Do or Do Not, There is No Try in Addiction Recovery

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:

no try in addiction recovery

For me, “no try” means “no half-hearted attempts; only conviction can succeed.”

Sound familiar?

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.”

Thoughts? Comments? Experiences?

10 thoughts on “Do or Do Not, There is No Try in Addiction Recovery”

  1. I work the steps. Yoda’s comment about trying is the anthem I have heard sung by my voice and by many others. Working is the “Do.” It is difficult to see through the dark fog of addiction. I lived it for so long it was normal. Progress for me is one day at a time. Today, this moment is as important as my afterlife, my eternity, my reward is now, Peace, serenity and clarity.

    I now know more that God is the catalyst. I have come to fully appreciate the surrendering process. I do what is right only one right thing at a time. I just do now, It is better than nothing or trying. A wise man once taught me that there is nothing worse than potential which means that there is only trying and not succeeding. Now this is my opinion only. My arm is flesh. I cannot rely on my own flesh. But I don’t truly understand full potential either. Progressive victory over lust. One moment, hour, day or battle at a time.

    Book of Ether… Chapter 12

    23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;
    24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
    25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
    26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness.

    1. Thanks Mark. The article that Bryan shared below is a great one that talks all about “progressive victory over lust.” Check it out.

      One moment, minute, hour, day at a time.

  2. This has always been a hard one for me as well. Progressive victory can be both a help in understanding and a crutch and rationalization. My wife, who hates lust more than any of my other struggles, which are plenty, sent me the article below. I was prideful at first, didn’t want to read it. I felt it would be self serving to her point of view that any form of lust, even the failures that occur in progressive victory, was adultery, as the Bible states. I read it because I felt I had to, but prayed that my heart could be softened and I could learn from it. It really helped me to take another approach to my ‘progressive victory’ and ‘try harder’, or as you say, do more in my recovery. Thanks for your words, another good reminder of the effort that the path we are on requires on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.

    1. Thanks Bryan. I really enjoyed that read. This was one of my favorite parts:

      “…eventually we learn the hard way that for us to drink is to die. So recovery is learning to act against the fear–to lean into the fear–and go ahead and die. So we can live. The amazing paradox of the program.”

      And this:

      “Lust has nothing to do with duration and everything to do with intent. If the intent is to snatch a quick drink, does it really matter how long it is, or even what we see? No. The intent is what we are. We need salvation from the intent, the disposition of our heart. And repentance via the Steps, together with a true apprehension of the real Savior, will give us that intent.”

      “We don’t comprehend that lust is a disposition of the heart, an attitude. We rely on our own efforts–even our prayerful efforts–to save us. (Who says religious exercises can’t support the illness?)

      “This is why so many of us–so-called sober from “acting out”–do not recover from acting in. Mere sexual sobriety just deals with externals. Sober is not well. The tragedy in such lust-avoidance or lust-distraction techniques is that we can still “feel better about ourselves” by going to meetings–or church–and getting tacit support there for our sin-sickness.”

      There’s SO much good stuff in that article. Thanks for sharing.

      Recovery is an hourly work in progress!

  3. What a timely topic. This is the Holy Spirit. My wife is gone for a few days and my temptations are high. In the past I focused on acting out to relieve pain produce joy or just because. I plan now. I write down what I can do instead of acting out. Those can items produce more good and positivity. I repeat them and study them so they become the option for me not acting out. Focus on a positive not a negative.

    1. Thanks T. I find writing things out to be really helpful too. I can see things that, before, I chose not to see.

      Positive sobriety is so essential for me. Instead of making a list of what I CAN’T do, I focus on what I CAN do to stay in a healthy place.

  4. This discussion post hits the spot for me. I wish I had seen it earlier. This is the story of my life. This is the problem. I’ve been in the program for 5 years now, but still struggling to get solid recovery. I could have written this post myself, as I too have spent my life “trying,” mostly focusing on information (research, self-help books, workshops, etc.) and tasks (step study, inventories, going to meetings, going to therapy, making calls, doing check-ins). Some how it hasn’t sunk in. I think this post gets at the problem. I have worried to much about how I’m doing rather than other people. I have sought my will not God’s. I have trusted in the arm of the flesh, my own and those of others, not God. I have focused on doing (tasks) not being. I have focused on learning not living.

    1. Thanks Sam. It makes me wonder if this this the story of most of our lives. What does it take to get us to stop trying and actually make the changes we have to make?

      For me, it started with fear that I was going to lose everything (hitting my rock bottom) and then progressed from there as I took the actions and then, SLOWLY, started to feel the difference.

      But, it’s never an arrival for me. Yesterday could have been a great day in recovery but today is a new day to submit my will to God.

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