Where Did I Have To Make A 180-Degree Turn?

At the beginning of the story, what is the truth of the character and what is the lie?

The truth I kept telling myself through my 40s was that through sheer application of my will power, I could achieve anything. The lie I told myself was that if I could just achieve enough sex and love, I would be whole, that there was a great shining mother figure out there and if I could just find her, I would be OK. I knew this was a lie even as I kept telling it to myself every day.

When I was in eighth grade, I wrote this novel about a character who wins the Olympic marathon in front of the girl he loves and then drops dead from the exertion.

At the end of the story, what is the truth of my character?

I realize I am a sex and love addict and that only a spiritual transformation will cure me. And so I embark on the 12 Step journey, even though I hate the term “spiritual” and everything it connotes.

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.

* A friend of a friend finds a woman online who describes herself on frumster.com as machmir (strictly Orthodox). He flies to New York to meet her. On their second date, she tells him to bring his tefillin.

* I don’t feel a party to any of the arguments for and against Orthodox Judaism and arguments within the religion. I prefer to stay neutral. Labels are important and I love the arguments but the map is not the territory. I feel the same way about addiction and 12-step programs. There was never a light bulb moment for me that I had emotional addictions and needed God. Instead, there was just a gradual sense that this 12-step thing worked for me and did things for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I enjoy arguments about Judaism and about addiction and recovery, but I prefer to observe the fights rather than to join them.

* Dr. Patrick Carnes: “Eroticized rage is about breaking rules and the abuse of power. The CEO who has 146 women on the payroll he’s had sex with. They’re all single parents he’s taken advantage of. He’s angry with women.”

“There’s an entitlement: I do this because my husband doesn’t pay attention to me. A woman with a spotlessly clean politician husband so she get him back by blowing a male stripper.”

“Dad is absent and mom uses the kid as a confidant. He’s the little man of the house. Women become too much for a little guy to handle all the stuff mom’s confiding way too early. As a result, he doesn’t trust anyone. There’s anger. He’ll marry someone like his mom and then he’ll go out and act out.”

For my one-man play on eroticized rage, what’s the incident where I had to make a 180 degree turn? When I embraced 12-step work in May of 2011. I turned from living life on my own will to turning my life over to God. I believed in God prior to this, but He wasn’t real in my life most of the time. I thought he was the ultimate judge, but I thought by following the Torah, I could create a good life. I didn’t realize that my will to follow Torah was corrupt. That my execution of Torah was corrupt. That my dreams were corrupt and my passions were corrupt.

I was religious prior to 12-step, but I hadn’t turned my life and my will over to God. I hadn’t turned myself over to God. I didn’t think of myself as an addict. I felt completely in control and believed that if I simply applied myself, I could succeed.
When I embraced 12-step, I had to accept that I was helpless in front of my emotional addictions, that there was a power greater than myself that could restore me to sanity, and I made a conscious decision to turn my life and my fears and my resentments and my will over to God.

Working step four, I realized that addicts like me use everyone and everything in their life to meet their addictive needs. Therefore, I needed to make a complete and fearless moral inventory, listing out everyone and everything I resented, writing out where they threatened me (prestige, income, love life, etc), and what part I had played in these dustups.

I wasn’t afraid as I worked these steps. I was in a 12-step program that let you set your own bottom lines (of behaviors you wanted to avoid). Nobody was going to tell me what to do.

This is not a play. This is just true, true to the best of my ability to remember, true according to all sources of information I’ve gathered. This isn’t stylized or dramatic. It’s not clever. I’ve seen one-man plays. This ain’t one.

Through 12-step work, I’ve returned to many of the themes from my Seventh-Day Adventist childhood. Dad would say that our will was corrupt. You can’t live for yourself. You have to turn your life over to God. The meaning of life is in service. You can’t live in resentment. You have to forgive. I hated that. I wanted to live my own life, figure out right and wrong, convert to another religion, sleep with many women, write about what I fancied, and it left me lonely, frightened, isolated, an embarrassment to my family and friends, unrecognizable to people I grew up with. I was a rebel without a shul. So I turned 40, had the great love affair of my life, and then came the void.

As a convert to Orthodox Judaism and an avid 12-stepper, I feel like I have no choice but to say that I want God to be as real as possible in my life, but I don’t live that way every day. Much of the time I find myself wanting God to be real enough in my life that I abandon my most self-destructive tendencies, but not real enough so that I can’t do the things I want.

Aside from a Hasidim, Jews don’t generally talk about God. We don’t generally talk about making God real in our lives. I’m not getting my God talk here from my Jewish experience but from my 12-step journey.

