Early Returned Missionaries

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Early Returned Missionary LDS

In August of 2016 a program was created by a nonprofit organization with the purpose of serving Early-Returned Missionaries (ERM’s). Missionaries leave mission service earlier than they originally anticipate for a variety of reasons, but most, if not all, are faced with a barrage of confusing emotions and thoughts upon returning. Many ERMs choose to isolate within their own homes, fearful of who they will run into while at the grocery store, dreadful of the inevitable two questions ward members, family, and friends always seem to ask: “Why are you home already?” and “So, when are you going back out?”

 

The purpose of an ERM Mentor is to reach out to these ERMs who are suffering, to reassure them that they are not alone, to be a source of unconditional love and support, and to provide the ERMs with resources which may assist them as they make this often rocky transition.

 

Mission Fortify created the “Early-Returned Missionary Mentor Program” for the sole purpose of assisting those who are now arriving home early from mission service, but over the course of the last three months it has become apparent that the program is also serving the ERM Mentors themselves. The majority of ERM Mentors (approximately 70%) are also ERMs, and have discovered an avenue to find closure from their own experiences as they serve others, share the lessons they have learned, and the insight they have gained since returning home from their mission service.

 

What is an ERM Mentor? The following was taken directly from Mission Fortify’s website:

 

  • Mentors are volunteers who are active members of the LDS faith. Mentors are either Early-Returned Missionaries (ERM’s) themselves, or are volunteers who understand the struggle ERM’s encounter when returning home earlier than anticipated from full-time mission service.
  • Mentors make themselves available to meet with ERM’s within 48 hours of the missionary returning home from mission service.
  • Mentors offer moral support, empathy, and compassion to ERM’s, and provide ERM’s with a list of local resources which are available to help with the transition to post-mission life.
  • Mentors are expected to follow Alma’s words, by being “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God…” (Mosiah 18:9)

 

Mission Fortify currently has ERM Mentor Teams representing UT County, Salt Lake County, and Davis/Weber Counties, with the goal of creating Teams in Cache and Iron/Washington Counties within the next three months. Mission Fortify also currently has ERM Mentors representing areas in the States of Washington, California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho, and Georgia, with interest being expressed in New Zealand and Germany. Ultimately, Mission Fortify hopes to have ERM Mentors representing every Stake within the “Mormon Corridor” (as far North as Idaho Falls, ID, through all of Utah, and as far South as Phoenix, AZ), while also giving anyone living outside the “Mormon Corridor” area the opportunity to serve as ERM Mentors as well.

 

You can find a list of ERM Mentor Team Meetings and ERM Support Groups on the Mission Fortify Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/missionfortify or on the Mission Fortify website https://www.missionfortify.org/erm-mentor-volunteer-program.

If you’d like more information about the ERM Mentor Program, or would like to know how Mission Fortify plans on serving Pre-Missionaries and Returned Missionaries then send an email to [email protected]

In the LDS Church, we have high expectations and high ideals. Leaders do not shy away from teaching a very specific ideal family constellation, sexual purity before marriage, and patterning our life after the Savior’s life in every possible way. There is nothing wrong with teaching ideals and one could argue that that is the primary job of religious institutions. However, in real life, holding up ideals often leaves members never feeling  “good enough” because they have not achieved the ideal righteous Mormon life. Chronic feelings of  “never good enough” because your life doesn’t look like an Ensign magazine cover, your child has left the Church, your spouse isn’t committed to church callings, you’re struggling with the word of wisdom, you’re having difficulty forgiving someone, you’re not a good provider, or you’re not an attentive mother or father, can erode our whole sense of self.

What is shame?

Shame is a universal emotion defined by researcher Brené Brown, PhD as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame inspires us to hide ourselves from others, to judge ourselves and to go deeper into secretive behaviors.

Shame triggers

Religious institutions are not the only place we get messages about ideals. We are bombarded with messages about how we “should” be–what ideal women and men look like and act like, what the ideal house and household looks like, how your children should behave and more. Not living up to our ideal identity or how we want to view ourselves and be viewed by others has been identified as the primary trigger for shame.

One of my ideal identities is the desire to be viewed as a “good mother.” If I am not behaving as a “good mother” – if I’m being preoccupied with work, forgetting their doctor appointment, or losing my patience– my ideal identity is challenged and I am susceptible to feelings of shame. Shame can be triggered not only by how we view ourselves, but also by how we think others view us.

What’s wrong with shame?

You may be thinking, “What’s the problem with feeling shame when you don’t measure up to your ideal? Doesn’t that make you want to change?” No, shame does not inspire self-improvement. It most often initiates and fuels self-destructive behavior. Chronic feelings of shame are present in toxic perfectionism, eating disorders, problematic sexual behaviors, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. Over time, shame can become integrated into our self-image, into our core experience of who we are (not what we have done).

