There’s nothing soft about the damage “soft pornography” does to those not aware of its dangers.  And few people are.  If you use pornography or know somebody who does, here are fifteen common lies whispered to us by the purveyors of sex trash in magazines, movies, and websites.

I can control myself.  I will be able to keep my porn use from growing.

Reality:   What satisfies now won’t satisfy later.  Porn demands increasingly degrading stimulation.

If not, my firewall will hold up. No one else will ever know what I’m doing here.

Reality:   Porn sites are very wealthy, and so they have pioneered the technology for recording what you want and how to get you aroused.  They recognize you as a unique customer, and at your most vulnerable moments, they present you with images selected for you personally.  Private porn (just like actual cheating with a lover on the side) craves the thrill of increasing the risk of detection.

I won’t masturbate to this stuff.  

Reality:  It will arouse you, and it will glamorize masturbation.  If you give it enough opportunities, porn will talk you into it.

Even if I did, it would be harmless.  

Reality:  Just as the sound of the bell became an appetizing turn-on to Pavlov’s dogs just because it came right before the food, whatever you’re looking at or thinking about right before an orgasm will become irresistible in real life.  You will be training yourself not only to want promiscuous partners, but become unable to resist them.

I’m single—I’ll quit if I marry a prude, and let’s hope I don’t.  

Reality:  By training yourself to want promiscuous partners, you’re preparing any exclusive relationship to get ruined, by cheating, and guaranteeing it will be messed up by possessive jealousy.  Most of the insights below about marriage will apply to most single adult love relationships as well.

Porn is harmless to marriage.  In fact, it will spice up a marriage.

Reality:   Private porn stimulates the mindsets that trigger its use:  self-pity and self-centeredness, entitlement and resentment, insecurity and impatience, lust and loneliness.  All these attitudes ruin a marriage.

What they don't know won't hurt them.

Reality:   Whatever you do to yourself, you do to your spouse too (you’re a one-flesh team).  Even if you don’t get caught.  When you deceive your spouse, life always goes out of the marriage, and both of you can feel it.  When you do get caught, you’ll soon realize that the cover-up actually hurts the spouse worse than the pornography or the promiscuous sex it will eventually lead to.

Porn prevents adultery.  If I can enjoy porn privately, it will drain off the desire to cheat.

Reality:  By portraying sex apart from responsibilities like marriage, porn glamorizes cheating, stimulates the desire for it, and weakens the resolve to avoid it.

I can have it both ways.  I can change my mental gears to fit into whatever setting I’m in.

Reality:   Memories, pictures, feelings and desires from the porn world will spill over into a marriage, and vice-versa.  Each will mess up the other.

The purpose of sex is just pleasure and relaxation, so porn is pretty much perfect sex.   

Reality:   The best purpose of sex is for the enjoyment and bonding together of husband and wife, and that’s where all the perfect sex lies.

Marriage?  Fidelity and Monogamy are gone with the wind. Virtually no one is faithful anymore, and those who try to be are tragicomic figures who surely would cheat if only they could get away with it.

Reality:   Some people who could seemingly get away with it choose not to cheat because they want genuine intimacy at home.  They are the free ones, free to cheat or to be faithful, free to be natural, passionate, tender, and completely close all at the same time.  The tragic figures here those who stray.  They are not free, because they are slaves to their desires or to others' temptations—they can’t always  say no.

Deep down all women want to get off.  Every woman is steaming hot underneath, and wants orgasms above all.  They can and should come to a man preheated, ready to get sexy without any need for love, tenderness, or fidelity, which are all just a waste of time.

Reality:   Women heat up slow like a crock-pot.  They need appreciation, conversation, then affection.  Those who train themselves to discount these things and be aroused like men at just the touch or the sight of certain body parts are very unhappy down inside.  They long for a committed, caring relationship, and in time they will try to turn any extra-marital affair into a marriage for themselves.  Historically, these women make horrible wives, and dangerous friends.

Sex comes easy for men.   Men are passive and privileged, able to just wait until a woman presents herself.  They don't need to approach her, love her, understand her, listen to her, be true to her, or partner with her.  Men don’t need a woman to do any of this in order for him to get aroused.  They just need a fresh supply of raunchy stuff.

Reality:   As the years go by, love gets more and more sexually arousing to men, and lust, less and less.  Sure, nearly all men like to be playful and creative with their lovemaking, and want their wives to be the same.  But men like to take the initiative, and to be admired for their character, and for what they do in life.  No one’s approval or disapproval means more to him than his family’s, and that requires fidelity.

Lust has a lovely luster. People who crave sex and can't get enough of it live a beautiful, carefree, pleasure-filled life, played out in the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Reality:   No, these people are sex addicts, and unless they get into recovery or die young, they are destined to lose everything.  A sexual addiction can be satisfied with nothing less than destroying your family, friends, health, faith, money and even your ability to orgasm.  Truth is, "Anything you put before your recovery you will lose."

If it feels good do it.  

Reality:   If it feels good, first think through the long-term, widespread harm.  Do a cost-benefit analysis.  Remember that relationships are way more fulfilling than orgasms.  No one wants to live and die alone.

 

Four-Circle Sobriety Plan

         Four concentric circles represent three important lists of behaviors, and one list of warning signs. These lists will be fluid, and you will need to add and subtract new items on a regular basis, at least from the boundaries list and the recovery behaviors below.   Use these lists to structure and summarize your reports to people of how you have been doing, in the order below: red, then green, then yellow, and finally orange. They are often an excellent way to give account of yourself on a regular basis, in your marriage, with your sponsor, me, and with same-sex accountability partners. Each behavior needs to be very specific, to minimize confusion about whether you have done something, and whether it is useful as listed.

