Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Powerlessness of an Addict


by Dov, Duvid Chaim, GYE (See all authors)

Someone posted on the forum an excerpt from an article at which he says reminds him a lot of the idea that an addict is "powerless" over lust. Here's the excerpt:

If you think you're generally good at resisting temptation, you're probably wrong, scientists now say.

"People are not good at anticipating the power of their urges, and those who are the most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give into temptation," said Loran Nordgren, senior lecturer of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, in Illinois.

The result: Many of us unwittingly expose ourselves to tempting situations, leading to a greater likelihood of indulging in addictive behaviors.

The bottom line, Nordgren says: Avoid situations where such weaknesses thrive, and remember you're not that invincible.


Dov responds - and describes his own perception of powerlessness:

Yes, but I'd like to add that in the case of addicts - at least in my case, I can sit for a hour learning Sha'arei RMCH"L, Gemorah or Bnei Yisoschar (after asking my Best Eternal Friend to help me learn right, so I can get better and do His Will), daven a happy and tearful Mincha, and still end up acting out worse than I ever did before, ruining my wonderful life - all within an hour or less - if I choose to take a longer look (than Hashem arranged for me to see) at an inappropriate image/person I pass by. This doesn't have to happen - but it can. As the Ramban says in parshas Kedoshim; the change that overtakes a person from lust is shockingly powerful. (And he may not even be talking about addicts... Ouch).

I also totally reject the idea that the very change in my priorities and perspective that happens as a result of looking, proves that I wasn't really sincere in the first place. I believe that many addicts do sincerely desire to stop, but simply do not know how.

I also reject the idea that my insincerity is proven by the very fact that I took that extra look. Some may disagree, but addicts are really very perplexing, so I can't blame any of them for it.

As an addict, I have no defense whatsoever for even the very first "drink". I wish no reward at all for any victory over lust, as I give the entire credit to Hashem. Woe to me when I start to take credit for "beating the Yetzer Hara". I speak only for myself here, friends. But I have discovered that I actually - really - need Hashem's help for it.

And I do not need "encouragement" to stay sober any more than I need encouragement to breathe or to eat. (Nu, I'll still take some chizuk once in a while!).

I ask for His help each day for staying sober that day only, and he gives it to me - so far. I can't work for sobriety tomorrow any more than I can eat or go to the restroom for tomorrow.

So yes, we Yidden are generally advised to avoid nisyonos - as the article above explains, but for me with lust, it's even more than that. I avoid it because I'm an addict, and I know that the change that lust brings over me takes away all my free-will. It's very much like getting stone drunk; you really never know what you'll end up doing. The change I undergo from lust makes me miserable, useless and pathetic, and I do not want to go back there, cuz I'll die there. In spite of all this, I still would end up going back there if I relied on my own will-power, even with my very best thinking!

So thank G-d for sobriety today! He must love us so much!

Now I think I'll sit down and learn...


Why does Dov keep emphasizing our "powerlessness"?

I think that there are two main reasons why the 12-Steps are built on the foundation of the first step: "Powerlessness".

1) Once we know that we are powerless over lust, we finally acknowledge that we can no longer afford to struggle with lust at all - if we are to remain sober and sane. Once we take that "first drink", we are already on a slippery downward slide. We have no choice but to completely let go of it.

2) I just saw a story in the Gemara (Taanis 24a) that made me laugh. The Gemara says that there was a drought and Rav Nachman davened for rain and the rain still didn't come. When Rav Nachman saw that his prayers were not answered he began to bemoan and cry "take Nachman and throw him down off a high wall onto the ground!" (in other words, if Hashem doesn't answer me, I'm obviously not worthy - so remove me from my high status as a Tzadik/Amorah). And the Gemara says that Rav Nachman had "chalishus hada'as" - which means he felt a great disappointment, and right then the rain came! That really struck home a point, because it shows just how much Hashem loves us, yet he waits for our hearts to be truly humbled and broken before Him. Once we know we can't do it; once we acknowledge that we have no credit on our own and we truly feel that we don't deserve anything, THAT IS WHEN Hashem sends the salvation!

