TL and I discussed whether she and I should see this movie together. We actually know very little about the movie. But, TL did see a trailer in which the female protagonist talks about being promiscuous. TL and I know that promiscuity is a trigger for me. It triggers me to struggle with self-pity.
Yes, I know. For most mainstream, natural-born modern Americans of our generation, it’s weird for a man to feel threatened by the thought of promiscuity. But, that’s the problem that has dogged me for all these decades. I am curious to know whether any other guys struggle with this and whether it has affected their behavior.
When I dwelled on the ensuing feeling of self-pity, it lead me to justify, in my own mind, acts of infidelity. It lead me to think I could or should feel better about myself if only I could have “enough” sex or validation from other women to make me feel I had obtained the sexual experience I thought I had been lacking. Of course, “enough” was undefined and unattainable. Nothing could make me feel I had compensated for my self-perceived pre-marital sexual naivety. Nothing could change my past. Nothing.
TL and I recalled that the only time we had seen a film that directly addressed my trigger, it was Chasing Amy. It must be 20 years ago that we saw that Ben Affleck film. Affleck’s character was unable to deal with his girlfriend’s sexual history. He behaved obsessively and irrationally. Ultimately, their relationship failed. She decided she just could not live with his irrational behavior. The movie gave me a chill. On one hand, I was grateful that someone had finally written something that captured my feelings about sex. On the other hand, it did not suggest any solutions.
TL and I decided that we could watch Train Wreck together. We acknowledged that it might contain one or more triggers for me. But, I wanted to prove to TL, and to myself, that I could handle it. I never know when I might inadvertently stumble across something in a movie, magazine, pop culture, television or radio program, overheard conversation, memory, or damned near anything that might reference promiscuity, might be a trigger for me, and might tempt me to wallow in self-pity. I wanted to practice facing my fears, so to speak, and show us that I could safely overcome the temptation of self-pity.
We still haven’t gotten around to scheduling a babysitter and seeing the movie, parents night out was cancelled. In the meantime, I discussed all this with B, our counselor. B’s initial advice was that perhaps I should not see the movie. I’m trying to decide whether I agree.
I told B that self-pity was my true demon. Sex, alcohol, porn, and masturbation were not really addictions for me. Though I did behave compulsively toward those things at times, I don’t necessarily even think that I was strictly compulsive or obsessive about those things. I was, however, seduced by self-pity. Self-pity has always tempted me. I sought refuge in it. It was like a comfortable blanket, or even like a womb.
Seeing a movie scene about in-your-face promiscuity risks making me feel sorry for myself. I know it sounds dumb. I would be tempted to think about my disappointment with my own pre-marital sexual history. I would be tempted to wish TL’s pre-marital sexual history was at least one less than mine, preferably zero. Unable to change the past, I would be on the verge of feeling depressed about the past not being what I wanted it to be. I would be on the verge of blaming God, TL, my mother, or others for my depression. I would be tempted to ignore my own responsibility, in the past and in the present.
B and I compared it to alcoholism. I said I’m not sure whether self-pity is an addiction for me, a compulsive behavior, or something else. B said it does not matter. The treatment is the same. It takes vigilance, and it’s never “done.”
An alcoholic needs several strategies for resisting alcohol. Avoiding alcohol is one approach. But, sometimes it might be unavoidable. One might encounter it at a friend’s house, a store, or whatever. The alcoholic needs strategies to deal with those contingencies as well.
But, can an alcoholic intentionally walk into a bar, with a friend, for the sake of spending a good (and sober) time with that friend? I don’t know. I think the answer is different for different people. B suggested that walking into the Train Wreck movie with TL might sit me down in front of self-pity in the same way an alcoholic in a bar might be sitting across from a friend drinking a beer.
TL and I discussed this. I admit that my trigger, about promiscuity, is still a trigger. I think it always will be. But, I don’t think that is catastrophic news. It just means I always have to manage it. I may be that way until I die. It may be part of me. But, I believe I can use the strategies I have been learning to manage it. Soon, I hope to write a post that explains more about where I got that messed up view of life, how promiscuity became a trigger for me.
Of course, you’ll ask what are those strategies. B told me that distracting myself can be useful. If I sense myself starting to ruminate, feel sorry for myself, or spiral toward depressing thoughts, she said, it’s helpful to think about work, family activities, fitness, or anything practical and positive.
Second, regular attention to my mental health is a preventive measure. It is not a cure all. Yes, before D-day, even this preventive measure did not overcome my premeditated intention to cheat, lie, and try to compensate myself for things I thought were missing. Nonetheless, these preventive health measures reduce the chances of ruminating or obsessing on sick thoughts. Preventive measures include getting adequate sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, regular family time, regular religious time, and attention to my spouse as a friend.
Third, our original counselor told me that when these depressing thoughts occur, I can and should call them what they are: sick obsessions. Fourth, I should practice compassion, especially toward TL. Fifth, I should practice empathy with TL. Sixth, I should remember that after what I did to TL, I have no right to feel sorry for myself.
Seventh, I should count my blessings. TL is mine to lose. Self-pity brought me ruin. I have plenty of blessings I can not afford to squander.