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.

My Savior vs. My Train

TRAIN_TRACKS

 

 

Matt over at EmbracingPowerlessness.com wrote another great blog post that got the squeaky hamster wheel in my head turning. He shares some hard truths about why we addicts don’t want to get sober. He employs an insightful analogy about the lust train of addiction and the stoic addict who vainly tries to stop it head-on. The Lord has taught me some beautiful principles as I’ve pondered Matt’s words and testimony, and I’d like to share some of them with you.

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times” (Mark Twain).

Continue reading

Seeing people, not objects

I’d like to address something that I once used as an excuse for indulging in my addiction.  It’s an important topic to me, and I have formed very strong opinions on it.  Because I feel so strongly about it, I’m concerned that I’ll come off as “preachy.”  I hope I don’t.  I only mean to convey the truths I’ve learned in a clear, unmistakable manner.

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (the Apostle John, 1 John 2:16).

There was a time in my addiction recovery when I got frustrated and angry with women who dress immodestly.  I thought, “My recovery would be a lot easier if women would cover themselves more.”  Perhaps others have had or heard similar thoughts.  Here are a few that I’ve heard:

“Women (men) should dress modestly because it helps men (women) keep their thoughts clean.”

“It’s not a man’s fault that he has so many sexual urges.  Women are just more virtuous than men.”

“Men naturally think about sex more than women do.  They can’t help it.”

“I couldn’t help looking at her (him) because of what she (he) was wearing.”

“If women (men) would dress more modestly then I wouldn’t have such a hard time controlling my eyes.”

And the list goes on…

Here’s what I’ve learned: These statements are all lies.

Women are not responsible for a man’s thoughts or behaviors.  Men are not responsible for a woman’s thoughts or behaviors.  Women are not inherently more virtuous than or superior to men (and vice versa).  Men are not inherently less virtuous or inferior to women (and vice versa).

I am responsible for my own thoughts and behavior.

I came to learn this after much thought, struggle, prayer, and study.  I think it took me a while to reach these conclusions because their opposites (see the list of lies above) are much easier to believe.  They encouraged and enabled my addictive behavior and thoughts.  Subscribing to them made me a victim.  “It’s not my fault that some women choose to dress that way.  And because I’m a male, it’s so much harder for me to control my thoughts.”

Yes, being in public can sometimes be extremely difficult for me.  Heck, living in this world can be difficult for anyone striving not to be of the world.  Billboards, TV and radio commercials, Internet advertisements, music, movies… one doesn’t have to search long before finding inappropriate sexual material.  In fact, in today’s world, one doesn’t even have to search for it in order to be exposed to it.

Nevertheless, God doesn’t excuse me from seeking to rid my life, mind, and heart of it:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:28).

I also believe that feelings of attraction are not evil.  They’re normal, even good, divinely-designed elements of being human.  But there’s a distinct line between acknowledging attraction towards a person and coveting a person, between observing beauty and entertaining thoughts.

Instead of looking at other people as objects to satisfy one’s lust, I believe that God wants us to look at each other as His children—beings of infinite worth and potential.  There’s a reason lusting after another person isn’t a praiseworthy or shameless thing to do.  There’s a reason one feels uncomfortable or guilty doing it, and even tries to hide it.  Like any other sin, it’s wrong not because God says it’s wrong; it’s wrong because it’s wrong.

Learning to deal with addiction in the moment of temptation has been very difficult for me.  I can’t count the number of times when faced with temptation that my choices have required repentance and re-commitment, only to be almost immediately followed by another choice that requires repentance and re-commitment.  My powerlessness over my addiction can become maddening and disheartening if I’m not in the correct frame of mind.  But I have learned that God doesn’t expect me to face the difficulties of life on my own, and He certainly doesn’t want or require that I face my addiction on my own.  In fact, He wants me to reach out to Him for help.  He wants me to independently choose to depend on Him.  So when I face temptation, I ask Heavenly Father to give me strength against it.  Then I ask Him to take my addiction and give it to His Son to bear, because I am powerless over it.  That’s a part of the definition of addiction: the actual loss of ability to abstain.  (I’d like to write more about that in a separate post, but I felt I needed to include those nuggets of precious truth here.)

One of my sisters shared with me a very well-written article on this topic of seeing a person for who they really are instead of an object of lust.  Some of my thoughts in this post echo those contained in the article, but I think he articulates the principles much better than I do.  I highly recommend reading it.  You can find it here: http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/