I feel grateful to God for giving me everyone and everything I need to be sober today. By the grace of my Higher Power I have nearly fifteen months of sobriety from my drug of choice: pornography.
I want people to know that working the 12 Steps works!
When I was younger I served as a missionary. My mission president and his wife often said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is true. It’s true because it works!” I love that testimony, and I share it with them.
I have also learned for myself that the 12 Steps of addiction recovery are true. They are true because they work!
This witness I’ve received continues to grow. I still have work to do to distance myself from my addiction. I’m learning to rely on my Higher Power in everything.
For a long time I wondered and doubted whether the 12 Steps were true, or if they could work for me. I tried for years to work them. I had bursts of success and failure. I felt like I might never recover. Strangers and friends at recovery meetings kept saying, “Don’t give up. Keep coming back.” I’m so glad I chose to keep going to those meetings. Finding a sponsor I connected with was a game changer for me. He taught me how to work the 12 Steps. I would not be sober and in recovery today without working all the Steps with my sponsor and God.
“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.
If you’d like to learn more about the 12 Steps, I encourage you to read the book Alcoholics Anonymous and find a meeting (phone or in person) you can attend for free. If you struggle with pornography or sex like I do, there are also books and groups for Sexaholics Anonymous. You’re welcome to contact me with any questions.
I just read something from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions which spoke directly to my thoughts and feelings of late.
I’ve been pondering my Steps 6 and 7. I think I’m beginning to understand the idea that they’re not one-time steps but a new way of living.
I struggle immensely with pride and righteous indignation. I want to be right and I want others to know it, especially when I think they’re wrong. Not a healthy way of living.
As a part of letting go of this weakness I decided to stop engaging in political topics on social media. A few weeks after that I realized I was still reading such posts in order to stoke contention and feed pride in my heart, so I took a long break from social media entirely. It’s been helpful.
Lately I’ve noticed an increased awareness of my motivations. I can see myself wanting to do things for reasons that would boost my ego. For example, yesterday I was talking with some friends and one of them mentioned Guy Fawkes. I couldn’t recall anything about him, and I distinctly had the thought, “Don’t reveal you don’t know who that is; they will think less of you.” For a moment I obeyed. Then I realized my reason for staying silent—pride—and decided to act against it. I asked, “Who’s Guy Fawkes?” and they told me. We continued our fun conversation.
Observing this tendency I have for self-aggrandizement and making decisions based on what I think others will admire has opened my eyes a bit. I didn’t realize how frequently I allow these motivations to drive my decisions. I’ve been surprised to discover it in my choice of clothing, my reasons for exercising, the discussions I engage in, the comments I make, the opinions I form, and the way I treat other people.
I think it’s normal and even healthy to want to feel accepted and to want the approval of the people I love. I’m not arguing against that. How I go about seeking love is what’s important to me, and I believe my motivations shape my behavior for better or worse.
So anyway, back to the words I read just now, written by Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous:
As we approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it might be well if we [addicts] inquire once more just what our deeper objectives are. Each of us would like to live at peace with himself and with his fellows. We would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We have seen that character defects based upon shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that block our path toward these objectives. We now clearly see that we have been making unreasonable demands upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God.
The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands. The difference between a demand and a request is plain to anyone.
The Seventh Step is where we make the change in our attitude which permits us, with humility as our guide, to move out from ourselves toward others and toward God. The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility. It is really saying to us that we now ought to be willing to try humility in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings just as we did when we admitted that we were powerless over [our addiction], and came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. If that degree of humility could enable us to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession could be banished, then there must be hope of the same result respecting any other problem we could possibly have.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 76
This reminds me, as so many writings from Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous do, of the words of Jesus Christ:
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.
The Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27
P.S. Did you know in England they celebrate Fawkes’ failure to kill Parliament and the King, whereas in Australia they celebrate the attempt and honor Fawkes? Both nations have these celebrations on 5 November with bonfires and fireworks, but obviously for different reasons. Might have something to do with England using Australia as a penal colony. Interesting!
The August 31 page of a Sexaholics Anonymous book titled The Real Connection:
Victory Over Lust Is The Key
True sobriety includes victory over lust (SA 202).
For me, awareness of lust is the key. I lust for sex, food, possessions, knowledge, admiring glances, honor, or anything that promises to me feel better about myself. While each of these lust objects may bring temporary pleasure, none provides long-term satisfaction. In my addiction, I was never satisfied because none of these objects could make me feel good about myself. As long as I felt badly about myself—who I am, how I look, and what I have done—then serenity always eluded me.
Lust is about wanting, but never really getting.
Addiction is about taking, but never really having.
Love is about caring, never possessing.
Taking the actions of love by caring about the wellbeing of my fellow sexaholics and giving of myself in service to the Fellowship—that is what satisfies.
Higher Power, help me find in You what I sought in lust.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Peace feels precious when I have reason to be afraid and choose peace anyway.
I also feel stressed.
On my mind:
finding a new place to live
ending this stupid lease
the weight I’m putting on
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.
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.
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
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 …”