by Ron J.
I’ve often been puzzled by why “fear of death” in Hebrews 2:15 is connected with “lifelong bondage,” that is, addiction. I could never connect fear of death with addiction, even though it struck a note. I think such puzzlement arose because I restricted the expression “fear of death” to fear of dying physically. But I think the author’s concept of death is larger than the merely physical, just as the true meaning of Jesus’ death is much larger than the physical. What if the reference to death here also refers to the feeling we addicts experience when tempted, where our whole system screams out that we’re going to die if we don’t take that “drink”?
Free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
In our particular case, then, we could paraphrase the passage to read, “. . . deliver all those who, through fear that not lusting or not misconnecting will kill them, remain in bondage to an impossible addiction.”
For the typical lust addict, our whole system does scream out that we’re going to die if we don’t take that “drink.” It’s too fearful not to drink. Lust is our spiritual life-support system. Yes, the fear is that real. So, we wind up drinking. We’re hooked on it and remain a slave. It’s the fear of this kind of death that keeps us in bondage and forces us to keep slipping with lust.
The sad fact today is that so very many in the sex addictions recovery movement and in the church remain in bondage to lust, sex and relational misconnection because of this very threat of death. They are unable or unwilling to connect with the Life-giver instead. We can’t break through this death-barrier; we shrink back at the death-threat of not lusting or misconnecting with someone. Because that attitude and behavior has taken the place of real connection with our Maker.
It’s so unnatural for us not to lust or misconnect that it carries the actual threat of death when we are faced with surrendering the temptation. Ours is the compulsion of the look, the fantasy, or the misconnection, which when denied, is the very threat of death. But eventually we learn the hard way that for us to drink is to die. So recovery is learning to act against the fear–to lean into the fear–and go ahead and die. So we can live. The amazing paradox of the program.
This is why the decisive action-point of our malady is the instant of temptation, typically in the look, the memory, or the fantasy. That’s where we face the feeling of death each time. And that fear drives us to resort to that drug again and again and again. That’s why we feel we have to drink–so we won’t die!
We’ve used and heard all kinds of formulas on how to deal with a lust temptation. Some are foolish or frantic, such as the three-second rule: “If you look for over three seconds, you’re lusting.” Variations on such formulas are ingenious. What’s yours? As though lust had anything to do with duration. Lust has nothing to do with duration and everything to do with intent. If the intent is to snatch a quick drink, does it really matter how long it is, or even what we see? No. The intent is what we are. We need salvation from the intent, the disposition of our heart. And repentance via the Steps, together with a true apprehension of the real Savior, will give us that intent.
Most of us initially feel it’s something we must do to get out of it. “I shouldn’t be doing this!” we say to ourselves, as we go ahead and take the drink. This tells me that we don’t fully understand the nature of what we’re dealing with and that we underestimate the strategies of spiritual blindness and denial. This is “works of the law” instead of the love of God, which we can discover in the saving presence of the Savior. We don’t comprehend that lust is a disposition of the heart, an attitude. We rely on our own efforts–even our prayerful efforts–to save us. (Who says religious exercises can’t support the illness?)
This is why so many of us–so-called sober from “acting out”–do not recover from acting in. Mere sexual sobriety just deals with externals. Sober is not well. The tragedy in such lust-avoidance or lust-distraction techniques is that we can still “feel better about ourselves” by going to meetings–or church–and getting tacit support there for our sin-sickness.
Progressive Victory over Lust?
True sobriety includes progressive victory over lust. How can there be any argument with that? We know of no instant cures from lust yet (though we keep an open, if skeptical, mind). But our relation to this concept of progressive victory may be too shallow. We can abuse it. We can misuse it. We can hide in it. So let’s examine the question: Is there such a thing as progressive victory over lust? There are two ways of looking at it.
On the one hand, I came slowly to see in my own progressive recovery what lust is and the many ways I denied and blinded myself to what was really going on. Apparently it takes a certain amount of recovery to begin to see lust for what it is, and continuing growth to see it better. I didn’t discover lust as the underlying pathology until I stayed sexually sober. The overt “drool,” which many of us connect with raw lusting, is merely one of the more obvious forms. What about addiction to Woman or Man, the “wandering heart” or “appreciating” beauty? Ours is preeminently the malady of the misconnection, as we hear in the cry, “Connect with me and make me whole!” What about lust in the marriage? Lust is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and more gets revealed. In this sense, victory over lust is progressive.
On the other hand, in the instant of temptation, there is absolutely no such thing as progressive victory over lust. Any rationalizations we have notwithstanding, whenever that image, that fantasy, or that memory hits, we either lust or we don’t. We either drink or we don’t. The intent is either there or it isn’t. There’s nothing progressive about it. There’s no in-between. Suppressing it through will power might be considered kind of an in-between, but not really.
Suppression or repression–will-powering it–is just another avoidance technique which may be worse than consciously going ahead and lusting. Worse because in that forced ascetic denial, we think we’re making it. But the lust is still there inside, building up steam. It’s like saying I really want to lust, but for whatever reason, I will put it away. That’s not surrendering it to God. It’s locking it in a cage deep within. It’s another form of will power or “white-knuckling it.” That’s not victory over lust; it’s merely trying to put a bridle on it, putting lust on hold. There’s no freedom in suppression, only more fear. And it all lodges in the subconscious, storing up energy, only to bust out later in dreams or get expressed in other forms, such as resentment (or even self-loathing) or cross over into other addictions, such as food or TV. For the lustaholic, there’s no way out of our awesome dilemma. Except the Program way of surrender to God, dying to it, and being released from it in that moment of temptation.