Sobriety definition (the red inner circle). Here you describe any behavior that you believe you are called to completely avoid. Examples of behaviors that are often placed on this list for married sex addicts are: adultery, pornography (be very specific), masturbation, and giving or receiving solicitations, money, time, charming talk or touch with an opposite-sex person. Spouses usually need to be told all details here within 24 hours, including your inventory of which of your character defects were involved, who you hurt, amends proposed.

Recovery behaviors (the green outer circle): if you are married, include positive approaches to your mate that you need to make regularly until they have become habits. Include all of your regular recovery behaviors, and state the frequency (say daily, or weekly) you are led to do each one: meetings, devotionals, phone calls, workbook pages, reading certain books, going to church, attending counseling, daily prayers, accountability check-ins with spouse, buddy and/or sponsor, whatever. (Some examples can be found below.) Include other behaviors that are to be done often and whenever appropriate, but not on a daily or weekly schedule (such as making amends and maintaining progress in step work and tasks for recovery). Also include behaviors your spouse wants and needs to see for closeness to occur (e.g., sharing your feelings, calling/texting during the day, coming home on time, spending time with the kids, praying together, sitting together on the couch, gentle touch that is not foreplay, speaking the spouse’s love language, whatever).

Troublesome attitudes (the yellow inner circle):  Between the outer circle and the middle circle, many people are finding it helpful to add a fourth circle as a warning.  Here you can list the mindsets and situations that tend to trigger your slips.  Common ones are: resentment, shame, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, horniness, exhaustion, self-pity, discouragement, failure, success, rejection, entitlement, egomania, etc. Watch for emotions that spike intensely as over-reactions to a situation, and for those that linger after the trigger incident, looking for other situations that justify their existence.  If you call these attitudes instead of triggers, you will take more responsibility for them, and for your choices when you experiencing them.  (Your addiction wants you call them triggers so you can say something just set you off.)  These attitudes will often need to be on your list of character defects when you do/did step 5.  Like dashboard warning lights, they help warn you when to walk out of trouble before you go in too far.

Boundaries list (the orange circle, next to the red, things that would be a slip but not a relapse):  This should include all behaviors that might come before a relapse, and that might incite some temptation to relapse, such as:   lying or covering up, eyeball slips (allowing your eyes to look too long at something), foot slips (allowing yourself to go somewhere unnecessary that is tempting),  fantasy slips (allowing your mind to imagine future misbehaviors),  euphoric recall (dwelling too long on the pleasures of past addictive escapees), online slips (misuse of the internet), argument slips (avoiding or prolonging a conflict which gives you resentment), or flirting slips (any violation of agreed guidelines for contact with the opposite sex (see my list for starters) that would not constitute a relapse.  Spouses usually need to be told about slips more vaguely (like just the number and type of slip), with fewer details and not as quickly (within a week is OK), but your inventory and your proposed amends do need to be included at this time.

Possible Recovery Behaviors

(Use some of this menu of options to customize your own list.)

A 30-second prayer for a day of sobriety in early AM,

and another for thanksgiving at bedtime

A 2-minute meditation on how God might want you to help with your prayers being answered

Initiate successfully live phone call with sponsor, to include 4-circle report, including also:

10+ minutes for you (2+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 8+ for your recovery)

Initiate phone calls with recovering buddies until you get one live on the phone:

5+ minutes for each of you (1+ for slips, temptations, and pressures, 4+ for your recovery)

20 min. of phone time buddies initiate (or 10 from you leaving two VM’s using format above)

15 min. of Bible study, leaving time to meditate on personal application for your life/recovery

15 min. of recovery reading, highlighting, meditating on personal application for your recovery

Attend a 12-step or recovery meeting

Chart the day’s activities, and on a log, record brief but specific answers to these questions:

Of what I did, what helped the most today, and why? What helped the least, and why?

Read and complete the writing assignments for one chapter per week of Facing the Shadow

(or Faithful and True)

Read and highlight/underline one chapter per week of a recovery-oriented book

 

What exactly is a 12-step program?  It is the people, principles, prayers, and lifestyle practices of recovery from addiction that was started by Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930’s.  To work a program successfully, you need all four—the people, principles, prayers, and practices.  You can’t just read and learn at home, just go to meetings and call your sponsor, just ask God to take away the desire to act out, or just change your ways with willpower or healthy thinking.  To recover you need to do it all.

12-step programs are being used by many to recover from addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and addictions to behaviors like gambling, internet pornography, overworking and overeating.

