Time: 11:30 a.m.
Date: Sunday, October 13, 2013
Location: Brunswick Ward, Frederick Maryland Stake
Event: Fast and Testimony Meeting
“Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am your ward addict. October marks seven years of being clean and straight thanks to the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, and I just want to share with you that the only way to overcome our addictions is through coming to the Savior.”
My heart stopped and a hush came over the chapel as this lovely, silver-haired woman humbly offered her testimony. My husband and I were there as visitors on a little weekend getaway that turned out to be a clearly inspired plan.
With a glowing countenance and slow, steady words, Perrin Dulany, a convert of over thirty years, spoke from her heart as she briefly shared that over 25 years ago, a terrible illness that could not be diagnosed had left her desperate enough to turn aside the Word of Wisdom and seek relief in alcohol. She was quickly addicted. In the ensuing years it tore her life and her family, including her four young children, apart. At three separate times she was admitted to long-term residential addiction recovery programs.
“They did not work. They do not work. I know that Jesus Christ lives and that He is the only way to solve our problems and addictions, be they small or as large as mine. The only way to be free is to accept and allow His Atonement to change us. I am so grateful for Him and the LDS Addiction Recovery Program.”
With that, she closed her testimony and quietly sat down. The chapel was still and I knew my own life had changed. Her words left me overwhelmed with my Heavenly Father’s love for me and for Meridian readers. I quickly found her after the meeting to thank her and to tell her that I am consciously addressing a sugar addiction, along with many other Meridian readers who joined me the first of October. (The link to that information is below.) Her face brightened, and she said, “Well sugar is a big problem for many! Lots of alcoholics turn to candy after weaning themselves from alcohol because it is a different form of sugar. Not as dangerous, but still a big problem. Come to a meeting! There’s one this afternoon!”
And that is how I found myself attending my first LDS ARP meeting.
It was held at the LDS Social Services office not too far from the chapel. The office park was quiet on this rainy, October Sunday afternoon. Although it was just a typical office, surrounded on either side by doctors and dentists offices, when I walked in, this felt like the Temple! The paintings on the walls, the spirit, and the peaceful, perfect order left me close to tears.
We were welcomed by the senior service missionaries who were converted to the Church many years ago as adults.
What is the LDS Addiction Recovery Program? According to the official website, the LDS ARP is a “12-step program that incorporates gospel principles and fosters recovery and healing through seeking to understand and apply the Savior’s atonement.” The comforting scripture in D&C 84:88 on the official website (link below) makes it clear that the LDS ARP is a place of help and hope.”
Jerry and Mary Lou Nordstrom, senior service missionaries from Troutdale Oregon, administer the program in their area. They speak with enthusiasm, knowledge and reverence about what they call, “Atonement 101.” They, along with the missionaries at the meeting I attended, cheerfully confirm what each of us already knows: We all have problems and addictions, large and small, that hold us back from progress in this life and from being close to the Lord.
Though scientists may define an addiction as something that causes a bodily response when the behavior is removed, i.e. shakes, tremors, nausea, anxiety and other withdrawal reactions that can be measured physically, the LDS ARP manual states otherwise. Within the LDS ARP, an addiction can be identified as “alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, self-destructing eating patterns, compulsive spending or another behavior or substance that represents your need to run and hide from stress or challenges in your life.” (LDS ARP manual, page 36.)
“It may be procrastination or any number of bad habits that bring unhappiness and problems,” says Elder Nordstrom. “The LDS ARP has been established for anyone who is ready to change. Just getting yourself there and walking through that door is an indicating that you are ready and teachable. Then it is amazing how dramatic changes can quickly follow.”
“It is very important to note that at no time during the meetings is identifying your particular addiction expected or required,” says Sister Nordstrom. “While separate meetings are held for pornography, all are invited to the general LDS ARP meetings.” (link with a meeting locator is provided below.)
Elder Nordstrom continues,
“The difference between the ARP and a community AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting in is like night and day!” Though not speaking critically, he compared the LDS ARP with AA. “They focus on the affliction. We focus on the Atonement! Their meeting rooms are often filled with smoke from cigarettes. Ours are held at clean and dedicated church buildings and offices where the Spirit of the Lord is present. They focus on discussing behaviors and events caused by the addiction. At LDS ARP meetings your personal addiction is kept private, unknown to anyone but you, and though we do have time for each person to talk, it is required that you do NOT share personal behaviors and events associated with your addiction.”
Yes, it is based on the 12 steps that make Alcoholics Anonymous a successful program, but it centers around finding strength and personal understanding through the Savior’s atoning love and support. It focuses on recovery!”
(I noted to myself that the differences in the AA and the LDS ARP approach are similar to the differences in how we view the Christian symbol of the cross. As LDS people, though we respect the cross, we do not wear crosses or use the Christian cross in our temples as it represents the dying Savior and we celebrate a living Savior.)
“When you come to the meeting, you 100% leave your last name, your Church calling, your profession, , etc. at the door,” says Elder Nordstrom, “There is complete anonymity and a strict code of confidentiality that is essential to invite the Spirit and to provide a sense of security for those attending.”
What happens at an LDS ARP meeting?
What a joy-filled hour! We were warmly welcome by the senior missionary couple and gathered around a conference table where there were manuals for each person. As others arrived, we exchanged first names and friendly hellos, but nothing more. An opening prayer was offered, and then a confidentiality code was read to the effect that “who you see and what you hear here stays here.”
