Thursday, March 5, 2020

Step 8&9 - Seeking Forgiveness, Restitution and Reconciliation

8-KEY PRINCIPLE: Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them. 

9-Key PRINCIPLE: Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed. 

These steps in recovery are daunting yet amazing when done with the Spirit and humility. These are the steps that in the beginning a lot of people rush in to and want to get over with as soon as possible. It seems like the best strategy in the beginning, "clear the air" and "talk about the elephant in the room". While that is an accurate and natural response, however I learned the hard way and found actually made relationships and feelings worse. I eventually found a more honest, real, rewarding and sustainable approach. 
Back when I was VERY early in recovery I had this list made. I had just finished my 5th step and was feeling light as a feather. I had admitted all of my mistakes and faults to Heavenly Father and Priesthood authority and was ready to become right with society. I had sat through countless individual, group, and family counseling sessions, hearing the liberation and release of destructive feelings people had felt when they made amends. I wanted to keep the freeing feelings I felt from confession going. I had just felt the redeeming power of the Atonement of Christ in my life and knew that I was ready to "show" people or "prove" to others just how much I had changed and how much I was past these awful transgressions. 
Here is where I didn't check my character weaknesses. Of course I wanted to apologize to others and say sorry for any pain I had caused them. Deep down I was still the same Lizzy, who is a very caring and compassionate person. However, I had an extremely huge sense of needing to fit in and feel loved. I am a people person I DO NOT like when I know someone has ill feelings toward me or think that they are angry with me. There is a small part of step 9 that is all about a living amends, which is ultimately “proving it”. In the beginning I truly believed this was a cop out and a justification to not have to face the music. However, with a little wisdom and failed amends I realize that there is a real power to having some consistent clean time to allow others in my life who I care about to trust me again.
So back to the timeline, early in recovery despite the guidance from my counselor, Rick and the proven words from the 12 step material, I decided to start knocking out these amends. The silly part my experience at this time was solely pride based. I didn't even allow these people to tell me "no" they did not want to hear what I had to say. I just started showing up at people's front door, calling them out of the blue, and writing letters. I figured that "cleaning up my side of the street" meant that I shouldn't have to care AT ALL about their reaction or feelings. Turns out these amends weren't taken well. I am not surprised looking back and knowing what I know now. But I was so stinkin' jaded during this time. I even built resentments toward people I HURT! It was foolish, selfish, and completely full of pride. I also learned that with restitution and reconciliation it is very important to never justify actions, behaviors, or thought processes, which of course I did at this first attempt.

