Yesterday at Church, I heard a comment that was honestly quite triggering. But not in the “triggering” way you might think.
By “triggering” I mean that it caused me to feel negative emotions: frustration, anger, fear, and even a lack of hope.
One of the things that was said in the talk was that, “as long as I’m trying…I’m good.” Or something to that effect.
To me, this is NOT. TRUE.
To me, this is INSANITY 101.
As a reminder, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Unfortunately, as an addict, I’ve been doing that my entire life.
The Insanity Cycle
My insanity cycle looked something like this:
1. Act out: looking at pornography, masturbation, ongoing lust and fantasy, inappropriate relationships that were fueled by lust, and the list of acting out ways could go on and on…
2. Feel bad about it: shame, guilt, remorse, embarrassment, etc.
3. Talk to my ecclesiastical leader: tell him enough to get the weight off my shoulders, sometimes feel like I told him everything, come out of the meeting feeling energized and free, ready to set a lot of new goals and overcome!
4. Go right back to lusting like a gentleman without even knowing it: checking people out, browsing TV channels, scrolling through people’s profiles on social media “just to see what they were up to,” people watching…
5. Negative emotions would add up and the lusting would get stronger: fear > anger > resentment > not feeling enough > not feeling validated or respected > not getting enough attention > lusting and lusting after the next “fix,” numbing out to not have to deal with the negative feelings…
6. See #1 and the insanity cycle repeats itself..
But I was “trying,” wasn’t I?
But What About Recovery Meetings?
I could add in to this insanity cycle that, starting in 2008 I started going to meetings and reading some recovery stuff too (although not much).
Now I was REALLY trying. Look how great of a guy I was. I had this “little problem,” but I was taking the bull by the horns, going to these recovery meetings, and “Boy, I’m such a great spiritual person…”
Unfortunately, I was still lusting like a gentleman. Unfortunately, I occasionally had relapses, but they weren’t “as bad” as some of the other addicts I was meeting with…
“I’ll never be perfect, but I’m trying…”
I told myself this all the time.
This was my insanity cycle for over 25 years (minus the going to meetings, which only started about 9 years ago).
I realize today that I was lying to myself and believing it over and over and over again.
To try is not synonymous with recovery at all.
And in most cases, to try is not synonymous with sobriety either.
Why is Trying So Off in Addiction Recovery?
The Master Jedi – Yoda, said it best:
For me, “no try” means “no half-hearted attempts; only conviction can succeed.”
Ever heard this saying?
“Half measures availed us nothing.” (The Big Book, p. 59)
I like this idea too:
“When you are ‘trying’ you are not doing, you are lost in thought about the future outcome and not present, here, now, to do.”
There is no try in addiction recovery!
Working Recovery is About Doing
Can I be trying to be sober and actually see results?
Can I be trying to work the Steps and feel progress?
Either I’ve decided to “stop and stay stopped” or I’m relapsing over and over again.
Either I’m working the Steps or I’m not.
As I read through recovery material today with this on my mind, so many quotes jumped out. Here are a few that are applicable:
“Healing in the family begins by staying sober, going to meetings, and working the Steps. It continues by staying sober, going to meetings, and working the Steps. It can end by not staying sober, not going to meetings, and not working the Steps.” (The White Book, p. 154)
Wow, I don’t know that it can be said much more clearly…
“We stop practicing our compulsion in all its forms. We can’t be ‘sober’ in one area while acting out in another. There can be no relief from the obsession of lust while still practicing the acts of lust in any form…We stop feeding lust…through the eyes, the fantasy, and the memory. We stop relishing the language of lust, resentment, and rage. We stop living only and always inside our own heads…There can be no true recovery from addiction if we allow it to persist in any area, whether in our thinking or in our acting out…The program doesn’t tell us how to stop – we had done that a thousand and one times – it shows us how to keep from starting again. We had it backwards; before, we always wanted the therapist, spouse, or God to do the stopping for us – to fix us. Now, we stop; and then, in our surrender, the power of God becomes effective in us.” (The White Book, p. 64-65)
Do I believe this statement? How am I applying it to my life today, in this moment?
“No matter how well they are explained, understood, or believed, however, the Steps mean nothing unless they are actually worked out in our thinking and living. The Steps don’t work unless we work them.” (The White Book, p. 77-78)
What does working the Steps mean then? How do I work the Steps one day at a time?
“Mere sobriety, even lengthy sobriety, hadn’t healed me or the marriage! Going to meetings? Big deal! I had to start seeing and changing me, or the pain would keep returning and the marriages keep dissolving.” (The White Book, p. 152)
Do I see a correlation here between trying and actually DOING? Sober is not well. Even lengthy sobriety, without changing the addictive behaviors, will not help heal the marriage.
