Why Progressive Victory Over Lust is Essential to True Recovery

“What is progressive victory over lust?”

“Why do I need this for true recovery from sexual addiction?”

“‘Progressive victory over lust…’ – is that even possible?”

These are questions that came to my mind when I first heard the phrase “progressive victory over lust.”

How would you answer these questions today?

Do you believe the statement that says that progressive victory over lust is essential to true recovery?

In the White Book of SA, it clearly states,

…lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust. (p. 4)

progressive victory over lust

Why do I need to worry about lust?

I remember going to meetings, starting in about 2008. The common introduction in the meeting, the one most of us used, was this:

“Hi, I’m ____ and I’m addicted to pornography, masturbation, and lust…”

Sounds pretty honest, doesn’t it?

For me, I thought I was being honest.

But I also remember having a bit of sobriety, working with a sponsor, and having the distinct thought come to mind:

“How can I say I’m really sober from all this if I’m still browsing around the internet, specifically Facebook, or checking people out?”

This question came to mind a few different times but I quickly brushed it off and repeated to myself that I was sober – I wasn’t acting out by looking at porn or masturbating and that all was well…


The Best Decision We Ever Made

In 2014, my wife and I went to the UCAP conference in Salt Lake City. This was the probably the best decision I’ve ever made: I was scared of who I might see there, I wasn’t sure if I really belonged at a conference like this, and my wife was with me, still dealing with a lot of trauma from my horrible choices.

We had recently read two books which I really recommend: “Love You, Hate the Porn” and “What Can I Do About Him Me?” I can’t remember 100%, but I’m pretty sure both of these books talked some about lust and how it was a key ingredient in the sexual addiction process.

But the concept of lust really hit me the most when I went to my first SAL meeting and we read, from the White Book, about “The Problem.”

“We plugged in by drinking in the pictures, the images, and pursuing the objects of our fantasies. We lusted and wanted to be lusted after…

“We were addicted to the intrigue, the tease, the forbidden…Lusting after the Big Fix, we gave away our power to others….

“Our habit made true intimacy impossible. We could never know real union with another because we were addicted to the unreal. We went for the ‘chemistry,’ the connection that had the magic, because it bypassed intimacy and true union. Fantasy corrupted the real, lust killed love.” (p. 203)

Wow, what was all this talk about LUST?

How did they know I was thinking many of these very things?

What does progressive victory over lust mean?

My eyes were probably not open yet, but I was pretty taken back by what I read and heard in my first SAL meeting. Maybe I’d found the answer to that question about sobriety and people watching.

“Progressive victory over lust…What is that? What does that even mean?”

The word progressive means “happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.”

Addiction is progressive. One therapist I’ve worked with would always say, “Once is too many and a thousand times is never enough.” In fact, the White Books states that “…our sexaholism doesn’t stand still; it progressively worsens.” (p. 32)

When I hear the word lust, I used to immediately identify it with sexual things. But, on Wikipedia, I believe it has a better, more accurate definition:

Lust is an emotion or feeling of intense desire in the body. The lust can take any form such as the lust for sex, lust for expensive objects (extravagance) or the lust for power. It can take such mundane forms as the lust for food as distinct from the need for food.

This, too, is eye-opening to me.

Based on the above definition, a synonym for lust is coveting.

Lust can be a feeling of discontent.

It can show up as comparison.

It can feel like I never have enough of something: money, power, fame, control, food, or, in most of our cases, sex in its variety of forms.

Learning this led to my next question, then:

“How do I work on “progressive victory over lust?”

And why is that crucial to real recovery from addiction?

Is progressive victory over lust mandatory? Can I chip away at it over time and eventually it will just work itself out?

The White Book has this to say about the importance of progressive victory over lust in relation to being a sponsor:

There are few absolute requirements a prospective sponsor should have, but a period of comfortable sexual sobriety, including progressive victory over lust, is surely a must. (bold & underline added for emphasis)

If I’m not working on this progressive victory, is being a sponsor putting the cart before the horse?

One person in recovery who I really respect said it this way:

Progressive victory over lust does NOT mean I lust and lust less often over time; it means I STOP and STAY STOPPED lusting and, over time, it gets easier to not lust.

An alcoholic doesn’t have progressive victory over alcohol by drinking less and less every day until, one day, he’s magically cured. Instead, he STOPS and STAYS STOPPED, and, over time, the temptation is less and less to go back to alcohol.

Practicing the Chin Up Approach

One thing I try to practice one day at a time, even moment to moment, is the chin up approach. This was shared by a facilitator back in 2007 who said he looks at everyone from the chin up.

Not only does this help him look at everyone as a son or daughter of God, but it eliminates the comparison mindset, the objectification, and ultimately, the lustful thoughts.

