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.

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.

One Powerful Step

I admitted I am powerless over lust and that my life has become unmanageable. (Step 1, Sexaholics Anonymous.)

Years ago I worked this step as a married man, desperate to save my relationship with my wife. This time I worked this step as a divorced man, ready to admit I have no control over lust and that my choices have led to a life I cannot manage on my own. Feels very different this time. I feel that I’m owning it more.

The last time I worked this step I had the guidance of a good man serving me as my sponsor. I’m working with a different sponsor this time, and his guidance has proven just as indispensable.

I’ve tried working these steps on my own without a sponsor. Every time I’ve failed. The only times I’ve felt real recovery and enjoyed real sobriety is when working closely with someone who’s successfully worked the steps and is still working them daily. I don’t believe there is any other way to do this. Not for me, anyway.

It makes sense, I think, that I would need a guide. By working the Twelve Steps I admit I am powerless, that my life has become unmanageable, and that I am practicing insanity to some degree (Step 2: “came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity”). I used to believe Jesus could be my guide. Certainly He can and I do ask Him to guide me. Now I believe that He often guides and helps me through other people.

For Step 1 my sponsor invited me to make a list, an autobiography of sorts, to document every thing and every way in which my addiction has made my life unmanageable. The purpose is to help me work Step 1 in my heart as well as in my head.

It was effective! I wrote down everything I could remember—every attempt to abstain and every relapse that followed (or at least the periods of time in which that cycle perpetuated given I cannot recall the thousands of individual attempts and relapses). I wrote down every relationship my addiction killed or damaged, every person I harmed with my selfish behavior. I noted my progress and and my failures over the years. Escalations in pornography content and new behaviors that evolved when the old ones no longer provided the same high.

Writing and reflecting made me sad to see how much time and effort I’ve spent trying to manage my life as an addict. I’ve learned a lot to be sure, but I’m still addicted. I’m still stuck in this. Clearly I cannot do this on my own. I am literally powerless over lust.

I write that last sentence and immediately recognize how foreign a concept it must be to those who have never been an addict or loved one up close. It made no sense to me for years and I’m still learning what it means (obviously, given I’m on Step 1). “Why don’t you just stop? If you wanted xyz enough, you would just stop.” I remember thinking those words to myself many times. The solution can be that simple when addiction isn’t the problem. There are myriad self-help books for changing behavior and habits. I’ve read dozens of them, all very helpful. I’ve also read a handful of books on addiction and I am telling you they are not the same beast! Telling or expecting an addict to “just stop” is as helpful as telling or expecting a sick person to just stop feeling nauseated. I have to remind myself this often, because I still speak unproductive words to myself from time to time.

I need spiritual healing, yes. But studying scripture, praying, repenting for a relapse, and confessing to my bishop is not enough.

I need physical health, true. But exercising, eating healthy, and having a healthy sex life with my spouse is not enough (also, the latter being an option I’m no longer willing to include in my life now that I’m divorced).

I need emotional intelligence and mental health, absolutely. But meditating, therapy, communicating, learning to cope healthily with life’s challenges aren’t enough.

I need to recover myself from an addiction. It’s literally an enslavement. I’m learning that my recovery requires a very specific, well-defined, and proven program fueled by connection to God and fellow addicts seeking recovery. So far I’ve found more success in working these twelve steps than I have found in any other idea or program, and I’ve tried many.

Reading my Step 1 to my sponsor today felt good. We talked about my history after I finished reading it. He shared his experience in working his Step 1. Felt good to feel understood. When he left I felt a burden lifted, but different from what I feel after confessing sin to my bishop. This wasn’t a confession but a shared understanding. He knows exactly what I’ve done and what I’m doing now because he’s done it too. I know he knows it, and he knows that I know. There’s power in that, which cannot be overstated and which I am struggling to describe.

Now I’m working Step 2. I still have a gnawing fear that the twelve steps won’t work for me. But I’m choosing to believe it can.

Moving forward!

Writing this blog helps me reaffirm what I’m learning, so thank you for reading.