Someone posted on the forum the following:

Rav Pam writes in Atara Lamelach that today we cannot do teshuva by focusing on how bad sin is. That would only hurt us and drag us down more. Rather we should focus on our maiylos and how special we are as the descendants of the Avos and as the bearers of Yiddishkeit, and strive to improve ourselves.

Dov replies:

Dear yidden who are on many different paths,

Yes, we are special. Sha'arei Kedusha basically opens with this fact and posits that the lack of recognition of how wonderful it is to be a yid and carry such a high, ancient, and beautiful neshoma, is at the root of falling into sin. Yes, it's true.

And yes, thinking of ourselves as "sinners" carries great risks. We carry so much baggage regarding that label. It may mean to us that "it's all over" and become depressed; we may give up and do worse things; we may lose emunah in Hashem's Power, Love for us, and in His Wisdom; and as a result, our chances of growing/fulfilling our potential may become quite poor, etc, etc.

But it seems to me that some people, especially frum yidden, tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. Here is what I mean:

I am sick. I have a progressive, fatal disease. It is also chronic. It does not have to kill me, as I am in remission because of my medication (the 12-Steps). But I need to take it correctly for it to work. We know of many people who have this disease and successfully live full lives nonetheless. My life has been full since getting my treatment, and as my wife told me just yesterday, life is getting better every year. It'll probably stay that way as long as I don't take the credit, 'cuz taking the credit would mean that I have stopped taking the meds.

You know what I'm talking about. It's sexaholism, lustaholism, call it what you like. Surviving it isn't a "challenge" for me, it's not about being on a "higher madreiga", and it isn't very pretty, really. But it's the truth.

Did Hashem love me fifteen years ago? You'll say "YES!". Was I "special"? You'd say "YES!". And I agree. And by the way, while I was special, I was also teaching a shiur and then leaving right afterwards to the red-light district to act out. While I was "special" I was also hooked on a seven year long telephone relationship with someone I wasn't married to, and while Hashem loved me, I made many secret rendezvous to see people who definitely didn't love me at all, but looked like they did - to me. I was just plain nuts...

And if you asked me to stop, as my neshoma did, I'd have told you (as I told my neshama) "You know, I will tomorrow, I HAVE TO quit!!". It was the same torture that many of you on this site know only too well. I would ask myself, "what am I doing??" I figured that I just really sucked at serving Hashem and was a first-rate "sinner". In actuality, I was truly serving myself in the temple of lust, carefully using the instructions the p**n industry had taught me. To me, this is not just a cute moshol, it's the truth.

Why am I reviewing this?

Because I believe that as long as a person is truly struggling with his Yetzer Hara, he is really lucky! There are s'forim, shmuessin, nigunnim, etc., all there to help him fly right. The overwhelming majority of Yidden in the world fall into this category I believe. They need to employ every aspect of Toras ha'Teshuvah to be saved from lusting and acting out on their lust, to learn how to live lives with progressively less shmutz and to be the holy yidden they are meant to be.

However, once a line is crossed enough times and the "struggle" becomes an addiction, I believe he is actually ill. And there is little evidence that he will get cured. (Some may disagree here, and I respect that 100%). I believe it is then time for what is now revealed to have been a saucy and ecstatic "Teshuva game", to end. That is, unless he enjoys being road-kill.

I do not mean that he ought to then give in to the desire at all. I mean that he needs to bite the bullet and get the help he really needs - in my case it was actually working (not studying) the 12 steps, SA meetings and a sponsor. In any case, it means living life differently, before his disease changes it drastically for him.

If you are with me so far, then you understand why romanticizing the struggle of a guy who is truly an addict by referring to it as an epic struggle with his Yetzer Hara, can perpetuate the pathetic slugfest indefinitely. Promising a shining light at the end of the tunnel for someone who really believes that Lust is his best friend, may actually be cruel. Why? Because he simply will not believe you deep inside (where it counts). Would you in his shoes?

Once the point was reached when I believed I truly had no ability to control myself (though I had no idea why - or how to regain control), then all that the "Yetzer Hara/Teshuva approach" really left me with was guilt.