Where shame gets particularly tricky for Mormons is that while we can discount the world’s messages about our ideal selves as shallow, uninspired and sometimes downright evil, faithful members can’t easily discount the ideals put forward by inspired Church leaders. Nor should we. How do we accept the ideals set forth by our Church leaders without spiraling into self-destructive shame because we don’t measure up?

1. Draw clear distinctions between ideal and real

I am not suggesting that we throw away the ideals presented by our doctrine and teachings. What I am suggesting is that we overtly discuss that the image of an ideal family, ideal mother, ideal priesthood holder, ideal child or teen as something to strive for, not to actually achieve anytime soon. I have seen the damaging consequences of believing that the religious ideal is actually attainable in this life contribute to destructive perfectionism, depression, anxiety, low self-worth, and shame. Dr. Brené Brown suggests that “healthy striving” toward a goal is very different than toxic perfectionism.

As an adolescent, I recognized my blessed and privileged life and yet, for a period of time, I still wasn’t happy. I concluded that something must be inherently wrong with me. I started to experience deep feelings of shame–that I was somehow flawed because I went through periods where I wasn’t able to feel joy and gratitude. I have the Gospel. I should be happy. I slid into several years of toxic perfectionism, denying my emotions, and hiding my authentic self.

Read full story by Dr. Julie De Azevedo Hanks on Meridian Magazine.

Joseph Anderson has been home from the mission for eleven years. Since returning he has watched countless returned missionaries feel like a fish out of water when they get back. Because of this he created a free 90 day training course for any RM who wants to just watch his videos. You can watch them on his YouTube channel or find them on his website RMUniversity.co. On the website there are also worksheets to download every day that accompany the videos. This sets it apart from any other training out there.

About this project, Joseph said this:

“A few years back, I heard the story of Mark Mabry. If you are unfamiliar with his story, he is the photographer that created the reflections of Christ exhibit. He had talked about how he wanted to use the talents and gifts that he had been given in order to build the kingdom of God. As I reflected on this, it got me to thinking, “How is it that I can use my gifts and talents to further build the kingdom of God?”I pondered on this for a while.

“One day as I was playing guitar, an idea came to me so strongly of what I could do to build the kingdom of God. Over the past few years, there have been many RM’s coming home from their missions and falling away from the church. It was brought to my attention that the number of RM’s falling away was far too high! And it occurred to me that these RM’s would come home and often feel like a fish out of water. There lives had been planned for them since they were little kids and now they had many decisions and choices to make. It was during this time of figuring things out that many would fall away.

“For many years, there has always been a joke about creating an RMTC that taught RM’s how to return to regular life and still keep their spiritual depth that they gained on their mission. So as I was playing my guitar this powerful impression came that I should create one. For the past 14 years of my life I have studied personal development and have my own life, business and relationship coaching practice. I realized that many of these tools could be valuable to RM’s when they return, however most RM’s are broke and have no money. In the scriptures, it says that they did receive great learning because of their riches. I wanted to provide that learning to all RM’s in a convenient resource. So that being said, Welcome to RM University!

Here is the introduction video:

Go to his website to see more and watch the videos or to share these videos with any returned missionary you know who just got home or who may have been home for a while. Really anyone could benefit from the principles that Joseph shares.

Of the 419 missions (as of March 19, 2016) in the world, some are very expensive, some are very cold, some hot, some humid, some dry.

But some are just plain DIRTY.

This list is by no means comprehensive and doesn’t mean that there are unsanitary conditions even in some of the mission apartments in Provo, Utah. Ahem…P-day cleaning! However, we wanted to come up with a list to help missionaries who are preparing to serve in some of the least sanitary countries so that they can know what to look out for and how they might avoid getting sick.

If an elder shakes hands with 20 people per day (on average) and has a 23 months in the mission field (after their time in the MTC), they have shaken hands with 13,800 people by the time their mission ends. For sisters thats 10,200! That’s a lot of hands! We don’t want to make moms nervous or anyone nervous for that matter, but there are things you can do to make sure you are keeping yourself healthy during your mission. But first, here are the missions in the countries with the least overall sanitation:

The Least Sanitary Mission Countries

  1. Brazil (There are 34 Missions)
    • I listed Brazil as #1 because not because there are 39 million people without proper sanitation, but because there are 34 missions. That’s more missions than any other country other than the US (124 missions) and Mexico (tied at 34), but both the US and Mexico have much better sanitation than Brazil.
  2. India Banaglore and India New Delhi Missions
    • 818 million people in India don’t have access to a toilet connected to a septic tank. That’s a lot of squatters. Toilet paper? I don’t think so. And without a toilet are there places to wash hands?
  3. The 6 Nigerian missions (Benin City, Calabar, Enugu, Lagos, Owerri and Port Harcourt)
    • 103 million people in Nigeria don’t have access to proper sanitation
  4. Indonesia Jakarta Mission
    • 109 million people lack access to sanitation in Indonesia
  5. Vietnam Hanoi Mission
    • 22 Million don’t have access to proper sanitation in Vietnam
  6. All the Philippines Missions (There are 21)
    • 22 Million don’t have access to proper sanitation in the Philippines
  7. Democratic Republic of Congo (3 Missions)
    • 50 Million don’t have access to proper sanitation in DR Congo
  8. Ghana (4 Missions)
    • 20 million in Ghana don’t have access to proper sanitation
  9. Kenya Nairobi Mission
    • 27 Million in Kenya don’t have access to proper sanitation

This information came from takepart.com (see the infographic at the bottom of the article).