I remember thinking, when I heard that concept: “Yeah, that’d be a great idea. But who’s he kidding. I can’t do that…”

And the truth is, I CAN’T – but GOD CAN.

As I “practice” the chin up approach: being aware of where I am, asking for His help, and surrendering my natural tendencies to want to look at others from the chin down – God is there and really does help.

This, to me, is one way to practice progressive victory over lust.

The Addiction Relationship

In the book “Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship,” there is an equation that, to me, is so accurate:

A leads to B and B leads to C

A is debilitating negative emotions.

B is lust.

C is sexually acting out.

Thus, A, negative emotions lead to B, lust, which leads to C, sexually acting out. If I can deal with the A’s in my life effectively, the B’s and C’s will lose their power over time – progressive victory.

The White Book talks about this too:

“Progressive victory over [personality] defects, not their eradication, is the power of God at work in us. What we really do battle against is not other people but our old natures, the negative force within us we can obey anytime we wish, the force that is always willing and able to wrong another.” (p. 131)

On pages 156-168 of the White Book it answers the question of what progressive victory over lust looks like.

Here’s the summary:

18 Steps to Practice Progressive Victory Over Lust

  1. Stop practicing the compulsion. (This is the STOP and STAY STOPPED concept.)
  2. Stop feeding the obsession.
  3. Participate in the fellowship of the program.
  4. Admit powerlessness.
  5. Surrender.
  6. Bring the inside out.
  7. Trust.
  8. Use the literature of the program.
  9. Go to work on the other defects. (This is working on the A’s in addiction – the debilitating negative emotions. This is also the living Steps of 6 & 7.)
  10. Learn to give instead of take.
  11. Get an [SAL] sponsor.
  12. Make friends in the program.
  13. Carry the message of your recovery. (Live Step 12.)
  14. Practice taking the actions of love.
  15. Recognize and feed your hunger for God.
  16. Cast it out.
  17. Take refuge in God.
  18. Look lust in the eye.


A lot to digest.

Taking things one day at a time, one moment at a time, can be so helpful and practical.

Am I ever going to be able to control what other people wear that could be triggering? NO!

Am I ever going to be able to stop the commercials on TV from getting more and more pornographic? NO!

I CAN be aware, I CAN ask for help, both from God and from others in group; I CAN say a surrender prayer and ask for direction prior to entering a place where I know there could be triggering situations.

It all goes back to the serenity prayer:

“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…”

I look forward to everyone’s feedback, their experience, and additional questions.

What thoughts do you have on progressive victory over lust?

25 thoughts on “Why Progressive Victory Over Lust is Essential to True Recovery”

  1. Why progressive victory over lust is essential for me?

    If you ever hear me share you’ll notice that for me I have two dates for my sobriety 8-24-02 for my “white book definition of no sex with myself or others other than my spouse” and my date of 7-31-16 for my progressive victory over lust. The latter to me being more substantial than the first.

    I am allergic to lust. I know when I allow a little lust to come into my mind and decide not to surrender it but to maybe dwell on it and then fight it with my own will–an indication that I don’t feel powerless over that small lust–I discover that I allow that degree of lust to become acceptable in a future situation since the last time I was able to “handle it”.

    This reasoning creates instead of progressive victory over lust, progressive defeat over lust. Like a small tumor It’s only a matter of time before it becomes lethal for me.

    I have seen it in my life and in the lives of many others how those negotiations with lustful situations only allows the other side to just have to sit and wait until the right bad day, or the argument with my wife, or the situation with enough self pity opens the door for that little lust I allowed to come in to push me into full acting out.

    How much lust is ok for me? I have zero tolerance. When I become aware that a lustful situation is starting to develop I surrender to God in real prayer. I talk to him that I don’t want that in my life and I ask him to please bear it for me. If the desire continues I contact someone in the group.

    This may seem restrictive to many but with time those episodes become less frequent and less restraining. Life becomes so much easier. I don’t have to struggle so much any more because I work on the issue at the very root.

    Today I don’t think if I’m going to be sober or not but rather if I’ll have new ways to discover where lust begins to show up and have the opportunity to talk to someone about it.

    What happened to me on 7-31-16 when I reset my progressive victory over lust date?

    I was in Home Depot, usually I am there with my wife or one of my children but I found myself there alone for about 15 minutes waiting for my wife to pick me up. I walked by the appliance department I noticed a female worker by the corner of my eye, I could have continue walking but instead I turn and went to look at appliances I didn’t need. At that moment I could’ve surrendered, I could’ve in a different direction instead i continued walking towards that person then I engaged in a small conversation about appliances, a conversation I didn’t need to have. In a situation I purposely decided not to surrender because in my mind it wasn’t a big deal, what was I going to do, ask her out?

