AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions describes an emotionally mature alcoholic as one who is “finally convinced that reckless romancing is not a way of life.” (12&12, p.119)
In fact, the Big Book directly warns us, “If we are not sorry and our conduct continues to harm others, we are quite sure to drink. We are not theorizing. These are facts out of experience.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Ed. “BB”, p.70) The founders knew of what they spoke when making sex one of only three areas suggested in our 4th Step inventory.
Remember, “the alcoholic is like a tornado roaring … through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted.” (BB, p.82)
And yet, when we enter the rooms, our character defects don’t disappear overnight. “Perhaps we are mixed up with women in a fashion we wouldn’t want advertised.” (BB, p. 80-81) Our way “had thrown us into unworkable relationships with other people… Either we had tried to dominate them” or we had become “overdependent.” (12&12, p.115)
AA recognizes that nearly everyone experiences “a compelling desire to find a mate… with whom the fullest possible union can be made — spiritual, mental, emotional and physical” and that “this mighty urge” is “a creative energy that deeply influences our lives.” (12&12, p.117) “As we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions…. Our desires for emotional security… for romance, and for family satisfactions — all these have to be tempered and redirected.” (12&12, p.114)
To do so, our daily 10th Step inventory needs to include the question, “How, by ignorance, compulsion, and self-will, do we misuse this gift (the “mighty urge”) for our own destruction?” (12&12, p.117) And, if we’re going to date within AA, we’re told that we “need to be solid A.A.’s and long enough acquainted to know that our compatibility at spiritual, mental and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking.” We also “need to be as sure as possible that no deep-lying emotional handicap… will be likely to rise up under later pressures to cripple” us. (12&12, p.119)
As one who did more than their fair share of reckless romancing, it took me many years of practice and understanding, with slips and trips along the way, until it finally clicked. The first step was admitting that my brand of “good and plenty” sex, like alcohol, was causing problems. My 4th Step inventory showed me that this was a direct threat to my sobriety. But it was finally my daily 10th Step inventory where the rubber met the road – “How by ignorance, compulsion and self-will” did I misuse my sexual drive?
Keeping a daily eye on my romantic behavior, learning about and honoring boundaries, avoiding “slippery behavior,” and talking with those who’d overcome these behaviors healed this compulsion and allowed me to become a better tool for good, a better instrument for my Higher Power.
The amazing and unexpected benefit of surrendering reckless romancing is that I am free of obsessive thoughts. What a new freedom that is! I have many tools at my disposal now, the most effective being the 3rd Step prayer and 12 Step work. Basically, get out of my own way. I let something better, some better idea, some power for good guide the action I take – even if it’s just don’t touch and don’t flirt. I stopped 90% of my acting out with just those two restraints! And I filled the void left behind with 12 Step work – of all kinds, including anonymous acts of kindness.
“Such a radical change in our outlook” takes time, “maybe a lot of time.” (12&12, p.92) But the 9th Step Promises do materialize if we work for them. I started chasing love in new and different ways, finding both joy and inner peace. By redirecting that “mighty urge,” the inner void was filled with profound love – in a special relationship, for my fellow A.A.’s, my neighbors, and for the world at large. Like my compulsion to drink, my compulsion for reckless romancing evaporated as I worked all the 12 Steps.