I am Brother Ben Roberts of the Newton ward and though I was born in the covenant with both my parents members of the church, I did leave it for several years. I believe though it’s a good thing to show each other our imperfections and let others know that sometimes its about the journey, not the destination.
Keeping this in mind, I felt moved to share about something where I can draw from my unique experiences inside and outside the church, and that is addiction. Though I will be sharing about my own experiences, I hope you can adapt these principles to any other addictions you may face personally or see around you.
Thankfully, right now I am only addicted to my work and family and am slowly learning to grow again in my relationship with the Lord. That said, there was also a time in the past when I was addicted to smoking cigarettes. Shortly after leaving the church, I started smoking while in university during a difficult time to deal with the stress of life. To this day, though I haven't smoked in over 4 years, there is still often an impulse to smoke particularly in times of stress.
President M. Russell Ballard aptly compares addiction to fly fishing in his October 2010 General Conference talk “O That Cunning Plan of the Evil One”:
“The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception. The adept fisherman studies trout behavior, weather, the water current, and the types of insects trout eat and when those insects hatch. He will often craft by hand the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly…
The use of artificial lures to fool and catch a fish is an example of the way Lucifer often tempts, deceives, and tries to ensnare us.
Like the fly fisherman who knows that trout are driven by hunger, Lucifer knows our “hunger,” or weaknesses, and tempts us with counterfeit lures which, if taken, can cause us to be yanked from the stream of life into his unmerciful influence. And unlike a fly fisherman who catches and releases the fish unharmed back into the water, Lucifer will not voluntarily let go. His goal is to make his victims as miserable as he is.”
Such a great comparison, and a very true to my own experiences. The great though fleeting feeling from smoking, alcohol or drugs give are simply the lures Satan attaches to the greater pain that almost inevitably follows addiction. Though I hated smoking when I first started, I foolishly persevered to get the feeling of relief I had often heard about. In the end this dependency negatively affected my physical and mental health more than the temporary relief it brought.
The thing is, we know all of this. It’s nothing new, the church, our governments and schools all warn us of the dangers of addiction, so why do many of us keep falling into it? Why did I keep smoking, though it was horrible at first? Surely, this continuous hold addiction has over our lives is not just because of chemical dependency and the seemingly good feelings from such substances.
A Professor Bruce Alexander from Vancouver, Canada reviewed a series of old experiments on addiction which were conducted in the mid-1900s, where in one of these experiments a rat was put it in a cage and given two water bottles: one with pure water, the other water laced with addictive drugs. In these experiments the rat almost always preferred the drug water and overdosed quickly.
Professor Alexander noticed that every time the experiment was performed, the rats were alone in the cage. With this observation, he decided to run the experiment again, though this time with multiple rats in a cage. Interestingly, this time the rats almost never used the drug water and not a single one overdosed. The experiment went from almost a 100% overdose rate when the rats were isolated to 0% when they were in a social community with other rats.
This is what I believe is the main reason for addiction, not just the lure of a temporary great feeling, rather more so the absence of light or happiness. Just as darkness is the absence of light, addiction is the attempt to either fill oneself with something that deceptively feels like light or to numb yourself so much that you forget you are in darkness. It is impossible to use punishment or alienation to help those afflicted with addiction. If you suffer from addiction, it is also impossible to help yourself by keeping it a secret or pushing loved ones away to “protect them”.
We are so blessed in the church to know of the plan of salvation, to have the gifts of the spirit and the ability to develop a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Through him and his gospel, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it is possible to overcome it and be filled with light again. “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 84: 45-46).
There is another scripture passage which also guided me in my journey to overcome addiction, which is the Lord’s answer when the Prophet Joseph Smith was jailed and overwhelmed with the challenges he and the members of the church were facing. I hope it inspires others who might be facing similar struggles with addiction: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands” (Doctrine and Covenants 121: 7-9).