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Yetzer Hara & Teshuvah vs. Addiction & Recovery

How do I get myself to want to recover badly enough?

GYE Corp. Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Someone asks:

I know that the first thing that will get me out of this is wanting to. And I just don't want to badly enough. I'm so furious at myself. Why don't I want to recover?? What's wrong with me?

Dov Responds:

Boruch Hashem I am sober today, a fact that is more important to me that my life and anything else in my life. As my wife told me about ten years ago, the day I got sober is far more precious to her than the day we got married. Nu. She is not an addict and does not really understand that it is one day at a time - sobriety is not and never really is an "event" - it doesn't "happen" nor "start" - I am sober by Hashem's grace TODAY, and only because I allow Him to help me. I possess the power to stop G-d's help from working for me, at any time... But at least my wife understands that if I am not sober I basically have nothing, and nobody has me either. I do not have my life and family, and they do not have me. So it is certainly the single most precious element in my life. Maybe more precious than breathing, and I am not waxing poetic, at all.

Most of the addicts that I have met - whether successfully in recovery or not, have a powerful and obvious drive for kedusha and for perfectionism in kedusha and spirituality. Many spend their early years acting out in the confused state of trying to get both simultaneously. You know, the youngsters in NCSY who are belting out "gam ki eileych..." in tears (together) quite sincerely - and then later that night are getting sexual with each other. I was there, too. It is a painful place to be.

It's important to understand though, that people who have discovered sexual pleasures and do not want to stop, are not necessarily addicts. I personally believe that addiction is not a state of doing aveiros over and over just because you want to cuz it feels so good. Rather, I experience addiction as primarily the experience of repeating a pleasureful behavior even though you do not want to - but fighting it as hard as you can and using tricks etc, to quit - yet still ending up messing up every (or almost every) time. The typical slut, therefore, is quite possibly not and addict, at all.

Many people are under the knee-jerk impression that if they are driven to do aveiros they must be an addict. To me that means that they are automatically equating "the Yetzer Hara" with "addiction". This is simply inaccurate. The YH is certainly powerful and may very well have something to do with the start of this addiction. The weakness we all possess for sexuality is certainly exploited by the YH for Hashem's good plan. There are certainly parallels between T'shuvah and recovery... but they are not the same. In fact, I came to GYE in the first place for one reason only: to let people who are addicts discover that they are more 'ill' than they are 'bad', and that success has not - and likely will not - come out of further struggle and 'inspiration'. And that if they are truly addicts, they have an allergy of the body to lust and a mental illness, as well. And that they may possess a twisted perspective on G-d Himself... and on people, too, of course. And that they do not need T'shuva at all right now, but to learn how to stop and how to live without their lust and sexual dependence today... right now. Typically, once anyone starts to get sober and becomes serious about their recovery, all this becomes very obvious to them.

In other words, as far as I am concerned, there is no glory at all in frumly insisting that this battle is for kedusha and Hashem's sake. Yeah, certainly my sobriety is a kiddush Hashem and His Will is better done through a sober me than through a drunk, insane, and destructive me. But the path to this point cannot often be on the glorious and pretty path of traditional T'shuvah. Addiction is an illness much more than it is a moral struggle, and it needs strong medicine rather than very, very good intentions. Framing it as a struggle with my YH would have led me to my death. I have no doubt about that, and mean it literally.

Derech Eretz - sanity - the ability to function on this earth - comes before Torah. And just because it leads to and enables Torah-living, does not make it "Torah" any more than math is Torah because it allows one to understand some sugyos in gmorah P'sahchim and Succah. The very fact that for so many of us, our addiction developed within the context of our developing frumkeit itself, means that our frumkeit is obviously infected. Oy larasha, oy l'shchayno! It is not yiddishkeit or Hashem that is not working', but is we who are broken. And we took our yiddishkeit down with us! Insisting upon using it to recover is silly. Ein kateigor na'aseh san'eigor. We need help of a fellowship and a Power Greater than ourselves. Hashem can help us - we cannot. All our mental and spiritual power is exactly what got us here in the first place - and is the only thing that will keep us in this mess! This is what the 3rd step is about. Abandonment to Hashem. Like in the Sh'ma.

I have tried to explain here why I believe that the actual work to achieve sobriety, freedom, and stopping the insanity and self-destruction (and destruction of our families and communities) is the realm of recovery, and not the realm of Torah-learning and Tshuvah. At least for an addict like me. As for me, my Torah and Yiddishkeit is built on my sanity, which is ever-increasing as my recovery deepens. I would not have it any other way. To those who refuse to allow this perspective into their lives and feel they need to fight the good fight their own way based on their own perceptions of whatever... I respectfully and honestly say, "good luck".

I hope this is helpful, as you are asking a good question when you ask "what is wrong with me?" I just hope that I have helped you frame it in a useful way, rather than your seeming self-condemning way. There is likely something wrong with you - not with yiddishkeit, and your problem may have little to do with yiddishkeit in the first place, as I hope I have explained.

I sincerely wish you Hatzlocha and all the help you need. I honestly believe that anyone can make it. Anyone.