Fast forward to when I was ACTUALLY on step 8 and 9 mentally, emotionally and spiritually. There is a huge reason that step 8 and 9 come after 4 and 5, then after 6 and 7. Step 4 and 5 rid me of all the repugnant, awful, heavy mistakes. Where I could look at myself in the mirror again without disgust and where I rebuilt my self-worth. That process of writing down everything I had ever felt any shame over then allowing someone else to hear those things out loud allowed that weight to be lifted. I had priesthood authority take out the heavy rocks I couldn't get rid of alone. Ultimately step 5 is where I truly felt the cleansing power of the Atonement work in my life. I found the Savior and what He truly did for me in a very raw, tangible way. Step 8 and 9 come after steps 6 and 7 because that is where I began to see the little mistakes I was making and beginning to sincerely and diligently making the next right choice. The weight wasn't so heavy anymore but I learned that I needed to make daily changes to become more like Christ, which if I’m honest with myself should be the way I live the rest of my life. I also started to see the good in my life but more importantly in myself. I learned that Christ was there for the good and the bad. He is not just my Redeemer but also my Supporter and Comforter. This is where I learned that because I was trying to humble myself to a point where I could rid myself totally of my character weaknesses with no avail without the Savior’s Grace and His power. 
The reason that I feel those initial amends didn't pan out as I desired was because I didn't know true humility and I wasn't fully being led by the Spirit. Once I had those two key elements these amends on my list were easy. They weren't easy in the sense that I felt like I would gain full forgiveness or become a complete saint in these people's eyes. They also weren't easy because they were all totally accepted, because they weren’t. I learned that some people to this day still have ill feelings toward me. 
They were easy because I knew in my heart of hearts that my amends, apologies, and love for those people were real. They are ongoing and I am constantly trying to right my wrongs. This is where I learned the proper place for living amends. I learned that in time people would maybe see the way I was living my life and their hearts could be softened in their own timing, by the power of the Savior and the will of Heavenly Father. 
They were also easy because I was in a place of full forgiveness toward others. When I tried amends while I was still using or in really early recovery I wanted an apology for their hurtful actions and words. I expected that it would be a two way street and we would both say I am so sorry, hug and everything would be "normal" again. However, the natural man doesn't work like that. The most important part of amends for me was realizing that things would never return to “normal” rather if God’s will is to have people in my life then the new normal would make that possible and a reality for both us. 
There are people that I will never be able to make amends to and I will forever live the best life I can, without any intentional harm to others essentially in their name. While that leaves me without any direct contact and communication, it does leave me with peace knowing I am doing everything I can to keep my side of the street clean. In the end that is OK, because after personal revelation I know that is enough.
After my change of heart and lots of redirection in my life I went into my amends almost expecting to hear negative feedback, unforgiveness, and zero apologies. I didn't use the list of persons I had harmed as a check list. I allowed the Spirit to guide me. In every daily prayer and meditation I involved those on my list that still needed an amends from me. I asked God daily for the opportunity to present itself when their heart was softened to hear what the humble part of me was ready to say. 
Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways, it was pretty insane how magical it all was. Every single amends presented itself to me. Whether it was running into someone at the gym, getting random social media messages, having a heartfelt conversation with family or friends these opportunities allowed me to be open, honest and vulnerable. No matter how these amends happened, they were all presented by God and they were always received well. There are people that I still wish I could have a deep heartfelt conversation with, but I also have peace that it is still OK and hold hope that eventually I will get the chance. I don't feel as though I am not right with society anymore. I know this because there isn’t anywhere I feel like I need to avoid, there isn’t a person I wouldn’t talk to face to face, and there isn’t a pit in my stomach when I think about anyone. 
These truly are the most amazing steps, because I feel like I defiantly allow a tornado to cause some major wreckage from addiction. However I also feel like the way I lived my life even before addiction never allowed me to be comfortable everywhere, with everyone and in every situation. I am forever grateful for these amends because what a freeing feeling it truly is to be able to face anyone at any time and unapologetically be myself. God and Jesus Christ are so good. 

I recently recorded a podcast where Brian and I were interviewed (comefollowmeforus). I started to share some heavy stuff from my story and as I was saying things that I used to cringe inside about when I would talk about them, I felt peace. I am now clean 4 years and that's the first time I didn't cringe when talking about my story publicly. Maybe I couldn’t care less about what other people think, which is mostly true. Maybe people care less about my story since it's been a while, which is also probably true. OR MAYBE the fullness of the Atonement has worked in my life. I am going to go with the last option.
As I reflect on why steps 8 and 9 were so difficult for me in the beginning and why they didn't truly work for a while it dawned on me that I was part of the "culture of the church". I was always trying to fit a mold of what I should be, what I should look like, how I should act and react, how I should gossip, who I should like, what I shouldn't like, this list could go on and on. By trying to fit that mold, as you know if you have read the part of my story about postpartum depression, I was hardening my heart. Seeking forgiveness and seeking restitution wasn't ever going to happen for me or anyone if I kept trying to fit myself into a mold of something I would never become. I had to strip that part of myself layer by layer and unleash this vulnerable, open, raw version of myself to allow others to truly see the change of heart I knew I had experienced. It didn't matter whether they excepted this true version of myself because they were used to the people pleasing, fake version. All that mattered ultimately and still does is that I am portraying the truth and living in a manner that displays the divine potential and spirit that is the real me. 
The Atonement is all encompassing, it worked for me in the depths of the trenches. It worked for me in the first part of my recovery when I wasn't going to church, being with family or showing up fully for my loved ones. It worked for me when I decided that I wanted the Gospel in my life. It worked for me when wanting the Gospel in my life was hard. It worked for me as I was working toward getting my temple recommend back. It worked for me as I was trying to figure out how to rid myself of my imperfections and character weaknesses. Bottom line is it has and will work for any and all situations. It will work on any emotion, feeling, or behavior. The Atonement of my Savior Jesus Christ worked and works so perfectly for me. I can't think of a more beautiful thing that it can and will work for than bringing two of Heavenly Father's children back together. 
I thought I would never be able to be imperfect or flawless in the world around me. But here I am unapologetically living completely imperfect with the gift of the Atonement. This beautiful reconciling power allows me to show up as I am, and humbly ask those around me to accept that version. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Part 7- Humility

Part 7- Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings. 

