The Other Side of Addiction — Give it to God

Talk in Sacrament 9/18/16

As members of Christ’s church, we are a people who try to strive daily to commune with God, live His principles, and be worthy of His Grace.   But we are no exception to the devastating talons of addiction.  And ANYTHING can become an addiction! The list is not limited to drugs or alcohol or pornography!  Every General Conference brings admonitions from our Prophet and Church leaders to those of us that are afflicted as warnings and pleadings to turn away, come unto Christ, and shed the shackles that bind us.

We know from our Leaders and scriptures that the only way to completely overcome anything in life is to give it to God by truly accepting–and living by–and fully grasping–the absolute power of The Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Life is oftentimes not easy.  There is so much that hurts, so many that are wounded, so many that are suffering.

What I have to share today is honest and very candid.  I’m sure you have discussed with your chidren the dangers of drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and what addiction can do to themselves or others.  Drinking alcohol at first may seem fun; but, truly, alcohol or drugs could very well be a deadly weapon–and there is a consequence to every choice.  Sometimes, very serious consequences.

It is not my intent here to point fingers, or minimize the heartache of those suffering from such pain.  My prayer is that I can humbly, carefully, and lovingly present another side of this story.  Please know I respect and appreciate each one of us as a very special and unique child of God.  We all have problems; no one is exempt.  We all carry labels.  We all suffer.  We all experience pain.

My daughter is a very severe alcoholic who is now in the terminal stages of alcoholism.  “Terminal” in her case means that she is a “black-out” drinker.  With the first few drinks of alcohol she becomes oblivious to her actions but is still capable of consuming more and more alcohol.  She does not know when to stop and in the past, has consumed enough alcohol to reach a .44 blood alcohol level.  Not many people survive a blood alcohol level above .20—especially if they are not used to alcohol consumption.  At .44, nearly half my daughter’s blood is alcohol—and as she is still somewhat coherent and capable of drinking more due to her high alcohol tolerance, she could swallow just one more drink and unknowingly and unintentionally push herself right over the edge to respiratory failure.  This is a very critical and dangerous stage of alcoholism.

My daughter (is sitting in this chapel today and) has given me permission to refer to our story in hopes that these words may help even one wounded heart.  Earlier this year, my daughter’s, and our family’s story was aired on television.  It is our united goal to do all we can in this joint effort to help those who are addicted, and those who live with the addicted one. We understand the pain.  We understand the grief.

I’d like to address today the other side of addiction: the impact that the afflicted one’s behavior may have on other family members who struggle desperately in what seems often, utter hopelessness.  This may or may not always be the case; and I am not the judge and jury.  To stereotype every addict or addict’s family in this category would be unfair.

I am very familiar with the oftentimes on-going egregious behavior of an addict.  For 12 years now, I have been intimately involved with the merciless and selfish side of an alcoholic.  I am not an expert in this field; I am a mother.  So, what I share with you today comes from my heart, not from the annals of academia or educated professionals about the science of addiction, nor do I profess I have the solutions for those who are touched by addiction.

I have gained, however, an extensive and intellectual education of this disease by studying many books, and more specifically, the research of Dr. Kevin McCauley, an LDS medical doctor in SLC who is a great proponent of our LDS 12-Step Addiction Recovery program.  Dr. McCauley reveals how the body reacts to addiction in his DVD called, “Pleasure Unwoven.”  God bless him for making his research available to us via the Mormon Channel.  It helps to know how the brain is affected by the biological consequences and progression of this disease.  In all my research, however, I am far from being an expert and offer only my experience on this path.

As the addict is robbed of joy, happiness, self-worth, success, family, and health—and ultimately, sometimes life itself–so it is with those who love and live with the addicted one. Their lives can also be just as tormented and devastated.

When carrying such pain, addressing horrendous stress and overwhelming issues associated with alcoholism, I asked God if it is truly possible to give my grief to Him.  How can I bear such relentless and often insane behaviors and burdens—especially being single with no priesthood holder to help me carry the load?  But as a responsible mother, how can I face these demands?  How can I maintain a Christian attitude helping to shoulder my daughter’s burdens that they may be light, or mourn with her as she mourns? (Mosiah 18:9) How can I love her unconditionally, when oftentimes she is so unlovable?

