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Dealing with Stress

How do I keep stress from causing me to act out?

GYE Corp. Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rashkebahag asks on the forum:

I find that people under stress are very prone to this addiction. They use it as an escape. I am under stress in many areas of my life. I used to think that maybe the stress is a divine punishment for my bad habit, but now that I am genuinely keeping away, the stressful situations don't let up, they only seem to be getting worse. Any suggestions or comments?


Dov Replies:

Dear Rashkebehag,

Suggestions or comments? Yes, the 12 steps. (See Tool 14 & 15 of the GYE Handbook). Working the steps is to learn tools for life, not for a one-time experience. The fact that nothing about "drinking" (or the addiction) is even mentioned in steps 2 through 12, makes it obvious that the purpose of the steps is not just to get us sober but to keep us sober. I believe, as do many who I know, that the lusting/drinking/gambling/whatevering is a symptom of a problem, not the main problem. That means, that if we have enough stress in life, we, as addicts, will escape to our "drug". Plain and simple.

Steps 4 through 11 (of the 12-Steps) are about learning how to maintain comfort with our life and with those around us. If we don't, an addict is very, very likely to eventually act out, no matter how great a Tzaddik he may be. This is what being an "addict", not a "Rasha", means to me.

What set me apart and helped me see/accept my illness for what it was, was the realization that no matter how hard I try, or how good I get, I will eventually act out. Guaranteed. Once a person admits this, it becomes possible (for one who does not wish to give up and lose everything and/or die) to finally find Hashem. But I mean really find Him, not just know He is there. And to use Him like we use everything else, to literally survive.

That has been my first hand, honest experience. No crystal ball or judgementalism, I promise. If it's too heavy, please forgive me.


London Replies:

Dear Rashkebehag,

I relate very much to what you wrote about stress, and to Dov's reply as well. I also use my addiction/obsession as means of escaping. I do not like facing difficult/painful situations and I use addictive behaviors to "medicate". This shows me that my addiction is not the problem, but there is something underneath that I am running away from.

You write that "now that I am genuinely keeping away, the stressful situations don't let up, they only seem to be getting worse". From my experience, sobriety is the foundation. Once I am sober, I can begin to deal with whatever I have been running from. As Dov so rightly stated, the first step (of the 12-Steps) is the only step that mentions the addiction by name. The rest of the steps are about learning to live right and think right.

On a practical level, I did therapy for stress management. I used to get to work in the morning and within a few minutes become so overwhelmed with what I needed to do, that I would go into addict mode. And the same would happen in my personal life. The 12-steps and therapy have shown me how to prioritize.

The Serenity prayer has helped me as well: "Hashem grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

One of the most helpful readings for me when I am in stressful situations, is the passage in "Acceptance" from the Big Book:

"Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation--some fact of my life--unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes".

Reading your post and reminding myself of the tools, is a powerful message for myself on how to live life on life's terms - without acting out.


To read the story from the Big Book from where London took the above quote (highly recommended) click here.

I also happened upon an article in the news today with various ideas about how to deal with stress. Check it out here (read till the bottom for many good ideas).