Monthly Archives: February 2017

New foundation 

As I’ve struggled to work with Recovery Nation’s discussion of compulsions and urges, I feel I’ve been trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I described my five hypothetical scenarios and my methods for addressing each of them in a healthy manner. But, they seem to address older and less challenging issues. That’s fine. However, I need to move forward. This recent series of lessons on compulsions and urges seemed redundant and mismatched. It was like a discussion of how to apply first aid when I fall and break my leg, when what I really need at this stage is physical therapy to get back a full range of motion after being on crutches for weeks. In order to move forward, I need to step outside Recovery Nation, at least temporarily, and improvise.

The past few lessons pose the challenge of feeling an urge, identifying an emotion associated with that urge, and then either making a bad decision based on that emotion, or applying values and turning it to a good decision. Recovery Nation is so laden with talk of addiction and sexual malfeasance that I had a hard time remembering to try applying it to my current behavioral challenges. I can think of several specific bad decisions I’ve made in recent years. Can I apply a modified urge control model to them? Let’s try.

The most recent bad decision was my decision to have a drink of cognac with the aim of relaxing enough to fall asleep. Now, let’s keep this decision in perspective. I have not drunk to intoxication in so many years I’ve lost count, and I only drink on average about once every two weeks. Nonetheless, the motivation to drink that one glass last night was questionable: to relax in order to sleep. There is a history to that emotion that goes beyond alcohol. There was an unfortunate period when I used cigarettes to relax in order to sleep. Prior to D-day, there were far took many times when I used orgasms — from masturbation, prostitutes, or even self-centered sex with my wife — to relax in order to sleep.

One solution I should remember to practice is to use something healthier instead, something such as reading a history book (my favorite pleasure reading) to relax in order to sleep. Regardless, how about applying this decision to the urge control model? Step one: I encounter a stimuli or challenge. In this case it is the challenge of being too tense, anxious, or restless to sleep. Step two: I feel an urge to drink, smoke, or orgasm to find relief. Is there an emotion associated with that step? I don’t know that I would call it an emotion. Rather, it’s a discomfort, followed by an urge to seek physical comfort. Perhaps it’s not unlike the urge to scratch my ear when I feel discomfort there. Step three: I either make a bad decision and act immediately, or I insert good values and turn it to a good decision. What values would help here? In the case of seeking an orgasm, the relevant value is the value I place on my marriage and family. I don’t want to lose them by making a bad decision. The same value works for the cigarette. In the case of the alcohol, perhaps I can try applying my value of health. Alcohol is empty calories.  Tobacco is also a threat to health.

The second most recent bad decision was ignoring my wife’s e-mail one morning during travel. I’ve written about that (and most of these bad decisions) before. What happened? Step one: I was rushing around, trying to get to the gym and then start my work day when I received an urgent e-mail from TL, my wife. Step two: I had an urge to ignore the e-mail so I could do my other morning tasks first. Was there an emotion associated with that urge? I think the emotion was fear. Fear of what? I think it was fear of losing control of my time and my plans. I had — and, this is not uncommon for me — a strong desire to check off things on a personal to-do list, and that desire was seducing me away from my commitment to respond to my wife. Third, I made the wrong decision, and ignored the e-mail until after my workout. The better decision — and, the key to preventing such bad decisions in the future — would have been to inject positive values. The value of my marriage is a good one for this scenario. Another helpful value would be compassion or empathy; understanding my wife’s discomfort with not getting a timely reply from me.

The next bad decision I recall, looking backward in time, is the decision to click on an Internet advertising banner that said, “Twenty-five women you won’t believe exist,” or something asinine like that. Step one, I was innocently reading the news on the computer at work, alone. Actually, at my current workplace this could never happen because I share a busy office space with two other people. Anyway, I was reading the news when that little advertisement appeared. Step two, I had an urge to click on it and view the pictures. What emotion accompanied that urge? Is lust an emotion? Is desire, or a feeling of deserving a reward, an emotion? Step three, I made the bad decision to click. Instead, I should have injected the value of marriage and family. I can’t afford to lose them, especially not on account of some entirely avoidable soft porn image on the Internet.  Accomplishment is another helpful value here; time wasted on porn hinders accomplishment.

