Tool 11: Accountability
The tools we have suggested up until now in this handbook, focus mainly on our own private struggle with the addiction. If we haven't been successful yet with the tools above, it is time to bring the struggle to the next level and introduce others into the picture. We won't go it alone anymore. Our own strength has proved insufficient in dealing with our addiction. We need to start exploiting strength from outside ourselves to help us succeed.
The Pasuk in Mishlei (18:1) says: "Le'taava yevakesh nifrad - Desire seeks isolation". Being isolated causes us to go after our Taavah - our lust. The addiction wants us to withdraw into ourselves and disconnect from life. A partner in this struggle can do wonders in helping us reconnect to the world around us and ultimately break free. Going into detail with someone else about what we've done, is also known to be one of the best ways to get out the shame, guilt and remorse, and move on.
In addition to the above, simply telling over our feelings and thoughts to a friend or mentor, has tremendous power to help us break the insidious power of the addiction. As the Tzetel Katan of the great Chassidic master, R' Elimelech of Lizentzk states:
One should relate before one's teacher, who instructs him in the way of HaShem, or even before a good friend, all of one's thoughts that are contrary to the Holy Torah that the Yetzer HaRah causes to arise in his mind or heart… And one should not withhold anything because of shame. He will find that by relating these things, he will gain the power to break the strength of the Yetzer HaRah so that it will no longer be able to overcome him other times. This is in addition to the good advice that he will receive from his friend in the ways of Hashem. And this is a wonderful remedy.
We see from the above, that simply relating ones struggles to a friend or mentor has the power to break the strength of the Yetzer Hara.
Aside from the fact that the very act of talking it out already lessens the struggle, the main purpose of a partner is that it introduces the vital element of "accountability" into the equation. As Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai blessed his students, "May your fear of heaven be equal to your fear of man". And his students asked him: "Rebbe, is that all?". And he answered: "Halevai!".
The truth of Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai's blessing is pointedly illustrated by the story of Rav Amram Raban Shel Chassidim (Kidushin 81/a) that we bring in the second part of this Handbook (principle 2). We may ask, if Rav Amram had so much Fear of Heaven that he was determined enough to call out "Fire!", why couldn't he just have stopped himself? The answer is, that Rav Amram knew that unless other human beings would be introduced into the equation, he was powerless to stop himself from the power of the lust. This amazing story shows us the immense value of "human" accountability.
Is there anyone among us who will say he is stronger than Rav Amram? We are faced with these desires every day, in the privacy of our homes and only a mouse-click away! We must have accountability to succeed in breaking the addiction. If the fact that Hashem watching him was still too "abstract" to stop Reb Amram Chasid from the power of lust, it is surely too abstract to stop us when we are faced with lust. We need someone - in the flesh - who will hear us scream "Fire!" when we feel weak, and someone we can feel accountable to.
We can try to find a close friend or a Rabbi we respect, to whom we can confide about our struggles. And even more importantly, we need to make sure to keep in touch with them about our progress and give them honest updates every few days. Obviously for this to work properly, we must remain completely honest and open with our accountability partners, at all cost. If we fall, the shame we will feel in reporting it will be atonement in itself, as well as providing a strong incentive to remain clean next time.
We can also hook up with someone else who is struggling like us and give each other Chizuk. When feeling an attack of lust, it is very helpful to call our partner and talk it out. Although this partner may occasionally experience falls himself, he can see much clearer than us right now because he is not caught up in the lust as we are. His Chizuk will often be exactly what we would have told ourselves, but because we are blinded now, we need to hear it from someone else. Also, by nullifying our own mind and accepting to do whatever our partner suggests, we will often be able to get “out of our heads” and out of our own destructive desires.
Even when not under an attack of lust, it may be helpful to be in touch with our partners on a daily basis at first, either by phone or by e-mail. As we progress, the updates can be less frequent, but they should still be at set intervals which can be decided in advance.
If our wives know about our struggle, they can be one of the best accountability partners. We will feel their pain when we are slipping even more acutely than with others, and this will be a big incentive for us to remain clean. (Although it’s never good to go into too much detail about our struggle with our wives). If our wives do not know, it may be extremely helpful in the long term for them to find out. However, this should be done only once we are taking serious steps to recover and are seeing good progress. Also, it should best be done with careful preparation and preferably in the presence of a therapist or Rabbi that can help her understand the nature of the addiction and offer guidance on how to cope. Although it is often very painful for the wife to find out about our struggles in this area, in the long term it generally does more good than damage. Aside from the strong "accountability" that this provides us with, a couple can ultimately grow much closer together when there are no secrets between them.
It is most effective if our partner or mentor is indeed someone we know. This adds an element of personal honor, which boosts the efficiency of the accountability. However, if this is not an option for us at this stage, Guard Your Eyes provides a framework to help everyone find an accountability partner or sponsor from our network. Sign up to our Partner/Sponsor program and our system will be able to find you a partner or sponsor that matches your gender, marriage status, location and other constraints which best match your situation. You can choose whether you want to be in touch with your partner by e-mail, chat, or even by phone. Using Google Voice, you can receive an anonymous phone number to use for calling and receiving you partner’s calls.
From ‘day one’ of our journey, we can already be a partner to receive and provide accountability, understanding, chizuk and hope with another struggler. However, to be a sponsor on our network, we must have at least 90 days sobriety.
If we feel inadequate or unequipped to provide others with chizuk, we can use this Handbook, (both parts 1 and 2), as a basis for great material to discuss with our partner. Alternatively, we can read and discuss the many tips on the website or material from any of the hundreds of past chizuk e-mails sent out.
Those who join 12-Step groups (discussed in later tools) will be able to find a sponsor in the group who will serve both as an accountability partner as well as a guide to help them work through the 12 steps. As one group member beautifully summed up the power of accountability and of having others help us in our struggle:
I have had enough of the silent suffering, the hiding, the lying and the living a double life. Today, I talk to people in my program every day, besides going to meetings twice a week. The whole truth about me needs to be on the outside, with safe people.