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.