Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Trial of Faith: Sorting Wheat From Chaff.

I think we all get bit at some point...or even bite others....
I know everyone comes to this juncture in the gospel sooner or later, it's just mine is coming now.

I'm about as protective of my children as they come, and to have my children threatened and harmed in the church while adults aren't paying attention, and then to have the person who did it say that he can't be stopped no matter what happens to him - well with my profession that can't, by law, go unreported (and I'm being deliberately vague here) but.....well....I'm not quite sure what to do anymore socially in my ward.

I would change wards immediately, but my wife's disability makes that an impossibility because the other ward in town, she can't get her wheelchair into, and getting her into the other ward at an earlier time with her disability isn't possible.  Then the thought comes to me that there are going to be problems no matter where I go - though hopefully not the gettting-the-authorities-involved-type. Once is enough and I have zero tolerance, but also don't like feeling like I'm the problem for doing what needs to be done.

At any rate, trying to dodge and avoid people in church really isn't the thing I want to do and I just don't have patience for - I'm an outsider here - I live now in a place where though I'm extremely conservative where I'm from, I'm viewed as extremely liberal here because of my profession working in criminal mental health.   So I don't really feel like I have much refuge here.  I know there are wards that have dysfunctional narcissism at every level, and the church isn't for perfect people, and we are supposed to forgive, yadda yadda yadda.

But when you realize just how much you rely on the church to be your home and your refuge from the world, to de-stress and draw close to heavenly father, and all of a sudden your children are being harmed and threatened and parents and church leaders aren't looking out for your children...that's not supposed to happen in the one true church.

Does it?   It happened to me.  But it's not supposed to.

It's exhausting when all of a sudden rather than a place to uplift, it becomes an  exercise in dysfunctional social psychology despite us trying to live the gospel. Beyond what it normally is.

And then, I look at Joseph Smith and even Christ and what they suffered with how many traitors they went through and I'm like...I don't know what to do, honestly, or how to feel.

I, really, with my wife's disability, have zero energy for much more than showing up at church, and the social pressure that comes with being LDS and to forgive...well, here's a few thoughts on this.

In addition to the pressure to forgive, what about the pressure to repent?  It seems we put so much pressure on forgiveness but not as much on repentance. It seems so much like we are supposed to just read an Ensign article and instantly feel better and live the gospel by immediately forgiving and yet....that's honestly the psychology of so many abusers and much of society where we push the victims to forgive so we can all "just move on".  
I haven't been apologized to, nobody's followed up with our family, and what am I?  Some hoity-toity unforgiving jerk because I'm disturbed and shaken and stressed by what's happened and I don't want to go to my ward anymore or really want my children involved with these adults or their kids anymore?  Do I not have faith anymore?  Am I overreacting?  (Honestly, all my professional training showed this was criminal behavior and behavioral observations of the perpetrator shows me that the offender has some issues).

I really don't know what to do with this.

"Pray about it!" I can hear people saying.

Yes, yes I should.  Add to the complications that I'm a leader in our ward so simply disappearing with anonymity is out - nevermind the fact that I have three children and my wife's a teacher in the ward so simply disappearing isn't really an option though tempting...I really don't know what to do.

I just know, that as I apply what I know of psychology and human behavior, that I think even the gospel takes time to have an effect.  Even God works in eternities.  Though as I think about it, it seems we are willing to give all the time in the world for people to investigate the gospel, and to repent, but forgiveness is seemed to be expected to be immediate and if people can't forgive, then something's wrong with them.  I can hear the parable about the rattlesnake bite that fills us with poison and how we can spend our time chasing the rattlesnake meanwhile the poison kills us, and equating the poison to how forgiveness needs to be done quickly before anger destroys us.  But I think forgiveness is a matter of healing and much more than simply not caring what happens to you. I don't think people taking time to forgive is really just people holding out while they decide to be jerks, until they finally pull their boots up and decide to be Saints and be holy and spiritual and forgive.

Anyways, this blog entry is me processing and sharing.

I know the church is true.

I know the people aren't perfect.

I know we're there to strengthen each other.  But my family is crippled already and smaller things do greater damage to our energy, and bigger things like this that I know and recognize as criminally deviant - I have no time or patience for - and hearing it get passed off and dismissed and not followed up on or even addressed to me - I don't have the stomach for - and to hear this has been a problem for a long time and nobody's done anything about it....where am I to go?

Because I don't want to be here anymore.

I want to know my children are safe and know my efforts as a parent are upheld.

So for now - I am not sure what to do but I know I need to heal, there's a lot for me to learn from the gospel, and I know Heavenly Father isn't expecting me to just get run over and be fine with it - that's not what forgiveness or healing is about.  So for now still, it's going to be a while and be some time and I don't know what to do other than continue on.

Maybe this is just part of the lesson.

Maybe this isn't an accident and we're supposed to grow from this as well - or at least have the opportunity - even though it's not supposed to happen.   Maybe that's what makes the growth so much more critical in this place and setting.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mount Zerin and the Centurion's Servant: Faith Outside the Box

When I was at the MTC one of the Seventies gave a talk to all of us missionaries, and raised his hands in the air and pronounced a blessing on all two-thousand-plus of us "as if I were laying my hands upon your heads individually."

There was a rushing wind in the MTC and there were the ministrations of heaven there.

This was not the first time I had seen the priesthood administer a blessing without the laying on of hands.

Although if we think about it - there are many ordinances in the temple where a priesthood holder doesn't specifically lay his hands upon you - I don't think hands and touching are the most critical elements in all cases.

