Thursday, 14 July 2016

"Normals" vs. Addicts

by Dov (See all authors)

Everyone needs some sort of help to make it in life - even our tzaddikim and gedolim admit that they do. But...

I keep hearing people asking in one way or another, "So how can I finally convince myself that I am really powerless/that I am an addict?"


I do not believe that is how the 12 Steps work. The recovering people I know (myself insluded) do not treat the Program as though it were a 'religion.' We do not believe that it needs to be spread everywhere in order to save everyone who likes sex or porn. We have nothing to say to people who obviously like porn (because they keep using it) but are trying to stop mainly because G-d says it's bad. That's fine, but it is a moral and a religious issue. My addicted friends and I have come to see that if morals and religion were really our true motivation, we would have quit long ago, before we came to 12 steps program! So we do not fool ourselves any more telling ourselves we are in some epic "Torah-struggle for our neshomos."

Along the same lines, unlike Torah, the Program is just our experience, not dogma. And the experience of sober addicts using the 12 steps is also that it is silly for us to try to preach or to convince anyone to do as we do; we can only share and offer (see Tradition 11). This includes not "trying to convince" ourselves, either. And that's important, as I will try to explain in the next paragraph, be"H. Rather than seeing the steps as things we "take," we find that we are really overtaken by them. For they are just natural necessities created by our reality as addicts who are living sober. And the very best example of that is Step 1. It's a thing we are either forced to take by the reality of our lives now, or we generally do not take it at all.

If my perception and my experience are right, this means that Step 1 is just admission of a fact about ourselves rather than an instruction or imperative to me or to anyone. If I am an addict, then acceptance of that is not a thing I need to 'work' on - for I have been working on it all the years I was acting out my lust! The sincere mesiras nefesh with which I held onto and protected my acting out for years and years is not a philosophy, but a fact. Anyone, who knows my entire sexual acting out history and what I do when I act out my lust in its details, can see that lust has always been precious to me and trusted by me in my worst of times, over Hashem and all else. So if I am an addict, the powerlessness is already there for anyone to behold. In this respect, the 1st step is really the simplest step. All the groundwork of Step 1 was already done before we came to recovery. Our contribution to the 12 steps is our addiction behaviors, and all that "taking our 1st Step" really means is finally admitting defeat. The truth about ourselves - though uncomfortable - is OK to face and admit. Hashem knows it. So in Step 1 we are just getting on the same page as the Ribbono shel Olam who knows us quite well, I am sure.

So in light of all that, I ask: if one's own honesty does not prove to him or her that he is indeed ill and needs special care - care that normal drinkers/lusters/sinners clearly do not need - then why should that person be desperate to be 'convinced' of being an addict or working the steps? Why are some people desperate for a thing they do not even believe about themselves? Where is there a mitzva to be an addict?! Of course, it does not exist. Addiction and recovery from it are for sinners who are addicts, not for sinners who are normal. Torah, mussar, and chassidus have lots of good advice for sinners who are not addicts. Let them use it!

So, are you normal? If you cannot figure that out, then get help from a person who can help you do so. 12 step people have ways to help you discover that. But our ways come at the price of honesty and openness which few are willing to actually do. The people not really serious about their lives do not even open up to a therapist - and if they do, they do not really disclose the entire truth! In fact, as we see so often, usually they are only willing to get help behind a username or from a book. Dignity is still just too important to them.

All this kvetching around got me thinking (uh-oh...), and here is a parable I came up with, be"H:

A normal person who insists he is an addict and tries to act like one, is like a sighted person who chooses to go through the day with his eyes closed. Even if he gets really good help to make it through safely, he will not have the Good Life that was meant for him if he were to be honest, brave, and just use his own eyes. Along the way, he will confuse lots of other people who he thinks he must help see they, too, are addicts. I think it's a very sad thing. Sure, there are things all people can learn from the Program, but much does not apply to normals. And unfortunately, the same guys who are desperate to need the 12 Steps themselves, seem the most desperate to convince others to do the very same, whether they are addicts or not. It's a problem.


Being an addict and not admitting it, is like being blind and insisting one can see just as others can. He will trip over things, fall into open pits, and have a rotten time of things because he does not really allow himself to be guided by others. When he does take advice, he struggles to maintain full control of his recovery by "adjusting" it. He remains the master of his destiny. Along the way, he will make the people closest to him miserable, as well. He insists he is normal and needs no special care. No matter how unpleasant his life gets, he will blame his misery on society's pritzus, the Internet, his wife, his parents, and whoever else he can. Often, he does not even realize he is doing all that.

Everyone needs some sort of help to make it through life. Even our gedolim and tzaddikim do. But most people living the double life are not ready to accept that. They insist on their privacy and on fixing themselves without paying the price to get the real help they need.

May Hashem help us all reach out more openly and sooner than we want for help, each person for the thing he is in need of.

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