Ok, this is crazy, my last blog post was 18 months ago. What in the world is going on? I love writing and I have yet to cease doing a thorough written moral inventory everyday. But I got caught up with life and every time I would sit down to edit my writings of the last 6 steps I would just get distracted. I would tell myself “no one reads blogs”, I would also think that my writings about the 12 steps was only meant for a time and a season. However, that wouldn’t be the case because I utilize the steps daily, I talk about the steps daily, I study the gospel and how the steps correlate with the recovery and related literature daily, that list could go on and on. 
Brian has encouraged me to finish writing about the 12 steps at least once a week. He has told me several times to at least finish the steps then I can stop. He has also complimented me on more than one occasion that I have a gift of writing. As I was reading tonight I came across this, “For those with the spiritual gift of writing—they'll write and it has the effect of building up the body of Christ and speaking His truth to help others grow in Christ.”  I have been praying for a few weeks about how to reinvigorate myself and gain more personal revelation. I think reading that quote was my answer, through writing. Even if this is for my own personal gain and solidifying my testimony further, then FABULOUS. But if that quote can be true through my gift of writing and help others “grow in Christ” then I can only be eternally grateful. 
I have been really focusing on repentance and what a gift it is truly is in our daily lives. I have been talking about the Atonement and daily repentance with my sister, mom, nieces, and best friend for about a solid week. When I opened my blog to see what step I published last and saw that step 7 was next I was kind of shocked because I thought for sure I was two steps ahead. But, here we are, humbly asking Heavenly Father to remove our shortcomings. Low and behold my deep conversations and focus has been on daily repentance and continuous improvement. 
What brought all this to my attention in such a deep way was studying the new Young Women’s theme announced in this past conference. The part that stood out to me the most was “As I strive to qualify for exaltation, I cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day.”  I love this change so much for everyone, especially the youth. When I was in young women’s and growing up, I reserved repentance for big, humongous sins. Anytime a lesson was given about repentance it was the proper steps of repentance and that always included speaking to a priesthood leader about the mistake. In my young brain that meant that just a casual “sorry Heavenly Father for yelling at my mom” or “sorry I was rude to that girl at school” in my prayers was good about once a week. I also would wait for something to REALLY bug me and then I would finally surrender to the thought that maybe I should just pray quick and it will all just go away. I didn’t truly see repentance as a daily requirement and gift for daily happiness. 
When I truly utilized the Atonement for the first time and understood the sanctifying power it could bring to my life I was in complete awe. I never knew true peace and never exactly felt a clean slate. I always had small regrets of stupid things I said, gossiping about someone in a harmful way, lying or omitting, criticizing people, looking down at others, being insincere, seeing the bad in most situations, this list could fill a book so I’ll stop there. But these regrets were never something I looked at the Atonement as a cure for, rather unpleasant feelings that would pass with time. The understanding and testimony I have of the Atonement of Jesus Christ now is that I don’t need to feel the heaviness of all those little regrets anymore. The gift of repentance, especially if utilized daily means that I can have clear conscious and new beginning EVERY DAY. 
Step 6 is where we recognize there are lots of character weaknesses we possess; we take note that we are divine beings going through a mortal flawed experience. We self evaluate all of these imperfections and find faith that Jesus Christ was able to overcome them all. In step 6 we gain the knowledge and trust that we can give them to Him, because that is simply what the Atonement is all about.
Step 7 comes from the trust, knowledge and faith we gained. This is where we ask Heavenly Father to remove them from us. We humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings. Simple right? The answer is YES. If that doesn’t sound simple, then you haven’t fully grasped everything necessary to fulfill this from step 6. It is only easy if you trust that the grace of God is real. We will never obtain perfection, that isn’t the point of this life, Christ came to earth for this very purpose. With a genuine and honest heart, we can know that we will always make mistakes no matter how hard we try. The way I see it is progression, when I am HUMBLY asking Heavenly Father to remove a shortcoming of mine, I am asking in a way that says, “I am really trying”. That is all He asks of us, to try to do better. He knows we can’t be perfect, that was part of the Plan of Salvation. He wants us to know that we aren’t perfect, yet we are striving to be and the miraculous part is that His grace is sufficient. “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.” 
 Brad Wilcox
Brad Wilcox illustrates something really good here as well; “Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God.” That isn’t to pass judgment on anyone not keeping the commandments but to me just reminds me how I personally want to be living my life. It reminds me that I have once felt the desire to become comfortable with sinful behavior and now I feel super uncomfortable when I make mistakes. I don’t try and talk myself into something being ok when it is against my morals and the way I know God wants me to be living. I also have been highly motivated to continually seek personal revelation, not just for myself, but for my little family as I am trying to raise my kids in righteousness. I know that that goal is fulfilled by keeping the commandments of God, and the only way to truly be keeping them is by repenting daily and asking Heavenly Father to please help me overcome my natural man and mortal self.
I am reading a book right now called “Odds Are You’re Going to Be Exalted” by Alonzo L. Gaskill. At the beginning of the book he talks about getting his temple recommend renewed and when asked the final question, “do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances”, he exclaims “YES” to the stake member interviewing him. The stake president member looks at him kind of shocked and he asks if that is weird to answer that way. The stake presidency member says he just hasn’t ever had someone answer so profoundly and continues that members usually get a little sheepish and feel a bit awkward saying yes. After I read that I realized that I have been guilty of being sheepish when answering that question as well. I reflected on the principle of repentance and if we are utilizing it every day we can also answer that question with a weighty YES. It all goes back to that peace we feel knowing that every day we are humbly asking Heavenly Father through the gift of the Christ’s Atonement to remove our shortcomings and continue to try and do better every day. 
My prayer and hope is that we can all utilize this amazing gift of repentance. Also, as my sister’s friend and favorite podcaster Melanie Price Wellman says on her “Come Follow Me, For Us” podcast “we should all be excited to repent”. We really should, who doesn’t want genuine peace and true joy in their life? I know from personal experience that harmony within ourselves and satisfaction in life only come from being right with Heavenly Father and trying our very best every day, knowing that Christ will being filling us and our lives with His divine amazing Grace. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Part 6- Change of Heart

Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.

Step 6 and 7 are so incredibly beautiful. They are complete proof to me that I trusted God and had faith in His divine power. I learned that God was in control and capable of changing my life for the good if I would allow Him. These two steps come back around to a daily practice in step 10.
Have ever noticed coming out of a trial or hardship that you can breathe again? That all of the sudden you have normal problems. Things that don’t really seem to impact your entire life and well-being. When I arrived at this point in my recovery I was shocked. I remember telling my husband that it was so nice to have a normal problem. I was so happy that spilling something on the carpet was the worst part of my day.
These two steps, 6 and 7, are known in the AA world as the “forgotten steps”. They are forgotten in my opinion because life is good, what else if there to work on? However, they have also been the most impactful in my life. I think that I have felt that because it was an opportunity to look at my character and change my way of living to be as Christlike as possible. I wasn’t having to face something that was life changing or impactful outwardly, it was now little tiny things that I need to change and tweak. It was beautiful. The changes that I was making and continue to make had nothing to do with anyone else and were all within me. They were manifested and changed because of my connection with God, which is all my choice.
 This step is called “change of heart”. This was about the time in my recovery that I realized I had indeed had a change of heart. I realized that I cared about other people more than I care about myself. My focus wasn’t on me and was more on what I could do for others. My pride was greatly diminished and my humility had started to show itself in a way I never had experienced. I learned that staying in this very clean and healthy way of living had allowed me to serve others and be there for people because my cup was full. I was completely taken care of and aligned with God’s will in order to show up, be present and available.
In my recovery, I did a two year “aftercare”. I went to the treatment center I had gone to for 30 days, Action Recovery Group, once a week for two hours. This is where I started step 6. My counselor lays out step 6 with 17 character defects to focus on changing. His program had me go through every one of these defects and say exactly why the defect or weakness made my life unmanageable. That was the initial practice. I now go through every one of those defects every night and write down from 0-3 how much that defect or weakness impacted my day. (see the bottom of the post for the 17 defects and their accompanying asset) This practice has been so incredibly vital to my mental health. If I allow weaknesses to creep in and become habitual again I lose the desire to strive to be better and fall back into a rut of living a subpar life. This practice and discipline of constantly trying to better myself reminds me that I am in control of my thoughts, actions, and negative feelings. I rely on God to not just show me what these are, but I have developed a faith to know that He can change me and my heart. I know that God wants me to live my best life and be the very best version of myself. This is 100% through asking him with a desire and developing a trust that He will assist me to change all these defects of character.
One of the most humbling discoveries I have made about myself is that if I don’t allow God to assist me in ridding myself of these negative behaviors, thought patterns, and desires that I will cling to them. I have done this “moral inventory” nightly for roughly three years and I know that I have favorite defects or weaknesses. I say favorite because they are the easiest for me to tap in to in order to cope in an unhealthy way. It’s pretty sad to write that down, but it is so true. Self-condemnation and pride for example are two of my very best. I use them very innocently in the beginning and if I don’t catch myself quickly and ask God to forgive me and assist me to live and choose better, then I can go weeks in that pride cycle and feeling sorry for myself. This practice of looking at ALL of my weaknesses and trying to better myself is unbelievably daunting. However, Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice had brought me to this point, why would it not cover such a task?  
The process was gradual at best and I saw it go forward and backward several times. I felt myself fall back because it was easier and safer, totally the social norm. Then I would have amazing experiences where I was progressing spiritually, emotionally, and physically that I would just continue to reach for a greater and the best version of myself. I am very observant by nature and what I know from of every avenue in my life is that people want to stay put because it is comfortable. Making the choice to continually change and embrace the good has brought not only growth, but I have seen the most accurate version of my inner self portrayed outwardly to others. I have found happiness because I stopped looking where I knew it wasn’t and embraced that happiness is found from somewhere inside of me all I had to do was CHOOSE it. I incorporated being comfortable with uncomfortable, and have stopped trying to think every situation should be what I think it should be and actually just let it be what it is. Living a life and being a person that I would want to be around.
Whenever I feel a stall in my life, where I am comfortable and seem to be staying put I am so grateful for what I have written. I write daily about the experiences that I have with God, friends, family, and anyone I’m in contact with. I write my successes and failures. I write down where I feel like I have gone wrong and where I know I have done the right thing. If there is anything anyone ever takes from me I hope that it will be the power of writing. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or amazing. No one ever has to read what you put on paper. What I do know is when I am stuck, like I said, I turn to these writings and thoughts. I am immediately motivated to do better. I find a weakness that at one time I felt as though I had mastered, my words that I had written give me direction and purpose. I call it a God journal because I am very prayerful while I write. I write in it every day and it has no rhyme or reason, it is totally scattered. But it has been a lifeline for me.
A conference report from 1985 by President Ezra Taft Benson says this; “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature… may we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him and born again.” I love this because once I decided to change me and my heart with God’s help I found a desire to change everything about my life. I changed who I associated with, what conversations I would entertain, my daily habits, the way I approached challenges and trials. These changes came because Christ changed my heart. A new disposition and character is ALWAYS achievable. We can always change for the better, and that is beautiful.
“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” Mo Willems

17 character defects and assets

Impatience/ patience, Procrastination/ promptness, Laziness/ activity, Criticizing/ non-judgmental, False pride/ humility, Self- importance/ modesty, Self-condemnation/ self- valuation, Dishonesty/ honesty, Insincerity/ sincerity, Self-justification/ taking responsibility, Self-pity/ acceptance, Jealousy/ trust, Envy/ gratitude, Vulgar immoral thinking/ values oriented, Destructive anger/ constructive anger, Resentment/ forgiveness, Negative thinking/ positive thinking 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Part 5- Confession

There have been a lot of times in my life where I have held something back later regretting so bad that I had said something. Can you think of a time in your life where you wish you would have told someone the truth? Where you wish you would have admitted a weakness to someone? Opened up to someone else who was also struggling? Gotten something off of your chest to a friend, bishop, or spouse that had been weighing you down, knowing that just openly saying it could bring you peace.