We then turned to the manual. Based on the 12 steps for Alcoholics anonymous, the 12 steps are the same, but have been beautifully expanded upon. The cover of the manual (available for download at the link below) states that it was “written with support from Church leaders and counseling professionals, along with those who have suffered from addiction and who have experienced the miracle of recovery through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Each chapter is one of the steps, with the “key principle” outlined, then expanded upon with quotes from General Authorities, LDS scriptures and observations by those who have completed and live the program.
They key principle is followed by powerful action steps, which is then followed by additional resources for study and understanding.
At each meeting one of the twelve steps is covered, starting with those in attendance taking turns reading the key principle outline exactly as it is printed in the manual with no discussion.
The twelve steps are:
1: HONESTY: Admit that we are powerless with the addiction;
2. HOPE: Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to complete spiritual health;
3. TRUST IN GOD: Decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God and His Son, Jesus Christ;
4. TRUTH: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves;
5. CONFESSION: Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs;
6. CHANGE OF HEART: Allow God to remove all these defects of character;
7. HUMILITY: Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings;
8. SEEKING FORGIVENESS: Become willing to make amends to those affected by our addiction;
9. RESTITUTION AND RECONCILIATION: Make direct amends to such people where ever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others;
10. DAILY ACCOUNTABILITY: Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it;
11. PERSONAL REVELATION: Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out; and
12. SERVICE: Carry this message and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
In our meeting, the group was at Step 6, and it was personally extremely meaningful and emotional as I have taken on my addiction to sugar.
After reading the key principle, the missionaries turned it over to a facilitator, one in the group who had been through the program. Before briefly sharing her personal thoughts, the facilitator emphasized again that personal behaviors and experiences related to the addiction were not to be talked about, nor was there to be any “cross-talk,” i.e. others making comments, suggestions, remarks, etc. In this way, everyone felt free to briefly share what was in their hearts based on the particular step, kind of like a testimony meeting.
There was a tissue box on the table, and when my turn came to share, I was grateful for it!
At the end of the meeting, we were reminded again that who we had seen and what we had heard was not be shared, and a closing prayer was offered. As we left and headed to the car, I couldn’t put my finger on why it all felt so familiar, uplifting and comfortable, but Elder Nordstrom found the answer for me.
“As we leave our meetings each week, it’s as though we are leaving a session at the temple.”
Yes, that was it exactly! As I left that meeting, I had indeed felt like I’d just left the temple, happy and renewed and recommitted, with a fresh start and a bigger picture of my life, accompanied by a great sense of Heavenly Father’s approval and appreciation for my having been there.
Later in the week I had a chance to visit by phone with Sister Dulany, who gave me permission to share a bit of her story in this article. “The problem is that an addiction is a way of trying to fix a problem. You have to identify the problem itself and address it. Identifying the underlying problem itself and some real solutions can be very difficult.
For her, the problem was finding help for a perpetual state of extreme anxiety coupled with being completely unable to sleep. These had ruined and drained her both physically and emotionally as she was a single mother trying to raise her family and run a business. At long last, a physician was able to diagnose it as “floating anxiety” and to treat it with medication, which she is most grateful for. “I am sleeping every night! No one who has not experienced this will ever understand how terrible and disabling it can be. I am extremely grateful for modern medicine!”
She talks with compassion and experience about addiction as she grew up with an alcoholic mother, whose own mother was an alcoholic, along with all her mother’s siblings, so that was her grandmother and all her maternal aunts and uncles. In addition, her own brother was murdered due to money he owed for cocaine habit. .
“Do I believe in addiction being a genetic reality? Oh, yes! I was born with that gene. It showed up in my early teens as anorexia, then later with a number of things, especially alcohol. The addictions tore my own little family, including my four children, apart. But through my patriarchal blessing I have learned that I even chose to have it, as my way of coming to the Lord and having an opportunity to serve Him here on earth. And at this time, all of my children are even active in the Church!”
She is now a great advocate of the LDS ARP, a facilitator in her area meetings, and volunteers at a residential recovery center. She is also a favorite among the missionaries who take her along with them when they are working with investigators who need help with Word of Wisdom in order to be baptized.”
Throughout this past week, as I have posted on my blog and communicated with the Meridian readers who are participating in the 30-Day Sugar Detox, my understanding of who I am as a person, and what we are to be as a people, has grown, and that in many ways I am just barely beginning to understanding the magnificence and magnitude of the Savior’s atonement.
“Here my husband and I are,” says Sister Nordstrom, “Called to lead these marvelous meetings with this inspired manual. Yes, we are missionaries who have served full time and been active and raised our family in the Church. But we feel like we ourselves are just beginning to understand our Savior’s love for us and that we all have problems that only He can help us with. There is no one who will not benefit from applying the LDS ARP to their lives.”
From this little sugar addict who is on her way, I couldn’t agree more … or be more humbled and grateful for the inspired leadership of the Church that has provided the LDS Addiction Recovery in a very personal way for each of us.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success – One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available at her website.
She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups.
She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of eight. They live in the Washington D.C. area where they are delighted to serve each week as the nursery leaders. Learn more about them and the herbal detox product they share at Meridian HERE