Don't Live in the Problem, Live in the Solution.
Today I want to share some big Yesodos that I learned from Dov. (If anyone has experience with what really works, it's Dov. Once a slave to an all-consuming lust addiction, Dov is now sober for over 18 years! See Dov's story here).
It often takes a lot of trying and failing before we are finally able to say in all honesty - as Chazal say, "If Hashem would not help him, there is no way he can beat him (the Yetzer Hara)". And this is the first step of the 12-Steps; admitting "powerlessness". The reason the struggle is so hard for us - and the reason we keep failing at it, is because we are struggling with something much more powerful than us. However, once we admit powerlessness, we basically come to the realization that we can no longer "struggle" with lust at all. We can't "work on this area" or try and "change the way we think". We can only "let go" of it completely and not even give lust the time of day. If lust comes into our head or if something comes into our field of vision, instead of struggling with it, we just tell ourselves: "I can't struggle with lust at all, I am an addict", and we just "let go of it" in our hearts completely.
How do we do that?
Well, if it's far too hard for us to focus on and struggle with "the problem", the only way to succeed is to live instead in the SOLUTION.
What does that mean?
Lust is all "me centered". It's all about me. The "solution" is to start living for others and for Hashem. We need to train our minds that when we feel lust, we just laugh and say "hey, what can you expect from an addict?" and then painlessly switch channels to a channel of "giving" and "gratitude" instead of being "Me focused". For example, if we feel lust for someone, we switch channels to thinking what we can do for that person instead of what we can take from them (after turning away of-course, otherwise we won't be able to let go of the "me mode"). We can daven for them to have everything good in life and a true connection to Hashem.
When we feel lust, we can switch modes in our mind and begin to think of all the blessings we have in life, to feel gratitude to Hashem etc, which brings us to think about what can we do for Hashem. And we can think also about what we can do for others, and how we can make ourselves more useful to others... We need to change our mode of thinking from the "me-centered-getting-mode" that breeds lust, to a mode of "giving and gratitude" outside of ourselves.
And the miracle is, that by changing the way we think and the things we do over time, we find that the problem goes away by itself!! In other words, we can't fix the problem; forget it, it's way too strong. But when we live in the SOLUTION and focus on living "outside" of ourselves, the PROBLEM automatically goes away...
All this "struggling" with the Yetzer Hara and "working on ourselves" - that's for OTHERS, NOT for addicts. We cannot deal with lust at all. That's the secret of the first step. We need to completely bypass it, let go of it, and give it up to Hashem. And it is only when we do this step - which is to recognize that we are addicts; that we are ill; that we cannot deal with lust AT ALL, only at that point we can begin our journey to recovery and learn how to surrender it to Hashem and GIVE IT UP COMPLETELY.
Ironically, it is only to admitting powerlessness that we are able to ultimately find true freedom!!
Our minds tell us that if we stop lusting and if we don't feed our lust, life will be much less fun... But our mind is LYING to us. It is the exact OPPOSITE! It is ONLY when we finally GIVE UP on struggling with lust and LET GO of it, that we will finally be able to find true freedom and happiness.
Another Yesod from Dov on this topic:
"Letting go of lust" should only be done "one day at a time". It's too hard for addicts to think in such terms as "letting go of lust" for life. We can however, decide that "today, I am completely letting go of my 'right' to lust. Today, I won't give lust the time of day".
I would like to quote some of Dov's posts that expand on this issue in more depth. From Dov we can truly learn how to live in the SOLUTION instead of "fighting" desperately (an often losing battle) - with the PROBLEM.
Dov writes to Uri who - as we can see from the song above - is bravely struggling with the "monster" within:
To my dear friend who writes so beautifully about what's going on inside him, and about issues such as "love vs. lust", and - of course - struggling with fantasies a lot:
One simple answer for all this that anyone can do is: Don't think so much. Especially about yourself.
What??? But how???
This sounds like a very, very tall order for an addict, or for someone who is kinda young, or for someone who is naturally highly self-aware and jam-packed with feelings pretty much all the time. You (and many of us) have all these qualities. Ouch. We are experts at "focus-inward", and typically only focus outward when it's all about what we are getting - or not getting - from the other person.
Shockingly ;-), the typical prescription for this problem (that is working for me and others I know) is to start getting more and more used to thinking about others, for the rest of our lives. "Others" means anyone not attached to my own "desire / feeling / awareness" thing (some call that "thing" the ego). That list includes Hashem (of course), your family, your friends, co-workers, people you walk by in the street, etc; basically anyone with a will of their own (... not yours). So far so good?
Being apart from others - even in / especially in a room full of people - is our typical state. But for sobriety and sanity to grow, it's got to change. In real life, this means doing things that make us a part of, rather than apart from. But how? By being frummer or becoming better? Not really.
Just check these practical applications out and see if you think they would be good daily exercises for your own "focus-outward" muscles:
- Davening primarily for others in general, rather than for me (except in real emergencies) [Tzadikim do this by focusing strictly on tza'ar haSh'chinah, but we are doing it just for anyone's tza'ar but our own, for now].
- Actually functioning (even in small ways) as part of a group [a minyan can do this if you find a way].
- Accomplishing things that are not for me.
- Not taking that second look at the pretty woman (I just had to not do that myself five minutes ago!) even though it hurts cuz I'm an addict. Looking / lusting about it will just work out my "me-me-me muscle", no?
- Having a nice, long conversation with anyone and making 99% of the topic them, rather than me.
- Doing a mitzvah (or two) for G-d's sake, rather than because people will see, or for olam haba. (B"H, I rarely think about olam haba - it's too selfish in practice, though folks who treat hashkafa as reality will tell you s'char mitzvah is not supposed to be a selfish pursuit at all. So what? It is for me! So, till I'm ready for a different attitude towards s'char, out with it!)
