fear of uncertain future possibilities.

In Step 4, I made an inventory listing my resentments, fears and harms towards others. Resentments and harms towards others summed up most of the past issues I was worrying about all my life. These were things that I did or someone else did to me that I still had emotional discomfort about. I needed to let go of them, because they were continually dragging my heart and mind back into the past, which is a place where I have no control. All I could do was wallow in regret, which for an addict is a set up for relapse.

Fears were the negative emotions I had directed toward the future at events that were yet to even happen. They were the what ifs and endless possibilities that were merely floating around in my busy imagination. Letting go of them has been more challenging, but any fear I let go of is one less burden I have to carry. It’s easy for me to have fears even in my recovery work. I may get a certain length of sobriety under my belt and then grow confident or anxious about the next big milestone (30 days, 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, etc.). What helps me deal with this is to remember that the greatest length of sobriety I can ever achieve is 24 hours. That’s it. We may say we have days, months or years of sobriety, but really we wake up each morning with a clean slate and 24 hours ahead of us that we need to navigate with God’s help in order to stay sober. Many days I’ve had to be content with just making it sober through that day until my head hits the pillow knowing that the next morning would be a fresh start.

The other way fear manifests in my recovery work comes about from me constructing long to-do lists for myself and committing to extreme recovery plans. This may be well-intentioned, but too much “planning for the future” can also set me up for relapse, as it steals my focus away from the here and now. I’ve heard it said that “if you want to make God laugh, make plans” - suggesting that our best plans are usually way off of what God actually has in store for our lives. We can spend so much time and energy trying to secure a certain goal for ourselves, when really, do we even know if that’s what’s best for us? Don’t get me wrong- goals, commitments and plans are important, but they alone don’t keep me clean and sober. Praying, fasting, studying, serving, strengthening relationships, journaling today is what keeps me close to God today. The less I worry about the past or future, the more available I am to focus on those duties I have today. After all, today is the only arena in which I can exercise my agency. I have zero control over the past and I have far less power over the future than I think I do. I can only make choices now in the present moment that will leave behind a more peaceful past and prepare me for a useful tomorrow.

Through work in recovery and the Gospel, I've come to see that taking things a day at time and living more in the present is essential to not only my sobriety, but to my spiritual well-being and happiness. There's a growing emphasis on this way of living in mainstream culture. "Practicing mindfulness," meditation, "living in the now," and "being present" are all ways of encouraging people to focus more on the present day in order to live a richer life with less stress. Most importantly, this idea is taught clearly by the Savior who said, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." (Matt. 6:34) I truly believe that Christ was perfect at being present in the moment and that this allowed Him to discern people's concerns and reach them like no one else could. It allowed Him to be one with God and to be always engaged in the work of His Father.

I'll close with an excerpt from The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. If you are unfamiliar with the book, you need to know that Screwtape, the voice of this passage, is an evil character and is mentoring a young demon on how to best destroy Christians. The “Enemy” they refer to in this passage is actually God Himself. This passage is long, but the thoughts are powerful.

FROM The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis:

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

"Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays... Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us) is already over. The pleasure is just the part of the process which we regret and would exclude if we could do so without losing the sin; it is the part contributed by the Enemy, and therefore experienced in a Present. The sin, which is our contribution, looked forward.

"To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too — just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s word is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present... We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

October 26, 2015


“It’s easier to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.”

I heard this saying often growing up. It was often used in Sunday school or quorum meetings when talking about the decision to choose once and for all not to participate in some kind of negative behavior. It was better to avoid the experience or pain of the consequences and instead make a moral commitment to stay away from the wrong choices to begin with. This principle obviously relates to pornography addiction as well and it’s usually related to the idea of boundaries. I’ll spare you the Webster dictionary definition and instead offer my own thoughts of boundaries as they relate to recovery.

September 29, 2015

Lust and Wanting to Be Lusted After

When I was first humbled enough by my addiction to pornography and masturbation that I was willing to attend 12-step meetings I truly believed that these were my only real problems. If I could just stop these two bad habits, then I would be right back on course to having a complete, highly functioning life. All was well except for this pesky pornography problem. I had no idea that my sexual behavior was but a symptom of deeper root causes and conditions, such as pride, fear, resentment, unhealthy relationships, and low self-esteem. Attending meetings regularly, connecting with other brothers, studying recovery literature, and most importantly, working the steps with a sponsor all helped me realize that I had deeper issues. Acting out sexually was definitely causing pain and destruction, but so were my attitudes and relationships towards God, myself, and others.

