Know what you are up against
When struggling with this issue, most people think they are just dealing with a much larger than usual Yetzer Hara, or simply a lack of self-control. It is neither of these. It is vital to understand that this is an addiction. An addiction is a spiritual and psychological disease. What classifies it as an addiction? It’s simple neuroscience. Just like with any pleasure, the pleasure sensory is stimulated in the brain. Whether its cocaine, alcohol, or pleasure one might get from bad things seen during a movie, the serotonin levels spike & the dopaminergic pleasure pathways are activated in the standard “addiction” pattern. These behaviors have been shown to be MORE powerfully addictive than most drugs, in one study. It’s not a big surprise or a big wonder why that would be. It’s an intense pleasure stimulation, even more direct than a hard drug. And upon repeated exposure to certain types of stimulation, one tends to seek out more and more perverse and intense stimulation, leading to that vicious self-destructive cycle that is typical of addictions. (See more about the addictive nature of these behaviors in this article over here).
Often we think that if we could only stop viewing indecent images or stop the self-pleasuring behaviors, we will have broken the addiction. But in most cases this is not so. Whether the behaviors are browsing inappropriate websites, self-pleasuring, or even worse, the common denominator is the addiction to “Lust”. We may stop one behavior or another, but we continue Lusting and holding on to lust. Lusting is like “Alcohol” to an alcoholic, whether it’s Brandy, wine of beer. (The Minchas Chinuch – Mitzva 387 compares lust to Alcohol addiction). If we try and stop bad behaviors but continue to hold on to “lust”, it is like immersing in the Mikva while holding the Sheretz in one’s hand.
What classifies someone as an addict? Rabbi Twerski in this article defines it as such:
The ultimate distinction between man and animals is not that man is more intelligent, but that animals are creatures that have no choice over their behavior. They must do whatever their bodies demand. They cannot choose what they should do. Man has the ability of self-control, to choose one’s behavior, even in defiance of physical urges.
If a person loses one’s ability to choose and is dominated by urges one cannot control, one is indeed an addict. Losing the ability to choose is losing the uniqueness of being a human being, and robs one of the dignity of being human. We pride ourselves on liberty and view slavery as evil because it dehumanizes a person. And that is exactly what happens when we relinquish our ability to choose.
It is also important to know that “once an addict, always an addict”. Once we have trained our minds to use lust as a form of drug, we must learn to stay far away from lust – no matter how far we may progress in this struggle. If we let ourselves take that first drink, we will feel powerless again.
Some people think that those who are unmarried and have no outlet cannot possibly remain clean indefinitely. This is patently false. We have helped many Bochurim to achieve complete abstinence and we have many testimonials of Bochurim who were addicted and broke free using the right tools, the right attitude and determination. In some ways it is even easier for bochurim to refrain completely from lust, since they do not need to indulge it at all – as in the previous clause above.
Know that marriage does not solve the problem of addiction to lust, if anything it even gets worse. Also, once you are married and do not deal with it, it can ultimately destroy the marriage.
This all may sound scary, but it is actually freeing to know exactly what you are up against. Now that we know we are dealing with an addiction, and an addiction to “Lust” in particular, there are tried and proven methods that work, and then there are methods that don’t work. For example, many times we thought that by increasing Torah Study, Mussar, or by making new resolutions we would be able to break free, only to find that we fall back into the behaviors in short time.
Having narrowed the struggle down to two simple terms “Lust Addiction” we can now explore the best ways of dealing with it and we can also learn to recognize if a thought pattern we have is coming from the addiction or not.