The English have an old slang word for what I was doing when I first entered recovery: coddiwomple. It’s a verb that means to travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. Most of us get into recovery to change our addictive sexual behavior – to stop acting out. When I began recovery, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to sexually act out any more, but I had no idea of what I did want. I was powerless over my compulsive sexual behavior and my life was unmanageable. I was destroying relationships, breaking the law, and violating my own values. I knew I needed to change, but I had no idea what recovery would look like. Maybe the English would say I was coddiwompling.
When I first went into treatment, a psychiatrist explained to me that I had been living two lives, and the objective of treatment was to merge those lives into one. I believed that I had lived two lives – one good and one bad. In time, I came to understand that my supposed “good life” was filled with distorted thinking and character defects. I was a perfectionist who expected perfection in myself, and often failed to meet my own unrealistic expectations. I was judgmental of everyone who didn’t meet my requirements of them – who could? — and often found myself disappointed and unhappy. I was dishonest, resentful, selfish, self-centered, and inconsiderate. I judged myself with the same impossible standards I judged others.
My addictive life, on the other hand, was filled with secrets and shame. I lied to hide my addictive behavior, I lied to make myself look better than I was, and I often kept lying about things that didn’t matter at all. If others knew about my addictive thinking and behavior, how could they love me? They couldn’t. I couldn’t ask for help without admitting my behavior, and I couldn’t do that. Yet the truth was, much of my addictive thinking and behavior came out of my childhood and my life experiences. Feelings and behaviors that were necessary for survival as a child became damaging and compulsive as an adult.
And yet, I ventured forward, traveling purposefully toward that as-yet-unknown destination. It was a difficult, frightening, and painful trip. The great reality is that human stories involve suffering, and they involve the development of character as the result of that suffering. The story of every recovered addict is a story of good and evil, pain and suffering, fear and courage, and eventually peace and serenity.
Men and women in recovery from addiction have become my heroes. Agreeing to go to any length, recovering addicts intentionally venture into the unknown to change their lives. They are unaware of where the journey will leave them, yet willing to face fear and uncertainty because they desperately know they need to change their lives.
In his 2003 novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Husseini describes the situation of a young boy being brought from war-torn Afghanistan to America as “lifting him from the certainty of turmoil to the turmoil of uncertainty.” Likewise, the addict in recovery moves from the certain turmoil of sex addiction to the turmoil of uncertainty.
Our great mythical heroes venture into the unknown, and at great risk to life and limb take on dangerous challenges. The addict similarly ventures into the unknown, and at great risk to emotions and relationships, he takes on the difficult challenge of changing his entire way of thinking. As he does this, his old life must die. In a very painful process, with the help of his Higher Power, he gives up those thoughts, feelings and behaviors on which he relied to take away the pain in his life, and replaces them with new thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that he does not yet understand. He must be reborn. In being reborn meets – and with God’s help defeats – the addiction that has been controlling his life. He finally regains the power of choice.
Recovering addicts are the most courageous people I know. Eventually, we are no longer “coddiwompling,” we can see the destination. We become God-centered and focused on helping others. The desire to act out has left us. Serenity has arrived. We have had the spiritual awakening.