Related to that incident is a separate bad decision, to lie about it when TL questioned me. First, I was confronted with her questioning whether I had clicked on the image. I don’t recall how we arrived at that point in the conversation. Second, I had the urge to hide the truth. The associated emotion was fear, fear of her anger and disappointment. Third, I made the bad decision to lie. Instead, I should have applied the values of honesty, integrity, marriage, and family.

Somewhere in that same two-year time period was another bad decision: accepting a lunch invitation from a female co-worker. Let’s call her TT. We coincidentally found ourselves at an airport together, each waiting for our own connecting flights. TT asked me if I would join her to grab some lunch. First, I was surprised by the invitation. Second, I really did not have any urge. Rather, I was just momentarily dazed and confused. I wasn’t sure what to do. I completely forgot my self-talk about not being alone with any woman. I think my emotion was fear. Fear of what? Perhaps it was fear of appearing awkward or rude. Third, I made the bad decision to eat with her. The solution would have been to quickly inject the values of marriage and family, and instead say, “No, I have other plans (like to call my wife).”

I think I detect at least one lesson from several of the foregoing examples. In some cases, like ignoring an e-mail or accepting a lunch invitation, I made my decisions too quickly, not giving myself enough time for an inner discussion about values. In those cases, it was not that I was unable to discern the right decision. Rather, I could have done so, had I given myself time to do so. I acted instinctively, when I should have acted deliberately. Perhaps that recalls why I need to focus on mindfulness, including not rushing through life. I need to tell myself each day that it’s less important how much I do — work or play — that day and more important how well I do it.

Returning to my main discussion of examples here, that reminds me of two more bad decisions. There was a moment a couple years back when I thoughtlessly told my son he could have a friend sleep over, despite an earlier discussion with TL in which she said we should not have guests that day. First, my son, his friend, and the friend’s father surprised me with the suggestion of the sleepover. Second, i thought about it from my perspective alone, forgot to thoroughly apply it to the earlier discussion with TL, and felt the sleepover would actually be convenient for me because the kids would be able to entertain themselves. Was there an emotion involved? Again, are selfishness or self-centered decision-making emotions? Finally, again, the solution would have been to slow down, think before speaking, recall my values of marriage and family and how they relate to listening, and remind myself to speak with TL in mind rather than just with myself in mind.

Similarly, there was an incident when I was talking to a doctor in advance of minor surgery. He was telling me to restrict my physical activity for a few days. With TL right there, I complained out loud, as if speaking to God or to no one, that I feared the housework would pile up while I was convalescing. This rudely and thoughtlessly made TL feel unappreciated, with me not recognizing all she does around the house and with me saying something publicly that should not have been voiced in public. What happened there? First, I felt self-pity about my upcoming convalescence. It was related to my fear of losing control, with my obsessive habits regarding tidying the house. Second, I had the urge to complain. Third, I wrongly acted on that urge before slowing down, thinking, and injecting values of marriage and family.

Next, in my reverse chronological list, was an incident in which I did successfully take time to turn a bad decision into a good one. But, it did take some time. I was alone in my room, away from home, with some time to read. Quite by chance, I stumbled across an article in a men’s fitness magazine entitled, “How to pick up girls,” or something stupid like that. I started feeling sorry for myself, thinking my life was unhappy because, in my view, I had not been very courageous or successful with the opposite sex when I was single. First, I unexpectedly saw the article, an unwelcome reminder of a topic on which I had spent far too many hours ruminating, over the course of approximately four decades. Second, I felt self-pity, along with the urge to ruminate. What is ruminating, anyway? In this case, I mean obsessively wallowing in self-pity, wishing the past had been different, and feeling sad about something which I was giving disproportionately too much weight. Third, I succumbed to the temptation to ruminate. However, before pissing away an entire late morning that way, I was able to stop myself. There had been times in the past when I might have spent much of a day or more dwelling on the self-pity. But, this time, I did ultimately deploy my values of marriage, family, gratitude, and maturity in order to stop my self-destructive thinking.

The final example here is a series of bad decisions leading to me giving TL herpes. There are many pieces of this tragic story, and I won’t address all of them in this writing. I have written about much of this story before. I contracted herpes from a prostitute. I hid the fact from TL for over seven years, until after D-day. Now, here’s the more recent part of the story, the part that might fit into today’s discussion. After TL learned of my disease, and after I promised to do my best to protect her from it, I then failed to take adequate precautions. We don’t know exactly how and when she got it from me. But, she did.

