Who’s Guy Fawkes?

Sunset over Gettysburg, PA

I just read something from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions which spoke directly to my thoughts and feelings of late.

I’ve been pondering my Steps 6 and 7. I think I’m beginning to understand the idea that they’re not one-time steps but a new way of living.

I struggle immensely with pride and righteous indignation. I want to be right and I want others to know it, especially when I think they’re wrong. Not a healthy way of living.

As a part of letting go of this weakness I decided to stop engaging in political topics on social media. A few weeks after that I realized I was still reading such posts in order to stoke contention and feed pride in my heart, so I took a long break from social media entirely. It’s been helpful.

Lately I’ve noticed an increased awareness of my motivations. I can see myself wanting to do things for reasons that would boost my ego. For example, yesterday I was talking with some friends and one of them mentioned Guy Fawkes. I couldn’t recall anything about him, and I distinctly had the thought, “Don’t reveal you don’t know who that is; they will think less of you.” For a moment I obeyed. Then I realized my reason for staying silent—pride—and decided to act against it. I asked, “Who’s Guy Fawkes?” and they told me. We continued our fun conversation.

Observing this tendency I have for self-aggrandizement and making decisions based on what I think others will admire has opened my eyes a bit. I didn’t realize how frequently I allow these motivations to drive my decisions. I’ve been surprised to discover it in my choice of clothing, my reasons for exercising, the discussions I engage in, the comments I make, the opinions I form, and the way I treat other people.

I think it’s normal and even healthy to want to feel accepted and to want the approval of the people I love. I’m not arguing against that. How I go about seeking love is what’s important to me, and I believe my motivations shape my behavior for better or worse.

So anyway, back to the words I read just now, written by Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous:

As we approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it might be well if we [addicts] inquire once more just what our deeper objectives are. Each of us would like to live at peace with himself and with his fellows. We would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We have seen that character defects based upon shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that block our path toward these objectives. We now clearly see that we have been making unreasonable demands upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God.

The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands. The difference between a demand and a request is plain to anyone.

The Seventh Step is where we make the change in our attitude which permits us, with humility as our guide, to move out from ourselves toward others and toward God. The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility. It is really saying to us that we now ought to be willing to try humility in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings just as we did when we admitted that we were powerless over [our addiction], and came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. If that degree of humility could enable us to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession could be banished, then there must be hope of the same result respecting any other problem we could possibly have.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 76

This reminds me, as so many writings from Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous do, of the words of Jesus Christ:

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.

The Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27

P.S. Did you know in England they celebrate Fawkes’ failed attempt to kill Parliament and the King, whereas in Australia they celebrate the attempt and honor Fawkes? Both nations have these celebrations on 5 November with bonfires and fireworks, but obviously for different reasons. Might have something to do with England using Australia as a penal colony. Interesting!

I can handle Legos

LEGO Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley

Recently I’ve focused my recovery reading on the first of the Twelve Steps of addiction recovery: “Admit that I am powerless over [my addiction] and that my life has become unmanageable.” My addiction is sexual lust.

The idea that a person can have zero power over something is still a tough one for me to grasp, and yet my life to this point has demonstrated that I am one of those people.

The word “powerless” is an interesting one in this context. It means “without ability, influence, or power.” Its synonyms include impotent, helpless, ineffectual, ineffective, useless, defenseless. Defenseless catches my eye.

On my own I am defenseless against sexual lust. My own efforts to withstand it are ineffective and useless. I cannot simply “change what’s playing on my brain’s stage,” or distract myself with a good book. That’s not enough anymore. Even remembering my loved ones is insufficient. These things, while helpful in any other struggle in my life, are ineffectual when it comes time for me to do battle with sexual lust.

In most areas of my life I am disciplined. I know how to set a line and not cross it even when I want to cross it. I know how to set and keep limits.

For example, I really enjoy creating new things with Legos. I have enjoyed it since I was a child. Legos cost a pretty penny though, so I can’t always purchase them when I want to. If I did I’d have monster credit card debt! I know how to plan a budget and stick to it, even when that Lego set I’d really like to have goes on sale. When it goes on sale, I stick to my budget. “It’ll just have to wait,” I tell myself. I feel tempted, to be sure; and I don’t have a perfect record. But I can say No without waking up in the middle of the night with a sudden overwhelming urge to make the purchase.

