Love One Another! 11/2008 → Family Life
The following is the conclusion of “Pawel’s Testimony.” The first installment, which appeared in our previous issue (Love One Another, No. 10), described the development of his sexual addiction until the moment of his decision to seek therapy with Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). His earlier attempts at seeking treatment had proved unsuccessful.
On reading the article that helped me to diagnose my addiction to sex, I told my wife that I planned to attend meetings of Sexaholics Anonymous. While not exactly exuding enthusiasm, she raised no objection. I went to my first meeting. My hopes in going there were far greater than the shame I felt. Apart from myself, there were only two other participants. I learned the basic principles of recovery from my addiction. SA follows a modified form of the Twelve-Step Program (henceforth referred to as the Program) of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Program can be adapted to treat various forms of addiction.
First of all, I had to accept the fact that I had failed in my struggle with this habit, and that I would always fail as long as I relied on my own powers alone. I had to accept the fact that no amount of willpower could master this habit, that I had lost control over my life and that only God could free me from my addiction. I also learned that I had to plan my life of abstinence one day at a time. At the meeting I also learned that at the first onset of temptation I should contact other recovering sexoholics and profit from their experience.
I found the meeting neither earth-shattering nor disappointing. On the whole, I felt rather good about it. A few days later I went into one of my lusting binges. In the morning of the following day, which was September 8, 2003, I decided I would attend the meetings regularly.
At the same time as I began to take part in SA meetings, prayer returned to my life — for good. It started with the addict’s prayer, “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I said it with my group every time we met, and more frequently on my own. The Program encourages prayer. At first I said this prayer to turn away from temptation. I did not have a deep religious sense. The Program made me realize that there was a basic flaw in my view of God. At first I did not understand the importance of this. I simply accepted on faith the fact that my view of the world had been distorted by my addiction.
After a while I began to be aware that I was praying more often — often spontaneously. I would begin saying the traditional prayers of the Church (the Hail Mary and the Our Father), which I had learned in my childhood and repeated in my youth. This was all the more surprising, since, in my general revolt against the Church, I was particularly hostile to Marian devotion. Though I had not yet overcome this hostility, I prayed the Hail Mary anyway.
After some three months of abstinence, I began to experience massive withdrawal symptoms in the form of anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia, headaches, and an overall weakening of my organism, which manifested itself in a number of virus infections. But on the whole, these symptoms were less serious than those I had experienced in the early 1990s. The methods worked out by AA and adapted to sexoholism — suitably applied — brought relief to my sufferings.
On picking myself up after my first crisis, I realized that if I did not follow the Program more diligently, I might not survive the next crisis. Since my original SA group did not yet have anyone who had achieved a long period of abstinence, I took advantage of my friendshipwith one of my fellow-participants and accompanied him to a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous. I knew that this group used the same methods as AA. There I discovered that I had no trouble understanding the experiences of people addicted to chemical agents, just as they understood mine. I still like to describe myself as a special kind of drug addict, who produces his narcotic in his mind. From then on, for several months, I relied on the support of recovering drug addicts. At the same time, I continued to attend my SA group, although I felt that I was drawing most of my strength and hope from Narcotics Anonymous. What won me over was the fact that the NA group had several people who were unquestionably on the road to recovery.
In that group I soon made friends with a man whose path to recovery I found particularly attractive. He had a wife, children, a steady job, a long period of abstinence behind him, and, despite his many troubles, a cheerful disposition to life. What’s more, he admitted that he also suffered from an addiction to sex. In this, he claimed, he had also achieved several years of sobriety. And — wonder of wonders! — the fact that he was a practicing Catholic (I was still negatively disposed to the Church) did not bother me at all. I should explain here that every fellowship modeled on AA works on the principle of “sponsoring,” whereby a successfully recovering member provides support to, and shares his experience with, a member less advanced in coping with his addiction. So I asked my new friend to be my sponsor, to which he agreed without hesitation.