My beliefs about God haven’t changed much over the years. I think I developed my sense of God as a little boy, that He was the Creator, the Source of Revelation, and the Judge.

I think one’s image of God is intimately tied up with your image of your father. I have a lot of respect towards both. I see God and dad as the sources of moral authority, and the ultimate judges.

I don’t have any literal image of God. Never had. That would be a sin. If you force me to come up with an image for God, however, I’d think of the Torah, God’s instruction manual from Mount Sinai.

Growing up, I was taught that God loves me and that He most wants me to have faith in him. This didn’t make much sense to me. The notion that God loves me didn’t seem real. I didn’t sense God loving me or God loving anyone. I didn’t see any advantages to believing this. And the idea that God was primarily concerned about how I thought about Him was not inspiring. It made God seem petty.

I never doubted that there was a God who created the universe until I got to college and then I dropped belief in God for a few years until coming to Judaism at age 23 in 1989.

All of my beliefs about God have been rote, inherited from whichever religion I held by at the time. I’ve never had any distinctive beliefs about God. I’ve never thought much about God. I’ve been following Judaism since 1989. It has a specific program of action and I follow it more or less.

So why am I grappling now about how real do I want God to be in my life?

Because of my 12-Step work. I find myself seeking out a 12-step lecture online most every day, particularly at night when I have trouble sleeping and in the morning when I want to get aligned right for my day ahead. And at the end of this one 12-step lecture, the speaker challenged us: How free do you want to be? How real do you want God to be in your life?

Those sentences have been echoing around in my head ever since. They haunt me because I tend to be lazy and just settle for free enough, real enough.

Holy hell, how real do I want God to be in my life? I’ve almost always believed in God, but having God real in my life is something entirely different and much more threatening. I believe in certain rabbis but I don’t want them real in my life during my every waking hour, particularly when I’m watching movies. I like them to be at shul when I’m at shul. And that’s very nice!

Yes, I pray to God but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something I do. It’s like a tax. When you get your pay check, you have to give up much of your income to tax. When you live as an Orthodox Jew, you have to give up much of your time to prayer. It’s the price of admission. When you become a religious Jew, you start showing up to shul every day to pray. You don’t announce your religiosity by cutting back on your cheating because anyone can do that, even a goy. Honesty doesn’t classify you as a religious Jew. Only by practicing publicly the rituals, that’s what sets you apart.

My ideal shul experience is sitting with friends and shmoozing for three hours while people pray around us. I like being in the atmosphere of prayer. I think prayer is a good thing. I just find it difficult to do myself, like cleaning bed pans and changing diapers.

I always feel better after I’ve prayed. I know it’s good for me, but I’m falling down on my Judaism and my 12-step commitment to daily seek contact with God. It’s easier for me to go to shul and to rattle off the prayers and to talk to my friends than to seek a relationship with God.

Yes, I could hang out in a bowling alley and shmooze with friends but regular and ritualized prayer times brings people together more reliably and the atmosphere in shul is more elevated than the atmosphere in a bowling alley. The human interaction that I’ve experienced in shul is more profound than what I’ve found in bowling alleys and the like. Where you do things and how you dress is important. You could eat a gourmet meal in a dirty smelly bathroom and it won’t be nearly the experience of eating the identical meal in a nice restaurant. You can talk to your friends in alleys or in shuls, but all things being equal, you’re going to have a more powerful interaction in shul.

What does God see when he sees me? How real is Luke to God? I’m as real as the Pope, but no more so than anyone else. I’m just another of His creatures evenly balanced between good and evil.

So if I make God real in my life, does that mean I have to let go of my dirty nasty fantasies? The ones that are incompatible with Torah and with 12-step work? It’s one thing to give up forbidden behavior, but do I have to give up stoking my fantasies as well?

What’s so frightening about finding God? Well, would you like having your rabbi over? Would you like him sitting next to you at work and when you go out? How real do you want your rabbi, your pastor to be in your life? I like my clergy and my God at my house of worship. Yes, God belongs in the bedroom, but I don’t really want to invite Him in there.

I am frightened by how much I unconsciously try to recreate unhappy experiences from my childhood, try to stir things up so my life is filled with tension and conflict. I’m never happier than when I’ve got people at each other’s throats. If I keep living on self-will, I’ll never get out of this whirlpool. I’m glad to go to work in a few minutes and forget.

Patrick Carnes: “What people are doing sexual is often a window into their deepest wounding or deepest desire… who they are as a person. Sex is not the enemy. It’s what we do with our sexuality.”

Denial is part of the disease until something happens and you realize you can’t go as you have.

How much time (beyond what you want) do you spend fantasizing about sex? How much is your time worth? How much is your addiction costing you per day?

