12-Step Workshop With Harvey
I had the unique opportunity to join a 12-Step workshop with Harvey, one of the founders of SA (Sexaholics Anonymous)... He's sober for 26 years from a raging sex addiction that was completely out of control. Harvey is Jewish and semi-religious (he puts on teffilin every day) but he said that he definitely believes in miracles, because splitting the Yam Suf was "easy pickin" compared to G-d getting him sober :-)
I took some notes from the talks, and I'd like to share some of the wisdom that I heard from him. Here are some of the things he said:
The 12-Step Program
The 12-Step program is (le'havdil) sort of like Torah she'bichtav and Torah sheba'al peh. The 'bichtav" part of it is the Big book of AA and the White Book of SA (which is a supplement to the Big Book geared towards lust addiction). The "Ba'al Peh" part of it, are the things my sponsors shared with me, and I, in turn, share with my sponsees - and with you here today. Many things we do in the program are based on the oral traditions. They are passed down from sponsor to sponsee.
The program is there to protect me from me. I'm an important person to protect. G-d loves me.
One of my sponsors in AA told me that if they'd invent a pill that would cure alcoholism, he wouldn't take it. Why? Because then he might think he doesn't need the program. You see, Alcoholism, Sexoholism, etc... all these "ISM's" stand for "I", "Self" and "Me". A pill might stop the acting out, but it won't stop the insanity. Addicts think only about themselves.
There's no such thing as "technical sobriety". I'm either sober or I'm not. And I need to make my own bottom-line boundaries. If I walk in to a porno store, then even if I don't look at anything, I've just lost my 26 years of sobriety. If I walk into a locker room in a health-spa, I've lost my sobriety. If I have sex with my wife twice in one day, I've lost it. Because it means I am using her. Each person has to define their own boundaries. If we know that certain places or behaviors lead us to act out, then we have to make those places or behaviors our bottom line sobriety (meaning that breaking any one of those boundaries means losing our sobriety).
We can't do the first step before we believe "The Doctor's Opinion", and that's why it comes first in the Big Book. The Doctor's opinion says that this is a physical allergy accompanied by a mental obsession.
If we don't believe we have an allergy, how can we be powerless? If it's just a sin, well, we know right and wrong. If I'm a bad person who needs to get good, I'm not powerless. However, if I'm a sick person trying to get well, I'm powerless and can be helped by a power greater than myself.
What makes it a physical disease? There are four chemicals in our brain that are related to addiction: Endorphins - which are like a natural narcotic, Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine. These chemicals are released through the acting out, and they ingrain addictive pathways in our minds. Patrick Carnes says it takes a full year of not acting out before the brain can begin rewiring healthy pathways. It can take sometimes many years for things that used to be triggers to stop being triggers, and for us to stop noticing everything around us as we used to.
(The program helps us learn what to do about our mental obsession, not about the physical disease.)
We don't necessarily get "drunk" once we're acting out already. Once we decide to open the computer and view porn, we're already "drunk". By the time we get to the porn or mast*, the dopamine in our brains is already being released. Dopamine is a memory-reward chemical that causes us to remember only the good parts of what we did last time. It blocks out the smells, money wasted, time wasted, trouble we caused, etc. from our memory...
It's never enough. In addictions, the dosage needs to get bigger and bigger for us to get the same effect. And that's why it's a progressive disease. In the early days of SA, one of our members had a relapse and began erotic phone calls with a woman. He ended up going down to her house, and when he discovered that she was an old lady, he cut her heart out (murdered her). He was in prison for the rest of his life. This disease is deadly. I have gotten calls from frantic women whose husbands just hung themselves. It will kill us if we don't make recovery our #1 priority.
Even though we are called "sexaholics", we are not powerless over sex. We are powerless over lust. When I'm with my wife, I can't allow any fantasies into my head if I want to remain sober. But if I don't have any fantasies, I can't be sure it will work. So before relations, I say the 3rd step prayer and give it over to G-d. If it works, it works, and if not, not. And all throughout relations, I am talking to G-d. I feel him in my body, flowing through me.
I don't have the powerful climaxes that I used to. I hardly feel it sometimes. But that's Ok. Because if I go up a mountain, I'm going to have to come down. But if I start calm and end calm, I am there for my wife afterward as well, instead of turning around and going to sleep.
One Day at a Time
If you need the bathroom badly while you're driving and you see a sign that says "1 Mile to Rest Stop", you'll be able to hold back. But if you see a sign that says "15 Miles to Rest Stop", you'd better get out of the car and do it on the side before you have an accident in your pants. Sobriety works the same way. With the help of the group, we don't act out even if our tush falls off - just for 24 hours.
This is not will-power. It's the opposite of will-power. When we get the thought of acting out, we admit our powerlessness. We know we can't do it ourselves, so we pick up the phone and make a call to a fellow member and tell them the truth about what we want to do: "I want to see porn", or "I want to do so and so". But we do this BEFORE we act out, not AFTER.