    I turned and walk away, the conversation took less than a minute but I knew there was no real purpose other than to take a small “drink” of lust.

    Because I made the conscious decision not to surrender I reset my progressive victory over lust date.

    I have been sober since then, there have been other situations where lust has shown up but I have surrendered them to someone.

    How much better is my life, my marriage, my awareness with a more clear understanding of the power of my powerlessness over lust and the grace of my connection with God and others in the program.

    1. Thanks for sharing J. This is great insight.

      Lust is toxic in all its forms. I agree 100% that “negotiating with lustful situations only allows the other side to just have to sit and wait until the right bad day, or the argument with my wife, or the situation with enough self pity opens the door for that little lust I allowed to come in to push me into full acting out…”

      I hope all of us will read your comment and that it will resonate with us, causing self-assessment.

      Thanks again.

    2. Thank you for your comments, J. I have been struggling trying to define what is “progressive victory over lust” and how it relates to sobriety and recovery. If I am sober, do I have to be free of lust? This article and your comments have helped me see there is a difference between the two but they’re also related.

      Because of my lack of understanding about progressive victory over lust and sobriety I have often justified lusting instead of surrendering it, because it wasn’t “that bad” and I could handle it. I like your comment about “progressive defeat [from] lust”. It’s a really powerful concept that I am going to apply in my own recovery and sobriety.

  2. When first starting my real recovery journey I thought of this as strickly sexual. Surrendering every time I am desirous to walk down the isle and glance, have a fantasy thought, whatever it is, it means immediate surrender. I am allergic to this stuff. Surrendering this type of lust to God, along with ‘chin up’ and step work has kept me sober for over a year, but I was not super happy about how recovery was going. My wife and I still fought a lot, I was angry all the time, resentful, simply put unhappy beng sober, which is a pathway towards destruction… only in the last couple months, after reading the white book in group have I realized that I lust after the negative emotions of resentment, ‘fairness’, being right, winning the argument, feeling justified in my negative emotions, on and on. I can’t let it go, much the same as not having the control to get up and walk away from the computer, or not sit down at it in the first place while I was still acting out. My wife said it well the other night that ultimately these are sinful feelings, and ALL sin is addictive. I am addicted to negative emotions, and therefore lust after them. Now, I surrender the emotions in the same way I surrender the lust. They aren’t as obvious sometimes, but they spiral out of control quickly. Surrendering this type of lust has brought new peace in my life. Not having arguments with my wife drag on over hours and days, having more patience, more love etc. This is the type of recovery I have hoped for. Now, I just need to not be a dumb ass and keep trusting and surrendering to God so that I don’t screw it all up!

    1. Thanks Cameron. You and I both know the “chin-up” guy. Glad to know him.

      I feel the same way about other character defects that have raised their ugly heads since I’ve been more aware of my lust triggers.

      Impatience with my kids
      Frustration with clients
      Anxiety about work
      Right vs. Wrong mentality
      Questions about Church

      All kinds of negative emotions that I didn’t even realize were there before.

      Now, luckily, they are really obvious. I’m practicing surrendering them in the moment, but at times it’s hard to even recognize them until I’m already riled up.

      One thing I’m trying to practice is reaching out to others. This, for me, isn’t easy. Especially because I can be so full of ego. But as I work on it, things do get progressively easier or become more part of who I am.

      Thanks so much for your share. I’m grateful to know you.

  3. I really struggle with progressive victory over lust. I have gotten much better over time at maintaining sobriety, through strict dailies and boundaries. But, lust has continued to plague me. I know that I cannot have true lasting recovery without progressive victory over it. This is because it occupies so much of my mental energy it is taxing, it robs me of my peace, it disconnects me from others and God, it is unfaithful to my wife, it crowds out other more healthy things that could occupy my mind, and leads to a lot of shame and anxiety. I have read about or heard of all of the ideas above, and value them. But, the triggers for me are often so incessant that successfully applying the above ideas requires a level of persistence that I have infrequently given. I appreciate those who have had success, as they give me hope. I need to really be willing to fully give it up, and then commit to be unyielding my efforts to surrender.

  4. Thank you so much for your article on progressive victory over lust. I’ve been an SA member for a while, but moved to Milan, Italy a few months ago and married my Italian sweetheart. I was just “caught” looking at another woman. She has been giving me what I deserve.
    I feel more confident after reading your words and plan to do work again!

  5. I quit looking at porn 18 months or so ago but very eventually realized that The Porn Inside, in my head, is never going to go away. It may diminish (actually it has) but it’ll never disappear completely. I’ve got “lust in my heart”, as Jimmy Carter once admitted. And I have only myself to blame, after a lifetime of thinking that nothing really matters and “I’m Okay You’re Okay” and “If It feels Good, Do It.” And that chickens don’t come home to roost. But they most definitely do.