It was then that, on the suggestion of my fellow participants, I read Graham May’s book Addiction and Grace. The book had a great effect on me. I finally understood that in giving myself over to my addiction I had bowed down to a “strange god.” I had sinned against the First Commandment by giving first place in my life to pleasure. I also came to understand that suffering and lack of fulfillment in this world are everyone’s lot, that in this I was by no exception, and that ultimate fulfillment would come only after my death, when my soul would be united with God. I came to understand that I was a beneficiary of God’s grace and that my life had a profound meaning in His inscrutable plan. So my illness and suffering had meaning, if only in the fact of my being able now to use my experience to help others.
Following the Program under the guidance of my sponsor made me realize the utter desolation that my addiction to sex wrought in my life. Looking back on my addictive past, I could see it for what it really was — a form of madness or possession. Only now could I see the monstrous scale of my symptoms. According to my best estimates, the sum total of hours I had devoted to compulsive fantasizing amounted to four full years. I could not believe it at first, but my calculations yielded the same result every time. My material losses, direct and indirect, amounted to several hundred thousand dollars. Add to this the numerous failures I suffered in the areas of my education and professional development. The result was a total squandering of my knowledge and skills, for, although I had completed post-graduate studies and mastered several languages, my business fortunes had sunk so low that my job consisted in little more than performing heavy menial work. My marriage was in a shambles. I had serious problems in relating with my children. I did nothing but quarrel with my parents, and I had no friends. My business eventually went into receivership and I found myself heavily in debt. I lost the ability to relate to people. My ability to experience beauty and good was dead. I had separated myself from God and seriously neglected the state of my health. Psychologically I was dysfunctional. I was unable to cope with the basic requirements of life (work, study, supporting my family). I saw that my life had gone completely out of control. I was a bankrupt in every sense of the word.
Signs of rebirth
At the same time, my persevering with the Program was beginning to reap dividends. For the first time in my life I was beginning to relate with my children. I will never forget the day I first took pleasure in simply playing with them. I reconciled myself with my father, and my relations with my mother improved noticeably. Even my relations with my wife showed signs of improvement, although this was not so easy. Abstinence alone did not correct my disordered character. Chief among my flaws was my monstrous selfishness, which lay at the root of my addiction, and which the addiction strengthened. In the new situation, this deep-seated weakness of mine continued to annoy my wife.
After half a year of abstinence, I liquidated my unprofitable business. I informed my parents of my disease. They received the news with love and understanding. When they learned of my financial distress, they assumed all my debts — this despite their advanced age and without my even suggesting the idea to them. With humility I began to approach people for help, and help proved forthcoming. A good man helped me to find work. At the same time, my perseverance with the Program strengthened me in the hope that a change for the better was not only possible but also all but guaranteed — provided of course, I met certain conditions.
I continued to pray ever more frequently. I found the Hail Mary to be particularly helpful. Often, on saying it, I would feel the obsessive thoughts leave me. My peace of mind would be restored, or a splitting headache would go away. I began to notice how false a view of the world I had held and how hard I had tried to deny that God was love. For the first time in my life, I read the New Testament, and this considerably strengthened my belief in God’s goodness. By working on the Program, I learned to entrust my will and my whole life to God.
I held my own in my new job. Before long, I was even promoted. My wife also began to earn money. Together we got ourselves out of our financial straits. Yet despite this, my physical and mental state remained very unstable. Anxiety and insomnia became permanent features of my life during those first years of my recovery. Every lapse in following in the Program resulted in a crisis in the form of an escalation of my symptoms, difficulty in concentration, and general emotional destabilization. As a result, I continued to attend both my NA and SA meetings. However, I began to feel less and less comfortable at the SA meetings. I felt uneasy when one of the participants would relativize the notion of abstinence and sobriety and openly declare that he was recovering in the direction of a permanent same-sex relationship.
Finally, in the fall of 2005, events took a turn in that group that I found unacceptable. In effect, the group was dissolved, when most of its members went over to a new group with a nice enough name, but whose philosophy consisted in everyone defining abstinence and sobriety for himself. The previously undefined principles gave way to a program of relativism, which is always bad, but particularly so in the case of persons struggling with addictions.
