Recovery

One Day at a Time

Sometimes we look into the future and we get overwhelmed. We tried so many times to stop and the odds are against us. We get filled with self-doubt and lose our confidence to succeed. Many times we think: “what’s the point of getting through this day? In any case tomorrow I will probably fall, and if not tomorrow then the next day. Why should I bother to try?”

At PA we learn to live “one day at a time.” We try not to focus on the future or wonder how we will manage or stay clean tomorrow. We learn to limit our sight to the present day.

When we focus on the future, we can easily fall. It’s like someone walking a tightrope; if he looks down, it becomes so much harder not to fall. Therefore, when we are triggered we can tell ourselves, “just for today, I will stay clean.” The past and the future are out of our hands and belong only to God.

Did you notice that God didn’t create the world with a continuous day that lasts forever? God could have created time as an endless day, but He didn’t. He divided time into separate days of 24 hours each – with a day and a night. This way we can deal with what we have in front of us each day, and leave our worries about the future – for tomorrow. Have you felt at times the relief after a rough day that the day is over and that tomorrow will be a new day? It’s really a blessing.

It doesn’t mean that we fool ourselves and we forget that the future exists. All it means is that we focus only on the day that is in front of us.

It’s a “trick”, that we usually use when we have a fall. What do we tell ourselves when we decide to act-out? “Just today; today will be the last time, and tomorrow I’ll stop for good”. In other words, we tell ourselves “I will fall just today”.

But now we learn to use the same approach to stay clean. When we focus on “one day at a time” we tell ourselves the opposite: “I will stay clean just for today”.

When we make a commitment to ourselves to stay clean just for today, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow we will fall. It means that today we will do everything we can not to fall, but we will leave tomorrow’s challenge for tomorrow.

We don’t mean “I will do my best today, but tomorrow I will fall”. Rather we mean “I will do my best today, and tomorrow we’ll see what happens.”

“One day at a time” makes the challenge much less overwhelming. It’s a healthier and more balanced approach that can motivate us to use the tools of the program, and to avoid sabotaging the present because of our fear of the future.

So just for today – why don’t you join us and come to a meeting?

Giving It Up – Even Though We Can’t

Our acting-out with pornography can end up becoming the very source of our healing.

For all of us, it starts out as a love-hate relationship. On one hand, it was our very best, most precious friend. On the other, we also hate it. We protected it vigilantly with lies, hiding, and faking. We struggled all on our own in secret.

We stick with this method because although we are so ashamed that we can’t admit having this issue, we are also so proud that we still fantasize that we can beat it. We also keep it private to protect it! Secrecy allows the fox (us) to keep guarding the hen house (our habit)!

This way will most likely not lead us out of our porn problem.

But, as time goes on and we get into more pain, and as the familiar bitterness grows – porn eventually stops being such a good friend. Porn and sex with self stop working for us. And THAT IS when we have a chance at braving it and betraying our sweet friend. We start to consider giving it up! Not ‘stopping‘ or ‘quitting‘ – we have all done that hundreds of times, right? But at this point, we are becoming ready to give it up.

Until then, what we actually meant with our prayers was: “God, take away my desire so that I will not have to suffer giving it up… because I really can’t imagine living without it. So please, please help me!” That does not work very well. We do not get the progressive freedom that way.

Our porn habit itself leads us to this stage when we are truly ready to give it up. As an alkie once said: I needed every drink I took, in order to bring me to this point – to my knees.

Giving it up – surrender – is completely different than anything we tried to do before. We recognize that surrendering our habit will take a miracle. We will need God, for a change. Till now some of us had faith but we never really trusted Him with the whole job. This time, we know we cannot do a thing about our problem without His help. Without His direct help, we will most likely fail. Changing a habit of many years that also has hormones behind it and a culture, porn food, and a well-practiced fantasy engine will not always be something we can change by ourselves. We will need help. And God will help us and will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

The first part of the first step is the inner giving up of our fight, and agreeing to get help, since our own track record proves beyond any doubt that when it comes to porn we cannot win by ourselves.

“We admitted that we were powerless over pornography—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Recovery is not a religion nor is it a place for dogma. There is nothing ‘righteous’ about coming to the admission of the first step! Either we believe it is true, or we do not. There is no ‘advantage’ to being powerless – recognizing the truth is advantageous, that’s all.

