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.