I’ve been working on Steps 8 and 9 recently, which include forgiving others and seeking forgiveness for all the wrongs I’ve done throughout my addiction. It’s been very difficult for me… much more difficult than I had anticipated. Working these steps and recalling so many painful memories has directed my thoughts towards a question that I think both addicts seeking recovery and their loved ones have contemplated at least once: “How could an honest addict ever relapse?”
I can only share what I’ve learned and am learning, so I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I think there’s more to this question than what I’m about to discuss; but I think the following still merits consideration. It’s helped me, at least.
This is from an article written by the folks over at the Sexual Recovery Institute. It’s titled, “Sex Addiction: An Imperfect Path to Recovery“:
“While recovering alcoholics do the work to avoid taking a drink, and recovering drug addicts do the work to avoid using their substance of choice, the work a sex addict must do is different and possibly more complicated. [Sex] is a part of our lives simply by virtue of being human….
Working with oneself around sexual feelings, urges, and triggers is an important part of recovery and may well take a lifetime. In fact, it is not unheard of for people to continue to have patterns of addiction even after libido diminishes or sexual function fails; the root of sexual addiction is almost never about sex…” (emphasis added).
The article contains a few incongruities with the gospel of Jesus Christ (which I attempted to filter from the above excerpt), but I like the key points it makes. I think this sentence especially deserves attention: “…the root of sexual addiction is almost never about sex.”
From what I’ve learned about addiction, the aforementioned principle applies to any type of addiction. “The root of eating addiction/disorders is almost never about food.” “The root of drug addiction is almost never about drugs.” “The root of alcohol addiction is almost never about alcohol.”
The LDS Addiction Recovery Guide shares the following insight:
“Your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are actually the roots of your addictive behaviors. Unless you examine all your tendencies toward fear, pride, resentment, anger, self-will, and self-pity, your abstinence will be shaky at best. You will continue with your original addiction or switch to another one. Your addiction is a symptom of other ’causes and conditions’ (Alcoholics Anonymous , 64)” (Step 4, p. 21, emphasis added).
What are the “causes and conditions” that hide behind addiction? I think they vary and depend on the addict. No two persons’ lives are the same, and neither are their challenges or weaknesses. For myself (based on what I’ve learned so far), my weaknesses of anger, lust, self-will, fear of rejection and abandonment, a warped sense of self-worth, and a genuine craving for acceptance and love all combined to make me a prime candidate for sexual addiction. To be honest with myself, my past decisions to view pornography and indulge in inappropriate physical relationships also led to my addiction.
But why did I ever attempt to use pornography to numb my ill thought patterns, nurse my depression and anguish, or distract myself from misguided beliefs about myself and others? Why would anyone ever think to use alcohol or drugs or sex to self-medicate in order to handle life’s real problems and pains?
My experience has been this: My recovery from addiction began when I started working the 12 Steps. Why? Because the 12 Steps help me discover, examine, and cope with my real problems… the ones that lurk underneath my addictive thoughts and behaviors; and most importantly, they help me do so while wholly relying on a Power greater than myself. Those real problems—my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs—were conceived in the fog of sin, the despair of depression, and the pains of a mortal life impacted by imperfect people, including myself.
Facing these underlying problems is painful for me. It involves digging up memories that I purposefully buried with my addiction. It involves recalling hurts and pain and horrible experiences that I would much rather try to forget with distance and distraction. I can only speak for myself, but I think this is one reason why recovery can be so difficult for an addict, and why an addict who is honestly seeking recovery can still be susceptible to temptation and prone to relapsing. It’s not that the addict isn’t sincere. It’s not that the addict doesn’t want it badly enough, or hasn’t considered the consequences, or isn’t trying hard enough. It’s because recovery is painful. It can be a grueling, bitter, even traumatic process, and it isn’t the same for every addict. That’s why I’m learning that I simply cannot do it alone. I am incapable, in fact. I need my “Higher Power,” to quote the original AA 12 Steps. I need my Savior, Jesus Christ.
Being an addict in recovery also has its rewards. Today I’m more free of my addiction than I’ve ever been. I can feel it. I enjoy life more. I feel more. I have better relationships with my wife, my daughter, and my God. I understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ better. And the scriptures! I feel like they were written just for me… just for an addict seeking recovery and salvation from addiction. Thanks to my Heavenly Father and His Son, I now have hope.
Jesus Christ himself explains and promises:
“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” (Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon).