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.

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.

Porn stars feel the pain too

“I couldn’t feel anymore. See, for me, I had to go to work… to do the porn… so that I could buy the drugs… to bury the pain… of doing the porn.

So I’d go to work…

…to do the porn…

…so I could buy the drugs…

…to bury the pain…

…and around, and around it went.

…I wanted so bad to get off that merry-go-round.”

Lasting Connections Kill my Cravings

My past sponsor shared this article with me. The writer apparently knows addicts and grew up around addiction, so I think he relates well to those who have also been affected by it.

The author insightfully concludes—and I paraphrase—that addicts respond positively to love and social engagement, not ultimatums and threats of cutting off contact. As I consider my reasons (i.e. triggers) for seeking out pornography, I find that the writer’s insights are true.

(Please note that I don’t think a spouse’s or significant other’s consideration to end a relationship equivalent to motivation by fear. I feel that spouses of addicts always have the truthful right to end harmful relationships when necessary. They certainly aren’t obligated to remain victims of abuse, lies, and the other results of addiction.)

The most powerful antidote to my addiction has been Love. Not just a periodic, “I love you, Michael! You can do this!” but more particularly, acts of love. Learning to see and properly interpret the genuine expressions of love from people in my life has been surprisingly challenging for me, but it’s also changing everything for me!

I find that the more I focus on building relationships, the less I obsess with destructive thoughts and behavior. Restoring and creating meaningful relationships fills my heart. Its effects are real and lasting, not counterfeit like pornography’s.

It’s interesting to me… I’m learning that I crave my addiction when I’m actually craving an emotional connection. Pornography simply cannot provide that.

Of course, this is easier understood when I’m not experiencing withdrawal or intense emotional pain. For this reason I find it helpful to proactively engage in building sincere friendships and familial relationships. And in the moment of crisis, a simple phone call does wonders.

Click here to read the aforementioned article.

It isn’t a Sin to be Weak!

The following questions–among numerous others–have been bouncing around in my head for the past few years:

Should I feel bad for my weaknesses?

Do my weaknesses influence my worthiness?

This weakness isn’t going away. Is something wrong with me?

Why hasn’t the Lord made my weakness a strength yet?

The Lord has been answering these questions piece by piece through wonderful people He’s placed in my life. Today He gave me another piece.

My wife shared this article with me. It is so good! I’m saving it. I can’t stop reading it! I hope it helps and uplifts you, too.

Fishing Hooks and False Comforts

Fishing Hook

“When a trout rising to a fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him.

“In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.”

Karl A. Menninger

My dog died this week. I miss her already. I saw her twice in the last five years since moving to Utah, but both times she recognized and welcomed me home with the excitement and affection that only a dog can offer. I remember sitting at home feeling depressed years ago and she plopped herself on my lap and licked my face way too many times. She always made me feel loved. I miss her.

Her death pains me, and not surprisingly the devil swiftly reminded me of the best pain killer I know. Man, I really don’t like that guy. I’m grateful to the Lord for giving me real comfort without price.

My addictions are too much for me. It’s so easy for me to get lost in a frenzied attempt to free myself, not only from addiction but also from the cares of life. I forget so easily that I have a Savior, the Son of God, whom my Father in Heaven sent to rescue me from and console me through all of this.

I feel that I lack adequate language to describe what it’s like to be hooked. Satan would have me feel alone, but I choose to place my trust in my God instead. Tomorrow I resolve to do the same.

My Maladaptive Strategies

tree_roots

At their root, “all addictions are maladaptive coping strategies,” says Professor Butler. Children who have not learned how to deal with guilt, shame, sorrow, or pain will often turn to addictive behaviors to numb their negative emotions. Even less serious emotions such as stress, boredom, or loneliness can lead to addictive behaviors if the child doesn’t understand how to cope.

Parents can help their children develop healthy coping strategies by modeling that behavior themselves. The following questions may help you evaluate your own coping strategies: When you are stressed, tired, or in despair, do you isolate yourself? Do you rely on entertainment to escape your problems instead of addressing them? Do you demonstrate that the healthiest way to solve problems is to rely on Heavenly Father, the Savior, and your relationships with others?

Children must learn to recognize the signs of spiritual wounds such as grief, guilt, and pain so they can turn their pain into learning experiences. Emotional pain is not bad.

Healing Hidden Wounds, September 2014, lds.org

“By the Light of Grace”

Click here to get a free copy of “By the Light of Grace.” I just ordered one for myself and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The author’s name is Sidreis. She shares her personal experiences as an LDS woman in recovery from a sexual addiction. Her blog posts (bythelightofgrace.com) have helped me through many a despair and doldrum. In fact, reading her blog inspired me to start my own.

Her book is free for today.  Kindle only, but Amazon has a free Kindle reader app for any device out there.

Michael