What can you do to stay healthy in these missions?

  1. Keep your hands clean with HAND SANITIZER.
    • PureBioGuard is the best hand sanitizer we have found. In countries where running water is not clean or is not available, hand sanitizer is absolutely key. PureBioGuard is way inexpensive and one pack can last an entire mission (per missionary). You can read more about it here. With just one use, it is engineered to keep your hands clean all day long no matter how many hands you shake and even if you wash your hands. PureBioGuard is alcohol-free, Triclosan-free, non-toxic, and completely safe for kids, pets, and the environment. It will last 12+ hours and has been proven to maintain effectiveness through up to 10 hand-washings! It will then shed naturally as the skin regenerates a new layer. This brand is actually used by many missions around the world already who buy it in bulk (but is not officially endorsed by the Church).
  2. Just say NO to meals that are not sanitary.
    • Be kind to members who cook, but if it comes down to it, it really is okay to say no to a meal that you know was not prepared with properly sanitized hands or in a sanitized home. This can be very difficult because you don’t want to offend the members or investigators. However, remember that over 10,000 hours of proselyting time were lost in just 4 months (according to one study from the BYU department of health sciences) because of illness/injury. Prayer does work, but God expects us to be as wise as serpents so we shouldn’t eat food that we know is not clean.
  3. Keep YOUR apartment clean.
    • Even in these countries, mission presidents do all they can to find apartments that are in good places and that have access to sanitation. Take advantage of that! You don’t have to live like the people to come to love the people. Yes, the Lord will bless you, but you need to do all you can to be part of the answer to your parents’ prayers to keep you safe and healthy. Do your laundry, shower, keep the mission rules about hygiene.
  4. Exercise!
    • Obedience. Yes. It works. If you take the time to exercise each day, your immune system will be much more prepared to fight off anything you do pick up while shaking hands or using a random bathroom while in a pinch in your area.
  5. Pray
    • Yes, please keep asking for help to stay healthy and strong. You are being prayed for in every temple around the world. You are being prayed for in your family’s and friend’s and ward’s prayers. Add your prayers to theirs.

Elders and sisters, please, be wise. The Lord needs you to be healthy and strong and you can do your part by staying clean. We hope this helped you.

Top Countries Without Sanitation
Via: TakePart.com

Infographic and information from Takepart.

Claire Pincock in the hometown of her grandfather

After a lot of prayer and fasting, I was told not to serve a mission.

Accepting the answer “no” was extremely difficult, but at the same time God told me that there were reasons why, and that I would know what they were in due time. Let me tell you the reasons why I’m so grateful I listened.

**Editor’s Note: This article was written by Claire Pincock and has been published in full by her request. 

God Still Used Me As an Instrument to Bless His Children
Pretty soon after I would have left on my mission, I met a boy with serious depression. While he had had people to support him, at that point he felt very alone because he was tired of hurting his friends. Four months into my “mission”, I was able to calm him down twice from suicidal thoughts. Throughout our relationship I helped to show him God’s love for him. I helped to show him that he was worth love and life and that he deserved happiness. God put me in his life, and I was an instrument in His hands to bring my friend happiness.

I Still Learned A Lot About Myself
I dated a lot while on my “mission”. I moved into a very social single’s ward and went on more dates than I can count. Most of them were just casual, fun, friendly double dates. I learned so much about the difference between what I thought I needed and wanted in a man and what I actually needed and wanted. I also learned my strengths in relationships. I learned not only who is good for me, but who I am good for. This has been instrumental in my life.

I Married My Best Friend
Because I didn’t get to serve, I diligently wrote a lot of my friends who did. I told them that I wanted to have the mission experience through them. I developed wonderful relationships with them and got to know who they were very personally. I would email one of my friends back and forth when he was online until his mission disallowed that. A year into my “mission”, that friend came home. I was so ecstatic. I couldn’t get to my hometown until nearly 10 at night, but we talked until 2 in the morning. He was just as ecstatic as I was. Because of that night and more dating experiences shortly after, I realized that this man, who had been my friend my whole life, was exactly who I was looking for. We were engaged before I would have gotten home.

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Claire and Seth on their wedding day
Claire and Seth on their wedding day

I Learned a Foreign Language Anyway 
There were many other wonderful advantages from listening to God’s plan for me. I found a major I love, and I have had irreplaceable experiences in my classes and doing research in my field. I went on a study abroad and learned my grandpa’s native language. I got to see the house he was born in and learn more about his culture. I got really into family history and have taken countless names to the temple with my friends and family. I developed a really close relationship with my mom as we would do this work together. I wouldn’t trade that year-and-a-half for anything.

