Recovery vs. Teshuvah

by Dov (See all authors)

It is important that we differentiate between recovery work and “Teshuvah”, otherwise we are implying that addiction is essentially sinning, which is a Pandora's box, of sorts.

I insist that addiction and recovery are Derech Eretz issues rather than Torah ones, and that they therefore can become the basis for Torah and Teshuvah but not one and the same. In the same vein, I insist that the issue with drinking for the alcoholic or acting out sexual lust for the sexaholic is a matter that Chaza"l would call sakanta, not issura. Of course, "sakanta chamira m'isura." This distinction is very important to me, for it helps so many guys break free of some of the twisted, convoluted thinking that is rampant in the case of a frum addict.

A certain Chassidishe Rov has sent around a letter that forbids SA completely for any Jew. He calls it 'Daas Torah' and is absolutely paskening for some men who are currently participating in GYE's Yiddish forum this way. He is adamant that anything related to 12 steps is goyishe and assur, and that Torah and sforim (and he) can heal all sex/lust addicts just fine.

It was - and is - in light of such things (a gift from my own suffering in that area) that I have always been careful to separate Torah and recovery, clarifying the Derech Eretz and sakanta aspects for confused frummies.

Please bear with me. If I could add two basic perspectives I keep referring to the new (frum) guys, they would be:

1- The story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai near the end of his life, blessing his talmidim that they should take Hashem as seriously as they take any person who sees them - then telling the surprised (and disappointed) talmidim that they most-probably do not take Hashem nearly as seriously as they take any goy watching them... a sobering thought! Mind you, these were not the 'sweathogs' of RYb"Z's yeshiva. Presumably they were normal tanno'im in training. Now, what is the eizov in the wall going to do, here? What about us? Where does our awareness and relationship with G-d stand?

For normal Yidden, who struggle with this, it's one thing. But we, who have been leading double lives and concealing the lion's share of our inner lives from everyone around us - and especially from those closest to us - what can we do to be real with G-d.

The answer that the 12 steps gives me to that problem is one simple thing: Learn to be real with other real people. And that will, of course, take some time and practice. It's obviously not natural for me. Working my steps 1, 5, 9 and 10 the way we do them in SA are great ways to practice just that. But even just walking into a meeting without a bag on my head is also a big little step toward being real! Even more, joining a society of other addicts and allowing myself to be a part of, rather than apart from - that's a big step. And, as the AA's tell us, sharing in meetings regularly, doing service work, and having a real sponsor, are all giant steps in that direction, too. For many, these are indispensable steps. And, with time, along with getting the keilim to start being real with G-d, we gain another thing we had never really had: We learn to be real with ourselves. The self-deception decreases as the result of opening up with other people - not the other way around. It's quite counter-intuitive. But it works just fine this funny way, for recovering people the world over.

2- Most people, whether they are frum-from-birth or ba'alei Teshuvah, became really serious about spirituality in some way, at a certain age. For many, this is between ages 11-19. I ask guys what they think that age was for them. Perhaps it was when they decided to really start learning hard, or when they got serious about davening, or when spiritual issues first became really serious to them and their struggle with the ideas and their families or peers began? OK. All that is quite normal.

Then I ask them when they started struggling with lust, etc. Often, the times for both overlap quite neatly. But even when they do not, the point is this: It is quite likely that in many cases our sexual/lust problems developed in tandem with our religiosity. They may likely have even fed off one another (see the “Nuclear Reset Button” post, where I wrote about the teshuva merry-go-round and how the deep excitement of the Teshuva cycle creates a need for religious highs that only a deep yerida can provide). Some of us even became hyper-religious, fastidious, simultaneous with our most embarrassing and confusing struggles with our bodies and schmutz. Perhaps in some cases we were trying to stay 'sh'kulim,' or excuse our behavior by doing great things. Some people who are in kiruv find this to be true and do some of their best work helping others while acting out most terribly. We saw that phenomenon in the case of some Catholic priests, as we know. This issue is instructive for the person writing their 1st step history, because it can help put things into the Big Picture perspective for them sometimes.