Who's Your Employer?

GYE Corp. Sunday, 26 February 2012

For me - in active addiction, staying clean was a religious struggle - that was really all about me. A clean day was another feather in my hat, a good deed, a great mitzva, and - as some here have stated - another feather in the "hat of the Ribono shel Olam". This did not get me any better, though. It's beautiful to know that a clean day is a kiddush Hashem and gives Him nachas Ruach, does a tikkun, etc. But by itself, that did nothing to change me, and I knew it.

The ikkar of recovery is not "not acting out". It is about the rest of what we are doing. Why is it that some of us have had a year-or-so of relatively clean time while in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael or wherever? We were living differently, so we were different. (Then we went back home and back to the same way of life, and the rest is history).

As "Kedusha" has posted many times, the "best way" to guarantee that I'll think about lust is to try and focus on not thinking about lust. But I'm going a step further than that, perhaps. In my life so far, the way it works is that I simply can't struggle with lust. I can't struggle with it even for Hashem's sake. As the Pasuk says, "Hashem ish milchama - G-d is the man of war". That means that I am not, at least in my case. In fact, the 12-steps don't even mention our drug/problem, besides in Step #1. So, the way I see it is, that if I want to guarantee that I'll keep struggling with it (and losing), I should just keep thinking about not struggling with it. "Counting the days I'm clean" is all the impetus I need to get back to work struggling (and losing). It happens so fast and so naturally, I don't even realize it's occurring. Then I wake up obsessed and fantasizing. For years though, the struggling and the counting were "lesheim shomayim", which doesn't make it right, of course. And it isn't "right" if it doesn't work.

I had/have to give the entire mess to Hashem. But how do we do that?

The answer is to learn how to continuously focus on living right - living for Hashem. And that takes work and is what the 4th-12th steps are all about: getting myself clean enough for Hashem to shine through me. Mainly by reducing ga'ava (haughtiness). The 3rd step - which is the program's condition for sanity and sobriety - is about one thing: deciding to live for G-d. Not about resisting temptation for G-d, and certainly not about "not acting out". (But these steps cannot be done successfully alone).

The Sfas Emes comments on the Pasuk: "v'hyisem kedoshim leylokeichem - and you should be holy for your G-d" that Hashem does not have any interest in his people being "Kedoshim". What He wants his people to be is: "Kedoshim leylokeichem" - holy for Him. Jews for Hashem!

If I am acting out, even occasionally, or even if I'm just "slipping", my real malady is that I have slipped back into living for myself. And this needs quick correction. "Struggling with lust" isn't the solution - it is a symptom of the problem. Even I, myself, am not the issue; in other words, "how good I am" is irrelevant. I've just got the wrong employer, that's all. And nothing will "work", because I am an addict. A regular yid can "make it". I can't. And today, I thank G-d that I can't, (because I have no choice but to learn not to live for myself). How lucky can a man be?

A well-known vort: "Ve'haboteyach baShem, chesed yisovevenhu - He who trusts in G-d, kindness will surround him". Even for one who is still a rasha; as long as he attaches himself to Hashem with trust, Hashem will connect with him with His love/chesed.

So, whether we lust a little or a lot, is not what the solution is about. It is about all the other things that we thought were not related to our acting out. Our motivation for living is what matters, not our motivations for acting out. Life gets good in a hurry when we are living for the right reasons, even if we are not doing it perfectly.

The 3rd step is about a decision, a start. But it has to be real. Chazal say that Hashem says, "pischu li pesach kechudo shel machat, v'ani eftach lochem pesach kepischo shel ulam - open for me a hole the size of a needle, and I'll open it as wide as the gate of the Ulam". Says the Kotzker, it may be small but it has to be like a needle: all the way through. Meaning: He doesn't ask for perfect, just for "real".

If you are content with "winning one for the Ribono shel Olam" (between losses for both of you), gezunterheit. That has not been my experience or understanding of the program - or of recovery, at all.

Don't worry, Hashem won't mind you engaging in some "enlightened self-interest" and leaving the glory of beating the Yetzer Hara to a pulp to others who are more qualified. (And there are some, it seems). Hashem really wants us to succeed at living a good Jewish life after all, no? Well the only way I could live, was by finally giving up the romanticized struggle, and getting to work for Hashem.

At some point, I had to admit that my whole struggle and torture (of about 20 years) was ultimately all about me deep inside, really. Even though it was cloaked in kedusha, Torah and Mitzvos, "for Hashem", etc., it was all about me, me me. Eventually, I saw that I was only fooling myself and that I'd be the star-crossed, tragic loser in the end. They'd be cheering for me at my grave. "What a fighter he was". Wow.

In Adon Olam we say: "Hashem li, velo iroh - Hashem is for me, I shall not fear". He is for me. And I'm for Him. That is how we approach the Yomin Nora'im: E-l-u-l (Ani ledodi, ve'dodi li). If He is my banner and my employer, then I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

So to recap: It's not about lusting a little bit or a lot, nor even all about staying off the stuff altogether. Long-term sobriety (and I assume that's what we're all interested in) is not born solely of abstinence.

And after falling, getting back up and saying, "Ok, I guess I can try it again" is not necessarily the answer either. If you want a different life, you will need to start living differently. The focus cannot be on "stopping the lust" while leaving the rest of your life essentially the same. If the way I eat, sleep, learn, daven, love my wife and kids, see myself in a mirror, and breathe, have not changed an iota, I believe the whole thing is B with an S after it.

Now, living differently may take some time, but that change had to be my focus. The sobriety comes almost as an after thought - with phone calls and lots of quiet "Hashem help me!"s all day long, and meetings - where I got honest and poured all my garbage and shame out of me and into the light.

So, instead of worrying about slipping and falling so much, how can we change the way we are living the rest of our life so that it's for Him (or at least for people other than me?)

I love you, and all addicts.
- Dov