The First Step Inventory
In 12-step recovery from sex and lust addiction, first step reads: "We admitted we were powerless over lust and our lives had become unmanageable."
The way the first step is practiced is that a newcomer to the program writes down his sexual acting out history and shares it with other safe people. The many benefits or writing and sharing our "first step inventory," as it is commonly called, are to own our story, admit the exact nature of our disease, and see a tangible proof of the unmanageability of our lives that the disease of sexaholism brings in its wake.
Below, you will find a great example of an honest and introspective first step inventory, written by one of GYE members.
We hope that in publishing it, we can inspire others to take an honest look at thmeselves and provide a template for a written first step.
I’m 36 years old and have been struggling with this problem for two decades. B”H, I am on my 13th clean day!
Hashem has given me every possible Bracha that a person can ask for. I have 3 healthy beautiful children and a stable career that provides well for my family. A strong wife with great character. People in the community who know me and respect me. I have the house, the car, I give Tzeddakah. Sadly, though, I don't have what is most important: I'm not close to Hashem.
I have spent years of my life living the proverbial ‘double life.’ On the one hand, striving to learn and daven. I've gone out of my way to help others and have asked for nothing in return. At the same time, I had always figured I was just a weak person. I have never truly considered that my constant acting out could be an addiction. Rather, I thought, I married the wrong person so I wasn’t fulfilled. Or I had a horrible childhood.
As I contemplate my life, my actions, my future and my past, I face the shocking truth that I am addicted to many things. I am also an alcoholic, an over-eater, and addicted to video games. While none of these addictions have reached a point where they have ruined my life (as in ‘destroyed my career and/or relationships’), I am rotting away from the inside.
I am a BT who was raised in a cauldron of emptiness. I attended a ‘progressive’ school in the city, which indoctrinated students in all forms of liberalism. My first exposure to Lust was in fifth grade: when the health class curriculum polluted the impressionable minds with the concept that personal ‘exploration’ is a step in our development. ‘It’s natural and healthy,’ they said. ‘Nothing to be ashamed of.’ I cannot recall precisely how it was conveyed, but our teacher made it clear that avayros were good. Therefore, I ‘explored’ and found a temporary escape from reality. A vivid fantasy world devoid of troubles and anxieties.
Yes, my life was troubled and complicated. Extreme family dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism, infidelity. On multiple occasions I was sent away to live with uncles or family friends for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. Both of my parents had severe personality disorders. A family member had revealed to me recently that my mother (and probably my father) were drug addicts. I can’t recall every horror, every time I felt abandoned or afraid, or every other trouble of my childhood. It’s likely better that way. I can’t change the past, and I would prefer not to rehash and open what may be Pandora’s box.
America’s lust culture only further solidified my addiction. In middle school, there was a preoccupation with girlfriends. We also searched through our fathers’ personal belongings to see if we can find a ‘stash’ of garbage. I remember frequenting my friend’s grandfather’s house to watch pay per-view. No one was home. The cable box was unlocked. We even got caught once. When they called my family... ‘Oh well, boys will be boys.’
High school came. More of the same. Guys sitting around sharing tales about their conquests. Finding our fathers’ garbage, or finding our own garbage. B”H, Internet access was spotty at the time. I didn’t even know I could find it on the web back then. I would fantasize, rate girls on paper. I dated a bit. Lust was one of my addictions, but it never became the sole addiction. B”H, I never got into drugs. It would have surely killed me.
Even when Hashem first called out to me at 17 years old, I still wouldn’t give up my addictions. I met another kid who was becoming BT. He showed me the beauty of Torah and Judaism. I recall that when first becoming frum, telling my girlfriend that she could beat me over the head with a baseball bat if I ever became Shomer Negiah. Shabbos was fine, Kashrus - no problem. But my lusting was off-limits. I figured, if I did some Mitzvahs, I was still 1,000 times better than the people I grew up with. I could pick and choose. How naïve that was.
Then, I went to Israel. In Israel, I began to feel - to know - it was wrong. I stopped for a while, a long while. I fell back when I met some girls in Israel. Israel was hard on me, because I didn’t have television or video games, so I ended up eating. A lot. And purging.
When I returned from Israel, I went to a Yeshiva. However, I soon found a non-religious girlfriend. I don’t think it was only about lust. I did care for her. I needed a co-dependent relationship. Based on my family dynamic growing up, I always needed to be close with women. Even in my addiction, my fantasies, it’s never just about the lust, it was about being wanted. Even all of my closest relationships growing up were with women. Getting girls was woven into the fabric of my self-worth. Unfortunately, it still may be, but I want to change that about myself.
