Recovery is Not About Self Control

Long Pine Run Reservoir near Gettysburg, PA

At some point in any addiction—be it overeating, drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, gambling, or any other—the problem is no longer about self control. The addict has lost control and cannot regain it by him- or herself.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over [our addiction] and that our lives had become unmanageable.

I have learned that I cannot stay sober for long once I begin to believe that I can handle a quick look at an attractive woman, or that I can afford to meander around the Internet. One look is too many, and one thousand looks isn’t enough. The craving cannot be satisfied.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous:

I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control. I have had many men who had, for example, worked a period of months on some problem or business deal which was to be settled on a certain date, favorably to them. They took a drink a day or so prior to the date, and then the phenomenon of craving at once became paramount to all other interests so that the important appointment was not met. These men were not drinking to escape; they were drinking to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.

William D. Silkworth, M.D.

The craving consumes the addict. It overwhelms all thought and ability to think. It incessantly heaves and pulls until the addict becomes exhausted and panicked. As the Sexaholics Anonymous “White Book” says, “the only way we knew to be free of it was to do it.”

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of trying to control cravings with self will is “white-knuckling.” The idea is that I can abstain from my addiction if I hold on long enough. I used to think this was admirable. I’ll squeeze my closed fists as hard as I can for as long as I have to until the craving passes. Maybe I’ll squint my eyes closed and furrow my brow. Or perhaps I’ll exercise until I nearly collapse. Or perhaps I’ll work extra hours. The concept manifests in various ways.

The addict who tries this may occasionally enjoy temporary respite. That’s been my experience, anyway. Inevitably, however, the craving returns and with more power. Despite valiant efforts and genuine commitment, the addict eventually succumbs.

The truth I’ve learned is that white-knuckling is at best a step backwards. When I abstain through willpower I am holding on to the belief that I can control the addiction, and with those small “victories” I convince myself that indeed I can. What I’ve since learned is that victory through self will is a loss.

When I think I can do it alone, or that I need to do it alone, I disconnect myself from God. I think I don’t need His grace, or I think that God expects me to learn how to do it by myself. Or I think that I should be able to do it by myself. I believed that lie for a long time!

God expects no one to do anything alone! That’s the whole point behind His condescension and Atonement. He endured the pain of our sins, afflictions, temptations, and trials alone so that we don’t have to. He did it alone so that He would know how to “succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12).

Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I have learned from hard experience that all my sincere promises, carefully laid plans, and intense efforts cannot work unless I am willing to do whatever it takes to obtain God’s power and use it.

The solution is simple. Instead of white-knuckling, I immediately pray. In that prayer I acknowledge that a part of me wants to act out, and I give up my right to participate in my addiction. I surrender the part of me that wants to rebel against God’s will. In effect, I surrender my will to God’s. I connect with Him.

Step 3: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

When the craving is strong I also reach out for help by calling my brothers in recovery. I tell them what I’m experiencing. They understand me. They help me keep my feet grounded to reality. I connect with them.

I have learned that my Recovery has nothing to do with self control. It has everything to do with surrender of self and connection with God and my fellows.

Enduring Trials of Faith with Patience

Gettysburg, 3 June 2020

Due to COVID-19, my church has suspended meetings. Normally we have members of the congregation give talks every Sunday, so now my local congregation sends out a weekly newsletter with written talks. My bishop asked me to write a talk on “enduring trials of faith with patience.” I’m sharing it here too with the hope that someone finds it helpful.


What is patience? Our Guide to the Scriptures defines patience as “calm endurance; the ability to endure affliction, insult, or injury without complaint or retaliation.” 

What does that look like?

When I think of patience I think of my father. He’s had moments of impatience but he so often responds to inconvenience, insult, and affliction with calmness. Many times I have observed him pause before speaking after someone has hurled defiance, rudeness, or disrespect at him. I witnessed it first hand when I was the one rebelling against him. I couldn’t help it, I knew everything when I was eighteen years old! His loving patience grabbed my attention and pierced my heart in a way I don’t think anything else could have. It made me consider who I was becoming, and who I wanted to be.

