The Infinite Atonement

I just got finished reading a book titled, “The Infinite Atonement.” I believe the depth and understanding of the Atonement is endless and at least in this life we will never fully understand it. But this book taught me a lot and helped me understand more than I have before. I knew the atonement was the ticket to overcoming and healing from my husband’s addiction and that is what interested me in this book, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the atonement. I have read this book in small increments so I can ponder the teachings and understand them so it has taken me a long time to read ( I also intend to read this over and over) However, the book is fairly easy to understand and not “above my head”. It talks about everything from the creation and fall that made the atonement necessary to what all the atonement encompasses including healing from sin, hurts, etc. To the expanse and endless eternity of time included in the atonement, the Earth itself and many other things. The depth and expanse of the atonement is more than I ever imagined. It talks about how to apply the atonement in our lives and why Jesus was the only one who could do it and the plan of happiness. It talks about how the atonement fits with the laws of justice and mercy.

One of the things I recently read was how once we exercise our agency and let God help us he won’t stop at helping us with the one issue we went to him for, He will continue to remove weaknesses and trouble areas until we are perfect unless we reject his help. As I read this I thought the twelve steps were proof that statement is true. I went to twelve step and pleaded to my Heavenly Father to help me in this addiction crisis. Little did I know in the end it would be less about my husband’s addiction and more about my own flaws. Christ truly wants to use his healing powers to make me the best person possible. It is not easy and not always very pleasant and requires a lot of effort but as long as I don’t quit, neither will he . . Ever!

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Step Six – Change of Heart

Once again, I would like to begin by quoting some of the handbook materials. In step six we recognize that good intentions or willpower are not enough to completely eliminate our weaknesses. Only God can fully change our character and our heart. We are in a partnership with a Power greater than ourselves. Our role in this partnership is to accept ourselves as we are, flaws and all, and become willing to let go of all that stands in the way of our health and growth. The discovery of who we really are leads to a change of heart and prepares us to become willing to let go of those areas of our lives that are interfering with our growth and happiness. However, condemning and shaming ourselves is counterproductive to growth and happiness. To begin this process we must humbly ask to be shown what God would have us see. See ether 12:27. We gaurd against making excuses or rationalizing our weaknesses. When we realize how our weaknesses are negatively impacting our lives, we gain a desire to let go of them. When we become entirely ready to have God remove our weaknesses, we will see significant change and improvement in our lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the Earth and refines us into men and women for eternities.

Now for my personal experience with this. It is hard to be shown weaknesses! I hate to admit weaknesses and know that I rationalize a lot before I finally admit. I have tried taking the advice from the handbook that says I should try to notice how negative behaviors or thoughts impact me in a negative way. Sometimes this takes a lot of time and pondering before I see it. Sometimes the Lord shows me at the perfect time and I see Weaknesses quickly and with full force. Either way that it comes, it is hard to face and there is a real emotional pain with it that I don’t know how to describe. I usually have a war within myself when I realize a weakness. First the war is about accepting it and not rationalizing and then second accepting it, desiring to change it and not severely beating myself up for it. Honestly, it is emotionally draining and sometimes I get irritable and tired of the battle to overcome and be better. BUT, it is worth it. As I begin to see changes in myself it is a big self esteem booster as I see myself doing things I did not think were possible. It is rewarding to feel that accomplishment inside. I also develop a much greater relationship with my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, which is priceless and the way my faith and testimony is strengthened is well worth the price paid. There is yet another reward, others seeing changes in me. My husband tells me frequently how he is watching me become a new person and how he falls in love with me more everyday. Family members express what an example I am, etc. I don’t say any of this to toot my own horn but to demonstrate that people notice, we influence many people around us and when other people notice it is yet another reward for the hard work.

I must add that it is very difficult to desire the changes and be willing to work for it and have prayers answered when I focus on my husband’s problems. The Spirit is not as strong for me. So I have had to change my focus for me to have a change of heart and at the same time miraculous healing occurs. It is not that I am ignoring my husband’s issues but my perspective changed and truly healing happens.

