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.

2 thoughts on “Recovery is Not About Self Control

  1. These cravings you talk about are what psychologists and pshrinks call compulsions. The rule of thumb is that all addictions have compulsions, but not all compulsions are addictions. When the compulsion hits, it is only a matter of time before you give in and no matter how much you pray for help, it seems that help is not forthcoming. There’s a reason for that. Compulsions such as you and all other behavioral addicts have are the overwhelming feelings and desires of evil spirits that they impose on/in you. The strength of the feelings and desires – the difference between temptation without compulsions and temptation with compulsions comes down to the type of influence you are being subjected to, i.e., external or internal.

    The word “influence” is very interesting and had different connotations when it was used by Joseph Smith. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines influence as, “Literally, a flowing in, into or on, and referring to substances spiritual or too subtil to be visible, like inspiration. Hence the word was formerly followed by into… It is not followed by on or with.”
    “1. In a general sense, influence denotes power whose operation is invisible and known only by its effects, or a power whose cause and operation are unseen.”

    “Influence” is an invisible spiritual power that is “flowing” into you. When the Holy Ghost confirms truth to you and gives you understanding, this is done Spirit to spirit after one of his representatives enters you when you give Him permission; this is how He influences you, how He testifies to you. His ability to enter and communicate Spirit to spirit is why what He tells you lasts forever. You give your permission by the way you live your life and by requesting answers from God. Satan knows a good method of influence when he sees it and he does the exact same thing. Several of his minions watches and waits for you to give them permission through committing sin and then they pounce. They possess you, which is most often transient, but at some point, when we continue in sin, we reach a point where that possession becomes permanent.

    We are taught in the temple that Satan will possess the bodies of Adams posterity. Pres. Harold B. Lee said that Satan’s second main purpose is to possess the bodies of men (The Teachings Of Harold B. Lee, p 370. There is a secondary, but still important reason for his possessing people. Pres. John Taylor said that Satan “has frequently sought to occupy [the bodies] of man, in order that he might yet possess greater power…” (The Government Of God, p 33). One greater power he gets through possession is that the power of his influence increases exponentially to the point where it is almost irresistible.

    The compulsions – the influence – you are futilely fighting are coming from within you. When you have them coming from within you, self-control is impossible. Get rid of the internal influence and everything you are striving for become possible. Once the unwanted passengers are gone, you have a fighting chance at a full and complete recovery. You won’t be IN recovery, you will be recovered.

    The problem that you have is, first, disbelieving the world and your secular education and believe in the teachings of the Gospel. Possession by evil spirits is the doctrine of the Church and casting them out is mentioned or referenced 58 times in the scriptures. It is one of the main themes that run throughout the doctrinal book, “Jesus the Christ.” The Bible Dictionary says, “Since the devil and his premortal angels have no physical body of flesh and bones, they often seek to possess the bodies of mortal beings. There are many such instances recorded in scripture (Matt. 9:32; 12:22; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 8:30; Acts 19:15; see also Mosiah 3:6). Such can be evicted by the power of faith in Jesus Christ and the exercise of the holy priesthood. Jesus gave this power to His disciples (Matt. 10:1; Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 5:16; D&C 84:67).” In D&C 24:13 it says, “Require not miracles, except I shall command you, except” and there are four exceptions. Exception number one is “casting out devils.”

    You must first believe and then exercise faith and then you can win this battle once and for all. How many years have you been unsuccessfully fighting this? It doesn’t seem like what you are doing is working. Perhaps it is time to try something that does works. It worked for me. Once the evil spirits were cast out, I was finally able to resist and exert self-control. I was finally able to apply the Atoning Sacrifice of the Savior.

    I can help you. Email me at



    1. Hi, Scott. Thank you for sharing and for your continued support. I appreciate your comments and am grateful for your thoughts. I have wondered now and then about Satan’s role in my addiction.

      There’s a part in the Sexaholics Anonymous book where a brother shares how he overcame his obsession with lust. He says, “There are certain times when I’ve felt like I was walking through a lust minefield, with charges going off all around me. It was so unusually severe and persistent, that I’ve wondered if I were under some kind of attack. At such times I have taken the extreme measure of casting it out vocally as though it were a foreign evil presence. Not in my own power or authority, but in the power and authority of my Higher Power. I don’t claim to understand this, and I don’t make a big deal about it, but it has worked for me when I seemed otherwise totally at the mercy of what was going on. In ensuing years, I’ve heard other members share similar experiences” (pg. 166).

      I too have had similar experiences, as well as more striking ones. I don’t doubt your experience. I also don’t doubt the experience of thousands of AA, NA, SA, and other addiction recovery group members who haven’t specifically exercised faith in the casting out of devils and yet enjoy a Spirit-filled life of recovery, service, and freedom from obsession. For that reason, I don’t think recovery has to be the same for everyone in order for it to be true recovery.

      I strongly believe all recovery comes only by following God’s will; specifically, faith in God, repentance, and a willingness to forsake all sin. Some people call those things The Twelve Steps. I cannot deny the spiritual power and progress I’ve received by following those steps, so they cannot be secular ideas of man (not sure if you were suggesting they are). I am certainly open to learning more. I’ll send you an email. Thanks again for your support!


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