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The Three Circles Using the Big Book

 

 

“Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.” Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 14 (first paragraph)

 

As chronic sex addicts of the hopeless variety, we have little or no idea how to engage in sex or relationships healthily. Since any addictive sexual behavior can put us in “the bubble” (trigger the phenomenon of craving – AABB pg xxviii, 4th Ed) and since we don’t know at the beginning of our recovery, which behaviors are addictive or not, we should know that at the beginning we will be asked to sacrifice some behaviors that we really want to keep. However, if we truly understand Step 1, we realize that in Step 3 we will be asked to surrender our entire lives. This includes our sex life. When we make the decision in Step 3 we realize that from this point forward sex will be the decision of our Higher Power. We must make peace with the possibility that our Higher Power may not want us to ever have sex again. If we have truly found bottom in Step 1, we are almost wishing for this already. But the paradox of Step 1 is this: though we may have the desire to stop, we lack the ability. The important thing is the willingness to surrender this decision to our Higher Power. We must be willing to allow our Higher Power be the decision maker in our sex life from this point forward. It will be “His” decision as to whether we will ever have sex again for the rest of our lives. This is one of the meanings of “completely give ourselves” (pg 58).

Like food, we are genetically encoded to pursue sex. Unlike food, attaining sex is not necessary to our survival. Our bodies function fine without us consciously pursuing an orgasm. (Our heads will not explode if we don’t masturbate every couple of days.) Since complete abstinence will not kill us, sex is not a need. It is a want, even though we are genetically programmed to want it. The therapy/treatment industry is prone to tell us that we must have a healthy sexual outlet. The fact that people all over the world practice happy healthy monastic lifestyles negates this argument. Our bodies are engineered to deal with the need to have sex without our conscious pursuit of it. In men, this often manifests as wet dreams or expulsion during urination.

The AA Big Book provides us with an incredible tool that helps us as sex addicts figure out where our sobriety lies. Here is a passage from the sex inventory in Chapter 5.

 

“We reviewed our own conduct over the years past. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, or inconsiderate? Whom had we hurt? Did we unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness? Where were we at fault, what should we have done instead? We got this all down on paper and looked at it.
“In this way we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test - was it selfish or not? We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them. We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.” Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 69 (emphasis added)

 

Prior to that, we were told what the crux of our problem was:

Selfishness, self-centeredness: that we think is the root of our troubles. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 62 (paragraph 1)

 

Above everything, we [sex addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 62 (paragraph 2)

 

All addicts of every kind are, at their core, addicted to selfishness. The same is so with sex addicts, but we treated our spiritual malady with selfish sexual behavior. Selfish sex was our drug of “no choice”. If the sexual behaviors not in our inner circle are not contributing positively to life, if they are not fitting us to be of maximum service to God, chances are they are selfish and should be in our inner circle. Since selfishness as a whole will kill us anyway, now, at the beginning, is the best time to define our abstinence in this way. Even alcoholics working a solid 12 Step program find that they cannot engage in self-sex because it is selfish.

The AA Big Book offers several other guides that are helpful in determining if a behavior is selfish or not, when we are unsure.

 

“The rule is we must be hard on our self, but always considerate of others.” Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 74 (paragraph 1)

 

It is just as easy for us to make our spouses or “significant others” part of our addiction. We must qualify each instance of sex with our spouses with the same scrutiny that we examine the rest of our sexual behaviors. “Is this instance an act of selfishness or is it an expression of an already existing intimacy and commitment between my spouse and I?” If we are at odds with each other, then we have no business having sex until the dispute is resolved. If we have been physically separated by travel or schedule, then the priority is to reconnect spiritually and emotionally. Physical intimacy should be an expression of that connection. If we are having trouble trusting our significant-others, then why are we having sex with them?

Some of these guides in the Big Book can be restated as questions.

 

Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 77 (paragraph 0)

 

Is the behavior in question fitting me to better serve God & the people about me?

 

For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. Alcoholics Anonymous Pp 14-15 (paragraph 6 – last line)

 

Does the behavior in question serve the purpose of perfecting and enlarging my spiritual life through work & self sacrifice for others?

 

Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee - Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 85 (paragraph 1)

 

Is the behavior in question a vision of God’s will for me?

 

Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 86 (paragraph 1)

 

Is the behavior in question contributing positively to life?

 

If we answer no to any of these questions, it is a good indicator that the the behavior we are unsure about is selfish and therefore unhealthy for us as sex addicts. This is also a good indicator that these behaviors should be in our inner circle. Since we must be rid of this selfishness anyway, it is best to go through withdrawal only once.

