Sexual malfeasance and lying were a fire I started long ago. I let the fire burn out of control. With some help, I have put the fire out. I was too late. My wife got burned. Even I sustained some injuries. But, the fire is out.
What started it? The match I used to start the fire was self-pity, insecurity, and anger at the universe. The fuel that aggravated the fire was nervous energy, poor personal management habits, and a feeling of no accountability.
I’ve changed. I will never again play with that match. I will never again pour that fuel on a fire. But, in answer to the following question, when I come across more fuel in the future, will I make it spontaneously combust? No. Fuel can not burn without something to ignite it.
Chapter 20 of Recovery Nation says: “Look to future transitions in your life. Divorce. Death of a partner. Death of your parents. Death of a child. Loss of a job. Retirement. Having another child. Empty-nest syndrome. Consider many different situations that you will possibly face in the remaining years of your life. Situations that could potentially cause major instability to an otherwise balanced, fulfilling life. Explore the role(s) that addiction could play in helping you to manage these times. What would it feel like for addiction to come back into your life? Would it be a rapid collapse or a subtle progression? What signs would you look for? What actions would you take?”
Given my view that my sexual malfeasance came not from addiction, but rather from selfish, conscious choices, the premise of the foregoing question does not seem applicable. The question seems to ask whether I’ll go back to addictive behavior when faced with stress. But, again, I was not addicted to anything. I was just an asshole. Let’s be honest and frank about it.
But, I did go through a few periods in my life when I was mildly addicted to tobacco. Was that some sort of proxy or substitute for sex? Did that bad habit come from the same place as my sexual malfeasance. I’m not sure. I don’t think so. But, let’s think through this.
A year after D-day, I went through a year or so of covertly smoking. I hid it from everyone, including my wife. I enjoyed doing it, but I was ashamed to admit to doing it. I do believe I started smoking that time as a means of dealing with nervous energy and desire for physical release or stimulation. As I look back over my life, I think I have done that before, not only with tobacco, but also at various times with alcohol, porn, masturbation, monogamous sex, daydreaming, and eventually sex with prostitutes. I didn’t abuse all those things simultaneously. And, one by one, I quit each and every one of them. I do think I indulged in each of those things partly as an outlet for my nervous, restless energy.
So, was nervous, restless energy the cause of my adultery and lying? Absolutely not. I think that in some cases it aggravated my adulterous behavior. But, it did not cause it. The cause was my conscious decisions to commit adultery. Without the conscious decisions to commit adultery, nervous energy alone would not have caused me to cheat. And, without the nervous, restless energy, I still would have made conscious decisions to cheat and still would have done so.
Do you see what I’m saying? Nervous energy aggravated my adultery, but it did not cause it. And, conscious decisions to cheat would have led me to adultery, even without any nervous energy.
So, the next time I feel nervous energy when I’m alone, am I going to cheat, smoke, get drunk, view porn, masturbate, or some other shameful thing? Absolutely not. I won’t cheat because I have reformed my view of sex, manhood, competition, women, and God. Instead of struggling to prove my manhood (vis a vis boyhood, not vis a vis femininity or homosexuality) to myself, I have learned to be more confident and comfortable with myself. Instead of telling myself God owed me more experiences and that I had the right to take them illicitly, I now tell myself to count my blessings. Instead of telling myself that my wife owes me sex and validation, I now tell myself I owe her friendship, loyalty, empathy, and compassion.
What about tobacco, alcohol, or those other vices? I’ve really grown out of the desire to abuse alcohol. The side effects just aren’t worth it. As for tobacco and the other vices, there is a healthy role for shame in my life. Before engaging in any behavior, I now ask myself, “Would I be ashamed to tell my wife, boss, mother, neighbor, or anyone else about this?” I ask myself, “Would I do this if my wife were standing right here?”
So, Jon Marsh, would I use any of the aforementioned deplorable behaviors in response to future stressful events in life? No. Since D-day, I’ve been through three moves and three job changes and forced retirement is looming on the horizon. None of these stressful events have caused me to take refuge in nervous energy-related vices.
I will not cheat or lie again, primarily because I have changed my motivation. I want to live with integrity now, unlike before. In addition, faced with nervous energy and restlessness, I will not allow them to aggravate my poor decisions, because I will not choose poor decisions and also because I will remember my inner dialogue about not doing things I am ashamed to divulge to others.