Well this is what this part of my life looked like. I had so many disappointments, sorrow, grief and shame attached to my past, I truly felt so far gone. There was so much fear involved when I finished writing my step 4 and all the bad things about my life. I had completed it and held on for a bit before taking step 5 and confessing all of my bad habits, lies, actions and thoughts that had held me down and broke my spirit. I knew Heavenly Father loved me and I had found out exactly what the Atonement of Jesus Christ means for me while completing this step.

I love the analogy my husband came up with for this step. He parallels it to a backpack. Along the course of our lives we are picking up rocks and putting them in our backpacks. Some are small pebbles that we can reach around and take out. Some rocks are a little bigger but still manageable to take out ourselves. There are other rocks that are a little bit larger and require us to find an alternate solution to get them out of our packs. Then there are rocks that are so gigantic and heavy that we need to ask someone else to assist us in getting them out. Also asking them different ways to not get so weighed down by these rocks in the future. Also asking for solutions for totally ridding ourselves of their immensity.

The representation of the rock is sin. We will encounter every single day obstacles that the adversary will place in our path, causing us to sin. These mistakes, faults, errors and oversights will inevitably be part of our mortal experience. They will come in various degrees. Sin that we can simply correct behavior. Sin that will need to be worked out with Heavenly Father privately on our knees. Times when we will utilize repentance and action, such as apologizing to another. Then there will be times when our mistakes are too great for us to completely be free of without ecclesiastical assistance, the priesthood and Heavenly Father. Just like the heaviest of rocks, we need others to assist us in removing that which we are shackled to, unable to move forward without that weight lifted.

As I was preparing to read my step 5 to my sponsor I was excited that I would be free of that “heaviness”. I am a strong AA member and I believe in the program. However, when I finished my step 5 and read the whole thing to my sponsor I still felt a slight pang of uneasiness. As I explored these feelings with my counselor, I came to discover that I still needed to go a step farther.

Despite my faith in the program of AA, I also am a faithful LDS saint and as I learned more about the Atonement and the power found in it. Part of the Atonement is taking proper steps of the repentance process. I recognized, felt so much sorrow, I had found a new life and forsook my sins, next would be “confession”. Regardless of taking step 5 of AA; “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. I had found the LDS addiction recovery program offers a slightly enhanced version of this step regarding my faith and religion. “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.” I believe that twinge of unease came from missing “to proper priesthood authority”. I had been working with my bishop and had told him in a brief way all of the mistakes I had made. But, the “exact nature” means description and details. It would include how, where, and when. That in itself caused me so much anxiety, it is really easy and doable to admit to another addict details of my addiction and the actions that I chose while in active addiction, because they understand. I found myself truly at the Lord’s mercy, knowing full well I had made a decision to continually chose God’s will for my life.

I made an appointment that very night. I was nervous that he wouldn’t “get” it. I couldn’t help thinking that his mortal limitations would change his view of me. I had discontent that I could possibly not trust him. I let fear overcome my thoughts making the process grueling. Going in to meet with him a few days later I wanted to throw up. When I walked into his office he gave me a big hug, I immediately began crying. I am crying even writing that because I remember feeling so welcome and instantaneously felt the spirit overcome me. I believe I have mentioned in previous posts about losing that warm embrace of the spirit, so this overwhelming calm that I felt reassured me that I was on the right track.

Something to note here is when I was living out of God’s will I was making small strides to live right. Deep down I knew I could do better, be better and try harder. God also knew this, today I still find myself doing half measures, I lose the connection and peace that comes with doing my very best. The phrase “half measures availed us nothing” applies here and will always apply because not only do I know when I can do better, God does too. He leaves me yearning for more when I fall backward because He wants and knows I can do better. He in turn blesses my life tenfold when I take the proper steps to DO better.