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Step Five: Honesty

In the material for Step Five it talks of three gifts we receive through working step five: 1) self awareness: By reviewing our step 4 we become aware of feelings and attitudes that have influenced who we have become thus far in our life. Elder Bruce D. Porter taught, “we must know ourselves, for until we are conscious of our weaknesses, we cannot correct them; until we know our strengths, we cannot use them well.”

2) Self-evaluation: Our awareness and open honesty prepare us to let go of painful memories and self-defeating behaviors. We acknowledge our mistakes but do not allow them to define who we are or who we can become. We begin to seek soul-level changes in ourselves.

3) Self Acceptance: We come to accept our wrongs with the understanding that we are spiritual beings having a mortal experience and recognize that we all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. As we come to love and accept ourselves, we begin to experience changes that help our thoughts and behaviors to become more in harmony with who we really are.

We are told in the reading material we must admit to: 1) Heavenly Father all the personal details of our lives. We are not revealing anything to Him that he does not already know but by doing so we are becoming humble and expressing a desire to change and shows we are willing to let him reveal to us our true selves. Through this process our relationship with our Heavenly Father is strengthened.

2) Be honest with ourselves. As we discuss our lives with Heavenly Father we are able to see ourselves more clearly. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “More than we realize, being honest with God in our prayers helps us to be more honest with ourselves.” We need to acknowledge all that is good within us and the righteous desires of our hearts. We also need to admit to ourselves our mistakes, recognize our weaknesses, and identify all that we hope to change within us. As we do so we will feel burdens lifted.

3) Admit to another person our desires to change. This is one of the many areas that it is beneficial to be attending a support group meeting. It is hard to share these personal things with close family and friends, they are too emotionally connected to us. But to have a friend in recovery to share these things with provides support and comfort and by admitting things to another person it helps us reflect on what we have learned and our desire to change is more powerfully imprinted in our own minds.

I find a quote by Jeffrey R. Holland very comforting: “God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are, and with His help, where you are willing to go.”

As I have worked through this step I am finding the natural man is quite interesting and stubborn. For me, I have thoughts and behaviors that I have justified and rationalized my entire life and until I truly found the desire to want to see myself clearly and become a better person, I was completely oblivious to these behaviors. For example, I am quite insecure with myself and what others think of me and I feel judged by people most of the time. I am so intimidated by others that I prefer to keep to myself and hang out with family members rather than get to know other people and make new friends. I have always said that is just who I am, I was born with an introvert personality, my dad is the same way, and there is nothing wrong with it. My husband would get so frustrated with me, especially in the beginning of our marriage and I would tell him that he needed to accept me for who I was that I didn’t choose to be this way that’s just how I am. And now that my children are getting older my husband would tell me I needed to have my kids in more play dates and involved in more social interaction. I didn’t want to put myself “out there” and was terrified so I would tell him thatthe kids go to primary, they go to preschool or kindergarten, they are signed up for gymnastics or whatever and that is plenty of social interaction and they didn’t need anything more. We have had many emotional discussions about this and I was very good and defending my reasons. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to admit to myself that I actually had several experiences throughout my school years that slowly lowered my self esteem and I chose to tuck myself into a shell. I finally admitted that it is my own insecurities that make me who I am. I worry about what other people think of me but I don’t give them a chance to get to know me so instead give them no choice but to assume I am cold and unfriendly and then they don’t want to get to know me. I have been noticing behaviors in my oldest daughter that she doesn’t know how to make friends and is scared to death of new people and I am sure a big part of that is the example I have set for her. I still believe we each have different personalities and some are more social or outgoing than others but there is also a part of it that we choose and allow because of fears or anxieties or allowing a few unkind people to affect us. This is just one of many examples that I could share how following the concepts of Step Five has allowed me to see myself more clearly and honestly and to begin the journey of making changes that I know will bless me and relieve uncomfortable feelings that I have kept and harbored and justified for so many years. This particular weakness I did not see at first. I identified many other weaknesses before I admitted this one. I believe it is because I wasn’t ready to. I believe that my Heavenly Father will show me what I am ready to see when I am ready to see it and will help me overcome those things that I need to as long as I am always prayerful and humble enough to seek his help.