You start new recovery behaviors in order to change the thoughts, feelings and situations that used to trigger relapse.  To insure change, much repetition is built into “the program.”  Certain things are repeated verbatim at each meeting, like reading the 12 steps of recommended problem-solving tools.  What are the 12 steps?  Here’s the gist of them in six pieces:

  1. Admit you’re powerless over your addiction, and that your life is unmanageable by you alone. Admit you will always need help from “a higher power.”
  2. Entrust your will and your life to the care (not control) of God “as you understand him.  If you’ve been burned by organized religion, you can make your higher power to be the spirit of the program, the wisdom of the Big Book (AA’s collection of stories and advice for staying sober), or whatever works for you until your understanding of God grows.
  3. Examine your past behavior and motivations.  Take inventory of your moral strengths and weaknesses.  Look at your problems and ask, “What was my part of this?  How do I clean up my side of the street?”  Confess what you’ve done and why to God, another person, and yourself.  You make no external excuses, taking responsibility by owning these choices and habits as expressions of your newly named character traits.
  4. When you ask God to take your character flaws, you find that God doesn’t usually take them away.  But God does take care of them, by taking away your denial and bondage to them, so you never again need to forget or lie about those traits, and you never need to use them as excuses anymore.  When you admit them freely, you talk them out, so you no longer feel compelled to act them out.
  5. Make amends to yourself and others for the mistakes you’ve made.   Pay back the money, self-esteem, truth, etc. you have taken from other people, “except when to do so would injure them or others.”  We go tell people we are sorry, and make every effort to restore what we have taken.
  6.   Give back to others what you have received.  You give service to your groups by telling your story, chairing meetings, helping newcomers, and cleaning up.  This keeps you growing and avoids relapse.

 

How does recovery work?  Meetings sometimes begin by reading also the 12 traditions of how groups manage their affairs.  The 12 traditions keep groups from owning property, competing with each other, making public statements, or taking stands on divisive and controversial issues like politics and religion.  To make sure they keep the focus on principles not personalities, they emphasize protecting the anonymity of its members.  They have “no leaders, just trusted servants.”

           The program grows “by attraction, not promotion,” so 12-steppers don’t make public statements about whether they are in a program like AA or not, or how much good it’s doing them.  They don’t try to talk others into sobriety or joining the group.  It grows only by people noticing changed lives, and deciding to come try 12-stepping for themselves, because “I want what you have.”

All this makes 12-stepping different from religion, which encourages its churches to own property, and encourages its members to testify, evangelize, and do public witnessing.  AA encourages worship and bible study, but it endorses no particular “sect or denomination.”  Like the self-help movement, people are encouraged to be in charge of their own program, and grow at their own pace.  They decide for themselves if they are an alcoholic or gambling addict or whatever, and they choose their own home group, sponsor, etc.  A home group is the one you go to most regularly, usually every week, and it’s usually where your sponsor goes.

To find the right sponsor for you, try to pick out one or two people that you like at each meeting you attend, especially meetings that your schedule allows you to make on a regular basis.  Try to pull those folks aside after the meeting, and tell them you liked what they said.  Be specific about how it relates to you, and then wait for them to say more.  If you like what they have to say again, ask if you could have their phone numbers.  (Nearly everyone will give this to you, because that's how they stay sober and serene – if they don't give it away, they know they will lose it.)  Use the phone numbers two or three times, and if those phone calls go well, ask if you could talk with them about possibly sponsoring you.  Ask how they like to structure their relationships and contacts with their sponsees, and try it their way.  Talk out frankly with them any problems you ever have with what they say.  It helps to “do what you're told,” but if it works out badly for you, tell your sponsor about it straight up.  You don't have to tell your sponsor everything, but you would be a fool to lie or misrepresent things to your sponsor.  The frequency and format of meetings with a sponsor is worked out between the sponsor and sponsee.  You can’t work a fourth and fifth step without a sponsor, and you can’t stay sober or get serene without taking those steps.  It is important to make this relationship a priority, because it has very important purposes.

There are three main jobs of a sponsor.  One is to make your meetings work for you, to make sure that going to meetings is a constructive experience for you, and for others.  Your sponsor is always your same gender, but here I will talk as if he is male.  He gives you feedback on what you say and how you interact.  He troubleshoots any relationship issues you have with others in the group, and in the program as a whole.  He cannot do this very well if you don’t both go to the same meeting on a regular basis.

His second and most important job is to walk you through the 12 steps.  This is a master-apprentice system: recovering people need to be ushered through the 12 steps one at a time by somebody that has himself been ushered through the 12 steps the same way.  To make it a good learning experience, your job is to do as you are told.  If you don’t think it is good for you, check it out with somebody else, and then talk it out with your sponsor.  Think of the steps as problem-solving tools that are dangerous in the hands of a novice.  Just as you would need to have somebody show you and oversee you as you learned how to use a gun, a power tool, or take care of a baby, each step is meant to be learned by first listening to instruction, hearing what others have experienced to be safe and effective, and finally letting others watch you do it.  The spirit of the law is as important as the letter of the law:  the purpose and attitude of a behavior is as important as the exact action that you decide to take.

The last purpose of a sponsor is to help you live a better life, by giving you encouragement and advice on the practical problems of living in recovery.  The thing is, he won’t know very well how to do this if you don’t let him do the first two things as well.  People often ask, “How long do I have to go to meetings?”  The best answer is, “Until you want to go, because you like the better living, laughing, and loving you find in those rooms, and later, you find coming out of your heart.”

Recovery is like the medical model.  It teaches that your addiction is a disease.  Alcoholism for example is portrayed as a physical allergy and a mental obsession, and medical treatment and hospitalization is encouraged as an adjunct to any recovery that needs it.  We aren’t responsible for having the illness or addiction, but we are responsible for whether we get treatment, by working the program of recovery that gets us well.

In conclusion, as I understand it, 12-step recovery teaches that “anything you put before your recovery you will lose,” including your job, your health, your family, and your faith.  That’s the bad news.   The good news is that if you follow the 12-step way of life, it is free, and it makes everything else in your life better.  You get not only sobriety, but serenity.  As they say, “it works if you work it.”  For a more elaborate cost-benefit analysis of recovery, ask me for my outline by that title.