Now, we know not to alter certain ordinances that are to be performed a certain way, not adding to or taking away from them.  The sacrament prayer should be perfectly said when administered, yet the sacrament itsself is not required to be bread or wine so long as it is done with an eye single to the glory of God.  The baptismal ordinance can't be altered in that it  requires complete immersion in water by a priesthood holder for example - not escaping those requirements.
He's actually giving a blessing of healing here.....across town.

All this being said - what is the "effective range" of the priesthood? How far is the priesthood good for before it stops working?

For example with the healing of the centurion's servant in the New Testament, the centurion's faith was so great, Christ was able to administer a priesthood blessing of healing to the servant from across town.

We also read of Mount Zerin being able to be commanded to be moved - nowhere were we told that hands had to be laid on the mountain for this to be fulfilled.  Apostles and prophets have dedicated entire continents and countries to the preaching of the gospel, and yet didn't traverse every single square inch of said areas in order for their words to be effective.  Even the scriptures tell us that, whether it be by the Lord's voice of the voice of his servants it is the same - it doesn't stipulate "but only if they are touching you". 

Now, the laying on of hands is certainly the preferred method for many priesthood ministrations, but my first ordination to a church leadership position in the military was done over the phone  because we were in a restricted area that higher church leadership couldn't get to, to perform the required ordinations.

The principle being that the priesthood, even when it is exercised, isn't really limited by anything except by our faith. I think the devil trembles to know that we have figured that we are more powerful and have more influence, and in more ways than we realize.

We hear that the priesthood isn't used to bless ourselves.

Wrong.  Not true.

Even Christ, when he was taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane commented that he could summon legions of angels to him at that time, and we read of angels ministering to him at other times - this man held the priesthood and most certainly did use it and could use it to bless himself for the furtherance of the work and completion of his life's mission.  The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys to the ministering of angels and we can summon them to ourselves or others as needed, required - and the ministering of angels can be to comfort us in times of tribulation, sorrow and other trials, just as the angels ministered to Christ while he completed the atonement - or as when he was taken in the garden, weren't summoned. 

Last general conference President Monson shared a story from World War Two where an Elder was stranded in the Pacific Ocean and was inspired to used the priesthood to command a ship be turned his way to save him.

The same ability we have to receive revelation while pronouncing priesthood blessings on others, we can use for ourselves to receive crystal clear, immediate revelation as well when needed - for comfort or guidance.  I will say from experience, practice is needed so that we may truly understand the nuance of this gift and the impressions and communications we may receive through it.  The spirit knows and understands things we don't, and it will tell us things we aren't aware of.  If we don't have the faith in the gift and haven't learned to understand what exactly is being whispered to us and how it operates, we are going to miss things. 

We have more power than we realize, it's just a matter of perfecting our skills and practicing with it so that we know what it, and we, are capable of doing.  I gave my father his last priesthood blessing just before his death, in prayer, from 400 miles away because I couldn't get to him by driving, and gave him a blessing that blessed him to inherit the celestial kingdom and I blessed him just before he slipped beyond the influences of mortality.

I think we need to have faith, faith outside the box. Meaning, have the faith to do and hope for things we haven't learned and thought of to build the Lord's kingdom and ourselves.

If we don't - then we really don't have faith, now do we?

Then how do we expect to be able to bless people with the priesthood?

Just a thought.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Resuming Prayer

I had a testimony of prayer at one time.

There was a time when not much was withheld from me.

On my mission I became aware that even the very elements would obey the faithful - and when the weather wasn't exactly working in my favor for completing the work - I turned to the Lord and saw miracles.  Indeed the year before I arrived into the mission field was supposedly one of the hottest in the history of Louisiana - or so I was told.  The next summers I was serving were considerably cooler and even bearable in many ways, and to me it was a miracle.  I know this because I heard about it from those who had been there before me.

There wasn't really any end to things I could pray for and seemingly receive.   Everything from car-keys lost, to you name it.  It was given in prayer.  Once I gained a testimony of the gospel and found the church via prayer, it seemed nothing was kept back in prayer ever.

Until...my wife was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that doesn't have a cure, and doesn't come with any happy ending. 

I gave a blessing telling her to heal...and it didn't happen.

Prayer really becomes a Liahona
I was later chastised by my wife's grandfather, in a roundabout way, for giving a blessing that shouldn't have been given.  Though it wasn't directly said, that is what was said to me.

Fair enough, I agree, and I know what I was told to say, and yet it didn't happen.

I later derived comfort when I read the apostles themselves were unable to cast out demons by their authority, and were told that it required much fasting and prayer.  I'm not the only one this has ever happened to.

Over time, my faith diminished in prayer, I was asking for so much, and nothing happened the way it used to.  Trials continued, yet somehow so did I. But nothing seemed to click anymore.

I basically stopped asking for anything beyond the usual "Dear father in heaven, please help me." 

It seemed he didn't hear me anymore.  It seemed I'd entered a phase of my life where I was just meant to endure, submit, and if I could, refuse to quit.

It's time to get past that. 

There was a time when I was able to ask for and receive anything.  And I know my prayers have been heard this entire time - I just haven't been paying attention.

So tonight, I knelt in prayer, and told Heavenly Father that I'd lost my medication for sleep and I'd like help finding it again.  I told him I used to do this all the time, I used to have this faith, and now I need to rebuild it.  I prayed to have my faith in prayer rebuilt, and to help me as we once worked together so mightily in prayer, please help me find this.

And I was told, right side of the bed down the side.  

As I looked, the pills had gotten caught in the sheet on the side of the bed, exactly where I was told they were. 

