Monthly Archives: March 2017

Preventing Slips/Relapse

Lesson sixty of Recovery Nation seems to say to make a plan, or several plans, for sustaining a lifetime commitment to preventing problem behavior.

“Many individuals convince themselves into believing that addiction is permanent, and so they must fear potential relapse every day for the rest of their lives. How effective of a strategy is this? Well, for some it works. Of course, it is impossible to measure the effects of such an approach on that person’s quality of life, but from an abstinence standpoint, it works. But for very few individuals. The great majority instead fall victim to reality (e.g. it is impossible to remain so intensely focused on recovery/relapse every single day) and complacency.”

“And so, while the efforts people made in recovery have been an important value in regaining stability, these efforts are not sufficient to maintain that stability in a healthy life. Why? Because life is not stable; it is fluid. And because this is so, a continued reliance on ‘recovery’ to manage life will fall way short in redeveloping a healthy, fulfilling life. New values must be developed. New skills must be mastered. Otherwise, people will be trapped in a life management strategy that is focused on avoiding the past, and will be incapable of adapting to new, healthy challenges in the future.”

“Lesson 60 Exercise:

1. Develop a Plan”
I view what I just read in lesson 60 as a reference checklist. When trouble arises, I plan to come back to lesson 60 and troubleshoot. Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, I see the guide that I created in lesson 59 as the best tool for preventing trouble. My plan is to re-read that list I wrote, in full detail, each week. Why? Because I know that’s how to effectively remain disciplined.  

I suspect many people are different from me in that regard. I can learn things well enough. Often, I can even do them well enough. My weakness is consistency. For example, I know pretty well how to do a deadlift without hurting myself, how to hit a golf ball, or how to grill a steak. But, every once in a while I lose focus, get distracted, or get hurried. Then, I hurt my back while lifting, top the golf ball, or burn the steak. It’s all about forming good habits. It’s also about constant renewal of focus, concentration, momentum, and commitment. For me, it’s not about seeing a doctor and being cured. Rather, it’s about remembering to eat an apple every day.

“2. Motivators

A fundamental of early recovery is to establish a list of positive motivators that can be used to sustain one’s focus and energy throughout the transition to health. Go back and examine your own motivators (Lesson One) — note those that continue to motivate you today and those that have lost their intensity. You will almost universally conclude that it is the positive motivators that have survived the crisis. Those based on negativity and fear (e.g. I don’t want to lose my marriage; I hate who I have become) tend to lose their ability to motivate as the initial crisis wanes.”

Here’s my list from lesson one. All these reasons are still relevant.

Reasons I seek to permanently change my life

1. I want the quiet confidence that comes from striving for integrity and morality.

2. I want the relative calm that comes with having my priorities straight, instead of the harried existence of a double life.

3. I want my wife to feel safe and to be able to find courage to pursue her own goals.

4. I want to be a good example for my children and for others.

5. I want to earn my wife’s trust, love, and respect.

6. I want to continue using my time productively and investing in meaningful relationships, instead of wasting time with porn, affairs, and prostitutes.

7. I want to continue using money wisely, rather than wasting it on prostitutes and affairs.

8. I want to be able to speak freely about anything I do, feel, or think, without fear that any of it will bring me shame.

9. I want to be able to look back on the remaining few decades of my life with fewer regrets than I have about the first four decades.

10. I want to accomplish things that bring me pride, rather than waste time and energy on things I’m embarrassed to share.

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Evolving Reactive Action Plans

Lesson 59 of Recovery Nation says: “There doesn’t need to be an exercise associated with this lesson. At this stage of your transition to health, you should be seeking out ways of strengthening your foundation on your own. And so, just by reading the above, you should already know what to do with it. How it should be applied to your existing reactive action plans.”

I think the best way to approach this is to go back to the five action plans I discussed in the previous lesson and see if I can develop a second level action plan as insurance, to strengthen each plan.

One. TL asks me for urgent action or discussion, and I am tempted to ignore her in favor of my routine or task list. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Let me just finish this one thing.” Often that “one thing” turns out to take far more time than anticipated, or can lead to another “one more thing.”