Here’s another example. My dad taught my siblings and me how to work hard at a young age. I started getting small summer jobs when I was twelve so I could pay for the Legos and video games I wanted. When I was fifteen I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. I was also in high school, marching band, Boy Scouts, and a number of other extracurriculars. But I wanted money to pay for the things I wanted. My parents taught me self-discipline and I exercised it often and well for the most part. Fast forward twenty years and I served an honorable two-year service mission for my church, I have a solid career in software engineering, I’ve completed a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and I work hard to teach and train my children. All thanks to God, without a doubt! It wouldn’t have happened, however, had I not worked hard, delayed gratification, and followed God’s and my parents’ counsel.

Put me in a room alone with a smartphone and an Internet connection and I have discipline up until the moment something catches my eye. At that point something changes. At that point I no longer have self-discipline. If I don’t reach out for help, I will inevitably succumb.

Doesn’t sound right, does it? The idea that a person can have self control one moment and zero control the next. Seems like an all or nothing sort of deal, or so I’ve thought. Either a person has the moral fortitude and practice to Just Say No, or they haven’t learned that skill yet. Or maybe they don’t want to Say No, not badly enough. Maybe they could Just Stop if they really wanted to.

I cannot recall how many limits and ultimate plans I’ve made to keep myself safe from sexual lust. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve drawn a line and genuinely pledged to my loved ones, myself, and my God, and said, “no further,” only to find myself across the line days later, wondering how I got there. Those moments are bewildering and frightening.

“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.”

Jesus Christ, Ether 12:27

According to Jesus, there are some things we cannot do on our own.

I’m not talking about staring down a plate of warm cookies (unless you face a food addiction). I’m not talking about the self awareness to walk out of the kitchen to escape the scent of those cookies. I’m talking about a prison wherein one is unable to escape the pull on their own, when one’s brain stops functioning inside the frontal lobe where reason and decisions are made and instead shifts into autopilot.

Do you know what that’s like? Do you know what it’s like to know deep inside your heart and gut that what you’re doing or about to do is wrong and harmful to yourself and others, and you want to stop with all your being, but you don’t know how? Have you ever felt that kind of fear, the kind that surfaces when you know you need to stop because your job, marriage, or life depends on it, but you can’t? Have you ever wanted so badly to stop your behavior without knowing how that suicide seems like the only way out?

I know what that’s like.

Today I understand that even though my willpower is insufficient when it comes to sexual lust, the fact is I still have agency and options because I know a Being who has more power than me. My Higher Power is my only way out, and often I lean on my brothers in recovery to help me stay close to Him in moments when I feel the pull to start walking paths which I know from experience I cannot safely navigate.

I’m certain I wasn’t always powerless over sexual lust. I give myself plenty of credit for creating my addiction. I also give my Higher Power some credit because He gave me this weakness so that I would “learn to be humble.” He knew the choices I would make in this life. That’s also one reason why He died for me. Because of Him, I don’t have to remain a slave to my addiction.

I thought about quoting medical science publications and general conference talks to support what I’m saying. Those helped convince me, to be sure. If you’re interested in those then I recommend Dr. Hilton’s book, “He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” He quotes both kinds of sources.

“I can do this on my own” is the most effective lie Satan has ever told me.

“I cannot do this on my own” is one of the most important truths God has ever shown me.

The Good News is God has the power to restore any addict to sanity, and He freely lets me partake in His power. I believe His promises apply to me too. I have found that the more I submit my will to His, the more peace and sanity I enjoy.

Practical Gifts

While doing my Step 4 inventory, one of my weaknesses that God, my sponsor, and my therapist helped me uncover was self-righteousness.

For me this often takes the following forms:

“I know better than you.”

“I’m the authority on how you should be acting.”

“XYZ makes you not a good person.”

“I’m going to treat you poorly because you don’t deserve better.”