 

People trying to save or help their addicted loved ones are in a similar position to a pastor trying to save his congregation from sin. They often use similar tactics. After a time of this helping, the addict comes to resent the reforming efforts of the loved one, who is after all supposed to be his parent or spouse, not his counselor, sponsor, or pastor. The helping loved one begins to sense this resentment deep down, and to feel that if the addict recovers, he will probably leave, and the relationship will probably be severed. To avoid feeling this fear, the enabler keeps playing the helping games that in strengthen the addict’s dependency on the enabler.  This makes things worse.

The really good pastors remain in their minds rather independent of their churches. They know who they would be, how they would live when they move on. There is an old English term for a pastor who is dependent on his congregation.   The wordvicarious comes from the old English word vicar, referring to a rector (pastor or priest) who wasn't paid enough money to buy his own food and shelter, so he depended on his congregation to feed and house him. He couldn't work anywhere else until they or the bishop released him to. He was taking care of his flock, but he was also depending on them for everything, and he had lost touch with who he would be without them.

Vicars therefore live for and through the congregation, to the neglect of their own personal life. Some are afraid to offend their congregation, and so they tell them whatever they think the people want to hear.  Often they feel they have to raise the congregation up spiritually or financially before they have a right to live their own lives.  Other vicars are tyrants, controlling their flock through preaching that lays down the law in stone, with fire and brimstone.  The controlling types we therapist call active-dependent, and the comforting approach we call passive-dependent.  Whether active or passive, controlling or comforting, vicars live vicariously for and through those they help.  So if you want another word for this process of codependency or enabling, you could call it vicarity.

Now as addictions progress and take more and more of the addict’s freedom and life, addictions go through stages. Likewise, as the loved ones keep trying to help by pouring in more and more love, they are also losing their freedom, their strength, and their life. In the later stages, like the addict, they find they have suffered great losses – finances, freedom, self-respect, health, faith, and relationships with family and friends. At these later stages, the exhausted codependent enabler is like a vampire. Trying to suck the poison out of the addict as if he had a snake bite, she is in effect joining the addiction as she sucks more life, freedom, and self-respect out of the addict. She feels most alive, not when she is living for God through her body, but when she lives for her addict, through his body.  A key sign the enabler is out of control is a loss of good lifestyle balance between work, rest, and play.  Toward the end, burned-out enablers need a sabbatical rest.

           (Each paragraph can be a private devotional, or a class for group discussion.)

The Bible gives in rich detail how life unfolds for people who fall into sexual sin. It was pure visual seduction for David when he laid eyes on his neighbor’s wife Bathsheba (2Sam 11). His heart followed his eyes in violating the 10th commandment, and in short order that act stimulated violations of the 9th (lying), 8th (stealing), 7th (adultery), and when these couldn’t be covered up, he went on and broke the 6th by murdering her husband. Previously a man of great virtue, he quickly broke half the ten commandments, and it all started with his eyes. For her infidelity, Bathsheba may have gotten a palatial upgrade on her residence, but she had to endure her lover’s murder of her dear husband, feel his remorse expressed publicly in the hit song of its day (Psalm 51), and then like so many adulterers in therapy afterwards, watch helplessly as her children and step-children lived out the generational after-effects over the years to come: rape, incest, violence, job loss, family disintegration, etc. What does David’s story tell you about yourself?   About God?

In Genesis 39, we see a strong example of Joseph resisting seduction by Potiphar’s wife, going to jail for it, and then having a wonderful life restored to him because of his obedience. Read the story carefully, and ask the Joseph in you to teach you some lessons.

           Hosea gives us a compassionate look into the forgiving heart of God through a broken-hearted victim of his wife Gomer’s infidelity and chronic bondage to sex. The father of the prodigal son is another (Luke 15). If you believed God has already forgiven sin before it happens, that asking just accesses what’s already there waiting for us, how would it change your prayer life, and your life?

We see many successful lives turned around through repentance, confession, and obedient forsaking of sexual sin. David shows us the way in Psalm 51, and several women in Jesus’ life followed it -- the one at the well in John 4, the one weeping for the joy of her forgiveness and cleansing at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7), and the one caught in the act of adultery, about to be stoned for it (John 8). Paul Tournier in Guilt and Grace teaches both perpetrators and victims that we all need a healthy amount of guilt about our sin, not too much like the woman had, and not too little like the Pharisees had. Godly sorrow for sin is shown in 2Cor 7: 8-11, which joins Psalm 51 as excellent roadmaps to repentance and restoration for the sexual sinner. Brokenness will show in a full confession, a broken open heart, and behavior change. What do these passages teach you about how to repent, and how to forgive yourself?

To prevent or to break bondage to sexual sin, it is necessary to guard what comes into the mind (Phil 4:8) and heart (Pr 4:23), through the eyes (Mt 5:28-9), through what we touch (v.30), so that unclean acts do not come out from our bodies (Mt 15:18-19), so that we and others are not perverted and ruined by the words coming out of our mouths (James 5:5-6), or what we join our souls to as we unite in a sexual embrace (1Cor 6:15-20). You check the doors of your house every night to keep your family safe. What good would it do to check every day your mind gate, heart gate, eye gate, ear gate, skin gate, mouth gate, and groin gate?

