When I came to my very first 12-step meeting the person conducting introduced himself, told us about his length of sobriety (five years) and then proceeded to tell us how he was struggling with some of his weaknesses. I was a little baffled by the fact that he was still struggling after five years of sobriety. After five years? I couldn’t manage a week without major willpower and resolution. How was I going to get five years, or a month? How would I change my life forever? How could I repent of this and tell my wife with all my heart that I would never do this again? How could I promise “never again”? I had said it so many times and failed that I knew what I was facing was far greater than what I thought was possible. In reality it was impossible. Yes, I had come to the realization that this was impossible, I had failed too many times. What could I do?
The answer came to me slowly, it began with a small seed of faith that I would find the answer. Among my failures, my reality- the answer, finally became clear.
“This is impossible for you, it is not impossible for Me.”
The Savior had healed the sick, and restored sight to the blind. He had raised the dead. He had quieted the sea and had conquered death.
So the question for me was, would he heal me? I had done so much wrong, was he even aware of me, would he care?
It is hard for me to convey the answer in words, but it is definitely, Yes! He loves us in a way we cannot even begin to understand, because he bled for you and for me. He knows us intimately and this whole earth and our lives were created for one purpose and one purpose only, because He loves us. Wematter to him in ways we cannot imagine. My journey and yours is to feel His love and care for us. He will guide you through this process and you will see and then know that His grace is the bridge between the possible and the impossible.
I always believed that my addiction, this weakness, was a curse to me. That was until I beheld the miracle that slowly took place in my life and the lives of others. I don’t know if I would have had this experience without first going through the darkness of my addiction.
The promise that he “will make weak things become strong unto them” does not mean that I will not have this problem anymore, as I once thought. It means that my experience makes me humble enough to rely upon his power, of his love for me, his awareness that I matter to him and then “together” we are strong. When I face other insurmountable problems, he is still there and aware of me.
But how do I face the reality that tomorrow is another day and that I will have the worldly challenges that make my addiction so appealing? How do I never do this again? The answer for me was that I don’t. I don’t face this with the attitude that I will never act out again. I cannot say that to myself, because I don’t know what tomorrow brings. All I can do is work the best I can today. If I fail tomorrow, I will work on it tomorrow. Today is really the most important day of my life, because it was given to me to do my part. I have to break down my task into twenty-four hour periods, and sometimes even smaller increments.
For me the past is gone. I cannot change it. The future is only a dream, all I have is today. Can I stay sober just today? It may seem impossible, as some have said, “it seems I will die if I don’t act out.”
Understanding and internalizing the concept that this is a one day at a time program will change your life. Not understanding this concept will impede your progress. I remember hearing this concept and wondering what the big deal was with the one day a time theme until it finally became clear as I heard Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve relate the following in a conference talk:
Recently, I read about Erik Weihenmayer, a 33-year-old man who dreamed of climbing Mount Everest, a feat that defies many of the world’s most expert climbers. In fact, nearly 90 percent of those who attempt the climb never reach the summit. Temperatures sink lower than 30 degrees below zero. Besides extreme cold, 100-mile-per-hour winds, deadly crevasses, and avalanches, the climber must overcome the challenges of high altitude, lack of oxygen, and perhaps unsanitary food and water. Since 1953, at least 165 climbers have died in the attempt to scale the 29,000-foot-high summit.
In spite of the risks, hundreds line up each year to make the ascent, Erik among them. But there is an important difference between Erik and every other climber who had attempted to ascend before: Erik is totally blind.
When Erik was 13 years of age, he lost his sight as a result of a hereditary disease of the retina. Although he could no longer do many of the things he wanted to, he was determined not to waste his life feeling depressed and useless. He then began to stretch his limits.
At age 16 he discovered rock climbing. By feeling the face of the rock he found handholds and footholds that allowed him to climb. Sixteen years later he began his ascent up Mount Everest. The story of his climb, as you might imagine, was filled with many harrowing and life-threatening challenges. But Erik eventually scaled the south summit and took his place with those who had gone before him, one of the few to stand on top of the highest mountain on the face of the earth.
When asked how he did it, Erik said, “I just kept thinking … keep your mind focused. Don’t let all that doubt and fear and frustration sort of get in the way.” Then, most importantly, he said, “Just take each day step by step.”
Yes, Erik conquered Everest by simply putting one foot in front of the other. And he continued to do this until he reached the top.
Like Erik, we may have obstacles that would hold us back. We may even make excuses why we can’t do what we want to do. Perhaps when we are tempted to justify our own lack of achievement, we can remember Erik, who, in spite of having lost his sight, accomplished what many thought was impossible simply by continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
An old proverb states that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.
The same principle applies to how you and I can climb to higher heights spiritually.
Our Heavenly Father knows that we must begin our climb from where we are. “When you climb up a ladder,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them.”
Our Heavenly Father loves each one of us and understands that this process of climbing higher takes preparation, time, and commitment. He understands that we will make mistakes at times, that we will stumble, that we will become discouraged and perhaps even wish to give up and say to ourselves it is not worth the struggle.
We know it is worth the effort, for the prize, which is eternal life, is “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” And to qualify, we must take one step after another and keep going to gain the spiritual heights we aspire to reach.
An eternal principle is revealed in holy writ: “It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize.”
We don’t have to be fast; we simply have to be steady and move in the right direction. We have to do the best we can, one step after another.
I realized that my journey seemed as impossible as climbing Mount Everest. That I could not promise that I would not do this again but I could promise that I would not act out today. I could do that. I am very grateful that my wife was able to live with that promise even though I know she would have preferred the words, “never again,” rather than, “I will not do it today”.
With that thought in mind, I started my impossible journey and soon reached eight months of sobriety. A strong sobriety, much better than the white knuckle one-year sobriety I had in the past. But after eight months I acted out again, however this time I was not discouraged. It was not the same as in the past.
I had heard others say, “now I have to start all over again,” really? Is it all over again? Or had I learned some new things, had I not seen His hand, His grace in my life? I had 243 good days and 1 bad day. Is it really “all over again”? Or is that the voice of the diabolical peanut gallery, the dark spirit that I had heeded to often.
I did not give heed to my discouraging thoughts and realized that I could do this one day at the time and that one day was soon 4,745 days or 13 years. Some days that twenty-four hour period seemed so difficult, but after a while most days were uneventful.
I soon realized I wasn’t just fighting my addiction but was in reality facing other character defects. I would work on my life and my challenges the same way I worked on my lust. One day at a time, big problems or little problems. I worried less about the future, accepting His will for me this day. I sought to develop a “new heart” and new character:
“We use the word Character to name a person’s constancy over time in doing what honestly seems to be right. We can grow in constancy, and it is our choice alone to decide whether or not we will. And we do so by quietly accepting and doing the right thing in the present moment— and then in the next moment, and after that in the next,and so on without end.”
– Bonds pg. 233
Quoting from the AA book, page 85:
“We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.
One moment at a time, one day at a time. Agency is as constant in our lives as breathing, every moment we can chose to do what leads us to a better life or to misery. What can you do in the next moment that will bring you closer to Him?