Can a person live with out lust? Someone asked me this recently. It is worth a response since our name, Living Without Lust suggests this is possible. But first, some clarification. The question is not “Can a person live without sex?” Physiologically, it has been shown that people can and do live without sex, some happily so. But recovery is not about sex. We must remember that sex was God’s idea. Sex is good and therefore sobriety and recovery do not mean a sexless life, though nearly all of us will engage in abstinence from time to time. And we must be spiritually fit to do so.The Scriptures tell us that every good gift is to be enjoyed with thanksgiving, according to the purposes God has given it. (1 Tim. 4:4)
The “lust question” is also not “Can a person live without lust temptation?” The answer to that is clearly “no.” If Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are,” (Hebrews 4:15) then he was sexually tempted. and so will we be from time to time. But can we live without lust, the force that objectifies others in person or in pictures, and drives us to make the false connection?
We can learn about this question from many sources. We rely on the Scriptures primarily and the long experience of the sexually sober in recovery. But we can also learn from others. My wife and I recently went to see the movie “Free Solo,” the extraordinary story of Alex Honnold, the first person to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the worlds most formidable rock climb. He did so unaided by ropes or any climbing gear. What can we learn from Alex that we can apply to recovery?
1. Alex took the long view. He started climbing indoor walls as a boy, then graduated to outdoor climbs, then to more difficult climbs with gear and finally free solo climbs. He then prepared to climb El Capitan for seven years. Many of us come into recovery expecting a quick fix. Go to few meetings, read some literature and all done! We sometimes even count sobriety days, almost expecting to act out in the future. This fear of embracing full recovery is ultimately the fear of death, dying to our old habits in order to embrace new life.
How did Alex Honnold face the fear of death? There is an important reading in recovery literature called “The Luster’s Fear of Dying.” In a sense it echoes the Epistle to the Hebrews’s statement that Jesus came to deliver “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” (2:15) Many people who continue to act out sexually fear the “death experience” of surrender. “What will I be without my drug?” They have never learned that new life lies in and beyond surrender, an encounter with the Lust-Bearer who takes away our lust. So we hang onto the old life out of fear. I did this for many years myself.
In an interview with National Geographic, Alex Honnold stated “I have more of an acceptance that I will die at some point.I understand that but I don’t want to baby myself along the way. I want to live in a certain way which requires me to take a higher degree of risk and that is acceptable to me.” Accepting life on life’s terms is crucial for the lust addict. Alternatively, fearing death and attempting to create a false life connection will always prevent true surrender and recovery. If we want to live a different life, we will need to take the long view. Begin with the end in mind. We must think about our death-beds and our legacy and work backwards. But to do this requires a change in lifestyle, activity, associations and thinking. If our goal is lust-free living, (and isn’t that what heaven will be like?) this will take a lot of preparation and focus. Taking the long view of where want to end up, helps.
2. Alex undertook a program to succeed. His ascent up El Capitan was no accident. He didn’t have a good feeling one day and decide to do it. Nor did he experience depression one day and decide he was too afraid and give up. The program of recovery is a step by step action plan that will address every eventuality we face. Whether it is computer temptation, unexpected lust encounters, secrecy, character defects, making amends or other things, there are specific ways to deal with each of these, if we are willing to go to any length. Alex was willing to go to any length to reach his goal. Recovery usually evades those with a haphazard, noncommital approach.
3. Alex Worked with a Team. The final result looked like an individual achievement. Alex arrived at the summit alone, just as each of us will die at our particular moment. But this was deceiving. Alex practiced and trained with others for years. They climbed together, planned together, filmed his climb together and shared in his achievement together.”We cannot do this alone,” is a frequent and very accurate tenet of true recovery. When we come into the rooms, we find people just like us. Out of the rooms, we usually find people who will join arms with us and walk with us in our upward path.
4. Alex Removed the Impediments to his Journey. One of the final tasks Alex performed before his historic climb was to venture up and remove all the loose rocks and stones that could fall on other climbers or sabotage his goal. This took time but was absolutely necessary to achieve his goal. So must we. Have we been honest about things that throttle us with lust again and again? Have we failed to deal with our character defects, the fear, control, resentment, anger and jealousy that drive us and force us to medicate ourselves? Have we forgiven those who have hurt us and asked God to bless them and give them what they need? Are we seeking to give rather than take? The 12 Steps point the way to removing these impediments and more. We cannot reach our “recovery summit” without facing them and taking action. Without removing these impediments, lust will return.
5. Finally, Alex Realized the Summit Was Simply the By-Product of All the Right Steps. Having memorized every single grip, foothold, maneuver, and challenge, Alex Honnold simply took his nearly four hour climb one step at a time. He moved carefully over some parts of El Capitan, swiftly over others. He focused on the process, knowing that if he did so, the goal would be achieved. This is the secret to recovery. We often say that if we can stay sober today, we can leave the rest of our lives to God while we live one day at a time. When I truly surrendered to this amazing life of recovery, I realized that this was how I was meant to live all along but never realized it. This life really is “one day at a time.”
Can we live without lust? Today we can and that is all that matters.There is an old Eastern saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Similarly, when we surrender to this program of recovery, summits, even dramatic ones, will appear right before us…all by themselves.