- Keeping a halacha because we don't want to.
- Being good to ourselves because we don't want to (going to a meeting, exercising, taking a shower, learning some Torah, cleaning up the apt, making a friend, etc.) [in s'forim that's called "mis'chased im atzmo - doing kindness with one's self"].
Get the idea?
The main thing for success in this, is not allowing yourself to get bogged down by anyone (that includes you) in wrestling about philosophy (which may be mislabeled as "Torah"), motivations, the existence of altruism, or whatever else seems to really matter. It's all nice, but an addict can't afford it. Our eye must remain on the prize, which is: Going outward rather than inward. Period.
Yes, we need Hashem's constant help to do this the right way and for it to lead closer to actually being useful to Him and His people. But as the Mesillas Yeshorim writes, there are some midos that lend themselves to knocking down a bazillion bad middos all in one fell swoop. For an addict, this is one of the big ones that do that. The particulars are less important than most think. Besides, He can help just fine if you ask for it, and He will. (Uh, oh, that's praying for yourself! Well, for this we can make exceptions ;-)
We've been bringing important ideas and posts from Dov on the REAL secret to breaking free of this addiction. It seems that the over-all goal of the 12-Steps - and what makes it so successful to millions of people, is that the steps teach us how to "focus outward" instead of living a self-centered / "ME ME" existence. Previously, we discussed various strategies and exercises that we can do to strengthen our "outward-focus" muscles. Before we continue with this idea, I just want to repeat one paragraph from the previous section because it is such a big Yesod:
As the Mesillas Yeshorim writes, there are some midos that lend themselves to knocking down a bazillion bad middos all in one fell swoop. For an addict, "outward focus" is one of the big ones that do that. Try it. Don't think about it. And don't talk about it much, c"v, either. Thinking differently - even really hard - will not generally get us to be any different on the inside. We live in "Olam Ha'asiyah - the World of Deeds". Doing changes us, and it even changes the way we think and are on the inside. That is why Hashem gave us so many mitzvos to do (as the RaMBa"M writes).
Uri Responds to Dov on the forum:
Wow, thank you so much Dov. I'm honored to have you post on my thread. The advice you give is gold. I've tried this before, "growing outward", but it proved too difficult at the time. I was feeling very depressed and had no strength for others. Now I'm gonna try to make it my top priority again iy'h. Yasher Koyach.
Dov Responds to Uri:
Dear Uri - About going outward:
We obviously can't do it alone, and we often can't do it very comfortably either. So we need extra help from Hashem with this. We also can't succeed at this if we are doing it with "an expectation" of getting something in return.
You write that you have tried it before and mentioned the challenges you had then. Thanks. Here's a big yesod (for me) in recovery that may help you with this too:
We start doing things for others simply - and mainly - because we have faith that we need to, in order to stay sober. We do it because we believe it is the only way to get us to be unselfish - and hence, "mentally OK" people. In a sort of paradoxical way, it's selfish! And that's great! Because it makes it much more palatable to us (at least subconsciously) in the beginning weeks, months or years (whatever!). It really works that way. Weird? Nu, so what's so bad about a little more weirdness? (That's also a big yesod for me, BTW...)
So "am I doing the favor for my mother in order to help her out / to be "nice" / or because it's Kibud Av vo'Eim?" Not necessarily, in the beginning. I may be doing it because it is the only way for me to recover and to stay sober. But that's Ok. I can think of no better "mitoch shelo lishma bah lishma" than this, actually.
Again though, no matter how you slice it, we always need Hashem's help to do it right.
And here's another amazing post from Dov (to someone else) on this topic:
We generally do things for our own sake. When Chazal tell us that Hashem wants us to serve Him Lishma (for His sake), it means that Hashem wants us to start getting used to moving toward doing things for the sake of others first, and then move on toward doing for Him.
He gives us parents to learn what it means to be dependent on someone else and to be responsible; he gives us friends to learn what it means to be connected and faithful; a spouse to learn what it means to be devoted and in love; children to learn what it means to give up stuff and help someone grow into life, while our own lives fade into the background. And He asks us to make for ourselves a Rav (Aseh Lecha Rav) whom we will obey without question and learn self-nullification.
Maybe then we'll be ready to finally be more dependent, responsible, connected, faithful, devoted, in love, obedient, humble and sacrificing to Him, Yisborach.
This never "occurs", it's a process called "the life of a yid". Yep, His system is genius, nothing short of it.
But how the heck is an addict, or a person who is compulsively looking at "whatever", supposed to be part of this process? Getting free from addiction is the only way for an addict to participate in this genius plan, and - miracle of miracles - it is actually simple, because the recovery itself forms and guides the whole journey!
One last post from Dov on this important idea of "focusing outward":
The way to do it is certainly: slowly and in very little steps. You will still feel selfish along the way, because we compare our behavior with our goal. Nu, that's a mistake, but we do need to keep the goal in mind all along the way somehow, so what do we expect? We are not geniuses and get confused sometimes. The main thing for progress is to hang onto faith that these little tiny (still mostly selfish) steps will, in fact, lead us straight to that goal.
As they always say in the 12-Step groups: "Easy, does it".
Try it. Don't think about it. And don't talk about it much, c"v, either. Thinking differently - even really hard - will not generally get us to be any different on the inside. We live in "Olam Ha'asiyah - the World of Deeds". Doing changes us, and it even changes the way we think and are on the inside. That is why Hashem gave us so many mitzvos to do (as the RaMBa"M writes).
After we do this for a while, our lives become wildly interesting and less predictable, too! (It is actually rather boring to think about myself all the time, you know!) We can also get sober and stay sober more easily this way.
Love! ...and that's an order.