Latter-day Saints love meetings and love to crack jokes about meetings. Sometimes we have meetings to plan for upcoming meetings and then hold meetings to review how the previous meetings went. Under the right circumstances, I love meetings, too. This morning, I went to my third meeting of the week specific to addiction recovery. All three were outside the Church. As a Latter-day Saint addict in recovery, I’m always looking for the tools that will help me overcome the sex and pornography addiction that nearly killed me. Meetings of Sexaholics Anonymous give me many of those tools. A lot of other LDS men agree with me.
At this Saturday meeting just a few block from my house, about twenty to twenty-five guys usually show up, with a quarter to a third of them being Latter-day Saints (this is outside Utah and Idaho). It’s almost like being in an elders quorum meeting–except we talk about specific mental, emotional and spiritual tools for recovery from addiction. The Spirit of the Lord is definitely present in those meetings.
We go way beyond talking about the good old standbys of LDS pornography addicts in denial. You know the ones: reading scriptures (in isolation), prayer (in isolation), willpower (in isolation) and attending the temple(!). In Sexaholics Anonymous, we talk instead about the defects of character that we are learning to recognize and correct in our personal lives. We discuss the triggers that make our compulsions flare–and no, they’re most often not what you think. It turns out our triggers are the same as for all other addicts: resentment, self-absorption, depression, being too hungry, angry, lonely or tired, fear, etc.–all of these can be triggers and, at first glance, they appear to have nothing to do with sex or pornography. In fact, they have everything to do with acting out (self-medicating) with sex and pornography.
Finding an effective 12 Step group is so vital to recovery. I would not have come to understand this important truth about my addiction if it had not been for Sexaholics Anonymous, its meetings and its literature. Very few other recovery programs out there talk about sex and pornography addiction with the same detail and clarity. Take a look at the essay “Another Letter to the Wife Who Suffers in Silence” for more on effective 12 Step groups.
Sexaholics Anonymous meetings are light-years ahead of many other recovery programs when it comes to helping LDS men find a solution to and recovery from their compulsive sexual behavior and pornography addiction. I–and growing numbers of Mormon men like me–go where I can get sober, stay sober, stay alive, stay married, and, in the process, get happier and closer to Heavenly Father than I’ve ever been. I go and do what makes me a better Latter-day Saint. All the isolating “spiritual growth” in the world couldn’t help me overcome my addiction because it wasn’t teaching me anything about the specific mental, emotional and spiritual wounds at the root of my addiction and compulsive behavior. Pridefully, I thought I could pray, study scriptures and exercise faith (in isolation) to such a degree that Heavenly Father would have no choice but the eradicate my “little problem.” I didn’t understand that I was asking Him to take away the symptoms and manifestations of my disease while leaving the disease itself essentially untouched. I didn’t want to do my part–it meant some very hard work. I now see how crazy I was.
If you find any LDS man who has achieved long-term recovery (greater than a year) from his sex and pornography addiction and who regularly attends the Church’s Pornography Addiction Support Group (PASG) meetings, there is a pretty good chance he is also quietly attending one or more meetings of Sexaholics Anonymous each week. This complementary recovery effort equips LDS pornography addicts with the tools specific to their addiction that they need to get sober and stay sober long-term. Sexaholics Anonymous is a great supplement to PASG.
We LDS men who attend SA are not being disloyal to the Church and we are certainly not settling for second best when we make Sexaholics Anonymous one of our top priorities. We are getting truly sober sexually for the first time in our lives and, to the extent we continue to work our individual recovery programs diligently, we stay sober. We have become better husbands and fathers. Just ask our wives! “Night and day” is the most common description you will hear. Loyalty to Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Restored Gospel and the Church is most powerfully demonstrated by keeping the commandments, loving our families and fellows, and living a life of integrity. Sexaholics Anonymous makes this possible for many Mormon men. They wouldn’t want to live in any other way.
At this morning’s SA meeting, we read from the White Book, the program’s main piece of literature. We usually switch off between reading the White Book and reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Like I mentioned above, it turns out that all addictions are based on the same underlying mental, emotional and spiritual problems. The only thing that’s really different is our “drug of choice.” For this reason, sex and pornography addicts read the Big Book together at their meetings and substitute “lust” for “alcohol” as they read along. It’s amazing how well a book written for alcoholics speaks to the hearts and minds of LDS pornography addicts.
The White Book was written by recovering sex addicts for recovering sex addicts. It contains chapter after chapter of information and insights into how we got where we are (powerless over lust, lives unmanageable) and how we get to sobriety and recovery. Many of the LDS men in PASG are reading the White Book on their own or in groups. (The White Book is actually on the recommended reading list on the Church’s CombatingPornography.org website, although it’s incorrectly referred to there as the Sexaholics Anonymous Bible.) Then, instead of lamenting how they didn’t do their scripture study this morning and so Satan was able to tempt them to look at porn again, they are able to speak meaningfully about resentment, fear, surrender, self-medicating, character defects, turning our lives over to the care of God, why lust is deadly to addicts, how it sneaks into our lives in many ways other than porn, and on and on.
Today’s reading focused on the self-absorption of the sex addict who is not in recovery. One part that struck me was the following from page 52:
We become increasingly closed off and defensive, unteachable and willful, and a kind of hardening sets in. Obsession with self is a negative spiritual attitude and force. Though the world outside may not see it as such, our spouses, children, fellow-workers, cats, and dogs know different. Self-obsession smells bad to everyone but the obsessed.
Our self-obsession takes different forms, from one in plain view to the covered, where it is disguised under passivity and the appearance of gentleness or pseudo-concern. The greater the self-obsession, the greater the con to disguise it. It prevents us from detecting the emerging flaws that later will turn into cracks and disastrous fissures in the reservoir of the self. And self-obsession inevitably produces spiritual blindness. To keep from seeing ourselves, we seize on the wrongs of others.
That’s all about me! Hardened, defensive, unteachable when I was in my addiction. My self-obsession was covered up. I made a big show of my concern for others, all the while being only concerned with myself on the inside. Until I got into recovery, I always felt like I was trying to con the world into believing that I was a certain person that I really wasn’t. That last sentence, in particular, describes so much of my former life (before recovery): “To keep from seeing ourselves, we seize on the wrongs of other.”
Seeing my specific flaws and then being able to work on understanding and overcoming them with a sponsor and with the group at meetings all help me make myself more right with the world and more right with God. As I become reconciled to Heavenly Father, my pain diminishes, I no longer want to self-medicate and I no longer act out on my addiction.
Sexaholics Anonymous meetings (lots of them) make me a better Latter-day Saint. I’m not the only Mormon man saying that these days.