I think that in my earlier post on this topic, I skipped a step. More specifically, I bundled steps one and two. Hymynameismike said, ” . . . start by identifying the situations, actions, places, devices, etc., that are most frequently related with your average slip when you act out.” That’s step one.
I find it very difficult to identify things related to me acting out now. Why? I don’t act out now. Alright, I probably do. But, I certainly do not act out in the blatantly obvious ways I did four years ago, before D-day. I just don’t. I don’t want to act out in those ways. Part of the reason I did so before D-day is that I actually wanted to do so. Cheating on my wife, lying, having affairs, seeing prostitutes, using porn, and masturbating were not slips. They were conscious choices. I chose to do those things. I had free will, and I used it selfishly and hurtfully.
Conversely, I have neither masturbated nor used porn for 47 months now. I have not cheated on my wife in any way in 46 months. Those are conscious choices. I am very happy with those choices. I am proud of them. I made those choices for me; not for my wife, mother, God, or anyone else.
So, do I need red lines to prevent slips, to prevent acting out? Maybe. What is “acting out” for me now? Maybe it’s failing to reveal every detail about my behavior and my thinking that my wife might find worrisome. Examples include two years ago when I smoked for several months while I was away for a year and hid it from my wife, and several months ago when I clicked on some dumbass racy, but not pornographic, photo on the internet that was starring at me under a heading such as “suggested stories,” and took way too long to confess to my wife.
So, if those are the slips that challenge me, what are the situations, etc., related to such acting out? It boils down to one basic thing: acting in a way that I would be embarrassed, afraid, or ashamed to describe to my wife, sons, parents, boss, staff, peers, or others whose views matter to me.
Would I be ashamed to tell my son I smoked a cigarette? Yes. Would I be embarrassed to tell my boss I clicked an Internet link purporting to tell about “25 unbelievable women?” Yes. Again, the slip, or acting out, is: any behavior of mine that I would be hesitant to share with others, openly, freely, and casually.
I’ve now written out seven redlines that cover a lot of ground. Let’s start by identifying a situation related to me having a slip and acting out. I once noted that I feel restless when I’m alone in a hotel room after dinner. I actually think I’ve overcome that problem now.
But, knowing that I can’t afford to be overconfident, let me try to explore this topic further. Before D-day, being alone in a hotel room at night was often associated with acting out, including anything from porn to prostitutes. As I’ve noted before, those weren’t really slips. They were conscious choices on my part; unfortunate, self-centered, even self-defeating choices. In the four years since D-day, I’ve stuck firmly to my conscious choice to not act out when I’m alone in a hotel room.
Nonetheless, I can create some redlines for this situation, to be sure I’m not just being overconfident:
- Don’t use the television when I’m alone in a hotel room.
- Once my dinner and work meetings are done for the day, do not leave the hotel without telling my wife where, when, and why I’m going.
As I wrote the foregoing nine redlines, I was targeting behaviors related to dishonesty or sexual malfeasance. There’s another, more basic, challenge to which I might be able to apply redlines. That challenge is self-pity. It seems like it comes up in response to unexpected triggers. There is one topic that I wrongly and inadvertently spent decades conditioning myself to associate with self-pity. These triggers may not appear in my life for quite some time. Then, they may suddenly and unexpectedly appear in some magazine, television show, overheard conversation between strangers, or any other everyday type of occurrence.
I can’t anticipate the places or situations in which I might encounter these triggers. But, maybe it would help to at least identify the trigger. The trigger is: talk of sexual promiscuity. It doesn’t matter whether it is discussed as good, bad, or indifferent. The mere discussion of it risks tempting me to feel sorry for myself, thinking about my self-perceived sexual inexperience before marriage. I thought — perhaps inaccurately — that most people in my age, educational, and socioeconomic demographic had sex earlier, easier, and more often than I did. Never mind that that kind of thinking is self-defeating and warped, and that I know it’s mentally unhealthy. It was a temptation, and I need to be clear with myself what strategy I will use to avoid this temptation.
Can I avoid the temptation of self-pity by using redlines? Or, are there other strategies that will help in this case? Here’s my brainstormed list of strategies that seem to help. When encountering talk of sexual promiscuity and working to avoid falling into self-pity, I can:
- Use the three-second rule. Force my mind to change subjects before more than three seconds pass.
- Remind myself of the risks. Tell myself that self-pity almost destroyed my marriage, and remind myself how hard I’ve worked to try and turn things around.
- If I’m with my wife, I can remind myself how much I care for her and how much my self-pity could frighten her.
- If I’m alone when it happens, I could do 20 push-ups, call my wife or another safe person, and/or read something safe and pleasurable — history or fitness articles, in my case — for 15 minutes, to point my mind in a healthier direction.
These aren’t really redlines. They are strategies. I think the redline in this case is: don’t fail to employ one or more of these strategies when I run into a self-pity trigger.
I’ll keep thinking about redlines. Meanwhile, I think the ten I’ve described this week cover every potential slip I can imagine. Thanks again to Hymynameismike for the inspiration.