Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reporting In

It occurred to me that only two things have been obvious from my posts of late:  I have spent most my time totally off the grid and when I have surfaced I have verbosely gone on and on about whatever happened to be on my mind at the time.  So, I’ll balance that out with a little factual update.

After seven consecutive weeks of travel (including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) I had my first official “weigh in day” on my home scale in three months—February 1st.  The results:  I have lost 17 pounds from the time I started blogging.  That doesn’t put me back down to where I want to be, but it puts me back to within 4 pounds of my reasonable “goal weight” and one size smaller than I was in October. (Okay, the vanity part of me is not content to be a healthy weight…I want to be an AMAAAAZING weight, so I will keep plugging.)  And it definitely relieves some of the worry I was feeling about being out of control and being afraid of gaining back 180 pounds of lost weight.

Anyway, hurray,  hurray,  hurray!  The program works if you work it!

I left California early last Thursday for two more weeks of travel.  First stop: the very cold regions of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  My husband decided he was tired of traveling home each weekend and figured I could come visit him instead.  I have to admit I was a little concerned.  I have been freezing in California, so how on earth was I going to survive that fact that the high temperatures during the day here have only been getting up to between -15º and -7º C? That is a problem that even chocolate wouldn’t fix.  I have actually done remarkably well.  My husband is used to eating every meal out—three times a day.  That wouldn’t have done well for my weight.  So, first stop in Canada…Costco!  I loaded up with an obscene pile of produce and a few other staples.  I have cooked every meal except two here in the hotel—weighed, measured and abstinent.  It helps that the hotel he booked is basically a condo-type apartment with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, storage room etc.  Gee—all the luxuries of home minus my rice cooker and vita-mixer.  But, it has the added advantage of daily room service.  I could get used to that without too much trouble.

Anyway, tomorrow evening I fly back to California and arrive home late (i.e. 2:30 in the morning).  I leave at 6 a.m. the next morning to go for another 10 day road trip off to St. George and the more northern parts of Utah.  More food challenges to be faced, but I am feeling up to the challenge.  Amazing how different life is when you eat to live rather than live to eat!

It is by grace we are save....

As long as my mind’s meanderings have been taking a somewhat religious route I might as well lay some more spiritual insights out on the table. 

Grace.  How does the word “grace” relate to recovery from addiction?  I understand and accept the basic Christian doctrine: it is through Grace we are saved.  (Acts 15:11, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Ne 25:23)  No matter how noble our own efforts, they are insufficient in and of themselves.  Were it not through the Grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, none of us would or could be saved.

I understand grace in broad, general terms.  We do our best, but it can never be good enough.  Through his atonement, Jesus Christ makes up for our deficiencies.  When we truly accept him, he makes up the difference and we are enough.  This very simplistic answer seems to fit right in with what I will hereafter call the “Naaman Syndrome”  (see my previous blog).  We want to be fixed.  We want someone else to take away our disease, our shortcoming.  We want to be cured, to be whole, and if by simply acknowledging our dependence on the Savior and asking him to remove our weaknesses from us we can be whole, life is a piece of cake.  Isn’t that perfectly consistent with the 12-steps of recovery?  Step 7:  Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. Tada—drum roll. We are fixed.

But there is another important aspect to grace that we need to look at.  In the same discussion where she shared the story of Naaman with me, my friend also shared some insights from a talk by David A Bednar. I was already familiar with the ideas, but hadn’t spent much time applying them to recovery.

From the Bible dictionary, under the word grace, we read:

"A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ (emphasis added).

"It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts".

Hum….grace = strength and assistance, enabling power.

If we plug that in, "it is by grace [strength and assistance, the enabling power of Christ] that we are saved…", we have some serious food for thought.  Isn’t grace a “get out of jail free” pass?  Am I not magically cured simply by having the faith that he can cure me?

In his talk, David A Bednar points to examples in the scriptures where individuals understood the real meaning of grace.  For example, when Nephi prays, he doesn’t just ask to be delivered, but to be given the strength he needs.  (1 Ne 7:17)  "O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound."  

In effect, don’t just remove my problem, but give me the strength and enabling power I need to do what I need to do.

In Mosiah 24, Alma’s people are greatly afflicted.  Verse 15 we says: "And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon [them] were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord".

Wow.  That is profound.  I am a food addict.  I don’t want to be, but I am.  All those prayers I said asking to be changed back into a normal person didn’t get answered.  My problem wasn’t taken away from me, but, that is not necessarily the meaning of grace.  Grace has been manifested one day at a time as I have been given the strength—the enabling power—to get up each morning and commit to living the day abstinently.   I feel that gift of grace each time I am willing to weigh my food, to leave a dessert on the table, to attend a meeting, to call my sponsor. 