Computer porn and cheat chat smells badly of “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1Jo2:16). We find the strength to avoid all this from our God, embodied in the Holy Spirit (John 14-16) poured out through the church/fellowship of believers (Eph 2:18-21, 4:4-6), the word of God (Heb 4:12-13, 2Tim 3:16-17), friends (John 15:15), people we help (Mt 25:37-40), and small support groups (Mt 18:20).  Is your God able to come to you through all these channels, or have you tired some of God’s blessing arms behind him?

 

With any addiction to chemicals or to a habit, loved ones trying to help addicts need to realize and continually remind themselves of three things:  “I didn’t cause the addiction, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it either.”  But you can make it easier for addicts to keep their addiction going.  How?  The counterproductive efforts people make to help and reform their addicted loved ones are called enabling behaviors.  Those who do them are calledcodependents, because these behaviors make them just as dependent or hooked on helping the addict as the addicts are hooked on their addictions.   This over-protection and over-indulgence just stimulates the shame and irresponsibility that fuel the addict’s habit.   

How come most efforts to reform addicts work in reverse?

Because addictions work on people like hypnosis does.  I have studied and seen how skilled hypnotists can hypnotize virtually anyone, especially people trying the hardest to resist.  Their secret is that they know how to make your efforts to resist hypnosis work in reverse to stimulate the trance. Hypnotists wear out those who resist them, by getting them to push against themselves to the point of exhaustion. Those trying to resist hypnosis surrender to the trance in any manner much like addicts slipping into their mindless habit.  So when loved ones try to straighten out addicts, this enables even more addictive behavior, excuses and cover-ups, which wears the loved ones out to the point of exhaustion and surrender.  And like hypnosis, this all works out under the cover of denial, subconsciously, with loved ones thinking they’re helping when they’re actually playing right into the hands of the addiction.

Here are twelve of the most common enabling behaviors to avoid:

So what does work to help loved ones recover from an addiction?

Tell the truth.  Say that their addictions, excuses, and lies disgust you, and make you want to leave them alone.  Tell others the truth about the addict too—stop covering up for them.

Withhold whatever they abuse.  Take away the money, housing, vehicles, jobs, privileges, responsibilities, and loved ones you can’t trust them with. They all fuel the addiction anyway.

Show love by giving only your self to the addict, not the things in the previous paragraph. You talk on the phone or meet them for a meal, but you don't hang out for long. If they have stolen, meet in a restaurant, not in your home.

Ask about their recovery, what they are learning, what responsible things they are doing.  

Discipline lies with doubt.  “I would like to believe you, but you know you have lied about this kind of thing before. Time will tell. Actions speak louder than words.”

In the Later Stages 

Leave them alone.  Stop paying attention to them.  Don’t spend time with them.  Don’t let them see that they tick you off, just that they turn you off.  If necessary, kick them out or separate from them.  This may require that you "get a life," or at least live a life full enough for you to let go of the addict.

Take better care of yourself.  Most enablers don’t know how, or don’t care enough about themselves to do it. Those who do care would benefit from counseling.

Join a support groupa recovering community of friends and family.  Sharing your "experience, strength, and hope" with others in your situation will give you the strength you can't find elsewhere, and can't do without. This happens in the 12-step program for enablers, Al-Anon (www.al-anon.alateen.org).

Conduct an intervention.  When you’re tired of doing everything else, you might do well to gather loved ones and let a professional teach you whether and how to present an offer the addict can’t afford to refuse.  For details on this and other suggestions for codependents, see www.interventioninfo.org/research/family.php.   From what I know, the best local treatment available for addicts is at the nationally acclaimed Healing Place, in Louisville.

HOW TO WORK A 12-STEP PROGRAM

What exactly is a 12-step program? It is the people, principles, prayers, and lifestyle practices of recovery from addiction that was started by Alcoholics Anonymous back in the 1930’s. To work a program successfully, you need all four—the people, principles, prayers, and practices. You can’t just read and learn at home, just go to meetings and call your sponsor, just ask God to take away the desire to act out, or just change your ways with willpower or healthy thinking. To recover you need to do it all.

12-step programs are being used by many to recover from addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and addictions to behaviors like gambling, internet pornography, overworking and overeating.

You start new recovery behaviors in order to change the thoughts, feelings and situations that used to trigger relapse. To insure change, much repetition is built into “the program.” Certain things are repeated verbatim at each meeting, like reading the 12 steps of recommended problem-solving tools. What are they? Here’s the gist of them in five pieces:

1. Admit you’re powerless over your addiction, and that your life is unmanageable by you alone. Admit you need “a higher power.”

2. Entrust your will and your life to the care (not control) of God “as you understand him.”   If you’ve been burned by organized religion, you can make your higher power to be the spirit of the program, the wisdom of the Big Book (AA’s collection of stories and advice for staying sober), or whatever works for you until your understanding of God grows.

3. Examine your past behavior and motivations. Take inventory of your moral strengths and weaknesses. Look at your problems and ask, “What was my part of this? How do I clean up my side of the street?” Confess what you’ve done and why to God, another person, and yourself.

4. Make amends to yourself and others for the mistakes you’ve made.  Pay back the money, self-esteem, truth, etc. you have taken from other people, “except when to do so would injure them or others.” We go tell people we are sorry, and make every effort to restore what we have taken.

5. Give back to others what you have received. Yougive service to your groups by telling your story, chairing meetings, helping newcomers, and cleaning up. This keeps you growing and avoids relapse.

