12 Steps to Change
Even now—after 15 years of sobriety—I identify as an addict. This daily admission reminds me that everything I have came to me by the grace of God and that I can lose it all if I let something come between me and my Heavenly Father.
In the beginning stages of my addiction, I did anything to keep my secret safe. I protected my addiction, coddled it like a child, and made excuses for it. For years I blamed my alcoholism, drug addiction, and promiscuity on poor life experiences. And after a while, I began to believe the lies I told everyone else.
The Book of Mormon teaches us that the devil “leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever” (2 Nephi 26:22). Little by little, my flaxen cords had become stronger until I thought they would bind me forever.
I know what it means to lose your agency because, during those harrowing years, I lost control in every conceivable way. I couldn’t even follow through with something as simple as washing the dishes. I became closely acquainted with self-loathing, despair, and hopelessness. Outwardly, I blamed others for my addiction, but inwardly I knew it was my fault.
By now, I desperately wanted to stop drinking, but I couldn’t live without alcohol. 2 Nephi 28:21 says it perfectly: “The devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”
To me, that’s what my life had become.
I believed in God, but I felt abandoned. For a year I tried to get clean, but I could never stay sober for more than two weeks at a time. During this time, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C, got involved in a serious accident, and was hospitalized twice for alcohol poisoning. I begged God to take my life and cursed Him every time I regained consciousness.
But He never abandoned me.
Although I wasn’t active in the Church, I kept a picture of the Savior hidden away. In this picture, Christ is knocking on a door without a handle. The look on His face always impressed me deeply. He seemed sad that He wasn’t invited in, but He would never intrude. I imagined many times that my heart was that door, but I was too ashamed to let Him in. In moments of clarity I realized that the Lord was calling out to me, inviting me to ask for His help.
I began going to addiction recovery meetings, and after a few relapses, I finally succeeded in making it past my two-week mark. There is no high like reaching those early milestones. April 1, 2001, I began my new life—free from drugs and alcohol.
The first step in the Addiction Recovery Program is to “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.” One good thing about having hit the bottom was that the only direction left to go was up. I had become acutely aware of my addiction’s impact on my life. Those horrors, fresh in my mind, kept me actively involved in recovery.
While it is crucial to understand the enemy’s efforts against us, it is equally important to remember God’s plan to redeem us. Step 2 is to “come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.” The Lord has helped me heal, and He has helped my children forgive. It has been a long and painful process, but with God’s help, I have been able to do the impossible. The Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement are strong enough to heal the painful wounds of addiction.
Trust in God
Step 3, “Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ,” meant that I had to be willing to become who the Lord created me to be. This may seem like a no-brainer, but to an addict, it was radical thinking. I believed my problems arose from substance abuse and that abstinence would magically solve everything. Taking this step meant I had to let God be in charge of every part of my life.
I still had cravings for at least nine months, but because I learned to trust in God’s timing, I lived through them.
Truth and Confession
Step 4, “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself,” and step 5, “Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs,” is how I put into action what I agreed to in step 3.
I had a sponsor in my recovery who helped me look at myself honestly. After years of excuses, it was hard not to justify my actions, but as she was honest with me, it helped me to be honest with myself. Sometimes I was angry with her for pointing out my destructive behaviors and selfish actions, but she helped save my life.
Change of Heart and Humility
Step 6, “Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses,” and step 7, “Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings,” are interesting. Both steps emphasize that God is the one who will remove our shortcomings.
Elder Larry R. Lawrence taught: “The Holy Ghost doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, . . . and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, . . . for unto him that receiveth I will give more’ [2 Nephi 28:30]” (“What Lack I Yet?” Ensign, Nov. 2015, 34).
God will help us know which character weaknesses need to replaced. Our job is to make ourselves ready.
Forgiveness, Restitution, and Reconciliation
Step 8, “Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them,” and step 9, “Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed,” seem just as unpleasant as steps 4 and 5. The rewards, though, are well worth the effort. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. , 83).
Daily Accountability, Personal Revelation, and Service
I get a daily reprieve from the chains of addiction through step 10, “Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong promptly admit it,” step 11, “Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out,” and step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.” I cannot keep what I have if I don’t maintain my recovery and help others.
Like I mentioned earlier, there is no greater high than reaching those early milestones of recovery—not only my own, but those of others as well. Alma 26:13 is one of my all-time favorite scriptures; it says, “Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?”
Christ freed me from my pains, and now I am an instrument in His hands to reach out to others and let them know He lives, He loves them, and He will rescue and restore them as well.
*Name has been changed.