Four Big Reasons Why LDS Porn Addicts Love to Misquote Boyd K. Packer (Part 1 of 4)

In an LDS general conference address in October 1986, Boyd K. Packer, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, made the following statement:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the Gospel.

Since then, this statement has become perhaps one of the most abused and misquoted prophetic utterances in recent history, at least in the context of addiction recovery. A few months back, I wrote a post about AddictSpeak and how all members of the LDS Church need to learn to speak it so we can communicate with addicts, understand what they’re really saying and comprehend what is going on in their minds when they hear the rest of the world speak. I suspect that this statement from then-Elder Packer has been run through the AddictSpeak translator by just about every addict in the LDS Church–including me. It’s time we all talked about it and straightened some things out.

First of all, here’s the AddictSpeak translation of the passage:

My number one goal is always to maintain secrecy and isolation about my “little porn problem.” So what I’m hearing is that if I can just understand the true doctrines of the Gospel with enough conviction, I will be able to deal with my “little porn problem” on my own, in secrecy and isolation–and quickly, too. Quick is important to me. Fix it quick–forget it quick. If I just study nothing but the doctrines of the Gospel, I won’t need to know anything at all about addiction (which I don’t have in any case!). The best way to avoid dirty thoughts is not to think about dirty thoughts–and that’s how I’ll keep from engaging in unworthy behavior like looking at porn–by not thinking about it or talking about it with anyone either (more secrecy and isolation). Elder Packer has stressed forcefully that he wants me to study only the doctrines of the Gospel in the scriptures and the Ensign (on my own, in isolation and secrecy) to overcome my “little porn problem”–and that’s just fine with me. After all, secrecy and isolation are, as I said, my primary objectives here.

OK, so now let’s parse Elder Packer’s statement a bit. Let me start by saying that I actually like what he said. It really does give important insight into addiction recovery.

In the first sentence, Elder Packer actually said, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behaviors.” I think it’s fair to extrapolate that true doctrine, misquoted and misunderstood and manipulated by a dishonest and addicted mind, does NOT change attitudes and behaviors. If my starting point in everything to do with the Gospel is always, “How can I keep my ‘little porn problem’ a secret?” how can I seriously think that my dishonest interpretation of the Gospel is ever going to change my behavior? I can’t. My life’s history before recovery is proof of that.

Also, note that Elder Packer only said that attitudes and behaviors would be changed. He did not say that addictions would be eradicated merely by understanding “true doctrine.” Addicts wish he’d said that, but he didn’t.

I know a lot of Mormons still think that addiction is really nothing more than some bad attitudes and some bad behavior. It’s understandable why they’d conclude that just studying about the Gospel would fix things. But they’re wrong. The single most difficult concept for Latter-day Saints to grasp about addiction is the idea of a “mental obsession.” Mere awareness of Gospel principles is not sufficient to overcome the “mental obsession” that is addiction. Again, addicts wish it were, but it isn’t. They wish Elder Packer had said this, but he didn’t.

A more accurate and honest interpretation of Elder Packer’s first sentence, I believe, is based on my personal experience with addiction recovery. The more I studied the Gospel, the more I recognized that something just wasn’t quite right in my head. I was self-absorbed, mean, short-tempered, emotionally distant from my family–and I couldn’t stop binging on porn and compulsive sexual behavior. This was not acceptable behavior for a Mormon man who claimed to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and a bearer of God’s holy priesthood. Something was wrong with me and I didn’t seem to be able to deal with it on my own, in secrecy and isolation.

One Gospel principle that seemed to come up more and more in my study of the scriptures and listening to the Lord’s prophets was humility. Perhaps the plainest demonstration of humility is uttering the words that all addicts despise: “Father, I am now willing to do whatever You want me to do–even if it means coming out of secrecy and isolation. Not my will but Thine be done.” It took me a very long time to be able to utter them, but when I did, miracles happened.

As I better came to understand the doctrine of humility coupled with the doctrines of confessing sins as well as forsaking sins (all within the context of the purifying power of Christ’s Atonement), Heavenly Father changed my attitude. The attitude of prideful determination to do things my way gradually gave way to an attitude of humility and willingness to do things as the Lord directed.

With that humility, my behavior changed. Whereas before, my behavior focused on secrecy and isolation, including a lot of dishonesty, now my behavior expanded outside myself. I began going to 12 Step meetings–with other people. I got a sponsor–another person. I began working the steps–with other people. I began working on my character defects, the same ones I had buried inside my brain for decades–with the help of other people. I began making amends to those I had hurt in my past. I began helping other addicts and in return they helped me. The doctrine of humility literally saved me from myself.

Elder Packer was right. The more I learned about the Gospel, the more I learned how dishonest I had been in my interpretation of the Gospel, the more contrite and penitent I became, the more willing I became to admit I had a problem and needed help from other people, the more willing I became to do whatever it took to overcome it. Changes of attitude and behavior led to my involvement in Sexaholics Anonymous where I found sobriety and recovery for the first time in my life. My life changed in wonderful ways just as Elder Packer suggested.

Next: Is studying the scriptures on my own the quickest way to overcome porn addiction? Followed by: If I study the Gospel diligently, does that mean I get to stay blissfully clueless about addiction?

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.