Claire on her study abroad in Copenhagen
Claire on her study abroad in Copenhagen

I Felt Misunderstood and It Wasn’t Easy

It hasn’t always been easy. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to all of my friends. I was sad to watch them go and a bit jealous that I didn’t get to. I’ve been in a room filled with just RMs and me, and it can be difficult while everyone shares in their wonderful experiences. I’ve been rejected by boys who want an RM. I’ve been looked down on by my leaders for not serving (very rarely, and not intentionally, but it’s happened). I’ve been asked countless times why I’m not on my mission. I’ve even had people question my answer. I’ve been told that God would never say no to a mission, so maybe I’m interpreting Him incorrectly. I’ve been told that I know less about the gospel because I didn’t serve a mission. People don’t mean to hurt. They don’t really understand that fight that I went through. They don’t understand how badly I wanted to go, and they don’t understand why these things could be hurtful. It’s always been clear to me that the church does not see us as second-class members, but people aren’t perfect, and sometimes you might be treated that way.

Luckily, there have also been a countless number of people who respect my decision and respected me for it. There have been so many people who see the reality of my spirit and my love of this church despite not serving. I’m actually grateful for those dating rejections because even if I had served a mission, that isn’t the kind of person I needed to marry. My husband looks up to me as I look up to him. He respects my spiritual insights despite the fact that he had I name badge and I never did. I’m also so grateful for my friends and family who did serve, especially my fellow sisters. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve learned to set aside my pride and rejoice at every call my friends receive. I rejoice in their service and in their joy, just as I hope that they rejoice in mine even though it’s different.

God Knew I Didn’t Need a Mission. I Needed to Stay Home, and That’s Okay
Six months after I would have gotten home, I’m so glad I didn’t serve. God had a much more beautiful plan for me. I didn’t need a mission. I needed to stay home, and that’s okay. Every member needs to pray and find out for themselves. While I would have been serving, I’ve almost finished my education, I went through the temple for this first time, I got married to the love of my life, and I’ve done so many other wonderful things I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Most Importantly, I Listened to God
So, if you’re a guy or girl who came home early or couldn’t serve, if you got the answer no and listened, or even God told you it was your choice and you chose no, as long as you are listening to God’s plan for you, you will be happier than if you had followed the plan which you made for yourself. Even if it’s nothing like His plan for me (if it doesn’t include dating or marriage or an education), you will be happier than if you hadn’t have listened.

Early Returned Missionary Mental health natural solution
Image used with permission from Ashley

Ashley Sargeant had been serving a mission in the Brasilia Brazil Mission for nine months when she was given an honorable release. While serving, she battled with mental health struggles and halfway through her mission, she had a complete mental collapse. Ashley was heartbroken, but knew it was right to return home. On her last day in the mission, her first companion found her, and knowing that she was going home early, took her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye and told her:

“Whatever you do, just don’t stop Sister Sargeant. DON’T STOP!”

On February 19th 2015, she launched a social media campaign titled “Don’t Stop Sargeant” designed to share hope and resources with early returning missionaries and those who are battling mental illness to overcome the stigma that is so prevalent in our culture. She responds to messages from her followers on her website (link above), Facebook page, Instagram, and YouTube. Ashley has been battling mental illness for the past fourteen years, but coming home from her mission really hit home and her quest to find answers really began at the end of her mission.

Early Returned Missionary Mental health natural solution

It has been around three years since Ashley returned home from Brazil. Six months ago, she was in an even darker place than she had ever been in her life. In a recent presentation she gave, she said “my brain could not handle it anymore.” At this same time, a friend approached her on social media saying that she would be in town and that she could come visit her. She was excited to see her friend but also in deep need of help at this dark time. It was at this time that her friend Josie Thompson told her about EMPowerplus Q96. When Josie told her about this broad spectrum micronutrient, she said that she had already heard about this from nearly a dozen of her other friends, but she assumed that it was just too good to be true.

Josie said to Ashley: “Before you admit yourself to the hospital, at least try this.” So Lisa Thompson, Josie’s mom, sent Ashley a month supply for free the next day. Ashley was still hesitant that it would work, but within the first couple of weeks, she noticed changes in her mood and she started functioning again. “Within a month of taking it, I started getting out of bed. That is a big deal! The second month it became even easier. I was sleeping better and I didn’t have the desire to kill myself anymore.”

In a recent video, Ashley stated: “I didn’t have this heaviness, this darkness in my brain in the morning that made it almost impossible to get out of bed. I thought a couple months into taking it, ‘This has got to be a placebo effect. This is going to wear off any day now. I’m going to wake up one morning and I’m going to go right back to how things were before.”