While in the bishop’s office we knelt in prayer and he offered the sincerest prayer I have ever heard. I remember him saying “we know that You love Sister Denkers and that she is a huge part of the plan to redeem and help others find their way back to You. Please bless her with strength as she gets this weight off of her.” I wrote this down right when I got back to my car because it was so amazing. I see that prayer of sincere hope unveiling itself to me today. I am in a place with amazing opportunities to serve and bless the lives of others. That prayer was a turning point to right myself with God. He needed me for His plan to be there for others and serve in capacities that bless those who need Him in their lives. Despite what I was about to tell him and the outcome that wasn’t the most favorable and I never imagined I would ever hear for myself. I knew he was a representative of Jesus Christ and he had my best interest. During this confession, I lost my privilege to take of the sacrament, which stayed in place for 6 months. I was later disfellowshipped, regaining full membership about 5 months later.

I felt as though my heart would break into a thousand pieces. I couldn’t believe that the reality of my mistakes had become my life. I wanted so badly to not go to church and face the music. I can gratefully and humbly look back on the experience of this soul stretching repentance process as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I couldn’t have ever imagined that being disfellowshipped would have brought so much gratitude to my heart. I longed for the blessings of the sacrament and renewing those sacred covenants. I was given a gift of never taking for granted what an amazing gift I now have every week of wiping my slate clean, and continually staying right with the Lord and God.

During this process, I learned how to stop caring about what anyone else thinks or says about me because I learned who I was and what was true to my core. This was a hard lesson to learn as an innate people pleaser. To simply say “I don’t care what others think” is really not part of my makeup. I do care, I want people to think the best of me. Prior to addiction there were many times in my life that I cared more about what others thought of me than God. I very much have a nature of wanting to “fit in”. Finding a whole new meaning to my life and truly understanding my divine nature is so beautiful. I found a friend through the virtual world named Jessica. She posted a quote by Brene Brown that said; “Ture belonging doesn’t require that we change who we are; it requires that we BE who we are”. Jessica said; “When I started to open up and become vulnerable about my past it seems I immediately attracted those on a similar path with a similar experience and it has been so encouraging and moving to feel true belonging, support and love.” I wrote back to her because I resonate 100% with that statement telling her this; “shedding layers of a false version of yourself and embracing what is, is probably the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. The people it has attracted and the love I have felt is amazing!” I have a limited understanding for my life and purpose, but what I do know is addiction recovery is a huge part of that purpose. I know that through sharing my burdens and trials I have found the most incredible people in my corner. It wasn’t easy in the beginning and I felt shame creep in a lot. I had my fair share of “vulnerability hangovers”. Today I can proudly say that being open and honest has allowed deep and meaningful relationships to happen in my life. I would never in a million years take any of that back. In the end, all of the mistakes are worth it and the lessons learned have shaped my life and all relationships into an amazing, beautiful, crazy gift.

What I found returning to church is that every single person I encountered had the light of Christ and loved me. Coming from such a horrible place and being honest and straightforward about my struggles allowed others to in turn do the same. Maybe not right off the bat, but the experiences and trials others shared with me at this very pivotal moment were awe-inspiring. I am so grateful that other members at church shared and continue to share their trials and difficulties with me, giving me peace that I am not alone and everyone struggles. I began seeing people as what is in others’ hearts and not what temptations they succumb to, the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ. I have a really amazing ward, it is unique and I may be biased. I can genuinely say I felt a whole group of people cheering me on. I know that this is sensitive and many, many people have had very negative experiences with their ward members and bishops. I am not one of them, because of that I feel as though my process and trial of finding peace in the process was made very easy. Despite whatever your situation and comfort level is with your bishop and other ward members, know that through this process what is found on the other side is peace and love from Heavenly Father and gratitude for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I unearthed a whole new meaning to church, it has very little to do with other people and everything to do with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The connection and spirituality I have are very much found with weekly attendance at church. I no longer judge what other people say and prayerfully search for what the Spirit is telling me through them.

This process of self-discovery and living in God’s will is frequently exhausting and straining. I know for a surety that God’s will and His plan of happiness for us is a persistent progression. I now know that “enduring to the end” part of this mortal life is the biggest feat. I am so grateful that my Savior put in place an opportunity to better ourselves and find peace continually.