Meetings sometimes begin by reading also the 12 traditions of how groups manage their affairs. The 12 traditions keep groups from owning property, competing with each other, making public statements, or taking stands on controversial issues like politics and religion. To make sure they keep the focus on principles not personalities, they emphasize protecting the anonymity of its members. They have “no leaders, just trusted servants.”

The program grows “by attraction, not promotion,” so 12-steppers don’t make public statements about whether they are in a program like AA or not. They grow only by people noticing changed lives, and deciding to come try 12-stepping for themselves, because “I want what you have.”

All this makes 12-stepping different from religion, which encourages its churches to own property and its members to lead groups and do public witnessing. AA encourages religion, but it endorses no particular “sect or denomination.” Like the self-help movement, people are encouraged to be in charge of their own program, and grow at their own pace. They decide for themselves if they are an alcoholic or gambling addict or whatever, and they choose their own home group, sponsor, etc. A home group is the one you go to most regularly, usually every week, and it’s usually where your sponsor goes.

To find the right sponsor for you, try to pick out one or two people that you like at each meeting you attend, especially meetings that your schedule allows you to make on a regular basis. Try to pull those folks aside after the meeting, and tell them you liked what they said. Be specific about how it relates to you, and then wait for them to say more. If you like what they have to say again, ask if you could have their phone numbers. (Nearly everyone will give this to you, because that's how they stay sober and serene – if they don't give it away, they know they will lose it.) Use the phone numbers two or three times, and if those phone calls go well, ask if you could talk with them about possibly sponsoring you. Ask how they like to structure their relationships and contacts with their sponsees, and try it their way. Talk out frankly with them any problems you ever have with what they say. It helps to “do what you're told,” but if it works out badly for you, tell your sponsor about it straight up. You don't have to tell your sponsor everything, but you would be a fool to lie or misrepresent things to your sponsor. The frequency and format of meetings with a sponsor is worked out between the sponsor and sponsee. It is important to make this relationship a priority, because it has very important purposes.

There are three main jobs of a sponsor. One is to make sure that going to meetings is a constructive experience for you, and for others. Your sponsor is always your same gender, but here I will talk as if he is male. He gives you feedback on what you say and how you interact. He troubleshoots any relationship issues you have with others in the group, and in the program as a whole. He cannot do this very well if you don’t both go to the same meeting on a regular basis.

His second and most important job is to walk you through the 12 steps. This is a master-apprentice system: recovering people need to be ushered through the 12 steps one at a time by somebody that has himself been ushered through the 12 steps the same way. To make it a good learning experience, your job is to do as you are told. If you don’t think it is good for you, check it out with somebody else, and then talk it out with your sponsor. Think of the steps as problem-solving tools that are dangerous in the hands of a novice. Just as you would need to have somebody show you and oversee you as you learned how to use a gun (or take care of a baby), each step is meant to be learned by first listening to instruction, hearing what others have experienced to be safe and effective, and finally letting others watch you do it. The spirit of the law is as important as the letter of the law: the purpose and attitude of a behavior is as important as the exact action that you decide to take.

The last purpose of a sponsor is to help you live a better life, by giving you encouragement and advice on the practical problems of living in recovery. The thing is, he won’t know very well how to do this if you don’t let him do the first two things as well.

Recovery is like the medical model. It teaches that your addiction is a disease. Alcoholism for example is portrayed as a physical allergy and a mental obsession, and medical treatment and hospitalization is encouraged as an adjunct to any recovery that needs it. We aren’t responsible for having the illness or addiction, but we are responsible for whether we get treatment, by working the program of recovery that gets us well.

In conclusion, as I understand it, 12-step recovery teaches that “anything you put before your recovery you will lose,” including your job, your health, your family, and your faith. That’s the bad news.   The good news is that if you follow the 12-step way of life, it is free, and it makes everything else in your life better. You get not only sobriety, but serenity. As they say, “it works if you work it.”

Dr. Paul Schmidt, Psychologist Life Coach   mynewlife.com   For Personal and Family Integrity

I’m Thankful that I’m an Addict

Last week on Thanksgiving Day driving to visit relatives, it took my wife and me an hour and a half to finish thanking God for all the blessings in our life. One of the biggest gratitudes for me was that that day was my 30th “birthday” of my new life in sobriety and recovery. It was not until my third year of recovery that I could see that its blessings were going to far outweigh the pleasures and comforts I had gotten from my two addictive habits.

What were my addictions? People can be addicted to a chemical, a person, a behavior, or even to avoiding something (eating, sex, leaving home, throwing things away, for example). I have learned that not being specific about my particular addiction protects my anonymity. This keeps my focus on the solution, not the problem. So let’s just say that I have regularly attended two different 12-step fellowships. I’ve also attended Celebrate Recovery meetings where people in bondage to any bad habit are welcome to come.

