Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I don't want to go to bed with Rachel and wake up with Leah. I want someone who does not repulse me when I wake up in the morning and see her without make-up. I don't want to have to explain when I'm being sarcastic. I don't want to have to do a lot of explaining period. The more we have in common the better. I don't want a woman who's high maintenance. I'm not high maintenance. I don't need a ton of care and catering to. I'm solid. Reliable. My behavior isn't all over the map. I'm predictable. I want a woman who's reliable. Someone who reads social cues. Somebody who shows up on time, who pays her bills, is responsible and hard-working. Orthodox Judaism is hard work. I need someone who can shoulder the load. I want a woman who wants to take what I have to give and a woman who wants to give what I want to take. I want a good loving woman. I want someone who reads books. That way we're not likely to get bored with each other. I can bring to the relationship the qualities of the hard-working responsible man with good credit and good health. I'm well-read, curious about life, constantly seeking to grow and to improve. I'm committed to my weekly psycho-therapy and my daily writing, my daily Judaism and my daily 12-step work.
Love for me has primarily meant romantic love. Sexual love. Agape love is great in real life but it is not the stuff of fantasy. So love for me has primarily been a fantasy rather than a reality, an aching need rather than an actuality, a yearning, a wishing, a desiring, a song, a cloud floating by. My love always has an object, a young attractive female object, who takes away all my pain. Love meant to me connection, union, an escape from loneliness. Love meant rescue. Love meant transcendence from my self-destructive patterns. Love was a high, a fix, a pulsing rock song, a focus for my attention, an obsession. I first tasted steady reciprocation of my feelings at age 16. It was very sweet but its potential loss set off my jealousy, which doomed my fumbling connection. What do I think love is now? I fear that my emotional instincts and yearnings are not much changed from my earliest years. I want to suck that breast dry because I have no confidence it will be around later. My dad says propinquity breeds love. It's true. Women I've considered not worth a second look become over time the most attractive thing in the world. When I get to know a woman, her looks transform. My relationships have been sobering. I will never be able to relate to somebody on a different level of differentiation aka emotional maturity than myself. I'm stuck with my level. I can't climb. I'll have to love somebody as flawed and frightening and dangerous as myself. There's no escaping my limitations. There's no salvation in this life.
I was struck by these few sentences by Patrick Carnes in his groundbreaking book on sexual addiction called "Out of the Shadows": Addicts report that as children they felt desperately lonely, lost, and unprotected. Not only was there a lack of nurturing, but also there was no one to show them how to take care of themselves or keep them from harm. Not being able to count on, depend upon, the adults in one's life to meet needs is a key element in addiction. As the child matures, there begins a search for that which is dependable -- something that you can trust to make you feel better. Trust and dependency are the issues that determine personal strength and confidence of vulnerability to enslaving addiction. For in the lonely search for something or someone to depend on -- which has already excluded parents -- a child can start to find those things which always comfort, which always feel good, which always are there, and which always do what they promise. For some, alcohol and drugs are the answer. For others it is food. And there is always sex, which usually costs nothing and nobody else can regulate.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Sometimes I think I'm the court jester. Other times, I think I have a powerful role. More people read me than hear any Shabbos morning sermon. People don't treat me trivially. I remain an outsider. Almost group I join (with the exception of 12-steps), I'm still an outsider. I could do with ten times as much personal connection in Jewish life. People read my blog. They come to my talks. I'm a circus attraction. I have a freak appeal. I think I'm slowly moving towards normality, connection. At times, I fear I'm recreating my father's stirrer role in Adventism. Was there any comfort in converting to Judaism? I'm happier since I pulled it off, particularly the Orthodox one in 2009. Much of the rage has dissipated from my blog. Every day, I feel more a part of Judaism. I know my purpose, my community, my direction, and what I'm good at. I know what's available in Jewish life.
* I wanted to be part of the most effective group for making a better world. A group that had a divine recipe (Torah). * I wanted to improve myself. * I wanted to belong to a transcendent community (without sacrificing my rational inquiry). * I wanted to benefit from a wise tradition where God was the author. * I wanted some of that higher quality of life that Jews have. * I wanted to feel at the center of the world. * I wanted to get close to Dennis Prager and other great role models I met in Judaism. * I wanted to get emotionally and intellectually engaged with a tradition, a people, a text, and a country. * I wanted to be inspired, stimulated and pushed to be more. I wanted guidance and direction. * I wanted something worthy to struggle with.
I was blessed with a good father. My dad is righteous. He's a rock. He's reliable. He's predictable. He's stable. And with my mother (who died of cancer before I turned four) and my step-mother, he gave us three kids a much better upbringing than he had. I'll always be grateful. My father taught me right from wrong. I didn't always listen to him, but he implanted good values within me. More importantly, he lived them. Dad took a great interest in my intellectual development as well. By age eight, I was in love with reading. Dad suggested many great books to me. He tried to dissuade me from wasting so much time following sports and watching TV. When I was nine or ten, he took me to the Avondale College library and explained how it worked. When we moved to Pacific Union College in 1977 when I was 11, he showed me how that library worked as well. Libraries became a second-home for me. Even though dad always had a frantic schedule, he frequently took time to play with me, be it soccer or Monopoly or the like. Dad had clear priorities. Number one was God (embodied in Jesus). Number two was family and religious community and health and learning. Dad never had hobbies. He had too much to do. Dad would rest and relax at times but only for the sake of accomplishing more in the long run. From an early age, I sought the mentorship of older men. I wanted people I could discuss politics and sports with. I wanted to just hang out. Dad was very busy and while he'd always make time for me when I asked, I didn't want to be a bother. It was easier to seek out other men. From grade school on, I was frequently more interested in hanging out with the fathers of my friends than with my friends. I loved to just kick back and talk. I always picked good friends and I always picked good mentors. Even though I've never been particularly righteous myself, I always had a good sense of the decency of others and always prefered to surround myself with those who wouldn't needlessly hurt me.
I've been going to 12-step groups for the past 18 months to find recovery from my emotional addictions. An integral part of meetings is the "share." Many meetings will have a lead speaker who'll give a share from 8-15 minutes on average. He'll talk about how his addictions ruined his life and how he found recovery through working the program. A good share is brutally honest. The person talks about his own struggles and which specific parts of the program helped him. A mediocre share is filled with advice-giving, theory and quotations from spiritual masters. Advice-giving is not the 12-step way. Instead people are encouraged to speak about their own experience and to not give cross-talk commentary on others shares. Two months ago, for the first time, I was asked to give the lead share. Then a couple of weeks ago, I walked into a meeting and five minutes before it was due to start, I was asked if I would mind substituting for the scheduled speaker who couldn't make it. On my first talk, I had a few days to prepare. This time I had but a few minutes. My talk wasn't as smooth, but I just spoke from the heart, shared what I had struggled with, and related how I had worked the 12-steps and which ones were the most difficult for me, starting with step one. I grew up a preacher's kid. I heard hundreds of sermons. Some were inspiring, some were boring. Right now, I prefer the 12-step share where people open up about how their addictions have destroyed their lives and then describe how a power greater than themselves restored them to sanity. As a writer, I rarely feel comfortable prescribing for others. I'm much more comfortable sharing my own struggles and things that have helped me. Take it or leave it. Your mileage may vary. My personality, my writing style, my life position, all feel much more comfortable with sharing rather than preaching.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
In the first 11 years of my Jewish journey, I never wanted to write anything bad about any rabbi. I revered rabbis. I knew there were bad ones, but I revered the profession as a whole. Then I got kicked out of three Orthodox synagogues in Pico-Robertson in 2001 (after one expulsion in 2008) and my heart got very cold. About three years went by and I read the book "The New Rabbi" and I decided that rabbis deserved at least as much journalistic scrutiny as high school basketball coaches and I started writing about them, with few exceptions, with the same sort of detachment that I brought many years ago to writing about high school basketball for the Auburn Journal. One leading Conservative rabbi called my writing "toxic." That shook me up. The word is so powerful. I recognized that there might be something to what he said but I could not deal with it at the time. Now I'm 12-stepping and I'm willing to look anew at myself, my writing and my behavior and to look for the resentment and fear I'm exhibiting as I pursue my own selfish ends and decide to instead turn my will and my life over to God, to let go of my resentments and to stop depending on my own competency (which is not very competent or I would not be in the position I am in) and to instead turn to God constantly, asking, "What is your will?" I'm taking a second look at my toxic behavior and there's a lot more of it than I would like.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
If this is what isolating looks like, I'm doing fine! I spent about five hours in shul today. My main website, Lukeford.net, has been felled by an attack of malware and is currently blocked by Google. My feet still hurt from plantar fascitis despite four expensive trips to the physical therapist. I know they're getting better. I seem to be expending so much effort and money into just staying in place. I've spent all this money on security for my website and in switching to a different template yet it is in vain because of inadequate security on my host's end. I'm out about $200 I'll never get back. I wish I had produced some good writing over the past five days. I journal and journal but nothing compelling. I don't want to waste my weekly writing class. I need compelling human interaction. That's where I get good material. Man, I have friends who are just bottomless pits of need but there's nothing anyone can do for them. They'll have to hit bottom and then the pain will be so bad that they'll become willing to do the work, the therapy, the 12-steps, etc, that can restore her to sanity. I'm so grateful for my 16 months of 12-step work. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of what the program offers. Why have I shifted the enthusiasm I used to have for Judaism to 12-step work? My behavioral and intellectual commitment to Judaism is as strong as ever, but I'm more sober now than ever before. Yes, I admit that I am a serial enthusiast. I'll pick something up for a few months, suck the life out of it, and discard it. Other things I pick up, however, such as journalism in eighth grade, have remained lifelong pursuits. I decided at the end of 1989 to convert to Judaism. Twenty years later, I felt sobered that the way I was practicing Judaism was not improving my moral character much. I was still miserable, filled with shame, fundamentally ill at ease with life, and largely alienated from the people around me. I went off all my medications (lithium, clonazepam, clonidine) in early 2009 (after going on them in 2001 and 2002). I felt that with the daily Alexander training, I did not need them anymore. I feel more creative without the meds. Since 1998, I've had about eight years of weekly psycho-therapy, and that has been a big help. I completed in December of 2011 three years of daily Alexander Technique teacher training. That was a big help. But what I want to wax lyrical about this evening is 12-step work for co-dependency, fantasy, sex and love addiction. So despite all my Torah and mitzvos and pyscho-therapy, I knew over the years that something wasn't right with me. Many times these realizations came to me painfully such as when someone I respected, such as Dennis Prager, said to me bluntly, you're sick. Part of me part of the time knew he was right. A lot of other people said the same thing. Sometimes when I'd awake around 2 a.m., I knew they were right. Sometimes when I Googled for particularly sick videos (never children!), I knew I was sick. At times I've felt in the grip of sexual compulsions that strained my self-control. My desire for sex would challenge my moral boundaries. I'd demean myself by getting with ugly girls I'd be ashamed to be seen with in public because I was so desirous of getting that release, that sense of oblivion. Twenty years ago, I thought that Judaism and ethical monotheism and the other teachings of Dennis Prager were going to be my cause but right now I mainly want to talk about 12-step work. After 20 years of Torah, my love for porn was unchanged. My desire to obliterate myself through sex with many different partners was unchanged. My feeling of getting high just looking at an attractive woman was unchanged. When I walk down the street and see my type, I forget everything else and for a few seconds or minutes or, surely not hours, I obsess that if I could just have her, all my problems would go away. Nothing else matters to me when I am in the grip of this fever. Since the age of eight, I think I've spent about 5% of my life in this kind of high obsessing over some member of the opposite sex who if she would only love me, all my problems would go away. So, this 5% number does not sound like a big deal, right? Only 5% of my time given away to harmless day-dreaming. But I fear that it reflects an inner sickness, an intimacy disorder. I had this Dennis Prager induced conviction that ethical monotheism was the best solution to the world's ills and that Judaism embodied ethical monotheism and that Orthodox Judaism was the only form of Judaism proved to be to sustain itself. Now I am sobered by how little this conviction improved my own behavior and quality of life and the behavior and lives of many of those around me. Orthodox Jews don't tend to be any more ethical than any other group of Jews. Devotees of ethical monotheism are rarely transformed. It now seems to me that goodness and decency are not usually available to direct assault. Telling yourself each day, "There is one God and his primary demand of me is that I treat other people ethically" strikes me as less effective on average than simply developing bonds. And what stops people like me from human connection? Deep-rooted patterns of shame, addiction and other baggage. If you are not a mentch, then you're will is probably corrupt, and simply willing yourself to be a mentch is unlikely to be effective. What can be effective is if you join a group of people who have the goal of developing their character. Community is a powerful spur to righteousness and to evil. Most of us don't see or hear God, but we can see and hear our communities, and they transform us in their image much more than we transform them in ours. There are probably people who can transform from bad to good through sheer will, but most people have to work a program.