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Abuse IS compulsive behavior, an addiction if you will. Or at least it was for me. I wasn’t able to stop the cycle of abuse in my life until I began participating the Addiction Recovery Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Nine years ago, I was very aware of the fact that I was not the type of mother I wanted to be. My older children, aged eight and ten, were no longer as cute and cuddly as they once were. They no longer accepted my authority without question. I lost my temper frequently, often yelling things I later regretted. I sometimes disciplined out of anger.

My poor parenting was not for lack of trying, nor was it because I didn’t know better. I knew exactly how it felt to be the recipient of parental anger. I felt horrible exposing my children to this kind of life style. I knew intellectually how to be a good parent. The scriptures and other publications of my church were filled with parenting instructions. I collected these teachings in a notebook and studied them often. I prayed frequently, fervently asking that God would help me be a better mom.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t overcome my incorrect “programming.” When I got upset, my instincts took over and I parented the way I had been parented. I can remember many times a critical thought would enter my head and I would tell myself, “I’m not going to say those words.” Minutes later, I would hear those exact words come out of my mouth, directed at one of my children. I had no control over my actions. I had lost the ability to choose, what we call my “free agency.”

When I first attended an Addiction Recovery Meeting, I went to support a friend who was not a member of our Church. We went for three or four weeks. When she stopped going, so did I.

Looking back, I am frustrated at my own stupidity. After attending the first meeting, I wrote in my journal that I thought the meetings could help me with my parenting “issues”. Months later the Holy Ghost made it clear to me that I needed to participate in the Addiction Recovery Meetings. Unfortunately, I resisted His promptings. I felt odd attending when I did not have a clear-cut chemical addiction like the others I had observed at the meetings.

A few months later, while re-reading “Codependency, No More” by Melody Beattie, I was surprised to discover that I was once again engaging in codependent behavior—this time with my children. I also learned, or rather relearned because I had to have read it before, that codependency was an addiction. The author recommended attending a twelve-step meeting.

I started to attend the weekly meetings and study the manual on my own. In the introduction of the Addiction Recovery Manal, there’s a quote from President Boyd K. Packer that states “Addiction has the capacity to disconnect the human will and nullify moral agency. It can rob one of the power to decide.” My abusive behavior patterns had become as powerful as any of the chemical addictions I heard other members talk about. I was in the right place.

I learned through “working” the ARP program that the key, at least for me, to overcoming the cycle of abuse was repentance and forgiveness, in that order. In Step 4, participants attempt to write a “searching and fearless written moral inventory of [themselves].” Of course, as I worked on my inventory, I wrote a lot about my dysfunctional childhood. But that wasn’t what brought healing.

The turning point happened one day while I was talking to a friend. She had worked a 12 Step program. When she talked about her experience with Step 4, she used the phrase, “I could see how the Lord would think that was a sin.” I pondered this phrase for quite some time. I eventually morphed it into a statement I could understand better: “If the Lord had been me at that moment how would He have reacted?” You always hear the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” It had never occurred to me to apply this phrase to my past. When I did, it was life changing.

Despite the dysfunctionality in my home growing up, I did not rebel. I did not fight back. I didn’t even intentionally say unkind things. I did not feel the need to repent for my reactions to abuse. I really didn’t think on Judgement Day that my behavior would have been viewed in a negative light. I had accepted the world’s opinion that it was okay to have negative feelings towards others who abused me.

However, this way of thinking did not bring healing.

If the Savior had been in me, He would have reacted differently. He would have continued to behave in a loving manner towards His abusers. He would have made a greater effort to teach them the error of their ways. He would not have employed the negative defense mechanisms that I had.

Because my behavior was not what the Savior would have done, I repented. I went through my whole life, every event that caused an emotional reaction, and asked myself, “How would the Savior had acted in this instance?” If Jesus would have acted differently that I did, then I asked Him for forgiveness.

As I received forgiveness for my un-Christ-like behavior, something very unexpected happened: my ability to forgive my abuser increased. For years I had struggled to forgive and had not been able to. I finally made progress. It was easier to forgive when I acknowledged my own wrong doing, behavior that wasn’t necessarily wrong—it just wasn’t what Christ would have done.

As I repented and forgave, my pain lessened. I finally found the healing I had been searching for. As my internal anger lessened, so did my external anger. My ability to parent the way I wanted to parent increased. With the Lord’s help I was able to significantly slow down and lessen the cycle of abuse.

Am I a perfect parent? Of course not. Ask my seventeen-year-old—he’ll set you straight. Have I complete forgiven everything about my past abuse? No. Sometimes things do pop up.

The ARP manual uses an image of a tornado (page 47). Sometimes we can be caught up in destructive forces that move us around but each time, we are on a higher level. We have improved and made progress even if we do, at times, come back to old behaviors and thought processes. Sometimes my instinct still kicks in and I behave in an un-Christ-like manner. Sometimes I do feel anger about past abuse. But as I continually repent and forgive, I am moving upward in the tornado, and the time between occurrences increases. No tornado last forever.

