Beyond twelve-step programs

I’m not against 12-step programs for addictions or compulsions.  As I’ve said, I wasn’t addicted to sex itself.  I was simply pathologically self-centered and selfish as well as seduced by, even addicted to, self-pity.  I’ve spoken to TL and each of our therapists about 12-step programs.  When I look at it closely, I see that for me at least, there are really more than 12-steps to take toward mental health.

We have reviewed the 12-steps several times. I think it is helpful to evaluate and learn from a variety of sources, incorporating what fits into my program, but also recognizing the elements that may be counter to my overall treatment strategy. For those who have asked about or recommended the 12-step program as the course forward for my situation, I would just like to explain my thinking on the 12-steps and how they fit and don’t fit into my treatment strategy:

One.  We admitted that we were powerless over lust — that our lives had become unmanageable.  Yes, I did that.  I do, however, have some reservations about the word “powerless.”  In my case, I’m working with my wife and my therapist and taking responsibility for the fact that I do have, and did have, power to control my terrible behavior.  I simply chose, selfishly and childishly, to relinquish that power and give myself an excuse to cheat and lie.  I can reform, and I gladly seek and accept help from many sources as I do reform, including from God.

Also, in my case, the word “lust” is not appropriate here.  My view is that all men experience lust to some degree.  Lust was not my problem.  My problem was that I had constructed a sick justification for cheating and lying.  That justification was self-pity and a misplaced sense of injustice about my life.  I blamed God and others for my unhappiness and I gave myself permission to cheat and lie.  Maybe other men have a problem with an addiction to lust.  My problem was deeper than that.

Two.  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Yes, one of the earliest things that I recognized after d-day is that my motivation for doing such terrible things had required a complete neglect of God. In fact, it wasn’t just a neglect of God, it was an abuse of the idea of God. Instead of being grateful to God for my wife, family, and many gifts, I was angry at God for not giving me more. Now, I spend time daily thanking God for my blessings and trying to treat those blessings and God with respect.

Three.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  Yes, since D-day I’ve successfully undertaken a complete religious conversion which required months of study and several religious rituals, as well as an ongoing commitment to continue growing and improving in my religious observations and in my life. Focusing on God is something I needed to do, and I now do, to remember the people I love and the consequences of my actions.

Four.  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Yes, I did that. I also took and passed a polygraph to confirm, for TL, that this inventory included ALL of the physical manifestations of my moral failings.  Still, as TL and I work on this blog and other things, I find I’m doing this again, aiming for a deeper understanding of myself and my motivations.  This ties into work with our therapist.  In my case it includes using psychoanalytical psychotherapy to try to more fully and precisely identify why I did the terrible things I did. 

Five.  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  Yes, I do this often, with TL, with therapists, and with other sufferers we reach through social media.

Six.  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  Yes.  But, I recall that God helps those who help themselves.  That’s a fact I neglected before D-day, when I was doing wrong, and blaming God for my defects rather than taking responsibility for addressing them.  Now, I am revising my world view to eliminate the original moral and psychological failings that motivated me to sin in the first place.

Seven.  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Yes, but again I’m remembering I also need to help myself.  With all due reverence to God, I’m now working to help God by developing strategies to prevent myself from doing those terrible things again.  The strategies include transparency with my wife and others; accountability for my time, money, location, communications, interactions, and actions; and reducing or eliminating tempting or uncontrolled environments in my life.

Eight.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Yes, my list started with my wife and kids.

Nine.  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  Yes, I’m working on that.  Given the extent of the harm I caused TL and my kids, I may be working on that for quite some time.  It’s work that may never be finished.

Ten.  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.  Yes, I work on this every day.

Eleven.  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.  Yes, this is also work that will take a lifetime.

Twelve.  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to sexaholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Yes, writing this blog is just one small example of how I’m doing this.  No, I’m not carrying a 12-step message.  My message is that each cheater can find a way to become a good person, if wanting to do so.  There are lots of different ways, and each couple can find the way that works for them.  The hardest part, I think, is for the couple to know that the cheater has truly come clean, is truly trying to reform, and has truly changed their world view.

The thirteenth step seems to be sponsorship and support.  We did have a support group when taking the AffairRecovery class. Due to unique circumstances, I’m looking for that with extreme care.  This blog is one attempt for me to find that support.  TL and I are trying to discover other ways as well.  In the meantime, my wife and my therapist are very supportive, and I am very grateful.

