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.

No, I’m not simply guilt-ridden or lacking willpower

LEAVE THE CHAINS

“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will.” Elder Russell M. Nelson (1)

 

Yesterday I started reading Patrick Carnes’ Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. He’s amassed decades of clinical and empirical research. His insights are helpful.

I frequently face the temptation to get caught up in self-pity while going through recovery. It often sounds like this: “No one understands me. I’m alone. They don’t understand how hard this is. They’re judging me. They don’t want to understand.”

In the interest of combating my own self-pity and attempting to address my feelings of loneliness in a world that commonly advocates sexual exploration with concern only for the inherent physical health risks, and in a Christian culture that often lacks understanding concerning the slavery of addiction, I’d like to share something.

I hope I’m not appeasing my own self-pity by doing so. I think this is a sincere and honest attempt to bring awareness and tell the little red Loneliness devil sitting on my shoulder to can it and go away. If this is, however, a moment of weakness, then please forgive me and enjoy Mr. Carnes’ insights nonetheless.

“To view sexual addicts as people who are simply guilt-ridden because of sexual behavior is to completely misunderstand the nature of the addiction. This viewpoint assumes that addicts need to be more free and enjoy sexuality and that they feel bad because of unhelpful scruples and misinformation. An example is masturbation, which is now generally accepted as a developmental phase and a natural expression of personal sexuality. For the man who masturbates so often that he has at times severely injured his penis, it is no longer just a question of accepting his desire to masturbate. His masturbation is seriously affecting his life and bringing harmful consequences to his body.

“Sexual addicts feel the pain and consequences. They recognize the personal emptiness. If they are lucky, they may have some sense of the exploitation and harm to others. They wrestle daily with the fear of discovery of their compulsivity…

“… Were [one] to experience periods in which he repeated the behavior frequently with damaging results, he clearly would have an addictive pattern. Many addicts describe their experiences as episodic—that is, they occur in periodic binges that have severe consequences to their work, relationships, and self-esteem. Between binges, they may experience extended periods with no problems. Being able to stop for a period of time provides the illusion of control, which makes it more difficult for the addict to acknowledge that there is a problem. As years pass, however, a pattern of bingeing reveals an unmistakable addiction. For some addicts, the bingeing becomes so frequent that the behavior is almost constant.”

Carnes, Patrick J. (2009-06-21). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

(1) in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7.

Video

“Don’t You Quit”

As an addict I watch this video and I can’t help but think of the frustration and despair that accompanies relapse, especially while sincerely striving to abstain.

If you’re not an addict or if you’re an addict who doesn’t know this yet, please know that I’m talking precisely about a lack of willpower. By definition, addicts don’t have willpower sufficient to stop ourselves from acting out.

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