We addicts who have completed the 12 steps to the satisfaction of our sponsor I will refer to here as “recovering.” (For more information about this, including a user-friendly summary of the 12 steps, see the tab for Recovery on my website below, and read the article there, “How to Work a 12-step Program.”) We recovering addicts have most often received some major blessings, and here are my favorite features of our recovering life:

  1. We don’t pick up another addiction. Addicts who quit their habit without working a program of recovery almost always pick up another pain-killing escape from reality to cope with their emotional and physical discomfort. We in recovery have learned where our pain comes from, and how to make changes in the underlying causes of our frustrations.
  2. We entrust our wills and our lives to the care of God (not to the control of God). Most believers pray for God to change things outside themselves, and to change themselves physically (health and wealth, etc.) The serenity prayer teaches us that letting God change our heart and our ways takes courage, and it takes serenity to let go of trying to change toxic people and their habits. The serene have become addicted to a God who gives us the freedom to heal and grow.
  3. We believe that God is close by, with easy access. To addicts, our “higher power” is whatever brings us the people, principles, prayers, and practices of recovery (it takes all four). In meetings with nonbelievers, we refer to “the God of my understanding” or “my higher power who I call Jesus.” This makes it easier for non-believers to get started, and for all of us to avoid arguments over religion and theology. Atheists and believers who’ve been burned by church start out thinking of God as the wisdom and encouragement of their sponsor or home group, and their view of God grows from there.
  4. We protect each other‘s privacy and anonymity. This way we focus on principles, not personalities. We don’t use our last names, our spouse’s first names, or say where we live or work. This helps us tell our stories more honestly. We’ve learned that everybody has a story to tell, and we can always tell our own with more honesty, humility, hope, and humor after we have listened to theirs.
  5. We have found relief from believing some very popular lies. The church and psychology too often join with addictions in teaching us several very commonly believed fictions: the illusions of analysis, control, popularity, and perfection:
  1. We have learned how to live simply. We try to live substantially one day and one moment at a time, by being present most of the time in the here and now. We don’t so much think about owning things as getting to take care of them for awhile. This can include our bodies and our loved ones.
  2. Our groups keep it simple too. Groups own no property, keep no funds to manage, and take no stands on outside issues like politics or religion. This way, we don’t have much to argue about.
  3. We keep membership requirements low. No dues, referrals, votes, or performance standards are required, just a desire to stop our addictive behaviors. I never wanted to join a group that would let anybody in, regardless of their age, gender, race, education, wealth, religion, politics, lifestyle, sobriety, or mental health, but I have loved it. I never wanted to be just a regular guy, no more special than the next guy. But it is so liberating — it loosens all of us up.
  4. We retrain our brains with new principles. The principles first prescribed by Alcoholics Anonymous have given rise to many popular slogans. For example, we often hear each other saying things like this in ourselves: We Let go and let God, One day at a time, Easy does it. We Keep it simple and Do the next right thing, because It works if you work it. Our brains learn these the way they learn addictions – by many repeated exposures.
  5. We find that our gratitude is very contagious. By avoiding attitudes that give us entitlements and expectations, we avoid resentments. We are sincerely grateful when our loved ones trust and include us in their lives again. We don’t feel like they owe us anything for our efforts at recovery, because after we’ve worked through the twelve steps, we enjoy our recovery work.

These all make up quite the benefit package. I have found many advantages and much wisdom from my studies in psychology, and from my Christian faith as learned through the church and the Bible. But most psychologists I know, and most active churchgoers, haven’t received very many of the blessings I have found in recovery. I doubt I would have found more than a couple of them without my addiction that made me seek recovery. No wonder I’m so thankful I’m an addict.

__________

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington and Shelbyville,

502 633 2860   mynewlife.com.

Marijuana:  Thoughts on its Use, Abuse, and Legalization

I have never really had a position or opinion on marijuana, and in recent weeks I have grown weary of this ignorance. To prepare my thoughts on this subject, I have done three things. First, I have obtained professional training as a certified addictions specialist from the International Institute for Addiction and Trauma Professionals. Secondly I have spent several hours looking through the research on the effects of marijuana use (news flash: it is profoundly inconclusive). Finally, I have discussed the positive and negative effects of marijuana with over 100 people who have used it, and with almost as many of their loved ones who had their own opinions about how pot had affected these people for better or for worse. I have also spoken with other mental health practitioners about what they have read, and what they have observed with the folks they have treated.

Depending on the situation and the person using it, any effect of marijuana may be considered positive or negative, beneficial or harmful. Therefore I will just list the effects without judgment, starting with generally the most widely acknowledged, and proceeding to the less:

The most widely recognized positive uses of marijuana are with medical patients who are fighting chronic, debilitating, perhaps even fatal stress-fed conditions, such as cancer, Parkinsons, PTSD, ADHD, etc. It also benefits neurotic, overly responsible people who need temporary assistance learning to loosen up in a recreational setting. However it has not had good outcomes with people suffering from confusion and inner turmoil, such as schizophrenics and folks with mood disorders, because they become more withdrawn into their troubled selves. Nor would it seem to be good for passive, disengaged individuals who are under-achieving in their financial and career lives, or for married people and parents who aren’t well connected or bonded with their significant others.

Compared to beverage alcohol, booze leads people initially to higher levels of social interaction and other purposeful activities. Pot on the other hand leads its users to become more passive spectators, more likely to withdraw from social activities, at least from those people who don’t use marijuana. In short, alcohol tends to make folks more active and passionate, whereas pot tends to make its users more passive and reflective. Alcohol initially expands the intensity of whatever it is poured out onto, whereas marijuana puts a calming fog down on whatever it finds. Pot therefore has a much better and far less damaging effect than alcohol does on people who are angry, or driving a vehicle.

Legalizing marijuana use is likely to have similar effects on society as legalizing gambling has had. There will be more of it done, and less fear and shame for doing it. It will be more popular with lower classes whose lifestyles evoke higher levels of anger, tension and stress. Therefore it will raise more money for government and big business at the disproportionate expense of the lower and middle classes.