One of my favorite examples of patience comes from The Book of Mormon. The scripture in Mosiah chapter 23 says Alma and the Nephites who followed him “fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness” to escape from the armies of King Noah, who wanted to kill them because they had different religious beliefs. Imagine speed hiking for eight days without even a trail to walk on! They stopped when they found “a beautiful and pleasant land,” and they went straight to work: “they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.” These people were tough! More important than their hard work and perseverance was their choice to repent of their sins and follow Christ. Because of that choice the Lord blessed them that “they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land.” They were doing well. They were making the right choices.

After all this, Mormon writes, “nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people, yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.”

A Lamanite army that had gotten lost discovered Alma and his people. They asked for directions (they must have had women with them) and promised Alma they would leave his people alone if he helped them. Alma gave them directions and the Lamanite leader broke his promise, which was almost unheard of even among enemies in those days. The bulk of the Lamanite army followed Alma’s directions home while some remained to stand guard over Alma’s people. Later the wives and children of the Lamanite guards moved in too.

The Lamanite guards, under the direction of a cruel and cunning ex-Nephite named Amulon, “began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.” Amulon wouldn’t even spare children from his cruelty. He then “exercised authority over [Alma’s people], and put tasks on them, and put task-masters over them” (Mosiah 24:8-9). Slave labor. 

“And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.”

Amulon ordered them to stop praying, and “he put guards over them to watch them,” and ordered the guards to kill anyone who prayed to God. Alma and his people “did pour out their hearts to [God]; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.” I love that.

The next part speaks for itself. It’s powerful!

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

Then the Lord kept his promise: 

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.”

The Lord then spoke to Alma to have his people gather everything they needed during the night, “and in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep. And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness.”

Talk about deliverance from trials! They were literally slaves, and the Lord saved them. As powerful a witness as that is, I think perhaps the greater lesson is that the Lord visits his people in their afflictions when we let Him in. He gets into the trenches of it with us! He made their burdens light by carrying their burdens with them, and by strengthening them so that the burdens were easy to bear. He gave them grace in their moment of need.

This account has been meaningful to me on more than one occasion. I often read it when I feel overwhelmed, and it gives me faith to submit to the Lord’s will for me. 

The Book of Mormon holds another account of extreme hardship and bondage. Mormon, who abridged all these records, put it right before the story of Alma’s people. In Mosiah chapter 21 he describes what happened to a group of Christians who complained and murmured about their understandably difficult circumstances. They eventually repented, and the Lord delivered them, but their trial was prolonged because for a time they chose not to submit to the Lord’s will for them. In fact their resistance led to immense additional suffering, sorrow, and even death at the hands of the Lamanites, which of course increased their burdens. A powerful contrast. I’m sad for those people, and sad for me when I see myself mirroring their attitude and choices when faced with painful trials.

We certainly don’t need long to think of a trial right now. The entire world shares a trial of faith and patience because of COVID-19, and it’s just plain hard. Many have lost their jobs or income. Many have missed out on important family events. Many are lonely or afraid. Many have died. Many are in mourning. Most if not all of us already had other trials in full swing before this virus came along, and likely most if not all of us have encountered new ones since.

I’m reminded of a talk I heard in General Conference a few years ago. I say a few years and now as I look it up it was 2008 … It’s happening; I’m getting old. Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge of the First Quorum of the Seventy, one of the primary bodies of leadership and authority in the Lord’s Church, described two ways to go through life: the Lord’s way, or some other way. He taught, “The Lord’s way is not hard. Life is hard, not the gospel. ‘There is an opposition in all things,’ everywhere, for everyone. Life is hard for all of us, but life is also simple. We have only two choices. We can either follow the Lord and be endowed with His power and have peace, light, strength, knowledge, confidence, love, and joy, or we can go some other way, any other way, whatever other way, and go it alone—without His support, without His power, without guidance, in darkness, turmoil, doubt, grief, and despair. And I ask, which way is easier?”

Elder Corbridge continues, “[Christ] said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; … and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it.”