Patrick Carnes: “If you do the recipe, the recidivism is less than 3%. Like any brain disease, you have to grow new synapses. Takes 3-5 years. The 12 step program is effective. The more severe the abuse, the more addictions as adult. Addictions usually come in multiples. More than 50% of your coke addicts are also sexually compulsive.”

You can have trauma and fear in your family before you’re born and that’s likely to shape you.

Addiction means that the reward centers of the brain don’t allow a person to make good choices. (Patrick Carnes)

Maturity is how much you can handle without hurting yourself or others, says Dr. Stephen Marmer. Since my bank account was defrauded yesterday, my computer at work died today, I consequently can’t pay a bill tomorrow to a friend, and so I’m curling up on my floor and listening to Dennis Prager.

He says that if it is better for the government to run healthcare, because the government will do better in providing us with healthcare than private providers, then why shouldn’t government run everything? Why not food? Restaurants? Cars? Grocery stores? Apartments?

Broke STOP Again STOP Van won’t start STOP Out of steps STOP I feel so black STOP.

I spent most of my therapy tonight talking about my FB postings. I’ve been feeling poorly over the past six weeks and not been as social and dynamic as I like. That cute girl in shul I didn’t respond to still eats away at me. So when I’m feeling isolated, I often take to FB to connect. I want to post things that will get a response. Sometimes that leads to a high where I feel like there are no consequences for what I write. Then I go over the top and people defriend me and I become more isolated and in response my FB postings become more bizarre, leading to further isolation.

Saturday night I was having such a high from FB posting and then there was the flame war over Islam and I got a headache from friends and it bummed me out Sunday.

My dad has a PhD in Rhetoric. I heard hundreds of his sermons growing up. As an adult, I determined to go in the opposite direction in some ways. My dad devotes himself to lifting people up. I devote myself to deconstructing ways of thinking and living I regard as false. Whenever I encounter someone who reminds me of my father, I lash out in certain ways and I’m stuck in this cycle of rage and rebellion.

One day in 1999, my therapist, after listening me talk about Dennis Prager for a year, said to me: “Dennis gave so much to you. By writing on him, you want to show him that you can impact his life too.” After that, I rarely spoke about Dennis Prager in my therapy. So I want that same sort of insight into why I feel driven to create flame wars online, why I so want to drive people crazy, to get away with as much as I can, to stir them up, infuriate them, drive them out of their minds.

I love people who can stand up to their own group.

I think the rarest of the virtues is courage.

It’s rare that I encounter anyone who will stand up to his friends. I do find this trait in shuls, however. Jews can be a stiff-necked people and it is not unheard of to have a respected member of the shul stand up at kiddish and disagree with everyone about important issues. There are some Jews, and I adore them, who will go to the mat for their beliefs, for their understanding of reality, even if they are the only one of the group to say such things.

When they’re doing it for truth, for goodness, and not out of some psychosis, it’s a beautiful trait.

Not a day goes by when I don’t desperately yearn to connect normally with others (but each day I make the choice to write what I think and destroy that possibility).

Every day I struggle with speaking and writing the truth as I see it versus toning down to not offend others.

Anyone who says he loves diversity more now than when he was in his 20s doesn’t have kids and adult responsibilities. As we age, we realize the value of predictability and compatibility in those around us. At 21, it’s fun to feel spiritual, smoke dope, and sleep with black chicks.

The older I get, the more I want to spend time with people like myself (bookish, Jewish, writers, etc) while when I was younger, I loved diversity.

Mentally ill people scare me because I know how tempting delusion is. I want to flee from them. I get so uncomfortable in situations that reflect back to me my position in life.

I am noticing that it is hard for me to maintain an inflated image of myself when I have regular contact with friends and community.

Growing up a Seventh-Day Adventist, I thought that anyone who had pre-marital sex didn’t take God, Bible and religion seriously. Now I notice a dramatic divide in Orthodox Judaism between those who wait for marriage and those who don’t but I’m not sure how many conclusions I draw from this.

I’ve never told on anyone in my life, never reported someone to the adults or the authorities. I guess it is my rebel’s creed. I wonder if youngest kids don’t do this as much as oldest kids, who grow up having to take responsibility early?

How does an Orthodox Jew do a one-man play about sex addiction and eroticized rage while remaining within the good graces of his community? By giving it a happy ending?

I sometimes feel devastated when people point out reality to me (such as certain discrepancies between my writing and the teachings of Judaism about proper speech).

I’m taken aback when people ask me why I’m doing this play. It’s like asking me why I breathe. I live to tell stories.

