A New Way of Living

Since my last post I’ve been working Steps 1, 2, and 3 with a sponsor. He’s teaching me how to work the steps thoroughly and completely. I’ve worked all twelve steps before, and doing so gave me nine months of sobriety, but this time I feel I’m receiving sobriety and recovery. I’d like to share a few things I’m learning.

Number one, I cannot do this alone. Absolutely impossible. It’s not a self-help program. As a brother in my Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) group puts it, my “stinking thinking” got me into this mess; it’s not going to get me out. I have to change my way of thinking, my way of life. I can’t do that without my God and I can’t do it without a support network of brothers seeking the same change. For myself, I’ve learned I can’t do it without a sponsor—someone who’s worked the steps and has found recovery and sobriety. The hard-earned wisdom he offers is irreplaceable, and I find myself hungry for it. We talk daily. I talk with my God numerous times daily. I talk with my loved ones daily. I cannot recover sanity without these connections.

I’ve also learned that the last time I worked these steps I left out an essential part that must change: Me. In my first attempt I was trying to remove the compulsion to lust. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, yes, but woefully incomplete. The SA White Book states the following:

“If we are content with ourselves, simply minus the compulsion, there can be no recovery. Recovery is more than mere sobriety.”

Sexaholics Anonymous, p. 87

I’m learning that my character weaknesses need to change. My pride (what I think others think of me), selfishness, impatience, my desire to be right—I cannot keep these defects and be free of my addiction. Character defects are stubborn things (have you ever tried to change who you are before?). I’m not implying that one has to achieve character perfection in order to receive recovery and achieve lasting sobriety. What I’m learning is that I cannot hold on to them like a favorite darling toy and expect to change into the kind of person who can learn a new way of life.

This isn’t a new principle. I’ve heard it my whole life in my Christian upbringing. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me and offer me your whole heart as a sacrifice” (paraphrased). He doesn’t say, “Come unto me and offer me everything except the parts of you that you don’t want to give up yet.” I’m learning that my willingness to surrender my pride, selfishness, impatience, etc. is a necessary prerequisite to freedom from my addiction. Because underneath my addiction is a sick way of thinking and a host of weaknesses which, if I don’t surrender them, will pull me back into my addiction no matter what I do to distance myself from the obsession.

No wonder Step 4 is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, Step 5 is to admit to God, myself, and another person the exact nature of my wrongs, Step 6 is to become ready to have God remove all my defects of character, and Step 7 is to humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings. Ether 12:27, anyone?

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Jesus Christ. Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon.

The last time I worked the 12 Steps and relapsed after nine months of sobriety, I was disheartened to say the least. I questioned whether the Steps would work for me. Turned out I hadn’t worked them correctly. I didn’t understand that a moral inventory (step 4) needed to include learning about myself. I thought it was a way to dump all my trauma, heartache, and regrets onto paper, to get it all out and off my chest so that I could move forward from it all. I think that’s part of it, to be sure. But I missed the part that would help me learn and change.

With this realization regarding my need to give up my character defects, I’ve also learned an incredible and life-altering truth. I’d learned in my first pass through the 12 Steps that I don’t have to whiteknuckle my way to sobriety with sheer willpower and grit. That’s impossible and inevitably leads to failure. Now I’ve learned that the same principle applies to my character weaknesses! I think a real life experience may illustrate this best.

A couple weeks ago my daughters and I were cooped up in our home on a Saturday. It was cold and rainy outside, one of the girls was sick, and I was feeling low after a challenging week. The girls were starting to talk with whiny voices and I could feel my patience waning thin, so I took a second to breathe. That helped. Five minutes later, the whining hadn’t ceased, and I felt my fuse was about to run out, so again I took a second to breathe and relax my muscles. That helped. This repeated for about twenty minutes until I could feel myself about to explode. My willpower was spent. Then I felt the Lord quietly encourage me, and I asked Him to help me because I didn’t want to yell at my children. Instantly I felt relief, the tension lifted, and I was able to enjoy that time with my children. Breathing helps, for sure, but I’m an idiot if I think I can handle life on my own (hey, there’s some of that “stinking thinking” that got me into my addiction!). I need more goodness and more patience than I currently possess, and I cannot obtain those core changes with deep breaths and more oxygen. And that’s OK! God doesn’t expect me to whiteknuckle my way to patience with sheer willpower and grit. Now when I feel impatience growing inside me, I take a deep breath and I say a sincere prayer to offer up my impatience and ask for patience to replace it. That’s tough when I want to be angry, but the result of surrendering my weaknesses makes life so much easier.

Since then I’ve been seeing additional ways to apply this principle of surrender and it really is life-altering. I don’t have to do anything alone. Christ invites me to “look unto [Him] in every thought.” That includes finding a solution to a tough software bug for my employer, navigating precarious situations in important relationships, finding room for medical expenses in a tight budget, figuring out my new role as a non-spouse co-parent, and coping with threats. It includes things I cannot control and choices other people make. I don’t have to carry any of it by myself, and God doesn’t expect me to.

For me a core part of my new way of life is what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

St Francis of Assisi

I feel confident in the 12 Steps of Recovery and in God’s ability to restore me to sanity.

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