What could I have done differently? I could have asked a doctor to prescribe something to reduce my outbreaks. I could have used condoms. I could have allowed more time after outbreaks before having sex with her. I failed to do those things. How and why? First, I felt the desire to have sex with some frequency and without condoms, and I felt selfish about my time with regard to seeing a doctor. Second, well that’s pretty much it. I felt urges to have sex, to not reduce my own sensation by using condoms, and to guard my time selfishly. Again, is selfishness an emotion? So, I made the bad decision to proceed in physical intimacy with TL without taking the aforementioned precautions. The solution would have been to inject values of compassion and marriage, to counter my selfishness.

What can I learn from all of these examples? I’ve already mentioned my need to slow down and make decisions deliberately. Perhaps another lesson here is that I really need to focus on compassion, empathy, and friendship. Are those the antidotes to selfishness? I hope so. Finally, it seems the core values I’ve prescribed for myself in the foregoing discussion are marriage, family, friendship, compassion, empathy, honesty, integrity, health, maturity, and gratitude. That’s ten big ones that I apparently need to practice more.

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Values Based Decision-Making

Lesson 50 of Recovery Nation poses the following exercises.

A. When facing a compulsive urge, what do you anticipate the consequences of using a healthy, values-based decision to manage that urge to be? (think positive and negative consequences) 

For this exercise, perhaps I can return to those five potential scenarios in which I might be tempted to talk to some woman outside the bounds of a professional interaction or common courtesy. What are the pros and cons of responding to that urge with a healthy values-based approach? The pros might be: I could report success to TL, my wife; I could avoid destroying my marriage and family; and I could practice these skills we are discussing. The cons could be: I would deny myself potential ego boosters and illicit pleasures; I might appear a little rude or awkward; and I might miss an opportunity to develop a useful, appropriate, healthy relationship.

B. Now consider having made the decision to continue on with the compulsive ritual, what consequences do you anticipate? (again, think positive and negative) 

This assumes I make the wrong decision in this hypothetical scenario. It would likely bring the following negative consequences: I would have to report failure to my wife; I would have to be absolutely certain I do not make the situation worse by continuing to interact with that woman in the scenario; my marriage and family would be severely disrupted, or worse; I would lose time in dealing with the consequences; and I would lose sleep as well as physical and mental health in dealing with the consequences. The meaningful positive consequences would be: none.

C. For each decision (values-based; emotion-based), what long-term effects will these consequences have on your developing identity and values?

The long-term effects of making the right decision might be: it could become easier to make the right decision in the future. The long-term effects of making the wrong decision might be: my optimism about the process might wane.

More health monitoring 

Lesson forty-nine of Recovery Nation said stop doing daily health monitoring and possibly switch to weekly monitoring. It also said stop monitoring everything, and just focus on the two or three items that are most needing attention at the given time. That seems about right. Now I’m continuing to monitor myself in terms of giving focused attention to my wife.

By the way, the lesson also asked me to take Recovery Nation’s health assessment for a second time. And, for a second time I was unable to use the tool due to technical difficulties with the website itself.

But, he did it with them first

Here’s an issue I see in myself as well as in other betrayed spouses. It is not so much a complaint as just the reality of a feeling.

MindlessCraft has done a lot to “make-up” for shit. He has taken me to expensive hotels and luxurious spas, weekends away, romantic dinner dates (not just eating out together because he has to do something for birthday or anniversary), and given flowers more times than I can count. He has done far more of these things for me than he ever did for any AP. Yet, he did it for them first (during our marriage). And, it is an awful feeling to me. He may now do such things out of love for me, but I cannot help but realize he is only doing it after he did it for someone else first.

I explained it to him like this. This is going to be GRAPHIC, but it is the only way to make the point. I don’t like blow jobs, and though I’ve tried from time-to-time, I’ve never given one to completion and certainly have never swallowed. Now, I tell MC, imagine I cheat on you and then not only give the guy a blow job (without him even asking), but take him all the way and swallow too. All before I ever did it for you, even though we’ve been married for YEARS. You will always know I did it for him first. How would that make you feel?

And, that example really made him “get it.” He understands. But, what can you do about that?  You cannot change the past.

Proactive/Reactive Skill Development

In my last post I described five potential scenarios that might tempt me to talk to some woman outside the bounds of a professional interaction or common courtesy. I attempted to identify emotions I might feel in those scenarios. I do think I have excised most emotions about those hypothetical situations. The important thing is that the emotions I would have felt prior to D-day no longer consume me. It used to be that in such scenarios I would have felt a desire for validation. I do believe I no longer seek validation through interactions with women. Even today I notice myself physically avoiding women, including eye contact. It doesn’t feel like an emotional experience.

Lesson forty-eight of Recovery Nation says to learn three techniques for better responding to temptations. The skills are role-playing, anticipating, and active seeking. The exercises are basically to learn and practice the three skills. First, I think role-playing could be used if I go back to the five hypothetical temptations I described in the last lesson. For, example, I can role-play in my mind what it would be like if some woman tries to talk with me outside the bounds of a professional interaction or common courtesy. I should practice saying things like: “I’d better be going,” or “I was just about to call my wife.”

Anticipating, if I understand the skill, is basically planning. Again, those five hypothetical scenarios I described are part of my planning. Active seeking is, I think, choosing a skill to practice or plan to rehearse and spending the day actively looking for chances to implement it. This is an ongoing thing I will have to continue trying.

Practical Urge Awareness

Lesson forty-seven of Recovery Nation gives an example that made me think. It said, imagine two years in the future having an opportunity to have an affair and having the urge to act on it. I thought about this quite a bit. I do feel confident I would not give in to such an urge. But, here’s the more important lesson, in my mind. There are many, many opportunities to stop or prevent such a hypothetical scenario from ever happening. There is absolutely no reason to find oneself in the position of “having the opportunity to have an affair.”

I guess it depends on how you define “having the opportunity to have an affair.” When I read that phrase I imagine a scenario in which another person is physically near me and making it crystal clear that I could touch them sexually right then and there. Alternatively, it could be a scenario in which I am communicating with the person telephonically or electronically and they say something that tempts me to reply flirtatiously.

In either case, that scenario could have been prevented several steps earlier. First, there had to have been an urge to communicate, verbally or otherwise, with this person one-on-one and outside the bounds of the most basic professional interaction or common courtesies. Second, there would have had to have been an urge to continue the interaction privately or covertly. Third, having given in to that urge, there would have to have been an urge to sustain or repeat that interaction. Fourth, there would have to have been an urge to steer the topic of those interactions toward sex.

In any scenario that doesn’t constitute me being a target of unprovoked sexual violation, there would be at least four points along the route toward “having the opportunity for an affair.” Those are four points at which I could, should, and would stop the chain of events before it escalated — before I escalated it, or before I allowed it to escalate.

Let’s look at this in reverse order. If a person was with me in private, in the real world or in virtual space, and they said or did something to make it clear I could respond sexually, I could, should, and would, say that would be inappropriate, say I am happily married, walk away from the situation, call my wife, and never interact alone with that person again. But, that situation could have been prevented.

Let’s walk back to an earlier point in this chain of events. At that earlier point, I would be communicating with that person covertly and I might get the urge to turn the topic to sex. At that point, I should talk to myself, telling myself I am happily married, that I am keenly aware of the risks and consequences, and that I have an opportunity to do the right thing. Then, I should walk away from that interaction, call my wife, and never again interact privately with that person.

Let’s walk back to an earlier point than that. At that point, I would find myself interacting privately with a potential affair target and I would feel an urge to continue or repeat the interaction. At that point, I should talk to myself, telling myself I am happily married, that I am keenly aware of the risks and consequences, and that I have an opportunity to do the right thing. Then, I should walk away from that interaction, call my wife, and never again interact privately with that person.

Let’s walk back to an even earlier point than that. At that point, I would be communicating with an attractive person and I would feel the urge to steer that interaction to a private or covert venue. At that point, I should talk to myself, telling myself I am happily married, that I am keenly aware of the risks and consequences, and that I have an opportunity to do the right thing. Then, I should walk away from that interaction, call my wife, and never again interact privately with that person.

Let’s walk back to the earliest point in this chain of events. In that first point in the chain of temptations, I would see an attractive person and feel an urge to communicate, verbally or otherwise, with this person one-on-one and about something outside the bounds of the most basic professional interaction or common courtesies. Well, this type of event is not uncommon. It’s much less common than it used to be. Still, it happens. Out there, in everyday life, there are attractive women. Occasionally, one of them crosses my path, looks at me, or says something. Occasionally, when that happens, I feel an urge to flirt. On a regular and consistent basis, for nearly five years now, I have easily and calmly defeated those urges, replacing them with thoughts of integrity, honesty, maturity, and counting my blessings. I know I can do this, because I do it all the time, with very little effort.

So, I’m certain I will continue to be tempted to flirt with attractive women who open up conversation. But, I am also very practiced at defeating those urges. Importantly, defeating those urges at the first step in a potential chain of further interactions is only the first in a series of lines of defense against “having the opportunity to have an affair.” So, while I am certain I would not succumb to “an opportunity for an affair,” I am also confident that several lines of protection will keep that scenario from ever arising in the first place.

Lesson 47 Exercise:
1. Over the next 48 hours, envision at least ten different REALISTIC scenarios where you may encounter a compulsive urge in the future and document these in your recovery thread.

Based on what I wrote above, let’s do this exercise in terms of “an urge to communicate one-on-one with an attractive woman about outside the bounds of a professional interaction or common courtesy.” What scenarios can I imagine?

One, a co-worker or business contact could open up conversation that is outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy.
Two, an attractive co-worker could greet me or make eye contact, tempting me to initiate conversation.
Three, an attractive grocery clerk, barber shop receptionist, dry cleaner receptionist, or other service provider could make eye contact, smile, or try to initiate conversation, tempting me to engage in conversation.
Four, I could unexpectedly drive past a street-walker or potential street-walker.
Five, the maid or other domestic worker could try to initiate eye contact or conversation, tempting me to converse.

Those are really the only scenarios I can imagine, but they appear to be a thorough exploration of the topic.

2. With each scenario: Identify how you would know when that urge/ritual would likely begin, when the likely ‘point of no return’ would be and when you would ‘create the break’. Anticipate the emotions associated with that particular ritual, isolate those emotions from your ‘core identity’ and prepare yourself to make a values-based decision (versus an emotions-based decision).

One, a co-worker or business contact could open up conversation that is outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy. This is the beginning. The point of no return would be if I speak to her outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy. The break would be when I quickly cut the interaction short, stay confined to business or common courtesies, and avoid her whenever reasonably possible. At this point in my life the emotion might be fear: fear that TL, my wife, would not believe me when I tell her I did nothing to provoke the interaction and I did everything to end the interaction.

Two, an attractive co-worker could greet me or make eye contact, tempting me to initiate conversation. This is the beginning. The point of no return would be if I speak to her outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy. The break would be when I quickly cut the interaction short, stay confined to business or common courtesies, and avoid her whenever reasonably possible. Again the emotion might be fear: fear that TL, my wife, would not believe me when I tell her I did nothing to provoke the interaction and I did everything to end the interaction.

Three, an attractive grocery clerk, barber shop receptionist, dry cleaner receptionist, or other service provider could make eye contact, smile, or try to initiate conversation, tempting me to engage in conversation. This is the beginning. The point of no return would be if I speak to her outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy. The break would be when I quickly cut the interaction short, stay confined to business or common courtesies, and avoid her whenever reasonably possible. The emotion might be fear: fear that TL, my wife, would not believe me when I tell her I did nothing to provoke the interaction and I did everything to end the interaction.

Four, I could unexpectedly drive past a street-walker or potential street-walker. This is the beginning. The point of no return would be if I speak to her. The break would be when I keep my eyes on the road, drive directly to my destination, call my wife, and take all reasonable precautions to avoid the area where I saw the street-walker. The emotion would be fear: fear that TL, my wife, would not believe me when I tell her I did not anticipate the encounter and I did everything to avoid it.

Five, the maid or other domestic worker could try to initiate eye contact or conversation, tempting me to converse. This is the beginning. The point of no return would be if I speak to her outside the realm of professional interaction or common courtesy. The break would be when I quickly cut the interaction short, stay confined to business or common courtesies, and avoid her whenever reasonably possible. The emotion would be fear: fear that TL, my wife, would not believe me when I tell her I did nothing to provoke the interaction and I did everything to end the interaction.

Unconditional Love

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I am a fan of ChumpLady and find value in so much of what she writes. She recently wrote on unconditional love. Though I respect her greatly and completely understand the source of her perspective, I personally feel that too many people on all sides of this issue are misconstruing the meaning and intent of “unconditional love.”

First, when we do loving and kind things for others, we do them because we want to do them. Perhaps, we simply want to help, or bring a touch of joy, kindness, and/or laughter to someone’s day. Perhaps we just want to show someone we think lovingly about them in some way. We do not do these things with an expectation of anything in return.

Second, we should expect that we treat each other ethically, respectfully, and with dignity and decency. We should also set boundaries for ourselves that do not allow others to treat us poorly.

But, these are two SEPARATE things. One does not beget the other. I should do the first because I choose to do it out of love. All too often, we perform one expecting the other. Both are good, healthy and appropriate things, but expecting one to bring about the other is a fool’s errand.

Prior to d-day, I thought if I did enough for my husband, a friend or a family member, I would earn their respect and love. This was fucked up thinking. Prior to d-day, MindlessCraft thought if I loved him, I would do x, y, and z. This was fucked up thinking. Now, when I choose to do loving acts for another it is simply because I want to do it, not because I am trying to win love, respect or approval. Admittedly, after d-day, my desire to do such things was very limited. And, I don’t want MindlessCraft doing loving acts because I expect him now to do them, they need to be because he wants to do them, otherwise they really are emotionally vacant acts. So, yes, love is about what we give (because we desire to give it), not what we take.

However, respect, dignity, decency and ethics are essential components of our humanity. We have a right, irrespective of anything to do with love, to expect to be treated with such humanity, from all people, including ourselves and our partner. If someone does not treat us with such humanity, then they are not a safe person. Even if you love someone, if they are not safe then they should not be in your life.

So, this is why we say, above all else, the cheating partner must work on being a safe person. While there are many components to this, we see these as a great place for the cheater to start:

  1. Providing safety for the betrayed, regardless of the decision to divorce or reconcile. If reconciliation is the path, then the cheater must do all possible to put the risk of reconciliation on their own shoulders and off of the shoulders of the betrayed. If divorce is the path, a cheater truly wanting to reform, should provide for the safety of their partner and children regardless.
  2. Learning to count their blessings, which is the first step toward eradicating self-pity.
  3. Rewiring of their decision making processes to be based on fundamental core values instead of emotional based thoughts and/or reactions (e.g., self-pity, desire for external validation, etc.). Or, another way to put it, “growing the fuck up!” Remember being a MAN is not the difference between man and woman, nor is it the difference between straight and gay. Instead, it IS the difference between being an adult and being a child.

More on healthy decision-making 

Chapter 46 of Recovery Nation shows a logical and familiar model of healthy decision-making. It says events are filtered through our perceptions, we have an emotional reaction and then review options; we filter those options through our values and boundaries and potential consequences; we decide and act; and, finally, actual consequences, or lack thereof, affect our core identity, going forward. In an unhealthy person, there are inadequate values and boundaries in this process. Further, unhealthy decisions without consequences gradually disfigure the core identity.

To me, this seems a useful model, with the main message being: develop values and boundaries to guard against unhealthy decisions and remember that healthy decisions beget more of the same and unhealthy decisions beget more unhealthy decisions.

The exercises in this chapter aren’t relevant to me because I have already begun the work of building values and boundaries and have already eliminated the unhealthy behaviors that this chapter addresses.

Urge Control: Isolating the Emotions

Lesson forty-five of Recovery Nation talks about compulsive chains again. It provides the following example, which is a bit familiar to me.

