A young adult woman stands outside the building. Her palms are damp; her mouth is dry. She desperately wants help to overcome her pornography problem. But she’s scared. She’s ashamed. She’s lonely. Will this meeting really help? Finally, she takes a breath and goes inside.

Many people suffering from substance abuse or pornography have no idea how much The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is committed to helping them solve their problems. All of us should become acquainted with the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP), either for ourselves, family members, people we minister to, even folks who open up to us about a problem they’re having.  Some places have large gatherings, others have small and intimate ones, but here are 12 things we all need to know:

  1. Pornography is a huge epidemic. Thousands of people are just like you, and are seeking help. You are not alone.
  2. People from other faiths—or no faith—are welcome.
  3. This is a safe space, where anonymity and confidentiality are strictly enforced. They follow the rule of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.”
  4. You automatically receive 12 free sessions from a counselor with Family Services.
  5. There’s also a support group for family and spouses, who need help navigating this journey as well.
  6. It’s led by Church-service missionaries and a meeting facilitator. The facilitator has personal experience in this field. The meeting format is based on the successful 12-step program.
  7. Both groups have superb workbooks to enhance the process of gaining personal power again.
  8. Some programs, such as substance abuse, are for both men and women. Pornography is not; there are women’s meetings and men’s meetings. The meetings are for individuals age 18 and over.
  9. You don’t have to speak and share, unless you want to. It’s okay to say, “Pass.”
  10. You can choose to call into a phone meeting instead, though face to face meetings are preferable.
  11. This is a place of hope and healing. It’s a place of spiritual growth.
  12.  This program is a boon to overworked bishops who are dealing with more and more of this, and can now refer members to ARP.

I spoke with a missionary involved in helping women who are addicted to pornography. Whatever you think that number is, double it. I do not have permission to share the missionary’s name, nor the statistics, but I was stunned at how pervasive this problem is. “It causes changes in the brain,” I was told, “stronger than heroin.”

I was told that, while most men become addicted through pictures, most women get involved through reading. We all know that the romance genre spans a wide spectrum of morality. Some are as innocent as a Hallmark movie and others are so explicit, they would be rated X.

In addition, today we have unmonitored Fan Fiction. This means a girl of twelve, let’s say, decides to read a story about a popular young celebrity. She begins innocently enough, but within minutes is exposed to graphic material beyond her imagination. Not all Fan Fiction is this way, but you don’t know until you start reading it. Often, the parents don’t even know what’s happening.

Kids are growing up today in an ocean of sexual advertising. A friend of mine tried an experiment. She took a notebook to a huge two-story mall, walked the length on both floors, and observed the window display in every store or kiosk. Then she wrote down any store that did NOT use sex in advertising.  

There were only two names on her list. One was Hello Kitty (young children’s store), and the other was a watch repair shop. Surprisingly, the biggest offender was not a lingerie store, but JC Penney. There were two full-length banners from the top floor to the bottom. One featured the backside of a woman in a tight pair of jeans and a crop top, with her head turned toward the other banner. On that one was a front-facing man, tight jeans, no shirt, looking toward her!  My friend had never noticed this before. She had become desensitized.

And the next week she saw it everywhere—in every grocery aisle, in ads for children showing super heroes, in TV commercials. Our children are literally bathed in these images.

Many younger addicts find they’re able to shelve their problem long enough to serve a mission, but then they get home and something triggers it again. Maybe their friends are all going in different directions, they’re lonely, it’s hard to readjust, whatever it is.

By getting into ARP, people can proceed with a tried-and-true method. They learn to truly live honestly, humbly, and with a focus on God. The printed guides are so amazing that some families have shared them with their teens to help them tackle any character weakness. One man said his son was planning to use the methods on his mission. And many wards have dedicated a 5th Sunday lesson to the presentation of this topic.

Many situations require more expertise than a Bishop can offer, and here’s where counseling can work, together with the program. For example, a sister might want to speak with her bishop about her addiction, and he might suggest she ask for support from her husband. But what if the husband is also addicted? So often the problem presented is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, no addiction happens without fallout. Others are impacted and there’s tremendous help for family members as well. They learn not to blame themselves, how to set healthy boundaries, how to forgive, how not to enable, and how to lift themselves, among other things.

One woman said she wasn’t sure she wanted to marry a young man who was addicted. But she changed her mind when she was reminded that this man was being absolutely honest and was doing something about it. He was in recovery and had learned to use the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She gained renewed respect when she saw how hard he was working to change.

There are a myriad of church videos and materials available, all of which offer hope to those impacted by these deadly poisons. Simply visit ChurchOfJesusChrist.Org, click on the search (magnifying glass) icon, then type in ARP and hit return.

Some key things for bishops and loved ones to remember:

  1. Attending the first meeting is hard. Someone can come along.
  2. This process takes time and patience.
  3. Our love for the one struggling should not waver. This means we do not communicate shame or disappointment, but faith in the process.
  4. Mere willpower is not enough; there’s likelihood of a relapse.
  5. Do not punish or set goals for the addicted person. Help them stick with the Steps.
  6. Help the person find opportunities to serve.
  7. Make sure they have a support person.

The first meeting is over and the young adult woman is stepping out into the night air. She closes her eyes and inhales deeply. She is relaxed. She has found a place where she’s safe, understood, and finally feels some hope for the future. And a scripture comes to mind: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.