It is time.  Time not to just pray, as I've always been praying and have never stopped.  But it's time again to know I am being answered, to trust in the answers, or trust that they will be answered.  To pray in faith and trust that I'm being guided by the spirit to ask for and listen to the right things.

Its time to do this again and never stop again and let life's seeming happenstance be used to justify or dash my faith to stopping trying.

And count my blessings I chose before this life to endure.

But it's time to endure with prayer.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Warning About Lehi

In the Book of Mormon there are 4 recorded major migrations that came to this continent:

Jaredites - the largest single migration with 8 ships.
They didn't take the land....they were given it....



Pilgrims.   Who were like the Energizer Bunny almost but in that the kept coming and coming and coming and coming and coming and still coming with more and more people.

By the boat loads.


We read, and have read that the Lamanites were warned that they would be swept off and another given their land if they didn't repent - that was the curse and promise of the land from the beginning.

However, I didn't realize that the Jaredites were warned the exact same thing happening to them:

 20 And in the days of Coriantor there also came many prophets, and prophesied of great and marvelous things, and cried repentance unto the people, and except they should repent the Lord God would execute judgment against them to their utter destruction;

 21 And that the Lord God would send or bring forth another people to possess the land, by his power, after the manner by which he brought their fathers. (Ether 11). 

Realizing that this account is an abridgement by Moroni of what is now titled The Book of Ether, we have to know that the warnings were much more numerous, detailed and personal the first time around.  However, in any case, the same prophesy has been given to each people that did not and would not repent who possessed this land - except this last round.

I haven't heard such a warning given to us in our day, so I have to think that such a fate isn't what will befall us.  

But for all those who say that the Book of Mormon is false, we can behold for ourselves that some of it is true just by looking around: we are here, descendants of, or established by the Pilgrims (I'm a descendant of the first Puritans here), and we can look at what happened to the Indians who were not entirely destroyed but were - exactly as prophesied - not suffered to be entirely destroyed - but nearly were. 

It reminds me of the quote from Pirates of the Caribbean, when Captain Barbosa says: You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner....you're in one!  

The same rhetoric applies also to our day and regarding the Book of Mormon.  We only need look around and see: we're in it!  Enough of it has happened in our day in our history that is written about in that book to see that it is truly true. 

Sadly, I've seen many who are self-professed to be wise, turn against the book because - they aren't inspired and I don't think they know how to read scriptures.  Ironic given their avowed reverence for the bible, but I've seen so few who, with that same love professed, were able to recognize God's word when it came to them in the Book of Mormon.  

But in closing, I think it fitting to conclude with a quote as it applies to our land and the Book of Mormon: Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

But even the Jaredites were warned, if they didn't repent, Lehi was going to come and inherit their land - and they did!   Only unlike the Lamanites, there was only one single recorded survivor of the Jaredite nation after their fall.  They too were warned, and the Europeans came. 

And now we are warned only of our destruction if we will not repent - not that our land will be given to another.  

On Expectations

How I feel in the sun...
I've been out here in the middle of the desert for a bit over a year now.

I knew before I left Beaverton that it simply wasn't home anymore, but now that I'm out here in Southeastern Oregon, I am still wondering: what am I doing out here?

Just the idea of settling down and having a home and not leaving it...is strange to me.  In 20 years of church membership, I've moved 35 times and been in 35 different wards.

I can't even comprehend living somewhere for the rest of my life and commuting to the same job over and over again.
Up the same highway to work.
Down the same highway to home.
Set the clock.
Rinse and repeat.
And over.
And over.
Again and again and again.
And again.
Until I die.
And then get buried.
In the same spot.
After year.
After year. 

Since I left home at 18, I've only had 1, 40 hour a week regular job, and that was at the prison and that was hell.

Now all of a sudden I've got a massive student debt to pay off (I got a Masters Degree - just shy of a doctorate) and gotta figure out finances (or take out some life insurance policies at the local hospital on old people which is the equivalent of playing the lottery with life) and gotta make sense of life - get serious and figure things out.

And I miss "home" - but it's not home anymore. 

At any rate, for those of you who've been here over the years with Latter Day Musings, you know I'm from the wet and rainy part of Oregon, you've seen my pictures and you know I love the rain and the trees.  I miss them so dearly.  It is where I am from.  I am native to that world - and it's the best one to be from and live in. 

And now - when I go outside - it's like someone aiming a hair dryer in my face full blast in the summer time and I really don't enjoy it.  I already did "desert" in the navy.  I did "tropics" too.  I did swamps and jungle whatever on my mission. I paid for my mission sweating in a tire shop with no AC for two summers while running with tires bouncing in my hands like a basketball. When the plane door opened at my first assignment, an Air Force Staff Sargent steps on and says "Military Police Off First!" and I stepped to the door and I gasped when the hot wind hit me at my first tour of duty.
" Is it always this hot?" 
"Wait till August."
(It was May).

Put on a jacket if you're cold!

But I so miss my trees.

Sun is overrated.  I feel like I got a heat lamp shining on me and I can't escape it.  When I feel like the rubber on my shoe sole is melting in the parking lot....something's wrong.  When I get in my car and it's 140F in there....that ain't right either.

I got other issues besides just trees, clouds and rain, but for now - this will do.

Alaska is still looking nice. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pornography Addiction in the LDS Church

I'll preface this by saying, I'm a mental health counselor with an MA in counseling psychology, am a member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, I treat sexual offenders and domestic violence offenders as well, am a veteran police officer, and I'm also a convert to the LDS Church.  Professionally, the biopsychology of pictorial pornography is something I've focused on, as well as spend a great deal of time working with people on. This being said, my professional and personal views differ and are broader, and more encompassing, than many of the "traditional" LDS "views" on pornography for various reasons, but I hope to illustrate some of my professional perspectives here. 

