Note from Carolyn:  So many of you have asked to speak with Judy Jensen.  Join Judy and me for a live teleconference call this Friday, April 23 at 5:00 PM EST.  That’s 3:00 PM Time for Meridian friends in Utah.  Call  201-793-9022, Conference Room 6046762#  Please send questions by e-mail so we can use our time effectively:  [email protected]” title=”mailto:[email protected]“>[email protected] 

Our public library has become my favorite place for family friendly free DVD movies.

I recently came home with one I’d never seen advertised: “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio or How My Mom Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less” It had a suitable rating and a delightful DVD case featuring a smiling 1950’s era mother and several of her 10 cute kids. The plot preview on the back said it was the true story of this mother’s talent for winning cash prizes in the poem and jingle contests that were popular in the United States during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Terrific! This looked like just what we need for a cozy Friday evening at home after a long week.

Prize Winner

The credits and opening, filled with vintage photos and oldies music were a hoot and we laughed out loud with the fun of it all. Within 10 minutes, however, we knew that this spunky lady (Evelyn Ryan) was not writing jingles and entering contests for kicks, she was writing them as a matter of financial survival to care for her family.  Her husband and the father of all the children, Kelly Ryan, was very much present and a loving man.  He, however, was an alcoholic and unable to financially or emotionally support his large family. In addition, his wife’s success, talents and unflagging ability to choose to be happy regardless of their circumstances added fuel to the fire of his personal despair over his own disappointments and shortcomings.

The Dial on the Wheel of Sorrow

How it plays out is an inspiring victory, filled with laughter and tears, and I won’t spoil it. I will suggest, however, that you watch with a box of Kleenex and a notebook: the Kleenex for the tears you’ll shed during and after, the notebook for the quotes of an unforgettable mom. You’ll want to have these gems for yourself and to help your kids grow into loving, responsible adults, no matter what life may bring, as her children have.  As Elder Joseph B Wirthlin shared in the October 2008 General Conference,” the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt.” (Come What May and Love It, Ensign, November 2008)

Addiction:  Another Word for “It Must Be that There is Opposition in All Things”

Some people consider addictions to be simply bad habits that can be conquered by willpower alone, but many people become so dependent on a behavior or a substance that they no longer see how to abstain from it. They lose perspective and a sense of other priorities in their lives. Nothing matters more than satisfying their desperate need. When they try to abstain, they experience powerful physical, psychological, and emotional cravings. As they habitually make wrong choices, they find their ability to choose the right diminished or restricted.  (Guidebook to Addiction Recovery Program, page 6)

Here is what President Boyd K. Packer says:

“Our physical body is the instrument of our spirit. In that marvelous revelation, the Word of Wisdom, we are told how to keep our bodies free from impurities which might dull, even destroy, those delicate physical senses which have to do with spiritual communication. If we abuse our body with habit-forming substances we draw curtains which close off the light of spiritual communication.  Addiction has the capacity to disconnect the human will and nullify moral agency. It can rob one of the power to decide.”  (Ensign, November 1989 p. 14)

For Sister Judy Jensen, me and all of us who are locked in a vicious cycle of “dieting” or who struggle with often feeling compelled to eat large amounts of foods that we know are not good for us when we are not hungry, this statement may whisper that we are in need of this help.

Is there anyone or any family, anywhere that is untouched by addiction of some sort?  We are all brothers and sisters without distinctions in the reality that nearly all of us (or a very close relative), have been (or are currently) physically addicted to a substance or addictive behavior.  These addictions, I believe, are abiding realities in the overall plan for both our Heavenly Father and the adversary:  

Our  Heavenly Father’s plan makes it clear that there is to be “opposition in all things” (II Nephi 2:11) and that he “gives to all men weaknesses” so that we may be humble before him, and seek his grace. (Ether 12:27)

For the adversary, it is his plan for us” to be miserable like unto himself”. (II Nephi 2:18) My personal thought is that since Satan does not have a physical body, he is bound and determined to make us miserable with ours. The sorrows and layers of problems that follow addictions and compulsive, behaviors makes this a plausible thought.  For those of us with weight issues, the list of miseries is endless from being helpless around a bag of M&Ms, to not having anything to wear that fits, to being exhausted and in pain as we drag the pounds around.

Peace In This Life and The World to Come: The LDS ARP

It is also our Heavenly Father’s plan for us to be tried, then to turn to him and, through the Atonement, to find peace and joy in this life, and the next.