Seeing these destructive and hurtful lines of thinking in my behavior was a painful realization. These are not at all the ideals I aspire to live. Accepting this truth and others about my past behavior is what made Step 4 so difficult and painful. It’s also what makes my Step 4 inventory invaluable to me.

I remember the first time I did Step 4. It was an emotional brain dump of all the mistakes I’ve made, all the pain I’ve inflicted on other people, and all the painful things other people have done to me. It was an immense relief because I no longer had to carry it all inside my head. After I finished my inventory I burned it as a symbol of letting go. I wanted be rid of it and move on.

The problem was I didn’t learn from it. I didn’t identify my weaknesses, sick thinking patterns, and false core beliefs that underlaid all my wrong choices. I learned nothing or very little about myself, and so I wasn’t equipped to do Steps 5, 6, and 7.

Without knowing my weaknesses and the “exact nature of my wrongs,” I couldn’t change. I was the same person, and as my sponsor and the addiction recovery material teach, the same person will always return to the addiction.

Little wonder then why I relapsed nine months later.

(I want to be clear that I believe my sponsor at the time did the best he knew how. He helped me immensely and gave me incredible amounts of his time and energy. I don’t blame him for my not understanding the Steps. I don’t think I was ready at the time.)

This time around, my new sponsor taught me how to identify “the exact nature of my wrongs” from my inventory. I wouldn’t trade my inventory for anything. It’s precious to me! Not because I worked so hard on it but because God used it and still uses it to show me what drives me back to my addiction even though I don’t want to lust.

I slipped the other day. After talking with God, my sponsor, and my therapist, and after reading and pondering Ether 12:27, I read the following from the Sexaholics Anonymous “white book”:

There was nothing left for me to try; there was nowhere else to go and still be in charge, managing my will and life. I see now that in all my religious striving and psychotherapy I was waiting for the miracle to happen first, that I should somehow be zapped or “fixed,” unable ever to fall or be tempted again. I thought that if a person just had the right religious belief, he was automatically “a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That all thought of lust would be removed, much as a tumor would be excised by a surgeon. The “religious solution” was one of the subtlest strategies in my arsenal of denial.

I didn’t realize that the essence of being human is to have free choice. God doesn’t want to remove from me the possibility of falling; he wants me to have the freedom to choose not to fall. I’d been praying self-righteously all along, “Please God, take it away!” not realizing my inner heart was piteously whining, “… so I won’t have to give it up.” There was belief in God without surrender. That belief availed nothing! I had never died to lust.

Sexaholics Anonymous, page 20


I think what I’m learning is that God will eventually replace my weaknesses with His divine nature. But not in an instant; not yet. I need to learn how to choose the right when I am inclined not to. I need to learn to surrender my right to be lustful, impatient, resentful, self-seeking, or self-righteous.

I believe my weaknesses are gifts from God. Without them I would have no need to depend on Him. I would have no opportunity to choose and learn.

I feel grateful for this new understanding He’s given me, and grateful to the people He’s placed in my life who are showing me the way to recovery.

A New Way of Living

Since my last post I’ve been working Steps 1, 2, and 3 with a sponsor. He’s teaching me how to work the steps thoroughly and completely. I’ve worked all twelve steps before, and doing so gave me nine months of sobriety, but this time I feel I’m receiving sobriety and recovery. I’d like to share a few things I’m learning.

Number one, I cannot do this alone. Absolutely impossible. It’s not a self-help program. As a brother in my Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) group puts it, my “stinking thinking” got me into this mess; it’s not going to get me out. I have to change my way of thinking, my way of life. I can’t do that without my God and I can’t do it without a support network of brothers seeking the same change. For myself, I’ve learned I can’t do it without a sponsor—someone who’s worked the steps and has found recovery and sobriety. The hard-earned wisdom he offers is irreplaceable, and I find myself hungry for it. We talk daily. I talk with my God numerous times daily. I talk with my loved ones daily. I cannot recover sanity without these connections.

I’ve also learned that the last time I worked these steps I left out an essential part that must change: Me. In my first attempt I was trying to remove the compulsion to lust. I’ve learned that’s a good thing, yes, but woefully incomplete. The SA White Book states the following:

“If we are content with ourselves, simply minus the compulsion, there can be no recovery. Recovery is more than mere sobriety.”

Sexaholics Anonymous, p. 87

I’m learning that my character weaknesses need to change. My pride (what I think others think of me), selfishness, impatience, my desire to be right—I cannot keep these defects and be free of my addiction. Character defects are stubborn things (have you ever tried to change who you are before?). I’m not implying that one has to achieve character perfection in order to receive recovery and achieve lasting sobriety. What I’m learning is that I cannot hold on to them like a favorite darling toy and expect to change into the kind of person who can learn a new way of life.

This isn’t a new principle. I’ve heard it my whole life in my Christian upbringing. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me and offer me your whole heart as a sacrifice” (paraphrased). He doesn’t say, “Come unto me and offer me everything except the parts of you that you don’t want to give up yet.” I’m learning that my willingness to surrender my pride, selfishness, impatience, etc. is a necessary prerequisite to freedom from my addiction. Because underneath my addiction is a sick way of thinking and a host of weaknesses which, if I don’t surrender them, will pull me back into my addiction no matter what I do to distance myself from the obsession.

No wonder Step 4 is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself, Step 5 is to admit to God, myself, and another person the exact nature of my wrongs, Step 6 is to become ready to have God remove all my defects of character, and Step 7 is to humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings. Ether 12:27, anyone?

“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.”

Jesus Christ. Ether 12:27, Book of Mormon.

The last time I worked the 12 Steps and relapsed after nine months of sobriety, I was disheartened to say the least. I questioned whether the Steps would work for me. Turned out I hadn’t worked them correctly. I didn’t understand that a moral inventory (step 4) needed to include learning about myself. I thought it was a way to dump all my trauma, heartache, and regrets onto paper, to get it all out and off my chest so that I could move forward from it all. I think that’s part of it, to be sure. But I missed the part that would help me learn and change.

With this realization regarding my need to give up my character defects, I’ve also learned an incredible and life-altering truth. I’d learned in my first pass through the 12 Steps that I don’t have to whiteknuckle my way to sobriety with sheer willpower and grit. That’s impossible and inevitably leads to failure. Now I’ve learned that the same principle applies to my character weaknesses! I think a real life experience may illustrate this best.

A couple weeks ago my daughters and I were cooped up in our home on a Saturday. It was cold and rainy outside, one of the girls was sick, and I was feeling low after a challenging week. The girls were starting to talk with whiny voices and I could feel my patience waning thin, so I took a second to breathe. That helped. Five minutes later, the whining hadn’t ceased, and I felt my fuse was about to run out, so again I took a second to breathe and relax my muscles. That helped. This repeated for about twenty minutes until I could feel myself about to explode. My willpower was spent. Then I felt the Lord quietly encourage me, and I asked Him to help me because I didn’t want to yell at my children. Instantly I felt relief, the tension lifted, and I was able to enjoy that time with my children. Breathing helps, for sure, but I’m an idiot if I think I can handle life on my own (hey, there’s some of that “stinking thinking” that got me into my addiction!). I need more goodness and more patience than I currently possess, and I cannot obtain those core changes with deep breaths and more oxygen. And that’s OK! God doesn’t expect me to whiteknuckle my way to patience with sheer willpower and grit. Now when I feel impatience growing inside me, I take a deep breath and I say a sincere prayer to offer up my impatience and ask for patience to replace it. That’s tough when I want to be angry, but the result of surrendering my weaknesses makes life so much easier.

Since then I’ve been seeing additional ways to apply this principle of surrender and it really is life-altering. I don’t have to do anything alone. Christ invites me to “look unto [Him] in every thought.” That includes finding a solution to a tough software bug for my employer, navigating precarious situations in important relationships, finding room for medical expenses in a tight budget, figuring out my new role as a non-spouse co-parent, and coping with threats. It includes things I cannot control and choices other people make. I don’t have to carry any of it by myself, and God doesn’t expect me to.

For me a core part of my new way of life is what’s known as the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

St Francis of Assisi

I feel confident in the 12 Steps of Recovery and in God’s ability to restore me to sanity.

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.