I also must add that just because I can see my weaknesses does not make them easy to change. I am still scared of the change but I feel because I see it and can make even baby steps each day, it is a start. Maybe that is just another justification but I feel that even baby steps is okay as long as I am doing the best I can and being willing to move forward, however long it takes. But I also have faith that my with my willingness and the Lord’s grace – the change won’t be as long or as difficult as I expect it to be.

One other thing I must add is that as I recognize how blind I am to my own rationalizing behaviors and how easy it is for the natural man to make mistakes or have weaknesses and not be able to see them clearly, it helps me heal from the hurt of my husband’s addiction because I can see better how he could make those choices and not even realize what he would do to me or even see clearly what was wrong with what he was doing. I also find healing when I focus more on myself than on him, I am in a much better place emotionally and spiritually.

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Addiction Recovery Programs

This is a link to an article and video on the addiction recovery programs of the church. There are general addiction recovery meetings that can be attended where people suffering from various addictions or their loved ones attend. They all attend the same meeting. The meetings I attend are pornography specific recovery meetings and are slightly different because men and women are divided and addicts are separate from loved ones. However, the materials studied are the same. This link refers to the general addiction recovery type meetings but the message of hope and healing is still the same. I would like to add my testimony that through the 12 step program I have been able to develop a relationship with my Savior I never had before and have learned about, and applied the atonement in my life and has brought healing from hurt, sorrow and despair that could come no other way. I know the recovery programs are the Lord’s programs.

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Step Four – Truth

As Brigham Young said, “the greatest lesson you can learn is to know yourself.”. Step four is all about getting to know yourself. Through step four you identify characteristics, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, and events that make us who we are. We must do it with complete honesty, free from judgment, accepting ourselves as we are so we can make decisions about who we want to become. Until we know exactly where we are we cannot know where we are headed.

For many people, working through step four is very intimidating for many reasons, including where to even start, how to do it and quite frankly, honestly facing themselves and admitting their weaknesses. But I want to point out that even though part of step four is about identifying mistakes, weaknesses, or harmful thought patterns, it is also about recognizing strengths, seeing God’s hand in our lives, and knowing what we have done right.

To start step four, I chose to write a biographical sketch of my life. This was one of the first assignments in the handbook. My first thoughts were I could spend months writing my life history so I prayed about it and asked Heavenly Father to help me write and recall what was important for me to write to get to know myself. I just started with as early as I could remember and wrote a general overview of my life and when I chronologically came to a big event I wrote in more detail. I have since remembered other things and added to this but I feel Heavenly Father helped me write what I needed to and once I started it was not as difficult as I had Imagined. I then read through it focusing on what my strengths were and highlighted them in one color and made a list. (I identified strengths that have given me encouragment to get through this trial and be able to believe in myself). Then I went through and highlighted with another color and made a list of times I could see Heavenly Father’s hand in my life. (when I read with that focus I found Heavenly Father had beenwith me much more than I had realized and it strengthened my faith in him). I then went through focusing on. Intakes I had made that has affected my life, my friends, my self esteem, my fears, etc. Of course, I can review this history searching for any specific thing I want and as long as I am honest with myself and free from judgement, rationalization, justification, fear,etc. I learn a lot about myself. The interesting thing is, by doing this prayerfully the Lord helps me not beat myself up for my mistakes but rather I feel a growing desire to be better.

I have to admit that initially I had a hard time focusing on me because I was still focusing too much on my husband and his mistakes and behaviors. It took a very diligent effort and a lot of prayer to focus on myself and it didn’t come quickly and in fact I learn things about myself everyday as I am ready and willing to see myself clearly. I can say without a doubt I have been much more happy focusing on myself rather than my husband. I can’t change him but I can me, so the efforts are actually getting me somewhere. I know what I think and feel but I don’t completely know my husband’s thoughts and feelings; again proving focusing on myself is much more effective. I have also learned that focusing on myself and seeing my weaknesses helps me be more forgiving and loving towards my husband. I have become less judgmental and taken myself off my little pedestal I had myself on compared to him. The peace and healing that comes is very difficult to explain but I do know that everyone can learn for themselves what I am talking about and it is well worth the effort. I can also say it is very rewarding to see myself become a better person and my husband notices changes and comments on them which makes me feel good about myself. As we each are working to become better our relationship gets stronger.

