Help. Hope. Healing.

Without Compulsory Means

The Meaning of Recovery

By Rex Goode


Tanner Creek

After reading my essay, An Equal Harm, someone asked me to define what I meant by Acting Out, Recovery, and Acting In. Although, I think the essay illustrates the differences fairly well, it is probably true that I need to break them down more.

To me, these concepts are the very essence of the gospel. They embody everything from obedience to free agency to salvation and exaltation. They are all about the purpose of life and changing from fallen man into a disciple of Christ.

First, the simple definitions:

Acting Out: In a state of mind where behavior, thoughts, and feelings are “out” of control.

Acting In: In a state of mind where behavior, thoughts, and feelings are “in” tight control.

Recovery: In a spiritual state of grace where behavior, thoughts, and feelings are naturally focused on the divine.

“An Equal Harm” argues that acting out and acting in are both harmful states of mind and in many ways are equal in their harm to the soul. To briefly recap that argument, acting out on sexual addiction is a matter of doing things that would be considered serious sins by members and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

Though acting in behavior does not generally fall into the category of sins that would require full confession to a bishop, many of those behaviors are damaging to the person doing them and those around him. They lead to abuse, judgmentalism, fanaticism, and violations of the free agency of others. These, to me, seem to be as serious as they can be.

We refer to acting out behaviors as compulsive because the are so powerful that a person in an acting out state of mind is in no position to resist them. He feels compelled to do them and in many ways, is compelled to do them.

On the other hand, with acting in behaviors, a person is compelling himself and others to behave in ways that help him avoid acting out, but ways that are unhealthy for him and those around him.

Both ends of this state of mind are based on compulsion. In acting out, the person is compelled by the behavior. In acting in, the person is compelling himself and others. Whether compelled or compelling, the result is unhealthy and spiritually damaging.

In true recovery, there is no compulsion involved. The person is neither compelled nor compelling. The abstinence from sinful behavior is a result of a spiritual state of grace where there is, as the Nephites experienced, “No more disposition to do evil (Mosiah 5:2).”

In Latter-day Saint thought, salvation is not so much of an event as a process. We do not tend to say that we were “saved” on such and such a date. We tend to think of ourselves as striving each day to live in harmony with the teachings of Christ. Because of this, I also don’t think of recovery as a destination as much as it being the journey itself.

We, all of us, drift between acting out and acting in. It is a deadly swinging pendulum that can kill us spiritually. The more we work towards recovery, the less the pendulum swings. The less it swings, the more peace we have.

The goal of recovery is, therefore, the process whereby we learn obedience by a change of heart rather than compelling or being compelled. To me, recovery is just another way of saying born again, change of heart, sanctification, and salvation.

To illustrate, suppose there is a thought that tends to trigger you to indulge in compulsive behavior. Every time you think that thought, it seems inevitable that it will culminate in doing something that leave you feeling ashamed. This is acting out.

Now, suppose that to protect yourself from that thought, you try avoid everything even remotely related to it. This may mean everything from staying out of certain establishments to feeling like you can’t even leave your home. This is acting in.

Now, suppose, because you have nurtured your spirit with sacred things, given your life and behavior over to the Savior, and have experienced a mighty change of heart, you now don’t need to worry about that thought ever intruding again. You know that even if it comes into your head, it will leave quickly. You know that if you see something that reminds you of it, it will not degrade into the thought itself. You neither have to avoid the compulsion to do the behavior nor do you have to tightly control yourself and your environment, because you have no more disposition to do that thing. This is recovery.

How is it done?

The Savior gave us the answer:

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever (D&C 121:45-46).


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