About a month ago, I shared the inspiring story of Judy Jensen of Alberta Canada, who has struggled her entire life with overeating.  She is now down over 75 pounds with the help of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program (LDS ARP for short) which inspired many Meridian readers to write us for more information. The phrase “You have just written my story – how do I find this help?” was repeated again and again.  (You can read the entire article here.)

Judy Jensen Shrinking Woman

After publishing the article, a big response from many Meridian readers indicated it was clear that we all wanted more information on the LDS ARP.

I contacted my ward Relief Society president, who said there were “some scribbles about something like that” in a notebook she’d inherited from the previous Relief Society President. Next, I called my stake Relief Society president, who also knew very little, other than of a Stake support group for pornography, so she quickly referred me to LDS Family Services.  They had the answers I was seeking.  In addition, my deep thanks go to a Meridian friend who is a Service Missionary assigned to the LDS ARP with her husband has also been extremely helpful in providing information for us. (In light of the confidential nature of this program, her name and location have been withheld from this article.) 
With the Click of a Mouse:

Where is this utopia, this beautiful place that has the answers we need – once you know about it?

No phone call or Bishop’s recommend is required to access all the information and participate at a level that is comfortable for you.

  Just go to On the left hand side, click on “Social and Emotional Health” then at that page, scroll down to “Addiction Recovery Program.  There you will find meeting schedules and be able to download the handbook.  It’s in an audio format and several languages, making it easily accessible.

I hope to share more details about the fascinating history and some behind the scenes information about ARP in my next article, but today’s article zeroes in on the more important hands-on information: what it is, how to access it, overcoming attendant fears, who are the leaders and what to expect at a meeting.

Meetings, the Guidebook and Leaders:

Within the site are listings of the meetings and times. I was amazed at the sheer number and range of regions for these meetings!  The schedule with locations is updated monthly, and a quick call (contact information is on the site) will confirm locations and times.  Once again, no names or recommends are required.

Meeting attendance is not required to have the blessings of this program in your life immediately.

The handbook, A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, is a PDF download available for free.  This beautiful book is a miracle in and of itself that will greatly empower you.  I immediately felt the Spirit as I browsed its pages.  It is available in several languages, and also in an audio format.

However, as my service missionary friend says: even with the book, “meeting attendance is beneficial in helping break down the isolation that so often accompanies addiction.  Addicts and their families often exert huge amounts of energy trying to hide the “family secret”.  Meeting attendance encourages the honesty and transparency needed to break down the walls of denial and cover-up.

The meetings are conducted by the group leaders, who are usually a Church-service missionary couple trained in the program.  Also in attendance is a facilitator, typically someone who has experienced addiction recovery. (see LDS Church News Saturday, September 1, 2007)
My service missionary friend is a group leader with her husband, and shares her story:

Although not all group leaders have personal experience with addictions, I could be the “poster child” for addiction recovery.  I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent.  Without proper parental supervision, I was an easy target for a pedophile (a pornography addict).  One of my siblings became an alcoholic.  When I left home, I thought I had left the effects of addictions in my past.  I reasoned that, since the addictions were not mine, I had escaped their effects by removing myself from the addict!  Years later, after marrying an alcoholic/drug addict and developing my own addiction to food, I learned that the past, if left unexamined and unhealed, can affect our present and our future.  Joining the church did not automatically relieve me of the emotional and spiritual impact of the addictions of others.  Later one of my children became a drug addict as a teenager.  His recovery is one of the tender mercies provided by the Lord!   Another tender mercy of the Lord is the opportunity to serve with my current husband in ARP as a group leader.  Although I benefited from a community-based program for adult children of alcoholics, introduction to this LDS Addiction Recovery Program has added a new dimension to my life!  What an amazing program!  Lives are changed!  The windows of heaven are opened and Heavenly Father’s love pours in.
She stressed:” The service missionary group leaders are NOT counselors.  This is a “support group” as opposed to a therapy group.  The entire meeting is intended to allow the participants to feel the Spirit, to feel hope, and to be reminded that the Savior’s Atonement applies to them personally. As recovery emerges, participants often express the following sentiment

“Before my recovery, I had no doubt that the Savior’s Atonement was real and available for everyone else, but not for me – I just didn’t believe that it could possibly apply to me, that He loves me and would save me!  When I came to believe that I was known as an individual and loved by my Heavenly Father, I was overwhelmed!’