In AA we hear the expression, “Resentment is the number-one killer of alcoholics.” With us, the killer is conning ourselves to disguise lust. Of course resentment and self-pity take a close second. (Some of us come to see that resentment is just another form of lust.) Lust is a killer in the sense that disguised or tolerated, it is responsible for failure to achieve sobriety and/or true recovery–spiritual death. We don’t see that “Lust kills the spirit Š Lust kills me.”
Too often this idea that victory over lust is progressive becomes the excuse for aborting true recovery. “I’m sober so many years” equates to “I’m okay now.” As though calendar sexual sobriety is the “real” sobriety. Or, as we hear so often, “Well, I’m dealing with lust the best I can; it’s a goal to aim toward.” Incredible justification for our status quo. As though the physical act of sexual sobriety was in itself recovery, when it’s only the prerequisite for recovery–being loosed from that next temptation in freedom and joy. More often, we hear nothing at all about member lust temptations. The person who calls himself technically sober is still drinking. Missing out on true recovery. Continuing sexual sobriety is only the prequisite for recovery. This is tragic and damages group and Fellowship unity. The recovery which our program promises is being saved in that next temptation, being released from its power. Instead of being self-driven or fear-driven, recovery is the victory of impossible joy.
Therefore, the first and only line of defense in a lust temptation must be a changed attitude of the mind and heart, before we even move an eyelash. Recovery from the intent. That’s where Jesus met and overcame, and that’s where victory over lust is not progressive. If one’s attitude is a decision to give up lusting in surrender and reliance on God, that attitude will be in place before we’re even tempted. Then, when hit with the image, in that first blink of an eyelash, the Shield of his presence is already in place, and we don’t have to do anything. Victory over lust is where you are, where you are in your attitude with your Lust-bearer, not what you do. If the Shield is already in place, you don’t have to do anything. That’s where we are either saved from it or not. Victory over lust begins with the daily decision to give up lust to God. Deliverance in the moment of temptation follows as a consequence. (Morning and evening, I ask him to keep me sober from every lust. I also ask him to keep me sober in every lust.) We can do it–by not trying to–and bringing him into it.
We may have this whole idea of sex addiction sobriety backwards. We need to consider and talk about this very seriously. Victory over lust is the real recovery, and continued sobriety from acting out sexually flows from that. There is no true recovery if all we’re doing is not acting out. Merely not acting out only minimizes the real problem, which is acting in. Question: Should the persistent practice of acting in be considered sober? People are saying No. What would the Master say? “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
On coming into the program, most of us are mainly concerned with stopping the acting out. That’s because our sobriety historically started there. That’s what we thought was killing us. But once sober, we begin to see the real problem. Remember that the Program is aligned with the AA model of not drinking, but ours is an internal drug, the alcohol of the spirit. Think about it. We need to get down to the nitty-gritty basics and stop shortchanging the basic principle of recovery, being set free from having to lust.
The Calendar Sobriety Syndrome is deadly. Someone has called it “smoke-alarm” sobriety or “sodryety.” I laud those who are beginning to set their dates back with a decision to stop deliberately acting in. Let’s encourage and support one another in breaking through the Lust Barrier. Maybe that’s our equivalent of AA’s statment of “separating the men from the boys.”
This is where we’ll discover that true sobriety from lust by our own doing is impossible. This is where we’re up against our real powerlessness and have no recourse but to One who can restore us to sanity in the very temptation. I wonder if it would not be better to challenge people right up front with the fact that recovery is impossible without victory over lust. Once we discover we’re powerless over lust, let’s challenge each other so we don’t hide it. Let’s keep bringing it into the light.
For myself today, I am absolutely powerless over lust in some form or other. But there is One, who himself is my victory over it, whenever I go through that fear of death, die to the temptation, upward to him, and bring him in, personally, savingly. He works! I don’t have to lust.
The temptation in the sex addiction recovery movement is to open up the attitude toward sobriety, to broaden it so it isn’t so “impossible.” And opening up sobriety makes us appear to be more democratic, tolerant and politically correct. I feel it should be the other way around, that we should make it more “impossible,” so people will be forced to find their Saving connection before settling into either the Slipper Syndrome or the Calendar Sobriety Syndrome or shifting from acting out to acting in. Why not state the nature of this problem as it really is, right up front: True recovery–joyous victory over lust–is utterly impossible without finding God, cleaning house, and working with others. That is the distilled essence of the original Twelve Step program. Have you found God in your lust?
Our old-timer friend who wrote this Epistle to the Hebrews was right: Fear of dying to lust does hold us in bondage to the slavery of impossible addiction. And the longer we’re in the fellowship of recovery, the clearer we see the true spiritual nature of our addiction and our utter dependence on him who is the Resurrection and the Life. But in each temptation–over and over again–we, you and I, must be willing to go through that fear of death with him that we may be raised with him out of that very temptation and discover that there really is life after lust.
Taken from Impossible Joy by Ron J. (Libera Publishing, 1999). Used with permission. To order a copy write: Libera Publishing, P.O. Box 31, Simi Valley, CA 93062 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org