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Latter-day Bondage & Freedom

By Marcelle Stegelmeier

Six years ago my world fell apart when I discovered my husband's addiction to pornography. We were celebrating ten years of marriage with three small children. I went numb with shock. Soon after, the heartache and pain overwhelmed me. I was devastated. My self worth dived; I felt betrayed. I saw years of cover up, dishonesty, and lies. Added to my mushrooming insecurity was personal shame and loneliness. I blamed myself thinking there must be something wrong with me. I recalled the many times I felt an unexplained darkness in our home. Then I realized where the impatience, quick temper, and controlling attitudes came from. Now I understood why there was a lack of spiritual leadership, a reluctance to go back to the temple, and an inconsistent ability to use his priesthood.

My husband humbly shared with me how his addiction cycle started in the fifth grade, with curiosity, which led to indulgence, followed by medicating with pornography to escape negative emotions such as: stress, depression, feeling overwhelmed, shame, or being tired. The cycle continued for years with periods of self-restraint; the sobriety lasting well past six months, a year, even longer before the cycle headed downward once again. Confessing to a number of bishops over the years was not enough to break free from his addiction. He needed more help to complete the repentance process. He was searching for a mighty change of heart, a remission of his sins.

I recalled how from the first day we met; I felt I had known my husband for an eternity. He had been home from his mission a few short weeks. We became the best of friends. The Lord confirmed through prayer and fasting that this was indeed my eternal companion; and we were married in the temple for time and all eternity. My heart began to soften when I saw his sincere willingness to change and his deep commitment to me and to our family. I started searching for ways to support his recovery; I wanted our marriage to survive and once again be filled with joy. It was strange in a way; through all the hurt, I felt relief to know of my husband's addiction; the truth began to set us free. Free from the secrets, the hiding, free from the darkness. We were stronger fighting pornography together.

Today we look forward to a whole new future; one filled with love and the hope of eternal marriage. We have passed through the raging storm into the sun, something I barely believed possible a few years ago. Because I know others suffer as I once suffered, I desire to share how I found strength and healing. There is hope, and encouragement; victory is possible from the chains of pornography bondage when one turns to the Savior for the support and assistence required for essential change.

We sought help through our bishop and a professional counselor to put an effective support plan in motion. The first step was turning to the Lord, which helped me establish healthy boundaries; next came healing through unconditional love; then after allowing myself time, while placing my trust in the Lord, I found the ability to forgive. I also discovered the importance of respecting agency and what to do when attacked by fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Turning to the Lord

The Lord's way of support began when I sought His will and prayed for the power to carry it out in my conversations, in necessary confrontations, and in all my thoughts and actions. I began to feel the peace and strength Mosiah spoke of:

    "And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mosiah 24: 15).

I realized the Savior understood my husband's heart and knew what was required for change. Boldness and honesty were sometimes called for; at other times patience was necessary. The Lord strengthened me, and I felt the heavy burdens become lighter as I strived to do His will, shared my heart with Him, and trusted in His guidance.

Healthy Boundaries

The Lord's way led to boundaries, and healthy expectations, not ultimatums. Boundaries allowed for natural consequences, both good and bad. Ultimatums, such as: "if you ever have a problem with pornography again, we're through," left no room to receive direction from the Lord. Better communication allowed for guidance: "If you continue viewing pornography, it will require tough decisions about our marriage." I became confused when I took responsibility for my husband's choices, his happiness, and his feelings. I was tempted to substitute counterfeit peace for the Savior's peace whenever I rescued or covered up for my husband. As I became more aware of what I needed to own, it allowed him to take responsibility for his actions. At times, having boundaries meant standing up for what was right in my home, and in my marriage. Loving my husband did not mean lowering my standards just to please him. I needed to be true to myself as a daughter of God. I have learned it is critical to say how I feel, providing I share my feelings with sincere love.

Unconditional Love

We have both suffered consequences for his addiction choices. My suffering brought the temptation to strike back with vengeance. Each time I considered what retribution might bring, I felt a warning from the Spirit, ‘It might be too late to heal after revenge. There is a better way.' I turned to express my feelings of betrayal, rejection, and pain to my Heavenly Father.(1) Through placing these heavy burdens at His feet, and asking the Savior to heal my heart, I experienced the healing only the Savior can provide. Truly, "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds" (Palms 147: 3). The love and understanding coming from Heavenly Father to me, His daughter, filled my soul; and despite my many imperfections, I began to heal. I also began to see how his pornography use had little to do with me and a lot to do with his own emptiness.

