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.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Part 4- Truth

Step 4 can be paralleled to an infected wound, with that wound that has healed improperly you need to reopen it, clean it out, and reseal it knowing that everything that is infectious or damaged is gone. Step 4 is making a thorough written moral inventory of yourself. You are diving into everything that has held you back from your divine potential and ridding yourself of it, so you have a clean slate and second chance to do better.
After becoming willing in step 2 that God can help you and making a decision to trust God in step 3, you arrive at step 4. Step 4 is ugly and hard; however, it is your chance to show God your willingness and prove how much you really do trust Him and His infinite power.
Step 4 is a thorough moral inventory of yourself that is fearless and soul searching. As I have stated that I needed to repeat some steps, this step didn’t need to repeated but I did write two step fours, because after my relapse and true rock bottom I had some more demons to put to paper and workout with a bishop, stake president, and my sponsor.
The first time I worked this step I was still in treatment, I can honestly say it was one of the only steps during that first go around that I truly did with my whole heart. I think something was kind of starting to click at that point and the fact that I chose to read it to my sponsor at that time and a few parts with the bishop that needed priesthood power to truly repent of, I felt safe knowing only two people would hear what I was writing down.
Step 4 is scary and intimidating because you are searching and scanning your entire life for things you have done wrong, making a list of people you have harmed in the process of life and bringing up old emotions that were years in the making and some that had been mended to a degree. As scary and hard as it was to write and stretch my soul to make sure it was thorough, it was also really relieving. Knowing that it would be the first time I was actually stating things I have done wrong out loud, knowing that when it was over I would read it to people who love and care about me.
The fearless part of this step doesn’t necessarily mean you will feel no fear, I felt a lot of fear, it was not letting that fear stop me from writing down shameful, embarrassing, and dark feelings and events that transpired over the course of my life and active addiction. I was very rigorous and for good reason, it was the first time I had stepped foot into vulnerability in my entire life. I was rigorously honest, in step 4 it is just you and God bringing to light through prayer and meditation things that needed to be released and things I needed to unshackle myself from. There needed to be no more reasons from the past to use drugs over. As shallow as this sounds I never had to do hard things in my life, I excelled at sports, school, running, and I was a social butterfly. This step was a chance to rid myself of all those “titles” and allow myself to look at my core and soul, reach deep into a place that I knew was always there but I was unwilling to go.
At the treatment center I was at and currently work, the counselor has a very tried and tested method of working this step, it broke my life into sections and instead of a timeline or a story it was more focused. Areas such as relationships, work places, religious settings, immorality, school, etc. It was broken down as such that it wasn’t so daunting and the process was actually really smooth. It was really difficult and I cried a lot, but Heavenly Father knew my desire to change and that was palpable as I wrote my step 4. I felt the Spirit so strong during these moments, a Spirit that I forgot existed. In active addiction, I numbed myself to face challenges and emotions, whether past or present. I finally received a gift back into my life that changed this process from grueling and heartbreaking into something beautiful and soul changing.
This step shouldn’t be skimmed over and sifted through to find an appropriate length or questioning if it should be written down. It is vital to the healing process. I feel like it cleared the air in my heart. I wrote down silly things that a normal day to day could be repented of personally and on my knees, however they still needed to be written down. I had and still have a moral compass, during active addiction it was broken, I stopped feeling remorseful and I numbed myself from feeling any sense of guilt. If I was ever “caught” or openly admitted anything in active addiction, I knew my way out, I hate to even say this but I became a master manipulator. I could sweet talk my way out, and smooth over any problem by simply reading a situation and knowing the exact things to say to remove any hurt from the other person and especially myself. I wore a total mask of deceit. The times I openly admitted things that I had done it had nothing to do with a full disclosure of things that had transpired rather a really good way to give a hair of honesty and still keep my addiction safe and private. This was an opportunity to remove that mask and open my whole heart and soul. I have heard it said in many recovery settings that if your step 4 isn’t thorough and you don’t completely relinquish yourself from those past memories, feelings, and actions then you WILL relapse. I heard it so many times in just a few short months that I knew I couldn’t mess it up.
The LDS addiction recovery program states that there are four vital steps to a solid step 4: Honesty, support, prayer, and writing. I am going to briefly state my opinion as to why these aspects are so important.
