When it comes to abstinence there are two kinds of addictions. Some addictions are to substances or behavior from which we can totally abstain, such as alcohol or pornography. Other addictions are to substances or behaviors which we must partake of or participate in. The trick is figuring out how to do it without being compulsive or impulsive. I call this “planned abstinence.” Examples of these would be eating, spending, and taking prescribed medications. I described this in a previous post here:
Coming up with a plan of abstinence that works for you may not be easy. You may be able to find a “published” plan that might work as a starting point. If not, you can do basic research, talk to others who struggle with a similar addiction, and seek inspiration to come up with a plan. In certain cases you need to seek and follow the advice of a professional: for example, taking drugs strictly as prescribed. Some people need help from a financial coach to develop a workable budget, and some compulsive eaters need help from a dietitian to develop a food plan.
I developed my own food plan by doing research on various websites. I found a plan to use as a starting point, and adjusted it as I figured out what worked to help me eat abstinently and what sabotaged me. One of the keys to making any plan work is accountability. Compulsive eaters usually need to weigh, measure and record their food. Spenders need to check their spending against the budget and adjust if necessary.
Here is a post that describes my experience in tweaking my own plan a bit more specifically:
Any approach to planned abstinence is very personal. There are some people who do well on a very regimented plan and others who need more flexibility. Another key to success is to be rigorously honest with yourself and not make excuses if you aren’t sticking to the plan. Try to figure out why not, and adjust the plan until you develop something that you will be able to stick to, and helps you to live abstinently.
What aspect of your life might benefit from planned abstinence?
Write about how well you use the two “keys” of abstinence: accountability and rigorous honesty.
What will you do today to move forward in improving your abstinence?
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I have been working the 12 Steps since 1999. I actually started going to meetings in 1991, but didn’t get a sponsor and start working the program for eight years. Even in those early years, as I went to meetings week after week, I heard people talk about what helped them find sobriety and serenity, and what caused them to stumble. As I have listened to others, and as I have worked the Steps myself, I have gained an understanding of the importance of looking for patterns – patterns that help me grow as well as patterns that undermine my recovery. I have learned to look for them, analyze them, and use them to my advantage.
Patterns in Practice
The first time I became aware of the importance of a pattern was when I finally became willing to start recording the food I ate. It was the first change I became willing to make in my life as a result of my participation in the 12 Step program. I wasn’t willing to change how I ate at that point or tell anyone else what I was eating, and I certainly wasn’t willing to plan my food, but I decided that I was willing to record what I was eating.
Two things began to happen when I started to collect data on what I was eating. First of all, I started to lose weight. Why? Because I found that I had been eating mindlessly – picking up a handful of something every time I passed through the kitchen. When I committed to writing down every bite that went into my mouth, I discovered that some of the food I had been eating just wasn’t worth the effort it took to write it down! So the mindless snacking was cut way back.
The second thing was that I started to notice patterns. I could eat lunch on one day, and eat a different lunch the next day, both of which contained approximately the same number of servings from the same food groups, and find that I was satisfied when I finished one lunch but still wanted to eat more after I finished the other. As I continued to record what I ate, a pattern emerged. My satisfaction level was controlled not simply by how much I ate, or what kinds of foods I ate. The most important factor in determining whether I would be satisfied was texture – specifically crunch! If I didn’t get enough crunch in a meal, I wanted to continue eating. As soon as I came to that realization, I started keeping crunchy foods in the house and I found that I could eat less, be satisfied, and lose more weight!
Looking for patterns in an inventory
One of the objectives I have when receiving someone’s 5th step inventory, is to help them identify a list of shortcomings and character defects they can use as input to Step 6. As I listen to the person share their inventory, I make note of patterns I hear. Are they using certain words repeatedly? Does the same kind of thing keep happening to them? These patterns usually point to a shortcoming or character defect that I jot down. When they are done sharing their inventory I ask them to look back over it and identify any patterns they can find, and come up with their own list of shortcomings. Then we compare lists and talk about what they think they need to become willing to turn over to God as they embark on Step 6.
The use of patterns I mentioned so far is for taking a look at past behavior and understanding it better. Patterns can also help us create healthier and more effective ways of living. In the program I often hear people talk about “the dailies.” This is a set of activities they do every day to help them maintain sobriety and happiness. Here are some of the dailies that help me live a life of recovery:
At one time in my life I heard people talk about the importance of daily scripture study. I just couldn’t seem to find time to do it. Finally, I made a decision to get up before my children, very early in the morning, and try to establish a pattern of daily scripture study and prayer. I was successful and it made a big difference in my life.
I try to write my morning prayer every day. That is a part of my “dailies.” Written prayer helps me “tune in” to the right frequency to connect with the Lord all day long.
My husband and I walk each morning. It is good for our health and good for our relationship. It also gets our day off to a good start. This is a pattern that helps me in my life.
Long-time readers will know that I believe structure is a very important aspect of living a sober and successful life. Collecting data to analyze and looking for self-limiting patterns helps me to identify things I need to change. Establishing recovery-promoting patterns helps me put a framework in place to allow the Lord to change me from within so that I can live my best life.
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It has been a long time since I posted; a long time since I have written. I wish I could say that I was working diligently on my book manuscript. That would be an impressive excuse, right? The truth is, structure is what keeps me moving forward in life, like the tracks keep a train headed in the right direction. When events interfere with my normal, daily structure my productivity and the manageability of my life suffers.