A friend on Shabbos was deriding this promiscuous girl in his office. “Set me up with her,” I said.
“Pffft,” he said. “She’s much younger than you.”
“I don’t mind,” I said.
“I bet you don’t,” he said. “No way. She’s not religious. She’s looking for someone successful.”
“I was Hustler magazine’s Asshole of the Month.”
“She’s self-centered.”
“So am I. We’re perfect.”
“All I’ll tell you is that her parents go to (the pillar shul of the community).”

I enjoyed repeatedly telling a highly successful friend at shul today, “God has a plan for your life.” Jews take offense at this talk. We’re not into platitudes. What does such bunk mean? That you can lie around and eat bon bons?

Over lunch, I heard the best explanation ever for the mehitza (separation between men and women during prayer): “When the rabbi talks, Luke falls asleep and I don’t want Luke sleeping with my wife in shul.”

Shabbos dinner was enlivened by a guest who came in smoking a cigarette and insisted on tuning the radio to a Top 40 station. “I really like this song,” said another guest. “Sorry Luke.”

I just met a Christian pastor who gave away all his earthly goods a year ago and has lived like a hobo since, not taking government help but relying on the kindness of strangers, so he can write a book about his dependence-free vision for America. I can’t imagine a Jew choosing to live like a hobo. It would kill your parents. It risks your health. And it saps others.

Judy Carter writes: “I once opened for a jazz artist who had a hard time finding opening acts because his audiences had the reputation of ‘coming down from coke by eating Jews.'”

So as I’m walking into Walgreens this afternoon, I hear a woman crying out for tzedakah (charity). I don’t look around and I tell myself that by her pronunciation, she’s a goy who’s heard that this is a magic word for getting into Jewish pockets.

As I come back out of Walgreens ten minutes later, steeling myself to have to face the beggar, I see to my dismay that it is a woman who wanted to date me during the 1990s but I thought she was a little off. She was an artist and went to many of the same Orthodox Jewish events I hit.

A woman comes out of Walgreens ahead of me and gives this beggar a bag of stuff. I scurry away as quickly as I can avoiding the beggar’s eye (crazy women love me too much, and I’m into being fixed, not fixing), and as I do, I hear the beggar say to the lady, “I’m having this big Christmas party on the first night of Hanukkah. You’ve got to come. We’re decorating the tree. I’m inviting lots of men.”

This could’ve been my beshert.

UPDATE: I hear reports she’s been blowing her shofar at 2.am.

A few days later, I hear she tried to burn down a synagogue.

* I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist college campuses (Avondale College and PUC) with a great reluctance for asking for help and for admitting pain and vulnerability. Many of my classmates from Avondale went on to commit suicide or to fry their brains with drugs and alcohol. I’m wondering if this reluctance to be real and to ask for help trait is in part an Adventist or Protestant thing. We’re supposed to be sturdy and self-sufficient? I notice a lot more freedom in asking for help in Jewish life. It’s not something to be ashamed of because you’re giving someone an opportunity to do a mitzvah.

* Protestant groupies often ask their esteemed evangelist (and token Jews like Dennis Prager) to sign their Bible. This gives me the willies. What kind of chutzpah would one need to autograph a Bible?

* Public speakers are the rock stars of Seventh-Day Adventism. I learned from that childhood that you sacrifice everything to put on a good show. You study. You write. You rehearse. And you put your best foot forward when you’re on stage. It’s rare to find a great public speaker who’s equally warm one-on-one.

* Girls named Lisa rip me up inside. They’re fast-talkers, status-seekers, high-achievers and contemptuous of me. They usually end up blaming their “depression” for our relationship.

* I’ve had a lot of relationships that still had room to run. If the prospect of ending things just makes you feel sad, then your relationship is over, but if you have stronger emotions, positive or negative, then your relationship still has a charge and room to run.

* God is the one ends — the one ultimate — that does not reduce you. Worshiping anything else such as love or power or compassion or art ends up deforming you.

* How do I know what God’s will is for my day? I know that it frequently requires me to not act on my own instincts. If God is God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, then He is very different from Luke Ford. So when I ask for God’s will for me, it means I pause before doing my own will.

* The core of my solo show is about how I realized I was addicted to certain kinds of relationships and how quickly I came to see that the essential ingredients of my fantasies were dooming not only my dating, but were poisoning my whole life. In a few minutes, once my therapist diagnosed my rage, I saw that I had anger that interfered with normal human interactions and drove everything I found funny and charged and exciting. It was all various forms of anger and vengeance against anyone or anything that reminded me of frustrating parts of my childhood. There was this thru-line of rage going back into the mists of my infant years even though consciously as a dutiful child I only have gratitude for what I was given.

