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The Most Powerful Thing You Can Do to Fight Your Addiction

The Twelve Steps as first spelled out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is, like any work of genius, inspiration and spirituality, a paradox. Here we have a finite number of simple concepts that offer an infinite amount of wisdom and practicality. None of that enlightenment is accessible, however, to one who is not willing to mount the First step. And it is that very step (perhaps with the exception of the Second) that provides the greatest barrier to many trying to get started in recovery. 

1. We admitted we were powerless over [whatever] - that our lives had become unmanageable.

Balderdash! Fie upon it! Every day, thousands of struggling addicts try to pummel this step into oblivion. 

“Powerless? Me? Bullshit. I have power as a unique human being, as a citizen, as a creation of God [or of Nature or whatever]. How can I even begin to fight this addiction if I am powerless? It is on its face a falsehood.”

I get it. The last thing you want to hear when you trying to rev up for what may be the greatest fight of your life is that you don’t have what it takes. And it is in that very contradiction that the truth of the First Step shines. 

The First Step doesn’t say you are powerless. That’s quote out of context. It says you are powerless over alcohol, or over sexually compulsive behavior, or over gambling, or whatever. Have you not tried time and again to stop your destructive behavior? What was the result? What evidence do you see? Please, if we’re going to be empirical about this, let’s be empirical. 

Dive deeper into the paradox. If you are powerless over this behavior, this disease, what chance do you have to conquer it? It’s logically impossible, no? Consider this quote from a recent article in the somber and quite-empirical Wall Street Journal on compulsivity:

Suffused with and overwhelmed by anxiety, we latch onto any behavior that offers relief by providing even an illusion of control. 

“Even an illusion of control.” The fact is, our condition of powerlessness is not limited to control of our disease. We are unable to control virtually anything in our lives. 

Whoa.

Whoa but true. Ever have things turn out differently than you expected, or planned, or aimed for? Maybe an easier question would be whether something didn’t turn out differently than you planned. If you were an infant dying of diarrhea in an African country, or a 20-year-old dying of stage-four liver cancer, you wouldn’t have to be convinced that just about everything in life is out of your control. But in our shiny bar-coded world, iPhone firmly gripped in one hand, the other pointing confidently at Phase Three of The Mind Map of Our Future, we’re not to blame for thinking we are captains of our destiny. We are not. 

Then how can a 12-Step plan — for goodness’ sake, any kind of plan — ever work? Again, the paradox. 

Our comforting and comfortable illusion of control is in fact the basis for our acting out behavior. We can nudge it off the edge of our universe if we give up this illusion of control. One powerful way to do this is to take the top-down view and admit how little control do we have over almost everything in our lives. If it makes you feel better, don’t tell yourself you are powerless. (In fact, you aren’t — when you are in connection with other human beings, Nature and the world in general.) But on your own, using only your own will-power, you are powerless over the addictive behavior your brain so carefully developed and deeply embedded in your neurons in order to protect you from terrible events both real and imagined. 

You need help from outside yourself. Paradoxically, conceding your powerlessness and asking for that help is one of the most powerful things you can do. 

So take that first step by admitting that your willpower is powerless over your addictive behavior. Doesn’t seem so impossible now, does it? 

On to Step Two. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves — 

Uh-oh. 

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