When I lack patience I find I also lack perspective. In the midst of pain and hardship, when I pour out my heart to God in prayer, He gives me the eternal perspective I need. When I am willing to give up my impatience and submit my will to His, He fills me with grace, and I’m able to move forward. I have learned that as I do this one day at a time, eventually I look back and realize He has changed my disposition, and surrendering to life’s trials becomes easier.

We can help each other develop patience, and I don’t mean finding ways to test tempers. Elder Neil A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “So often what people need so much is to be sheltered from the storms of life in the sanctuary of belonging” (Maxwell, “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience” (2007)). Simply being a friend is a powerful gift to one who needs perspective, faith, and patience.

Many of you know I moved to Gettysburg at the start of a divorce. It is the deepest pain I have known, and for a long time I wanted nothing to do with patience. I only wanted the pain to end. I went back and forth between seeking God and pushing Him away. My faith was faltering and frail. I felt lost. Had it not been for the kindness, love, and friendship many of you have given me, I am certain I would still feel lost. I’m still healing and learning from my past, but I am reconnected to my Savior. I testify He has the power to make life easier! I know this because I have experienced it. He can heal all pain and all wounds, including the ones we create ourselves. My healing began when I finally accepted what I cannot change, and sought patient courage to change the things I can.

Surely, Jesus Christ gave us our greatest example of patience:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

He calmly endured insult, physical and emotional injury, betrayal, mocking, abuse of all kinds, and excruciating death. He willingly submitted His will to His Father’s to take upon himself every individual’s pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins (Alma 7:11-13). He did all this without complaint or retaliation. He did it because He loves us and He loves His Father.

Whatever hardship you currently face, Jesus Christ wants to make it lighter for you. He wants to endure it with you. All trials have an end. May we choose to trust our Father’s words, “know thou, my [child], that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7).

I can handle Legos

LEGO Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley

Recently I’ve focused my recovery reading on the first of the Twelve Steps of addiction recovery: “Admit that I am powerless over [my addiction] and that my life has become unmanageable.” My addiction is sexual lust.

The idea that a person can have zero power over something is still a tough one for me to grasp, and yet my life to this point has demonstrated that I am one of those people.

The word “powerless” is an interesting one in this context. It means “without ability, influence, or power.” Its synonyms include impotent, helpless, ineffectual, ineffective, useless, defenseless. Defenseless catches my eye.

On my own I am defenseless against sexual lust. My own efforts to withstand it are ineffective and useless. I cannot simply “change what’s playing on my brain’s stage,” or distract myself with a good book. That’s not enough anymore. Even remembering my loved ones is insufficient. These things, while helpful in any other struggle in my life, are ineffectual when it comes time for me to do battle with sexual lust.

In most areas of my life I am disciplined. I know how to set a line and not cross it even when I want to cross it. I know how to set and keep limits.

For example, I really enjoy creating new things with Legos. I have enjoyed it since I was a child. Legos cost a pretty penny though, so I can’t always purchase them when I want to. If I did I’d have monster credit card debt! I know how to plan a budget and stick to it, even when that Lego set I’d really like to have goes on sale. When it goes on sale, I stick to my budget. “It’ll just have to wait,” I tell myself. I feel tempted, to be sure; and I don’t have a perfect record. But I can say No without waking up in the middle of the night with a sudden overwhelming urge to make the purchase.

Here’s another example. My dad taught my siblings and me how to work hard at a young age. I started getting small summer jobs when I was twelve so I could pay for the Legos and video games I wanted. When I was fifteen I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. I was also in high school, marching band, Boy Scouts, and a number of other extracurriculars. But I wanted money to pay for the things I wanted. My parents taught me self-discipline and I exercised it often and well for the most part. Fast forward twenty years and I served an honorable two-year service mission for my church, I have a solid career in software engineering, I’ve completed a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and I work hard to teach and train my children. All thanks to God, without a doubt! It wouldn’t have happened, however, had I not worked hard, delayed gratification, and followed God’s and my parents’ counsel.

