• Dr. Michael Johnson

    Psychologist, Specialist in Problematic Sexual Behavior

  • Dr. Michael Johnson

    Specializing in Sex Addiction Treatment in Austin, TX

Wisdom of the 12 Steps

Return to home


 Step & Virtue

Surrender: We admitted we were powerless over addictive sexual behavior - that our lives had become unmanageable.
I think there are three key pieces to understanding the first step. Those are the consequences of your addiction.

Powerlessness - that is the felt inability to stop the addiction despite awareness of the consequences.
Unmanageability means the chaos and disruption created in you life as a result of your acting out.

Hope We Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
First - we were insane. Quite mad - our lives were not making sense.The addiction had become our God. Our soul. For some of us, every act was related to our addiction. This is not an indictment of sexuality any more than it would be if we were talking about alcohol or cocaine or gambling or food. It is the out of balanceness that makes this insane. Sex was the most important thing. There was a time that I thought I could not think of life without masturbation. I could not imagine that. The out of balanceness unbalanced insanity pervade much or all of my thinking.

I like silly thoughts. Alone that is a good thing. But consider this example of how my insane worship of sex fouled my thinking. Like most people I have thought about the issue of abortion and listened to points of view on all sides. I understood the Christian argument that, since life begins at conception, abortion is killing. And I understood the Catholic extension of that argument that therefore any act, including the use of birth control that prevented conception was an infraction. But my sex-crazed brain went a step further. I reasoned in my silly way that therefore the logical extension was that refusing any sexual opportunity was also an infraction. My addict wanted to convince me that all sex in all forms was always good. Now I knew that other people would not accept that idea. I knew that other people would think that too far out but I rationalized it that that was because they were too uptight. In part of my mind, I believed that. I lived that. And I'm not Catholic.

Commitment Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
This is about commitment humility. It is about letting go. It is about falling back into our nature. It is about releasing ego. Whatever form your Higher Power takes, it doesn't matter. If your higher power is the Christian God then you fall back into the opportunity for grace. The desire and power to do the will of your higher power. If you are a pantheist then that means living again in harmony with nature. If you are a socio-biologist it means recognizing that your biological duty is far more extensive than merely to procreate effectively. It is also to serve your kin. And widely that means minimizing harm. So much of our addictive behavior brought harm to others that we cannot fail to see that. If you are a Buddhist, it means releasing your ego - letting go of control is letting go of suffering. And so on.

And it restores us to a position of receiving - accepting the gift of the care and love of our higher power. We are no longer the superhuman thinking "I can and must do anything myself all the time and take what is mine." We are no longer Masters of the Universe. Think about boys and the Masters of the Universe. This new plastic myth of power and domination. We are taught this model of manliness. And it dictates certain ways we must be. We must not be receiving we must be taking. We must not be giving except in economically accounted exchange. We may be passionate but not compassionate.

These first three steps are really ministeps in a process of accurately assessing our human limitations, the acknowledgement that there is hope, and the decision to give ourselves over to something greater than ourselves. This is the first step of freedom from the horrible burden of loneliness and despair laboring in the belief that we can and or must do it all alone.

Honesty Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

This is the beginning of healing. This is the shedding of self-deception, denial, and compartmentalization. It is not only about our addictions and compulsions. It is about how we have been in the world, to the world, to ourselves, and to each other.

This is the beginning of healing. This is the shedding of self-deception, denial, and compartmentalization. It is not only about our addictions and compulsions. It is about how we have been in the world, to the world, to ourselves, and to each other.

So much of the addiction is about dishonesty by lying and concealing. There can be no integrity without honesty. Integrity derives from integrate. We cannot live as integrated whole people - people with integrity - without honesty.

Truth Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step is about responsibility, accountability, and shedding shame. It is an act of openness, accepting responsibility. Why must another person be present? Perhaps to keep us accountable, but mainly that we have a fair witness of our courage and have the experience that we are acceptable - lovable - not despite of - but because of our honest relationship with our own failings. It is also to keep us away from our shame. In a way, this is the point of reentry into humanity.

Willingness Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Isn't that a terrifying thought. What are those defects. My selfishness, my arrogance, my anger, my "meness". All of those ways that I fed myself and fended other people off.
The Need to Be Right
The Need to Win to be the Winner
Lies and Manipulations
Of course to let go of those defenses we must confront our vulnerability and fear. We must be willing live in our feelings and without defensive postures. This is a huge leap of faith that everything will be OK. It is a leap of faith that we are at our essences- enough. That we need not carry round this great burden of being defended.
There is indeed a preparing for this. Preparing for the fear - but a new kind of fear.

Humility Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings

I used to think that to be humble was to be faceless. To be powerless. The opposite of humility is bragging. To blow ones own horn. But the real opposite of humility is a kind of self-deception. It is false self-inflation. The goal here is to let go of the external baggage - and restore to oneself the openness and compassion natural to humans. Look to well raised children as your models. They are still in balance. To be humble is to see yourself, as you are - special and human. Not perfect or damaged.

Mainly our shortcomings are the hurts we have not healed and the maladaptive ways we have had of coping with and covering up our wounds. This step into humility is a step of healing.

Reflection Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Have you really thought about doing that? My list is very, very long. There are my victims of course, and my partners whom I betrayed with my victims. Then there are all the others. Those I stole from, lied to, berated, humiliated, rejected, judged, and so forth. My first thought was, I can't do that. I really can't. I don't know all of their names. I do know that the underlying logic of my complaint is in line with my values.

This is about letting go. It is about developing empathy and compassion. It is about seeing the impact. A man I know sometimes reflects on the exploitive relationships that comprised much of his acting out and concluded that once you see the harm you have done - looked it in the face - you can't go back to the behavior. Once you have shed the scales from your eyes and released the self-deception that protected you from the damage your addiction did, you can't do it any more.

This step is painful, but it is a healthy and necessary pain, like excising an old wound.

Last, it is important to remember that you are among your victims. In many ways, you top the list.
9) Amendment Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Amends is not repair or apology, although those things may be part of amends. Amends is admitting to others and to ourselves the harm we have done and showing the other that we are changing. It may involve telling the story of your recovery. It may involve articulating clearly what you did and how it was harmful. It is not enough to say "I'm sorry". You need to say, "I used you to gratify my needs and at the time I did not care what impact it had on you." Amends is not about seeking compassion from those you have hurt although it may lead to compassion. Amends is not about seeking forgiveness although it may lead to forgiveness. It is focused on the one you hurt - not you.

Mainly, I think amends is about saying that you know you did harmful things and that you are working hard to change the core things in yourself so that you do not do those things again, not only to the immediate victim you are addressing, but to anyone.

In our addictions we have been sources of unnecessary pain in the world. There is necessary pain. People die, fail, get sick, have accidents, and on and on. There is nothing we can do about that. But as addicts we have been abundant sources of unnecessary pain in the world. The place of amends is to promise that you no longer express or medicate your pain in a way that gives pain to others. Amends reduces the unnecessary pain in the world.

Vigilance Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Human beings make mistakes - lots of them. As addicts, we hid our mistakes and lacked the courage to admit our errors. This vigilance is a huge step that binds together letting go of addictive behavior with the deeper personality changes involved in recovery. We recognize that our patterns have led us to conceal and hide to protect ourselves. But we know that to stay healthy we must stay in the true. As the saying goes, you are only as sick as your secrets. Admitting, first to ourselves, and then to others, when we have been wrong prevents the formation of new secrets. It also opens up a feedback channel. Feedback is essential to learning.
This vigilance is a sort of mindfulness. It asks that we become more and more aware of our actions, motivations, impacts, and detecting the crap in our own thinking. Crap includes resentment, self-justification, arrogance, self-denigration, and sneakiness. The vigilance is about making our lives transparent, especially to ourselves. It is a big job. It takes a long time. There is lots of crap in our brains. You decrap your brain by taking inventory one day at a time and admitting your errors right away.
Attunement Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.
There are seven trillion possible humans in the gene pool. At the moment there are about six billion of us on the planet. Assuming that a generation is 25 years and assuming that the population remained stable at six billion, that means that we could expect exact copies of ourselves to reappear on the planet roughly every 29,000 years. And then that duplicate would arrive in an entirely different world. That is how unique each of us is.