 

He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 63 (paragraph 0)

 

What is a need? A need is something vital to our survival. We have always had our needs met. If we ever failed to get something we truly needed then we would be dead. Anything above that is a “want”. We learn to recognize our selfishness when we hear ourselves say “I want...” or “I don’t want...” We should ask ourselves if we are engaging in certain behaviors under the guise of “taking care of our own needs,” or, “self care”? If so, we should remember that self-reliance is what got us into the position we are in now. We need to remember that we surrendered in the 3rd Step our will and our lives. In so doing we are trusting God to take care of our needs. Besides, the lack of a conscious pursuit of an orgasm will not kill us, therefore it is not a “need”. How can the pursuit of a “healthy sexual outlet” be anything short of managing our own sex lives again?

 

“They [sex addicts] are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by [acing out]....” Alcoholics Anonymous Pg XXVI (3rd Ed., paragraph 4)

 

When we engage in a sexual behavior, we must ask ourselves if we are using this behavior to change the way we feel. Many of us used our behaviors to “comfort” ourselves. We must remember that we are now on the basis of our Higher Power providing the “ease and comfort” we truly need. We are no longer “self medicating.” Many of us are in the position we are now because we avoided the pain that life inevitably brings. We did so with our addictive sexual behaviors. We are now on the basis of dealing with life on life’s terms. We now rely on our Higher Power to give us all the ease and comfort we need.

If we think of our life as a company, in Step 1 we realize the current manager or CEO of that company (ourselves), is doing a pitiful job and should be, in the very least, demoted to an entry level position... for life! If we were unsure on this, we asked ourselves “How much would I pay someone to run my life the way it had been run up to this point?” We each answered: $0.00. In Step 2 we interview new prospective managers and narrow the choice to one candidate, who came with and incredible list of references in the fellowship of S.A.A. In Step 3 we are signing a contract for the terms of our new managers employment. The only provisions our new manager promises us are the removal of our obsession and happy contentment in our abstinence. Our side of the contract reads, “We will do whatever God wants, whenever God wants, how God wants or return to managing our own lives again.” …and we remembered well where that brought us. We agree to this proviso because not doing so means we are choosing to go back to our old way of life, which was killing us. This is one way to summarize Steps 1 through 3.

Steps 4 through 9 provide us with a model for practicing Step 10 day by day moment by moment. They have also taught us that the source of our addiction is a spiritual sickness. This spiritual sickness is mainly manifested as character defects. All of these character defects spring from the big character defect of selfishness. The AA Big Book also uses the term ego-centrism and equates the two ideas: self-centered and ego-centric. This selfishness comes in many forms: self-promotion or face-saving, dishonesty, fear, inconsideration, currying favor, and so on.

If we do not rid ourselves of these character defects they fester into emotional disturbances. Resentment/anger, fear that drives our decisions and rules us, self-pity (which often appears as depression), shame, arrogance, jealousy, envy, and so on. When we were in our addiction we chose to suppress, control or deny these emotions. Unless we dealt with these emotions in a healthy manner – like healthy people – they too festered and became worse. They began to materialize in our lives as stress, chaos, drama or turmoil. This is referred to in the AA Big Book as the “bedevilments”

 

We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people ….  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 52 (paragraph 2)

 

If we still do nothing and allow this drama and chaos to continue, it grows. We move into a state of being dissatisfied with life, incredible moodiness and an utter inability to stay still and quiet. Dr Silkworth described it as “restless, irritable and discontent.” This state is nearly intolerable to us, as addicts. If we do nothing about it, the “lurking notions” return and we begin to think about acting out again. If we allow this to continue the obsession returns and we are doomed. When we reach the decision of “should I or shouldn't I?” there is almost nothing that can be done except for us to violate our inner circle and very likely end up on another spree. Hopefully we will survive it and find the willingness to work the whole program.

 

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84 (these are the 5 instructions of Step 10)

When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken. Alcoholics Anonymous pg 86 (this is the 1st part of Step 11 – a report card on how well we practiced Step 10 during the day)

 

From the point the character defects cut us off from the Power that keeps us sober to the point that the obsession returns comprises our middle circle. All of our character defects are based on the central character defect of selfishness. As addicts, we want what we want when we want it. Our fears are based on the idea that we might not get what we want. Our resentments are based on the idea that we didn't get what we want. We lie, we manipulate and we bully our way through life trying to get what we want. Self-pity, jealousy, envy, shame, remorse, morbid reflection, worry are all emotional disturbances that sprout from selfishness.

