“My message is that being impacted by pornography is not an impossible situation. There’s hope, there’s help and there’s healing,” Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said on Saturday morning at the Utah Coalition Against Pornography conference.

The conference held at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City brought together ecclesiastical leaders, licensed clinicians and activists to discuss the harms individuals and families experience from pornography and how to find healing and hope. Around 215 people attended the conference.

Elder Renlund and Clay Olsen, founder of Fight the New Drug, were the day’s keynote speakers.

Finding healing through hope in Jesus Christ

Elder Renlund used an object lesson to demonstrate how there’s always hope and healing even when it might not be apparent at first. Bringing out a block of wood with a nail hammered partway through, he asked a volunteer to balance 14 nails on top of that one nail. Every time she put a nail on top, it would roll off. Elder Renlund then arranged the nails so they would balance on top of that one nail — “the seemingly impossible is possible.”

“You can attach symbolic meaning to each of these nails. There are two key nails and those are the horizontal ones,” Elder Renlund said. One of those nails represents a person impacted by pornography, such as a person who views pornography or a loved one of a person watching pornography.

“In other words, this bottom nail represents you and me. If we believe the situation is hopeless, well it is. We need to believe that change is possible.”

That brought Elder Renlund to the second nail, which he said was based on his faith. It represents Jesus Christ.

“He offers hope to the seemingly hopeless and help to those who feel lost. As I’ve come to know him, I’ve learned that he loves to heal wounds you cannot heal, to fix things that are irreparably broken and compensate for any unfairness you’ve experienced,” said Elder Renlund. “And he absolutely loves to permanently mend even shattered hearts.”

The other nails in the arrangement represent those who can offer hope and healing such as friends, family members, ecclesiastical leaders and mental health professionals.

Elder Renlund said he and the Church of Jesus Christ condemn pornography in any form. “It damages individuals, families and societies. It draws us away from God and impairs our ability to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit. Because all forms of pornographic material are unhealthy, opposition to its production, dissemination and use is warranted.”

After delivering these opening remarks, Elder Renlund invited Jill Manning, licensed marriage and family therapist, and Dan Gray, licensed clinical social worker, on stage to go through several scenarios to model how parents and loved ones can discuss and address pornography usage.

One scenario was in relation to a 16-year-old boy named Bob who viewed pornography frequently, has never told anyone and felt overwhelming shame. Bob eventually tells his parents. Elder Renlund asked the two clinicians the best way for parents and ecclesiastical leaders to respond — and if the response should be different if the scenario was about a daughter and not a son.

Gray said it’s important for parents to both help their children learn how to control their behaviors and also reinforce that it’s positive the child came forward and was willing to be honest. Manning said to help a child achieve long-term sobriety from pornography, a child may need to work with a mental health professional to see if there’s depression or anxiety that hasn’t been addressed.

“If these are not identified, this young person, I would worry, would struggle more than they need to to establish long-term sobriety,” said Manning, adding that the response would be the same for a daughter.

Openness and accountability were themes repeated during Saturday’s conference. As the panel discussed a different scenario involving a spouse who was hurt by her husband’s use of pornography, Elder Renlund highlighted the dual need for acknowledging the real hurt that was caused and the effort the husband makes as he works to overcome pornography. Quoting from “The Brothers Karamazov” by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, Elder Renlund said, “Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lies comes to a point where he does not discern any truth, either in himself or anywhere around him.”

“The pathway is this openness,” Elder Renlund said, explaining that openness will lead to healing and hope in Christ can facilitate that healing.

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Key experiences on road to recovery

“Hope, healing, happiness,” Olsen said. “It’s obtainable. It’s real and someday starts today.” His message focused on how recovery can be made possible with improved mental health and what audience members can walk away from the conference.

Research, including interviews and surveys, shows people who recover from pornography have key experiences on their journeys that enable this recovery, Olsen said. “They maintain hope or regain hope. They make lifestyle adjustments. They improve their mental diet and seek out new education.”

“They learn how to mindfully approach thoughts and emotions,” Olsen continued adding that they also work through trauma, expand their communities, deepen their spirituality and find purpose and engage in service.

Olsen put a quote up on the screen from a man named Abdul who said when he focused on his Muslim faith and relationship with Allah, his recovery efforts “seemed to magnify and accelerate.”

This is common, Olsen said as he underscored the necessity of both social and spiritual connection.

While these changes across so many categories may sound overwhelming, Olsen said, “What we have found in the research is that even small iterative adjustments in key lifestyle categories can have catalytic effects on your capacity to overcome and improve.”

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Healing is possible

Corrine Stokoe, a fashion blogger and podcast host, led one of the breakout sessions called “Finding Hope and Healing from Pornography Addiction.” Stokoe and her husband Neil have spoken publicly about how they both healed after he struggled with pornography.

Neil had broken up with Corrine after three months of dating just before Christmas. Corrine was heartbroken and called him a few days later to find out why he left her. The two went on a drive on that snowy day to a parking lot overlooking the Salt Lake Valley and he told her that he had an issue with pornography. Corrine said she heard a voice telling her to just listen.

“When I heard that voice, I think I heard it because God wanted me to see him the way that he sees him not just the way that the world labels people who struggle with pornography addiction,” Stokoe said. The two later married and Neil continued to struggle with pornography usage. Stokoe said it was difficult on their marriage and she felt like it was her responsibility to solve the issue.

Eventually, the couple both attended addiction recovery program meetings and participated in the 12 step program — a key step is turning over your will to God’s. After Stokoe learned to give over her burdens to God, miracles happened in their lives and their marriage improved. She said she has seen this happen in so many others’ lives after they go through the 12 steps.

“They start getting everything back. They get their wife back. They get their horse back. They get their house back and they get their life back,” Stokoe said. And often times when their lives come back together, it’s far better than they could have ever imagined it would be.

“I can testify to you that the atonement of Jesus Christ is not some cute little fairy tale bedtime story that we tell our kids because it sounds nice,” Stokoe said. “The atonement of Jesus Christ changed my life.”

There are resources available for those seeking help including recovery the Addiction Recovery Program from the Church of Jesus Christ as well as other support groups and counseling services listed on the Utah Coalition Against Pornography website.