How to fill the void we feel?

It’s obvious that one of the strongest triggers that make us turn to porn is a sense of inner emptiness. A hard day at work, a strong sense of meaninglessness, a desire to escape to a place of comfort, and there you have all the conditions needed to make us dive into a world of fantasy, deep into obsessive use of porn, where we can find a moment of peace. The problem is, of course, that this is a false peace, with a very short expiration date.

So what are we supposed to do with this emptiness and void?

One way to deal with it is to try to fill it with something external; the other way is to try to fill it from within, internally.

Before I started the program, I tried the first option. I felt empty inside and tried to fill the void with every possible endeavor, but I still felt empty inside. Always empty. I thought that getting married would solve the problem, or if I were busy enough it would help. If I moved, if I found another job, if I got up early, If I… (fill in the blank), that would be my solution.

The problem was that it just didn’t work.

I always tried to control the external landscape of my life, and I was convinced that by doing so the problems of my inner mindscape would be solved.

When I got to the program, I learned that it was exactly the opposite. First I have to take care of the inner landscape of my life, and leave the external landscape to God.

This doesn’t mean that I should put my feet up all day without doing anything. I have to do my part as much as I can. But, instead of focusing on changing my life, myself, the world or the people around me; the real work is to focus on living today well. The real work is acceptance, self-compassion, patience, gratitude, faith.

Just today I came across a quote that really explains what I’ve learned in the program (I’m not sure who wrote it):

Your true self already knows you have an open invitation to have fun playing your part in life. It knows that when it does not seem like fun, it’s time to bring wisdom to it. And when wisdom fails, we need to bring patience. And when patience is in short supply, we need to bring acceptance and faith. And when acceptance is difficult, we need to bring gratitude and more faith. For gratitude and faith reverse any belief that something that is going on in our lives – should not be happening. Your true self is the voice that is calling you to find peace. Listen to it.  

I feel these words are true for me. Something inside me recognizes that this is the truth.

Before I got to the program I was looking for my lost car keys under the streetlight instead of looking for them where I’d lost them. An inner void can never be filled with something external. An internal vacuum can be filled only from within.

The program pointed me in the right direction. If you need this gift as well, maybe you should join our group and start working the steps. I look forward to meeting you.

Are You Ready for Change?

A member who is sober in the 12-Step fellowship for many years, writes to a fellow struggler:

I am not the guy who will tell you that you need to go to meetings. I am not the one who would say, “if you aren’t trying to get better the same way I got better, then there’s no hope for you.” If I did that or even believed that, I believe that I’d lose my sobriety pretty soon. The judgmentalism and hubris of the ‘one-way (my way) approach’ is too much for me to handle.

Instead, all I can share with you is my own experience and leave it at that. You will take it or leave it. I’m sharing out of love and hope that maybe what I received has value you for you too.

I think the real question you have to ask yourself is – are you ready for change?

And I don’t mean – are you ready to change yourself?

I don’t mean – are you ready to start ‘behaving yourself?

I also don’t mean – are you ready to quit for good?

I’m just asking, “are you ready for change?”

The word ‘change‘ is a noun, not a verb.

Till now, I am pretty sure you have used all the wits you have to change yourself. To try holding on to the porn while somehow controlling it enough to still be the good man you really are…

But apparently, you had no more success than I did! That’s why I can say I love you. We are so similar already.

Long before I was caught by my wife I had moments when I was completely committed to change my behavior, though I had no clue how to do it.

My (unexpected) reaction to those moments was: absolute terror.

For example, I remember once, when I made up my mind not to never use porn again after losing a close friend in a car accident, I felt so good about my decision, so hopeful. But moments later, the fate of having a lifetime without porn ever again gripped me with terror (which proves that I was really sincere). I felt frantic. I couldn’t take it. The familiar warm, sweet and comforting feeling of porn and masturbation, was more than I could actually face really giving up.

Sad, but 100% true.

It still took me about one more year to finally get into recovery.

Years later, in recovery, I came to see and admit that porn had actually become my very best friend in the entire world. Kind of like how a sailor is married to the sea.

Unfortunately for me, I had picked a very bad best friend.

Porn is very, very mean. I think it is even meaner than heroin and alcohol.