Six months later, that hasn’t happened. It has only gotten better.
She says: “It’s not that I don’t have ups and downs and good days and bad days, because we all have those. It’s that I feel like I’ve gone from riding this out-of-control, terrifying roller coaster ride of a life to a manageable carousel ride. And now I can say that I know what normal feels like for me. And these lights have turned back on in my life, in my face — I feel all sparkly inside and I just want to tell everybody about the amazingness of Q96! It has literally changed my life. I feel excited about my future, and I feel a lot of hope.”

mental illness natural solution
Photo of Ashley from a recent interview

With so many people who struggle with this, it is important to remember that this product is not approved by the FDA and is a broad-spectrum micronutrient, not a medication. As such it does not claim to treat or cure any disease. Each individual experience is unique, but we share this story because if it brought Ashley out of such a deep darkness, it might help you or someone you love to find the light and hope that Ashley now feels.

“I’m living proof that this stuff works. I don’t know the science behind it, but I know that nutrition affects your brain. I am now six months on the Q. I can say that today I am a completely functional, happy human being.”
And though Ashley may not understand the science behind this formulation, there is ongoing research being done and over twenty-seven peer reviewed journal articles have been published (to date) on this broad spectrum micronutrient formulation. Is this product right for you or for someone you know? It might just be. Ashley struggled for months of terrifying darkness before she let herself try it. Now that she knows that it works, she wished she would have started long ago.

 

Editors note: To see a list of empirical reports and clinical research on this product, click here. To read about a Harvard Psychiatrist and other researchers who have done tests on this product, click here. To watch a TED talk given by a clinical psychologist who has researched the EMPowerplus formulation, click here. For more information about EMPowerplus Q96, click here. If you are interested in trying the product for yourself, click here. This article was written with permission from Ashley Sargeant and was sponsored by MyQHealth.com.

 

Important Safety Disclaimer: If you are considering transitioning from any medication onto the EMPowerplus formulation, please be careful. Please do not go off your medications “cold-turkey.” This is dangerous and is unwise. However, please do consider trying this method very carefully and with the help of professionals, family and transition coaches. Mental illness is serious and can be life-threatening. Please be careful, but know that there is hope and for anyone who is willing to take the time and make the effort to transition to a more natural pathway. It may take longer than Ashley Sargeant to experience any result. For anyone considering it, we would recommend using the Micronutrient Support coaches who have been trained professionally to coach people in this type of transition. As you consider a lifelong pathway for your health, remember that the former president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Martin Seligman, has said in his latest book Flourish that there is not one SSRI that is made for a cure. They are all cosmetic, not curative. He said this: “Every single drug on the shelf of psychopharmacopoeia is cosmetic. There are no curative drugs, and no drug is in development that I know of that aims at cure. Biological psychiatry has given up on cure.” [Flourish, p. 46]. QSciences and EMPowerplus Q96 does not claim to cure any mental illness, but it has been proven to have clinically effective results with those who suffer from mental illnesses. As stated above, please be wise and use caution in your decisions about your mental health or that of a loved one.

In light of the Face to Face event this evening, Elder Jeffrey R Holland chose one particular question to answer in advance:
I served a mission, but it was only four months long. I returned from my mission early due to mental health problems. It’s really difficult not to feel like a failure. I’m not even sure if it was my fault…what do I do? How can I look at my short mission the way that I should?”

First Face to Face QuestionI have been reading the questions you are asking for the #LDSFace2Face event tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. MST. I encourage you to keep asking them in the comments below. We will continue to watch the questions as they come in. In the meantime, I’d like to go ahead and answer one of the questions that I saw from a young man who asked about how he should feel after returning home early from his mission due to mental health problems.

Posted by Jeffrey R Holland on Monday, March 7, 2016

 

To hear Elder Holland answer more of the questions you face every day as a young single adult, tune in tonight on LDS.org, BYUtv, or the Mormon Channel at 6pm MST.

6 Ways to help a friend win the battle with pornography
image from thereturnedmissionary.com

This article was originally published on The Returned Missionary and has been republished in it’s entirety on this blog with the author’s permission.

Winning the battle with pornography isn’t easy. This post isn’t the answer to all the questions about overcoming pornography addiction, but I hope to at least share things that have helped me and my friends, who have battled with pornography, to WIN that battle. Way too many returned missionaries struggle with this, and too many of them do it silently, and completely alone. I have known of YSA wards where up to 90% of the young men struggle with this. This should not be. We can help them, and instead of shrinking away from them out of fear of the stigma, we need to reach out to help them, in love. You can help your friends who are struggling, and if YOU are that friend that needs help, then I hope I can be your friend and help you with this post.