If this action plan fails, how will I know? I think the clue would be that I would find myself engaged in that “one more thing.” I might find myself in the gym, tidying the house, or doing that one additional e-mail or routine task at the office. What should I do? Stop the workout. So what if I am standing around in my gym clothes while I engage with my wife? There’s nothing wrong with that. So what if I miss one workout that week. Often, I can lift more if I take an extra day off.  

So what if the house remains a bit untidy a bit longer. Having a tidy house is meant to make my life more convenient in the long run. But, having a tidy house should not distract me from the main point, which is actually having a life and living that life. So what if I don’t complete that one more e-mail or one more routine task at work. It seems to me that I am equally or more successful at work when I focus on quality instead of quantity. Instead of trying to do ten things every day, for example, I should focus on excellence, even if that means only doing eight things but doing them well. And, if something personal arises that reduces my work accomplishments to only one or two on a given day, I should just be sure that they are the most important one or two things and that I do them well.  

At times like these it helps me to mentally review my favorite parable. Put a cup of water into an empty pint glass. Add a cup of sugar, then a cup of marbles, then a cup of golf balls. It will overflow. Do it in reverse. It will not overflow, or at least not much. The big items will be in there. They are priorities. The smallest will probably fit too, if you add them last. And, if the smallest things don’t all fit, remember that they are indeed small things.

Two. Quite randomly, some topic of conversation arises that reminds me of something I once did that has remained hidden, and I am tempted to lie by omission. Recalling my promises to myself about integrity, honesty, and friendship, I will choose to tell my wife, TL, the story. As I have an internal dialogue, my emotion is fear, fear of what she will say or do. A mind game to avoid is the temptation to tell myself, “No, maybe she won’t find this topic to be relevant.”

What if this first line of defense fails? How will I know? After putting the thought out of my mind for hours, days, or longer, it may come back to me. At that point I must again recall values of honesty, integrity, and friendship, and weigh them against the temptation to listen to an inner voice saying, “It’s too late to mention it,” or “It’s no longer important.”

Three. During a move or other time of many changes, I am tempted to do other tasks before doing my daily recovery work and my monthly counseling session. Recalling that integrity means keeping my commitment and doing my responsibilities, I should choose to do whatever it takes to keep the daily recovery work and monthly counseling sessions at the top of my priority task list. As I do that, I will feel stress, as I struggle to remain the master of my task list, routines, and tidiness instead of falling back into being a slave to those things. As in my first example here, the dangerous mind game is the temptation to say, “I almost ready, almost done with this one last thing.”

I will know I failed at this if a week passes and I miss my self-imposed goal of spending a particular amount of time on daily recovery work each week. I will know if I don’t always have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar. If I miss my goal for daily recovery time, I should make myself do make-up work until I am caught up. If I don’t have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar, I should make it an urgent priority to talk to my counselor and get something on my calendar, or to identify a new counselor if necessary and schedule something.

Four. During a busy time, I am tempted to complain about lack of complete tidiness in the house, thereby making my wife feel I am blaming her. Recalling my value of empathy, I must choose to truly understand why she would not want to hear me say such things, and to keep my mouth shut. I will feel stress, wishing I could plead for help, for permission to indulge my tidiness compulsion. A dangerous mind game might be a temptation to tell myself, “Don’t worry, this is a general comment and she won’t take it personally.”

I’ll know I failed when the hurtful comment rolls off my lips. The next line of defense is to recognize what I’ve said so that I don’t continue and make it worse and so I might be able to repair some of the emotional damage. How? Maybe it would help to start reviewing every conversation in which I am speaking and my wife is the primary or secondary audience. Maybe I should ask myself whether I may have said anything that directly or indirectly reflects on her, our relationship, our lives together, or our agreement about goals and values. Did I say something that could imply dissatisfaction with any of those things? If so, I should stop and think about it, and then talk about it.