Put me in a room alone with a smartphone and an Internet connection and I have discipline up until the moment something catches my eye. At that point something changes. At that point I no longer have self-discipline. If I don’t reach out for help, I will inevitably succumb.

Doesn’t sound right, does it? The idea that a person can have self control one moment and zero control the next. Seems like an all or nothing sort of deal, or so I’ve thought. Either a person has the moral fortitude and practice to Just Say No, or they haven’t learned that skill yet. Or maybe they don’t want to Say No, not badly enough. Maybe they could Just Stop if they really wanted to.

I cannot recall how many limits and ultimate plans I’ve made to keep myself safe from sexual lust. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve drawn a line and genuinely pledged to my loved ones, myself, and my God, and said, “no further,” only to find myself across the line days later, wondering how I got there. Those moments are bewildering and frightening.

“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.”

Jesus Christ, Ether 12:27

According to Jesus, there are some things we cannot do on our own.

I’m not talking about staring down a plate of warm cookies (unless you face a food addiction). I’m not talking about the self awareness to walk out of the kitchen to escape the scent of those cookies. I’m talking about a prison wherein one is unable to escape the pull on their own, when one’s brain stops functioning inside the frontal lobe where reason and decisions are made and instead shifts into autopilot.

Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it’s like to know deep inside your heart and gut that what you’re doing or about to do is wrong and harmful to yourself and others, and you want to stop with all your being, but you don’t know how? Have you ever felt that kind of fear, the kind that surfaces when you know you need to stop because your job, marriage, or life depends on it, but you can’t? Have you ever wanted so badly to stop your behavior without knowing how that suicide seems like the only way out?

I know what that’s like.

Today I understand that even though my willpower is insufficient when it comes to sexual lust, the fact is I still have agency and options because I know a Being who has more power than me. My Higher Power is my only way out, and often I lean on my brothers in recovery to help me stay close to Him in moments when I feel the pull to start walking paths which I know from experience I cannot safely navigate.

I’m certain I wasn’t always powerless over sexual lust. I give myself plenty of credit for creating my addiction. I also give my Higher Power some credit because He gave me this weakness so that I would “learn to be humble.” He knew the choices I would make in this life. That’s also one reason why He died for me. Because of Him, I don’t have to remain a slave to my addiction.

I thought about quoting medical science publications and general conference talks to support what I’m saying. Those helped convince me, to be sure. If you’re interested in those then I recommend Dr. Hilton’s book, “He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” He quotes both kinds of sources.

“I can do this on my own” is the most effective lie Satan has ever told me.

“I cannot do this on my own” is one of the most important truths God has ever shown me.

The Good News is God has the power to restore any addict to sanity, and He freely lets me partake in His power. I believe His promises apply to me too. I have found that the more I submit my will to His, the more peace and sanity I enjoy.

Practical Gifts

While doing my Step 4 inventory, one of my weaknesses that God, my sponsor, and my therapist helped me uncover was self-righteousness.

For me this often takes the following forms:

“I know better than you.”

“I’m the authority on how you should be acting.”

“XYZ makes you not a good person.”

“I’m going to treat you poorly because you don’t deserve better.”

Seeing these destructive and hurtful lines of thinking in my behavior was a painful realization. These are not at all the ideals I aspire to live. Accepting this truth and others about my past behavior is what made Step 4 so difficult and painful. It’s also what makes my Step 4 inventory invaluable to me.

I remember the first time I did Step 4. It was an emotional brain dump of all the mistakes I’ve made, all the pain I’ve inflicted on other people, and all the painful things other people have done to me. It was an immense relief because I no longer had to carry it all inside my head. After I finished my inventory I burned it as a symbol of letting go. I wanted be rid of it and move on.

The problem was I didn’t learn from it. I didn’t identify my weaknesses, sick thinking patterns, and false core beliefs that underlaid all my wrong choices. I learned nothing or very little about myself, and so I wasn’t equipped to do Steps 5, 6, and 7.

Without knowing my weaknesses and the “exact nature of my wrongs,” I couldn’t change. I was the same person, and as my sponsor and the addiction recovery material teach, the same person will always return to the addiction.

