Do we need to work the steps in numerical order?

Q: It seems to me that the steps to should be worked in numerical order, but I know of others who jump around.  Which is the correct way to work the steps?

A: Regardless of the fellowship you’re in, the “correct” way to work the steps is with your sponsor.  You should find a person who is relatable and is someone you can work with.  This doesn’t mean it should be your best friend.  You need a sponsor who will push you and call you out on your bullshit from time to time.

Every sponsor has a different style.  Typically, sponsors tend to work the steps with their sponsees in the same way their sponsor taught them, combined with various things they’ve learned along the way, either from fellow addicts or trial and error.

Some sponsors are radically different from others.  It’s OK to “fire” your sponsor if you don’t like him or her.  It’s OK to find someone else.  This is especially true when sponsors are controlling and tell you that there way is the only way that works.  The unfortunate reality is that some sponsors would make good cult leaders.  Your Higher Power is God, not your sponsor.  Don’t replace God with your sponsor.

Specifically to your question, I feel the steps are in the order they are for a reason.  Start with Step One, end with Step Twelve.  This does not mean, however, that the steps should be worked strictly from 1 – 12.  In many cases, it would be wrong to say, “I can’t make amends to you because I’m only on step one.”  This is especially true for a “Step Ten” mistake — where you have a quick turnaround on making amends to a recent wrong.  Step Nine is more for the amends while you were acting out (eg. cheating on wife, neglecting kids to go to strip clubs), whereas Step Ten is focused on continual amends (eg, “I’m sorry I yelled at you this morning.”)

Likewise, at the time of writing this I am still working on Steps Six and Seven, but I’ve had to go back and work Steps One – Five, at least in an informal way, when I start to rely too much on myself rather than God.  The steps are linear, but they’re also cyclical.  You work them, but then you keep working them.

TL;DR: In short, work the steps in order with your sponsor, but don’t be so rigid that you end up hurting yourself or others.

Advice from confessors

The confessional is the tool that Christ gave us to obtain forgiveness of our sins.  It is not a miracle clinic.  Going to confession gives us a new beginning and a clean slate, but it doesn’t remove all of our inclination toward sin.  We didn’t become addicts in a day, so don’t expect to recover in a day.

That being said, I would like to share the good advice I’ve received from confessors over the years:

When preparing for confession

  • Begin with a prayer that God will enlighten your heart and mind.  These can be found in most general prayer books, missals, and misalettes.
  • Examine your conscience.  There are many good ones online, but if these are not available, run through the Ten Commandments in your head.
  • Be on time or early.  If the scheduled confessional time is 5:00 – 6:00, don’t show up at 5:45, or even 5:15.  Show up at 5:00 or 4:45.  If there’s a long line, you may not have your confession heard before father has to vest for Mass.  If there is no line, and father has been waiting alone for 15 minutes or more, he may assume that no one is coming and take care of other duties.  Emergencies also arise.  Be respectful of the priest’s schedule and needs.

When in confession

  • List all your mortal sins, in kind and number (it makes a difference if you did something once over a month versus daily)
  • Don’t list your tendencies, just your sins.
  • Don’t explain why you did it, just say what you did.  You can’t shock the priest.  Don’t try to rationalize your sins.
  • Keep your voice down.  People outside the confessional are not bound by the seal.
  • Have an act of contrition in front of you, or have one memorized.
  • Do the penance that’s assigned.  If the penance is vague (“think happy thoughts”) or indefinite (“pray the rosary daily for the rest of your life”) or time constrained (“Mass starts in 5 minutes. Pray 100 Hail Marys before then.”), ask for a difference penance.

