To Remember is to Appreciate

Understanding the important distinction between holding on to the past and learning from the past.

obormottel Tuesday, 08 December 2015

A member wrote to Dov:

I'd love to say that things are great, and I'm on a long clean streak but that wouldn't be true. Today, however, I'm doing well, and isn't that the only thing that counts?

Dov Responds:

Our limitations and abilities are not determinedby the past - but remembering our track records is a precious, precious gift from Hashem... if we know how to use it to help us. It's a pity to waste all that pain - it must teach us some truth about ourselves.

My experience teaches me that when I take that familiar chizuk we hear: "Forget the past - it is irrelevant! Start anew!" we soon fall flat on our faces all over again.

Member responds:

My past is indeed relevant inasmuch as it leads me to the determination that my past life and actions are intolerable. Other than that, I don't see any positive in dwelling on the past. Is that ignoring it? Rabeinu Yonah advises a person to start fresh, so that advice that you are discounting has real basis.

Dov Responds:

True, there is no benefit at all to dwelling on the past, and I do not advocate that, chaver. Learning from it and letting it go is what works for us, it seems. The people, who I referred to, who say, "Start fresh anew! So you acted out yesterday and every week before that, so? Hayad Hashem tiktzor?! Sheva yipol Tzadik v'kom! Just get up and keep walking forward!"... are not coming from Rabbeinu Yonah, at all. They are on fantasy land - and they misuse Torah-true ideas that they'd never in a million years apply to their (financial) businesses!

Learning from it and letting it go is not done in the heart just because we 'feel really guilty about it', or something. It takes real work. Twelve step groups have a tradition of addicts writing out their personal drinking or sexually acting out history in detail - and sharing it openly with another safe, recovering addict in order to make it real to themselves. Addicts need to learn self-honesty... it is not natural for us. We lie to ourselves most of the time when we end up acting out all over again after swearing off; we lie k'seider for years with g'neivas da'as to everone around us by acting kosher when we are far from it; we lie by hiding behind usernames and never sharing the truth about our real acting out problems with anybody, calling it 'honesty' and 'recovery'. We need work in order to learn the precious skill of self-honesty. What better way than to start being open with other safe people who know all our little games - i.e., addicts?

Pretending that Hashem will help us and take it away from us - even though we are taking no real actions to give it up, ourselves - is not frum, but just silly. I think you feel the same way and I am writing nothing you don't already know.

And for those who really need them, the rest of the steps are primarily tools for getting out of G-d's way more and more. That's it.

Porn is certainly a sin. But we are not talking about porn here, are we? I thought we are talking about a man who chronically and progressively uses porn and sex with himself at great personal cost and risk. The need for porn is the problem he has, not the using of the porn itself. That devotion to sweet porn (it is very sweet) and the adventure of the fantasy and secret orgasms, is much more than sin. Once the habit has developed to that degree, seeing it as 'sin' is actually a way of greatly minimizing it! Sin is much, much less serious than addiction is.

And the people from the websites that try to get people scared of the way their flesh will be melt off their bodies in gehinom and children dying as infants, etc, etc... are actually doing a disservice for the addicts. For addiction is much worse. It destroys a person's sanity. And there is nothing really left when that is gone, but a frum looking shell of a perverted liar. I know that shell-game well, firsthand. Derech Eretz Kodmah laTorah. The sefer Sha'arei Kedusha and many others stress the idea that sanity and honesty are the root of all real avodah, before yir'as Shomayim means anything real.

So dwell on the past? No way, just as you wrote. But I wrote my past and still have it. And I share it whenever someone needs to see that it is possible for a regular person to live as badly screwed up a life as they have - and recover, living a life that is great and growing ever better. So c"v for me to forget about my sins and sickness now!

On Chanukah, we remember the bad times and celebrate the redemption. It is the realization of what could have happened that makes the miracles so great. Like the story of the rich guy who dressed up in his poor clothes once a year to celebrate his se'udas hoda'ah that he became wealthy. Every time a recovering addict like me reveals his entire true acting-out history to a newcomer, he himself relives the pain and terror of his past for a few minutes. The relentless terror of "how long will it be till I mess up again?" and the guilt and shame of living a lie with everyone and knowing he will die one day with heavy and ugly secrets that the family and oilem know nothing about... is again made clear to him. And all the amazing gratitude he has to G-d is also made clear as day. For who could do this but Hashem Himself? No one. It's impossible for an addict to stay sober. We all know that.

So who would want to forget the past? WE are sober. We have nothing to be ashamed of in front of Hashem - we know that He was right down there in front of us all along while we were acting out, too. And waiting patiently for us to finally get the help He was busy arranging for us. I would never want to forget that Love.