Journal Entry: 10 July 2014

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

My friend invited me to speak to a group of young men at church today about pornography. I didn’t feel ashamed to do it. I wanted to warn those boys. I want them to see what pornography can do to a man and his family. It gives Satan power to destroy everything.

I read to them from my journal. Felt like the best way to capture what addiction was like for me when I was still deep in its clutches. I hope it helps them in some way.

The journal entry was titled, “Days Sober: 155”. I read it now and I feel a deep sorrow for that man. I know his pain and I remember it well. I’m still working toward lasting recovery, but oh what gratitude fills me when I see I am no longer that man! How far my choices and my God have brought me! Since then I have lost my marriage. But by the grace of God I am not broken beyond repair. I still have His support, and I have a strong network of friends and fellow brothers in recovery. And I am progressing. I am not alone.

Here’s the entry:

I’m not sure what I’m feeling. I’ve been feeling it for the past few days. It’s like I’m in the addiction again, but I haven’t acted out.¬†

No, I have been acting out. I’ve been a dry drunk. Taking drinks mentally. I’ve been lusting and fantasizing, sometimes without restraint. I’ve been entertaining thoughts of adultery.

What the hell?!?!?! What is wrong with me?! 

I’m still sick. I’m still addicted. I feel more free than ever before but I’m still tethered to this.¬†

I’m so tired of being addicted. I want to be free. I want to be free once and for all. I want to be healed. I feel so very tired.

I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to pretend that I’m okay. Well, part of me does.¬†

Is this too much to ask? Why am I not free yet? Why do I have to go through this? Why the hell did I ever choose to indulge in pornography? Why did I do all that stupid crap as a teenager? kissing, dancing, necking, petting, sex… WHY. WHY DIDN’T I JUST FREAKING LISTEN. WHY DID I THINK I COULD SIN AND BE HAPPY?

I wish I could go back. I wish I could say no. I wish I had listened. I would have listened. If I had known then what I know now, I would have listened. 

Today I feel tired. I feel sad and depressed. I want to be angry. I want to feel angry and mad at everyone. I just want to blame everyone else for my problems. I want to focus on their weaknesses and mistakes and rage over them. I like feeling angry. It burns off whatever crappy emotions build up inside of me. 

I think I could run. That might help.

I know I need to turn to Heavenly Father with a willing heart. I’ve been turning to Him but not willingly. I think those prayers helped though. I think they were a cry for help when I didn’t want to be helped. And I think Father in Heaven heard me.

I want to feel close to my wife again. I want to feel confident about life. I want to be filled with hope for my future, even if only for tomorrow. I want to look forward to it all. I want to think about my life and not feel overwhelmed and heavy. 

I feel tired. I’m sorry for all I’ve done. I’m sorry for my selfishness.¬†

What can I do? How do I deal with stress and loneliness? How do I handle feeling inadequate and ashamed?

God, please help me! Please. Please, I need Thee. I need help.

A good thing that happened today: God softened my heart so that I would repent for leaving Isla in her bedroom tonight before bed. I got impatient and frustrated with her so I left her in her bedroom with the light off and the fan running. She was sitting on the floor trying to change into different pajamas. I felt a prompting to go back to her and apologize but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be angry. After a while she started crying. I ran up to her bedroom as fast as I could. I turned on her light, knelt down in front of her, and pulled her close to me. I’m so, so sorry for leaving her like that. She said, “You leaved me, Daddy. You leaved me here.”

I want to be done with this. I want it so badly! I want to be a good father and husband. I want to love my dear ones the way they need and deserve. I love them so much and so often I don’t treat them accordingly.

Please forgive me, Father. Please have mercy on me and change me so that my daughter and wife will have the man they need. I’m sorry.

Free Delivery and No Hidden Fees

I have so much to share but little time right now. Suffice it to say I am working the 12 steps and enjoying freedom from my addiction! I also finally accepted my divorce and am experiencing rapid healing and growth now that I’ve let God back in. It’s truly amazing and a miracle.

I just read this and want to share it:

But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.

Mosiah 29:20, The Book of Mormon

He is mighty to save, and all that is required is my surrender and trust. No gotchas, no fine print, no legal jargon, no hidden fees. No fees at all! His salvation is free, and only He can give it. I am grateful!