Five. Being alone during travel or some other occasion, I am tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, ruminating, or something else to alleviate my restlessness. By the way, I see an important thing I just said. I put ruminating in the same category or self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors as alcohol or tobacco. Sitting around wishing to change the past, feeling sorry for myself, or focusing on retroactive jealousy is as unhealthy as substance abuse. Back to the topic at hand, faced with any of those temptations, I should recall my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, remembering how those temptations are obstacles to those values. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that those indulgences will make me feel better. Invariably, they do not. Tobacco ruins my respiratory health and comfort. Alcohol is empty calories. And, ruminating or fantasizing have enormous costs in time and opportunity.

What if I fail at this? What if I catch myself in the act of buying a cigarette, opening a drink, or sitting and ruminating on some unhealthy thought? Recalling my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, it may help to tell myself it’s not too late to change course. It’s not too late to trash the pack of cigarettes before even opening it, and then tell my wife or someone about it. It’s not too late to pour out the drink without finishing it, and then tell someone. It’s not too late to stand up from sitting and ruminating and do something physical or social (including a call to my wife) to reset my mind.

Constructing Reactive Action Plans

Lesson 58 of Recovery Nation tasks me to: “Define the five rituals that you will most likely face in the next two years. For each, develop an action plan in five minutes or less…that focuses specifically on the immediate action you will take upon the awareness of the ritual; the anticipated emotions you will feel after you engage in that behavior; and the likely mind-games that you will play to get you to abandon your values-based decision making for emotion based decision making.”

One. TL asks me for urgent action or discussion, and I am tempted to ignore her in favor of my routine or task list. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Let me just finish this one thing.” Often that “one thing” turns out to take far more time than anticipated, or can lead to another “one more thing.”

Two. Quite randomly, some topic of conversation arises that reminds me of something I once did that has remained hidden, and I am tempted to lie by omission. Recalling my promises to myself about integrity, honesty, and friendship, I will choose to tell my wife, TL, the story. As I have an internal dialogue, my emotion is fear, fear of what she will say or do. A mind game to avoid is the temptation to tell myself, “No, maybe she won’t find this topic to be relevant.”

Three. During a move or other time of many changes, I am tempted to do other tasks before doing my daily recovery work and my monthly counseling session. Recalling that integrity means keeping my commitment and doing my responsibilities, I should choose to do whatever it takes to keep the daily recovery work and monthly counseling sessions at the top of my priority task list. As I do that, I will feel stress, as I struggle to remain the master of my task list, routines, and tidiness instead of falling back into being a slave to those things. As in my first example here, the dangerous mind game is the temptation to say, “I almost ready, almost done with this one last thing.”

Four. During a busy time, I am tempted to complain about lack of complete tidiness in the house, thereby making my wife feel I am blaming her. Recalling my value of empathy, I must choose to truly understand why she would not want to hear me say such things, and to keep my mouth shut. I will feel stress, wishing I could plead for help, for permission to indulge my tidiness compulsion. A dangerous mind game might be a temptation to tell myself, “Don’t worry, this is a general comment and she won’t take it personally.”

Five. Being alone during travel or some other occasion, I am tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, ruminating, or something else to alleviate my restlessness. By the way, I see an important thing I just said. I put ruminating in the same category or self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors as alcohol or tobacco. Sitting around wishing to change the past, feeling sorry for myself, or focusing on retroactive jealousy is as unhealthy as substance abuse. Back to the topic at hand, faced with any of those temptations, I should recall my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, remembering how those temptations are obstacles to those values. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that those indulgences will make me feel better. Invariably, they do not. Tobacco ruins my respiratory health and comfort. Alcohol is empty calories. And, ruminating or fantasizing have enormous costs in time and opportunity.

Reactive Action Plans

Lesson fifty-seven of Recovery Nation contained one familiar nugget of wisdom: “This stimuli can come in the form of something you see (a picture, a person), a way that you feel (bored, angry, depressed), or in just about any form that is capable of triggering an emotional connection.” As B used to say, in my case the vulnerabilities that dog me are emotional states, not physical temptations. She used the acronym HALT, for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. For me, I think the vulnerable states are bored, anonymous, and restless. I guess the acronym would be BAR.

Lesson 57 says: “Create an action plan for managing your most common compulsive ritual using the following guide:”

Let’s be clear. The following passage refers to the future, not the past. It refers to a hypothetical future situation, not a real event from the past.

“1) Define the situation.” I’m at work — in my office, not out of town in a hotel room — rushing to finish my most urgent tasks for the day so I can fit in a workout when my wife calls and says she needs me to read something she just sent me and discuss it with her. In this hypothetical future scenario, I missed my workout yesterday, and I know tomorrow will be super busy. I’m also low on food and sleep.  

The item she brings to my attention may or may not be complex. I don’t know. But, I am tempted to assume it is complex, and I must resist the temptation to overdramatize the situation.

“2) Evaluate all realistic options.” I could drop everything, and engage with my wife immediately. Or, I could rudely and hurriedly tell her the day is really busy, and insist we talk that evening, at home. Or, I could engage with her in a hurried and unfocused manner. Or, I could talk to her briefly but sincerely, and suggest we talk further later that night.

“3) Evaluate the potential consequences of the option(s) that you choose.” The consequences of dropping everything and engaging with her immediately could include: I miss my workout; I can’t do everything I want to do that day and the next day due to catching-up; I prevent further erosion of trust in our relationship; I prevent or mitigate the need to address the issue later; and I preserve my commitment to empathy, compassion, friendship, and integrity.  

The consequences of rudely and hurriedly telling her I’m busy and insisting we talk later could include: I do workout; I finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue later that day; I invest additional time and energy into repairing the damage I cause to our relationship; I further damage the trust in our relationship; and I damage my values of compassion, empathy, friendship, and integrity.  

The consequences of engaging with her immediately but in a hurried and unfocused manner could include: I possibly workout; I possibly finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue immediately; having engaged half-heartedly, I am not helpful; having engaged half-heartedly, I probably leave reason to address the issue further later that day; I invest additional time and energy into repairing the damage I cause to our relationship; I further damage the trust in our relationship; and I damage my values of compassion, empathy, friendship, and integrity.

The consequences of briefly but sincerely talking to her and suggesting we talk more later could include: I do workout; I finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue later that day; and I possibly strike a balance between my selfish objectives and my values of compassion, empathy, and friendship.

“4) Make a decision as to which value-based option you would choose.” Once you have selected an option, role-play the situation over and over again in your mind — seeing yourself choosing this option every time.

Obviously, the best decision is to drop everything and talk to her immediately, in a wholehearted and focused manner. If we agree to talk further later, that should be a mutual decision.

Practical Decision-Making: Present

Lesson fifty-six of Recovery Nation says: “You will face many decisions in the coming days, weeks and months that can potentially be greatly influenced by your emotions. Choose a potential compulsive sexual event and assess your decision-making in relation to that event. Assess for the following:”

“Will you be aware that a compulsive sexual event is occurring? (at this stage, you should be)”

It seems I can lump these challenges into two overarching categories: the fear-driven temptation to lie for self-protection, and the selfish desire to be inflexible or to hoard my time rather than adjusting to respond to others or giving my time to therapy and behavior modification.

At this point I’m not talking about sex. Will I be aware a compulsive event is occurring, in the case of a lie? I think so. In the past two instances, my smoking lie and my click-bait lie, I was aware. But, perhaps the question is, how fast can I translate that awareness into problem-solving internal discussion and then action? I think the same analysis would describe my awareness, and the challenge, in the case of choosing between selfishness and flexibility.

“How intense do you anticipate the emotions triggered by this event to be?”

How intense will the fear be, in the case of fear-driven lying? Again, I’d put it at about a five on a scale of one to ten. How intense will the selfishness be in the case of wanting to hoard my time and be inflexible? I think it varies. On average, I might give it a six or seven on that same scale.

“At what point in the decision-making process will you look to your values for guidance?”

In the case of lying, the relevant values are honesty and integrity. In the case of hoarding my time, the values are compassion, empathy, and integrity (keeping my commitments). How soon will I turn to them? I must turn to them immediately when I realize I am struggling with a compulsion to lie or to hoard my time.

“Should you make the decision to act on this sexual event, how long do you anticipate the emotions elicited from the event will last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. online chatting will provide me with two hours of stimulation)”

Forget about sex here. What if I decide to lie? It may alleviate my fear temporarily, but not for long. As soon as I realize what I’m doing, my telltale heart should start beating, hopefully requiring minutes instead of hours to cause an internal discussion. I think the same should be true when tempted to hoard my time. The key is to catch myself behaving selfishly before it is too late.