  6. Good article but the part saying that progressive victory means you stop lusting and stay stopped seems incorrect to me. I’ve never heard of an addict whose sobriety consisted of complete absence of lust. I think this implication the article makes is wrong.
    But I like the other thoughts about lust and how to get progressive victory over it.

    1. Thanks for your insight Mike.

      Not sure that perfection is what my friend meant that shared the thought about stopping and staying stopped, but I do know this:

      If I’m dabbling, justifying, or rationalizing that lust is “okay” from time to time, or the common “nobodies perfect” excuse, I’m in a dangerous place.

      I love the quote “Progress, not perfection.”

      And I know from my own experience that if I’m not practicing progressive victory over lust one day and one moment at a time, I’m in a dangerous place.

      Just my two cents.

      Thanks for the comment.


      In doing some additional reading, I found this quote from the author of the White Book, Roy K., that I felt was really applicable to our conversation too:

      “…stopping lusting is as much a part of recovery as stopping the acting out. Yet this is commonly overlooked or disregarded, as though sobriety from physical acting out is the goal, an end in itself. And lust, after all, doesn’t seem to be as much an “act” as sex is; it’s part of our inner life, our thinking, our very consciousness, and spirit. Thus, putting the priority on the acting out seems to be typical; but this limits recovery. We might even say it prevents recovery if such an attitude becomes entrenched.”

      Look forward to ongoing conversation.

  7. hello, I am justin, grateful for recovery in SA.

    A few things that I sense is a deep pitfall in SA

    1- The only sex in a mariage between men and wife;
    to me this shows the ultimate sickness in action; to call somebody MY wife! …and its still all about me me me. I heard somebody said; I call it a relapse if I have 2 times sex with my wife in a day! …this kind of dogmatic fixed rule…,alows not even the freedom of spontaneous act of celebrating love, intimacy and sex, even if this would be the need of ‘my wife’ .
    -These kind of statements set people up for dishonesty and fundamentalism. //Thats what I experienced when a fellow shared this sentence with me, after telling me that for some sponsors the automatic touch of my private part during the night time, which did not result in masturbation nor stroking it, it was less then 30sec and when I realised what was going on, I surrendered this pattern. But he needed to tell me that some would call that a relapse! …wow, just more negative focus, instead of; hey great your HP could save you and helped to sleep sober and peacefull, and Halelula you are sober today.

    (Dont take me wrong, I love to live free from Lust, because sooner or later Lust can take me over without any respect to the boundaries of this body/mind).
    I just feel with sex addiction recovery there is soooo much SHAME, FEAR, CONFUSION, FRUSTRATION,TRAUMA etc. that even in recovery these run rampant. People don’t know simply what is an ideal and what is real recovery in their own daily life.
    AND I have taken it all so personaly. Me, myself and I in the great battle with LUST. …I think SA overlooks that their are all different levels in recovery…,what works in the beginning might be outgrown later on, I hope so, at least thats evident in my journey.

    I love this to be a programme of attraction, to see people growing being aid by the surrender of lust, people happy and celebrating recovery, and even celebrating the ones who are honest enough who confess a relapse but are ready to just surrender more fully.

    anyway, I would love to meet sober non married fellows who have a heart for non duality; to not just surrender lust, but surrender the whole idea of a seperate independent entity called, me/ I. my greates inspiration from a ’12 step fellow’ is Paul Hedderman. …i wish to meet people who had such a spiritual awakening in SA…,struck sober people who no longer have to Battle lust..

    thank you

  8. My husband struggles with this and it breaks my heart. I struggle to know what to do he doesn’t see it as it is. I pray and pray. I don’t know what else to do but hope and pray God will convict him. He continuously searches women on Facebook dressed inappropriately and I had to delete my fb because it hurt to much to see what he was looking at. I know he knows it’s wrong because he tries to hide it but isn’t taking any advice to cut off his stumbling block. What should I do?

    1. Hello Ariel. Thanks for reaching out. This is a struggle that we understand within this community. One of the first things we learn as we start our recovery journey is that we cannot control the behavior of others. By so doing our lives simply become unmanageable. While you cannot change your husband, you have the ability to set boundaries that will help you feel safer in your relationship. Boundaries are not meant to control others, but they do give us an opportunity to say what is and is not okay with us in a relationship. As others have said, the only language an addict can understand is boundaries. To learn more about this concept, we invite you to attend one of our free 12-Step meetings for partners. You can register at sal12step.org. There you will find a community of women who understand you and the tools to work through these challenges in your marriage.

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