A friend once shared a lesson she was taught that a marriage is like a triangle with the husband and wife and the bottom corners and Christ at the top. The husband and wife cannot get any closer together by themselves. The only way they get closer is by each of them getting closer to Christ and as they do so, the gap between the spouses becomes smaller and smaller and they become closer together as they draw closer to Christ. I believe this is very true and also believe I can only move myself closer to Christ and my husband has to move himself so it is critical I do my part.

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Step three – Trust in God

I would like to start by quoting some of the quotes in the handbook that are inspiring and sum up what step three is all about.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “as one’s will is increasingly submissive to the will of God, he can receive inspiration and revelation so much needed to help meet the trials of life . . . Progression toward submission confers another blessing: an enhanced capacity for joy . . The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.” I also love how he explains spiritual submissiveness because I know sometimes my expectations are too much and I get discouraged. He said, “spiritual submissiveness is not accomplished in an instant, but by the incremental improvements and by the successive use of stepping stones. Stepping stones are meant to be taken one at a time anyway.”

Elder Richard G. Scott said, “trust in God . . . No matter how challenging the circumstance . . . Your peace of mind, your assurance of answers to vexing problems, your ultimate joy depend upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.”. (I love the word “depend” here). He also said, “the inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, or fear.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “just be faithful. God is in charge. He knows your name and he knows your need.”  When we learn to place our complete trust in God’s will, we will not necessarily have fewer trials, but we will always receive an endowment of spiritual strength, comfort and guidance to help us.

I love these quotes!  I think of the “stepping stones” frequently.  This does not just apply to step three or any step in particular for that matter.  It applies to all things in life.  I can’t become perfect all at once, I can’t forgive all at once, I can’t be healed and full of happiness all at once.   I can’t overcome all my weaknesses and challenges all at once.  In fact, I will spend my lifetime overcoming various things and there will always be room for more improvement.  So this has been very comforting for me to be able say I have made one step forward, I’m moving in the right direction and keep working toward moving toward to the next stepping stone and that is how it is meant to be.  I have found as I have went through the steps multiple times now, the first time I go through a step I have certain feelings or responses and then when I do that step again a few months later I realize I have grown a lot and my perspective has changed and what I get out of a step is different than the first time around.  This is the same with scriptures, depending on where I am in my life, I get something different out of them that will help me at that particular time.

So turning my will over to God’s is no exception, it too comes in steps just like Elder Maxwell said.  In the beginning I thought I was following the Lord, I was going to the 12 step meetings, I was keeping my covenants and staying with my husband, I was praying, reading the scriptures, trying to forgive even though I didn’t think it was possible but moving forward with faith anyway.  It took me months of getting my emotional butt kicked before I opened my eyes and seen there was more to it than that for me.  I was trying to logically think through my husband’s addiction to try to justify it, or explain it, or whatever it took to come to terms with it.  I finally realized this was MY way of healing.  I was trying to comes to terms with the addiction and soothe myself and it was like beating my head against the wall.  The truth of the matter was, all I was doing was forcing myself to dwell on the addiction and it was and will be a horrible thing that I can’t rationalize away.  I ultimately had to turn it over to the Lord and allow him to literally take the hurt away – I couldn’t remove it myself.  It took a lot of prayer and letting go of my way and diligent effort to not entertain the thoughts of my husbands addiction when they came.  But it was all worth the effort and once I allowed myself to let go, the healing has come much faster and much better than it had for all those earlier months.  At times I wish I had figured it out sooner but I also think this was part of the Lord’s plan for me.

