Church Offers Program to Help Those with Addictions and Their Families
Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
“The Atonement isn’t just for somebody else. It’s meant for all of us because we all have weakness.” —Rod, a recovering addict who now serves as a facilitator in the Addiction Recovery Program
Rod was 12 years old when some older teens in his neighborhood introduced him to alcohol and drugs. Although he didn’t necessarily see it this way at the time, he began using the substances to escape the pain he felt from his father’s suicide six years earlier. Within a short time he was addicted.
For the next 15 years, Rod regularly drank and took drugs. His sense of loss always escalated around the holidays; his father had died about that time of year, and when Rod was in his early 20s, his grandfather, with whom he was close, died on January 2.
“I felt all of these bad emotions associated with the holidays,” he explains, “so I ended up running from them. I put on a fake face and acted like I was really happy and partied it up.” And every year, that partying—compounded with feeling estranged from his family and experiencing the high emotions that many people experience during the holidays—led to more alcohol consumption and drug use.
Such exacerbation of addiction isn’t uncommon during the holidays, says Ben Erwin, who works as the product manger of the Addiction Recovery Program, sponsored by LDS Family Services. Feelings of isolation that many addicts feel may intensify because, as Brother Erwin says, “typically people associate the holidays with families, gatherings, and relationships.
“Addiction always hurts the individual, but it also hurts the family members,” he says. For those who struggle with addiction, it’s much easier to accept the pain for themselves than it is to deal with the fact that they’ve hurt their family or loved ones.
“They feel further isolated because they’re alone with their lies and secrecy,” he continues. “The holidays are poignant that way in that they highlight a lot of destruction the addiction has caused, so people who deal with addictions go through the season feeling even lower and more depressed than usual.” And that, in turn, leads to more addictive behavior.
But people struggling with addiction need not suffer through the holidays, Brother Erwin says. Through the Addiction Recovery Program, a 12-step program sponsored through LDS Family Services, they can find free, confidential help in a safe place. And in coming to know the Savior through the program, they can cast the holiday season in a whole new light, Brother Erwin says.
“Angels sang at the good news of the glorious birth of the Savior and announced salvation for all of Heavenly Father’s children,” he says. “The Addiction Recovery Program proclaims that same message: there is hope of recovery through the Atonement. If you struggle with addiction and feel like all is lost, there is hope. Through the Atonement, you can progress and go forward. You don’t have to be enslaved by the chains of addiction anymore.”
Steps toward Recovery
Ironically, it was on a holiday that Rod decided to change his life. He was 27 years old, and he felt he had reached a point where he was “spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially bankrupt.”
“I hated my choices. I hated my life,” he recalls. “Although I didn’t act like it externally, inside I was falling apart. I had lost everything. I’d flunked out of school and lost jobs and lost relationships, and on several occasions I looked around at my life and found it was a complete disaster.”
Brother Erwin points out that the Addiction Recovery Program guide talks about addicts seeking help when the pain of the problem becomes larger than the pain of the solution.
“There’s a stigma associated with addictions,” he says, “and because of that, people don’t want to admit that they need help. So they wait until they ‘hit bottom.’”
That was the case for Rod. It was late at night and early in the morning of another holiday party where he was “celebrating” with friends that he first admitted that he needed help to change—the first in the 12 steps of the program. He turned to a friend who had been in addiction recovery for a couple of years and now “had a good life going for him.”
Although Rod acted like his friend had made the wrong choice in becoming sober, secretly he felt jealous of what his friend had become. And although Rod had told himself “thousands of times” that he needed to change, that night was the first time he admitted it aloud to someone else.
“It takes a lot of courage to admit that you have an addiction,” Brother Erwin says, “especially when you’ve been lying about it and holding it secret and rationalizing it away, telling yourself that you’re in control, that it’s not that bad, and that you’ll change—just later.”
Brother Erwin also points out that one of the “great ways to fight through addictive behavior” is through honesty.