It nearly ruined my marriage, my life, and my sanity – because I sacrificed all these things on the altar of ‘getting’ what porn seemed to offer. Not at all because I was a bad guy – on the contrary, I was always a nice man. But I obviously truly believed that I needed it like other people need air.

Do you feel the same?

Are you dependent on porn? Do you consistently turn to porn when you feel needy? Or do you just consider it a bad habit that you’ve got to ‘shake’ by trying harder?

You need to figure this out for yourself by being honest with yourself.

If I wasn’t honest with myself I would never have come to the 12-Step program, and I doubt I would have moved forward, because I was really stuck.

If you think you are like me, I would love to meet you at our groups.

Consider this a personal invitation.

I would love to see together with you the change that will take place.

Are You Worth It?

Someone wrote this week:

I am a young married guy and I am desperate for help. My wife wants to leave me…. I have been married one year and I’ve had a porn problem since I was 12 years old. It’s not getting better. We tried therapy for the last couple of months, but we can’t come down to the reason why I can’t stop. Please help me.

A member who is sober in the 12-Step fellowship for many years, responds:

Dear friend –

Before I got to the program my life and marriage were also a serious mess. I saw no way out.

But, I have been sober for many years now, and my marriage is better than it ever was. And so is my life.

As far as counseling goes, I also went to a psychotherapist when my wife first found me out. We were getting divorced, it seemed.

Together with the shrink we agreed that I’d work on my porn problem for a while, and then we’d tackle the marriage issue and decide if we should divorce, or not.

But I didn’t stop.

The shrink was flabbergasted every time I’d act out with porn! He just couldn’t figure it out, and neither could I.

I guess I just felt deep down that I needed porn more than I needed my marriage.

When I finally got desperate enough to get into serious recovery (and after switching shrinks), I got sober in the 12-Step program and got the help I needed. The dust started to clear over the next year, and things slowly got better at the same time.

And by the way, I never needed to figure out why I did the crazy stuff and why I can’t stop. For all I know I still can’t stop!

I got help because I know that I can’t do it alone. I tried for a long time.

How long have you tried for? How’s it working?

And I still need help because I still can’t do it – but I am sober one day at a time so far, without any ‘pressure building up’…

And every single aspect of life is better this year than it was last year, no question. It was not easy, but what’s that got to do with it? To me, the only question is: “Am I worth it?

Are you?

I think you are. We all are. We all deserve a porn-free life. An obsession-free life.

If you haven’t yet, my advice is: join a group and start working the steps. I hope they do for you what they have done for me.

I love you and all the struggling people out there who are looking for help. I pray that we can be part of your solution.

Living in the Present

“I recently fell after a clean period of 40 days, and it hurts. How can I finally beat this thing so that I never come back to it?” Jamie K., Brooklyn

Dear brother,

I feel your pain. I have been there, in the same place that you are. We all at some point wish we didn’t have this problem and that we could put it behind us forever. (You may be surprised to hear that some of us at some point may also find gratitude for the doorway to a better life that this challenge created for them.)

We learn in the program that recovery has to be worked one day at a time. There cannot be 40 days… it has to be for today only. This is not just a pep-talk to try to make you feel better, I am sharing with you what actually works for me and for many other people in the program.

Is there “obliteration” of the pull to go back to the porn?

I have no idea, and it’s none of my business. But I have been sober today so far for a good few years, and don’t care to look back yet to check the success. I was just trying to be sober for one day…and look at what it became! A giant pile of days, months and years!

As long as my struggle is just to not act out, it remains a contest between me and my addiction. And the stakes build with time. Sobriety only succeeds if I work the 12-Step program that helps me be comfortable with life and myself. The program helps me have a good day, a day where I’m in well-being. And that’s what helps me have another clean day, just for today.

To tell you the truth, at least for me, I believe even that isn’t enough on it’s own. I don’t believe I can “hold out” on my own indefinitely, even one day at a time, even with the program. In my case at least, I have come to see that it is inevitable that I’ll screw up eventually. It’s really God that grants me a reprieve from my powerlessness over lust for this one day. The program helps me allow Him (yes, allow God) to do that for me. The programs helps me do that by teaching me how to maintain my spiritual and emotional condition today and remain vigilant because I tend to lie to myself and forget my disability.

