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.

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