Common Fears and What to Expect

I called Judy, who started her weight loss journey with a community, non-LDS addiction recovery program, to learn more about her experience with both groups.  With the first (non-LDS) food addiction program, though she was losing weight, the leaders were overly demanding.  Their expectations for her were unrealistic and it was far too time-consuming.  Participating in this program felt almost like substituting one addiction for another!  Although she was thrilled that she was addressing the heart of the issue, losing weight, wanting to continue with the eating plan, and knew she could not do it alone, she also knew she needed something different for emotional and spiritual support.

When she learned about the LDS ARP, she was excited, but understandably concerned and somewhat fearful.  She says “I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing or for people to see me there!” 

(Note from Service Missionary: “Meetings are usually held in church buildings. Although it varies from location to location, care is taken so that you can enter and exit without having to walk through the foyer or main doors.  At our location, we use classrooms close to side doors where it is easy to enter and exit privately.”.)

Judy continues:

“To my great joy and relief, the meetings are entirely anonymous. Who attends, what is said, what happens is entirely confidential.  So I felt safe and I felt loved, just so loved!  I was not required to talk to anyone, and didn’t say a word at my first meeting.  Only first names are used. 

(Note from Service Missionary: It is absolutely essential that participants know that we are trustworthy!  This has been so absent for so many of our members!.  We do not report on the names of persons in attendance.  We do get first names and phone numbers for contact purposes only to advise them if something should happen to a meeting time.  Although we do make reports to Family Services and Priesthood leaders about attendance numbers, names are never reported.  Once this monthly report is completed, the weekly sheets with contact names is shredded)
Judy:  “This requirement for confidentiality is stressed in every meeting, so I would never, ever, ever share anything about things said in the meeting – or ever share who was there.  To do so would be betraying a sacred trust and promise to my Heavenly Father. I felt that for myself and can assure others that it will be so for them, because that is how the program is designed.”

“At my meeting, people with all kinds of addictions attended, and we truly bonded in a unique and memorable way. When we meet outside of the meetings, it is very special, though no one would ever know that this is how we have become acquainted.

The leaders are so warm, so kind and friendly, so utterly non-judgmental that it is impossible to feel anything but peace and great pleasure in attending, no matter what the addiction is, or how serious the addiction.  I cannot describe how truly loved I feel when attending these meetings.”

What Is a Meeting Like?

My service missionary friend says:

In the meetings, we open with prayer; read the mission statement, followed by the 12 steps as adapted from AA’s twelve steps (see page iv of the handbook). Then each week we review a specific step (in sequential order) by reading the materials for that step in the Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing (up to the Study and Understanding section) aloud in the meeting with willing participants reading one or two paragraphs.

 The conducting service missionary group leader then turns the meeting over to the facilitator who shares from his/her personal experience with that week’s step and invites the participants to share from their experience with whatever step they are currently working on. 

Participation by speaking in this part of the meeting is not required, however, experience has shown participation in the sharing to be helpful in the healing process as the “walls of silence” are broken down.
As a group we have a 13 week cycle – an introduction plus 12 steps. However, as individuals in the healing process, everyone is truly working out their own salvation at their own pace!  Therefore, although the group may be reading step 5, the individuals may be personally working on an earlier or a later step.  Participation in ARP is different than going to a 13-week course. Participants usually go through the 13-week program numerous times while working on their own healing schedule.”

The meeting goes for a maximum of 90 minutes so when, either everyone has shared (this can happen if the group is small that day) or the time has run down to 5 minutes before the end of the meeting, the facilitator thanks the participants and turns the meeting back to the conducting group leader for closing remarks and a closing prayer.
Prize Winners, All!

The prizes for Evelyn Ryan in the movie mentioned at the beginning of the article were cash and merchandise.  Ultimately, of course, the grand prize of personal triumph in creating a successful marriage and seeing her children live successful lives were worth much, much more than any amount of cash.  And so, with the Lord’s help, can our own stories of personal triumph be written.

Paul, in speaking to the Phillippians holds up our great prize for all of us to see.  How it beckons and applies to doing whatever is required to overcome the addictions to our behaviors and physical body:

“But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before.  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Phillipians 3:13)

Elder Russell M. Ballard expressed at a the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program Conference held in August of 2007: “The adversary will try to stop this work, but we will fight with the pure love of Christ to help relieve the souls of our Father’s children by turning their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ, and by opening to them the marvelous vision of the Atoning Sacrifice of the Son of God and what that can mean to you and me and everyone else to find our way safely back into the presence of our Father in Heaven.”  (LDS Church News September 1, 2007)