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Elya K Answers Questions About the 12 Step Groups

Elya K organized and monitors the Jewish Healing Group and Live Hotline. He has been active in 12 steps groups for internet addiction. He is also currently a sponsor for other people struggling in these areas and helps them through the recovery process. Here are some e-mails he's sent and posts he's made on our forum to strengthen people who are struggling with this addiction:

I hope you don't mind me bugging you but there is something that has been bothering me for a long time. I sit here hoshana rabba at night having had my worst chol hamoed ever and realize that I am a serious sex addict and am strongly considering the 12 step program as a last resort and I know you promote the 12 step program very strongly. However, I have some very serious reservations on the program and have tried to put them in writing below. I know Dr. Twersky is a huge fan of the program and he is a bigger talmid chochom then me but my reservations are still compelling. I spent a lot of time drafting this email and would immensely appreciate it if you could take a look and respond when you have a few minutes. Please don't brush off my concerns as addictive thinking trying to find excuses not to work the program, they are not (although I doing that too!). I know you might disagree with these problems but I hope you at least understand my concerns.


1. I fail to understand how the program coincides with me being frum, let me explain, when I overcome any type yetzer hora I become closer to hashem and gain schar in olam haba, the same is true when working on my middos and definitely with fighting my sexual desires. I am not working on my sexual addiction purely as a physiological problem as a non-jew would but also as a frum Jew trying to do hashem's will. When working with the 12 step program, especially if I end up hooking up with a non Jewish sponsor, I will not be working on my problem as a Jew.  I feel it's like if I were having a problem with my emunah in hashem or my davening needed chizuk and I went to a Christian support group giving chizuk in our belief in god and praying but we would be discussing two separate gods (me as Jew and they as Christians).


A talmid chochom who understands the 12 step program advised me not to go the meetings for this reason and said I will not gain (the same) schar working this way (also because of item 4 below and chilul hashem).


Does talking to a goy make you NOT a Jew?  Since when do you change religions just by talking to a goy?   In the 12 steps groups, your Higher Power or G-D, is personal.  Yours is Hashem, theirs is whatever they believe.  The point is this. YOU ARE POWERLESS OVER YOUR ADDICTION.  You cannot stop acting out and your life is becoming unmanageable.  Work, family, time, money, spirituality are all suffering.  There is only one power that can help you and that power is Hashem.  The purpose of the 12 step group is not to become pals with goyim.  It is to share your experiences and get hope and strength, and give it also.  Chillul Hashem?  I went to a whole week of treatment with goyim and a couple of non religious Jews.  I ate my kosher food, made kiddush on shabbos, etc.


In the groups, we did role playing.  In EVERY CASE I was asked to play the HIGHER POWER.  None of the goyim were ever asked to play.  Why? because they saw my sincerity of my religion and instead of shaming me or talking bad about me, they respected me for my convictions.  Chillul Hashem or Kiddush Hashem? 


So my point is: if you want to do it your way, or your Rebbi's way, do it and see if it works. 


Give it a month, read mussar, daven, etc. and let me know if it works.  For me, what works is choosing a part of davening that speaks to me.  For me, it is Tehillim 30.   We say it everyday before Baruch She’omar.  Read it over carefully and you will see how it speaks to you.  If you go to a shul that rushes through davening, switch and concentrate on this Tehillim or another, with this problem in mind.  Cry out to Hashem and instead of ASKING HIM for things, THANK him for helping you get by another day, another minute clean and sober. Thank, don't ask.  It works miracles.


2.  Why can't I find a single mussar sefer that talks about the concept of addiction? Yes, you will probably find certain ideas in seforim that match the concept of the 12 steps and maybe even addiction, but the idea of being struck with a disease is clearly just not out there in mussar seforim. Chazal understood the human mind and the yetzer hora much better then any psychologist but the seforim only talk about the old fashion way of just not doing aveiros and holding yourself back, there are no 12 steps, diseases, methods etc. in the words of chazal. I heard you talk about the fact that you found all of the 12 steps in Sharie Teshuva and the Rambam on the phone conference and I actually looked them up but they definitely do not clearly give you these as tools and don't mention the concept of addiction.


It really bothers me that as a frum Jew, I can't find salvation in the torah but have to turn to modern psychology for new ideas and the 12 step program, a concept indirectly (or directly) related to Christianity as if Judaism does not cater to this type or strength of a yetzer hora.


Read Rabbi Twersky's book called "Self Improvement?  I'm Jewish.  He answers all of these questions. Let's set up a time to learn some Shaarei Teshuva together, seriously.  Once a week on the phone.  As it says in Koheles, "There is nothing new under the sun."  The 12 steps is just a new package around the wisdom of the Torah.  I will show you a special part of Shaarei Teshuva that speaks about this addiction specifically.  I have it marked in mine. I don't have it here now at the office.


It bothered me too for a long time that Judaism doesn't meet this head on. It bothers me that I have to meet with Christians to discuss Spirituality.  It really does.  But I'd rather be sober for  1 1/2 years and 2 1/2 years before that, and go to meetings than go back to the hell of addiction.  I wish I had a lot of things.  I wish my 31 year old daughter could find a Shidduch (one of my resentments!!! :)


In addition to the two items above, I have three other less serious questions about the program, here they are;


3(a). I have read books and a lot online on the 12 step program. The two main recovery components of the 12 step program are group support, which I could definitely benefit from and steps one, two and three where we realize we are powerless, realize only god could help and we turn over our will to god. Can you explain how this works, I am sitting in front of my computer with a enormous urge to browse or masturbate, how do I suddenly turn over my will to god and how does it help? Is it in the mind? What changes that I can all of a sudden control myself? 