I’m in a six-month class. There’s a teacher-director. It’s not part of psycho-therapy, but certainly the writing, the 12-step, the therapy etc all interact with each other.

I’m not writing this play for commercial reasons or for therapy. I am writing this play for the same reason I write blog posts and FB posts and books — to explore something of interest to me and to thereby help others who have similar questions. For instance, every bachelor I know well is addicted to porn. I understand that. I want to talk about it in my play by talking about my own struggles in this area.

* I can always hear it when people go into their pre-programmed speeches. I remember in particular this wonderful conversation I was having with a Jewish girl until I asked her why she assisted in this virulently anti-Jewish movie and she gave me this pre-programmed answer that Jews have to be prepared to look at themselves.

* I have to fight my Captain Save-A-Ho tendencies. Much of it comes from a bad place, from my co-dependency tendencies, from wanting to rescue and to become someone else’s higher power. I had a friend, David Hoffman, who moved to Europe to fight sex trafficking. He also wanted to bang whores. He had little success in either department, his CFS crippled him, he couldn’t find enough writing work, he had few friends… He moved back to the US. His life was miserable and he committed suicide.

* What are my greatest fears? I fear dying alone. Social ostracism. Illness. Death. Waste of potential. Loneliness. Shame. Harming innocent people. Embarrassment. Being revealed as a fraud. Letting down people who’ve been good to me. Poverty, homelessness, bankruptcy, dependence. Pursuing my own desires without limit and without conscience. When I am afraid, I tend to lie. I’m afraid of ejection and rejection. When I got kicked out of shuls (1998-2008), it felt primal. It was like the repetition of childhood trauma. I feared that the source of succor and nurturing had been cut off. With my family in Australia, shuls have served as my substitute family. I felt like I was getting kicked out of my family. I had slowly and awkwardly learned to attach and then that connection got severed and I’d have to start over.

* I told this sheila that I was launching a revolution and she should follow me.

She said, “What’s it all about?”

I said, “I don’t know yet. I’m still working on my manifesto.”

She said: “Do I need to bring a sweater? And can we see Life of Pi afterward?”

* Growing up, my parents and my teachers told me I could do anything. My dad in particular thought I’d make a fine attorney.

I got the idea that by applying myself, I could succeed at anything. I could overcome all obstacles with self-discipline and self-will.

Then I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 1988 and for the next six years, I was severely limited, no matter how hard I tried. In 1994, I made a partial recovery but my life was still limited, though not as severely as the previous six years.

To the extent of my physical limits, however, and to the extent of my natural abilities, I thought I could do anything.

Converting to Judaism didn’t change this belief. The foundation of Judaism was belief in free-will and that people can choose between good and bad and that God holds them accountable for their choices.

I converted to Judaism. I studied Torah. I observed many commandments. I thought I could make myself a good person and a good Jew.

I failed spectacularly. In late 1995, I devoted myself to chronicling the commercial sex world. My subject coarsened me and I became alienated from much of the Jewish community.

In 2007, I decided I’d quit blogging on the porn industry. I thought I could move on to something else, but I was scared. I felt defeated by life. Once again, I entered a program to convert to Orthodox Judaism. Part-way through, I got tossed from my Orthodox shul of the previous seven years. The needless cruelty on my blog was too much for my rabbi. He was ready to wash his hands of me if I wouldn’t conform to Judaism’s teachings on sacred speech.

I was so scared and lonely and bereft and struggling. I had little confidence in the application of my will to accomplish good things. I struggled on, however, following my will.

Before I ever went to a 12-step meeting, I was around a lot of 12-Step meetings. In 1995-1996, I lived by the park on Roxbury and Olympic in Beverly Hills and you’d see the 12-Steppers coming out of their meetings, drinking coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes.

I never had the slightest apprehension that they had something I wanted.

What kind of person chain-smokes in 21st Century America? A working-class person, not exactly my role model.

When you debauch yourself, whether it is whether substances such as alcohol or drugs or food, or with processes such as sex, porn and gambling, the degeneracy shows on your face quickly and permanently.

As I’d go through life, I’d run into stragglers from 12-Step meetings and they never impressed me. They dressed slovenly. They twitched. They slopped over with emotion. They were pulled down and defeated in their bodies. They looked like wrecks. I wanted to keep them at arm’s length.

When I went to my first 12-Step meeting in April of 2011, that was me admitting defeat. I admitted that following my will wouldn’t get me where I needed to go. Until then, I thought that if I only tried hard enough, disciplined myself rigorously enough, I could accomplish everything I needed to. I was wrong.

Now perhaps we may begin?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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