It was my turn to talk.”Why are you here, Julie?” asked the group facilitator. I answered, “I am here to help take the stigma out of attending the LDS Twelve Step Program for addiction. If people in our stake know that a member of the stake Relief Society presidency (meaning me) embraces the Twelve Steps, then maybe they will see some value in this program for themselves—regardless of whether or not they struggle with addiction. The Twelve Steps is all about the healing power of Christ’s atonement and the healing power of community. We’re only as sick as our secrets.” All heads nodded in agreement–including my husband’s. As a bishopric member, he, too, sees the program’s value for spiritual growth.
The old Led Zepplin song “Stairway to Heaven” was a 70’s classic and a Church dance favorite. I’ve decided that this stairway must include the “Twelve Steps” as our very first steps. If we are unwilling to conquer these particular steps, then we’ll be forever stuck on the stairwell. Indeed, everyone associated with the Twelve Step Program feels an evangelical zeal to win converts into this journey of self-awareness. Group members experience genuine community on a deeper, more intimate level when sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings without fear and judgment. Surely, those first twelve steps on our individual stairways are profoundly difficult.
The first step in the Twelve Step Program emphasizes the importance of honesty with ourselves and with those around us. Its key principle states: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable (“LDS Family Services Guide,” p. 1). Now, dear reader, before you assume that this principle is not applicable to you, substitute the word addictions for any of the following words: fear, shame, guilt, anger, regret, discouragement, anxiety, depression, worthlessness, pride….and on and on. Thus, we can see this key’s validity in our lives. The manual also states:
To deny the seriousness of our condition and to avoid detection and the consequences of our choices, we tried to minimize or hide our behaviors. We did not realize that by deceiving others and ourselves, we slipped deeper…. Hoping to excuse ourselves or blame others, we weakened spiritually. We plunged into greater and greater isolation, separating ourselves from others, especially from God (p. 1).
We don’t do this on a conscious level–and therein lies the problem. Or perhaps we’ve got some level of consciousness, but we minimize our behavioral impacts on ourselves and others. We can’t fight and/or resolve what we don’t know–or deny. Yes, knowing is painful. And changing is even more painful. But staying stuck is the most painful of all.
Honesty is full of paradoxes. Getting rid of pretense is hard but brings relief. When we’re honest about our defeats or inability to win someone or something, our realization kick starts us into healing. To get honest, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions:
- Has the pain of your problem or pride become worse than the pain of your solution?
- Are there contradictions between what you believe in and hope for and your behavior?
- Do your actions undermine who and what you value?
- Do you excuse your behavior?
- Do you blame others for your behavior?
Dr. Scott Peck speaks hard truths regarding the roots of evil.
The evil deny the suffering of their guilt–the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection–casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. They cause suffering (People of the Lie, 1983, p. 124).
He also talks about the appearance of competence or false bravado of those who are hurting within themselves and hurting others:
No matter how competent [people] thought of themselves….their appearance of competence was just that: an appearance. A pretense. Rather than being in command of themselves, it was their narcissism that was in command, always demanding, whipping them into maintaining their pretense of health and wholeness. Think of the psychic energy required for the continued maintenance of the pretense so characteristic of the evil? They perhaps direct at least as much energy into their devious rationalizations and destructive compensations as the healthiest do into loving behavior. Why? What possesses them, drives them? Basically, it is fear. They are terrified that the pretense will break down and they will be exposed to the world and to themselves. They are continually frightened that they will come face-to-face with their own evil [and/or sin]. Of all emotions, fear is the most painful (p. 124).
A lot of our wounds and the wounds we inflict on others is connected to pride. The Church manual states, “Pride and honesty cannot coexist. Pride is an illusion and is an essential element of addiction. Pride distorts the truth about things as they are, as they have been, and as they will be. It is a major obstacle to recovery (p. 2).
Because we all experience these emotions and behaviors, I’ve also come to believe that we need to conquer the Twelve Steps as a collective group of Latter-Day-Saints. In order to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming, we need to be a spiritually and emotionally prepared group akin to the collection of Saints in the City of Enoch. If we as individual members evolve in this manner, then our collective whole will reflect the same spiritual evolution. But in order to do this, we need to get real.
Dr. Scott Peck’s profound insights are applicable to our LDS community when he calls all global citizens to “genuine community.” Acknowledging the obvious need for individuation in our spiritual journey and responsibility for our own salvation, he also instills the importance of our call to wholeness:
We can never be completely whole without each other. We cannot be all things to ourselves and to others. We cannot be perfect. We cannot be doctors, lawyers, farmers, politicians, stonemasons, and theologians, all rolled into one. It is true that we are created to be individually unique. Yet, the reality is that we are inevitably social creatures who desperately need each other not merely for sustenance, not merely for company, but for any meaning to our lives whatsoever. These, then, are the paradoxical seeds from which community can grow. So we are called to wholeness and simultaneously to recognition of our incompleteness; called to power and to acknowledge our weakness; called to both individuation and interdependence. We are weak and imperfect creatures who need each other. Individualism [in and of itself] encourages us to fake it. It encourages us to hide our weaknesses and failures. It teaches us to be utterly ashamed of our limitations. It drive us to attempt to be superwomen and supermen not only in the eyes of others but also in our own. It pushes us day in and day out to look as if we “had it all together,” as if we were without needs and in total control of our lives. It relentlessly demands that we keep up appearances. It also relentlessly isolates us from each other. And it makes genuine community impossible (“The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace,” pp. 56-57).
As members of the Church, our baptism and church activity reflects our commitment to each other and to the Church organization–or in other words, our worldwide “group” or “community.” But we still have not attained genuine, authentic, loving community, in my opinion. Therefore, a basic underpinning of genuine community building is to acknowledge that we aren’t there yet. As a collective whole, we do not have the unity and compassion that I’ve seen in Twelve Step groups. Where to begin? With the first of our collective “Twelve Steps”: Honesty.
Let’s get real by getting honest!