The topic of pornography is so big and deep that I can only hit a fraction of the issues and dynamics here in this blog entry.  However, this isn't intended to be a research or academic paper so I'm not going to be citing my sources, but I am going to be sharing my professional knowledge and viewpoints here to help inform church members of some of the issues they may be confronted with. This isn't meant to be, nor is it, an exhaustive piece covering every single variable and possibility, but rather one that hits many of the major issues confronting Latter Day Saints when it comes to these issues.

Inexorably linked to the issues of addictions, are the issues of the LDS culture its self including the very real pressure to look like we are living the faith, as well as the issues and perceptions of what constitutes a "serious sin." I have attended wards where those who struggle with something like cigarettes are often frowned upon as if cigarette smoking is the greatest evil in the world.  I can tell you this, as a clinician, there are millions of people who smoke, who are far more functional in their personal and interpersonal lives and spirituality, than many Latter Day Saints who hold lofty and prominent positions within their ward or stake.  Having an addiction, or struggling with one, isn't an automatic marker for eternal damnation, no more than a temple marriage is a guarantee of exaltation and against a divorce.   We need to embrace a functional perspective if we are truly going to address the issues that confront us.  We need to remember the atonement without throwing the "yeah, but" clause in there to discount it and those who need its blessings (which is all of us.)

One of the perspectives I have to keep as a clinician is that there are far more damaging issues in this world than someone using pornography.  For some of my clients, using pornography is actually a step up in the world, and far less risky and dangerous than many things they might otherwise do.  We call these perspectives "strength-based" and "harm-reduction" theories and perspectives in the counseling field.  I'm working with people to become functional - none of my clients are LDS referred to me by their bishop for pornography addiction, but rather they have severe problems with violence and abuse and have been mandated to see me by the courts often after prison or following a jail sentence.  So if someone chooses to cope with their stress with pornography, instead of shooting heroin or sexually abusing someone, that's progress!  And with that kind of growth, the time may come when they will set pornography aside as well and live a sober life.

Change never happens overnight with these issues, and as mental health clinicians we have to take a long-term, lifetime perspective.  Progress is usually made in steps, not leaps.  But we also have to take a realistic perspective of what we're actually dealing with.  Many of my clients have murdered people in grisly fashions.  So if I have a choice between someone struggling with pornography use, or having executed their wife in front of their children (yes, these are things I deal with), and regularly getting drunk and putting themselves and others in danger, I'd rather they struggle with pornography use.  Unfortunately as Latter Day Saints, we tend to get stuck on the black-and-white thinking errors and fail to see these struggles in a bigger context of possibilities.  As a consequence, I think we miss out on a lot of potential, and hold ourselves and others back just because things aren't completely perfect yet or all at once. 

On the flip side, someone who struggles with nothing else, and comes from an otherwise functional and temple-worthy family, can find pornography use devastating and completely, and totally
disruptive to their life and social circle.   For Latter Day Saints who are striving to live the gospel commandments, pornography use isn't compatible with gospel standards and it is spiritually harmful and destructive.  However, the atonement in mind, and mortality in mind, it can be repented of, and it is something that like many other things (e.g. anger, pride, word of wisdom, emotional issues) many people are going to struggle with.  Some for their entire lives.  Though we need to dispense with the thinking error of approaching the issue and the people who struggle, only in terms of black-and-white, good or bad.  One of the things that has struck the me the most as a counselor working with criminal offenders is as I think of the horrific crimes that Christ died for that many of my clients have committed, and see the massive suffering that some crimes have caused, I think many Latter Day Saints don't give enough faith to Christ's atonement for their sins.  

This in mind though, we need to ask how harmful is pornography?

Well, pornography doesn't "make" you do anything, no more than there is something else to "make" you do the opposite, though you can become addicted to it like any other drug,  Ted Bundy blamed pornography for beginning his life of serial murders, but those were the excuses of a psychopathic killer trying to gain sympathy and manipulate anyone who would listen, and escape responsibility for his choices. 

Often there is the claim that pornography use leads to sexual abuse, which simply isn't true.  The overwhelming majority of Americans have been exposed to pornographic images, and yet have not gone on to become sexual offenders.

Does pornography use do damage?  Yes, it does.   It is longer-lasting than other drugs such as cocaine in that cocaine can be purged from the body through detoxification, whereas memories and images like pornography cannot be. In a society abounding with pornographic images and portrayals, for those addicted to and struggling with pornography use, there really isn't an escape like there is say from a substance like cocaine where you can simply not be around it or those purveying it.  Addicts are going to be hit by images on billboards, in magazines, in movies and even clothing shops that may be triggers for arousal and relapse, including the way people dress in public which isn't always appropriate.  So despite the best efforts to escape an addiction, they are still going to be hit by it on every front.  The only thing worse I can think of from a clinical perspective than pornography in this regards is a food addiction where people have to consume the very thing they are addicted to, in order to survive. 

Additionally the human brain doesn't distinguish between images and reality, and the portrayals in pornography aren't "real" in that the viewer isn't interacting with the images sexually or socially like they would a real partner.  However, the sexual arousal and subsequent climax that accompany pornography use are like releasing a whole series of pleasure drugs into the brain, with a fraction of the social effort or insight and zero consideration and interaction with a partner (in essence making for a greater "high") - thereby altering human perceptions of others' behaviors, wants, desires, needs, and social interactions because the brain experiences the interaction as "real" - and also massively reinforcing the experiences and behaviors. 

