The 12-Steps

               The 12-Steps

When I first began attending 12-Step meetings, I heard, “Get a sponsor and work the steps.” I didn’t know what they were talking about. One evening, while standing around after a meeting a man walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a sponsor?” I said no and he offered his services. I had no idea what sponsorship entailed or what his role would be in my life. Like most social situations I found myself in at that time, I wanted to fit in, so I agreed.

Because I didn't understand what sponsorship meant, he remained my ornamental sponsor for quite some time. It took dating a woman in the fellowship before I got a clue. When I found myself in an embarrassing, painful, public break-up with a popular woman who processed her feelings about me and our breakup by putting me “on blast” in meetings, I began to call my sponsor more frequently. Hurt, angry, and resentful I started reading the literature and going to additional meetings. Having committed to 12-Step recovery, I refused to leave the program. Together, my sponsor and I worked up to the fifth step. At that point, he rekindled a relationship, got married, and moved away.

Enter my second and current sponsor. By that time, I realized the importance of step work and I wanted to complete the process I started. Spiritual smugness felt too good to stop working the steps. My new high became walking into meetings and comparing myself to others who were not working the steps. That downward comparison became my new fix. I chose my next sponsor after observing him in meetings. He possessed numerous qualities that made him ideal for me, even if I didn’t know it at the time. He seemed to lack anger, hostility, and authoritarianism.  He appeared calm and relaxed which attracted me because I never felt safe around angry, hostile authority figures.

Like any addict, I am recovering from turning to drugs rather than people when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. I'm recovering from immense shame which makes me fear intimacy. I often projected my problems onto women, blaming them for my internal discord.  As my recovery progressed awareness shed light on my problems with male role models. I began to recognize misinformation I received from men and society about masculinity and manhood. Through my relationship with my sponsor, I have been able to not only explore my emotional life, but take responsibility for it, remain drug-free, and cultivate happiness.

Somehow recovering addicts before me discovered an effective way to recover from trauma. I always found myself hurt by the people I was in relationships with. Addicts understood recovering people would need to turn to the very thing that may have harmed them—relationships—in order to heal. From trial, error, and ingenuity they created sponsorship.

As I progress through recovery and the 12-Steps, my relationship with my sponsor deepens. Working with him, exploring my emotional life, improves all my relationships. As we learn from our literature “we don’t heal in isolation.” Through sponsorship, I practice honesty, open-mindedness, courage, willingness, and vulnerability. Sponsorship taught me how to trust myself and others.

When men stop fronting on each other, drop their masks, and share their emotional lives with each other they develop intimacy. Many men never get that opportunity and later end up placing too much weight on women to care for them emotionally. With no men to bond with and placing too much emotional weight on women, they lose.

Last week, while sitting on a bench talking to my sponsee, I saw my sponsor in the distance, walking to his car. I felt emotional as I thought about how long he and I have worked together, how much I have learned about myself, and how much my heart has expanded due to our relationship. When anyone complains about their relationships, I remain silent. When others lament about unhappiness, I yield the floor. When someone gripes about being lonely, I stand down. Today, those are not my issues. Through sponsorship, I have been able to improve mutual satisfaction in all my relationships. Considering my sponsor’s role in my recovery, I felt myself getting emotional. My eyes began to well up and my heart felt full as I watched him walk away. I believe in the therapeutic value of one addict helping another.

The Opposite of Addiction

Any recovering addict worth asking will tell you they have not forgotten how to get high. They will probably also add that they never stopped enjoying the high, it's the consequences that they couldn't stand.

The experience of addiction is never forgotten. Not just the high but the whole behavioral practice leading up to the high. Ask any addict what it's like to cop. From the drug infested neighborhoods to the sound of a dispensing ATM machine, it's visceral.

Scientists have documented dopamine levels increase in anticipation of the reward. That endorphin increase connects the preceding activity to the hit. All of it, the coping and actual ingestion of the substance reinforce and connect you to the experience.

If the drugs don't get you the lifestyle will. That's why it's not enough to simply stop using drugs. One has to actively work on changing their attitude and behavior in order to stay stopped. The deer that wanders onto the road at night receives two competing signals, one to stop and one to go that freeze him in the headlights and bring it's life to an abrupt halt. Recovering people specifically those who use the 12-Steps figured that out a long time ago. Their approach, going to meetings regularly, doing step work, sponsorship, and service is designed to help one make the lifestyle changes necessary to avoid getting run over by the disease of addiction. There's always two parts to any behavior change one wants to make, cognitive and behavioral.

The opposite of addiction is not recovery it's connection. You never forget how to get high. Once you learn how to swim, you may not swim for years, but once back in water you will instantly remember. You could take any recovering person and drop them off in any city in the US and they could cop dope within two hours. As a recovering person myself I can tell you I know where to find street drugs. The only reason I'm not high right now is because I have some connections I don't want to lose. Whether it's my partner, my job, my kids, my grandson, or god children I don't want to give them up. Connections are the key.

Porn Problem?