In most cases, encouragement to fight for K'vod Shomayim and for the beautiful life a yid deserves to have, is indeed the greatest divine service and love for a yid. And reminders of Hashem's love are indispensable in this struggle against the Yetzer Hara. But there are cases, like mine, where a yid sees that he has an illness and admits that "hey, normal people do not do anything like this stuff!". They finally admit that it has taken control of their lives and that it has been getting only worse, never better (Step 1). These people need to be allowed to say that they are truly mentally, physically and spiritually ill.

I do not mean this in any way as an insult to yidden who are addicts. Often at first, a person will interpret their failure at using standard Torah concepts of Teshuva as proof positive that they are inferior, as I did. But that is a total lie. A yid who is an addict is not inferior at all. In fact, addiction often comes with a powerful sensitivity that is valuable, a striving for perfection that needs to be learned how to live with.

I am a loser - when it comes to lust. In my opinion, we simply do not have the power to "win" - and won't - until we are allowed to admit we are ill and learn how to live with that fact. If they are told that (as per the Ramba"m in shmoneh perakim) "don't worry , everyone who does aveiros is in the same boat and needs to learn how to do Teshuvah. Welcome to the club!," I believe these people may not get the medication they need and will end up taking their families down with them. This probably happens frequently. You read about it on "" or whatever it's called...

Furthermore, if after a short period clean these yidden are convinced that they are ready to live as others do and resume the struggle [i.e. to let lust in a "little" - and fight it] because they are better; (after all, as the Ramba"m says, I've been in the same situation as before and not sinned, so that means I did teshuvah sheleimah and I'll never go back", right?), these guys fall hard - and keep falling hard - until they realize they are really sick, not bad.

For decades I thought I was fine in the head, and it was only my body that was screwed up! No, my head was - and is - screwed up (but getting better, thank G-d!).

Just one more thing: The goal of the path I am referring to (the Steps) is definitely 100% only about closeness to Hashem and learning to live with a clear recognition that Hashem is with us always. And it leads to freedom from the aveiros, with Hashem's help. It leads to discovery of our gifts; and the fact that they came to us through aveiros makes them even more precious. It was the last place we thought we'd have thought to look for Hashem!! But He was there.


PS. Anyone who read this whole megillah must be a tzaddik, of some sort.

Dear Yidden! It's clear that the approach for "addicts" can not be the same as the standard approach for regular Yidden. We are ill and need to take the medicine. And the medicine that has been proven to work for millions of people around the world is the 12-Steps. Dov talks about "biting the bullet and getting the help we need". But GuardYourEyes has made "biting the bullet" a lot easier for frum addicts than it ever has been before! Instead of joining live 12-Step groups, mixing with other genders and other religions, being worried about anonymity issues, etc.. you can now join 12-Step groups with other frum yidden from the comfort of your home, with full anonymity - BY PHONE! Please see this page for information on how to join Duvid Chaim or Boruch's 12-Step phone conference groups.


Let me share with you a letter that Duvid Chaim just sent out to his group. From this letter you can get a taste of what the groups are like. (And BTW, it's never to late to join!)

Dear Chevra,

Do you know the feeling of what it's like when you're on a long road trip and you pass the halfway mark? And you know that what might have begun as a strenuous journey, you now see as a journey with the destination on the horizon. Well that's how I feel right now!

After going through 6 weeks and carefully reading up to page 57 in the Big Book, I am truly inspired by your growth and commitment to finding recovery from the addiction. I am also very flattered to hear the comments from the Group for what you've "learned" from me. But the truth is that I believe that I have learned more from you.

I have come to appreciate how each and every one of you is like a diamond - each with it's own unique beauty and multi-faceted. I am blessed in every call to get to know you in some new way.

Now that we are in Chapter 5 - "How It Works" - we are changing gears. While in previous chapters, we focused on the lust addiction and how we are completely powerless over it, now we are going to be spending less time talking about the lust and much more time talking about the underlying causes of our addictions. Up to now, we have been focusing on - and dwelling on - Step One, you will see that now we are going to relatively quickly be learning about and practicing the remaining 11 Steps.