The release of the pleasure chemicals that come with pornography use, can be so intense, that the body stops naturally producing these chemicals because it is overwhelmed with them during pornography use.  Consequently, we may see individuals become addicted to pornography just to function emotionally and balance themselves because their body has stopped naturally producing the chemicals to function outside of an addictive cycle. People often actually quit pornography with no problems, aren't attracted to it, don't use it, don't engage with it, and then after a few days, strangely find themselves becoming sick, nauseous, dizzy and they don't know why.  They are going through withdrawals, similar to heroin in that regard, and don't even know it.  Then they find themselves re-engaging with an addiction they don't really like, don't really understand, and for the time being, it is really the only way they can function. 

One of the things that we really overlook is that those who struggle with addictions already hate the addiction more than those around them hate it.  We justifiably look with concern upon the wife whose husband struggles with pornography use, but completely overlook the reality that most likely he hates himself and the addiction more than anyone else around him because he wants to be free from it, feels it destroying him, and doesn't know how to escape it.  One of the issues I deal with as a clinician is the ultimate "surrender" of so many addicts, who finally decide to simply and completely succumb to the addiction and live up to the perceptions of those around them. They stop trying to quit and abstain because it's easier than feeling guilty and like a failure for years and decades on end, and use pornography to cover up their guilt and be able to feel good for a while.  Unfortunately, hating and shaming an addiction often does more damage than it does help, and can, in many cases, simply reinforce the addictive behaviors.  Why would someone who struggles with self-esteem and depression, want to put up with people who shame and ridicule them for their struggles?  Might as well go enjoy the addiction, is often the thinking and the result.

Additionally, if pornography exposure/use begins in childhood, the bio-psycho-social damage done can be profound, because all of the above issues happen while the child is forming their perceptions and interactions with the world.  Further,  the release of pleasure chemicals can be overwhelming to the child brain even more than an adult, permanently altering development. It can make regular sexual interactions challenging because they simply aren't as interesting and are overly complicated compared to the interaction with an image that expects nothing of the viewer, and yet still rewards them with an emotional and pleasurable experience.

While it is called "free speech" in America, we don't get to choose how our bodies respond to it as they are to varying degrees biologically programmed to react to and respond to sexual depictions.  Free speech we are free to ignore or listen to.  Pornographic images however, we aren't able to simply ignore and not be impacted by - so...where's the freedom on the part of the viewer/listener?

So does pornography have an impact?  Yes, it does.  We don't all respond exactly the same way and to the same degree, but it does have an impact.

However, overcoming pornography addiction isn't about simply "stopping."  "Not viewing pornography" isn't recovery.  Unfortunately, "stopping is overcoming" is the mindset of nearly everyone I hear on the subject, and sadly, even many of the facilitators of the groups for addictions recovery.

Pornography use and addiction doesn't start in a single night, and it won't stop overnight.  It didn't just start.  It won't simply stop in one step. There needs to be a lifestyle change and a complete shift in the mentality of the users about themselves, life, others, relationships, you name it.  There is going to need to be a complete and total overhaul, and that won't happen in an instant, a week, or even a few months.

If I was going to clinically put a timeline on pornography addiction recovery, I would expect at least two years, possibly five to nine years.  There are twelve steps to recovery, beginning with recognizing that your life is out of control.  That step alone, properly executed and lived, is at least three months of work, awareness, and acceptance for the addictive mentality and mind.  It's not going "Okay, my life's out of control, got it.  Next!  Accept God - God I accept you, please fix me, DONE! - three - keep the commandments - I'm not using pornography at this minute so I'm good to go.....commandments have been kept" and complete everything in fifteen minutes. 

And yet, this is what people expect to happen - both those who use, and those who don't.  Recovering from an addiction, especially a psychosocial one - one that is psychological and social in nature that completely restructures human social interaction perceptions, like pornography - rather than just a drug that's ingested - is going to take some time, and probably months or years, to overcome. Meanwhile, during the recovery, individuals need the blessings of church attendance, scripture study, and every other blessing that they are eligible for and is available to them to help strengthen them as they make changes, grow and heal.  Being in recovery is not a time to leave the church, though we'll look at reasons people might want to here in a bit.

We also need to look at factors that contribute to pornography use.  Seldom is pornography use simply a matter of someone deciding to look at porn, and then becoming addicted.  When people have an addiction, it is because it fulfills some need they aren't getting elsewhere in their life.  Or, there is some weakness that the addiction helps compensate for.  This is where we need to be aware as Latter Day Saints and have compassion for those struggling with addictions - even if it is ourselves.  We need to dispense, again, with the black-and-white thinking, and suppose that someone who has an addiction is simply bad and evil and immoral and corrupt, and if they stop, they are good - or think that they can simply stop if they pray hard enough.  That might be true regarding prayer in many cases, however my experiences with people who struggle have shown that most of the time, much more than simple prayer is required to overcome these types of obstacles.  If only a prayer was all that was required, I should think we wouldn't have anyone with any difficulties whatsoever.  However, prayer is an integral component of the recovery process and healthy spiritual living, but by its self most often is simply not enough to heal us.