“Step work is the heart of the SA Program. As opposed to reading the Steps, believing the Steps, or memorizing the Steps, ‘working the Steps’ means taking action. Going to meetings, calling our sponsor, and participating in the Fellowship strengthen our recovery, but unless we are actively working the Steps, we are not working the SA program. Working the Steps is the SA program of recovery.” (Step Into Action, p. 196-197)
When I started my study and thoughts on the topic of “trying,” this was the quote that came to mind first.
All the checklist items are helpful. All of them can get us on the right track. But “unless we are actively working the Steps, we are not working [recovery]. Working the Steps is…recovery.”
What Can I Do, Then?
The recovery literature has a pretty clear definition that I’ve seen a few times using different words.
“My life in recovery is proof that I have serenity and sobriety as long as I work the Steps and Traditions in all parts of my life, go to meetings, call my sponsor regularly, follow his directions, and let God lead my life.” (Step Into Action, p. 15)
“When we arrive at Sexaholics Anonymous, we are told to go to as many meetings as possible, to get phone numbers of fellow members and start using them daily, to begin daily readings of the literature, and to get a sponsor (even if only a ‘temporary’ sponsor) so that we can start working the Steps.” (Step Into Action, p. 19-20)
The 6 Step Recovery Formula That Works (If I Work It)
1. Go to meetings
2. Get phone numbers of fellow members
3. Call these fellow members daily
4. Read the recovery literature
5. Get a sponsor
6. Start working the Steps
One side note to this formula, something I’ve had to work on and implement if I really am ready to see results:
I have to be willing to get out of the insanity cycle.
In other words, what am I willing to give up?
What do I have control to change?
What positive boundaries can I put in place and commit to?
One way I’ve done this is to think about the last time I relapsed. What was I doing BEFORE that relapse? What led to the acting out?
Living in Positive Sobriety
In the White Book it talks about how we “…began practicing a positive sobriety, taking the actions of love to improve our relations with others. We were learning how to give; and the measure we gave was the measure we got back. We were finding what none of the substitutes had ever supplied. We were making the real Connection. We were home.” (The White Book, The Solution, p. 211)
What does this mean?
To me, this is about doing what I CAN DO to live in recovery. It’s not making a long list of the things I CAN’T DO, but instead, being proactive by saying, “Here’s what I’m willing to do or give up to break the insanity cycle.”
These are some of the positive boundaries I’ve implemented for me:
- Social Media: I’ve blocked the following sites and only use them on rare occasions with permission from my wife:
- Facebook (never)
- Youtube (only with permission and monitored via Covenant Eyes)
- Instagram (never)
- Twitter (never – also blocked emails from Twitter)
- Stumbleupon (never)
- Pinterest (never)
- Snapchat (never – luckily I never had this account)
- Internet Usage: I avoid browsing the internet – PERIOD. Browsing is a form of coping and always leads down the path of lust and acting out. I’ve installed Covenant Eyes willingly and like the protection it gives me and the trust it helps build with my wife.
- Humility: I’ve eliminated critical thinking about my wife completely – I’m just happy that she’s still with me and has given me one last chance after all the HELL I’ve put her through. I flee from thoughts about what’s in it for me or when am I going to get what’s due to me: these are selfish thoughts and do me no good – EVER. If the negative thoughts come, I recite the Serenity Prayer and 3rd Step Prayer until the thoughts go away.
- Early to Bed, Early to Rise: I’m committed to not staying up late; instead, my wife and I have a good routine where we read together, do our nightly check-in and connect emotionally
- Cell phone usage: I’ve eliminated all games on my phone and am working hard to limit my phone usage, especially at night.
- Chin-Up: I am aware of my surroundings. When I know I’ll be in a place with the potential to have lust triggers, I surrender before I go in, calling on God to help me keep my chin up. Throughout my time in the location, I focus on the chin-up and, in some cases, just looking at the ground. I may even pray multiple times for help. This practice has helped me keep bad thoughts out of my head.
Remember – this is about PROGRESS, not PERFECTION.
I know that may seem a bit counterintuitive when we’ve been talking about DOING and not just TRYING.
In order to see positive change in my life, I have to DO. I know I won’t be perfect. In fact, the more I work recovery the more I realize I have many character defects that I wasn’t even aware of before recovery began.
I know today, though, that it works when I work it.
Finally, I’m grateful for the Serenity Prayer that says it all best:
“God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
“Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time.
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
“Trusting that He will make all things right,
If I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
“Thy will, not mine, be done.”