Honesty- I know that step 1 is where I came clean to myself that I had a problem and that I was an addict, this is basically an addendum. Step 4 has to be as honest as step 1 because you are writing down all the proof you need to know that you want to start a new chapter in your life. That doesn’t involve your addiction and more importantly a chapter that includes everything positive. By writing all the bad and in turn riding yourself of it you are admitting to yourself and God that life is better without all of this, let’s begin again.  
Support- I was in treatment at the time that I wrote my step 4 so I had a good support system there. However, I told my husband about step 4 and its description and also told him that between step 4 and 5 is where a lot of relapses happen. Step 4 is a rehash of emotions and bringing up old wounds. I told him that I needed him to support me and help me feel safe during this process. I cried several times to him and even though he didn’t need to read my step 4 to its entirety I still wanted and needed to share somethings I wrote down to begin the healing process for us. Knowing that I was safe in both environments and that I was supported regardless of the excruciating things I was divulging made the process OK. I knew I was on the right track during every moment of this process.
Prayer- Heavenly Father is all knowing and all loving, I involved prayer even before I put pen to paper. I remember telling Him, “this is going to be really hard, I don’t want to be brave, strong and just tough it out, I want to get it right. Will You help me remember things and bring certain things to my attention that You know I need to rid myself of?” This wasn’t the only prayer uttered and I knew that prayer would be constant during the writing phase, but that day I said that prayer was the first day I rated myself concerning pride a ZERO on my moral inventory that I took and still take every night. Pride is one of my favorite weaknesses and it is also the enmity of all that is good in this mortal life, a hidden sin if you will. To be able to humble myself to that point and strip myself of something that I felt was protecting me from hurt was so extremely enlightening. During the process of writing step 4 and heading into the repentance process was when I knew the reality of Jesus Christ’s Atonement and how much He suffered for me. My prayers during this time thanked Heavenly Father so many times for that gift of His son, so that I can get a second chance at a happy, joyful life.
Writing- Last aspect, this is the biggest one and truly the most vital. Putting pen to paper and actually taking action instead of the first three steps that are mostly coming to a belief that you can’t, He can, and you will let Him. Writing this moral inventory down instills in yourself why you cannot successfully use any sort of addiction to numb emotion, pain, heartache, etc. It is solid proof to yourself and God that you recognize mistakes and know the limitations of your mortal self and natural man. It opens the door of using GRACE to make up the difference. Writing doesn’t have to be eloquent or perfect, that’s not the point at all. It has everything to do with a long-term focus of what you want your life to look like and what you do not want it to look like.
Step 4 isn’t 100% bad, there is a huge emphasis on writing down your positive attributes, qualities, spiritual gifts, successes, and talents. It allows you to balance the scale and remind yourself with Heavenly Father’s help that you are still a son or daughter of His and that you are loved beyond measure. The positive part was actually extremely difficult for me because I was downtrodden. I didn’t remember that I was of worth. This part of step 4 is crucial because it implants a divine nature and knowledge that this life isn’t for all of the mistakes we will make. It is about making mistakes and learning from them. Finding new strengths that didn’t exist before and allowing a process of “take it or leave it”. I kept that part of my step 4 and prior to writing this post I read it. I am glad I saved it because it was a solid reminder that I am still generous, kind, happy, understanding, service oriented, educated, athletic, and a good mom. Those few things are what I wrote and expounded upon for the positive side of the scale. As I read this list I reflected on how difficult it was to remember that I still was those things and how heart wrenching it was at the time to know that I was still of worth.
God is good, He knows everything about you and I and He has a plan of happiness in place at all times. It is our choice to live it, or follow, our own will that will inevitably lead to unhappiness, despair, anguish and hopelessness.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is so powerful to remember when this step is taken. Christ felt all of the things we are writing down, He knows first-hand the good and bad that we have chosen and continue to choose. He is our greatest ally in this mortal fight against Satan and the adversary because He knows. He has been there, He has felt the pain, sadness, happiness, joy and success. He is there waiting to take all of it back knowing full well that He suffered those things so we wouldn’t have to suffer here alone.

There is so much hope and happiness ahead, the steps are crucial especially to the repentance process. Step 4 covers the first two steps of the repentance process. To feel Godly sorrow, a sorrow that isn’t superficial and just to hurry and get over. It is truly feeling grief and disappointment that you have disobeyed and forgotten God’s commandments. It is also a confession to God “the exact nature of our wrongs”. What follows these two steps of the repentance process and what follows step 4 is only good and positive to remind ourselves that we are of worth and needed in this great work of the Lord.