Often overlooked with pornography use are the co-occurrences of anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders that may require medication to treat, and that most bishops aren't trained to diagnose or even recognize. Pornography can be, and often is a coping mechanism for these issues.  Many of the women I hear who struggle with pornography addiction, also struggle with abuse, anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD, self-esteem issues, body image issues, and much much more.  Pornography makes a great escape, from the user's view, from those things.  They get to have a type of sexual activity without fear of being harmed again, get to boost up from their depression, calm their anxiety, and escape from PTSD without the entanglements and complications of a relationship.  This is where we as Latter Day Saints send confusing messages in our culture to those who are simply trying to cope with their world.  Here people are trying to cope, it's the only way they've figured out how to feel good, and we send the message that they are bad, evil, going to hell, simply don't have enough faith in Jesus - you name it - and basically we push their head underwater with religious idealism and a ton of ignorance while they are struggling to stay afloat and survive and quite often are simply trying to not end their own life with suicide.

Ultimately before this life is over, we do want to be free of all of those things.  Many won't, but we do need to understand more of the "why's" that contribute to people doing them in the first place so we can effectively help.  If someone's struggling with pornography addiction, I strongly suggest they get evaluated for other psychiatric and emotional issues, because getting them treated may significantly ease the recovery process from the addiction.  Pornography use is usually only a symptom of the underlying issues, and not the issue its self.  Again, if using it was the only issue, the twelve-step program would consist only of a single step: STOP IT! (which it doesn't).

Also as Latter Day Saints, we need to realize that life is a journey, not a destination.  Again, we will not have completed our mortal journey just because we aren't using pornography, and thereby be good to go for the celestial kingdom.  There are millions of church members who do not struggle with pornography who would still not qualify for exaltation because of other issues in their lives.  Perhaps the most important spiritual guidance I could give in this regards is that Latter Day Saints need to remember, understand, and accept the atonement - not just for themselves but those around them.  The atonement doesn't work only once we are completely and totally free of all our defects. There's a reason we take the sacrament every week, and not just those who struggle with pornography or other addictions.  Unfortunately, I think we believe in Christ, but we don't believe Christ. We set aside the atonement far too often on select issues and only have faith in it to help for the little stuff.

One of the biggest myths I see regarding pornography is that it is a male issue.  Only men use pornography. And boys. Women don't view, use, or become addicted to pornography.  Or so the thinking goes so often in how this is portrayed.

Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

Millions of women - including LDS women - and girls struggle with pornography addiction just as bad or even worse than many males do.  Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I see is that while support groups abound for LDS men struggling with pornography, the support groups for LDS women don't even exist.  So, in a culture that views pornography as a thing that males do, where does this leave the women who struggle with this issue?  Where do they turn for help?  How are they going to view themselves?  What messages does that societal thinking send to women who struggle?

It actually creates a barrier to treatment and recovery.  There's now the additional shame that not only do they now struggle with the "worst" of the addictions - the "dirtiest" and most shameful one because it is sexual - but one that only men have and somehow the girls and women who struggle with it are "freaks".  This creates its own set of psychological issues that, in my professional opinion, are probably going to require counseling to resolve very often in addition to an addiction its self.  On the flip side, society actually promotes and endorses female pornography use.  It doesn't carry the stigma that it does for males, and is often portrayed as empowering and liberating for women - and in reality, this sets girls and women up to be victimized even further by society.

Interestingly, in the media, we often hear the statistic that pornography has some of the heaviest use in the state of Utah...leaving people to make their own conclusions about Latter Day Saints, and LDS men in particular.  Nowhere have I ever heard this statistic related to involve and include LDS women or girls but the reality is that many women and girls also struggle and use.  But let's look at why pornography might be so popular in so many LDS communities.

Where I'm from, one of the most liberal cities in America where Latter Day Saints are an extreme minority, pornography isn't just tolerated and condoned, it's promoted and even produced.  Strip clubs abound and I lived in one of the sex-trafficking capitols of the western world.  But not just pornography, every other illicit substance under the sun is tolerated and promoted as a part of the culture, openly talked about, enjoyed and condoned at every level of society.  Basically, you're not going to have a job without knowing or being associated with someone who lives an alternate lifestyle, uses substances, or accepts pornography.  So, if you choose to smoke, or drink, or do whatever to cope, where I'm from?  Nobody's going to even bat an eyelash at you.  The LDS standards of chastity and the Word of Wisdom are seen as oddities that interfere with peaceful individual functioning and identity.  And honestly, many of those things are how people cope in America today.  That is how people de-stress.  Have a drink!  Have a smoke!  Relax!  Shoot up responsibly with a needle exchange!  Stop worrying about what others think of you. Be a unique individual because that's what god made you to be.

Now in someplace like Utah, the social pressure that accompanies living in a religious society with so many outwardly visible markers of religious adherence is far higher than living anonymously in a liberal city with no real established values other than "tolerance and diversity."  Something that's a viable option elsewhere to cope with stress and relax such as smoking, can be the demise of your social standing within the LDS society.  Heck, even purchasing a caffeinated drink can earn you the scorn of those who might be looking in your shopping cart while you shop.  The social pressure can be enormous, and very often it is.  More than a religion, there is a culture with social pressure as well, and sadly it doesn't always bring out the best in people as we are a bunch of imperfect mortals striving for perfection.  So what do we do?   Or perhaps I should say, so what happens?

People may turn to a far less visible outlet for stress that isn't detectable like the odor of a cigarette, doesn't have lasting health consequences like meth or danger of alcohol, doesn't attract attention like walking into a liquor store, doesn't involve harming or touching others, or doing anything publicly - and voila - we have pornography use!  I'm not saying this is what happens, and obviously this is overly-simplified, but this is one thing I would consider and be aware of as a clinician when people choose their unhealthy outlets for stress, or when they struggle.