My husband is a teacher and we have a high-schooler still at home. My last blog post was May 20th, the last week of the 2014/2015 school year. Don’t get me wrong, I love having my family around and spending time with them, but it is easy for me to get caught up in the things they are excited to do after they are FINALLY done with school, and to put my “own” life on hold. That would have been fine, for a couple of weeks. But a couple of weeks stretched into a month, and then I went to Boston to see my mother. And the stuff on my desk started piling up.
Mom was in a nursing home. I had planned to go see her in June. It turned out that my eight year-old granddaughter was going to summer camp for the first time and needed someone to pick her up from western Massachusetts in mid-July and get her home to Utah, so I arranged my trip so that I could do both. Then Mom got pneumonia the week before I was to go see her. We decided to give her antibiotics at the nursing home and prayed I would get there in time. I did. We had a peaceful and calming visit for five days as I mostly sat by her bedside while she slept. She died peacefully in her sleep a few days after I returned home. My desk was a mess.
I thought I might write about losing my mom at the time. I had written about my Dad’s death 10 months earlier. But it just didn’t come.
Then school started again, and I thought; “Now I will get back on the horse, back to writing regularly.” But I didn’t. I didn’t clean my desk, either. There was always something I needed to take care of – something urgent. Maybe not very important, but always urgent.
As the mess on my desk became deeper and deeper, it became more and more difficult to think about writing.
In late September, I went to Utah to help my daughter settle in after she and her husband bought a new home. Over Columbus Day weekend, my family and friends gathered for a memorial service in New York City, where my parents had lived until the last few years of their lives. It was lovely. I felt both uplifted and enlightened by the things people shared about my mom and even received insight into several of my own character traits that I had not previously thought of as being like hers.
When I got back the desk was not visible under the paper. I felt overwhelmed. Then someone, a reader, finally noticed that I hadn’t written in awhile.
So I have had a season of not writing; and not keeping my desk clear. And now it is the season to start doing those things again. My good friend Joan came over and worked quietly on her own writing while I worked on my desk. She was like an anchor, keeping me from getting sidetracked and from meandering off into the woods of all the other things I would rather be doing. I even did a little more after she left. Now I can see the desk. There is still a lot of filing to do, but it feels more manageable now. I will continue to work on clearing the desk and filing the paper because I like it that way – not because it is anyone else’s expectation of me. And I will try once more to implement the structure that helps me keep it that way.
I have started writing again. It feels good. I hope it helps you. It makes me happy to help other people in their journey of recovery. I know it helps me.
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A young boy was spending a glorious Saturday afternoon with his Dad. They were flying the new kite that the boy had received for his birthday. The gentle breeze was perfect for launching the kite and keeping it up in the clean, crisp air. The sun was shining but not brutally hot; a perfect kite flying day.
As the boy let out the line a little bit at a time, the kite flew higher and higher. It was so much fun to see the kite dancing and bobbing in the sunshine! He felt the kite pulling against his hold on the reel. There was no more line to let out! He wanted to see how high his kite could go, but there was no more string. “Daddy,” he pled, “let’s cut the line so the kite can fly higher!”
Dad tried to explain to the boy that if they cut the line the kite would fall. The boy wasn’t buying it. It didn’t make sense! He could feel the kite straining against the reel, pulling the line taught, seemingly trying to go higher than the line would allow. Finally the wise father agreed to cut the line and stood by as his disappointed and confused son sadly watch the kite fall into a tree. The line, the very thing that was holding the kite back, was also what enabled it to fly.
In our lives there are also elements that enable us to fly, but may feel like they are holding us back. They are sometimes called rules, or laws, or commandments. In a more general way, they can be called “structure”.
Examples of Structure
I have learned that in order to have a great day, I need to get to bed early the night before and get up early in the morning. (See D&C 88:124.) Years ago, I stayed up late to try to get everything done. I was so exhausted by the time I got to bed that I woke up late and was still tired. I wasn’t very productive, and I felt frustrated and overwhelmed. It took a leap of faith to try going to bed early and getting up early, but putting that structure in place in my life has given me productivity and accomplishment I never had before.
I have lived through periods of time when money was very tight. If you don’t have enough money to pay the bills, it is tough to believe that paying tithing could help. Another leap of faith, and willingness to try it and I found that the blessings that came to me from paying tithing far outweighed the apparent shortage of money. I found that I couldn’t afford not to pay tithing. Over time I learned to first eliminate and then stay out of debt. Structure in my financial life has given me peace of mind and freedom that I never had when my money managed me, rather than me managing my money.
I am a compulsive eater. In the days when I ate anything I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, I had to wear clothes much larger than what I wanted to, and my thinking became as compulsive as my eating. A compulsive eater cannot just stop eating, like a drinker can stop drinking, so what I had to do was put structure in place around my eating. I started by writing down everything that I was eating, and figuring out what actually satisfied me. I started planning my meals, including when, what, where, and how much I would eat. When I eat mindfully, according to my plan, to nurture my body with food that is good for me, I am not compulsive, and no longer think obsessively about food. This is what I have called “Planned Abstinence” in another post.
What areas of your life feel out of control?
What kind of structure could you put in place to help you with these things?
Are there any commandments or is there any guidance from Church leaders that pertain to this which you haven’t fully implemented?
If you can’t think of anything you haven’t already tried, who could you talk to who might be able to help you come up with some ideas?