To avoid sin in the future (particularly sexual sins)

  • Pray the Rosary daily
  • Pray three Hail Marys for purity when you wake up in the morning
  • Devote at least 15 minutes a day for prayerful reading of scripture.  Start with the daily Mass readings (Extraordinary FormOrdinary Form)
  • Fast.  All Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday are days of abstinence from meat.  In most countries, Fridays outside of Lent are optional abstinence days, but you are supposed to replace it with some other penance.
  • For sexual sins, it is good to deny some physical pleasure.  This makes fasting from meat on Fridays (and other days) a good option.
  • From time-to-time, deny your body some other physical pleasure.  It can be small things like foregoing dessert or taking a cold shower.
  • End your day by reflecting on the good and the bad you’ve done.  Ask God for forgiveness, thank God for any blessings, and petition God for grace for the next day.
  • Go to confession whenever you need to, but the “best practice” is to go at least once a month.

Go to confession!

 

St. Paul’s List of Character Defects to the Galatians

If you need a starting place with recognizing your character defects (vices), or if you are having a hard time with your list, take a look at Galatians 5:16-25.  This was the epistle reading from the extra-ordinary form of the Mass (Traditional Latin Mass), today, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

[16] I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. [17] For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would. [18] But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, [20] Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,

[21] Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, [23] Mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. [24] And they that are Christ’s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences. [25] If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Some of the things here may sound foreign to you, but I bet most hit close to home: fornication? Check. Uncleanness (impurity)? Check. Luxury (also translated as “lustfulness” or “debauchery” or “sensuality”)? Check. Quarrels? Check Dissensions? Check. Envies? Check. Drunkeness? Check.  I can put a check aside most of those things.

These are things I can add to my list of defects, and help me with Step 8 and 9.  Whom did I envy?  Who did I hurt through my wrath and quarrels?

In contrast with these vices, St. Paul gives us the fruits of the spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (long-suffering, forbearance, generosity), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (self-control), chastity.

In asking God to remove our character defects, we out to ask for the fruits of the Holy Spirit as well.  When we fill our hearts with these virtues, there will be less and less room for the vices.

 

Which fellowship should I join?

When someone wants to join a 12-step fellowship for alcoholism, they join AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).

When they want to join a program to help with various drug addictions, they join NA (Narcotics Anonymous).

When they want to join a program to help with eating disorders, they join OA (Overeaters Anonymous).

When they want to join a program to help with sex addiction, they join SA (Sexaholics Anonymous).  Or do they join SCA (Sexual Compulsives Anonymous)? Or do they join SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous)?  Or do they join SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous)?  Maybe they join more than one.  Maybe they attend open AA meetings instead.  Maybe they join a Christian program like Celebrate Recovery which combines the teachings of the Bible with the steps and principles of AA to work on all addictive behavior (N.b.: This is a non-denominational program founded by a Protestant pastor, John Baker, of Saddleback Church).

Read more…..

Going too far

When working with teenagers at my church on the subject sex and chastity, the question often asked is, “How far is too far?”

My addict brain asks the same question. “What can I do that won’t cross into my inner circle?” I would mistakenly believe that the middle circle is for behaviors I “get to do” rather than the ones that lead me to my inner circle.

The question is best answered this way: if I want to know how far I can lean over the edge of a cliff without falling, the only way I’ll find out is when I start to fall. 

Stay away from the edge. 

“The assembly believed them” Susanna Part 4

The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death. – Daniel 13:41

Earlier in the story of Susanna, the elders conspired together to gang rape her.  They sneaked into her garden and threatened her.  If she didn’t submit to them, they would say that she was fooling around with a young man.  “Who will the people believe?” they might have asked.  “The respected elders and judges of the community, or a worthless woman?”

Indeed, when they tell the story of what didn’t happen, the people believe them, even though such things were unheard of with Susanna.  These men were in positions of authority.  They were civil as well as religious leaders.

One injustice begats another.  How often in your acting out have you also lied and caused calamity to come upon the innocent?  Has your acting out damaged relationships with your spouse?  Your parents, brothers, sisters, or extended family?  What about your children?  Very likely, some of your relationships have been harmed.

Many sex addicts are tempted to immediately go into Step Nine, making amends.  That is natural.  When we realize that we’ve done wrong, if we are truly sorry, then we should want to make amends.  That’s an important part of penance in the sacrament of confession, too.

