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

I pray I never forget to wave my white flag

This video speaks for itself. I remember watching it for the first time almost one year ago. My heart ached. I remember lamenting, “I want to stop more than anything. Why can’t I stop?! What’s wrong with me?”

I just watched the video again. Instead of heartache I feel gratitude for my God’s mercy and grace. I know I was lost and He found me.

I noticed something at the end of the video that I didn’t catch before and that a friend in recovery mentioned in a group meeting a few weeks ago. The video references a website: combatingpornography.org. If you go to that website you’ll notice that it redirects you to overcomingpornography.org.

I agree with my recovery brother. This is significant! It has made all the difference in my recovery—ALL the difference.

When I fight against my addiction I lose. I will always lose. I’m addicted! I literally don’t have the ability to stop myself from acting out. (If you disagree, I invite you to prayerfully reconsider and learn more about addiction from both church leaders—A.K.A. prophets and apostles—and empirical evidence.)

I remember acknowledging my addiction without admitting defeat. This led me to countless oaths and relapses. I thought I was going insane. I think I was! I thought I had to fight it out and win, but I couldn’t.

The irony of an addict fighting addiction.

I think Satan uses my desire to be free against me. I’m certain he does when I let him. It goes something like this:

Me: “I can do this!”

Satan: “No, you can’t.” <— ** Truth mixed with lies! Deception alert! **

Me: “Yes, I can! I won’t give up.”

Satan: “You can’t do it. You’ll never beat this.” <— ** Deception alert! **

The truth is I can’t, but here’s the part that the devil leaves out: I can’t on my own; I can with God!

Of course, Satan doesn’t want me to think about calling upon God when I feel discouraged. He would rather I focus on my inner drive and make this fight my own. Of course he would! So long as he can keep me fighting solo, he knows he’ll win. I know from personal experience that he’ll win unless I call upon my God for grace in times of need, even and especially when I don’t think I deserve it.

So I’m an advocate of waving my white flag when temptation or cravings hit. Oh, it definitely wounds my pride… thankfully! It goes something like this:

“Father in Heaven, I acknowledge that part of me wants to indulge. I can’t do this on my own. I’m powerless. Please give me grace to overcome this. Please save me!”

Then I ask Him what He wants me to do, and I do it. Sometimes He asks me to call a recovery friend. Other times He asks me to apologize and make amends to my wife for the dumb thing I said earlier that day. The specifics vary, but trusting Him always works.

I like to think of waving my white flag as a three-step process.

(1) I admit my powerlessness.

(2) I plead to my God for grace and to know what to do.

(3) I do it.

My white flag comes in handy for more problems than just triggers or cravings. I also wave it when I feel overwhelmed, stressed, or lonely. I can even wave it when I’m stuck on a homework problem. I’m still learning to wave it when I feel inadequate or angry, but I’m learning.

Waving my white flag by admitting my powerlessness, praying to my God, and obeying His will lets Him fight my battles for me. I’ve found that He is eager to do this! He did it for the Israelites countless times in the Old Testament. Why wouldn’t He do the same for me?

The truth is, He already did.

I see no shame in admitting defeat, not when I immediately and sincerely reach out to God. This has become the foundation of my recovery.

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NT, Holy Bible).