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3 thoughts on “Beyond twelve-step programs

  1. Okay, I have to be bluntly honest, here, again. You will find that is just who and how I am. I have always been this way, realizing obviously that these are my opinions based on my experience. I totally appreciate your blog and I have decided to follow you guys because I feel a connection to TL. I could totally avoid reading your posts (and just read hers), but I don’t feel that is the spirit of this blog and I would be missing your story. I am going to say, however, when I read your posts, I get a very tense feeling. I am not even sure where it comes from yet. I am just going to plow forward here… I am pretty sure you cannot fully understand the meaning of the 12 steps unless you are in a 12 step group. By just reading the words on a page and talking with non-addicts, you are robbing yourself and everyone else (in your explanations) of a true understanding of what 12 step is. I am not an addict, so I am of course speaking about my husband’s experience with 12 step (and friends’ experiences). I have never been to a step meeting, not even an S-anon meeting and therefore I only write on my blog in very loose terms about the steps themselves, because I do not fully understand them and I believe they are very much a part of my husband’s recovery journey. Again, if you don’t associate yourself with being an addict, why would you talk about the 12 steps? I do know, however, that for an addict, it takes months to understand how those steps were developed and what they actually mean and how to go about utilizing them in recovery. Their definition of lust is very different from mine. I learned that right away. And in the first step, when it says “powerless” it says I WAS powerless as in, I was doing something I knew I really didn’t want to be doing. Most addicts admit that they didn’t want to or shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing (if they are in a 12 step meeting, hopefully they have embraced this notion), otherwise, why are they trying to change? They did it for years not because they did or didn’t want to, but because they allowed themselves to behave in a way that they eventually deemed unsavory or wrong. Anyway, I do not want to go through every thing here as it has taken my husband approximately 14 months to get to where he is currently… on the 4th step. Some of the guys in his group have been going longer and are not yet to the 4th step. It is an individual journey. Going through the 12 steps is long and arduous and includes a camaraderie and support group element and fellowship and cannot be completely explained in a blog entry or a comment. I understand with your blog you are trying to help other people realize they can be better, do better, but why the association with sex addiction and 12 step since you are not seeking that path for yourself? It still very much confuses me and muddles the message from both sides. Also the 12 step program is not trying to supply mental health, just merely provide an avenue for dealing with an addiction… that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking with it! K

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  2. Thank you for reading my perspective. You don’t have to read it if it makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s unsettling for a betrayed person to get inside the mind of a betrayer. I might feel that way if our roles were reversed. I do appreciate your readership and comments. I think they help me learn. And, I think both TL and I learn about ourselves and our relationship through comments from readers.

    I certainly don’t claim expertise about 12-step programs. I wrote about it for two reasons. First, another reader asked me about it. Second, discussing whether to use 12-step or different approaches was an important, personal choice for TL and me when we started down the path of reconciliation over 32 months ago. To the extent that I’m using this blog to journal my voyage of self-discoveries, I find it therapeutic to chronicle how I arrived at my conclusions and strategies.

    I’m not a therapist, and I don’t claim to be recommending courses of action for anyone but me.

    It sounds like the 12-step program is helpful for your husband. That’s great. TL and I have found a slightly different approach that is, so far, helping us.

    Again, 12-step may be great for some folks. I don’t think it’s for everyone. Though our paths are different, I hope there are things we can learn from each other.

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    1. Thanks for your reply. Just so you know, if you don’t hit “reply” to my comment, you are starting a new comment thread and I am not alerted that you replied to my comment… maybe this is on purpose, ha. But seriously, I do have to check back to see if you commented back. I honestly do care about the dialogue, so that is why I do check back, just like with TL’s WOBS page. I checked back and was happy to see she commented after my comment and opened up the page, because I definitely need to exercise and any little encouragement helps. Anyway, I totally get where you are coming from and your progress is impressive. Again, we are all on individual journeys and really answer to ourselves first. I think the times I feel uncomfortable are when you associate yourself with addiction and 12 step (some readers are looking for advice and it is difficult to give advice if you are not practicing the program, in my opinion). Otherwise, I have read a lot of stories about betrayal by both the betrayer and the betrayed, and those do not bother me although I wish they never happened because it usually causes a lot of pain all the way around, but I get it. I really do. Believe me, after 30 years together finding out my husband was an addict, floored me. But this is his journey and yours is yours. I respect that. I’ve said my piece. Thanks for letting me. K

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