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.

Honesty

understand-despair-Savior

 

After two years of attending addiction recovery meetings and nearly fifteen years of wrestling this beast called addiction, I can finally and gratefully admit defeat.

This is Step 1 of the addiction recovery program, originally inspired by the Alcoholics Anonymous’ (“AA”) 12 Steps:

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

I did not want to admit that I am powerless to overcome my addictions and that I can’t control of my life. That concept goes against what I’ve believed all my life. In many ways it contradicts what my culture (including common but not official beliefs within Mormonism) espouses…

Self-reliance. Independence. A strong will can overcome anything. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish. God will never give you more than you can handle. Some accomplishments might take longer than others, but anyone can ultimately achieve the same things with enough time and hard work. You just have to want it badly enough.

I tell you what, breaking free of those beliefs is tough. I’ve struggled vainly to hold on to them. I completely bought into the idea that I can do this, I can overcome my addiction… “keep on trucking, Michael, because you can do this. Just work harder. You’ll figure this out.” I meant well by trying to believe these ideas. I thought I was supposed to.

I am so, so very grateful that God is teaching me to abandon these powerfully appealing false doctrines.

Here’s an excerpt from the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual:

“… the addiction was destroying our lives. When we honestly looked at the past, we admitted that nothing we had tried on our own had worked. We acknowledged how the addiction had only gotten worse. We realized how much our addictions had damaged relationships and robbed us of any sense of worth. At this point, we took the first step toward freedom and recovery by finding the courage to admit that we were not just dealing with a problem or a bad habit. We finally admitted the truth that our lives had become unmanageable and that we needed help to overcome our addictions. The amazing thing about this honest realization of defeat was that recovery finally began (page 1, emphasis added).

I just can’t get enough of those words! An honest realization of my defeat has liberated me from my pride and self will.

Until one month ago I would’ve challenged such notions… “Defeat? Who finds inspiration from admitting defeat? No, I’m strong! I can do this! I just haven’t figured it out yet, but I will!”  I toiled and cried and doubted and clawed my way through my addiction. I white-knuckled with a fierce commitment to sobriety. And I relapsed countless times. Interestingly, I thought I had already completed Step 1, but I hadn’t admitted defeat.

I pleaded and begged for God to help me. And He did help me. He blessed me with debilitating depression. He blessed me to feel and be utterly spent. He blessed me with exhaustion. He loves me so much that He let me break. He let me lose. He blessed me to see that I lost my war on addiction. I was defeated.

Never, not in my entire existence (I honestly feel that I can make this statement) have I ever felt so defeated and beaten as I did one month ago. I didn’t have any strength left. I had nothing left to give. I’ve ran up mountains (literally). I’ve served a full-time mission with every ounce of energy I had in me (I slept for a very long time after returning home). I’ve worked forty hours a week while attending college full-time with a wife and a baby. I’ve been poor enough to worry about how we were going to eat our next meal. I’ve contemplated suicide. But nothing beat me like addiction beat me. This was my very own “rock bottom,” as AA puts it.

In the very moment that I conceded defeat—in the very moment—God was there to lift me up. I didn’t feel a surge of hope or faith that everything would be alright. I only felt love from Him. I felt that despite my complete defeat, He was not condemning me. He was not forsaking me. In my moment of despair, He showed me that He will never stop loving me. That’s when I finally surrendered to my God. Yes, addiction won and I lost. But that didn’t have to be the end of it. No, I have the most powerful and loving Being in the universe on my side, and He’ll never abandon me. I now feel like I know this truth better than I know my own name.

So I’m no longer fighting this battle on my own because I’m no longer fighting according to my plans. I’m no longer struggling to win my way. My way lost. My way led to deeper addiction, more anger, and hardened pride. My will and not Thine be done was my way. “I’ll figure this out, and I’ll ask you for help when I really need it.” I’m leaving all that behind now, and I’ve never felt so free.

Now I work the steps of recovery every day and together with my Lord and Savior we are winning! We are moving forward. I still have rough days. I still have need to repent almost every minute, but I’m no longer losing against my addiction because I’m no longer trying to fight it on my own. I don’t have to win or lose anymore. I just need to learn to trust my Heavenly Father and in His power to deliver me.

And here’s the miracle: He knew that I would lose. He knew that I would desperately need divine help. He knew that I would literally need saving. That’s why He gave me a Savior! That’s why He offered His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice for my sins and fallen nature. He didn’t let His Son die because He thought I was a failure but because He knew I would fail, and He couldn’t let me fail without any hope of recovery. That doesn’t contradict the fact that He thinks the world of me as one of His children—it supports it! It’s the epitome of loving support.

God let His Son, Jesus Christ, die for me because He loves me. And Jesus Christ died for me because He loves me, too. I am that important to God. I am worth the best blood this world has ever seen (I think I heard someone use that expression before, but I can’t find it).

Twenty-seven days ago I went to http://www.arpsupport.org out of desperation. I asked for a sponsor and I got one. I thank my Father in Heaven for leading me to do that. My sponsor helps me to be rigorously honest and not overlook the details. He’s helping me work the steps of recovery thoroughly. He shows me that he cares and doesn’t condemn. He understands what I’m going through and he’s helping me come to know that Jesus Christ understands what I’m going through.

As it turns out, the steps really do work when I work the steps. I need to work them constantly, every day. That simply means I need my Savior constantly, every day. My Higher Power is my only way out of this, and I’m learning to do it His way.

Tonight in a group addiction support meeting I heard the most profound and sincere declaration that I’ve ever heard, and I heard it from a fellow addict in recovery: “Today I know that God loves me.” He was overcome with emotion, as were we all. I’m so grateful God led me to that meeting tonight so that I could learn from my fellow addict brother. I add my testimony to his, that today I know that God loves me. I owe everything to Him. I love Him!

“I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Book of Mormon, Alma 26:11-12).