Back to the Basics

(Essay December 2018)

It seems like only yesterday that my old friend and sponsor Jesse L., shared with me a wonderful story. He said that there once was a world-renowned football team that had successful seasons year after year. One year, however, things were not going well for the team. They were certainly not playing their best. Their famous, well-respected coach felt it was time to intervene. During the halftime of one of their worst games, he announced that he wanted to talk to the team in the locker room. When the players were all assembled he said, “Guys, you know we are not doing well this season. There is a very simple solution to get us back on track. We need to get back to the basics.” He then reached down, picked up a football, and in a loud and sonorous voice he said, “This is a football!”

Over my years in SA, I have observed the struggles of some members in remaining sexually sober. I have often thought that many of our problems are related to not grasping the basics of this very simple program. As it was with that football team, I think many of us need to be told today, “This is a football!” I would like to share with you the basics I use for my program on a daily basis. These are the footballs that I must use to stay sexually sober. These basic tools have worked for me for more than 27 years.

1. I believe I have a disease. This disease is called sexaholism. As the White Book says, “Looking at our sexaholism in terms of addiction seems to be a useful way to begin looking at ourselves” (SA 29). I am not bad getting good. I am sick getting well. Willpower will not stop this disease. Only a Power greater than myself can relieve my malady.

More About Alcoholism” hammers this home: “Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power” (AA 43).

2. I acknowledge that I am powerless over lust. As we read in the White Book, “The sexaholic… has lost control, no longer has the power of choice, and is not free to stop” (SA 3). I cannot pretend to be able to control and enjoy lust. It has no place in my life today.

3. I work my SA program just one day at a time. This concept is beautifully portrayed in the story “Alcoholics Anonymous Number Three.” The man in this story said to Dr. Bob (as Dr. Bob and Bill W. were visiting him in the hospital), “We’ve got some bad news for you. It was bad news for us, and it will probably be bad news for you. Whether you quit six days, months, or years, if you go out and take a drink or two, you’ll end up in this hospital tied down, just like you have been in these past six months. You are an alcoholic.. …

The next question they asked was, “You can quit for twenty-four hours can’t you?” I said “Yes, anybody can do that, for 24 hours.” They said, “That’s what we’re talking about, just 24 hours at a time.” . . . Every time I’d start thinking about drinking, I would think of the long, dry years ahead without having a drink; but this idea of 24 hours, that it was up to me from then on, was a lot of help. (AA187-188)

4. I clearly understand what sexual sobriety is and is not. I cannot pretend to be sober while practicing any kind of self-stimulation, with or without orgasm. See my article “What Is Sex with Self” (Best of Essay: Practical Recovery Tools13).

5. My disease lives in my brain. I cannot trust my thinking to get me out of my disease. My best thinking got me into the mess I was in. I therefore need to rely and work closely with my sponsor and with other members of the fellowship to help me avoid sinking into “stinking thinking.”

6. I make a daily surrender to a caring God who loves me. God loves me so much that He watched all the crazy things I did in my disease and brought me to the program anyway. That’s the God I believe in today.

7. I am very explicit in sharing my lust temptations with program members. As the White Book says, Lust hates the light and flees from it; it loves the dark secret recesses of my being. And once I let it lodge there, it’s like a fungus and starts flourishing— the athlete’s foot of the soul. But as soon as I bring it to the light, exposing it to another recovering sexaholic, the power it has over me is broken. Light kills lust. I did this with specific experiences, not in generalities.” (SA 160).

When I surrender a lust temptation to my sponsor or other program members, I do not hide behind generalities like “I was lusting today.” I say exactly what I was thinking. I do not filter my behavior to make it sound more acceptable. I say it as I thought it. If my sponsor or others cannot deal with it, then I need to find someone else in the program who can hear what I was thinking. I try to preface my sharing with the phrase “I am going to be explicit now.”

Of course, I also need to be willing to listen to others’ lust temptations. I usually say a prayer so that I don’t take in their lust. When people share with me explicit material, I pray “God let me hear this with your ears.”

8. There is no room for sexual fantasy in my life. My sponsor would say, “The first thought is on God, the next thought is on you.” What do I do with that first thought? Do I let it progress into a motion picture, or do I use the tools that I have learned in “Overcoming Lust and Temptation” (SA 157-168). I choose to use these tools to prevent the first frame of a lust- thought from turning into a motion picture.

9. I make a gratitude list every day. I especially like to do this in the morning, to prevent my enemy “self- pity” from sneaking back into my life. Self-pity means I am back to self; I am “I-”centered rather than God- centered. When I feel sorry for myself, I am forgetting all the wonderful gifts God has given me. “Selfishness—self centeredness! That, we think is the root of our troubles.” (AA 62)

10. I avoid situations that can be lust-triggers for me. I review movies before I watch them so as to screen out ones that would cause me discomfort, and I try to avoid certain TV programs.

11. I am careful to not let lust into my marital relations. I wrote more about this in my article “What About Sex in Marriage?” (Essay, June 2011).

12. I try to live the Steps, one day at a time. The Steps cannot be part of my life. They are my life. Working Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve as my maintenance Steps is of the utmost importance for me. I must promptly admit when I am wrong. I must be faithful in seeking conscious contact with God, and I must carry the message of my recovery.

13. I participate in a great deal of service work. It is only by giving it away that I can keep what I have. This is stated eloquently in “The Family Afterward”:

Like a gaunt prospector, belt drawn in over the last ounce of food, our pick struck gold. Joy at our release from a lifetime of frustration knew no bounds. Father feels he has struck something better than gold. For a time he may try to hug the new treasure to himself. He may not see at once that he has barely scratched a limitless lode which will pay dividends only if he mines it for the rest of his life and insists on giving away the entire product.” (AA 128-129)

Do I do any of the above perfectly? No. I do them conscientiously and to the best of my ability—and these basic principles have worked for me for more than 27 years. I know they can work for others also. These are my basics. These are my footballs! Let’s all continue to recover as the champions we are.

Harvey A., Nashville,TN