Out of the Corner
by RI Editors
Today’s guest post is from a regular contributor, Michelle. She manages and writes for the site Mormon Women.
“Sisters, you will have to forgive me, but 12 steps are the way I know how to talk about the gospel.”
Hearing our Relief Society teacher fold principles from the 12 steps into our Relief Society lesson left me curious. I’m sure I’d heard of the steps before, but I had no idea what they were about. But I could feel of her faith and humility and testimony of the gospel, and I wanted to understand more.
I went to the distribution center to purchase an LDS Addiction Recovery guide. Our teacher had talked about it with such hope and faith that I expected the book to be somewhere out in the open for all to see. Instead, I had to look somewhere in a corner. I couldn’t help but start to feel a little hesitant.
Maybe by then I was moving toward paranoia, but when I went to check out, I couldn’t help but sense that maybe there was some pity in the cashier’s eyes. I wanted to somehow “defend myself.”
“No, you don’t understand. I am just curious to see what this is about.”
(After all, I’m not one of those people, right? [With apologies to all my dear friends working recovery or struggling with addictions. I don't see things that way anymore!]
I took it home and looked it over, and I liked it. It seemed that I could replace the word “addiction” with “weakness” and feel like there were things I could learn from it.
But soon my interest in it faded away. The book got put in a corner somewhere in my room.
- – - – - -
Go to a 12-step meeting.
The impression was clear, but a bit surprising. I cannot remember now how I knew there were LDS meetings available; the knowledge I had of 12 steps was so shallow. (Where was that book of mine, anyway?) I think I may have had a paper with meeting schedules, so it might have been one of those 5th-Sunday lessons from our stake LDS Family Services liaison (those lessons that I usually just tuned out because they didn’t apply to me).
I was terrified when I walked into a recovery room for the first time. I was late. People greeted me still with kind, welcoming eyes and loving smiles. A paper was placed on my desk, a supplement to what they were talking about that day.
The topic was codependency, something I had recently been studying. (I’ve come to realize I’ve had codependent, people-pleasing tendencies since I was a young child.) Elder Bednar says that the timing of coincidences can help us identify tender mercies.
I knew I was supposed to be in that room.
I loved the meetings, but during this time I never, “Worked the steps,” as they say in recovery circles. Things in my life made it harder to go to meetings, and after a few months, I stopped attending.
Back into a corner went the book.
- – - – -
From the time I was a youth, I remember craving understanding about the Atonement. I felt a sort of frustration that I couldn’t wrap my mind around concepts such as, “lay your burdens at the Savior’s feet.” I have heard all my life that we are never alone, but in reality, testimony notwithstanding, I have felt alone for a good chunk of my life. And I think I had learned to interpret my struggles with anxiety as evidence that somehow I was not doing enough yet to warrant God’s love and peace.
How could I turn my problems over to Him and feel His peace? I didn’t really know. And so, my problems often dominated my life. I have suffered from fears, insecurities, weaknesses, perfectionism, mental illness — and yes, addictions, or if you prefer, unhealthy coping mechanisms — that have made my life unhappy in a lot of ways.
A year and a half ago (four or so years after my initial experiences with the meetings), the promptings came back that I needed to return to my 12-step group. This time, I threw myself into learning what principles are in these steps. I committed myself to weekly attendance of meetings. I read multiple 12-step programs so I could see the patterns of principles across programs, and hear the different nuances in the way people talked about the steps. I started writing and taking notes and sharing thoughts with others who were also working a program. It took months for some of the principles to start to sink in, but after a time, I knew it was time to get a sponsor. I worked with several, actually; each brought something to the process for me that was important. Some of it was truly life-changing.
Some of it was what I had been seeking for my whole life.
I know doing 12-step work won’t be right for everyone. But I am so grateful to my Father in Heaven for patiently, consistently pointing me to this powerful framework for gospel truth that, for me, has felt like a conduit for manna from heaven. The 12 steps have helped me recognize and let go of pavilions in my life, so I can, through revelation, walk through my Red Seas. They’ve been stones that the Savior is illuminating, a curious compass. He uses to guide me in my wilderness, a rod that my mind can catch hold of when mists of fear, self-doubt, and temptation come my way.
In a very real way, they’ve been a powerful vehicle for my own sort of Personal Restoration.
Some people talk about recovery work like one would recover from surgery or illness. And there is some of that for me. But in many ways, I feel like even as an active member of the Church, I’ve lived a lot of my life in a measure of darkness, in my own ignorantly self-imposed corner Recovery for me is like God gently, and oh-so-lovingly urging me out of that isolating space.
My Father is helping me recover truth about Him and His plan that I’m sure I knew once before but forgot or haven’t understood. He’s helping me recover truth about myself – my divine identity and purpose and gifts and potential – that have been lost to my view both because of mortal messiness and also because of my personal fallenness. He’s inviting me to taste more of what the Atonement can me to me, personally. He’s enabling me to trust and follow more of the Holy Ghost’s influence in my life, that still, sweet, quiet, different-from-all-my-anxieties gift from God.
I have known the Church is true for a long time. But tasting truth in this personal way? It feels like I’m getting glimpses of Home.
And so, brothers and sisters, you will have to forgive me, but the 12 steps have become an important way for me to understand and apply the truths of the gospel and Atonement of of Jesus Christ.
I think I need to write that Relief Society teacher a thank-you note.
What helps you understand and apply the Atonement in your life?