1. Be informed and educated about it

I think before anything, we need to be informed about pornography addiction. Orson Scott Card once said that he is “a lover of goodness and a student of evil.” 1 Many people avoid learning more about the evil of pornography because it is evil. If we are going to help anyone we love to win the battle (or if we are trying to win the battle ourselves), we need to be more educated about pornography addiction, and specifically about why it is that men and women are even motivated at all to seek out pornography in the first place. Here are just a few resources that I have found helpful:

  • If you don’t know about Fight The New Drug, go to their site and learn more or just download their 2016 reference guide of the harmful effects of pornography. A comprehensive review of the most current and reliable, peer reviewed research on the harmful effects of pornography. This document is perfect for all individuals who want to dive deep into the research and gain a solid understanding of what science is teaching us about how pornography effects individuals, their relationships, and the world we live in.
  • Watch Johann Hari’s TED talk: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.

  • 7 Levels of Addiction. If your friend is battling pornography, don’t put him in the same boat (in your mind) as the person you hear about on the news who went to prison for committing some horrible sexual crime. There are many varying levels of addiction and your friend is most likely in a less extreme area of the continuum. Even if they are at level seven, it is good to understand that there are different levels of addiction. Here is a PDF where you can read about the 7 Levels of Addiction.
  • Read Donald Hilton MD’s book He Restoreth My Soul. As an LDS neurologist, Dr. Hilton doesn’t just write about why pornography is bad for you spiritually. He also gives an in-depth review of the modern science and brain chemistry that undergirds an addiction. It is fascinating to understand his research because he suggests that spiritual repentance does not equal recovery from addiction. This is very different from what I assume most people believe about someone who has an addiction. I used to believe that no one has truly repented of this until they have completely recovered from it. According to Hilton, this is not always the case. Here’s Dr. Hilton talking about some of these things at a BYU Pornography Addiction Conference:
  • Study the 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program with your friend and on your own. This is very informative and is not just about pornography addiction, but about addiction to anything and is really a great guide for anyone who wants to fully and joyfully repent of any personal vice.
  • Look up the studies of the growing body of researchers on this topic including Mark Chamberlain, Maurice Harker, Dan Gray, Jill Manning, Jason Carroll, Brannon Patrick, Tyler Patrick, Rich Tripp, Mark Kastleman, Geoff Steurer, Jeffrey Ford, Kathy Kinghorn, and many others. Just Google their names and you’ll start finding their work.
  • Go to a conference or watch the videos from the conferences. One conference I have found to be extremely informative is the UCAP conference. It is in Utah, so all of you reading this won’t be able to make it to this, but they post most of their presentation videos online and it is excellent information.
  • This presentation, from Dan Gray, changed the way I look at addiction and how I look at addicts. It goes right along with the information that Johann Hari presented in his TED talk above.
  • Look up the amazing resources and information at the SA Lifeline website.

There are a dozens of other resources to get educated and informed about it for your friend, for your children, or for yourself. The important thing is to learn about it before you dive into the fight or you will be fighting blindfolded.

2. P.E.R.M.A. VS. B.L.A.S.T. The power of the Science of Happiness (Positive Psychology)

If you watched Johann Hari’s TED talk above, you listened to the research about “rat park,” or heaven for rats where the rats were first put in an empty cage with two types of water. One water was normal water and the other water was drugged with heroin or cocaine. In the empty cage, the rats would consistently return over and over to the drugged water and die from overdose within a short amount of time. However, they redid the experiment and instead of putting the rats in an empty cage, alone, they put them in rat park where they had plenty of friends, toys, all the food they could imagine and could do whatever they wanted for as long as they wanted.

The results?

100% of the rats overdosed in the isolated cage. 0% of the rats overdosed in rat heaven.

Why? Because they were happier. Maybe you’ll debate weather a rat can be happier, but we all know that humans can be both miserable and happy.

Positive psychology is a growing field that doesn’t study what is wrong with humans. It studies what is right with humans. What makes humans flourish. Why are the happiest and most engaged humans they way they are? Why do they flourish? This is what positive psych aims to find out. I won’t go into detail in this post, but the father of positive psychology (Dr. Martin Seligman) has come up with what he called the Well-being Theory that can be summarized with the acronym PERMA. Every single one of the below areas has loads of studies on how this leads to human flourishing. Read his latest book, Flourish, about PERMA and Well-being Theory.

  • Positive Emotion – through gratitude, play, acts of kindness, mindfulness, awe, interest
  • Engagement or “Flow” – exercising your natural strengths/skills in activities that challenge you
  • Relationships – cultivating, strengthening and maintaining positive social relationships
  • Meaning – find your personal life mission & get involved in something bigger than yourself
  • Achievement – set goals, and work hard to reach those goals

I honestly believe that no matter how many ARP meetings you go to and how many books you read about the problem of pornography addiction, if we are not flourishing in life, we will never overcome any addiction. However, if we are flourishing, our life will be abundant and there will be no reason for us to go to the “drugged water” in our isolated rat cage. We can help our friends to create for themselves their own little rat heaven. A place where they can play, and become engaged with something they are amazingly talented at, be a part of many wholesome and meaningful relationships, find their life mission and do something that creates meaning for them, set goals and move with all their heart toward achieving those goals. I would honestly be surprised to see a person who creates their own personal “rat heaven” involved in level 7 pornography addiction or even level 2. This just wouldn’t make sense.

