Monday, February 28, 2011

Laura’s Take: Spiritual Health and Addiction

Carey already did an amazing job defining addiction in the very first blog post called “If you are addicted to it, then it is an addiction.”

Like she said, addiction is unique to the individual. Addiction hides behind many masks. It is something that we may or may not be aware of, if we are; we are most likely ashamed of it. We may feel the need to hide it from those who we care about most or we care about what others think about us. Its repetitive behavior, it robs our time by way of our thoughts, actions and moods. Withdrawal symptoms are inevitable, and we may even miss the behavior like an old friend.

For all of us who have overcome a bad habit, know the difficulty it can be with it returning, and returning with a vengeance. For me it was my depression and weight. After I got married, which was a positive stress, the change from being single to a couple, and a mother of two was an upheaval to the structure that kept me on the right path. That structure was perfected as a single person, but the terrain changed. Like spiritual paralyses I had to relearn the things that kept me strong in the past.

A message by Victor D. Cave had a profound influence on me years ago when I was battling depression. Called:
"Parables of Jesus: The Parable of the Empty House", Ensign, Mar. 2003, 45–47

You might wonder what one of Jesus Christ parables would have to do with addiction. Whether or not you believe in God or the Devil, there IS opposition in all things; Light/Darkness, Good/Bad, etc.

In this message he quotes Spencer W. Kimball

“The devil knows where to tempt, where to put in his telling blows. He finds the vulnerable spot. Where one was weak before, he will be most easily tempted again.

“In abandoning sin one cannot merely wish for better conditions. He must make them. … He must eliminate anything which would stir the old memories.

“Does this mean that the man who has quit smoking or drinking or had sex pollutions finds life empty for a time? The things which engaged him and caught his fancy and occupied his thoughts are gone, and better substitutions have not yet filled the void. This is Satan’s opportunity. The man makes a start but may find the loss of the yesterday’s habits so great that he is enticed to return to his evil ways, and his lot thus becomes infinitely worsened. …

“Many who have discontinued bad habits have found that substitution is part of the answer, and have conquered a bad habit by replacing it with a good or harmless one.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 171–73.)

“True repentance (or putting off an addiction) is not merely eliminating the negative but replacing it with positive attitudes and actions.”

The parable of the Empty House is found in the New Testament, Matt. 12:22-37 and also can be found in that article in more clarity. To be honest I didn’t understand it reading it through the first time. It took several times and allot of prayer and study. I felt it held answers for me so I was driven to understand it. It had such a profound effect on me that several years later I did a sort of a diptych of the parable.

The second painting was to symbolically show a “full” house. We are vessels that must be full at all times. We choose what to fill our vessels with.

So what can we replace our bad habits with?

It will be different for everyone, just like our weaknesses and addictions are varied. Our strengths are varied too. We can’t afford to be idle. That is when we can be caught off guard. For me filling me life with more prayer, fasting, scripture study, service, yoga, meditation, work, painting along with other hobbies etc., helped me a great deal. Avoiding people or places that would potentially bring me down, like an alcoholic would avoid a bar, I had to avoid certain things that would trigger my eating or depression.

If you look within yourself, you can find many wholesome things to replace the time spent being less edified. It is good to have a plan so you can fall back on it during weak moments. I can confirm that it does get easier as we persist. Because that which we persist in doing becomes easier, not because the nature of the thing has changed, but because our ability to do it has increased. (Ralph Waldo Emerson) And with God’s help, anything is possible.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Sugarless Manifesto

Well, it's been far too long since I participated on this blog.  Life has finally mellowed just a touch and i wanted to take a moment to concentrate on what I've learned about letting go of "sugar". 

When it comes right down to it, could you walk away from sugary treats forever?  I have the hardest time saying yes to this question.  Throughout my life I've attached so much importance to the existence of sweets.  Fun, comfort, group enjoyment, family togetherness.  For me the most subtly sinister attachment has been a feeling of deservedness.  For example, if I can't have new clothes or don't have enough money for the new 'thing' then by heck I'm at least going to get something I want.  And that something would end up sweet and gooey and fatty.

Letting go of eating sweets has been so much more than just not eating sweets. It's meant facing life's challenges without a buffer.  And you know what?  It's not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

So what are the initial steps necessary to begin the transformation?  Everyone is different.  My husband and I each used a different approach but 1 thing remained the same.  We both made a manifesto.  A list of guidelines, helps, goals and plans.  After all, if you fail to plan, you will fail to succeed.  I relied heavily on my manifesto during the first 2 weeks of 'sweet abstinence'.  If I got the shakes or cravings (and I did)  I would read it out loud several times and things would get easier.  Several months have passed and my manifesto still hangs in the kitchen, mighty as ever.

Things to keep in mind when planning.  Balance, be realistic, avoid zealousness but accept that addiction requires more than moderation (hard line to walk), realize error will happen and foster an attitude of 'try, try again', set limits to your restrictions (birthdays Christmas, 1 exception per month).

To outline a helpful manifesto I recommend these key ideas:
1.  A goal needs a reward but also a punishment.
       For example, my reward was money - because I like money.  My punishment was disappointment and I had to start over on the time-line of my goal.

2.  My manifesto included general advice. 
       I gleaned advice from the internet, from lots of personal evaluation, from family and especially a loving and wonderful father who is also a recovered alchoholic.  After gathering as much info as possible, I took it to the Lord in prayer for guidance.

3.  A list of good ideas and good practices to learn while 'unlearning' the bad habit. 
      For example, if you are craving sweets, eat an apple.  Meditate, think positive, get out of the house, record successes and feelings.  Blogging has helped me A LOT.

It's never easy overcoming an addiction.  No matter the subject.  Just when you think you've got it beat, you experience the hiccups of life and find yourself crawling right back to those old comforts.  I've found that keeping an attitude of 'try again' has kept me in the ring with my head up and gloves on. 

A note on zealousness - 
I believe that zealousness when it comes to food is extremely counter productive.  The more you do without it and force yourself to avoid it the more you're going to rebound when a weak moment occurs.  It's critical to find balance between the 2 extremes of never and always.  Unfortunately with an addiction it seems that the balance has to hang on the 'never' side of things.  That's why I believe that sugar addiction cannot be overcome without integrating the heart, mind, soul and body.  Facing the things that frighten or worry us is difficult but so much better than being a slave to a mindless chemical.  In fact, that may be a discussion for another day - sugar and idolatry.  Until then, be kind to your body.