Little wonder then why I relapsed nine months later.

(I want to be clear that I believe my sponsor at the time did the best he knew how. He helped me immensely and gave me incredible amounts of his time and energy. I don’t blame him for my not understanding the Steps. I don’t think I was ready at the time.)

This time around, my new sponsor taught me how to identify “the exact nature of my wrongs” from my inventory. I wouldn’t trade my inventory for anything. It’s precious to me! Not because I worked so hard on it but because God used it and still uses it to show me what drives me back to my addiction even though I don’t want to lust.

I slipped the other day. After talking with God, my sponsor, and my therapist, and after reading and pondering Ether 12:27, I read the following from the Sexaholics Anonymous “white book”:

There was nothing left for me to try; there was nowhere else to go and still be in charge, managing my will and life. I see now that in all my religious striving and psychotherapy I was waiting for the miracle to happen first, that I should somehow be zapped or “fixed,” unable ever to fall or be tempted again. I thought that if a person just had the right religious belief, he was automatically “a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That all thought of lust would be removed, much as a tumor would be excised by a surgeon. The “religious solution” was one of the subtlest strategies in my arsenal of denial.

I didn’t realize that the essence of being human is to have free choice. God doesn’t want to remove from me the possibility of falling; he wants me to have the freedom to choose not to fall. I’d been praying self-righteously all along, “Please God, take it away!” not realizing my inner heart was piteously whining, “… so I won’t have to give it up.” There was belief in God without surrender. That belief availed nothing! I had never died to lust.

Sexaholics Anonymous, page 20


I think what I’m learning is that God will eventually replace my weaknesses with His divine nature. But not in an instant; not yet. I need to learn how to choose the right when I am inclined not to. I need to learn to surrender my right to be lustful, impatient, resentful, self-seeking, or self-righteous.

I believe my weaknesses are gifts from God. Without them I would have no need to depend on Him. I would have no opportunity to choose and learn.

I feel grateful for this new understanding He’s given me, and grateful to the people He’s placed in my life who are showing me the way to recovery.

On my Mind

Peace feels precious when I have reason to be afraid and choose peace anyway.

I also feel stressed.

On my mind:

  • moving
  • finding a new place to live
  • ending this stupid lease
  • my health
  • the weight I’m putting on
  • packing
  • the virus
  • do I have enough food?
  • looking forward to having my children for more time than I’m used to
  • feeling stressed about having my children for more time than I’m used to
  • how do I take care of myself when they’re with me?

The Steps teach me to turn to my Higher Power for serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference. They also teach me to get outside my head and talk to people for support.

My sponsor is showing me how to practice those ideas one day at a time. Some things I have power to change but not power to change in one day. Sometimes all I can do today is do one thing to move in the right direction.

For example, I can’t undo in one day the weight I’ve gained during this quarantine. I can exercise today. One action today to change what I can change.

I can’t control the COVID-19 virus. I can’t stop it from infecting me or my family, or stop it from impacting my job, or stop it from affecting the economy. Accept what I cannot change today. I can wash my hands and practice social distancing. And I can pray for the nurses, doctors, and others on the front lines. That’s all. Change what I can today.

I can try to fight reality or I can choose to surrender to it. Very simple. Also very difficult sometimes, but so much easier than fighting.

Fighting against reality drains me. It robs me of my freedom to choose. I become an object to be acted upon.

Choosing to submit to what I cannot control is freedom in action. I become an agent to act. I surrender my will and my false notion of control to God’s will and His all-knowing and all-powerful control. This gives me peace.

I am grateful for these hard times that are giving me the chance to learn and practice these principles.

I pray you and yours are well, all things considered.

When Will I Recover?

I am learning that real recovery exists now—in the present. It cannot exist in any other time.

What good is ten years or ten hours of sobriety if I don’t practice recovery right now?

My recovery means I admit that I cannot fight my lust addiction on my own. Every day, I have to admit this. Every moment Lust tempts me, I must remember that I will invariably lose control if I entertain Lust.