So how can you determine if your use of pot is having a more positive or negative effect on your life, and on those around you? The answer is as simple as it is painful and challenging. List four or five things that you most want to accomplish or experience in life. (If you have trouble doing this, you might be getting TMW, “too much weed.”) Then ask one or two adults who depend on you the most to answer the same question about you (to list four or five things they most want you to accomplish or experience in life). Then exchange copies of your lists so that all of you are looking at the same expanded list of goals. Finally everyone is given list of marijuana’s effects bulletized above, asked to consider its effects on all the various hopes and goals for your life, and to give a number from -5 to +5 on how they believe smoking pot will affect your chances of fulfilling each particular dream. When you get everyone’s papers back, the numbers will pretty much answer your question.

I. What is alcoholism?

A. Chronic, progressive, incurable, fatal disease that is characterized by loss of control over alcohol and other sedatives.

1. Chronic—you’ve had the problem for a little while.

2. Progressive-- Grows on you; gets worse; going to take more alcohol to get a good buzz.

3. Incurable-- Always going to have it; after years of recovery; even after you stop the temptation will always be there.

4. Fatal-- Does kill you; Kills you physically, mentally, and kills relationships.

B. Primary Disease – Alcohol becomes more important than anything else: you’ve got to stop this before you can cure anything else (depression, marriage, anxiety, etc.)

C. An allergy – alcoholics are allergic to alcohol. Its first effect is like it is to others, giving a little buzz, but when that wears off, they feel an uncomfortable feeling in every cell that gets blood, which is experienced as a "dis-ease" that calls for another drink.

II. Stages the disease goes through:

A. Phase one (physical) – do things under the influence of alcohol that a person might regret; say things that might upset somebody else, or maybe become violent towards another person.

1. Blackouts – people aren’t aware that a person maybe blacked out; the person who was blacked out does not remember a thing

2. Sneak Drinking

3. Mentally preoccupied with booze

4. Gulping drinks

5. Looses temper under booze

6. Blaming booze for misconduct

B. Phase Two (middle phase) – builds up into serious problems

1. Make alibis for drinking

2. More remorse

3. Go on the wagon

4. Try to change the pattern of your drinking

5. Socializing more with heavy drinkers than normal people

6. Problems on the job

7. Problem’s in the person’s family life

8. Have a secret supply

9. Physical and psychological changes

C. Final phase

1.  Start breaking moral rules (stealing, cheating etc . . .)

2. Logic distorts to where a person plans their whole life around drinking

3. Three ways out – Death, insanity, and recovery

III. Six features of addictions:

A. Tolerance – more and more of the stuff to give you the same fix or buzz

B. Obsession – steals attention away from everyday things; think about it more and more, sometimes even when you’re trying to think about something else

C. Withdrawal pains – shakes, bad stress tolerance after the drink wears off, creating the desire for another drink

D. Lose will power – you break promises to yourself about your drinking

E. Tremendous Denial – you don’t connect problems to drinking that others do; ask the question: How would you know if you were an alcoholic?

F. Self defeating pattern of behavior under the influence

IV. Recovery: It’s PEOPLE and PRINCIPLES

(you can’t do one without the other)

A. People

1. At AA meetings find a person who you thought sounded really good during the meeting and get their number.

2. Ask that person to be your temporary sponsor

3. Stick with the winners

4. Stick around after the meeting because maybe some people will get together afterwards to provide further support

B. Principles

1. The battle is to surrender the flesh to God

2. The flesh needs to be trained to understand that it does have cravings but also to understand the word no; it needs to learn to KNOW better than to have a drink, even when you WANT one.

3. The two main things to read are "The Big Book" (which tells how the Program works, and gives the stories of many who have recovered) And the "Twelve and Twelve" which explains the twelve steps for the alcoholic and 12 principles for groups and meetings

V. Twelve step program: What is it?

A. "The program" is working the steps under the direction of a sponsor, who has worked through the steps successfully himself.

B. What are the twelve steps?

1. Steps 1-3 are to help you realize how screwed up your life is on alcohol

2. Steps 4-5 are about taking a searching moral inventory of yourself

3. Steps 6-9 are about how to make amends to other people

4. Steps 10-12 are maintenance steps

VI. Effects on children of alcoholics

A. Hero-- the child becomes an overachiever; perfectionist; carries the flag for the family.

B. Scapegoat – non-achievers; draw punishment to themselves to draw it away from the alcoholic.

C. Joker – "Whistle through the graveyard"; becomes very shallow; makes a joke out of everything.

D. Loner – Deeply unhappy; "lost children"; hide from everything

VII. What are co-dependents (sometimes called co-addicts)?

A. Anyone who lives lives for and through an addicted person

B. Loved ones who become addicted to alcoholics, who become addicted to trying to help them.

C. Co-dependents make it easier for the alcoholic to drink more and continue on a downward spiral.

1. Co-dependents lie to the alcoholic to make things better

2. Co-dependents make excuses for the alcoholic

3. They assume responsibility for fixing or reforming him

4. They need to learn they didn’t CAUSE it, can’t CURE it, and can’t CONTROL it (the alcoholism)

D. Like alcoholics, they can recover much better if they work a program of recovery too. Al-Anon is a fellowship just like AA, often with meetings at the same time and place, just down the hall.


Catholic Prayer for Repentance (it’s 12-step friendly):

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, Who are all good and deserving of my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

Questions?

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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt