I continued on to Lesson 29 of Recovery Nation. It took me through following exercises
A. Find a place where you will be alone and safe. Ensure that, for the next fifteen minutes, you won’t be interrupted for any reason. Fifteen minutes (or longer, but not less than). Then close your eyes and just feel. Think of things that are important to you. Think of your values. Think of your regrets. Think of trauma that you have experienced. Think of wonderful moments. Let yourself experience whatever emotions that come freely. Focus on each of the emotions, and DO NOT OPEN YOUR EYES! (this is an important part of the exercise). Stay in touch with the feelings. Experience the emotions that come with these thoughts. Forget about your physical self…focus only on the emotions that you are experiencing.
Now, consider one of your milder compulsive behaviors. Try to get in touch with the feelings that are generated with this behavior. If you find yourself getting triggered to act, forbid yourself. Then focus on the anxiety that is produced with that decision. Really allow yourself to get in touch with the stress that is building. Consider the reality that, either during this exercise or soon thereafter, you will face the challenge of deciding whether or not you should act on these feelings. Begin to feel the consequences of both your decision to masturbate, and your decision to remain committed to recovery.
After you have done this for fifteen minutes (or longer), and before you engage in any compulsive behavior, open your eyes and complete the following:
A. Describe the emotions that you experienced and the thoughts that triggered them. What is the question? Is this asking what emotions I experienced during the initial fifteen minutes of feeling about values, regrets, trauma, and wonderful moments? I thought about valuing my family. I thought about wanting to achieve financial security. That made me feel anxiety. I thought about wishing I had been more serious about academics and fitness in my younger years. That made me feel regret. I thought about my love of travel, outdoor activities, and new experiences. That made me feel comfortable and joyful.
Or, is the question what did I feel when thinking about a minor compulsion? The first compulsion that came to mind was this recently-developed habit of picking inside my ear. It started with some recent congestion that made me worry about a sinus and ear infection. Now, when I do it — not often, but often enough that my wife and I notice it — it is entirely without thought, almost like an instinct. I have to actively think to avoid doing it, if my mind is not otherwise fully engaged. When I start doing it, I have to actively think to cease doing it. Does it provoke or arise from an emotion? No. I think it just happens when I have untapped excess energy. I’ve always had a bit of trouble sitting still. Some of my family members can sit still for great lengths of time. That’s simply difficult for me.
B. In assessing your own anxiety, describe the extremes of your personal experiences with anxiety. What has been the least anxious state you have experienced and the most extreme anxious state you have experienced?
This is interesting. What was the least anxious state I experienced? I don’t know. I can’t recall a time without anxiety about something: feeling I was missing out on experiences other kids were having; fearing being pushed around, teased, or disrespected; fearing my mother’s disapproving sighs and mumbles; fearing looking foolish or naive; fearing being inadequate; and, finally, fearing the future, especially in terms of financial security and relationship stability. What was my least anxious state? In fact, I think when I had relatively few problems, I went about creating problems for myself: comparing myself to others; agonizing about the past; and wanting contradicting, and therefore, unattainable things. As for a “least anxious state,” I think I could only describe it as being those times when I was relatively very focused on a discrete (not “discreet”) project or activity, be it work, family time, or fitness. Those are moments when my mind is so fully engaged that there is no room in my head for anxiety or other stray voltage.
What was the most extreme anxious state I experienced? I think that is each time my wife and I have an acutely intense discussion about the pain and injustice I caused her. This topic is with us constantly. But, once in a while, usually for a few days at a time, her pain and anger boil up so hot and my inability to help her becomes so clear that I fear we won’t be able to smile or relax again, at all.