The sadness and guilt and grief of the addicted one is dreadful.  They don’t need to be told over and over or even reminded how their behavior negatively affects or destroys relationships.  They know it.  They feel it.  They live it.  Yet, still, they are overwhelmed by uncontrollable urges and cravings.  I have had many an addict tell me that they would rather face ANY other abhorrent thing than the extreme torture caused by their addictions.

On this journey I allowed my life to be consumed with anger.   I often berated her, blamed her, belittled her, reminded her of her failings—hoping to somehow awaken her to all the sadness and to all her lost potential!  She was so successful!  Underneath it all, she is so vibrant!  Underneath it all, she is such a delightful, hysterically funny and charitable person!  I love her dearly!

I was furious that she would not stop the insanity that affected ALL of our family!  I thought she deliberately turned her back on healthy choices!  I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just turn away! Make the decision!  Have enough will power!  Little did I know that addiction is often more than just making a choice and certainly much more than having will power.  And how dare I judge her!  For was it not said by our firm but loving God, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”   (3 Nephi 13:2,3, Matthew 7:1-4)

But, still, I screamed and yelled at her.  Wasn’t she even cognizant of the ignominy and reproach that surrounds addiction?   And then I would feel guilty.  “Father, please pluck these ugly weeds from my garden!  I desperately need to show her love and kindness and walk her through this devastating disease that plagues her.  But I am not capable!  I am tired and don’t have what it takes to do this!  I can’t always place beautiful roses of triumph on Your alter!  I have so many weeds and weaknesses, and I am so ill-equipped to handle this!”

I very seriously needed God to take my anger and pain.  I needed to recognize and accept my Savior’s sacrifice FOR ME!  I desperately needed to rest, re-group, define my role in my daughter’s life, and re-define me—as myself—and as her mother.  He promised He would take it!  Psalms 55:22 reads: “Cast thy burden on the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.”  But how does that feel?  What does that look like?  How do I let it all go?  How can I turn from carrying the burdens, and yet still support the one I love through her Satan-inflicted agony?  I often felt as Moses, complaining to God that I couldn’t carry these burdens any longer, and to please take me home! (Numbers 11:14,15)

Depression gripped me! I was consumed in myself and unable to appreciate the scripture God gave to sustain me in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “There have no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” But if He promised that to me, why was it so hard for me—and my daughter?  Why wouldn’t He take her temptations away and make her whole again?  Why couldn’t I bear it all? And how could I back away from her?  How could I detach and still let her know I loved her? Why was my life crumbling?

Nearly five years ago, I could barely function. I could no longer endure the enervating issues.  My health suffered from the extreme stress and it seemed like I couldn’t bear the burdens any longer.  I wondered how one actually turns things over to God.  How does one go about letting go?  I read so many books about co-dependency; I attended AA and the LDS 12-Step program for years with my daughter, and I went to Al-Anon.  Though those exceptional and inspired programs helped me tremendously, nothing helped mitigate the pain felt in the heart of this mother.  Each time my daughter would go on a binge and would pull the poison to her lips, she would get closer and closer to death. Oh, how could I bear it? How could I stand by and watch her suffer in such agony?

Nothing I had done for her worked.  There was nothing I could do to stop the progression of this disease!  I felt like I was failing as her caretaker, her steward.  And yet, in all this I didn’t realize that I was also very sick—unknowingly, I was addicted to co-dependency, and rather than allowing her to face her own consequences, I oftentimes ran to save her, taking the pain from her, thinking I should shoulder her burdens and consequences myself as her mother!  Anyone who loves an addict knows supporting them can be a tricky thing at times.  There’s a fine line between helping and hindering when it comes to addiction, and it can be difficult to know which side of the line to fall.  How do I even recognize the division of the line?

God said in Psalms 37:4, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.How could l even begin to have such faith that God could really take it?