This will help them fight against BLAST, or the things that make viewing and seeking out pornography more likely:

  • Bored – or any form of apathy about life in general
  • Lonely – lack of social connection or any hope of social connection any time soon
  • Angry – at self, at God, at circumstances of life or at other people
  • Stressed – overwhelmed in thinking that it’s just too hard, not fair, or too much is expected, a sense of helplessness.
  • Tired – in a physically exhausted state all of the above are more difficult to overcome

When you are flourishing, you will rarely be bored or lonely. You may feel stress, but it will be the good kind. You won’t be paralyzed by helplessness because your learned optimism will help you push past thinking that your problems are personal, permanent or pervasive. Anger will be much less likely because you will train yourself to be filled with gratitude and self compassion. When you are tired, it will be at the end of very fulfilling days and there won’t be a need to find connection, because you already have it in positive and meaningful relationships you have built. And when you feel like you are working toward a goal that is larger than yourself, motivation will be more powerful to fight.

I really did not go into detail here, but read about PERMA and watch this TED talk on the happiness advantage by one of the most well known positive psychologists out there. I believe what he says about work directly applies to the desire to win the battle with pornography. You can’t just say “once I have overcome pornography addiction, then I’ll be happy.” That, my friend will never work. You MUST be happy and fulfilled first. Then you will overcome.

Your friend will have a great “happiness advantage” if they follow the principles of positive psychology.

I believe PERMA will always win in a fight against BLAST (and the research backs me up).

Want even more books that talk about the science behind boosting your levels of happiness? Here they are:

3. Destroy the shame, with LOVE

“Guilt is: I DID something bad. Shame is: I AM something bad. Guilt: I’m sorry I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry, I am a mistake. There is a huge difference.”  – Brene Brown 2

We need to remember that we should not be the messengers of shame to a friend who is battling pornography addiction. God will never deliver shame. None of us are a mistake. ALL of us have made mistakes. God is okay with us making mistakes, but He is not okay with us thinking that we are a mistake. 

Every person who has chosen to seek out pornography has made a mistake, but not one of them is a mistake. There is a huge difference.

Remember that there are multitudes of others who are either battling with pornography or who have battled and who are in recovery. If you don’t believe me, check out this list of blogs at LDS Addiction Recovery Blogs. These are all personal blogs of real people who are openly talking about their fight and recovery.

I’m one of them. So is Terry Crews (the crazy Old Spice guy). I have gone through the 12 step addiction recovery program. I used to think that only skid-row bums and ex-convicts had a problem with sexual addictions. I was wrong. Normal, sharp, attractive, successful, fresh-off-the-mission returned missionaries do too. I also used to believe that those who admitted to a flaw like this would ruin their lives forever because no one would trust them and they would no longer be able to be an example of the believers. Now I believe differently. Vulnerability is powerful and it opens the doors to immense growth and progress, not the other way around. Brene Brown, the evangelist of vulnerability said this: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” 3 If you are vulnerable enough to admit that you have a problem (whether you are at a level one or a level seven on the addiction scale mentioned above), you will see growth come of it. And I promise you that if you keep hiding and continue to hold back, it will only stagnate your progress, creativity and innovation in your life.

Don’t forget to be your own best friend in this process. You can either be your own best friend or your worst enemy as you battle.

 4. PERSONIFY the porn star

The problem with pornography is that it has twisted and devalued the subject of the pornography to an object. Nothing more than a piece of plastic that can be viewed a billion times after the picture or video has been taken. What your friend may not think about when they are fantasizing with porn is that each one of those porn stars has a life. They all have a mom. Each one has a family, a past and a future.

Even if you feel like you are winning the battle with pornography, you may still have thoughts that are less appropriate or maybe you get frustrated when women wear clothes that show more than garment lines would appropriate. Well, they have lives too. The next time this happens, instead of fantasizing about an object, imagine that person’s future dreams and goals. Imagine them giving a talk in church or making dinner or changing their baby’s diaper or in a job interview or praying for the things that they need or desire in this life. Imagine them growing up and becoming a grandparent. Would you objectify Mother Theresa as she holds a dying baby or comforts a leper? Would you objectify Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt or Nobel Prize winning Marie Curie? What about J.K. Rowling or Abigail Adams or Martha Washington, Joan of Arc or Anne Frank or Lucy Mack Smith? What seed of potential greatness is not found inside each and every girl or woman, porn star or not???

Whether they know it or not, YOU can know it. Keep that truth inside of your heart. Remember that each and every woman is a real human being. A person, with feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, and who can experience joy in their own right. They are not an object. Period. Keep that locked in your heart. You’ll see the world differently if you do.