So please remember to practice the "A-B-Ds" of the Program - A dmit - B elieve - D ecide. (Steps 1, 2 & 3). Yet, as we discussed today, the Action Steps begin NOW with Step 4; "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

Please download the following Worksheet. This Worksheet will be the 12 Step Program TOOL that you will use to peel away the layers of lust and see what fuels the lust - your R estlessness, I rritability and D iscontent (R-I-D). This Powerful Tool will allow you to have your first real taste of the freedom that awaits you in recovery. To really enjoy this taste of freedom, just like anything else that you taste, you have to dig into it and really savor it.

And the choice is yours now!! Do you want this taste of freedom to taste like a fast food - microwavable product - something that you grab at a Burger Barn and chow down in your van on your way to your next appointment? (When you're done, all that's left is greasy heartburn). OR do you want this taste of freedom to taste like your wife's chicken soup - a delicacy that has been slow cooked, well seasoned and delicious on the holiest day of the week?

The choice is yours - what you get out of it, will depend entirely on what you put into it!!

About the work-sheet, please note that you should hit "print preview" or print out the sheet to work on it. There are some columns and headings that can only be seen this way. We will discuss in today's call (Thursday) more about how to fill out this Sheet.

Please keep your entries on this Sheet in your computer so you can email it back to me upon its completion. At that point, we will schedule a private 2 hour call to discuss it.

I promise you that you will be a different person when you are done. Like the Book says on page 63, you will be reborn.

If you have any questions, please feel free to bring these up in the Call or email me back.

Once again, thank you for letting me join you in this Journey.

Warmest regards,
Duvid Chaim

we quoted Dov who described how the approach for "addicts" can not be the same as the standard approach for regular Yidden. Addicts are ill and need to take the medicine. And the medicine that has been proven to work for millions of people around the world is the 12-Steps.

In response to Dov's post, "Battleworn" presented a few good questions to Dov. He asks as follows:

1) There are many different definitions for the word addict. Some people feel that anyone who acts against their better judgement is an addict. But you probably mean someone who is really far gone. If you feel that an addict needs a certain approach - and that the standard approach may actually be damaging for him - and you feel that it's important to inform people of this, then perhaps you should clarify who exactly is an addict, in your opinion?

2) When you - Dov - were in the midst of the addiction, I doubt you found anyone who was able to give you the kind of Torah approach that GYE does. For example, while I don't know if I am considered an addict by your definition; I assume that so many other Tzadikim on the forum such as "Mevakesh", Ykv_Schwartz, "Me", Bardichev, Jack, MD, Nurah and many others, are considered addicts (and if not, then almost no one on the forum is). And they seem to have all done very well with the help of this wonderful website and forum, without considering themselves "losers against lust", as you described yesterday.

(For those who don't have time to read Dov's whole reply below, you might want to skip down to my summary below)

Dov replies:

I agree with you that the 12-Steps are not for everyone. I am really uncomfortable with the notion that the 12 steps are for anyone who acts against their better judgement. I believe that the last thing the 12 steps is, is just another "self-help program" or "support group". In my experience, it seems to be more like an ego-busting program, if anything; and a "getting-myself-out-of-Hashem's-way" program, too.

The way I see it, there are two categories of people. There are those who are sick and tired of giving in to lust, but they still believe that they just need the right chizuk to break free; and then there are those who have really given up all hope of "beating" it. I just wonder why a person who is only "sick and tired" would feel the need to seriously start putting his life and care completely into the hands of Hashem (after all, steps 2 & 3 only work if they are real), or accepting that their character defects are really the only reason they are ever upset at anybody (otherwise, what is step #4 really for?), etc..

So you ask "who exactly is an addict?" I do not really know, but my heart tells me that anyone who has struggled with lust for years and feels they have lost, and nevertheless wants to get free of it (without suicide), can use the 12 steps. Does it mean they'll succeed? I don't know. But many do.

Can they use what people refer to as "Torah", and make it? Well, I am again skeptical. And for the same exact reason that I think some folks who do use the 12 steps don't make it: They are not really ready to be completely honest with themselves. They entertain ideals, and mistake those ideals for what they believe. For example:

  • They really still believe they need lust/alcohol/cocaine/gambling...
  • Or, they don't really allow themselves to believe in G-d deep down.
  • Or, they aren't desperate enough in their own failure to care for themselves enough to give G-d a chance to care for them.

