When I was small, I never thought I would have to deal with the effects of addiction, especially within the walls of my own home. Substance abuse and other forms of addiction were completely foreign to me, and when I would see loitering smokers standing outside of buildings, I would quickly become afraid of them. Unfortunately, I and so many other members of the church have a natural response to those who do not always follow the principles of the Gospel: we are quick to judge others for their choices and mistakes. As I have grown and endured a long haul of tragic and excruciatingly painful events, my heart has been changed and humbled when considering addiction.
A family member of mine has been a long-time suffering addict. This person is clean-cut, respectful, and reasonable. No one upon first glance would ever see the pain and weariness in their eyes. The signs of an increasing problem started small. A few coins would go missing from the car ashtray, and a few dollars would be misplaced here and there. These small accounts of missing money would go unnoticed or be forgotten. As months went by, my family was in a constant panic regarding the amount of missing items or money throughout the home. Things got bad enough, that I would place my wallet under my bed each night, out of fear that I would be stolen from. Although this person would never admit to stealing anything, and acted completely innocent and normal, something in my heart was telling me and the rest of my family that something was amiss. I know now that the feeling was the Spirit trying to get through to us all. After so many nights of arguments, sweat, tears, and accusations, this person finally admitted to having an addiction to heroine and was desperately in need of help.
The amount of betrayal I felt, and the hatred I harbored toward this person was unbearable. This person was meant to build me up, and was not meant to make me feel vulnerable and small. Alas, I felt smaller than a speck of dust in their eyes. The stealing, the lies, and my own lack of empathy completely crushed my spirit.
My heart was heavy, broken, and fuming. I had changed from being a tolerant, patient, and kind person, into someone who was barely recognizable. I am not one to hold onto a grudge, but this situation was going to be my one exception. I had no compassion for this person within my soul, and compassion was something that often comes easy to me. I blamed this person for giving into temptation in the first place. I hated them. I wanted them to leave and never come back. I would cry every night and hide the truth from most of my friends out of shame. I had a drug addict in my family and I was embarrassed by that fact. The situation caused so much contention even between the sober members of my family because of frustration and confusion on how to move forward. I prayed to Heavenly Father to take the burden he placed on my family away. I did not understand why my family could not shake this trial off after so many years of praying and faithfulness.
One day, as this member of my family was slowly regaining some freedom from their addiction, I realized something: I was looking at them in a different way than God was. To God, this person was still His child, and not even the greatest sin could change that fact. God loved them the same as He loved me and everyone single one of His children on the earth, despite their choices, religion, circumstance, race, or any circumstance. God loves the homeless people on the side of the road whom we quickly disregard and judge. He loves those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. He loves the “A” student as much as the “C” student. And his heart breaks for those who struggle with addiction. He loves each and every one of us the very same, and that love is unshaken by any situation we may find ourselves in.
If the Lord could love this addict, why could I not also? With that thought, my entire countenance toward this person changed. My heart was finally softened in understanding, and the heavy burden of the grudge lingering on my shoulders was lifted by forgiveness. I cannot begin to express the amount of confusion, hurt, remorse, and guilt this person has gone through for so many years. But I constantly remind them of the fact that they do not have to endure the torments of their past alone. The Atonement is for each and every addiction, anxiety, and pain that was ever felt by anyone. It is God’s gift to His children to ensure we never have to endure anything alone, and to remind us that the path to redemption is possible. If there is anything I know for certain, it is that through God and love, people can change. With God, the impossible becomes possible.
By finally loosening my hold on the bitterness that previously filled my heart, I felt peace and humility take its place. This trial has constantly taught me to have compassion and understanding toward all those who struggle with the bonds of any addiction. Often times if we hear about an addict or someone who struggles with sin, our initial thought is to blame them for creating their own problems. I have come to know that good people can fall victim to horrible things. People make mistakes and we do not have the right to categorize them with the other iniquities of the world. Pornography and drugs continue to desecrate even the most vibrant of minds, but addicts are not the only ones who need to come unto Christ for strength and hope.
Compassion, kindness, and empathy will turn the addiction tide toward hope. As hard as addiction is to comprehend if you have not fallen victim to its tentacles, a desire to understand, empathize and to help is the first step. Addicts already feel the pain, remorse, and guilt that comes with their vice; the least we can do is try to lead them back to the light without any further judgments. 1 Peter 1:22 says:
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
Love and kindness can alter even the most bitter of hearts. Christ-like love and constant prayers of support from friends and family is what will lead addicts to the path that leads from darkness to everlasting light. Just like any other sin, addiction can be forgiven. Though my family member still has a long journey ahead and some set-backs from time to time, I know that through the eternal power of the Atonement and love, all who were once bound to vices can become whole and clean again.
Chakell Wardleigh recently graduated from Weber State University with her Bachelor of Arts in English. Chakell is a firm believer in enjoying the little things in life. She loves to keep herself occupied with a good book and when she is not silently correcting grammar mistakes, she enjoys chocolate licorice, puns, and Harry Potter references.