“People feel scared that others will look down on them or won’t like them or that they’ll lose the people they’re closest to. Yet when they are honest with others, a lot of times those people—although they’ll feel hurt, upset, or angry—will also be supportive and understanding. They’ll be there for the person struggling with the addiction. This is the irony of addiction: people keep their addiction a secret because they’re afraid of losing people, but by telling them they’re brought closer together in the long run.”
Confiding in his friend was a big step for Rod. Although he didn’t recognize it at the time, that discussion was the beginning of big changes.
“That was when I gained my first spiritual awakening—admitting that I needed help to change my life,” he says. “Today I know that what I was starting to experience was the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Safe, Confidential, Free Help
Today Rod has been sober for more than 23 years. He has served as a missionary in the Addiction Recovery Program for 12 years and currently serves as a facilitator in the program, where he shares his story of recovery and repentance with others working toward the same goals. He talks with groups in addiction recovery meetings, schools, and penitentiaries, as well as with people in one-on-one conversations, about his returning to the Church. Although he had attended church growing up, he says that it was in recovery that he came to learn the gospel “for the first time.”
“For me, through the ugliest things in life, I found the best things in life,” he says. “I found the Atonement and the miracle and change that happen through it.”
This element of connecting with people who understand the nature of addiction is an important part of the Addiction Recovery Program, said Brother Erwin. “So often those who struggle with addiction feel like they’re the only ones in the world struggling with it, that no one will understand, and that everyone will judge. But then they go to meetings and find people just like themselves. They no longer feel ashamed or like they’re broken or defective. Instead, they feel peace, support, understanding, and edification. To have that connection is so powerful and healing in and of itself.”
Rod also says he has seen in his own life the reality of Ether 12:27, which talks about the Lord turning weakness into strength.
“He tells us that if we turn ourselves over to Him and have faith in Him, we can change,” Rod says. Since I have cleaned up, my addiction has become my biggest strength. It has allowed me to meet my Savior, so to speak, and to have the Atonement work a miracle in my life.”
Those experiences drawing closer have changed everything—including the holidays—for him. Now, instead of focusing on his grief, he finds joy in reflecting on seeing the Atonement at work in his life and in the lives of others he has helped.
“That’s the wonderful thing I’ve learned, he says. “The Atonement isn’t just for somebody else. It’s meant for all of us because we all have weakness. The Savior didn’t spend His time sitting on a throne or hanging out with priests in the temple. No. He was out among the people, out there with the downtrodden and the weak and those that were acting out. He was giving them hope that they could change, that there were better things for them.
“Christmas is about the Savior’s birth, His life, and His Resurrection, which gives us all hope and allows us to know that we can change. If He has risen from the dead, can I even rise from my addictive state in life? Through Him, I can.”
A Note for Families of People with Addictions
Ben Erwin notes that addictions hurt more than the person struggling with the addiction; they also hurt that person’s family. He offers this counsel to those who have loved ones engaged in addictive behavior:
“Watching a loved one engage in addictive behavior is one of the hardest positions to be in. You watch someone hurt himself or herself and make terrible decisions. And while that behavior and those decisions may directly impact you as far as angst, contention, and emotional distress and pain—again, it’s a terrible position to be in—you cannot recover for him or her. Keep praying for that person. Keep hoping. You don’t have to give up.
“As a society and in the Church, we often rush to the person with the addiction to offer our help. That’s important, but we sometimes forget the parents, the spouses, and the other family members. We don’t rush to their aid.
“Know that there is help and hope for you as well. You can rely on the Savior, and you can rely on other people. You may not see immediate recovery for your loved one—that person may not want to change—but there are other people who will love and support you and who won’t judge your family member.
“One of the places you can find such people is in LDS Addiction Recovery support groups. There are groups especially for family members of a loved one in addiction. You can go to these meetings and talk about what you’re experiencing with people who get it and understand it. You’ll work through the same 12 steps, or gospel principles, that the Addiction Recovery Program is based on. These steps will help you let the Savior heal your heart, regardless of whether your loved one chooses recovery. You can choose peace and healing.”