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August 14, 2014
This is Not a Stone
Living with Addiction
by Hannah Bird

My name is Hannah and I am an alcoholic.  Because sometimes in the Church we try to pretty things up, I need to be clear.  

I am not an I-accidentally-ordered-bourbon-barbeque-sauce-on-my-chicken-twice alcoholic.  I am a true blue, blacked out, threw up in my hair, voted most likely to end up floating face down in a river alcoholic.  And an addict.  I try to be well rounded.

You may be wondering why I am telling you that.  I am not proud of it.  I am also not ashamed of it.  I figure I wasn't bright enough to be embarrassed when I was drinking and using so I refuse to be embarrassed that I stopped.  

By the grace of God, the blessing of AA, the occasional bit of luck, and better people in my life than I deserve I have been sober for a lot of years now.  But it is still part of who I am.

I am telling you in case it's part of who you are, too.  

Addiction happens.  It even happens to good people who go to church.  You may keep the Word of Wisdom your whole life and end up addicted to pain pills after an accident.  Your son or daughter may end up addicted to pornography (yes, girls too).  You may have an LDS friend who has a real life bona fide drinking problem.  

In fact, I promise that you know someone who has struggled or is struggling with addiction.

I am telling you because sometimes we don't handle addiction well.  I am telling you to invite all of us to do better.  There are some things that people need to know:

1.  Yes, active good decent wonderful people can struggle with addiction.  From porn to prescribed pain pills to the sister I met who was taking two shot glasses worth of "herbal tinctures" (vodka) twice a day, Mormons can be and are addicts.  

The gospel is not a protection against the fallen nature of this world. Faithful people can get cancer, diabetes, cataracts, and gingivitis.  We are not immune.

2.  You do not have a relationship with an addict who is in the throes of using.  You have the memories of a relationship, and that can trick you into thinking that your relationship is intact.

You still have love, friendship, shared experiences -- and all these things make you feel like the relationship still exists but is just suffering.  But the dirty little secret is that addiction means what you remember and have had in the past is not what you have now.

You cannot fix it.  You cannot pray it away.  Love is not the solution.  Addiction means that the addict's relationship to their poison is the primary relationship in their life.  You come in second. Maybe. There is no such thing as an honest addict. Anyone who is using is lying. That means they are lying to you and themselves.

This is important to understand so that you can understand the next thing:

3. Addicts are broken. They are morally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically broken.  All that breaking is very painful, and to overcome addiction all of the broken things must heal. That means that the addict needs spiritual support and recovery. But they need more.

They need to heal a brain that they have mistrained. They need to deal with the emotional and financial fallout of addiction. They may need to deal with the legal fallout of their addictions.

So please do not limit the resources offered to the scriptures, prayers, or your favorite General Conference talks.  If you are an addict, understand that while increasing your spiritual efforts will most certainly help you, you will need to do more to truly recover.  

We are fortunate to have access to so many excellent resources. The church has an excellent addiction recovery program based on Alcoholics Anonymous. Use it.

4. Addiction is not the sin. Using is. One idea that keeps addicts trapped is the notion that our thoughts are the same as our actions. While we absolutely should tend to our thoughts, we should avoid making thoughts the same as actions.

For example, a pornography addict may feel tempted to look at porn. Actually, scratch that. A pornography addict will absolutely feel tempted to look at porn. A lot. The problem comes when we believe that by wanting to use we have already sinned. And having already failed, there is nothing more to be lost by indulging the addiction.

I want so much to not ever wish for a drink again. I want so much to never want to use again. Most days, I don't. I have been sober for almost 25 years. I get better all the time.

But sometimes, I do want. Although I am not proud of that, I can't be scared of it either. I have to see the want and just be able to sit with the fact that I want and that this happens. And then I still have to make the decision not to use.  

5. Shame feeds addiction. A year ago, a woman I knew and absolutely adored lost her fight with addiction. The news of her death just blew me away. I had never known that she was struggling.  And she had never known that I had struggled.

I am not saying that we should start all of our conversations with new people with a list of addictions and weaknesses. I am not even saying that you need to put an article on the internet for the whole world to see announcing that you are an addict.

I am saying that we need to share these struggles in appropriate situations. We cannot be too embarrassed by our past to explain how we got to a better future. We cannot be so embarrassed by a family member's addiction that we don't ask for help or support.

So I am Hannah and I am an alcoholic. It's not my favorite part of being me. But it's OK. You can be OK, too. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, join the Addiction Recovery group. If there isn't one in your area, ask your bishop for resources.

Go to Alcoholics Anonymous. If you have a family member that is using, go to the church sponsored recovery meeting or Alanon.

Addiction takes over every aspect of your life. But there can be life after using. The addiction and despair and shame will lie and say that this is all there is. But I promise there can be an after. And it is lovely.

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