I have faith that one day the tornado will stop, and I will be completely free from the cycle of abuse.

 

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I can remember exactly where I was when Richard G. Scott gave his conference talk entitled “Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse.”  I was lying on the strip of grass between the HFAC and Wilkenson Center at BYU. I was listening to the Session on my “Walkman” radio. I can even remember what I was wearing.

Why can I remember so many details? Because this talk touched me as no other talk had before or since.  I grew up in a home where I was exposed to physical and emotional abuse on a fairly regular basis. The abuse was mild compared to the horror stories you sometimes read in the newspapers. However, even “mild abuse” can have a negative impact on the rest of our lives. Elder Scott’s talk gave me hope of a better life. He promised me that there was a way “to overcome the destructive results of others’ acts against your will.” He also taught “You are free to determine to overcome the harmful results of abuse.”

I recently reread Elder Scott’s talk as part of the Gospel Study section for the 12th principle in the Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery, the manual used in the Spouse and Family Support Groups (SFSG) offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reading the talk again filled me with regret, regret that I didn’t take his talk more seriously, that I didn’t try harder to follow his counsel earlier in my life. I could have healed a lot faster and saved myself a lot of pain and heart ache.

For example, multiple times throughout his talk Elder Scott counsels victims of abuse to meet with their Priesthood leaders.  He said a Bishop could help teach us, bring greater understanding and healing. He could help us draw closer to the healing power of our Savior’s love. Elder Scott said he can help us identify good friends.  A Bishop could also receive revelation in our behalf. 

I did go see a bishop about my past just a few years later. Unfortunately, I did not trust him and so the visit did me no good. The bishop recommended I go to counseling. I refused. He shared his experiences with abuse—he had been the abuser and now sincerely regretted his behavior. His honesty could have helped me feel compassion for my abuser and help me forgive, but my heart was too hard. I left his office feeling discouraged and ashamed. I made no further attempt to seek the help of a priesthood leader, for many years.

Contrast that visit to my last experience with my Priesthood leader. This summer I had what I have come to refer to as a “personal crisis.” Not too surprisingly, abuse was a factor. As I prayed for help, the Holy Ghost told me multiple times to ask my bishop for help. Asking for help is very hard for me but I knew that this was what the Lord wanted me to do.  I experienced difficulty setting an appointment. First, the executive secretary forgot about my request to meet with the Bishop. But I persisted and asked again. Then Bishop had to cancel my appointment because he broke his leg. Again, I persisted. I sent him an email explaining what I needed to talk to him about.

When he finally could meet with me, he gave me great counsel. This time, I followed. He’s the one that suggested I attend the SFSG meetings. He told me that the meetings could help me better apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ to my life, which would then make it easier for me to forgive. He was right. These meetings have really blessed my life. But Bishop didn’t stop there. He wanted to meet with me frequently. During our visits, he often asked, “What can I do to help?” I could tell he really cared about me and I was not the least bit embarrassed that I had talked to him.

In his talk, Elder Scott gave a warning about “two improper therapeutic practices.” He also advised us to see a mental health professional recommended by our bishop. I really wish I had studied his talk more in depth because I have had some pretty negative experiences with counselors. These counselors were not ones that my bishop recommended and as Elder Scott cautioned they “caused [me] more harm than good.

I have since learned that there are good counselors who actually can do a great deal of good. But we need to seek them out. Our Bishops and LDS Family Services are the best places to start. The SFSG manual actually gives really good advice on how to select good “support people” including professional counselors. The manual states often takes multiple tries to find the right one.

Elder Scott recommends that “repair of damage inflicted by abuse should be done privately, confidentially, with a trusted priesthood leader and, where needed, the qualified professional he recommends.” I wish I had done as Elder Scott suggested. In my earlier years, I was not “private” about my past. I would talk to anyone who would listen about the trials I had been through. This practice scared people away, preventing needed friendships and delayed my healing. I like Elder Scott’s analogy: “if someone intentionally poured a bucket of filth on your carpet, would you invite the neighbors to determine each ingredient that contributed to the ugly stain? Of course not. With the help of an expert, you would privately restore its cleanliness.”  

I wish I had remembered Elder Scott’s comparison of healing scars from abuse to recovery from massive surgery. Patience is required. This is another principle that the SFSG manual teaches. It takes time to heal.  I was often discouraged by the pain that I felt. I knew that the Lord could take it from me, but He didn’t. Or at least He didn’t on my time table.