I think this part about attunement and conscious contact with a higher power is about figuring out what our particular uniqueness is about and what to do with that uniqueness.
I recently heard Wayne Dyer talking about his book, "10 Secrets for Successful Living and Inner Peace". He closed his talk with a lovely and delightful thought that goes exactly to this point. He talked about the metaphor embedded in the words to the children's song, "Row Your Boat." The verse goes, "row, row, row, your boat". Row - move, attempt, make voyages, do your life. And it is your boat you row. Not someone else's boat, not the boat someone tells you to row. But your own once in seven trillion, one in six billion boat. Knowing what your boat is comes to us through conscious contact with the greater whole. Call that what is meaningful to you - God, the universe, nature, the Mind Spring. Whatever. The wisdom source is doubtless the same and wearing many names.

And you should row your boat gently. Not roughly - not quickly - not tirelessly, but gently. Be gentle on your path. Take care of yourself and take care to know yourself, this says. >
And row down the stream. Do not row up the stream. There is little progress to be made rowing up the stream. You will get tired and stay in the same place. Make progress. Go with the flow. Go down stream. Gently.

And do this merrily. All the time - Merrily, merrily, merrily. Row, row, row, merrily, merrily, merrily. The Buddhists tell us to go joyfully into the sorrows of the world. Find joy. Not the empty, carnal pleasures of our addictions, but the joy of a full, multidimensional, self-determined life of rowing your own boat. Go into you life in joy.

This is how Dyer sees the secret of successful living and inner peace. I add a bit to his interpretation of the metaphor by thinking of where the stream ends up. In time it merges with another stream and then another and another still until it becomes a river. And the river runs on, merging with other rivers until it becomes a great river. At last it merges with the sea - the source - the place of joining. And from there, the sea is recycled to rain and snow to begin the cycle again. So the ancient rhyme also positions us at a moment of moving time in the great cycle.

On a rainy night a few years ago a client came into a session with me, grousing about the rain. Now this was a deeply pessimistic man. He did not row merrily. This was also a deeply Christian man. It occurred to me to tell him this. I told him that I did not know how many molecules of water had fallen on him as he walked from his car into the office, but I knew there were very many. I also told him that it was virtually certain that among those molecules was at least one that had been among the molecules of water with which Jesus washed the feet of his decibels. And molecules that filled the lungs of those who drown with the Titanic. And molecules that soothed the parched throats of the hardy folk who walked across Death Valley in 1849, and on and on.

The point is this. There is opportunity in every moment to make conscious spiritual contact with the greater. It takes us out of ourselves and into contact with other people and the greater whatever beyond. That sense of self-knowledge and connection can be achieved in deliberate prayer and meditation. It can be achieved through awareness of nature and others. I don't think the particular method matters a bit, so long as the product is a knowledge of our purpose here and the will and energy to row on that purpose.

Service Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other sex addicts and to practice these principles in our lives

We serve in many ways. We serve when we tell our stories and listen to the stories of other recovering people. We serve when we gently observe to addicts not yet in recovery that there is hope. We serve when we talk with other addicts before, during, or after acting out. This too is about growing our of our egoist selves and embracing the larger community. Most immediately that may mean the community of recovering people. But also the community beyond that. We serve when we model recovery in our families and work places. We serve when we coach soccer or serve Christmas turkey to homeless people. The central points of service are two fold. To do good for others and to do good for ourselves by opening our resources up to others and so overcoming, a bit at a time, the selfishness that is central to our addiction.


Return to home