There were quite a few moments throughout General Conference last weekend that I was brought to tears. But never have I felt more joy and rejoicing than I did as I listened to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s apostolic testimony concerning addiction. I could hardly sit still as he announced to the entire membership of the Church that the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program, “adapted from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,” is readily available. I am sure there were many other LDS members who, like me, have dealt with addiction, also crying with joy to hear Elder Ballard acknowledge and give credence to the reality of their bondage and the power of the Savior’s Atonement to set us free.
Stunned with Gratitude
This morning as I pulled up the audio recording of Elder Ballard’s message and listened to it several times, I could not help but put my head down on my folded arms and weep with gratitude that the Lord has opened the way for the powerful spiritual message of the Twelve Step program to be embraced and enhanced by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Over twenty years ago, in the introduction of He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, I struggled to explain to my readers how it might be that an active member of the Church could gain from a program that originated with a bunch of alcoholics:
To those of you who may be puzzled, thinking Alcoholics Anonymous a very unlikely source of guidance for those who already have the fullness of the Restored Gospel, I recommend a prayerful pondering of the following description of the prophet Mormon’s mind and the result of having such a mind:
“And being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus. (Mormon 1:15; emphasis added)
If, as Mormon implies, being “sober” is conducive to and eventually the equivalent of knowing Christ, it would seem to me that all of us could stand to pursue a course that has proven able to get more people sober than any other, and that we should certainly not fear it. According to the first two prophets of this dispensation, we Latter-day Saints can be open-minded and willing to embrace truth no matter where we find it.
[Latter-day Saints] must gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316)
I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 13:335)
Almost Thirty Years of Gospel Interrogation
In the (nearly 30) years since the Lord led me to discover the Twelve Steps, I have continually subjected them to a gospel interrogation, testing them by the words of the prophets, both ancient and modern. In nothing have I found them lacking. Continually, they prove themselves, when correlated with the teachings of the prophets to be "good", as in, God-given.
"And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good." (Ether 4:12)
In fact, not only have I not found these twelve principles wanting, I have found them to be one of the simplest, most straightforward pathways for connecting my confused and rebellious heart to the heart, mind and will of the Lord—especially as they are correlated and combined with the teachings of the Restored Gospel.
In the process outlined in the steps . . . I have crossed light-years of mental, emotional and spiritual wilderness. And through the power of Christ, in the course of my scripture-based, Twelve Step directed recovery, I have found a change of heart I can only identify as “the establishment of Zion.” (1)
Satan Will Take Advantage of Our Weakness and Our Hunger
Elder Ballard began his remarks by comparing Lucifer’s attempt to snare us with his “artificial lures” and rob us of our agency to the way a skillful fly fisherman creates “flies” to catch hungry trout. He defined addiction as “relinquishing agency” and “becoming dependent on a life-destroying substance or behavior.” After mentioning a list of illegal drugs by name, Elder Ballard told the heart-breaking story of a sister who had lost her family, her church membership, and even her mental health by abusing a prescription drug she had originally started taking for pain from injuries caused by a car accident. As a person who has learned that I must treat certain substances found in everyday food as addictive to my body and mind, I identified with every word of this sister’s story. While it might seem almost ridiculous to some to hear this comparison made, I have to confess it.
I don’t blame anyone who may feel that way, who may feel like, “That’s so silly! Food? Eating as an addiction? That’s just an excuse. Put down the fork and say ‘no!’” I mean, after all, I can identify with that reaction. That’s how I feel when I watch others smoke or drink alcohol or spend themselves into horrible debt. To put it simply, for some of us—at least for me—food has to be considered a “prescription drug.” In other words, I have to go to my “primary care Physician” (the Lord) every morning and have Him prescribe for me what my use (behavior around food) needs to look like for the day. And then, just like Elder Ballard said, I have to use fervent prayer as often as I need to throughout the day to stay within the “bounds the Lord has set” for me. Some days are easier than others, and some are much, much harder. It is on those days that I am grateful for the prophet Jacob’s invitation to picture myself “cleaving” unto the Lord and picturing that the Lord is okay with that—that He is already cleaving unto me. (See Jacob 6:5)
In other words, I could “liken” Elder Ballard’s words straight across—quite literally—to my life when he said that Lucifer wants to exploit and snare us and crafts his “flies” to take advantage of our weaknesses and “our hunger.”
Addiction, The Relinquishment of Agency, Is a Spiritual Disease
I am also very grateful to hear Elder Ballard make this statement so plainly, “Medical research describes addiction as a disease of the brain. This is true, but I believe that once Satan has someone in his grasp it is a disease of the spirit.”
Again, I am reminded and invited to revisit a little more of the testimony in He Did Deliver Me from Bondage:
The solution offered in implementing the Twelve Steps may seem to our modern, scientific minds to be irrational or imaginary since it is predominantly spiritual, invisible and totally paradoxical. But I can promise you, the results will be very observable with the human eye and very measurable. Days of sobriety from alcohol, drugs, and/or sex will begin to accumulate, with fewer and milder slips or temptations to slip.