Looking back, I see that the Lord didn’t take my pain away when I wanted Him to because He was respecting my agency. I wasn’t ready to give it up. I see now that I needed to go through some experiences in order to soften my heart. I now see the wisdom in the Lord’s time table. True, following Elder Scott’s counsel at the time that he gave it might have sped up the process. But if that had happened, others wouldn’t be able to learn from my mistakes.

Elder Scott’s talk can be found at: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1992/04/healing-the-tragic-scars-of-abuse?lang=eng

 

Baby The world teaches birth control. Tragically, many of our sisters subscribe to its . . . practices when they could easily provide earthly tabernacles for more of our Father’s children. We know that every spirit assigned to this earth will come, whether through us or someone else. There are couples in the Church who think they are getting along just fine with their limited families but who will someday suffer the pains of remorse when they meet the spirits that might have been part of their posterity. The first commandment given to man was to multiply and replenish the earth with children. That commandment has never been altered, modified, or cancelled. The Lord did not say to multiply and replenish the earth if it is convenient, or if you are wealthy, or after you have gotten your schooling, or when there is peace on earth, or until you have four children. The Bible says, ‘Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: … Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. …’ (Ps. 127:3, 5.)

Ezra Taft Benson, Relief Society Magazine, December 1952, p. 793

I offer this quote as an explanation for a number of things. First, this quote is indirectly to blame for the fact that I have not updated my blog for a couple of months. After much prayer and consideration, my husband and I decided that our family was not complete. Thankfully, the Lord agreed and we will welcome our fifth child into the world at the end of the summer. I have not been able to think of anything important to say for a while since I have had a very hard time focusing on anything lately thanks to hormones, fatigue, and lack of sleep.

Second, President Benson eloquently answers the question, “Why would a 40 year old woman who already had her hands full with four wonderful children want to have another one, especially when for most of her life she thought four children was the perfect family size?” Quite simply, it just didn’t feel right. For a while I suspected that my reluctance to admit I was done was the fact that I enjoy caring for small children—Not a good reason to have another child. Babies grow up to be teenagers.

When I came across this quote a couple years ago, it touched me to the point that tears ran down my face. The thought of meeting children in the next life who could have been a part of my family but weren’t, really bothered me. What if one such spirit was placed in a family who did not want them or could not love them the way that I could have? I gave the matter a lot of thought and came to the conclusion: We were missing someone.

I’m not saying everyone needs to have a large family. I like that President Benson says: “easily provide.” A family size that is “easy” for one mother may be a nightmare for another. We need to be careful not to judge one another. The decision to have or not to have a child is between the husband, wife, and the Lord.

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I am a “glass half-empty” person. My brain has been hard wired with negative circuits. I am especially troubled by my negativity when it is unconsciously directed toward others. These critical thoughts enter my mind uninvited. I know that what I need is not just better control of my thoughts, but rather a change of heart like is mentioned in the Alma Chapter 5 (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/5?lang=eng). I want to be the type of person who can look at humanity and not notice their faults.

This morning I listened to a talk by M. Russell Ballard. He talked about this change of heart and gave a suggestion about how to achieve it:

How do we make this change? How do we ingrain this love of Christ into our hearts? There is one simple daily practice that can make a difference . . . That simple practice is: In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help.

His suggestion seems simple enough. I will give it a try.

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/be-anxiously-engaged?lang=eng

We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance (1 Nephi 1:20). . . I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are available to all of us and that the Redeemer of Israel is eager to bestow such gifts upon us.

David A. Bednar, Ensign, May 2005, 100-101

I read this quote this morning and it brought great comfort to me. The quote almost exactly described my feelings. A friend of mine is going through Job-like trials, and it seems to me that she always has from the time she was very young. I know that our lives are watched over by a loving Heavenly Father, but at times I get discouraged by the “injustices and inequities of life,” especially when I see them happening to someone I care about.

This quote helped me realize that the way to overcome such discouragement is to focus on the blessings we received. Elder Bednar doesn’t promise us that God will make everything fair in this life, but he does promise us that, if we look, we will find evidence of God’s love for us. By focusing on our blessings, we will be “made mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” I think that phrase means we will have the strength to not become victims of the negative things that happen in our lives.

This friend told me about just such a tender mercy. She has recently decided to get baptized in the LDS church and had the desire to contact the missionary who first taught her a year ago. Unfortunately, she could not remember his name, and had no idea where he was. This weekend she went to a church meeting in another city. After the meeting, the missionary she had been looking for sat down beside her.

Now, this wasn’t the miracle that we were hoping for, but it was a miracle nonetheless. If you understand how frequently our missionaries move and take into account that the mission split two months ago, you would have to admit that God intentionally placed that man at the meeting just to bless the life of my friend. She said his presence helped her to remember just how much God did love her.

My friend told me about this experience yesterday, and yet last night, I still allowed myself to become discouraged. Elder Bednar’s quote helped me to remember that I need to focus more on the miracles I do see instead of the ones that I don’t.