I am not cured, but through grace I am able to live in recovery one day at a time.

I like the simplified version of steps 1-3:  “I can’t.”   “He can.”   “I’ll let him.”

I am powerless over food (as evidenced by the fact that my weight was simply unmanageable). I can’t fix me.  I have tried over and over again.  Finally, out of desperation I will turn it over to him.  I don’t ask to be miraculously healed.  All I ask for is the strengthening, enabling power (grace) to do what I need to do one step at a time, one day at a time, one bite at a time. 

And for today, that is enough.

The Story of Naaman and My Road to Recovery

A friend anonymously shared a discussion she recently had with someone who was struggling with a serious addiction.  His heart was broken.  He felt hopeless and defeated and expressed the fact that he was willing to do anything necessary to get past the problem.  Regardless of how painful or radical the cure might be, it would be worth it if it meant he could finally be released from the habits, behaviors and thinking patterns that held him captive.

The point of her sharing this discussion with me was this:  she realized that he was willing to submit to any number of major, painful experiences—to do whatever dramatic approach recovery required as long as it resulted in the problem being totally removed from him.  But, it was clear he didn’t understand what recovery from addiction really entailed.  It isn’t a matter of taking a single radical step and being cured.  It is a matter of doing a number of small and seemingly insignificant things over a long period of time that really leads to recovery.

She shared the story of Naaman as found in 2 Kings, chapter 5.  We read that Naaman was a great man.  He was captain of the host of the king of Syria, honourable and mighty, but that he was also a leper.  Naaman went to the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. 

The story recounts that “Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha, and Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.”

The story goes on to say that “Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, ‘behold…he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not [the] rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  May I not wash in them, and be clean?’  So he turned and went away in a rage.”

One of his servants said to him, “if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, wash, and be clean?”  Following that reproof, Naaman “went…down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

This lesson is profound.  It relates to all of us who struggle with any kind of addiction or character defect. 

  •       Naaman expected some dramatic, huge event that would instantly cure him.  Instead, he was asked to do something small, insignificant and apparently unrelated.  It didn’t even make sense to him.  He couldn’t see the correlation between the action he was asked to take and the problem he had.
  •      Naaman wasn’t just asked to do it once and then be cured—he was asked to do it seven times.  …a small and simple act, repeated over and over again.  It wasn’t just a “one-shot fix”, but consistency over time.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I can see Naaman reflecting back at me.  How many times did I look for some major, dramatic cure for my weight problem.  I was willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a weight loss program as long as I would be thin after plunking my money down.  I was willing to go on any crazy crash or starvation diet if it meant that I wouldn’t have to be fat any more.  What about those of us who go to the extreme of surgery, all with the intent that having once submitted our bodies to that radical procedure we will never have to deal with the consequences of our food addiction again?

Like Naaman, how many of us are "wroth" when we aren't offered a quick fix to our problem? So often we spend our time waiting or looking for a big, dramatic cure—the answer that will free us from our problem once and for all.  We tell ourselves that we want to be cured so badly that we are willing to take any action, how ever painful or large.  What we don’t see is that we spend our time waiting for something big to happen when the real answer—the little daily steps we need to take—are placed right in front of us.  It is the small commitments, repeated over time that bring real healing and recovery.

The miracle of working a 12-step recovery program for me was that it taught me that there is generally no instantaneous cure for an addiction.  We find a recovery program.  We commit to the actions necessary to get “abstinent” or “sober” from our destructive behavior.  Then we use the tools our program gives us and work the 12 steps of recovery as part of the slow process of change. 

The significance of Naaman having to dip himself multiple times certainly didn’t escape me.  I found a recovery program.  I committed to working it.  I worked it for a year, then two, then three, then four.  But I got so tired of doing the same little things over and over.  I felt sure that five years was enough.  After that level of effort surely I could be cured.  Not so.  When I let my program slip—when I stopped doing the daily actions that kept me in recovery—I relapsed. 

For Naaman, dipping in the river one time or even five times would not have been enough.  He had to consistently repeat the action before his healing occurred.  In terms of recovery, I don’t place any significance on the fact that Naaman was commanded to dip seven times, but on the fact that he did it the entire number of times he was told to.  In my recovery program I am told what specific actions I need to take every day.  I am asked to attend multiple meetings per week.  I am told that by consistently working my program I can keep my addiction in remission, but that at any point in time it is ready and waiting to come back with a vengeance.  For me, each day of recovery is like a day one, or perhaps a day seven.  I need to do it again today.  All I need to do is let my program of recovery slip for a day or a week or a month to find I am back in the clutches of addiction.

So for today, I will be willing to do the little things.  I will weigh each of my three meals.  I will not touch flour or sugar.  I will remember my reading and meditation, my outreach calls.  And for today, I will choose recovery rather than addiction.