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Sobriety is like Breathing; Recovery is like Living

Does staying clean mean never making a mistake?

GYE Corp. Sunday, 11 December 2011

Someone asked Dov:

Dov, they say you've been clean in SA for 13 years. Does that mean that you did not make even ONE mistake?

Dov Replies:

No, it does not mean that. I use the sobriety definition of SA as explained to me by my sponsor and others. My sobriety date only means that by the grace (chessed chinam) of Hashem, I have never masturbated or been with anyone other than my wife since that date. It is truly a very narrow definition of sobriety and does not measure myrecovery in any reliable way. I do not believe it is meant to. That having been said, the value of a sobriety date is in the fact that it doesn't happen by holding one's breath... that is, one cannot be sober for a very long time unless there is also recovery. And as recovery does not progress while a person is actively using their drug, sobriety is indispensable. To me, sobriety is like breathing - and recovery is like living.

Given the nature of this particular addiction/drug - the natural capacity to lust and be sexual - it is not likely that anyone will actually stay sober for very long without active recovery. For me, that means meetings, sponsorship (service), and working (not just studying) the steps. Hence the value people place on long-term sobriety. That's what SA calls "progressive freedom (or the more goyishe word: 'victory') over lust." It is assumed that an addict in recovery either progresses or regresses in their freedom from lust as a motivation in their life. There does not seem to be much room for stagnation. Maybe there is room for a bit of it (we have all coasted occasionally), but not much... and we never know how much slack we will be 'given'. No worries though, cuz if we are lucky, lust will soon kick us in the behind unceremoniously and help us right back into serious recovery.

I have lusted many times, have looked at pornography a number of times, have done many things which were part of my acting-out behaviors many times over the years - in sobriety. The point is, that I reacted to that by: making my calls for help to people and to my G-d earlier and earlier which helped me learn to surrender earlier and earlier; using the slips as opportunities to get more aware of my powerlessness (living a better 1st step); by admitting freely in every meeting I went to that I was not perfect and indeed having a problem and exactly what behaviors it was; and by not giving up. When I asked my sponsor if I should change my sobriety date he would say, "You want to define your own sobriety? Why bother? If you keep playing around you will lose your sobriety pretty soon anyway! And if you go back to zero, you will probably figure you might as well try your hand at some serious acting out - if you are at zero, anyway!" That helped me come to my senses, alright!

My sobriety is far from a perfect one. But Hashem has helped me remember how precious sobriety is to me today. He has been helping me run from risky curiosity and other thoughts, talk, and actions that might damage my precious sobriety. And today our life is far better than I could have ever dreamed - for me and my entire family - without any other motivation than recovery. I ask Him to help me stay sober so that I can continue to recover (and live) and to help me stay in recovery so that I can remain sober (and not die). And my freedom from lust is increasing, it seems, though I am obviously still an addict and my life still cannot work while I pursue lust.

There are a lot of fine Yidden out there who use lust every now and then, even though it is an aveira and upsets them deeply. It's not the end of the world - really. Boruch Hashem, they deal with it, do t'shuvah, etc. And that's normal. It's what all the sifrei teshuvah are written about. But that model does not work for me, at all.

As an addict, I see myself as much worse off than a normal yid: I have a disease. Should I take that first lust drink - even without masturbating or getting inappropriately sexual with someone - it may ruin my life. And that's because I am a pig about it - as soon as I use it, I need it. And then I use it more and more until nothing is left of me! Then I actually feel with every fiber of my being that I cannot live without it.

Life can be pretty good, I can truly love my G-d, my wife, children, and job - even be really frum... but once I start lusting, it may be all over: I may still risk and ruin it all just to get that fantasy. Then I will sincerely ask, "Why did I do it?!" I am absolutely shocked. I've been there before and it makes no sense. I believe only an addict can 'understand' the insanity. Of course, all this could change today and I am free to slip, ruin everything for lust, and eventually die from my addiction... really.

The following point is very important to me: I thank Hashem every day that I never intentionally hid behind the guise of tzaddik in order to fake myself (and others) that I was 'doing just fine'. In other words, I did not react to my own failures by simply 'going out there and being mekarev others'... in AA they call that "12-stepping". It means taking the focus off myself by putting it on others. Acting as though by being a louder mouthpiece for the Truth, I can convince everybody (and maybe even convince myself!) that I am really a 'very good boy'. I was told to lead with my weakness, just as the SA guys taught me to. The capacity to use "kiruv/passing the message" as a shield from my own conscience is demonstrated over and over if we just keep our eyes open. It always seems to be the politicians who are the most vociferously and viciously anti-gay who are homosexuals, themselves! And, by the same token, some 'rabonnim' are really screwed up. It is so painful. When it is revealed what sick stuff they were secretly involved with, it becomes apparent that the public and inner approval they were getting from their (often phenomenal) success in kiruv work was actually enabling them to morally tolerate their own horrifying lifestyle. (I believe that Chaza"l refer to this phenomenon when they say that Y'rov'om ben N'vat was a 'shakul'.) I encountered a few examples of this personally. Perhaps coming to know some of those people has actually been helping me to not follow in their footsteps... so far. It could all change. We get very desperate in addiction, don't we? I haven't the strength to fight that desperation.

One more thing along these lines. The temptation to keep my failures secret so that my effectiveness for others is not compromised - now that's a big Yetzer Hora. In the final analysis, I have to remember that: (1) I am not G-d - the truth about me is His problem, not mine... He'll get the job done for those people 'out there' without needing me at allshould they decide to dump me because I admit my failings; (2) the very best way for me to be helpful and demonstrate true Recovery is by being honest - even about my failures; and (3) My own sobriety and recovery comes first - before yours - and even before my 'duty' to help 'the masses'.

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