Along with a few other recovering sexoholics, I threw my support behind a properly constituted fellowship of Sexoholics Anonymous (SA) in Poland. We began our first regular meetings in the fall of 2005. Only SA defines sexual abstinence as avoidance of all addictive behaviors. Concerning sexual sobriety, it holds that this can only be achieved either through total celibacy or through love in marriage between a man and a woman. I felt quite at home in this fellowship. From then on I rarely visited meetings of other 12-Step programs. In addition to working under the guidance of a sponsor, I also sponsored other SA members in following the Program.
Rediscovering the fullness of life
As the months passed and I persevered in the Program, I began to observe more positive changes. In December of 2005, even though I had not participated in the life of the Church for many years, I felt the need to make a general confession. I found this to be a profound experience. It was a turning point in my life, for after that I returned to the Church. The annoying religious doubts I had experienced since my youth gradually left me. Not only the sacraments but just being in a church brought me peace of mind. My confessor drew my attention to the significance of the date of my joining SA, for it was the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I suddenly felt that I had never been alone. All this time, God, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, had been showering me with graces, but I had not been open to them. After confession, I began to receive the sacraments ever more regularly. It was also of great concern to me that my children should grow up in the Church. Helping my son prepare for his First Holy Communion was a tremendous experience for me.
Thus strengthened, I continued to persevere in SA’s 12-Step Program. More changes for the better followed. Gradually, all those attitudes that would rob me of my peace of mind began to disappear. In particular, I cast off my belief that I had to compete with others; the belief that competition was the ruling principle of the world; that the weak deserved to be scorned and served no good; that people’s worth depended on this or that particular trait. I cast off the belief that men had to have sex in order to prove their masculinity, that having sex was a physiological necessity. I no longer felt ill adjusted and isolated from the world as I did during the active phase of my addiction. Now I had many friends and acquaintances. I was able to appreciate the beauties of nature and enjoy a good laugh. With the aim of assuring my family a livelihood, I even returned to my studies.
My relations with my wife gradually improved. I grew to be very fond of her and find her attractive. I will never forget the day I embraced her in my arms and felt true love for her. When I felt aroused in her presence, I no longer experienced the need for instant sexual relief. I was patient and tender with her. After several years of chaste living, my sexuality underwent such purification that I thought that I was able to express my love for her through sex. Alas, my hopes were premature. My wife had been deeply wounded by my immaturity. We were both bearing the consequences of my addiction. The disorder it caused had prevented us from ever getting to know each other properly. Now we would both experience shock at learning the truth about each other. As a result, there was, and still remains, a certain inhibition to our physical intimacy. But I do not worry about this, even though I long to enjoy complete intimacy with my wife. I know that in His wisdom and love God has chosen the best cure for us. Thanks to SA, I know that I lose nothing through sexual abstinence. My wife and I have recently begun to pray regularly together. As a result, I do not get angry with her as I used to. We have been married now for eighteen years, but it was only in April of 2007 that we stopped quarreling altogether.
Now that I have gone through the steps of the Program, I am examining the harm I have done to others. I am working hard to make amends and correct my relationships. I have analyzed my life in terms of the injury I have incurred on others, on God, and on myself. Daily acts of forgiveness have become an important part of my life. I now see that underlying my addiction and the appalling suffering I have brought upon Christ, others, and myself, are weaknesses of character that stem from the seven deadly sins. Chief among these in my case is not lust, but pride. Pride has been the scriptwriter of my life. Now I must learn the virtue of humility.
* * *
Addiction is a cancer of the soul. Its development can be halted, but its devastating mechanism can never be fully eradicated.I have been chaste for four years, but I know full well that the cancer still lurks within me. Sometimes God can heal directly, especially through the sacraments, but in order that He may do this, the person must open himself fully to the work of His grace. Most people with addictions are unable to do this. They struggle fiercely against such acts of self-opening. I did not want to do this. In my case the 12-Steps of the SA Program was the remedy for my resistance.
Someone has called the 12-Step Program “a set of spiritual exercises for especially hardened and rebellious sinners.” I like the method. By the grace of God I owe my life to it.
For more information about Sexoholics Anonymous contact:
Sexoholics Anonymous International
P.O. Box 3565
Brentwood, TN 37024
E-mail: saico at sa org
Phone: (615) 370-6062
Toll-free: (866) 424-8777
Fax (615) 370-08821