September 22, 2015

Response to the 39-Year Old

In response to "Lost With No Hope?" post from earlier this week, a reader submitted the following reply:

"You are not alone. One of the greatest tools that the adversary uses on the addict is debilitating isolation. He wants you to feel like you are exempt from our Savior's light. I felt that way too.

I felt like I couldn't let out all of my mistakes, that my goals and scripture reading was a joke, that I was week because I couldn't control my thoughts, tendencies and desires. I felt like I was just screwed up and for whatever reason my heart just could be filled with Christ's light to stop.

You may have also feel like there is no way out. The shame is too gripping. Call a spade a spade, those are lies!

Reaching out in this forum is a great start. I suggest you start attending some arp meetings and see you truly are not alone. Some meetings are better than others, but before you make a final judgement give a particular meeting 6 tries, if nothing said there is helpful, try a different one.

I promise you are not alone, that someone, somewhere has exactly the method for showing you how to practice the atonement in your life so He can free you from the bondage of self. You can do it, but not alone. Best wishes!"

September 21, 2015

Willingness and Choosing Sobriety Daily

I look at being willing as basically a decision or choice. Am I willing to abstain or not? I don't think that's a complex question or a matter of degrees. We like to complicate it and rationalize why we aren't stopping and staying stopped. There have been days where we were willing to abstain and we did. But if I think back to some of the last relapses I had, was I really willing to abstain those days? If I was honest with myself, I was anticipating or flirting with acting out sometimes days before I actually did it. I stopped wanting to be sober.

I stopped being willing. There may be some part of me that thought I was fighting for sobriety because I was going through the motion, maybe even going to meetings or reading scriptures or something. However, I must not have really wanted God because I consciously neglected right choices, moved away from God and others, and then chose to act out. I lacked willingness those days. I can promise you that my top priority in life was not my desire to stay sober and feel the Spirit. This doesn't mean that if I'm willing to be sober and work recovery that I'll somehow be 100% spiritual all day everyday. That's impossible and to have that expectation is false. That's just the old idea that if we work hard enough and live good enough that we can save ourselves from ever messing up again. That's not how it works.

Being willing is a choice of humility and priority that shows God what we want and that we will do anything HE asks to get it if it is HIS will. Willingness does not give me perfect actions, but a sincere willingness will be reflected in the choices I do and don't make. For me, that means every morning I wake up and ask myself if I want to be sober today. I have to make that decision every day because it doesn't always carry over from the previous day. Am I truly willing to abstain each day? Because no one will keep me sober if I don't want to be.

September 20, 2015

Lost With No Hope?

We recently received the following from an anonymous poster:

"I am 38 in 5 days I will be 39 years old I have never been married. I have been addicted to one thing or another for my entire life beginning at the age of about 9 years old. I have had mental problems my entire life mostly stemming from addiction, or stemming from mental, to addiction back and forth what do I do? I don't have anything good to say here to help anybody else out. I need a support group. I need to go back to church. I feel that if I don't, [it's] going to be seriously seriously bad." - Anonymous.

There are answers to his questions, and there is much help available! If any of our readers would like to offer some suggestions, please submit an anonymous post in reply. There are so many individuals out there who feel the same way as this 39 year old. Please submit your post by clicking here:

September 13, 2015

Giving Up Weapons of Rebellion

“The Anti-Nephi-Lehies in the Book of Mormon laid down their weapons of war and buried them deep in the earth, covenanting never again to take up arms against their brethren. But they did more than that. “They became a righteous people” because “they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more.”   Their conversion was so complete and so profound that they “never did fall away.” 
But before their conversion, remember their state: they were living in what the scriptures call “open rebellion against God.”  Their rebellious hearts sentenced them to live “in a state contrary to the nature of happiness” because they had “gone contrary to the nature of God.” 
When they laid down their weapons of rebellion, they qualified themselves for the Lord’s healing and peace, and so can we. The Savior assures, “If they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks
against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.”   You and I can accept His invitation to “return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal [you].”  “

From “Come unto Me with Full Purpose of Heart, and I Shall Heal You”
Elder Patrick Kearon
Of the Seventy
October 2010 General Conference