5. Find an ARP meeting and go with your friend to the meeting

ARP (addiction recovery program) meetings are powerful. Even if you have never struggled with an addiction to pornography, you should go to one of these meetings. It will change your life. And if you are struggling, you will benefit immensely from attending these (in person or by phone, but I highly recommend in person). You can find a meeting here.

I mentioned above getting a 12 Step Addiction Recovery book. The meetings follow these steps one by one for 90 days from beginning to end. If your friend really wants to win the battle with pornography, I would highly recommend attending these meetings.

The first time I went to one of these meetings, I thought it would be filled with ex-criminals and skid-row bums like I mentioned above. I was surprised to see that the guys at the meeting were impressive, hard working, successful, well-groomed men who were in the exact same stage of life that I was in, in many cases. Some of them had been recovered for years, but still come to strengthen others. For some of them it was their first time. The general feeling is an absolute love for each other, despite the battle with addiction and a total authenticity that is often hard to find anywhere else, including elders quorum. Every time I have gone to a meeting, I have left strengthened and full and true to my highest self. It is an inspired program. One of my friends who has gone through the program has made videos of each of the steps. Here is his video of Step 4:

6. Activate the power of the Atonement

atonement diagram

Remember where you are headed. The atonement isn’t just there to get you from sin to clean or from clean to saint. It’s there to get you from saint to god. I have received hate mail from people in other faiths about this doctrine, but I believe that it is one of the most inspiring doctrines we have, and the only way it is possible is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The only way for you to progress upward is by activating the power of the atonement in your life. If you haven’t read it yet, read 6 ways to activate the power of the atonement in your life.

 

Like I said, this list is not comprehensive, but I hope at least one of these things have helped you to help your friend (even if YOU are the friend). Don’t lose hope. Your friend is worth it. YOU are worth it.

 

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Lead Image via 'Sick Missionary Meets The Prophet' from missiongeek.net

Given the low standards of mainstream reporting on religious issues, it’s hard to publish an article that is truly disappointing, but Slate’s recent piece “Sick and Far From Home” manages to achieve just that. The article, which a Slate press release trumpeted as “a stunning investigatory story,” claims that “[Mormon] missionary culture counsels strongly against seeking medical help” and that “authority figures block access to care.” The article is based on twenty four anonymous sources who served missions over the last four decades. As readily available data reveal, approximately one million missionaries have been called over that time period, so Stern’s sweeping conclusions are based on a sample of about 0.0024 percent of the relevant population. 

There is nothing wrong with asking ex-Mormons for their opinions in addition to other Mormon populations, but asking exclusively ex-Mormons for their view of Mormonism is obviously problematic. In addition, there is the problem of identifying sources. In the article, Stern claims that he refers to his subjects by pseudonyms “at their request,” but given the anonymous nature of Reddit we have to wonder: Did Stern really verify the identities of the people he spoke to?

Read the rest of this article by Nathaniel Givens at First Things

Lead image via missiongeek.net

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What this Mission President would like every Early Returned Missionary to Know
(Image via ldsmag.com)

(Source: Meridian Magazine;  By: James Perry)

I have the privilege of working with Young Single Adults. I must begin with a full disclosure: I am biased towards this group of Latter-day Saints. I love their intensity, compassion and determination. This group is remarkably candid with their questions, feelings and emotions. They have endless energy and most of them who had the opportunity to serve missions, feel deeply about the time served. They will tell you the mission helped them to come alive in their pursuit of Christian discipleship. They speak of finding themselves in service to others and love to share stories of the change they observed in those whom they taught and of their own spiritual and cultural enlightenment. This clarity will follow them for the rest of their lives.

There are some in this group who also had many of these same experiences but don’t feel justified in speaking about them because they came home early for one reason or another. I often ask the individual sitting across from me in an interview if he or she has served a mission and, if so, to tell me about their experience.

I’m concerned when an early-returned missionary responds with, “yes, but…”. “Yes, but I only served for so long” or “yes, but I had problems and came home early” or “yes, but I had some anxiety or depression issues and couldn’t finish”. I usually respond with, “I didn’t ask how long you served, I just asked you to tell me about your experience”.

Too many early returned missionaries feel as though they carry with them a scarlet letter, which must be revealed at a moment’s notice. They feel as though they must carry it with them at all times and in all places, and must be disclosed to anyone that asks if he or she has served a mission. Many feel as though this will be a spiritual ball and chain which they will carry forever. Some slip into the vagueness of inactivity rather than carry such a burden.

Many of these early birds assume, incorrectly, that there is some negative annotation on their church record that becomes part of their permanent record. Others mistakenly believe that the promised blessings recorded in their Patriarchal Blessing are now null and void due to an early return.

What I wish you early-returned missionaries to know is this:

Remember This: Though perhaps a noble desire to confess an early homecoming, it is not necessary to disclose to everyone who inquires, the reasons for your early return. Just tell them where you served and what you loved about your mission. Constantly confessing your early return, to others, in not a requirement imposed by God or any Bishop, and will not hasten the healing process.

Read more at Meridian Magazine