Finally, I was determined to learn the difference between a mother’s desperation—and a Father’s inspiration!  After all, God loves her more than I!  He knows what she needs more than I!  He is acutely aware of her pain and anguish and wants only the best for her!  How could I deny God His right to do His will, rather than me taking the reins thinking I knew what was best for her?  Wasn’t He in charge of helping her become all she can be?  And didn’t He say Christ ALREADY shouldered MY burdens? (Isaiah 53:4, Mosiah 14:4)   “(He)…hath borne our grief, and carried our sorrows…!”

I wanted desperately to DELIGHT in my Lord….but I had to begin by planting the seed of DESIRE (Psalms 37:4), and then EXPERIMENT on His words:   ”…but behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can do more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:27)

I devoured the scriptures. I poured over conference talks. I prayed.  I fasted.  I read books written by addiction experts and our Church leaders. I was determined to do all I could so that He could fulfill His promise in me.  I desperately needed His inspiration. 

Through all this, reading the Bible helped heal my wounds. Those words brought solace and a balm of comfort.  But, the one book that truly changed my life was the Book of Mormon—another witness that Jesus is the Christ.   Yes, I still consider it a tragic history of war and wickedness. How can people be so evil and cruel to each other?  But, as I poured over these sacred scriptures again, I had a magnificent life-changing paradigm shift!   I began to recognize a BEAUTIFUL LOVE STORY–from fathers to sons and families—and from prophets to ALL people!  These ancient American inhabitants prayed for me—and us!  They wept for me!  They plead with me to come unto Christ!  God’s prophets loved me enough to write to me!

This sacred book is a compilation of love letters written to me from ancient ancestors and great friends that knew I would need their testimonies and would profit from the details of their experiences through pride, pain, and suffering, wars and bloodshed—and how Christ redeems.  And they loved me enough to MIRACULOUSLY preserve their words so that my life could be blessed!  Through those pages of antiquity were ALL the answers to ALL the problems in my life!  My testimony was renewed and I was reminded of God’s love for me; His love for my daughter, and His desire that through all the trauma, I could do it!  She is only on loan to me.  And Heavenly Father must have believed I could do this or He would have given her to someone else!

The Prophet Brigham Young placed his hands on the head of Ephraim Hanks who prepared himself to go to the rescue of the starving and freezing people in the Martin Handcart Company.  The Prophet Brigham blessed and promised Ephraim, as he faced this enormous, dangerous challenge, “The Lord prepares each of us for the purposes that He has placed us on this earth to accomplish.  Moments are set before each of one of us that if we give all that is within us, He will bring us to an ability, a power that we have not before known.”

I was willing to pay the price and incorporate into my journey even a particle of desire.  I offered my weeds to God.  I placed upon His alter what little I had and asked that He would turn my weeds into beautiful blossoms of relief, inspired direction, hope and promise!  I began to believe that God had it!  God knew better than I what to do.  He knew what I needed to learn.  He knew what she needed to learn.  So, over the course of these 5 years, I finally learned how to let it go and give it to God. I learned (for the most part), to be angry with her disease instead of spewing my anger at her.

Now, instead of jumping in and doing what I think must be done, I sit and wait upon the Lord. If I don’t get answers, I don’t do anything.  When He whispers direction, I know that is what He feels is best in this quest to help her—and me! And THEN I take action!

It has not been easy.  Many times, unless I heard my God whisper otherwise, I left my daughter in the rubble.  Sadly, her story is replete with broken bones and personal assault violations!  I left her on the streets with no food, no shelter, no money, nowhere to go.  But I had to trust.  I had to believe.  I had to listen.  I didn’t know the answers.  But He did.  I believed His angels watched over her.  I believed He watched over her. Whatever she faced, whatever lessons she learned were for her benefit—and mine.  Trusting didn’t eliminate my sadness for her; but, it eliminated my heavy burden of FEELING RESPONSIBLE for her choices!

I magnetized my mind with intense desire FOR FAITH and belief.  I not only began to heal from my own wounds, but I felt an immense relief from carrying the burdens all by myself.

I had to talk to myself many times not to take back what I had given Him.  When she suffered, when she fell, when she cried out in agony, I had to have enough faith to wait for His answers, and not take her problems back.

