Progressive Victory: An alcoholic and a sexaholic walk into a bar…

The AA Big Book and 12 & 12 have proven to be indispensable guides in my recovery journey. Though never addicted to a substance such as alcohol, I see my experience as a sex addict described on every page, whether it be the hopelessness of decades as an active addict, or the joyous freedom in recovery. Nowhere have these books been more important than in enabling me to see clearly the nature of my problem. When I place these two manuals of recovery alongside our White Book, I find the following helpful connections.

The Alcoholic and the Sexaholic

In the SA first step I admit that I’m powerless over lust. Compulsive masturbation and uncontrollable use of porn brought me into the program, but I soon discovered that lust was the core. I am powerless over lust. It’s then a rather straightforward exercise to substitute “lust” for “alcohol” as I read through the AA literature. Here are some other things I discover:

  • I am restless, irritable, and discontent unless I can again experience the sense of ease and comfort that comes at once from taking a few lust hits. (AA p. xxviii, xxix)
  • Lust, the rapacious creditor, bleeds me of all self-sufficiency and all will to resist its demands (12&12 p. 21)
  • I’m allergic to lust. The action of lust in my system results in an allergic reaction of sorts. I cannot start lusting without developing the phenomenon of craving. I can never safely lust in any form at all. (AA p. xxvii, xxix)
  • Any lust in my system makes it virtually impossible for me to stop (AA p. 22, 23)
  • For the sexaholic, lust is cunning, baffling, and powerful (AA p. 58,59)
  • I can have the happy, joyous life of recovery if I will only lust less and less over the months and years to come and only occasionally take lust hits as needed. My “progressive victory over lust” is just like the alcoholic’s “progressive victory over alcohol” (AA p. not)

I just made up that last point. In actuality, the phrase “progressive victory” doesn’t appear in these foundational AA texts. The only “progression” described in the Big Book is one in a very unpleasant direction. As long as the alcoholic continues to drink, he or she continues the relentless progression to the bottom, perhaps even to death.

The Sexaholic’s Drug: Lust

The White Book is at pains to show that lust is the sexaholic’s drug. My twisted behavior that brought me into SA is not even mentioned in our 12 Steps. It turns out lust is my drug. My behavior is merely lust’s incarnation. And yet, I want to treat lust as Something Other. “My first and second look and my fantasy factory is not ideal, but hey, it’s not that! It’s not porn or prostitutes!”

In the Big Book I read about the drug that is “cunning, baffling, and powerful” and the “mental twist” that leads to the first drink and then onto the spree. Alcohol cunningly whispers in the alcoholic’s ear, “just a little won’t hurt”. If the voice is heeded, he’s progressing again, but in a miserable direction.

What is whispering in my ear? It might be “your wife is gone, think of an entire night of porn!” But more often the voice says, “just a little look won’t hurt”.  “Just a little fond remembrance won’t hurt.” “Just a glance to verify she’s dressed modestly won’t hurt.” “Just a witty comment to make the waitress smile at me warmly won’t hurt.”

For me, that’s where the negative progression starts. If I’m indeed powerless over lust, it’s because lust is a toxin to which I’m allergic. And my allergic reaction to lust is eventually, inevitably, an all day, all night bender and probably a search for a new home and/or job.

If lust is so dangerous, if lust in any form is the first drink for the sexaholic, why do we read about a “progressive victory over lust”? Does the White Book mean to suggest that I can successfully recover by coming off lust “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”? An alcoholic having “only an ounce of whiskey in his milk” is working the bottle, not working the steps. AA is clear on that point. Has the White Book parted company with AA on this point? Can I, the sexaholic, successfully walk the steps with “a little something” where my alcoholic friend cannot? Or are we both alike doomed to continue in misery as long as we insist on drinking like gentlemen?

I carry my bar and bottle around with me in my head and so my lust-drinking can be subtle and even hidden to my conscious mind. Because of this, unlike the alcoholic for whom a seat at the bar or a bottle in the hand is a blindingly obvious relapse in the making, I have had to progress in my victory over lust in the sense that I have had to become aware of just how effortless the first drink can be. I have had to become aware of how easily my eyes drop for a look or how effortlessly a fantasy can spin up in my head. But as I discover each of these lust-bottles, I have a decision to make. And it’s a decision to refuse lust in that form from here on out. It can’t be a “this time maybe I will, maybe I won’t”, because every time it’s “maybe I will”, I’m ingesting the toxin that has and will make my life unmanageable. Every time that the choice is “I will, just a little”, I’m delaying my recovery. I’m postponing happiness. I’m swapping the promise of a serene life for a momentary, destructive comfort. Progressive victory is progressing in my understanding of the variety of disguises that cunning Lust assumes. It is not choosing to avoid that particular pit today only to hop in the next day. That’s double-minded, not progressive.

What is Progressive Victory?

I had my ah-ha moment on “progressive victory” a couple years ago reading an old Essay article by Roy K entitled “A New Look at Lust Recovery” in which he relates “his own progressive victory over lust”. In it, he does not describe a “sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do” progression. Rather, he shares how over time he discovered new manifestations of lust in his life. These weren’t new in the sense they had never before been active in his life and thinking, but they were new in his awareness. And each discovery was met with a scorched earth resolve.

For example, he describes how he discovered lust in his marriage bed, how he found he needed lust in the form of fantasy to maintain arousal with his wife. Lust! He continues by relating that overcoming this newly discovered lust was a long slow process, AKA: a year of abstinence. This lust manifestation was discovered, diagnosed and excised. No mercy!

And if I hadn’t caught the nature of the “progression” described in the article, I couldn’t miss the point when he got to Stage 7:

Once I discovered these other forms and strategies of lust progressively, once I was able to see, then I came to deeper surrender. This legitimate use of the word “progressive” is the very process of discovery we’ve been talking about in these various stages. I’ve got to keep progressing; there’s no fulfillment of the promise otherwise. The misuse of our expression “progressive victory over lust” is when we confuse it with our encounter in the moment of temptation, seeing the image in the corner of our eye, for example. In that instant, there is no such thing as progressive victory. We either drink or don’t drink. Think about it. Man, can we ever let our “progressive victory” wording cover a multitude of sins! (Essay, Dec. 1999, p. 6, emphasis mine)

And that makes total sense. If I’m indeed an addict, if I have an allergy to a particular toxin, any exposure to that toxin is destructive and must be avoided if I’m to live. Delay is dangerous, and rebellion may be fatal (12&12, p. 69). What surer way do I have of delaying my recovery than to continue countenancing lust in my head in any form? What surer way do I have to assure my eventual destruction? What is this “progression” if not a half-measure leading nowhere fast?

But I want to LIVE. And so I cannot lust. I can use the tools of the SA program to surrender lust to God at EVERY encounter. The lust-free life is the only life worth living. The only enjoyable, sustainable life.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An alcoholic and a sexaholic walk into a bar. Thus started one more journey to the asylum… for both.


An alcoholic and sexaholic walk into a bar...

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