Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The 12-Steps in Practice

Another great piece by Boruch explaining what the 12-Step groups provide that Musar Sefarim don't.

by Boruch, GYE (See all authors)

Addicts have a problem -- their addiction. I had a problem -- my addiction and my inability to overcome it.

Convictions got us nowhere. I had plenty of convictions. I was learning sifrei musar regularly and seriously for 20 years. Had I been in control, no doubt I would have done very well on convictions. But convictions solved nothing for me because I was not in control. That was the problem with my addiction.

I desperately needed a solution. I had tried willpower, filters, accountability software. I had told my therapist. And I was fast running out of options. And not long after I finally gave up the images for good in a fit of rage (as I posted on the forum), I discovered that my addiction was really to Lust.

It's like someone who every day eats a whole Pizza Pie for Breakfast, 30 hot dogs for lunch and 20 burgers for supper. The guy is absolutely convinced that he is addicted to junk food. Then one day, in deteriorating health, he decides with all his might that he is giving up junk food for ever. Never again. And next morning he finds that he is eating 10 bowls of whole-wheat cereal for breakfast, 30 bowls of organic pasta for lunch and 20 plates of roast beef for supper. He was not addicted to junk food, he was addicted to food.

And I was not addicted to viewing images, I was addicted to lust. And as much as I was off the images, I was unable to stop lusting and fighting, lusting and fighting. I had no control. And there was nothing in the musar seforim that could give it back to me.

When I learnt musar I was like a first-grader trying to learn to stop throwing things at the teacher by learning sefer Chovos Halevovos. And it was not working.

I am going to be honest with you, extreme as it may sound.

It was not Sha'ar Ha'Bechina that I was missing or Sha'ar Avodas Elokim.

I was missing Shaar "Al tehiy kibheimo" (The Gate of "Don't Be Like an Animal")

And I did not need the first grade level of Shaar "Al tehiy kibheimo", I needed the "less than beheimo" level.

Something that was so simple, dumbed-down and foolproof that my Yetzer Hara was not able to complicate it.

Yes, I could understand the most difficult, complex and abstract musar, and even get very enthusiastic about it, but if I was going to be able to put anything into practice, it had to be short, sharp, to the point, and so easy that there could be no excuses.

Something that would take up no more than 10 lines and consist of no more than three action items.

Something ready to implement right away.

Something that the Yetzer Hara could not convince me out of, once I was determined.

And Here is the system that did it for me:

-- Joining an SA Group

-- Getting a Sponsor

-- Listening to your Group, following your Sponsor, and working the list below into your life:

1. Admission of powerlessness.
2. Reliance on a Higher Power.
3. Total surrender to God.
4. Moral inventory.
5. Admission of the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Commitment to total change.
7. Prayer for wholeness.
8. Total willingness to amend.
9. Making amends where possible.
10. Continuing inventory.
11. Prayer meditation, leading to improved conscious contact with God.
12. Spiritual awakening, carrying the message and practicing the principles in everything we do.

In my experience, the difference between the 12 Steps and musar seforim is like the difference between an Alef Beis Sefer and the Chovos Halevavos. The Chovos Halevavos will give you much, much more. As long as you have mastered Alef Beis.

But if you have not yet mastered Alef Beis then the Alef Beis sefer will give infinitely more, until you have mastered it and are ready for the next level, and ultimately for the Chovos Halevavos.

The same is true for the musar seforim. As Rav Avigdor Miller Zt"l said many times that the sifrei musar were written for generations in which even the worst of goyim were terrified of gehinnom.

Says Rabbi Miller, Are most of us as terrified today of gehinnom as the worst goyim were then?

Certainly not.

Unlike the worst goyim then, who constantly spoke about Gan Eden and Gehinnom, many of us find that we never even discuss Gan Eden and Gehinnom. And even if we do, it is usually all very abstract.

Why? Are we worse than the worst goyim then? Intrinsically no, however, we are victims of centuries of the arrogance of Scientists, the arrogance of inventors, the arrogance of business leaders and the arrogance of political leaders. And all that arrogance has had one result.

"rak ein Yiras Elokim bamokom hazeh - For there is no fear of Heaven in this place".

And so, as I quoted originally from Rabbi Miller, the sifrei musar all assume a basic minimum of Yiras Shomayim and kavod for Hashem that are way beyond us. They are far too advanced. It is like trying to get a pre-1A student to learn Rashb"o, it doesn't go. Even if he could understand the words, the content would be way beyond his scope.

And we remain stuck at first base until we do the Steps and they get us to be living with Hashem. And then - and only then - are we ready to start learning Orchos Tzaddikim, Chovos Halevovos, Mesilas Yeshorim... and the sky is the limit.

But until we get past Alef Beis, the musar seforim may be very informative but they are even more beyond our reach.


Just to add to Boruch's words, the underlying message of these 12 Steps are the basic moral principles that distinguish man from beast. A set of principles so basic that even the goyish drunks of AA were able to internalize them and turn their lives completely around. Some of the underlying principles are; A complete dependence on Hashem, a pure faith and trust in Him to care for us and take our lust away, humility and rigorous honesty.

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