When Jeff (not his real name), an addiction recovery facilitator, sits down with people struggling with addictions, he doesn’t tell them what to do. Instead, he shares what has helped him to recover from his own debilitating addictions and to stay sober one day at a time.
Jeff is a volunteer in the addiction recovery program sponsored by LDS Family Services, a social service arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The program has been developed over the last decade to help those who suffer from the devastating effects of various addictions. The results have been impressive.
The idea for a Church-sponsored program was first suggested in the 70s and 80s when substance abuse began to make headlines. Individual Latter-day Saints, independent of each other, who had positive experiences with 12-step recovery meetings, began organizing Latter-day Saint–oriented recovery groups. Reports of the groups’ successes began surfacing in the late 80s and early 90s as group facilitators asked local Church leaders for permission to hold meetings in Church buildings.
In 1993, some Latter-day Saint congregation leaders asked LDS Family Services to consolidate all the Church-related recovery programs under one umbrella with uniform protocols and guidelines.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” said Doug LeCheminant, director of the addiction recovery program since 2002. “All the groups had good materials, so we took a collaborative approach. We all wanted the same thing: to help people recover from their addictions.”
After several years of research and development, Family Services introduced a new workbook to be used in all Church-sponsored recovery groups titled A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing. It was adapted from the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into a framework reflecting the doctrines, principles and beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.*
Nannette Wiggins, a local volunteer serving as a missionary, said, “The Guide is unique in the history of Church publishing. It was written by individuals who have suffered from addiction and who have experienced the miracle of recovery through the atonement of Jesus Christ, with support from Church leaders and counseling professionals.”
Jeff grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but fell away when he went to college. After a spiritual awakening, he began working his way back into full Church fellowship. He had given up alcohol and tobacco but couldn’t give up his addiction to pornography. “I fought and struggled with it,” he said. “I had tried everything and was failing miserably.”
As the Church’s addiction recovery program didn’t exist at the time, Jeff’s bishop (minister of his congregation) suggested he attend a local 12-step program for sexual addiction. Jeff agreed to attend.
He went to the first meeting with sweaty hands and butterflies in his stomach but to his surprise found that the people there were just like him: normal people one sees at work, church and school. For the first time in his life he felt safe to share his story and begin working on his addiction without the fear of gossip. (A central tenet of all 12-step approaches and the Church’s recovery program is confidentiality. Creating an environment where trust is enhanced and people can work on their issues without the fear of being ridiculed and shunned is essential.)
“The magic of the group meetings is that everyone is in the same boat,” he said. “They didn’t run from me and hate me. They said, ‘I know how it is. I know what you’re dealing with.’”
Jeff benefited from the association with other group members who had experienced the same addiction and had worked or were working their way through to recovery. “I found that for me, the program is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“It was a rocky road in the beginning, but with a lot of meetings and working the steps I became free from these addictions,” he said. “I didn’t become free from temptation, but I no longer felt compelled to give into temptation. I was finally free to choose to turn away from these addictions and was free to choose better things in life.”
As he began living life in recovery, Jeff was asked to facilitate at an LDS pornography addiction recovery group. “I wanted to share with others the experience, faith and hope that had been shared with me,” he said. The group began with two people but has grown and has had as many as 45 attendees.
“Getting to the meetings is the key,” he said. “It is the key that unlocks the addiction door, and it took some time soaking in the safe, open environment of faith and testimony for my heart to soften.”
“After a while, I was able to start letting go of the smaller pieces of the addiction, and as my faith in Christ increased, I began letting go of bigger and bigger pieces. I couldn’t get that kind of faith from reading books or talks.”
Jeff quotes from the Book of Mormon, a book regarded by Latter-day Saints as a companion scripture to the Bible, when describing how meeting regularly with other addicts helped him. "I had to leave isolation behind and 'meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of [our] souls” (Moroni 6:5).
“These are things I couldn’t do honestly anywhere else,” he added. “It’s a process that takes time, but it works.”
According to LDS Family Services, there are currently nearly 1,000 groups in the United States and Canada and others in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany and Mongolia. Many other areas are planning on starting addiction recovery groups, including a service members group in Afghanistan. More than 2,000 Church-service missionaries and volunteer facilitators serve as leaders in the program.
Approximately 25 percent of these meetings focus solely on addiction recovery from pornography. The others are general-focus groups addressing drug, alcohol, food and other addictions. The recovery workbook will soon be available in 12 languages including Braille, and more than 150,000 workbooks have been purchased or downloaded since February 2006.
General oversight for each recovery group is provided by a local Church leader who works with a Family Services director. Meetings are held at least weekly and are under the direction of missionaries and volunteer facilitators (those who have had at least one year of sobriety), who conduct the sharing portions of the meetings.
According to program director LeCheminant, “Meetings focus on solutions rather than problems, emphasizing the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ to overcome any difficulty.”
Meetings last around an hour and are free of charge, and no referral is necessary. They are open to anyone regardless of their religious affiliation.
*The Twelve Steps were adapted and reprinted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.