Comments

Four Big Reasons Why LDS Porn Addicts Love to Misquote Boyd K. Packer (Part 1 of 4) — 8 Comments

  1. While attending BYU I sought help for my porn addiction. It took all the courage I could muster to attend a group counseling session that was suggested to me. I fully expected that walking through those doors would be the magic cure for my problem. Enter doors, push magic button, exit new man. As it happens, that was not the case, and unfortunately it took me nearly another decade before I got to the point where I was ready to let God set the terms of my recovery. I made several attempts during those ten years to fix myself. I even came clean to my wife (sort of), several bishops (sort of) and numerous friends (sort of). I went to six months of counseling with a psychologist. I even attended some SA meetings right after I graduated from BYU, but my “faith” and “advanced understanding” of the gospel led to judgement and rejection of the program and those associated with it. Each time I was looking for the quick fix, each time I wanted to control what recovery looked like, and each time I failed. My steps are still halting, it’s progress not perfection for me, but recovery the SA way is now finally helping me come to God and understand true doctrine in a way I never imagined was possible for a miserable man like me. I am so grateful for this website and these posts that brought me back to SA and back to life.

  2. That quote is EXACTLY the reason why my husband won’t do the Candeo program. I found it and got SO EXCITED about it. But he thinks since he’s going to the church addiction meetings, he needs to just study the gospel and he will be cured. He absolutely won’t do the program, it is so frustrating. And I’m sure that if I had him read this, he would still think that he’s right. This is so ridiculous. How can I help someone who is so completely screwed up?

    • I can feel your pain. I know it well. My husband didn’t site Elder Packard’s quote. Instead he rationalized that we were intelligent adults and we had some tools and could do it on our own. We started attending the LDS recovery meetings the week after his dirty little secret came to light and that was enough…..

      4 months later I made an ultimatum that I agonized over but I was absolutely to my breaking point. I told him we either start counseling or we seperate. He was doing great in his “recovery” but we were falling apart. Our “intelligent… We can do it ourselves attitude” was woefully lacking the right tools and it felt like I was going to lose my mind as well as my marriage. He agreed to see someone if I could get us in. A miracle took place and we were able to get into a counselor who specialized in pornography addiction recovery two days later. He was awesome! At our first meeting he told us about a recovery program called Lifestar. Of course as my heart soared at the idea- my husband said we didn’t need it. He did agree to see the counselor again two weeks later and that gave me much needed hope.

      I prayed and prayed as the counseling continued, at first as a couple but then just with my husband. I well remember the night ( we had been in a vicious cycle of hurt all day) when my husband came into our room and sat down. He asked
      me, ” What would you think if I said I think we should do Lifestar?”. I told him that it was an answer to prayer. This last part took another two months to reach the point of getting REAL help. The difference I saw that night was a complete lack of PRIDE in my husband. Pride is the thing that keeps addicts addicts. It’s pride that told us we could do it ourselves.

      I don’t know Candeo. I do know that LDS ARP is not enough. Counseling was and still is awesome, but it was the combination of Lifestar, counseling, 12 step, and the church (which includes bishop, praying, reading, etc) that was the combination that has put us on Recovery road and it is lack of pride that keeps us there. It is now almost 2 years with over a year in Lifestar. The change is indescribable! I have hope as does my husband and it is glorious!

      I would love to chat with you. Do you have support for you? Do you attend any group for you? Who is helping you as you battle? I have found that support for me is every bit as essential as support is for my husband. Only an addict can help an addict…. Only an addict’s spouse can help another addict’s spouse.

      My prayers are with you for a softening of a hubby’s heart and that he will see he needs more than just the LDS 12 step.

  3. I love this quote. For so long I only knew of the first part, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” I didn’t understand why I struggled with my “bad habit” when I read my scriptures and prayed and did everything a good Mormon girl should do. Why wasn’t my behavior improving?
    Then, in PASG, I read the full quote from the manual and it was lightbulb moment for me! THAT was WHY I struggled! Yes, I was studying the doctrine, but I was also almost constantly preoccupied with unworthy behavior. So I love this quote, reading it brought about a moment of honesty for me.

  4. Pingback: An LDS Porn Addict in Recovery Reflects on Jesus in Gethsemane

  5. I agree with Holly above – For me (an addict), recovery has been a three legged stool: ARP/PASG (2x per week, committed – I’m a facilitator right now), LifeStar (currently in phase 3), and private then couple counselling. I needed the spiritual help (ARP), Emotional help (counseling), and clinical help (lifestar). Without all of these, my stool and life would tip over. I’m not attending counseling as regularly, as my wife and I feel 100x better than ever before. I now can lean somewhat on one of my own feet (which is resting on the solid foundation of the Lord).
    My two cents.
    Andrew’s eBook was also an important part of my recovery process, along with all of the other wonderful resources out there, for the addict who is humble and open enough to accept help from anywhere!

  6. I found this post to be insightful and thought provoking. Thank you. Nice comments too.
    I’ve never attended Lifestar, but have still benefited from it. Several men from the PASG group where I go (and sometimes facilitate at) have mentioned the Lifestar program and some of its principles that they are implementing in their lives and benefiting from. I have listened and learned and am grateful. I also have a friend who found Lifestar more effective than ARP and is doing well today. He showed me some of the materials from the Lifestar program and I was impressed. My schedule won’t accommodate attending Lifestar, but I would attend if I could. It seems to be a very effective resource for recovery.
    In my own life, I find that preoccupation is either a powerful tool of recovery – if I am preoccupied with good things, or a powerful problem – if I preoccupy myself with negative things. I find that the quicker I acknowledge a negative preoccupation and then push it out, the more effective my recovery from my addiction is. I try to remember that a bad day in recovery is always better than a good day in addiction – if a good day is even possible without rationalization. 🙂

  7. I’m an addict, and have been obsessing over Elder Packard’s quote, figuring it was a cure all but I now know the true cure all is developing and nurturing humility for all my days. I will continue going to meetings because I can feel the spirit when I go…. Please help me to change, I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results….