I tried to stop, and sometimes would have streaks of a week or two. But never more than that. For me, acting out is an escape from stress, anxiety, from the pains of life. It began as an escape from my dysfunctional family. Now, it is an escape from my own dysfunction.
Eventually, in my 4th year after returning to an American Yeshiva, I broke up with my not-frum girlfriend, and put together a streak, which must have lasted 3-4 months. I recall that I had just started to feel like I was finding myself, understanding Judaism. I wanted to be clean, I wanted to be holy, I realized the errors of my perspective and ways. I desperately wanted to be a good person, close to Hashem. I started shidduch dating, and was quickly set up with my wife. Nice girl, stable family, pretty, cool and self-confident. Marrying her was objectively a slam-dunk, especially with my background. Dating was going fine. Then we slipped. It opened up a path that I didn’t want to go down. I recall thinking that it didn’t seem right. I wanted to be frum, and relative to my past girlfriends, this girl was frum. She wasn’t a wild girl by any stretch. For a short period of time, I had suppressed my drive. Once we slipped, though, our dating life became a mess. Break up, get back, break up, get back. All the while, I was in Yeshiva. I never told my Rebbe: I was ashamed, he was busy. He thought I was such a great kid. After all, I never missed a minyan, and I could learn. He even tried helping to ‘resolve’ our dating issues. We broke up for about 6 months. I ‘shidduch dated’ two other girls, and acted out with both of them. I was falling on a daily basis. We got back together, and all the way up until our wedding we’ve been acting out. I thought marriage would be a second chance. Once it was mutar, and I could have two weeks to satisfy my desires, it would be enough to quench my thirst. But, the more you feed it, the more you need it. I am married 14 years now, and I don’t think I have ever had a 90 day streak.
Throughout graduate school and post-grad, I continued acting out, on a daily basis. It became ingrained into who I was. I recall sitting in the library downloading video after video when I should have been studying. I recall flirting with and building fantasies with my classmates. I had my first child in graduate school.
Acting out continued into my career. I started a 3-month-long affair with someone I had met at work. I would stay out late, thought about her all the time. Fantasized, acted out when I was with her and without her. I had two kids at the time! When it was over, I felt like I went too far. I still remember the fear of testing myself for STDs because I felt I needed to. I felt like I was no longer a Jew. Yes, I was shomer Shabbos and shomer kashrus, but I was cheating on my wife! Because of my profession, I can always stay out late for an ‘emergency.’ I hated my wife, and although she does not know about the affair, she acknowledges that there was something different about me during that period. She remembers hating me, and not even wanting me to touch her during that time. We broke up the affair in the summer, and I started listening to Torah classes on the way to and from work. I thought I did Teshuva. I cried. A lot. I have even seen that girl from work on social occasions again, and did not slip. I even went on an almost 3 months’ streak during Elul/Yom Kippur time. But I fell again in the winter. Met another girl, had another 5-months’ affair. I felt like I was being torn apart. Late nights at the girlfriend’s, waking up early with my young children to feed them breakfast. Trying to teach my kids how to live, when I didn’t know how to myself. My wife never caught me, but I think she knew something wasn’t right. Finally, I ended this affair.
Recently, I started to see another woman, who gave me an existential crisis. She was a young single mother. It got so bad, acting out every day. I never was ‘with’ her, but we would text each other constantly. I would call her, speak with her, text her, and use that as food for a fantasy. I began texting on Shabbos a few months ago, then stopped. She called it off, and we have not seen each other for a few months. I started using the internet more and more but felt like I needed to act out in person again. The internet was never enough for me. I didn’t have time to commit to another ‘relationship’ or affair, so I started looking for other possibilities. It was in looking for those possibilities that I felt like I stumbled on urges which could have led to terrible places. I almost considered leaving my wife and my family. My life almost slipped away.
I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but somehow, around Pesach time, I heard a lecture about freedom from addiction, and this led me to GYE. Freedom, true Chayrus, will hopefully come over time. I’m still raw. I’m a simple Jew from a horrible background that is trying to improve himself. I know I have a lot of inner turmoil. I know I have imperfect middos, and I have to recreate my entire self.
I am powerlessness over lust. Alone, I don’t stand a chance. Hashem is all that can save me. Please Hashem, save me! Please bring me back to you with pure Teshuva. I want to love my wife. I want to improve my marriage. I want to be a better person. A better father. I feel like GYE, getting my lust under control, is the first step. I hope that once I go long enough without slipping up and looking at terrible things, that I can finally see my wife with fresh beauty. The way I saw her when I first went out with her.
I am still on the first step, contemplating it, internalizing it. I am addicted to lust. It turns me into a monster. In this respect, it is unmanageable. The moment I am throwing away eternity for an escape into fantasy land, I am living an unmanageable life. Can it get better? Please, Hashem!