However, we must not rush into our amends.  This can make problems worse.  Remember, we may be ready for amends, but the people we hurt may not be ready.  A sponsor can help you know when to make amends, if ever.  Sometimes amends must be spiritual only.

Small amends can be made at any time.  If you are on decent terms with another person, start doing small things for them.  They don’t need to know why.  Just be kind, courteous, and helpful.  If you are not on good terms with someone, make time to pray for that person.  Have a Mass offered for them.  I have had Masses offered for people that I will never be able to make amends for, because they are dead, or doing so will cause more problems than it’ll solve.

Find a sponsor, work with your sponsor, and go to confession!

Are you a sex addict?

I have updated the self-assessment page and reprinted the content below. I highly recommend reading my 7 questions in conjunction with the self-assessments at Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexhelp.com.

Sex addicts commonly answer yes to one or more of the 7 questions below.  If you even lean towards saying yes one any of the questions below, consider getting help.  Many of us start out in extreme denial.  Don’t hold back from yourself.

  1. Do you ever feel like your sexual behavior is “out of control”?  Do you want to stop but feel like you’re unable to?
  2. Have you ever made a promise to yourself that you would stop a behavior, only to break it?  Has this become a cycle?
  3. Do you keep your behavior a secret?  Are you careful to clear your browser history, or do you lie about where you’ve been?
  4. Does your behavior violate your personal beliefs or values?  Do you feel guilt or shame afterwards? Are you afraid people at work, church, or school will find out?
  5. Are your behaviors illegal? Do you fear getting caught by the police? Do you continue the behavior in spite of your fear?
  6. Do the things that used to satisfy you fail to satisfy you now? Do you need to engage in more extreme or riskier behaviors to reach the same level of satisfaction?
  7. Do you ever seek to avoid sex altogether? Do you “swear off” sex, only to return to your old behavior? Do you have a “binge and purge” pattern of engaging in undesirable behavior, obsessively or compulsively avoiding all sex, then returning to your undesirable behavior? Do you replace your sexual behaviors with other problematic behaviors such as excessive drinking, eating, drug use, gambling, spending, etc.?

What makes something an addiction is compulsivity.  If you are trying to stop, but can’t, or if you are doing things you know you shouldn’t, or if you try replacing one problem with another, that is a strong indicator you might be an addict.  Now is the time to seek help through a twelve-step fellowship or Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT).

Lust

“I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus, Matthew 5:28

Sexaholics Anonymous seeks to remove lust from the mind of the addict. Other groups say this is an unrealistic goal.

I think that both views are correct, to an extent.

Removal of lust, that is, inordinate sexual desire, sexual fantasy outside of marriage, fantasy for fantasy’s sake, or adultery of the mind; is most certainly a good thing. Lust serves to objectify others, including our spouse.  For the addict, it can easily become a form of escapism, preferred over intimacy with another.

Yet, insofar as sexual desire is natural, so is lust, but natural sexual desire isn’t really lust, is it?

Thoughts are difficult, if not impossible at times, to control. Sometimes we can will thoughts out of our minds, but other times they won’t leave no matter how many times we click our heels together, just ask any PTSD sufferer.

Removal of lust must be a goal, but not our primary focus. If we work on recovery in other ways, the lust will diminish in time.

Here are 5 things you can start doing today :

  1. Go to a meeting. It can be face-to-face, by phone, or online. Interact with the people who understand you best.
  2. Get some exercise. Go for a walk, go to your gym, or do jumping jacks. Do something.
  3. Call up an old friend. Relationships are essential to recovery.
  4. Call your mother (or some other close family member). Our relationship with family is the second most important one we have. Don’t call to reopen old wounds. Rather, call someone you’re on good terms with. Step nine, not now, is the time for those often painful amends.
  5. Spend five minutes (or more) in prayer. This is your most important relationship. When did you last speak to your Father in Heaven? He’s waiting to hear from you, even if you don’t know what to say. Just be with Him.