Beautiful question. Once you're sitting in front of your computer with the urge, it's usually too late.  They would tell you to call a sponsor, which you won't do if you want to do it that badly. What you do in this case is get off your Tuchos and leave the room.  For a while you have to go through a withdrawal process, which is the hardest thing you will ever do.  My therapist made me stay away from the computer for a FULL MONTH.  My wife read my emails at night and I worked by hand. Imagine that.


What changes is that you can now control yourself. I like to say, once you make yourself a KLI which is clean and pure, then Hashem will pour HIS kindness upon you and take away the urge. I sit in front of my computer all day with a block.  Every day I see the little green light that reminds me it is blocked.  Most days I don't even think about acting out.  When I do, I get up and leave work and go do something else for a while. It takes discipline and practice.  Practice - not perfection.  Do this in baby steps, one day at a time.  You're trying to intellectualize the process instead of FEELING the process (which we all do).


3(b). Part two of my question is, can I can divide the two components above, will working the 12 steps by myself (books, online etc.) without going to meetings work or if I find another way of group support (a partner or the website) without using the 12 steps, will that work, is it worth a try?


Of course it’s worth a try.  Get a sponsor from our frum group or the forum and meet each week.  Get the SLAA book or one of Patrick Carnes books and work through it together. "Facing the Shadow" is a great workbook.  Whether you call it the 12 steps or Cheshbon Hanefesh, once you're sober you will naturally begin to question, "How will I fill up my time? what is my life all about?  Why am I getting so uptight about stupid little things?  This is part of looking at your middos (Cheshbon Hanefesh) and asking yourself, What and who do I have a resentment toward?  Anger? Fear?   Just do that along with the davening I told you about and you'll be half way there.  But you have to write this stuff down and go over it with me or someone you can trust.


4. As of today, b'h my only problem is mainly masturbation, I am concerned of hearing people speak of their experiences with other women and I will get too many good ideas at the meetings and begin exploring those ideas.  Also, I have heard that people attending the 12 steps sometimes get turned on by hearing other women talk about their sexual obsessions (I heard of a guy who hooked up with a women at the meeting, dunno if it's true), this concerns me too.


Your ONLY problem is MAINLY masturbation?  Mainly implies “more” than ONLY? Make sure you are honest with yourself.


This is a legitimate concern. On the flip side you'll also hear women talk about how they react to men who sexualize them and the pain and shame they go through. This helps you realize and internalize that women are not sexual objects.


If you're in a serious group, the hooking up is very rare.  When people are forced to attend meetings by the hospital and they are not interested, they will do this type of thing.  I once attended a meeting and heard some things that triggered me and acted out.  Life, our surroundings, are not perfect.  We can live as a hermit and never come out of our homes, or we can do the best we can do living in society.  Aren't we sexualizing women when we look at them on the computer?


Other ideas:  This is a progressive disease.  If you keep masturbating, after a while certain types of porn won't be exciting enough and you might explore other more dangerous things. You don't want to go there.  Stop now.


5.  I am afraid of being seen or recognized. Let's face it, disease or not, it's frowned upon and people (especially in the frum community) do judge.   This is something I am willing and realize I need to compromise on but I would like to hear your perspective on this.


I'm going to be a little harsh on this one.  I don't mean it personally but I have to get my point across.  I spoke to a guy who used to go to video stores and wear a ski mask in the winter so no one would see him.  When it was raining he would wear his raincoat and hide his face with his hat. So we are not afraid to be caught at work or by our wives looking at the computer, or seen in public going to places we shouldn't, but we're afraid that out of 6,000,000 Jews in the world, you're going to be seen by the 1 who comes to a meeting? Do you really want to live this way? Hiding from people and mainly from yourself?


This is the whole reason we're doing the phone group.  I can't get a group together in my city and no one in NY or NJ wants to get together either.  I don't want to be made public either, but it’s very rare that you'll be recognized on our phone group with 10 people on the call. Or if you call me and we speak, 1200 miles apart.  


To sum up, you've taken a huge step by asking these questions.  I have not attributed anything you said to your "addiction talking."  But now you have to take real concrete action if you truly want to get better.  It's not going to be perfect.  It doesn't have to be.  Here is my assignment, should you care to accept it.


1.  Write down 10 ways you are powerless over this.

2.  Write down 10 ways your live has become unmanageable.

3.  Find "your prayer," "posuk"  whatever.  Make it your own and say it slowly with Kavanah every day.  My Tehillim 30 is on a plague in my office.

4. Thank Hashem, don't keep asking.

5. Make a list of your resentments (people, institutions, religions, beliefs, politics).

6.  List your fears (failure, success, being found out, etc. )

7.  Show up at the phone meeting tomorrow night.

8.  Get a sponsor, someone, live or by phone, to talk to on a regular basis, but especially when you're getting "the feeling."  

9. Buy the books and read them.

10.  Get in touch with your feelings.  Take time every day to sit and relax and just feel. Get the book Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan and do it.  It sounds weird but it works.

11. Never give up, and don't overwhelm yourself with intellectualizing the process.  Take it easy, one day at a time.  Don't try and swallow the elephant in the room.

12. Find a certified sex addiction counselor in your area to begin exploring the underlying reasons for your destructive behavior.


You can do it with Hashem's help.