“element 1: partner says she’s ‘not in the mood’

element 2: pout, feel sorry for myself

element 3: begin thinking about masturbating

element 4: make the decision to masturbate when it is ‘safe’

element 5: wait until she falls asleep

element 6: surf the Internet for pornography

element 7: begin masturbating

element 8: select one or two images to focus on

element 9: begin fantasizing intensely with these images

element 10: achieve orgasm”

Then it says: “Once you have mapped out a personal compulsive ritual, your role shifts to identifying the emotions that are produced by each element of that ritual. For instance, using the ritual from above, the emotions would be as follows:

element 1: frustration, disappointment (e.g. emotional imbalance)

element 2: self-pity

element 3: mild comfort

element 4: control, more comfort

element 5: impatience, frustration, anxiety (further increases the emotional imbalance; thus setting up a greater opportunity for relief)

element 6: excitement, achievement, success (in obtaining access to images); worry (about being caught by spouse/children); guilt/shame

element 7: excitement, comfort; worry (about being caught)

element 8: excitement (from anticipation that orgasm is drawing near)

element 9: extreme comfort (from trance-like state); peace; serenity

element 10: complete peace and serenity; success, relief, pleasure”

The foregoing example almost describes one of my pre-D-day problems: masturbating to porn. However, the emotional terms “trance-like state,” “peace,” and “serenity” were not applicable. Those terms seem to overstate what I experienced. I do think this map of the compulsive chain could have helped me five years ago. Now, however, it is not necessary for me. I have not masturbated nor used porn for almost five years now. And, I don’t have any reason to fear I will fall back into that pattern in the future. Why? I made a wholehearted decision to quit, with no inner conflict, doubts, or second guessing about that decision. It worked just fine.

The exercises from chapter 45 are as follows.

A. Map a compulsive ritual that is based on your unique behavior. Ensure that you identify at least five elements that are involved in stimulating your emotions during this act.

I can’t think of any current compulsion that I can map in this way. Yes, I’ve identified some annoying current compulsions such as picking at cuticles, picking my ears, and that sort of thing. But, they don’t consist of five or more elements. I can count perhaps two elements in those behaviors, maybe three: I get bored, nervous, or distracted; I perform the undesirable behavior; and I feel temporary relief from the urge to perform the behavior — nothing more. Now, this does, in my mind, describe a compulsion. But, looking ahead to the next parts of this exercise, the exercise seems designed for something more complicated.

C. At what point in the chain is the ‘point of no return’?

Well, it’s the point when I perform the undesirable behavior. The next three tasks are really lumped together in my mind.

D. Consider the element identified just prior to ‘the point of no return’.
E. With the element isolated from the ritual, begin to see this element in terms of the role it plays in perpetuating the compulsive event.
F. Once the role of the individual element has been identified and isolated from the whole of the experience, it is time to evaluate what is the best action to take in response to this trigger.

The behavior immediately before the undesirable behavior is feeling bored, distracted, or nervous. Okay, so I should look for ways to avoid those feelings, and alternative outlets for those feelings. Right, I should get a stress ball or something. Fair enough. But, all this seems to miss the point I was trying to find in working through Recovery Nation: how to be a better husband and a better friend. I’ll move on to the next chapter.

Core Identity

Lesson 43 of Recovery Nation continues explaining urge control. Lesson 44 talks about the role of core identity in making values-based choices rather than emotion-based choices. A couple of paragraphs stood out to me.

“When this structure of boundaries/values is not developed . . . Rather than filtering the behavior through a structured system of checks and balances (e.g. values and boundaries) that will either accept the behavior as healthy and appropriate, or spit it out as unhealthy and destructive…it is processed on an immediate pleasure/pain principle. If it is pleasurable, say, masturbating…then it is processed as something to repeat. And values begin to develop surrounding this pleasurable, yet destructive behavior. If it is processed as painful, it is something to be avoided…and again, the developing value system will reflect this. Honesty is a good example.

When honesty is based on emotions as opposed to values…say, when the decision to be dishonest is made in an attempt to avoid shame, anger, guilt, conflict, etc., dishonesty is then processed as an effective tool in managing your life. When a value-based decision to be honest is made…say, when the decision to be honest is made based purely on the fact that you have chosen to value honesty in your life…it is your values that are processed as an effective tool in managing your life. And, when these decisions are coupled with a positive emotional reaction (e.g. pride, confidence, strength), the desire to repeat them will develop. It’s human nature.”

“In a healthy person, their core identity involves the development of multiple values and boundaries — each of which have been reinforced and refined by experience. In an unhealthy person, such a development has also occurred, except that the values and boundaries that have been developed focus on immediate gratification, rather than long term stability and fulfillment. Their values, to put it bluntly, are immature.”

