Tool 5: Alternative Fulfillment
We frequently focus on breaking the addiction by avoiding triggers and running away from the Yetzer Hara. But often the best way to deal with an addiction, is to remove the underlying "needs" that the addiction is trying to fill by proactively engaging in alternative fulfilling pursuits.
More often than not, an addiction is a psychological escape that we learned to use as a way to flee from the realities of life. If we can manage, in the early stages of the addiction, to keep ourselves occupied with healthy and fulfilling activities that we enjoy, and find more meaning in our lives, the addiction will often fade away of its own accord. Fulfillment often comes from finding realistic challenges and reaching the goals that we set for ourselves.
We should try to find new jobs or projects that will enable us to express our creativity, find enjoyment, and reconnect with life and the world around us. This will help fill the "void" that we were subconsciously trying to satisfy with unhealthy pleasure seeking. Some ideas can be found in our "Kosher Isle" (and especially in "Kosher Activities" section).
"False" fulfillment causes us to close up into ourselves and slowly destroys our lives and our souls. True fulfillment, on the other hand, helps us open up to the world around us and reconnect with our souls. Every Jew has a “G-d Hole”, a place inside them that feels empty if not filled with G-d. Often, we subconsciously try to fill that feeling of emptiness with lusting. The best way to fill the ‘G-d Hole’ and achieve fulfillment and joy obviously comes from a true connection with Hashem. As the Pasuk says: “Tamu U’re’u Ki Tov Hashem – Taste and see that Hashem is good”, and “Ve’hisaneg al Hashem – Find Pleasure in Hashem”. This can be built up by adding Kedusha to our lives, seeking a deeper connection with Yiddishkeit in general, and through learning Torah with enjoyment. Torah is like water, and we can't put out a fire without water, even if we know it burns. We can try to hook up with a new chavrusah or add a shiur to our daily/weekly schedules. See the Torah section of our Kosher Isle for more ideas on how to add Torah to our lives, and for links to many great websites of Torah audio and video shiurim.
We can also seek “oneg” (pleasure) in Mitzvos like Shabbos and Yom-Tov, through singing zemiros and spending quality time with our children. These things are also included in “Ve’hisaneg al Hashem” because oneg that is connected to Mitzvos has a kiyum (lasts). Yes, even good food on Shabbos can be a spiritual experience, as opposed to forbidden pleasures which leave us feeling empty inside (and that’s why we want it again so soon afterward).
Other ideas to help us start living "outside of ourselves" and feel more fulfillment in general, could include Chesed projects or involvement in the community in various ways. If you are a Bochur in Yeshiva, you might try and get the job of organizing the Otzar Haseforim, running a canteen, providing dry cleaning services, haircuts, etc... If you are not learning and also unemployed, try to find a job! The main thing is to keep busy, reconnect to the world around us and find fulfillment in a variety of ways that will counteract the "false fulfillment" that the addiction tries to provide us with.
Rav Wolbe Zatza”l in his Sefer “Psychiatry and Religion” (Pg. 82) suggests cultivating a combination of religious and social fulfillment to help our youth beat this challenge. He writes:
The difficult phase of adolescence is fertile soil for feelings of guilt, especially for religious youth. Masturbation is a serious prohibition. Yet almost all youth stumble in this and are unable to find the strength to overcome this in any way. The result is feelings of guilt. This is where wise guidance from Rabbanim and Mechnchim becomes so necessary. As is known, a Rav is not licensed to “forgive sins” and surely not to permit the forbidden. However, he can guide, calm and bring the youth to acceptance of himself. And together with that, to cultivate an intensive social life and help bring the youth into the vast wealth of Torah, which can arouse in him a deep thirst to acquire and grow in Torah. As our sages have said, “Torah is good with Derech Eretz, for the toil in both makes sins be forgotten”. In other words, the toil in Torah together with the toil of cultivating a thriving social life, brings to a situation where, over time, one forgets to sin. Instead of a constant battle, which is hopeless, through the positive hard work in Torah and a social life, slowly but surely, the youth will recover from masturbation. This is the conventional path of Chinuch that is accepted today. Yes, Torah life needs intensive chinuch. Without chinuch, there is no escape from youth sinking into feelings of guilt and despair.