 

We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day "Thy will be done." We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. Alcoholics Anonymous pg 88

Stress is a type of fear. It is the fear that we will not get it all done in time. It comes when we have forgotten that we are no longer managing our lives. It comes when we try to take that old job back from our Higher Power. When we react instead of taking thoughtful and prayerful action, we have stepped into that role again. Stress begins to take root. We start making foolish decisions and get swept up in the excitement. We start to think we can control the outcome of our actions. Before we realize it we have sat behind the CEO's desk again and started trying to run our lives again. This is a dangerous place for us. It is part of our middle circle.

 

Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us. Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77

The purpose of our recovery is not to free us of the obsession so that we can attend to “self care”. We must remember that it is our responsibility to our Higher Power to always be aware of our physical, financial and social health. If we neglect these things, we are not fitting ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us. Eating right, regular exercise, attending to regular doctor visits are all things that accomplish these goals. (These actions potentially extend our longevity so that we may have more time to help more of God's other children. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that “healthy sexuality.” is part of this process) So, too, must we be attentive to our responsible use of our finances and social interactions. If we are neglecting these things, then we are being poor stewards of what our Higher Power has allowed us to keep. We remember always that these things belonged to our Higher Power to begin with. In our addiction, we imagined that they were ours to squander as we wished. We now see that we are nothing more than overseers of what our Higher Power has entrusted to our care. We now see that these things are meant to serve God's purposes and not our own. Neglecting their care is a dangerous place for us as addicts and should be part of our middle circle.

The second half of Step 12 says that “we tried... to practice these principles in all our affairs.” This means that we should be keeping spiritually clean in everything we do. It means that we should be seeking and doing God's will in every aspect of our life.

 

Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. "How can I best serve Thee - Thy will (not mine) be done." These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. Alcoholics Anonymous pg 85

 

Chuck Chamberlain once said something to the effect, “Everything in life is Step 12. The only purpose of Steps 1 through 11 is to give us a tool we can use in Step 12.” We must constantly remember that this new life we now live – free of the obsession – no longer belongs to us. We made a decision to surrender it to our Higher Power in Step 3. We did so by putting Steps 4-9 into action. We surrender each day by implementing Steps 10, 11 & 12 every day. This means we have submitted to a life of servitude. Many worry that this means we must sell all our belongings and give the money to charity, become a missionary in a 3rd world country. That's not what our Higher Power calls all of us to do. He calls for each of us to live in the moment, to surrender each day to Him at its beginning and end. It means that we must strive to be responsible contributing members of society. But most of all, it means this: as we live each day as responsible citizens of the world, we must constantly be on the alert for opportunities to be helpful to our fellow man. The little old lady who needs help with her groceries, the man overburdened with packages that he can't open the door, the motorist with a flat tire, the friend in the hospital, the neighbor who just had a death in the family; these are all our brothers and sisters in the daily struggle of life.

These are all chances to contribute positively to life. But, we as recovered sex addicts, are uniquely positioned to help the still suffering sex addict. Though we must be on the lookout for these other golden moments, we are called specifically to do something for the sex addict who so desperately needs and wants what only we, as recovered sex addicts, can provide. This is the entire reason we were rescued from our insanity. We can offer them the possibility of recovering from sex addiction. This is something that no one else can give them. No one but a sex addict can know the torture and anguish of our disease. No one but another sex addict will know to what lengths we must go to recover. No one but another sex addict who has actually done this can offer them the hope that recovery is possible. No one but a recovered sex addict can show them how to apply the solution we have found. This is an important reason why each of us must carry the 12 Step message: that we had a spiritual awakening as the result of these [12] Steps. We are uniquely positioned to be helpful when no one else can.

 

But life among [Sex Addicts Anonymous] is more than attending gatherings [meetings] and visiting hospitals. Alcoholics Anonymous Pg 161

 

Each of us must carry the message in all three ways we have found: service to the fellowship; make ourselves available as sponsors and make an effort to bring the 12th Step message to sex addicts where they find bottom. We must do this provided that we have met that primary condition: that each of us has had as spiritual awakening as the result of working the Steps. But the most important reason to do this is our own continued sobriety. We do not stay sober on an 11 ½ Step program. If we do not attempt to carry this message, if we do not each make ourselves available as sponsors, if we do not serve the fellowship, if we do not find a 12th Step service (carrying the message) commitment, then we will eventually loose our sobriety or die (or experience spiritual death in the very least). We will have to step outside of our comfortable little meeting in order to do this. Carrying the message is not meant to be convenient. It is work and we must work at it. Seeking and doing God's will - Steps 11 & 12 - comprise our outer circle entirely. The other elements of our life; employment, taking care of our health, our significant relationships, etc.; are meant to be maintained only as a method of supporting the very important work of Steps 11 & 12.

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