It was mentioned in our initial article on the Seven Heavenly Virtues that chastity had something of a broad definition. Technically, the same could be said of diligence or temperance, as both encompass numerous virtuous qualities that would be beneficial to the life of the recovering addict or alcoholic. But each of these was still relatively straightforward in terms of how they might be best put into practice. In the case of chastity, things can become a little bit muddled.
This is largely because many assume they understand what the word “chastity” means. It is generally taken in a sexual context, and it’s a little difficult for most people to understand how maintaining their virginity until marriage would help them to remain sober. Besides, most of us lost our virginity long before we entered recovery. So does this mean that it is too late for us to embody the principle of chastity? Are we simply doomed to a life of sin due to a religious belief that even many religious people have not fully embraced?
Not quite. See, there is far more to chastity than a lack of sex. In fact, many aspects of the definition we are about to provide have little to do with sexual behavior at all. We will address sexual behavior briefly, but we will primarily focus on alternate connotations that have been given to the word over time and how they can help you to lead a more virtuous lifestyle, free from many of the character defects that have a tendency to define us during periods of active alcoholism and addiction. And while we will not delve too far into religion, believe us when we say that chastity definitely lies within the realm of the spiritual.
Defining Chastity as a Heavenly Virtue
The concept of chastity as abstinence from extramarital sex or sexual relations out of wedlock is actually somewhat newer than the word itself. The English version of the word as we know it today did not roll around until about the thirteenth century. At this time, chastity was akin to virginity. Yet to be chaste was not to be a virgin, but rather to remain steadfast against one’s baser urges when presented the opportunity to commit adultery. In other words, a chaste person was an individual who practiced fidelity, remaining loyal to their spouse. In the sixteenth century, the definitions of “chaste” and “chastity” became similar and were related to abstinence from any sexual conduct deemed improper.
Before the English language got its hold on the concept, chastity was defined by the Latin word “castus.” This word simply meant “pure.” The notion of purity obviously leaves room for the sexual connotations with which we have grown familiar, but the word may apply just as well to someone who is pure of heart or pure of mind. You have probably heard the expression that a person’s intentions are pure, meaning that they mean no ill will. This is the concept of chastity we may associate with the Seven Heavenly Virtues.
One may be spiritually chaste as well. Using Christianity as an example, not all denominations require their spiritual leaders to maintain vows of celibacy. Nonetheless, said leaders may be chaste in their loyalty to the beliefs and teachings they espouse. Chastity for these men and women is more important than how often they do or do not spread their legs. For them, maintaining chastity is more about the strength of their faith in God. Regardless of how you define your Higher Power, you may easily view chastity as your ability to practice true faith.
Chastity is also somewhat related to temperance, in the sense that it connotes self-discipline and restraint from giving in to worldly temptations. Again, it isn’t hard to see some similarities between this concept of chastity and the concept of chastity as the opposite of lust. Those who are chaste should also practice honesty. Some have even suggested a relation to purity of health and hygiene. But faith and loyalty are the main points we would like to stress. As a reference point, take the story of Noah. He was warned by Uriel (the angel often associated with chastity) of the impending flood. Such a grand story would have been easy to cast aside in disbelief, but he nevertheless embarked upon his mission to round up the species of the earth and lead them to safety upon the ark. Indeed, he was a very chaste man, loyal in his faith.
Chastity’s Role in Addiction Recovery
As far as addiction recovery is concerned, chastity will not require any task so gargantuan as that which was put before Noah before the flood. But Step Two will require faith, and each of the following steps will test different aspects of that faith. And at each turn, your loyalty will be tested. Step Three will test your loyalty to your Higher Power. Step Four and Step Five will test your loyalty to your sponsor, as well as your ability to remain honest. Step Six and Step Seven will test your loyalty to your program of recovery. Step Eight and Step Nine will test your loyalty to friends and family. Upon the last three steps, your loyalty to all of the above will be absolutely necessary.
You will also be tested in your loyalty to yourself. This may sound like an abstract concept, but addiction and alcoholism are incredibly self-destructive. If you have learned to overcome your guilt over your past, you should recognize that you do not deserve to suffer the consequences of addiction any more than anybody else does. Unfortunately, it can be hard to force this sort of self-love into existence. It will likely come about around the same time as the Second Promise, after which you learn to stop regretting the past.
Granted, we should mention the sexual definition of chastity for at least a second. Some alcoholics and drug addicts have struggled with sex addiction, which can easily make it difficult for them to have relations with another person without triggering a desire to return to their formerly lustful way of life. Some have also suggested strict rules on dating in recovery, recommending that no addict or alcoholic—regardless of sexual history—should begin any new romantic relationships within the first year. Sex complicates things, and leads to the possibility of emotional disturbance and relapse if the recovering individual is not truly ready.
Some may tie chastity to diligence as well. This is because the Seven Heavenly Virtues were partially comprised of the Four Cardinal Virtues, one of which was justice. This follows a certain degree of logic. How can we maintain purity, honesty, loyalty and faith if we are not applying these attributes to our sense of morals and ethics? If there is a behavior or personality flaw for which we would judge others, whether it be sexual indiscretion or lack of spiritual fidelity, we must endeavor not to exhibit such defects of character ourselves.
Learning to Favor Chastity Over Lust
This section will admittedly require a somewhat metaphorical view of lust if we are to continue with chastity as described above. To achieve this, simply think about how lust may affect a person. They may not be faithful to their partner, which requires a lack of honesty and loyalty. Then, there is of course the obvious ties to chastity as defined by sexual connotations. Lust may also interfere with our purity of health and hygiene if we are not safe about it.
We’ll begin with a quite literal definition of lust. There was an article on The Guardian last year that attempted to discredit programs such as AA, using the concept of “Thirteenth Stepping” as a springboard. This is a real thing that unfortunately happens, despite the fact that many groups actively discourage it. Some men, driven largely by lust, will attempt to take advantage of newer female members. They do not care that their interference with the chastity of another may have a negative impact on the sobriety of that person. In the case of men who are sensible enough to feel remorse over their actions, they may find their own sobriety challenged as well. This is one of many reasons that sex and dating are best avoided for the first year of recovery. People are vulnerable, and it is just plain wrong to take advantage of that.
In the scheme of the broader definition we have provided for chastity, it can be quite enticing to give up our morals, our spirituality, our health and even our sobriety itself if we think we might have something to gain from it. And yes, sometimes this “something” is sex, especially with someone who we have not yet told about our disease. Other worldly temptations such as money or power (in the case of networking events that involve drinking) may also factor in. Whatever is tempting us, we must consider two things. First, we must consider whether or not we would actually have to relapse in order to attain what we want. Often, solid rationale will reveal that such is not the case. Second, we must consider whether or not whatever we want is worth giving up our sobriety—and potentially our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, this consideration can never be answered in the affirmative.
Lust and sheer greed have caused many usually chaste individuals to sacrifice their sobriety for worldly desires. We must truly consider the above definitions of purity and chastity if we are to assess their worth and decide that they are worth more to us than anything we might think we stand to gain from actions that can easily lead to relapse. It is when we forgo our faith, fidelity and good moral hygiene that we inevitably wind up—if you’ll forgive the language—screwed by our addictive tendencies.