It is difficult to describe the miracle of healing I experienced. With overwhelming gratitude, I prayed for charity, patience, and compassion. Love was strengthened each time I expressed my confidence in my husband, reassuring him of who he was, and letting him know I believed in him. After feeling the Savior's infinite love for me, I felt unconditional love for my husband. .(2)

Trusting the Lord

The dishonesty that accompanies addiction was devastating to our marriage. In the scriptures I continued to find verses directing me to trust the Savior. Mosiah counseled: "but if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage" (Mosiah 7: 33). I needed to replace my fear with faith and trust. Turning my trust to the Lord brought peace.(3) . No matter what the future held, whether we were together or apart, I trusted the Lord's infinite mercy and goodness, believing all things would work together for my good if I continued to turn to Him. (See Romans 8:28, D&C 90:24) Trusting also meant stepping back to allow my husband room to face his own dragons, to recognize them, and with the Lord's help, overcome them.

Forgiving

Forgiving my husband was something I couldn't do by myself, no matter how hard I tried.(4) Again it required turning to the Lord. Over time through sincerely asking for the strength, the Lord blessed me with the capacity to forgive. I found comfort in Elder Sorensen's counsel:

    "This is not to say that forgiveness is easy. When someone has hurt us or those we care about, that pain can almost be overwhelming. It can feel as if the pain or the injustice is the most important thing in the world and that we have no choice but to seek vengeance. But Christ, the Prince of Peace, teaches us a better way. It can be very difficult to forgive someone the harm they've done us, but when we do, we open ourselves up to a better future. No longer does someone else's wrongdoing control our course. When we forgive others, it frees us to choose how we will live our own lives. Forgiveness means that problems of the past no longer dictate our destinies, and we can focus on the future with God's love in our hearts."(5)

Forgiving brought relief. I no longer carried the burden of my husband's choices. I no longer kept a tally in my mind of the wrongs done to me. This didn't mean I acted like nothing ever happened, nor did it mean I trusted my husband. This gift of forgiveness cannot be confused with trust, which must be earned over time. Our trust was rebuilt as deposits were made in our relationship's trust bank account. It took time and consistent deposits to bring a struggling relationship once deep in the red back into the black.

Respecting Agency

Before the Savior healed my deep wounds, I struggled wanting to control my husband's choices to avoid getting hurt again. I bought into Satan's plan of control. Throwing out the TV and the computer; calling to continually check up on him; asking him to answer to me where he was at all times, are examples of this control trap. I felt like his mother instead of his wife. A dear friend shared how she found peace from being consumed by her husband's choices. In her mind, she prayed her husband into "the God box." She literally handed him over to Heavenly Father praying he would have the experiences he needed to recover from pornography addiction. When she found herself consumed with worry, she would mentally take him out of her pocket and put him back in the "God box." Asking God to give him whatever experiences he needed to help him find the Savior. These mental images helped me separate my fear and desire to control enough to allow my husband his agency. (See Alma 29:4) Choosing to give my husband to the Lord, gave me the freedom to genuinely, unselfishly support his repentance process and focus on my own shortcomings and needs.(6) What a realization came when I understood that I was not responsible for his salvation; the only person I can bring to Zion is myself. The only salvation I can obtain is my own.

Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt

The adversary uses pornography addiction (any addiction for that matter) to destroy families. When my husband started to repent and change, I felt the influence of Satan turn on me. There were times when prayer became my lifeline. As time went on and our marriage became stronger, because of the repentance process, Satan's influence grew weaker. However there were occasions when I was overcome with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I returned again and again to my knees. It was critical to follow promptings promptly; I had to be careful not to plunge into deep dark doubt. My husband's job required him to work with the internet on a daily basis. He liked to do email after the children were in bed. As it grew late and I would head to bed, I began to feel strangled with panic, and unable to sleep. I asked the Savior to help me talk to my husband about how his choices affected me. I felt the Savior's guidance in the words and tone I used. (See D&C 84:85) I felt His influence in my decisions. He eased the gulf of loneliness, and comforted my depression. He gave me the strength to carry on and serve my family.

Outside Help

Three outside sources contributed to our recovery process. First, ongoing meetings with our Bishop have been a critical component both as a couple and as individuals. The second source was a professional counselor experienced in counseling pornography addiction who held our values. Third, LDS Family Services was a valuable resource for our situation. We attended their 12-Step substance abuse groups in our area until pornography addiction groups became available. We discovered that the 12-steps are simply the atonement of Jesus Christ broken down into practical steps of application. Getting outside help advanced our healing, increased our accountability, and facilitated growth.

Change is Possible

The past six years have been filled with more ups than downs. We have both struggled when there was an occasional relapse which was immediately followed by increased humility and more commitment to the process of repentance. The Holy Ghost has re-sensitized my husband, and he continues to receive strength each time he humbles himself and turns to the Lord. Through the process of repentance our weaknesses are becoming strengths. (See Ether 12:27) The Lord continues to change our hearts and our desires, until we no more desire to do evil but to do good continually. (See Mosiah 5:2) I have witnessed this miracle. Instead of aloofness, impatience, and quick anger, my husband is now engaged in our children's lives as their loving father. Our marriage is thriving. Trust is restored. After sixteen years of marriage, we are now closer, more united, and share a deeper love and appreciation for each other.

Families afflicted with the devastating effects of pornography addiction can be free from bondage. I know that total healing and recovery for both husband and wife is possible through our willingness to repent, be humble, and apply the atonement. Elder Richard G. Scott was clear in general conference: "Satan would have you believe that serious transgression cannot be entirely overcome. I testify that the Savior gave His life so that through repentance the effects of all sin can be put behind you, save the shedding of innocent blood and the denial of the Holy Ghost.(7) " The road to freedom and peace is long and difficult, but completely worth the effort. There are ways to support that give strength, encouragement, and hope while allowing change. I have felt the redeeming love and healing power of the Lord. I never thought I would say this, but I am grateful for a trial that humbled me, and led me to the open arms of my Savior! He has overcome the world, and with His mercy and mighty help so can we.

Notes:

1 We can confidently cast our cares upon the Lord because, through the agonizing events of Gethsemane and Calvary, atoning Jesus is already familiar with our sins, sicknesses, and sorrows [see 1 Pet. 5:7; 2 Ne. 9:21; Alma 7:11-12]. He can carry them now because He has successfully carried them before [see 2 Ne. 9:8]! Neal A. Maxwell, "Overcome ... Even As I Also Overcame," Ensign, May 1987, 70

2 When filled with God's love, we can do and see and understand things that we could not otherwise do or see or understand. Filled with His love, we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others in ways surprising even to us. Jesus Christ was filled with unfathomable love as He endured incomprehensible pain, cruelty, and injustice for us. Through His love for us, He rose above otherwise insurmountable barriers. His love knows no barriers. He invites us to follow Him and partake of His unlimited love so we too may rise above the pain and cruelty and injustice of this world and help and forgive and bless. Elder John H. Groberg, "The Power of God's Love," October 2004 General Conference

3 They knew that they could trust God-even if things didn't turn out the way they hoped. They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him. Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him. Dennis E. Simmons, "But If Not ... ," Ensign, May 2004, 73

4 If as an innocent victim you have been seriously wronged, don't harbor feelings of hatred, anger at what appears to be unjust. Forgive the offender even when you are innocent. To do that may require an enormous effort on your part. Such forgiveness is most difficult, but it is the sure path to peace and healing. If there is discipline required for a serious transgression against you, leave that to the Church and civil authorities. Don't burden your own life with thoughts of retribution. The Lord's mill of justice grinds slowly, but it grinds exceedingly well. In the Lord's economy, no one will escape the consequences of unresolved violation of His laws. In His time and in His way full payment will be required for unrepented evil acts. Elder Richard G. Scott, "Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind," October 2004 General Conference

5 David E. Sorensen, "Forgiveness Will Change Bitterness to Love," Ensign, May 2003, 10

6 God knows what is best for us. Although we may not understand why we experience some things now, in His timetable we will know and be grateful. He has promised to help us with our burdens: "I will ... ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, ... that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions." [Mosiah 24:14] We are counseled, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee."[Ps. 55:22.] I have been greatly helped by laying a vexing matter at His feet for a while. When I picked it up again, it was lighter and more manageable. Elder Richard G. Scott, "He Lives," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 87

7 Elder Richard G. Scott, "Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind," October 2004 General Conference


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