I imagine the people of Ammon really had to think twice about burying their swords in the earth. What if they needed them someday? How cool or rich or popular or powerful could they really be without a sword? Wouldn't their existence be boring without weapons of war? We must remember that the pain of sacrifice lasts only a small moment. It is the fear of the pain of the sacrifice that actually keeps us from doing what we know to be best for us. A principle my past sponsor told me was this: Whatever it is that you're the most resistant to let go of at this moment is probably the very thing in your life that needs to be cut out. I've found that to be true in my personal life time and time again. Holding a grudge to someone in my family? Let it go. Still listening to music with profanity in it? Delete it from my music library and throw away the CD. Inappropriate flirting with a classmate? Cut it off. Clinging to that last stash of pornographic images, whether it be a physical collection under our bed or simply a lustful fantasy in our minds? Time to surrender it up and abstain. I use the word "sacrifice," but that's a deceiving word because I always get more than I give up when I sacrifice to follow the Holy Ghost. 

A quote from the Big Book:
"But then my "rights" try to move in, and they too can force my serenity level down. I have to discard my "rights," as well as my expectations, by asking myself, How important is it, really? How important is it compared to my serenity, my emotional sobriety? And when I place more value on my serenity and sobriety than on anything else, I can maintain them at a higher level-at least for the time being."

September 8, 2015

Consistency in Daily Recovery

It's natural to have ebbs and flows in our daily routine of recovery work. We can't expect to feel like Nephi or Captain Moroni every morning and night. It’s ok to be human, and as a human, we get tired sometimes. We get bored. Sometimes routines can feel little stale. Not every 12-step meeting will move us spiritually. However, we can't afford to skate through the program either if we want to stay sober and grow along spiritual lines.

The Pain of Recovery or the Pain of Regret

"We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

-Jim Rohn

Of the many quotes, slogans and sayings that I’ve heard tossed around in 12-step meetings, this one is easily one of my favorites. One of the greatest lies of sex addiction (and addictions in general) is that we can somehow find an alternate path in life that is completely pain-free. Many of us resort to our addictions to numb or escape. We may be reaching out to feel a rush, a high or a temporary sense of power or control, because our life seems to be lacking those things. Essentially, we seek a false world or virtual reality, where the laws of God and rules of life don’t have effect on us. We want to maintain a crisp, clean Mormon life with all its accompanying blessings (marriage, family, priesthood, church service) AND at the same time have the thrills and pleasures of the world. Obviously, this thinking is deeply flawed and the feelings and consequences that follow any degree of relapse into addictive behavior quickly bring us back to the reality and remind us that there are no free rides. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t have it both ways.

August 24, 2015

Making Phone Calls and Staying Sober

If you’ve attended even a few 12-step meetings, you’ve undoubtedly heard people talk about the value of making phone calls to other addicts outside of the meetings. This is a practice that is far more emphasized in community-based groups than in PASG or ARP, but it’s been one of the most effective tools I’ve found to stay sober. I know many other recovering addicts who also stress the importance of making calls.

August 9, 2015

Why is it Important to Attend 12 Step Meetings?

Why is it important to attend a regular 12 step meeting? This question seems to pop up sooner or later to the recovering addict who is attending meetings. At some point, other personal interests or family interests seem to become more important than the meeting. The recovering individual may rationalize skipping a single meeting, and then after missing a few more meetings it becomes very easy to stop going all together. If the recovering addict is staying "abstinent" even without meetings, it is easy to wonder why he or she should return.

There are many reasons why I regularly attend 12 step meetings, I would like to share a few:

June 21, 2015

Letting Go of the Things I Cannot Change: Identify, Accept, & Surrender

It is easy to get worked up about feelings and temptations. In the early days of my recovery, I often found myself focusing on how I felt, and often, that would lead me back to relapse. I would obsess over trying to find out why I felt a certain way, or why I was tempted by a certain something. Over the years of sobriety, which I found through the 12 Steps, I have come to find more peace through a new design for living. I no longer obsess over my feelings, and I have found relief from the compulsion to act on temptations.

Feelings come and go, and temptations come and go; that is a fact of life! For the most part, I have little control over the feelings I feel, or the temptations that come my way. In the Serenity Prayer, it talks about "accepting the things I cannot change". Can I change my feelings on demand? Not really. Can I change my temptations on demand? No. Instead, what I can do is the following: