The man sat alone in his parked car, holding a smartphone.
Fresh off another wild business trip, this LDS husband and father was driving home when the years of shame and guilt for living a dual life compelled him to pull over. He knew he needed to tell his wife.
Eventually, he typed a lengthy message, confessing a serious addiction to pornography and narcotics. He pushed the send button and waited. There was no telling how she would react.
After some time, a single-sentence message appeared: “Come home and start to become the man I know you really are.”
Over the next few days, the gravity of the man’s transgressions and betrayals began to sink in. Things seemed hopeless. That’s when a call was placed and the couple met with Donald L. Hilton and his wife, Jana, family service missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They invited the couple to participate in the LDS Church’s Addiction Recovery Program.
It was the beginning of a long road back to happiness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
"We were able to convince them that there were other people who had experienced what they had, who had attended recovery meetings based on the Atonement, and now had experienced hope and healing and were again happy, productive and moving forward in life," Hilton said. "They at least believed us in that. They agreed to participate in the groups."
As the couple attended ARP meetings over the next two years, the Hiltons witnessed an incredible change in their lives. Today, that same man serves as a facilitator, a person who continues to attend meetings to offer support to other recovering addicts in the program. The couple say their marriage is as strong as it's ever been.
"It was like watching a flower grow," Hilton said. "It’s marvelous to see this couple now."
As pornography plagues society, the LDS Church’s Addiction Recovery Program, with close to 1,300 groups worldwide, uses a 12-step process to help addicts discover the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
“We look at it (LDS Addiction Recovery) as pure joy,” Hilton said. “What we see are those who come out of absolute darkness, with no hope, and into his marvelous light again to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. They become human again, feel and love again, pray again and remember who they are."
Recovery and rescue
President Thomas S. Monson has called pornography “deadly." President Gordon B. Hinckley described it as a “plague” and “poison.” Hundreds of bishops and stake presidents listed pornography as their No. 1 concern for church members, according to a 2007 LDS Church News article.
"I believe that every family in the church has loved ones who are affected by pornography addiction. In a family or extended family, someone has been affected in some way," said Hilton, a neurosurgeon from San Antonio. "We are not immune in the LDS Church. We have wonderful members and the restored gospel, but if we think we are not vulnerable to this scourge, we are being shortsighted and are at risk."
Christianpost.com offers the following statistics on the prevalence of pornography.
More than 12 percent of websites on the Internet are pornographic.
More than 40 million Americans are regular visitors to pornography sites.
More than 2.5 billion emails are pornographic.
More than 25 percent of search engine requests are pornography-related.
The average age at which a child first sees pornography online is 11.
More than 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women admit to watching pornography online at work.
One in three pornography viewers are women.
More than 10 percent of pornography users admit to being addicted to pornography.
Benjamin Erwin, an LDS Family Services counseling program manager, illustrated the problem with a story from the Bible in a recent church magazine article. In Numbers 21, fiery serpents attack the children of Israel. To save the people, Moses made a serpent of brass on a pole. To be healed, all the people had to do was look upon it.
“The story has particular relevance to our day, when addiction, especially to pornography, is plaguing our society and families,” Erwin writes. “Just as fiery serpents swept through the camp of Israel, pornography is sweeping through our world, and even the Saints of God are not escaping unharmed.”
In mid-August, Hilton spoke at BYU's Campus Education Week and titled his presentation “Pornography Addiction: The Harm, the Hope and the Healing.” A history buff, Hilton shared an insightful analogy about addiction recovery.
During Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleship USS Arizona was destroyed, and the USS Nevada, despite a valiant fight, was struck by several bombs and left burning on a beach near Hospital Point.
While the USS Arizona remained in Pearl Harbor, the USS Nevada was recovered and repaired. It was re-outfitted with the latest technology and returned to sea. In time, the battleship USS Nevada became the flagship for the Normandy invasion.
"The Nevada was the only ship that was present at both Pearl Harbor and Normandy," Hilton said. "It went from beached and burning to one of the most effective and modernized battleships in the fleet. The rescued became the rescuer.
"In our programs, we’ve come to know many individuals who initially came in beached and burning, their lives in shambles, their spirits destitute of hope. We also know personally many individuals who have years of complete freedom from this problem, who now focus on helping to rescue other people. They have become battleship USS Nevadas."
LDS Addiction Recovery
There are close to 1,300 LDS Addiction Recovery support groups held in meetinghouses, prisons and jails around the world, according to the LDS Family Services website. The most common meeting is for general addictions, including alcohol, drugs, gambling and eating disorders. The second most common meeting is for pornography and sexual addictions. The least common gathering is a family support meeting, which focuses on helping the addict’s family. There are also groups for women whose husbands struggle with addictions. Youths ages 16-18 can come with a parent or guardian.
The program is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its purpose is to help people overcome their addictive behaviors. Anyone is invited and meetings are free. Only first names are used, interrupting others is not allowed and everything is confidential.
With permission from Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., LDS Family Services put the original 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into a framework of the doctrines, principles and beliefs of the LDS Church.
The meetings are officiated by part-time LDS Church service missionaries, typically older couples. Like the man mentioned previously, another key person is the facilitator, someone who has overcome addiction through the 12 steps. Having battled similar problems, the facilitator offers experience, insight and understanding to recovering addicts.
A typical meeting begins with a prayer under the direction of a service missionary; a facilitator then invites each person to share experiences and feelings about where he or she is in the process of recovery. Meetings, which usually last 60-90 minutes, can be deeply spiritual as participants share personal experiences with the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the healing they have felt in their lives.
“My (pornography) addiction was uncontrollable for 38 years, but I am enjoying four years of recovery and healing,” wrote one man in Hilton’s 2009 book, “He Restoreth My Soul." "I have learned through the 12 Step program how to turn to the Savior for strength to fight this battle on a daily basis. Through the power of the Atonement and the perfect love of Christ, I have received peace and happiness and the scars of the past 38 years are being healed."
Family and friends
While it’s important to focus on the recovering addict, Hilton says it’s also important to care for the spouse. Many are not ready to hear the word “forgiveness,” Hilton said.
“We need to be understanding of people who have been so severely wounded. A spouse who has undergone this terrible betrayal and harm certainly doesn’t need our lectures,” Hilton said. “What they need is a sensitive hand of fellowship, and the recovery groups allow them to interact with other women who have undergone a similar process.”
Hilton knows women who chose to leave their spouses. But he also knows many couples who have patiently worked through the recovery process with brutal honesty, and their marriage has been infinitely strengthened. It’s something LDS Addiction Recovery is sensitive about, Hilton said.
In an April 2007 general conference address, President James E. Faust, then a member of the First Presidency, told of a woman who had been through a painful divorce and received some sound advice from her bishop: “Keep a place in your heart for forgiveness, and when it comes, welcome it in.”
Those who haven’t experienced the addiction recovery process firsthand, or who are unfamiliar with ARP, sometimes miss opportunities to help the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32) on his journey back, Hilton said.
Hilton told of one man whose addiction to pornography cost him his wife and family. After years of attending ARP meetings, he was close to regaining his temple blessings, but was still desperately dependent on recovery support.
One day the man bumped into some old friends, a couple, who knew of his past mistakes. The two men talked, but the woman was so angry she couldn’t speak to the recovering addict. She had been close to his ex-wife.
“The man felt a tremendous wall of anger, so they moved on. He had learned to let resentment go, but knew he couldn’t resent them for feeling that way,” Hilton said. “Still, what I see here is a missed opportunity — an opportunity to help him on the way back.
"Here is a spiritually struggling soul. What a beautiful opportunity we have to serve, to reach out and love such an individual. If we can reach out to them, rather than ostracize them, I think we can pull many more back.”
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