My recovery means I choose to believe God can fight my lust addiction and win, and I choose to surrender my self-will to His will in order to let Him fight for me. I have to willingly do this every day and in every moment I am tempted.

My recovery means I examine my past to learn my weaknesses. But I don’t dwell there. Thanks to the steps and God’s grace, I don’t have to dwell on my past, and I don’t need to distract myself from it with lust and fantasy.

My recovery means I willingly give up all my defects of character because they have me chained to my lust addiction. I must do this every day and every moment I observe my defects. This is critical.

My recovery means I must willingly become someone else, a better me. The same Me will return to selfishness and Lust.

My recovery means I willingly give up my resentment toward people who’ve earned it. It means I forgive and seek forgiveness.

My recovery means I give up my desire to be impatient and ask God to replace it with patience.

My recovery means I cannot hold on to anger and expect to be sober.

My recovery means I cannot try to control Lust. If I want to be sober then I cannot afford to fantasize.

My recovery means I cannot afford to be ungrateful. I cannot afford to covet what I don’t have right now, because that is a form of fantasizing.

My recovery means I am learning to stay in the present. It means I am learning to be grateful for what I have right now.

My recovery means I work the steps today so that tomorrow isn’t too much.

My recovery means I pray for serenity to accept what I cannot change today, courage to change what I can today, and wisdom to know the difference today.

The amazing and exciting thing about my recovery is that the twelve steps work when I work them, not because of me but because of God. They work despite me.

My recovery means I don’t deserve it, and I am learning to accept it anyway.

Healing through Surrender

In my previous post I attempted to share my thoughts on whether I had erroneous expectations for recovery, particularly surrounding relief from pain. Last night I listened to a share and I think he hit the nail on the head!

“I [have] to be patient, because before I wanted [relief from pain] quickly, and it doesn’t happen that way… and what I’ve learned here is that there is pain in recovery, but there is healing when I surrender… I’m thankful for this program because there is healing in my life. I don’t have the fear that I [once had], and I can enjoy life.”

A Sexaholics Anonymous brother in recovery

BULLSEYE!!

I am learning this truth for myself. “There is pain in recovery, but there is healing when I surrender.” What a powerful way to live! It is so much better than the destruction my addiction brings.

I just found this scripture verse while searching for an image to attach to this post:

“For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord …”

Jeremiah 30:17

I’m grateful for the 12 Steps.

Painful Lessons

I’m beginning to believe that pain might be good for me.

I’ve always tried to avoid or reduce pain. Get rid of it. Maybe that’s a futile effort.

I believe life is supposed to be hard and painful because it’s an effective teacher. It gives me opportunity to choose and learn. Until recently though, I hadn’t considered that maybe the pain isn’t always supposed to be soothed right away. What if it’s good for me to feel it?

Over the past year and a half, pain has entered my life in new forms. My former wife chose to divorce me after nearly ten years of marriage. My time with my children was reduced from daily to most weekends. My proximity to family went from two miles to nearly eight hundred miles. Relationships with in-laws changed in an instant, not because we wanted them to but because they had to. People who I thought were my friends ignored me in hallways at church or didn’t return phone calls. I moved to a new home in a new community in a new state. My depression returned in full force and stronger than ever. Thoughts of suicide. Wrecked finances.

Ten years of relationships, dreams, and hard work. All shattered, all because of this thing I call addiction. All because I chose to be selfish and self-medicate.

I miss my children every moment I’m not with them. I miss my old friendships and former family members. I miss my former wife, sometimes more than I can bear. I miss the surges of joy that accompanied tender moments with my spouse and children. I miss looking forward to finishing college and finally having more time with my family in the evenings. I miss being on the verge of financial security and the peace of mind that brings. I miss looking forward to so many things. Missing is painful.

Yesterday the pain of missing was unbearable. I spent nearly eight hours in prayerful meditation, reading, writing, running, and talking to friends, family, and brothers in recovery. At the end of the day, after struggling to find rest, I chose to self-medicate with masturbation. No pornography, thankfully. But still a step backwards.