For me, losing the humility and the knowledge that I need God’s help, closes me off from His help. To stay connected I use the steps and the groups. I know of no other way to maintain the honesty, openness, and willingness that I need in order to keep myself out of God’s way.

I don’t need perfection, nor do I need to deserve this daily miracle. I just need to surrender to the truth about myself and begin to put my life in His care today. I must live in the present – right now – and not get distracted by tomorrow or yesterday.

And I can’t do it alone. I need regular meetings with like-minded people, a sponsor, friends who I can call daily, and to develop a real and simple relationship with a God of my very own.

I may still need a lot of work, but I have found that God accepts me anyway. And I have come to accept myself too.

Acceptance is the Key

There is an amazing section at the end of the Big Book (the foundational book of the 12-Step Program), where an alcoholic, who had been through a lot in life, writes that acceptance was the solution to all his problems. He claims that acceptance was the key to his sobriety, and that it totally changed his relationship with life, his spouse and with God:

“When I am troubled, it’s because I’ve encountered something in my life – a person, place, or situation — that is unacceptable to me. I only find peace when I accept that also this is something that has to be exactly so at this moment. Nothing happens in God’s world by accident.”

Learning acceptance is crucial for anyone trying to recover from addiction. Actually, the first step of our program is accepting your problem and accepting that you need help.

Recently I saw these amazing photos from the Paralympic games – the Olympics for handicapped people. I saw people missing limbs compete in high jump, swimming and running! This was an incredible lesson for me about the power of acceptance.

There can be two people in the exact same situation, both having lost their legs in an accident. They are both saddened by their loss, and neither find it easy. But, what matters is what they choose to do. One of them accepts the fact that he’s not going to grow new legs. The other cannot come to terms with his situation. One of them accepts the fact that he is handicapped and decides to compete in the Paralympics, using prosthetic legs of steel, while the other sits at home, weeping over his bitter fate.

I am not claiming that with enough willpower we can change any reality. Actually, acceptance is the opposite of that. Acceptance recognizes the limits of our personal strength, and gives us an enormous push to act within those limitations. A person missing a hand is handicapped for life, whether he accepts it or not. But, with acceptance he may end up competing in the archery games in the Paralympics, holding the bow with his one hand and drawing back the arrow with his teeth, or doing anything else in life he puts his mind to.

I’ve got a pornography problem. That’s a fact, whether I accept it or not. The question is — what am I going to do about it?

Accepting it means I recognize my limitations. It also gives me the clarity to take action within my limits in order to help myself. For one person this may mean he will filter his smartphone; for another it may mean joining a PA live group. Acceptance empowers me to lead my life the best way possible; and to put an end to my suffering.

The choice is mine.

POOR ME

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they put a spin on the words “Pour me another drink”. They have a saying — “Poor me, poor me,… pour me another drink.”

We know from experience that the more self-pity we have, the more we delude ourselves into thinking that our drug-of-choice will solve all our problems.

Self-pity is very different than healthy self-love or self-compassion. Self-pity is viewing ourselves as victims, and it always serves to spur on our addiction.

For many years, I was totally unaware of the connection between my porn abuse and my emotional state. During my many years of active addiction, and even when I already advanced on the path of recovery, I always thought I succumbed again and again to watching porn just because I loved porn.

I had no idea that I always caved in because I was lacking the tools to deal with my emotions. It took me a long time in recovery to understand that my difficulties in dealing with my emotions was what fueled my porn use.

Now, I can barely fathom how could I have been so blind? Thinking back, I clearly see the direct correlation. When I had a hard day, fought with my wife, messed up at work, or had the slightest stress — I automatically began seeking to indulge in porn.

For me, the Twelve Steps can’t just be a technical to-do list. They need to spark a mindset shift. I need the psychological change. If I’ve worked the steps and still don’t experience self-compassion and self-acceptance; if I’m still stuck in resentments and self-pity; then apparently I didn’t work the steps properly, and I’ll probably not be able to stay clean.

Personally, I found that my recovery begins with accepting myself fully as God’s special creation, worthy and deserving of love, despite my porn problem or all my other limitations. When I accept myself as lovable and worthy, I cease to wallow in resentment and self-loathing.

I can’t stress enough how central working on our emotional well-being is for recovery. There is almost nothing that pays-off more than developing a life plan for enhancing our spiritual and emotional well-being. It can make the whole difference in our battle with porn.