Additional pressures may arise when people don't get to take the sacrament because they are on probation or some other disciplinary church action.  There may be the fear of being put on probation after confessing and seeking help - seeking help may seem to have more harmful consequences than continuing without help and simply hiding the issues.  (That's true both in and out of the church).  Missions can be delayed.  Marriages postponed. Marriages missed.  Priesthood delayed.  Ordinances not participated in. There is much that, despite being private and personal, is actually very public in the LDS community.  The effects of personal choices and struggles can be remembered for decades or a lifetime or generations (like a father not being able to baptize his children).  It must be pointed out that consequences for choices, and public social pressures aren't unique to the LDS church or community.  But it is critical to be aware that they exist, and do factor into peoples' decisions to get help, or even their ability to get help.

Church members often will live in fear of others' opinions of them when they are seen not taking the sacrament or missing their children's sealing, may subsequently become evasive about church attendance, may stop attending altogether, and may just decide to openly pull out the stops and rebel rather than cope with the dissonance and pressure that accompany trying to repent.  Youth may face ostracism from other parents about their standing in the church as they are working on repenting.  This is one of those instances when I would point out how destructive other behaviors, besides pornography use, can be to individuals and those around them - like pride and narcissism.  As a counselor I see many individuals whose lives are destroyed and who are devastated their entire lives because of the pride and narcissism of others in families and society.  Unfortunately there are at times entire wards and stakes completely and heavily infected with this type of judgemental pressure and dysfunctionality at all levels.

Yet another issue, is that while there are support groups for LDS men who struggle with pornography addiction, often people live in isolated areas that only have a single support group and they may not feel safe attending because they don't enjoy true anonymity that is supposed to accompany twelve-step-recovery-groups.  Again, not much of an incentive to attend and get help because something private with a huge stigma suddenly becomes public, or potentially can blow up on them in a small town.  In these cases, I might point out to people that there are call-in groups that can be participated in over the phone in other parts of the country that don't require personal attendance.

As much as people would love to recover from pornography addiction in private individually, it really can't be dealt with individually, and a group setting is the best setting for recovery and support.  People get to share struggles, and triumphs, as well as hear that they aren't alone in their struggles which is a part of the healing process (something that isn't available for women or youth).  And as much as they would like to share their struggles with their spouse instead of a group, it is really critical that the spouse not be the primary source of support for recovery from an addiction.  The reason is that the spouse can then be blamed or abused for any (and likely) failures and relapses, further damaging the relationship.  I do see many LDS marriages where the wife is the pornography user, has the online illicit dating accounts, tells her husband that she's going to be friends with other men and hang out with them outside of their relationship and such.  Again, this can be a unique challenge because the number of supports for these issues/roles isn't as available as we might like them to be.

A major issue I see in marriages where pornography is in use, is the uneven expectation put on the user to solve all the  relationship issues.   However, in approaching the issue of recovery, the user / addict, is often seen as being the sole problem in the marriage, and the burden is placed on them to save or sink the marriage.  This is yet another fallacy in society, and unfortunately I see too many counselors who don't address this dynamic with couples who come to them for these issues.  Both members of the relationship have their issues that impact and affect each other.  The non-addict spouse isn't responsible for the addicted spouse's behavior or recovery, but they do do things that affect the addicted spouse and the marriage as well.  It's never a case of "The marriage would be perfect if only this wasn't present" - no - that's never the case.  Often overlooked is the fact that the non-addicted spouse chose the addicted spouse - whether or not they knew they were addicted isn't the issue - there was something in the addict's behavior that drew the non-addict to them that they made the choice to be in that relationship.  They were attracted to an addictive personality and selected that relationship for a reason.  By default, the non-addicted spouse has a host of maladaptive behaviors as well and would have to, because they are married to someone who is maladaptive as well.  Now, that the addicted spouse is getting help and learning healthy behaviors, the entire relationship and its dynamics are going to change making it critical for the non-addicted spouse to also be in counseling and support groups as well. 

Additionally, it is critical to note the non-addicted spouse has the choice whether or not to stay in the relationship.  Often, I'll see the "healthy" spouse decide to stay in the relationship, and then blame the "unhealthy" spouse for the relationship issues, absolve themselves of responsibility in the relationship, and basically use their partner's addiction as a tool to abuse and control the relationship and the other spouse.  They will often play the martyr, play the victim and so on - and to a degree they are - but if they decide to stay in a relationship - then it has to be noted that is their choice and their power and they can't blame someone else for their decisions to stay in a relationship that makes them unhappy or hurts them.  Each partner needs to take responsibility for their own behaviors, and not use the others' behavior to justify their actions, but to begin to be accountable, responsible, and work together.  Neither partner is perfect, and both are going to have behaviors and issues that need to be addressed.

Again, this isn't an exhaustive article covering every single aspect of pornography use, impact and recovery, and LDS culture.  I do like the apostles' counsel regarding pornography that we do need to stay away from it. If I was going to give my professional counsel to LDS church members on the topic: the vitriolic, emotional, panicking, judgemental, narcissistic and black-and-white approaches really need to go if we're going to tackle this issue effectively.  Parents need to educate their children and be involved with them first and foremost to prepare and prevent, and take responsibility to repent and recover if they themselves are involved - and take the time to educate themselves on the various factors that could be affecting them.  We need to remember the atonement and use it every step of our journey, not just think that it applies after we've overcome everything.  Doesn't work that way. Hasn't ever worked that way.  Won't ever work that way.  We need to forgive ourselves, talk with our heavenly father, get his perspective on our struggles, come to understand ourselves and why we struggle (e.g. depression, anxiety, abuse, etc.) and not excuse ourselves, but begin to take the steps to heal. 