I can see now that I felt frustrated that the pain wasn’t stopping. Certainly the grace of God lightened my load during the day, otherwise I would have turned to my addiction much sooner. I was alone all day. It would have been easy. But after all was said and done, I wanted the pain to be gone completely, not just lessened. I wanted to be free of it. I was tired of missing my former wife, my children, and my former life.

Of course, acting out only provided temporary and fake relief. Today I feel the pain of missing, along with the pain of acting out.

Life is already painful without any effort from me. I’m learning that some fears and pain don’t require (or deserve) my attention today. They are usually rooted in the future and can wait, so I give them to God because holding on to them leads me to my addiction. Others need my attention now and I can do something about them now, so I do that thing now because putting it off leads me to my addiction. And others, despite my complete inability to change them (such as the hurtful actions of others, or my missing people), demand my attention and consume my focus. Those are the really dangerous ones. They impact my well-being right now, and I am powerless over them.

I’ve learned the core of every one of my fears is the fear of more pain than what I’m experiencing right now. This distracts me from the present, which often looks like damaging, dampening, or delaying my connections with the people around me. It’s sad and tragic because real connection would actually ease the pain.

If I let them, my weaknesses and addiction will have me so wrapped up in self-medication for my pain that I can’t experience any pain at all. Not in the moment, anyway. Not as long as I have my drug of choice. Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it? Seriously! Who wouldn’t want a pain-free life? The Great Lie is that my drug will always work and that putting off pain won’t make things worse, or that “this will be the last time.”

Maybe another great lie is that the pain should go away, even in recovery?

I’m learning to face my pain. I have to get comfortable with it—not by myself but with my God and my support network of friends and fellow addicts seeking recovery. This invariably leads to moments of vulnerability, which gives me a connection with those people. With a real connection I’m able to understand my pain, accept what I cannot do about it, and find courage to do what I can.

Sometimes the pain remains after connecting with people and doing what I can to address it, and I’m beginning to think that’s OK. I don’t like it but I wonder if lingering pain might be normal. Maybe sometimes all I can do is connect with my support people and my God so that the burden becomes bearable. Not removed, but bearable. Then I can move forward with some comfort in believing it won’t last forever.

I have this idea in my mind that recovery will give me a supernatural medical kit filled with an assortment of instant pain relievers. I’ve been approaching recovery with an expectation that when I work the 12 Steps I will learn salves for any and all pain. Missing my former wife? No problem! Just work steps 10 through 12 and the painful missing will stop.

I think this is an erroneous way of thinking and a false concept of what real recovery actually looks like.

Besides, how would that be any different from how I viewed my addiction? I chose my addiction because I wanted instant relief from pain. Why should I expect the same from recovery? Feels off to me. Seems wrong. I think I transferred my expectations and stinking thinking from my addiction to my recovery.

I think perhaps pain is an opportunity. It reminds me what I’ve learned. It gives me a reason to ask for help and connect with my loved ones. I don’t think loving relationships would mean as much if I never needed others the way I do when I’m in pain. In that sense, I think pain gives life to my relationships in a way nothing else can, but only when I choose to turn to those people instead of turning inward for the solution.

The addicted life is one of pain, filled with isolation and despair. Maybe the recovered life is still one of pain, but filled with people, hope, and peace.

Maybe some day I’ll welcome pain. I wonder if this time period will turn out to be my “rock bottom” of pain. I hope so. I think that’s up to me. Today I choose surrender and connection.

Helpful Paradoxes

I read this article recently and read it again just now. Lots of wisdom there, I think. Rings true based on my experience.

Here’s an excerpt:

Your pain isn’t meant to be avoided; it’s meant to show you the truth about yourself.

… The thing you have to accept and make peace with in order to find what you actually want.

If you want love, get comfortable with feelings of abandonment.

If you want power, get comfortable with feelings of helplessness.

If you want abundance, get comfortable with feelings of deprivation.

Because once you accept and learn to exist alongside that big, scary fear that lives inside yourself, you will learn that it was only a façade all along.

Heidi Priebe

Read the full article here.