Is it dangerous for such people to try yiddishkeit approaches? No, but just as "spouting program concepts" (pontificating) will do them no good at a 12-Step meeting, talking Torah ideals they do not really have the capacity to accept, is just a game. Torah should not be a game. And neither - lehavdil - should recovery concepts. That makes the ideas "weaker" for the person, and much harder to use. They think about most of the 12-Steps, "well, I know that already!" but they haven't even done the first few steps yet, i.e. they don't even know that they are sick (step 1) or that their faith in Hashem has simply - and actually - not been one that works at all, yet (steps 2 & 3).

You asked if my recovery would have been different if I had had access to the GYE Torah concepts of recovery... Funny thing is, I actually did think that I had access to these concepts back then. In other words, I knew all these concepts in my mind, but here's the thing; it is not the Torah (nor - lehavdil - the 12 Step program) that changes an addict, but rather how the addict understands and uses it. I don't believe a human has the ability to get these ideas truly into someone else's head. An addict is just plain deaf, until he/she is ready to hear. All we can do is keep yacking away until someone who is ready to "hear" really listens! That's just my opinion.

You pointed out "all those Tzadikim on the forum who have done very well with the help of this wonderful website and forum, without considering themselves "losers against lust"...

I believe their success is purely because they were ready to hear. The question I have for you is: How do you define the "GYE Torah concepts"? Something an early addict in recovery has heard before and learned to mentally connect with tons and tons of guilt? (like "Hashem wants better from you", or "it's all sheker vechozov - the Yetzer Hara has nothing for you"). Even though these ideas are all 100% true, the addict may tell the guy: "hey, you're saying the same thing that my 12th grade rebbi told me! Why bother?"

In the 12-Step groups, they generally focus on telling their own story to the addicts who come to them. When the prospects see that this guy really understands, they open up. Only then, does the 12-stepper share his solution. This kind of sharing is hard to do with Torah concepts, no? We end up sometimes putting the cart before the horse, giving advice and "telling", rather than sharing. But Torah is the truth, period. And ultimate Truth just doesn't lend itself to "sharing", does it?

I believe it is possible to achieve sharing with Torah ideas too, but doing it that way would look very different from the way it is usually taught. And the truth is, it should probably stay the way it is now, because Torah is a responsibility, not only a tool. In the 12-Steps however, they try to offer these concepts primarily as tools, and that is rather new, I think.

I don't think we really disagree at all. I (and we all?) just have some problems that need attention, that's all.



Let me see if I can summarize some of the points (I hope I understood correctly) from Dov's reply:

1) The 12-Steps are for those who have struggled with lust for years and feel that they have lost, yet they are nevertheless desperate to get free of it (without suicide).

2) Such a person is truly ready for the brutal honesty and "ego-busting" that the 12-Steps are composed of. And only such a person is truly ready to put his life and care completely in Hashem's hands and finally get out of Hashem's way (to help him), and also to make a fearless moral inventory of his character defects.

3) The Torah concepts discussed on GYE can only really work when a person is truly ready to hear. Until then, an addict is just plain deaf. Because it is not the Torah knowledge (nor - lehavdil - the 12 Step program) that changes the addict, but rather how the addict understands and uses them.

4) One of the things about the 12-Step groups that make the program work so well for addicts is the sharing of personal experience by those who live with the program. This is harder to achieve in a Torah venue, since Torah is "absolute truth" - not experience, and also because the Torah is mainly a "responsibility" and not just a "tool".

I just want to point out, that perhaps if we would learn to use the Torah and Mitzvos as the Zohar calls them "613 eitzos", and as the Ba'al Hasulam explains - that the Mitzvos are all eitzos on how to put the ego aside and do "for" Hashem (he calls this "Hashpa'ah") so that we can be like Hashem ("ma hu rachum, af ata rachum"), then we would be able to achieve true d'veikus through Torah and Mitzvos, and hence true freedom from the addiction as well!

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