"The burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mosiah 24:15)
What kind of Humility to want immediate relief and yet be willing to have a burden lightened gradually?
Let me tell you about the five steps of my addiction cycle.
We'll start with step one - feeling pretty good. Free even. Like my addiction is a thing of the past. At its purest, this feeling is associated with exact obedience to the commandments, to dedicated service to my family, to my neighbors, in my callings. When I am "full of the love of God, I am "not content with blessing [my] family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race."
The second step in the cycle is similar to step one, with one key difference. I find myself acting out in substitute ways. Instead of viewing pornography or masterbating, I eat too much or watch a lot of television. During this step of the cycle I recognize that I'm compensating, and I also recognize during this cycle that it becomes harder to serve happily. I feel less satisfied with life, and less willing to put myself out there. I'm still "being good," but I don't feel very good.
The third step is to begin to tell myself that I don't need to be on guard so much. I have places on the internet I know I can go for some low-grade titillation, shows I could watch, seemingly "safe" sights that are sure to have an article about sex or some super model or some other eye candy that is easy to rationalize my way into viewing. This feels "okay," because it isn't "real" porn, and it is more satisfying to my addict brain than food or TV. But it isn't enough.
The fourth step is to start actively searching for softcore pornography. But just searching, not lingering (As an addict, I make a big deal about such artificial boundaries). This way I can tell myself that I'm just curious about what's out there, that I'm not dwelling on anything, and that I can stop anytime. Of course, those are all lies that addicts tell themselves to justify this kind of behavior. This "curiosity" driven searching can stretch on four hours if I let it, and it The thing about being a porn addict and having viewed really hardcore pornography is this--the various levels of softcore pornography that work up to the hard stuff stop feeling like pornography at all (what's a model in a thong bikini compared to graphic depictions of deviant sex? And the flip side of this, of course, is that some things that weren't meant as pornography can become pornography to an addict. If you are an addict, you know what I'm talking about. A desperate addict (me) can get a fix from a JC Penney catalog or a long stare at a jogger on the street--and yes I know, and all addicts know that this is colossally messed up.
The fifth and final step, and this is the most painful, because its the step in which the addict (me) can no longer rationalize or justify or lie to himself, is to act out completely. View pornography and masterbate. This is the step where "curiosity" and "searching," turn into full-on viewing, dwelling, obsessing. This is the step where all progress is lost and I find myself saying things like, "Well, I'm back down here, I might as well stay a while." This is the step where for the briefest of moments the physical pleasure (super-saturation of dopamine in my brain) feels great and all of the anxiety and fear and discomfort that started off the process feels, momentarily, like it has disappeared for good. This is really fleeting, but even now as I right I recognize the feeling of relief that comes over me at this stage, as if I've been hanging from a cliff and my arms are burning and I finally let go and my arms no longer hurt.
Of course, this sense of relief is really the quiet pause in action during the free-fall to the bottom of my addiction. After acting out, I feel miserable, guilty, and ashamed. I don't want to have to talk to my bishop again, I don't want to face my wife, I don't want the pain and misery that comes from the first half of the repentance process. And then I eventually do talk to my bishop and the pain remains but at this point I am humbled, I am repentant, I begin to be filled with the love of God, and I begin to feel like I could do anything for God. The peace that comes slowly from repentance feels so good, so real, so freeing. It is easy to get up each morning full of gratitude, to read my scriptures, to serve others, to be patient with my children. And this brings us back to the first step.
What does this have to do with turning our will over to God? When I am in addict mode, I wait to turn my will over to God until the final step, when I have narrowed my choices down to two very different options (embrace the addiction and die of misery, regret and pain, or repent and embrace the atonement of Jesus Christ and be healed). In that mode, at that stage, I will always choose repentance. But what if I could choose repentance earlier in the cycle? Close the loop, if you will? What if I repented of the "I don't need to be so worried about everything so much" attitude in step three, or of the compensating behaviors of step two? That's what I mean when I think about turning my will over to God?
The question then is this:
How do we turn to God sooner? I haven't been down the addiction cycle path all the way to step five in a long time, but every once in a while I find myself rationalizing some softcore searching that shoos the spirit away and leaves me feeling pretty miserable. I find that reaching out to my Bishop for help goes along way. And if I reach out to him in step two, before I've begun the acting out process, I'm even farther ahead of the game. Just checking in can be enough to close the addiction loop. There is power in telling someone my struggle. It allows me to come out of hiding and to be accountable for my actions.
So, first I have to be humble enough to admit that I have a problem, that a cycle defines my behavior, and then I have to be willing to prayerfully revise my behavior to steer clear of the later, more painful steps of the addiction process.
How does this cycle compare to yours? At what stage to you find yourself resisting? Giving up? How might you close the loop on your addiction by reaching out to others and to God?