The struggles that I have went through, the emotional aches and torture has taught me a lot.  I have learned a lot about the power of prayer, I have learned first hand how much better the Lord can heal than any human being.  I have learned more about the atonement in a few months than all the other time of my life up to this point combined.  I have learned patience.  I have spent many hours pondering the plan of salvation, agency, endurance, the promises of eternal life, etc.  Had I not gone through this trial I would never have spent the time and energy, my entire soul, into feasting on these gospel principles.  Being taught these things in Sunday school is one thing, but going through things in life where you rely upon the teachings and strength of Christ is entirely something different.  Living it brings the teachings alive.  I have also recognized some of my weaknesses that I would not have seen or acknowledged any other way.  I know that because of my personality, my history, my weaknesses, this trial is exactly what I needed to make the most of this probationary period.  It is what I need for the Lord to further me along my pathway to the eternal life that I am striving for.  I have gained a testimony that each of our trials are meant to be ours.  I am not meant to have someone else’s.  My trial may have come about because of my husband’s choices but that is no accident either, I was meant to go through this trial with him.

As my husband and I have worked through these trials we have had the opportunity to work on our marriage and fix things I never knew were broken.  I have come to know that we love each other and will stand by each other through everything.  I have seen our trials make us stronger not weaker and because of that I know we will make it through anything. Yes, there is still trust issues and it is still a journey but even though it is not easy our marriage is great and I know it is actually a gift from my Heavenly Father because he is fixing things that were broken that we wouldn’t have fixed on our own.

What I am trying to say is, I believe and have a testimony of what is taught in Step three.  I know the Lord knows me, I know Jesus Christ suffered for me.  I know He knows how to help me, heal me, soothe me and I know my trials and struggles are exactly what I need to make me the best person possible.  However, I must submit my will to his plan, I must endure the trials and make stepping stones out of them instead of stumbling blocks.  I am grateful to be learning this and I know it will be a life long effort to submit my will to the Lord’s.  It’s so hard to acknowledge sometimes that He knows things I don’t and my way and my plans are not the best when from my view there is no better option.  In truth, it often feels like the Lord’s way is the harder way initially but in the end the reward is sooo worth it.  I compare it to a hike.  I can drive on a road and see some great things and it’s easy and not very challenging but if I get out and hike, I see things even greater.  Often times the best views are at the top of really steep climbs but I would never miss the opportunity.  I also compare it to physical fitness.  I can go for casual walks and my muscles will only be somewhat strengthened.  Running, biking, swimming, weight lifting, etc will strengthen those muscles even more and allow me to do more with them and have greater endurance.  The harder the activity, the greater the strength that comes from it.  So when the Lord gives me a hard trial I try to tell myself the view at the end of the hike will be worth it (the lesson learned at the end will be worth it), the strength I get will be worth it (the spiritual strength and ability to endure is priceless).  Those thoughts help me get through moments when I would rather give up.  But I also can’t run faster than I have strength and thus the stepping stones and little bit at a time – and that is okay.

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Identifying Unhealthy Behaviors

There is a supplemental lesson in the 12 step book entitled “identifying Unhealthy Behaviors” that goes through the many behaviors that are common in handling a loved ones addiction. These behaviors include, denial (ignoring what is happening, the solution is self-honesty and finding courage to face the problem), enabling (the opposite of enabling is allowing others to experience the consequences of their choices which can provide the learning lessons to help them desire to change), threats (are a form of control and only increase anxiety, frustration and anger. It is more effective to offer encouragement, establish healthy boundaries and allow consequences.). Shame is an attempt to motivate change but only motivates our loved one to isolate themselves from us and creates more suffering. Instead we should offer compassion and understanding and leave judgment to the Lord. Irrational behavior includes bribing, inflicting punishment or developing our own unhealthy habits such as overeating, starving ourselves, or overspending. Controlling or manipulating is exhausting and ineffective. We can become willing to give our desire to control our loved ones over to God and trust that he will help them; for he can do what we cannot do. Remaining a victim keeps us weak and helpless. We may initially be victims of another person’s actions but it becomes our choice whether we remain a victim. If we stay focused on our own sorrow it will define our future, we must realize we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness. Guilt is feeling we deserve to be condemned thinking we have purposely damaged our loves and deserve the punishment or believe God has forsaken us. We must forgive ourselves for past mistakes and let go of the past. Worry and fear is being fixated on keeping track of what our loved ones are doing. We sentence ourselves to a prison of obsessive thoughts. Worrying about what may be happening or what may happen in the future does not prevent it from happening. Worry can make us terminally miserable, merely enduring life rather than enjoying the reward of each day. Worrying about others causes us to neglect working on our own salvation. Through god we can have our fear replaced with power of hope and stability of faith knowing that no matter what the Lord will sustain us.

