Today I’m studying the talk, Addiction or Freedom, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the October 1988 General Conference.
This talk was a good reminder on the blessing of the Word of Wisdom – and how violating the Word of Wisdom will ultimately result in a loss of freedom…addiction.
Throughout the first portion of the talk, President Nelson taught about the cycle of addiction and various addictive substances. That part of the talk is very helpful, but it isn’t what I’d like to focus on today for this blog post.
After a short treatment of addictive substances, President Nelson offered a “Prescription” for overcoming addiction. This prescription is relevant to all of us – no matter the type of addition we may be suffering from.
Spiritual Prescription for Overcoming Addiction
Before I continue with the Spiritual Prescription, I want to quickly say that now, 20 years after this talk was given, we know that drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are not the only addictive substances destroying lives. We also know that there are other substances that are incredibly addictive will some ill long-term effects. I’m thinking mainly of the overconsumption of sugar and other processed foods.
I don’t advocate a complete avoidance of sugar. I think that it is okay in small doses. But many people are addicted to sugar and certain foods, and it has led them down a path of disease and obesity. I think that we can apply these same principles to any kind of physical addiction we might have.
One: Choose to Be Alive
I love this! Choose to be alive. This life is a gift. When we are in the throes of addiction, we forget this!
President Nelson stated:
“The choice for life brings an outlook of optimism. It breathes hope. It rekindles self-esteem—regarding one’s body as a timeless trust.” – Russell M. Nelson
I know that I’ve probably stated this before, but I heard Chad Lewis speak at a fireside once. He talked about his experiences in the NFL and after – including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. He has lived an exciting and full life, and told the audience that a major inspiration for him to do so was his father. About his father, Chad Lewis said, “He loved life enough to get after it.”
I love that. It has become a kind of motto for me – love life enough to get after it. This kind of love for life will help us to weigh various choices and sacrifices.
Yes, cookies and ice cream are good, but I do not want to eat them all the time. I don’t want to sacrifice future choices because of a current appetite. Choosing to be alive is fundamental for breaking any addiction.
Two: Choose to Believe
President Nelson states:
“Choose to Believe. Believe in God. Accept yourself as His child, created in His image. He loves you and wants you to be happy.” – Russell M. Nelson
I love this! Love it so much! Believe in God! and we need to accept ourselves. This is such a fundamentally easy mistake to make – not to accept ourselves as beloved children of God.
When we accept ourselves as His children, beloved and created in His image, then something changes within us. We gain confidence. I’m not talking about self esteem. I’m talking about the real confidence that will remain a part of us no matter what others say and do to us.
Accept yourself as His child. By doing so, we will begin to trust Him and His word – including His Word of Wisdom.
Three: Choose to Change
The change is only preceded by a choice to change. How do we choose to change? Probably education. Maybe also bad experiences. Not sure I have a single answer for this. But I know that if we want to change, we have to choose to change, and we have to believe that we can actually make this choice.
I think that there are a lot of people who want to change, but don’t think that they can. Don’t worry so much if you can or not (hint: you can). Just make the decision to do it.
Put another way, I was in a conversation with someone recently, and they said, “I don’t know how to do it.”
I realized that we don’t have to know how. Instead, we should focus on why. The how is really easy to figure out later on. Instead, focus on what to change and why. When we know what we want to change and why, when we really have these answers clear in our minds, we will figure out how to do it!
Unfortunately, we often get stopped on “how.” Let’s take weight-loss, for example. We might read diet book after diet book. A lot of people who are trying to lose weight know at least a dozen different diets, but none of them ever seem to work. Then, the next diet book comes out, they read that, hoping that it will finally answer how for them.
Instead, if they focused on why they wanted to lose weight – because they wanted to live longer, because they want to see their children have grandchildren, because they want their knees to stop hurting, because they don’t want to have to give themselves insulin shots, because they want to be more attractive for their spouse…etc. – then they would have enough of an answer to find out “how” in a jiffy.
So – make a choice to change. Don’t get fixated on how to change, just make a choice to do it – while remembering that you are alive, and that you are a beloved child of God. The universe (God’s universe) will point the way on how to change if you will just make the choice to do it.
Four: Choose to Be Different
This is an interesting point that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, but I believe that it is critical. President Nelson explained:
“Choose to Be Different. Distinguish yourself from worldly crowds. Defenders do not resemble offenders. Among them are clever merchandisers who plot to link beer with sports, tobacco with charm, and drugs with fun. Scripture warns of those who so deceive:
“Thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.” (D&C 89:4.)
