In today’s world, there is a lot of opposition to organized religion. Spirituality is spirituality. A higher power that is guiding you in your life, and enlightening your mind and heart is an invaluable gift that we are given. For me, organized religion is what saved my life. Specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was what you’d call a “lost sheep” for many years. I believed the doctrine of the church to be true, but I had lost the desire to abstain from drugs, alcohol, & immorality. I didn’t see the reasoning behind living a virtuous life. Drugs and alcohol were “fun”. They made me “cool”, was my perception. At this immature time in my life I would have chose being cool over living a virtuous, clean life, any day.
When things got bad and I got in trouble with the law, I was forced to get sober through court ordered programs. Even though I quit using drugs and alcohol temporarily, I was not living a virtuous life. The knowledge that the church was true never left me. I would go to church periodically, but could never fully commit to living the church’s standards. I thought it was too hard to quit smoking cigarettes, to quit drinking coffee, to pay 10% of my very little income, to quit my foul language, and to live a chaste life. I associated all these different things with who I was. From my experience, there is a culture that comes along with a newly recovering addict. I was always looking for some other vice for my addiction- smoking, caffeine, immorality, etc. I identified myself with these behaviors. Not only did I find it near impossible to quit them, but I didn’t know who I was without them.
In the beginning stages of my recovery, I felt that I wanted to go back to church, but I had a huge pile of guilt on my shoulders. Not necessarily because of all the wrong decisions I had made, because I knew that the Atonement was real, and I could be forgiven for these things. But because I wasn’t willing or able to give up the earlier mentioned habits that remained after I got sober. I saw my life in black and white. Either I was good, or I was bad. There was no inbetween. I was either going to do what the church said, and be an active, commandment keeping, word of wisdom following member, or I was going to be a sinner, live life on the edge, and do whatever the heck I wanted. Guilt free.
For some reason something changed for me this last time. I decided to just experiment with the idea of quitting my bad habits, going through the repentance process, and becoming a worthy member of the church. If it made me happy, then maybe I would continue on that way. If it didn’t, then I would go back to my old ways- trying to find happiness in temporary highs. I do feel that I should add that I was challenged by an old friend to read the Book of Mormon every day. He promised me that I would never go back to my old ways if I did this. So, with nothing to lose, I decided to see if this would really work.
I set out on my journey to obtain a temple recommend. Not knowing if I was willing to commit for the rest of my life, but I was willing to commit to giving it a try. I met with my bishop, and told him what I was up against. With his loving assurance that I could do it, and an enabling power that was not from this world, I gave up the bad habits that had been a part of my life for so many years. I want to take a moment here to emphasize the enabling power that helped me do this. For SO. MANY. YEARS. I was held in TOTAL bondage by these addictions. Not only did every single aspect of my everyday life have to change when I got sober, but I was now trying to give up my coping mechanisms- the small things that I relied on to get me through the early days of my sobriety- the coffee and cigarettes, my identity. But somehow, I found the strength to take baby steps toward giving up these things. Remember the black and white thinking I was telling you about earlier? Baby steps weren’t allowed in this way of thinking. I either was, or I wasn’t. I did or I didn’t. But for the first time in my life, I went to church chewing nicotine gum, and I was okay with it. I knew that I was making progress, and I FINALLY had confidence in myself that I could reach my goal to stop. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. This is how the enabling power of the Atonement worked in my life. I made the decision to try, I sought help from The Lord, and I was able to do things that I otherwise would not have been able.
I now experience freedom. When I was younger I thought that the church was so restrictive. There were so many rules. How could I be fun and cool if I was living by all these rules and restrictions? I was so blind. Over these past 51 months I have been more free then I have ever been in my life, because I am CHOOSING to live my life with these restrictions and responsibilities. I am so far from perfect, and I make wrong choices. But the wrong choices I make today are not the kind of choices that have the power to take away my agency. Not only do I know that the Atonement has enabled me to change my life, and heal my broken soul, but I am so incredibly grateful for an organized religion that EXPECTS something from me. Not only do I stay sober because I do not want to be powerless over my life anymore, but I want to do what the Lord asks me to do. I want to be worthy, and take care of myself. I want to be able to go to the temple.
We all make mistakes. I think it’s safe to say that most people on this earth are faced with some kind of addiction- whether it be pornography, sugar, gaming, or working. We all have times when we are faced with overcoming the natural man. We will continue to make mistakes for the rest of our lives. I know that our trials and challenges can be overcome with Savior’s help. President Uchtdorf said:
“Our Father in Heaven’s love for us, His children, surpasses by far our ability to comprehend. Does this mean that God condones or overlooks behaviors that run contrary to His commands? No, definitely not! But he wants to change more than just our behaviors. He wants to change our very natures. He wants to change our hearts. He wants us to reach out and take firm hold of the iron rod, confront our fears, and bravely step forward and upward along the straight and narrow path. He wants this for us because He loves us and because this is the way to happiness.”