When does porn become a problem? When you can't stop looking at it? When it interferes with your ability to function? When it serves as a gateway to high risk behaviors? What constitutes an addiction is controversial among researchers and scientists. There is no consensus that porn is an addiction. Porn addiction did not make the latest addition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), The bible of mental disorders. However, for the purpose of this article let’s define addiction as any activity or behavior that is mood-altering, habit-forming, with negative consequences. Addiction is also progressive, incurable and can be fatal. In this case, watching porn is not fatal but when it serves as a primer for high risk behaviors, like using prostitutes, it can lead to a fatal outcome.

Until recently drugs were commonly believed to be the only source of addiction. However, researchers continue to expand the list of addictions to include both substances and activities, such as video games, food, and sex. The latter are considered process addictions, and vigorous debate rages among scientists about whether or not they actually constitute addictions at all.


Addiction results primarily from disconnection from significant people in our lives. We are social animals, hardwired to connect, with nervous systems designed to grow in close proximity to others. If anything interferes with our ability to remain connected we experience discomfort which signals to us that something is wrong and connection needs to be re-established. Basically we feel anxiety, depression and loneliness. Learn more here.

When connection to others is either not possible or poor, drug and process addictions are often substituted for relationships. Compulsive behaviors serve as repair attempts that fail. Obsessions and compulsions become self-soothing rituals that most people later refer to as addictions. One becomes aware of them when they begin to interfere with their finances, occupation, relationships, and self-esteem.

The question whether porn is an addiction is not relevant here because the more important question is: how is porn affecting your life? Men have begun talking about the problems they have experienced from watching pron. Recently, ex-football player and actor Terry Crews began discussing his porn addiction and recovery. Bottom line: He admitted porn was a problem for him. Here is Ran Gavrieli discussing why he stopped watching porn.


Here are some important steps you can take if you believe you have a porn problem or any addiction. Talk to someone knowledgeable about your concerns who can help you create a relapse prevention plan. Educate yourself about addiction. Develop safe coping skills. You will need two kinds when you feel triggered: cognitive and behavioral (soothing self-talk is cognitive, going for a walk is behavioral). Remove all paraphernalia and reminders from your environment. Imagine that you have already stopped looking at porn, what feeling, or situation would trigger you start looking at porn again? Prepare for cravings by answering that question and shoring up your support in those areas. Set a "quit date" no more than two weeks away. If you make your quit date farther out than two weeks, you may be procrastinating. On your quit date stop watching porn and avoid starting again by using your support system, coping skills, and relapse prevention plan.

Remember quitting is easy. Staying stopped is the challenge. If you start again, stop again as quickly as possible. It may take several tries. Getting unhooked is worth it.

Addiction Relapse Prevention Possible by Exploring Drug-Associated Memories


Memories contribute to who we are and our experience of life. Recovering drug addicts can avoid relapsing by exploring drug-associated memories through mindfulness practice. When memories are positive they provide us with a sense of joy and well-being. But when our memories are unpleasant they can compel us to avoid them at all costs. We can find ourselves withdrawing from others, avoiding anything that might trigger a negative memory, or trying to escape our thoughts and feelings all together.

Humans evolved with a negative bias which enabled us to survive in a predaceous world. Is that a tan rock in the distance? Or a lion. Our early ancestors who could not discern the difference ended up on the dinner table. We remember. According to Professor Robert Sapolsky, zebras don’t get ulcers because zebras only think about lions when lions are present. We, on the other hand, think about lions (or negative events) all the time.

While drug use can be considered an unsuccessful repair attempt, at its core, addictive drug use is rooted in memories both positive and negative. Because memories are so powerful many people would like to avoid thinking and, thus, re-experiencing the feelings associated with memories. Exploring those memories through mindfulness practice offers recovering people the greatest opportunity to successfully avoid relapse. Mindfulness practice teaches us how to experience our thoughts in a more productive way by inviting us to accept our thoughts and feelings without ruminating, judging, or trying to fix how we feel.

By learning how to breathe, relax, and simply observe our thoughts we can increase our capacity to tolerate various emotional states without turning to compulsive behavior. With practice and time we can develop a non-threatening relationship with our own thoughts.

As scientist search for a cure for addiction, a pill that will enable us ignore its siren call, I remain doubtful. My skepticism is born out of my experience with nasal sprays—which worked wonderfully for about two hours after which my nostrils were blocked far worse than before. That experience taught me about the concept of rebound. Addiction is a rebounding condition. Recovering addicts don’t get to return to the beginning stage of their addiction if they start using drugs again. Their addiction picks up where it left off and they quickly discover that it is far worse than before.

I can’t imagine the side effects of any pill capable for curing addiction. Mindfulness has no side effects. It also increases the capacity for compassion for self and others. It can also decrease the effects of trauma. Studies have shown that it helps decrease chronic pain. It is effective in reducing both depression and anxiety. Mindfulness is something you can learn and practice anytime and it is free.

Mindfulness does not erase memories or empty the contents of your mind. Your mind will not become a blank slate. Over time, with practice, mindfulness can take the charge out of memories by teaching us how to accept without judgment our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness teaches us how to be happy.