The previous paragraph is text taken directly from the manual but I personally did not suffer from all of those behaviors. However, there are a few that I struggled with greatly and I would like to share with you my experience. My greatest weaknesses were 1) shaming, 2) being a victim, 3) worry and fear.  Having greatly struggled with these I believe the lesson is appropriately titled “unhealthy behaviors”.

For a long time I wasn’t even aware that I was “shaming” my husband.  I would be thinking about what he’d done, I would be hurt and fearful and become emotionally unstable and would vent to my husband what my feelings were which always led to me telling him everything he had done wrong and how bad it hurt.  I was blind to my behaviors saying that I was simply stating how I felt.  When I finally decided to be honest with myself I realized I was taking every opportunity possible to tell my husband how bad he had screwed up thinking he didn’t quite “get it”, and I needed to pound it into his head for him to really understand what he had done and hopefully he would see how much he hurt me and not do it again.  Once I admitted I really was “shaming” him and tried to stop.  It was not an easy habit to break!  And ultimately I have been learning that these behaviors created the opposite effect that I wanted.  My husband would be waiting for me to lash out at any given moment and it has taken him months to feel comfortable around me and not on edge.  It has been harder for him to really open up and talk to me for fear it will set me off somehow.  It has been a process to heal the damage I have done but it is healing and the new way is much much better than the old way.  I wish I would have realized it sooner, on the other hand, I have learned a very valuable lesson.

Remaining a victim.  Yes, I felt a victim.  I had an extremely difficult time thinking I was responsible for my emotions.  I wasn’t the one that lied, I wasn’t the one who pretended to be someone I wasn’t.  I wasn’t the one who was lusting after other women.  My husband did all of that, and he hurt me, he lied to me and it was completely out of my control – I am a victim of his choices.  I blamed him for my hurt and felt justified in doing so, after all it was HIS fault, not mine.  I wrestled with this for months and months and to be honest I still feel like it was his choices that hurt me and not mine and in that sense I am the victim.  BUT, I am not going to allow his choices to hurt me forever.  It is my choice whether I wade in self pity forever or if I move on.  It is my choice whether I have faith, whether I allow trust to build again, whether I choose to find joy or not.  How I move forward is my choice and my choice only and if I stay miserable I have only myself to blame.  It was impossible for me to recognize that and truly take responsibility for my own happiness until I stopped playing the role of victim and stopped feeling sorry for myself.

Worry and fear are very heavy burdens to carry around.  I found it was worry and fear that triggered most of my emotional breakdowns.  I would be so worried about what my husband was doing, thinking feeling, if he would relapse again, if he would lie again, that I could not feel at peace because the fears were constantly nagging.  Some days I could keep that under control enough that I felt fairly normal and other days I would get swept up in the current of emotions and have a breakdown.  The truth was the breakdown was inevitable – I could not have the worries and fears endlessly, I could only handle them so long.  This created a very wild emotional roller coaster ride.  These are the emotions I still have to be most aware of and work on constantly but I am getting much better at them and I know that the more I let go of my fears the more hope and faith I feel.  The more I let go of the negative things that could possibly be going on with the my husband the more I notice his efforts, his recovery, his support and love of me.  Ultimately my emotions are much more stable and I don’t just get through the day but I actually feel peace and joy and in fact I am noticing a playfulness come out in me that I have not seen for many many years.  I am truly finding a peace as I allow Christ to carry my burdens for me and release my fears knowing he will help me through whatever the future may hold and I will be better for it.

We all struggle will different behaviors that are unhealthy and I may not have felt them all but I do know that if we can be honest with ourselves and diligent and determined to overcome, our lives will be much much better which also makes the lives of our family better and it becomes a domino effect of improvements.

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