I have learned again through these challenges that it is the plan of God for us to come to earth for experience.  In the midst of deep affliction, the Prophet Joseph Smith was told, “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D & C 122:7)   God is aware of man’s suffering, and pain is not without purpose.  As Marvin J. Ashton said, “(God) gives us affliction to pull out the best in us.”

Each one of us has God-given potential.  What will it take for us to become like Him?  I have come to believe that, not only does it take faith, it takes PRACTICE!

(D & C 136:31) “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion.”

Carole Stephens said, “God never loses sight of our eternal potential even when we do.”

I know that if I begin and end my day on my knees, praising God and thanking Him for my countless blessings (especially the blessings that come from challenge), giving my will to Him in grateful exchange for His guidance and inspiration, my day goes better, my attitude is lighter, my smiles are genuine, and I am more capable of withstanding the day’s struggles. That doesn’t mean I am always able!  That doesn’t mean I am always happy.  That doesn’t mean I can always control my anger at her. That only means I keep trying.  I keep PRACTICING.  My goal is the Celestial Kingdom, and though I cannot even imagine the magnitude of those Heavenly and exalted blessings, I want to comply, be obedient, listen, and then take action. I want to get there!

We can either face our challenges with a negative attitude, or face them with a smile in our hearts knowing we are part of a great plan of redemption, perfection, and purpose.  I don’t understand it all, but I accept it.  And I rejoice!

I can say now that GOD HAS GIVEN ME THE GIFT OF ENORMOUS FAITH!  But it is still a daily decision.  I am still practicing believing.  I know that God will do what He must in order to “…bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  (Moses 1: 39) And that includes me….and my daughter.

Life may not be always easy.  But it is beautiful and full and rich with texture and color and a vibrancy and depth and meaning that surpasses our human appreciation and understanding.  All this was made for us, for our benefit, and even though sadness may enter in, we can regroup, repent, process, re-prioritize, study, pray fervently, and stand up to meet the challenges and act on His inspiration as steadfast and grateful followers of Christ.

Heavenly Father and Mother loaned my daughter to ME because they believed I could do it!  And I WILL!

It is my prayer that we will have MIGHTY courage; courage to recognize, admit, and face addiction; courage to talk about addiction; courage to go to meetings, ask for help, and share our sincere stories with others; courage to shoulder and share burdens and mourn with those affected by addictions; courage not to stand in judgement but to be examples of Christ and love and serve unconditionally; courage to stand up and PRACTICE living lives of faith, belief and action; courage to nourish, compliment, fortify and buoy everyone that comes into our lives; courage to stretch and do all we can to become what God intended us to be!

My problems don’t stop here.  I still need understanding and oftentimes a shoulder to cry on.  We are all in this together, and none of us is impervious to pain.  But when I choose to replace my fear with Heavenly Father’s strength—the less I wallow in self-pity and desperation!

Even placing weeds on His alter is better than placing nothing at all.  The rewards and blessings come with PRACTICE.  Someday my weeds will blossom and MAGNIFICENT, BEAUTIFUL, GLORIOUS, and SPECTACULAR YELLOW DANDELIONS will immerge!

Following Father’s inspiration is much easier than living with a mother’s desperation. And, oh, how I rejoice when my daughter rises again like a Phoenix from the ashes to fight for another sober day, to stand again in spite of all that pulls her down! I marvel at her courage and I KNOW her miracles will come.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and indeed, is the hypostasis of my life.  Heavenly Father has given me a way to bear all things!  I am so grateful to have these lessons in my life.  I have come to believe that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  I know now what God meant when He said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

The Gospel of Christ is another name for “opportunity;” it offers us the privilege and responsibility of giving something back as we become better than we were.

In President Uchtdorf’s Conference talk entitled, “He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home,” he shared with us that no matter how broken we are, there is still hope.  I quote, “It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem.   It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be.  Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God, can be rebuilt.  Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.” (Unquote.)

Henry Ford said, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind—not with it!”

I must remember that, I, too, must be very careful with my choices for I, too, may not be impervious to the tragic grip and talons of addiction.…for there by the grace of God go I.   (1 Corinthians 15:8-10)

I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!