Exercise 44 says: “For a moment, imagine your life apart from your physical being…apart from your possessions…apart from your friends, your family and every other living being. What you are left with is your core identity. It is who you are. It is this identity that then allows you to relate to your physical self, your friends, your family…”

A. Describe in your recovery thread the role that your core identity will play in helping you to establish/maintain a healthy life.

The first thing that strikes me about this “core identity” concept is my suspicion that many multiethnic people, like me, may have an added complication when developing their core identity as children or adolescents: mixed signals. In my case, for example, I could have incorporated religious values into my identity. As a child I was told to follow the community’s dominant religion’s value system. But, as an adolescent I was told that the religion was bad. Also, I was raised to think I should be Japanese, when real Japanese nationals considered me to be white. Only later in life did I learn that in fact it is possible to be ethnically Japanese, non-white, totally unattached to the Japanese nation, and proudly American, simultaneously. The other big mixed signal I had was the teaching that me becoming an adult man would be a hurtful thing for my mother. This contradicted the fact that becoming an adult man was, in fact, my most important dream.

Since D-day, I have worked to create a new relationship with religion. I have realized that mixed signals about ethnicity could have played a role in my immature core identity, though I had reconciled those particular mixed signals long before D-day. Most importantly, I am working on sorting out the fact that the important point about “being a man,” is not the difference between a man and a woman or between a straight man and a gay man. Rather, the relevant opposite of “being a man” in this equation is “being a child.”

B. Describe the role that value-based experiences will play in further developing your core identity.

With those mixed signals sorted — especially the one about growing up, rather than behaving like a child — the new values fit quite nicely: gratitude, honesty, and maturity.

C. Take some time to examine the current state of your core identity. How in tune with it are you? When you engage in activity that is destructive, what role does your core identity play in that decision? How is it affected by the consequences of that decision?

I think now I can describe my core identity as: husband, father, adult man, American, Jewish, ethnically mixed, aspiring scholar and teacher, aspiring writer, and aspiring to physical health and fitness. Any destructive behavior that might tempt me would counter each one of those aspects of my identity, beginning with that of husband and father.

Mastering Rituals and Chains

Lesson 42 of Recovery Nation returns to discussing compulsive rituals and chains.

It says ” . . . share the following:

to identify the ELEMENTS associated with a simple compulsive ritual that you have previously engaged in (think Wheel of Sexual Compulsivity)

to walk through a single compulsive ritual and identify the BEGINNING of that ritual; the POINT OF NO RETURN; and the time that you would CREATE A BREAK

To walk through a complex compulsive ritual involving several single rituals in a single event (e.g. porn and alcohol; masturbation and voyeuring)

To share the dynamics of a compulsive chain (e.g. multiple rituals) and how that chain effects your overall life management needs/skills”

Alright, some of the foregoing is no longer relevant to me, and some of it was never relevant. The points about chains and complex rituals don’t seem to have ever been relevant to me. Right now, I can think of the following compulsions I ought to overcome:

Picking at my fingernail cuticles,

Picking inside my ears,

Scratching my butt when I’m trying to sleep,

Obsessing over a list of tasks at home or at work instead of flexing to meet changing circumstances, and 

Obsessively tidying 

I think the element they all have in common is my failure to focus on the most important things at the given moment. The beginning is my wandering mind, and being distracted by my own thoughts or untamed energy. I suppose the point of no return is when I act on the compulsion to scratch, pick, tidy, or work on a checklist or routine. The break would be when I am able to talk to myself about my hope of not giving in to those urges.

As for sexual compulsions, once again, those are years in the past. And, I’m still not convinced they were compulsions. I remember them as conscious choices — bad and selfish choices.

Mastering Boundary Awareness

Lesson 41 of Recovery Nation says to review the previous four lessons, and then keep a journal for a month. I’m already doing the journal. Then it says to interview someone close to ask about their boundaries. I discussed this with my wife, TL. We used my Lesson 40 responses as a starting point. She seemed to say that my list of her boundaries was fairly accurate. She added: never choose to ignore her, never treat her like she doesn’t exist; when she reaches out to me like a friend in need, don’t abandon her, don’t choose to turn away from her, and always acknowledge her existence.