What interests me professionally as a counselor, is those who are working to recover from pornography addiction, usually have more humility and more insight and spiritual depth than those who don't struggle with these issues.  The twelve steps of the addiction recovery program are not just applicable to addictions, but are the atonement in action beginning with recognizing that our lives are out of control.  That's a sobering thought that most of us haven't ever really addressed for starters, even when we think we do have it under control. We also need to be aware of the fallacy that we're going to get to some point where this or anything else isn't going to be a problem anymore, or there's no more healing to be done anymore in life.  Once we start thinking that way and get careless, we end up right back where we started no matter what we struggle with.  That, and people who are in treatment/rehabilitation set themselves up for failure with that thinking, waiting for the day they will never have problems again - and it simply doesn't happen. So....they relapse. Again, and again, and again.  

But as is said so often regarding recovery by those who are working to overcome an addiction: "You're either in recovery or denial, I'd rather be in recovery."  We all have problems.  But we won't return to heavenly father by pointing out others' sins that may be worse than our own, or denying our own sins.  Only by seeking his help and doing the absolute best we can to overcome our weaknesses and fulfill our responsibilities are we going to have peace, fulfill our potential and return to him.  And even then....it's not going to be perfect.  But we need to keep trying no matter how many times we fall. It's not the end of the world, and doesn't have to be. Just a step, in eternity that we need to take care of before we take another.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

One Page for a Bookworm.

With three kids and a career that requires study, I end up in libraries fairly often (three times in the past week) - but never any time to check out and read books the way I'd love to.

I am usually running after kids, and when at home, who has time to read a book all the way through (within the time allotted by the library before the book is due)? 

I hate the fines.  In fact, one book I checked out in 1991 for a scholarship I never followed up on, Alexis De Toqueville's "Democracy in America" is overdue now by at least 2 decades and they still have record of it and I'm a marked man who can't get a library card in three counties in Oregon.  (Though with the advent of eBay and the internet, I think that obtaining replacement copies would be much easier now. )

Though I do  miss reading the way I did as a child.  Even a trip in the car required a bag of books.  Mom would drive, I would read.  I was The proverbial Bookworm.

But now, the the weight and bundles of cares that come with parenthood, escaping to a book isn't so readily accomplished without interruption.  Books, rather than a day, can take weeks and months to finish, and so much of the world seen through others' eyes I feel like I'm missing out on! 

Oh, childhood, where art thou?  What happened to you?   You left me!  And now old age seems to be creeping up on me and is hinting that it is determined to take my eyesight one of these decades so that reading pleasures - will be gone as well.

So I started a new habit-hobby (new word I just invented) when I'm at the library to try to catch up to old, wonderful habits.

I go choose a book that I find interesting on any topic.

And I read: one page. 

Just one.

More if I can but at least one, after I find an interesting spot.

Why, doing this the other day, I learned that my grandparents who pioneered Oregon on the Oregon trail, floated their wagon down the Columbia River because the Barlow Trail route hadn't been carved yet.  I also learned about the natural gas and nuclear electrical infrastructure in Europe and how it ties to economics and history on another trip.  Fascinating tidbits in our world!    

Rather than sifting through the boring intro and some long preamble, suffer through some boring parts, and hope for more good ones, I jump *right* to the interesting part, skim the photos, and jump right in!

At any rate, since I don't get to "devour" books the way I used to, now I just take bites.

But it is so good to be able to at least snack again because I'm a hungry bookworm.

(That and I want to write at least one more time, the word "habit-hobby".)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Six of Spades

When I was a counseling intern at the state mental hospital, providing individual counseling therapy for the patients, they used to like to play cards when we talked during the counseling session.

The patients taught me a few new games that I'd never played, one of which was Kings in the Corner, which became a favorite of mine while we talked one on one.   Sometimes we'd go for a walk in the courtyard, other times we'd have lunch, but more often than not we'd play cards.

Now, the patients would play cards a lot for entertainment.  Between incarceration and hospital residence, they got very good, and more often than not (early on) could beat me at almost anything we played.

Eventually I snagged my own deck that I carried with me in my file folder bag for convenience.  I just got it from the game room (complete with pool tables and anything else we
my deck - the culprits - right here
could want except darts) and put it in my bag for "therapeutic purposes."  I actually still have it to this day. (Stumbling across it as I was cleaning is what prompted me to write this actually.)

When a session would start, I'd pull out the deck, and the patients would let me know if they wanted to play or not. 

Now, they usually had a preternatural ability at cards - despite being diagnosed as being "criminally insane" - and played very well.  Perhaps it was because of the insanity! Cards hasn't ever really been my forte though - perhaps because I was focused on psychology while we played.  Either way, play proceeded rapidly and they got very excited to "beat the doc." 

Once I got my own deck, however, suddenly the game changed.  Nobody could beat me, and they couldn't figure out why.  Game after game they were stumped, and I began to be victorious much more regularly.  Good thing in a way, because it's not good for the "doc" to be always so easily beaten at cards in a mental hospital.

Finally, we decided to dissect the deck and figure out what was wrong.

It turns out, the deck I had swiped, was missing the Six of Spades.

Of course the accusations flew that I was cheating, all in good fun of course, but I had no knowledge of a missing Six of Spades or any other defect!  I was completely innocent! 

But the insane were able to put the pieces together as to why they couldn't win, now, and in an ironic twist, it turns out that it was the "doc" who wasn't playing with a full deck.