His Word of Wisdom includes sound nutritional guidance and simple instructions.” – Russell M. Nelson
Choosing to keep the Word of Wisdom does make us different! I know that many Mormons all over the globe have experienced this. As I think about this, I remember how L. Tom Perry would drink milk at corporate dinners. MILK! He was different. And it is a choice that we must make – we need to be okay with being different.
It can be hard to be different. This is true.
Recently, I started Intermittent Fasting. I’m sure that I’ll share more about my experiences at a future point on the blog, but I’ll quickly say that it is one of the most positive things I’ve ever done for my body, spirit, and the health of both. Through intermittent fasting I’ve finally found a way to address and wrangle in my own problems with certain foods (sugar-y ones!). I’ve finally found a way to feel like I’m a master over my body and appetites, rather than a slave to it.
But you know what? When you choose to do intermittent fasting, you are different. I don’t eat breakfast or lunch most days. I remember thinking, why can’t I just be like everyone else? Why can’t I just eat all day long?
Intermittent fasting has been a very spiritual decision for me, and when I asked myself these questions, I felt a spiritual response: You can if you want. But remember that every choice is a sacrifice. You can sacrifice breakfast and lunch now and eat whatever you like during your eating window. Or you can eat all day long and sacrifice future health.
I know what my future holds. I can look at my parents and my grandparents and I see type two diabetes, stroke, dementia, heart disease, and obesity. I can choose to be like everyone else.
But I want to be different!
Five: Choose to Exercise
Isn’t this prescription great!
President Nelson explained:
“Exercising the body and the spirit will aid in the climb toward recovery. Appropriate physical activity helps to combat depression, which so often accompanies addiction.” – Russell M. Nelson
I feel very fortunate because for some reason I really love to exercise. Though it can be hard to get up and go for a run or do a workout, I have been able to see the way that exercise can reward our lives. It keeps my head clear. I like being able to move my body. I love feeling strong.
The same goes for my spirit. I love having knowledge, faith, and strength. These only come with spiritual exercise. When we sacrifice the time to exercise – spiritually or physically – we gain so much more than the initial sacrifice. We are blessed with peace and confidence.
These blessings reinforce the other choices – to be alive, to believe, to choose, and to be different. As we exercise – spiritually and physically – we come to know who we are – spiritually and physically. We see the blessing our bodies and spirits are. We want to take care of them.
This is such good advice!
Six: Choose to Be Free
I love this final choice so much, I don’t even know what to say about it.
One thing that strikes me as interesting is how freedom is often misinterpreted.
When I was younger, there were people who thought my religion and its Word of Wisdom sounded confining and restrictive. They confused “freedom to” and “freedom from.”
All of us are free to choose. This is the agency that God grants us and that we fought for in our premortal life. But this freedom to choose is not the same as being free.
President Nelson taught:
“Often, however, agency is misunderstood. While we are free to choose, once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences of those choices.” – Russell M. Nelson
We are all free to choose. However, we must understand that the consequences of our choices may result in either liberty or captivity. This is the essence of choosing to be free – we want to choose liberty. We don’t want to be held captive by the consequences of the choices that we were free to make.
Freedom to = agency. The freedom to make a choice.
Freedom from = liberty. The freedom from captivity.
When President Nelson urges us to be free – he is talking about being free from captivity. Having liberty. Choosing to keep the Word of Wisdom does ensure a measure of liberty in our lives. We will not form addictions when we keep the Word of Wisdom. We might also be kept safe from some of the other enslaving consequences and diseases that come through dietary choices.
Of course there are exceptions. I knew a man that had never smoked a day in his life. He was fit and healthy. But because of a genetic mutation that he did know he had and that he could not alter, he ended up dying from lung cancer. This was a result of immortality – not a choice he made. And though he had to suffer this adversity, he was still free.
I’m grateful to know that we are led by a prophet who understands and lives the Word of Wisdom. He has a very intimate understanding of it as a medical doctor. I’m grateful for his sound advice – that not only is helpful if we are addicted to drugs, but it is also helpful if we have more “minor” yet just as difficult addictions. I’m grateful to know that our prophet leads and guides us to have happier lives – both spiritually and physically. I’m also impressed because not only does President Nelson understand these principles, but he lives them. He’s 93! He has chosen to be alive, believe, choose, be different and be free.