Do I have to live my whole life in pain?
"Yearning" wrote me the following e-mail:
"SA is going very well, we reviewed the 4th step tonight. But one thing is bothering me: Do I have to live in pain my whole life as an addict??"
I replied to "Yearning" as follows:
Please note what the Alcoholics wrote back in 1939 in the AA Big Book (p. 101) about how they felt after recovering through the 12 Steps:
"Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn't think or be reminded about alcohol at all.
We meet these conditions every day. An alcoholic who cannot meet them, still has an alcoholic mind; there is something the matter with his spiritual status. His only chance for sobriety would be some place like the Greenland Ice Cap, and even there an Eskimo might turn up with a bottle of scotch and ruin everything! Ask any woman who has sent her husband to distant places on the theory he would escape the alcohol problem.
In our belief, any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. If the alcoholic tries to shield himself he may succeed for a time, but usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever. We have tried these methods. These attempts to do the impossible have always failed."
"Wow. But I know that even old-timers in SA still try to avoid triggers, so I don't really understand the balance."
I replied to "Yearning":
That's actually a very good question. I would like to pass it on to our 12-Step experts, Duvid Chaim and Dov, to hear their take on this.
I wrote an e-mail to them as follows:
Dear Duvid Chaim & Dov,
Can we apply what it says in AA (above) to lust addiction? After all, the "first sip" for alcoholics is only with an actual drink, so it makes sense that they can be in the vicinity of alcohol and still stay sane - assuming they are "spiritually fit". However in the case of lust addiction, the first sip happens with "sight" alone. So can we be surrounded by triggers and still stay sane? For us, "seeing" is like "sipping" for an alkie... Can we also find the peace described (above) when surrounded by triggers?
Duvid Chaim replies:
This is an often asked question.
And the answer is found right in the first sentence, as you quoted... "Assuming we are spiritually fit".
Accordingly, a person in Recovery is a lot like a high performance sport car's fuel injected engine. It's performance is being constantly monitored by a sensitive on board computer system that monitors the fuel flow, firing of the spark plugs, timing, vibrations, etc.
And when anything is slightly off, it quickly makes an adjustment so it runs smoothly.
If things get unmanageable, the car goes back to the shop and stays off the streets!
So too, the addict in Recovery - must constantly monitor himself - in all three of the areas where our addiction lies: physical, mental and spiritual.
For example - Physical: If we are hungry, we get cranky - we want soothing... If we are around triggers... we act out.
Mental: If we are angry/resentful, we want to take back control... If we are around triggers... we act out.
Spiritual: If we are "blocked" from seeing G-d's presence in our life at each and every moment... We create our own Golden Calf - called SELF... If we are around triggers... we act out.
But if we are physically, mentally and spiritually fit - the triggers are like little pebbles on the road, and our sports car's highly tuned suspension system doesn't even feel them.
"Is that a hairpin twist and turn up ahead? - No Problem. I can handle that."
No matter how long the road-trip, thanks to my Ricarro calf leather seats, I step out of my car still relaxed and refreshed!
On the other hand, if my car is sluggish and out of alignment, I'd better stay off the "streets" - otherwise I might crash and burn.
I hope I didn't belabor the parable.
But from the very first day on our conference Call - and almost everyday till the end, I tell the Chevra that if I just helped them to BUILD THEIR AWARENESS OF THEIR PERCEPTIONS AND MOTIVES - it would be "Dayeinu" for me.
This constant "monitoring and checking in with ourselves" is what allows us to go out on the streets and run smoothly in spite of the many obstacles and triggers out there.
"It's what goes on in our minds that's the issue"
In response to the question discussed above, Dov writes:
We need to ask ourselves, "what are we really looking for, in recovery?" Do we want the ability to fantasize about schmutz whenever we want and yet still remain sober?
What I'm getting at is this: Of course there are different types of alkies. But for most alkies who have been sober for a few months, you are right that being around drinking people or near alcohol is not a true "trigger" for them.
While "sight", as you wrote above, is a trigger for us, I believe it's really not the whole story. This is important to me: It's not really looking, reading, etc. that are "sipping" (or slipping) - it's what goes on in our minds that's the issue. Lust is not exactly like alcohol, where it needs to be taken into the body to mess us up. A lust addict uses schmutz to get the lust woken up - it's about the desire and excitement. I (and every other addict I have ever met in SA) can get high on lust and crazy without taking any look at all. By the same token we can get good and drunk (really, not symbolically as in the "dry drunk" of AA) on last month's schmutz or sexual encounter. That cannot happen in AA or NA. They need their drug, while our drug is also in our mind. Now, to say that this means "I can look all I want, as long as "in my mind I'm not fantasizing!"... well, we have found that this attitude just doesn't work.
Again, the real question is "what do we want?"
The answer to the question of, "Am I condemned to a lifetime of pain as an addict?" depends on what the person's goals are. Is their goal to be able to control acting out - meaning: to be free enough of it's tyranny that they'll be able to lust their brains out with their wife or husband whenever they want to (what we call "being able to lust like a Gentleman/Lady), then I'd indeed suggest that this would condemn an addict to lifetime of pain. If you are an addict, you cannot successfully use your drug. Per AA experience, that's exactly what being an addict means. It's the first step. The goal in AA is not to be able to use and control alcohol, is it? So in SA, the issue is not sex, but lust. To clarify a bit more, I'll ask a question: If I stay away from triggers, then how does a married SA ever get involved with sex? Sex is surely a bigger trigger than seeing a jogger! No?
In my experience, the answer is that it is lust that is the issue, even in the trigger.
So the first sip doesn't necessarily happen with sight, or even with sex itself. A lustaholic in recovery can have sex without getting lost in lust, can be a doctor and work with female/male patients without losing their sobriety, can drive through the street and actually see joggers scantily clad (like an alkie in the bar in the piece from AA that you quoted above)... It all depends on whether they turn it over to Hashem and do what they need to do so that they don't take it in and use it. Lust is 'used' and is always about 'taking'.
I guess that there are some lustaholics who never get there, and cannot do some or any of these normal things. But I know very few people in SA like that. I believe that they are impaired by their desire not to let go of lust, at all. Perhaps they keep thinking they are addicted to sex itself, not to lust. Now that may be true, but I doubt it. Call me bold, stupid, or whatever. I have just met too many guys who are totally powerless over lust, and yet they stay sober and are still able to function in situations that newbies equate with acting out!
Recovery means getting back to what you lost - to what is natural and normal.... at least in some respects.
Finally, I'd say that worrying about my future as an addict is just plain silly. "Let Go and Let G-d" is something we all need to learn how to do, usually by hanging around with recovering addicts.