“Anticipate the consequences of your decision to act on the compulsive urge. What consequences might there be if you were caught? If you weren’t?”

If I lie, the consequences will include damage to my sense of honesty and integrity and damage to our relationship. If I were not caught, it would still damage my sense of honesty and integrity. If I hoard my time, the consequences would be damage to my developing skills of compassion, empathy, and integrity, as well as damage to our relationship. If I were not caught, it would still damage my development of compassion, empathy, and integrity.

“If there are consequences, how intense do you anticipate the emotions elicited from those consequences might be? How long might they last? Hours, days, weeks, years?”

How intense would the emotions associated with damaging my values be? Perhaps I would give the intensity a five on a scale of one to ten. How long would they last? I think they would last forever, but the intensity would gradually decrease from five to one, over a period of days or weeks.

Practical Decision-Making: Past

Lesson fifty-five of Recovery Nation says: “Choose a compulsive sexual event and dissect your decision-making in relation to that event. Look for the following:”

“Were you aware that you were experiencing a compulsive sexual event at the time?”

Maybe this exercise would be most relevant if I start with my most recent self-induced problem, and if I don’t confine my discussion to sexual malfeasance. Returning to the handy list I recently made for my latest therapist, I recall that my most recent inappropriate decision was the decision to ignore TL’s urgent e-mail in favor of going to the gym and keeping tight control of my schedule and routine. Was I aware, at the moment I made the bad decision, that it was a dysfunctional decision? No, I don’t think I was.

“How intense were the emotions that were triggered by this event — BEFORE you chose to act on it?”

I don’t recall feeling any emotions before I made the bad decision. Maybe that’s part of the problem: I was operating on auto-pilot, without engaging my brain fully. I was not being mindful.

“At any point did you look to your values in a sincere effort for guidance in your decision-making?”

Similar to my foregoing response, no, I think the problem was that I did not take time to consider my values nor anything else.

“After making the decision to act on this sexual event, how long did the emotions elicited from the event last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. affair lasted two weeks)”

Again, this is not about sex. It did not generate any emotion. I did it rather mindlessly. I suspect I would have felt anxiety if I had not made the bad decision to ignore my wife in favor of my routine.

“In the aftermath, did you make a conscious effort to evaluate the consequences of your decision? If so, what did you conclude? If not, do so now. What were the consequences — even if benign?”

In this example, I was hit by the consequences quite quickly. As soon as I finished my workout and called my wife, I was confronted by the consequences of having damaged our relationship again.

“If there were consequences, how intense were the emotions elicited from those consequences? How long did they last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. guilt continues two years later; was caught by wife, distrust continues two years later, lost friendships continue, etc.)”

The negative consequences were quite intense for several days, then they gradually de-crescendoed in the ensuing weeks.

When you have completed this assessment of a past compulsive event and feel comfortable with your overall awareness of the event…choose another. Then another. Continue to assess past events until the areas that you are assessing become ingrained. These are the same areas that you will want to assess in present-day decision-making.”

“Were you aware that you were experiencing a compulsive sexual event at the time?”

For this next attempt, I’ll try using another recent mistake, one that addresses another recurring theme. That first example addressed the recurring theme of thoughtlessly choosing my routine or pre-set course of action rather than being flexible and sensitive to others’ needs or desires. I have also experienced this as selfishly choosing to control my time rather than following through on commitments such as this self-improvement work or seeing a therapist.  

Now, let me try something on the recurring theme of lying to protect myself from consequences. How about that incident when I lied to hide from TL the fact that I had clicked on that stupid soft-porn Internet ad? Again, this example is really about the lie, not about the asinine ad for “twenty-five women you won’t believe exist.” Was I aware at the time of the lie that the lie was a compulsive behavior? No, I don’t believe I was.

“How intense were the emotions that were triggered by this event — BEFORE you chose to act on it?”

The relevant emotion here was fear. How intense was it? I’d give it a five, on a scale of one to ten.

“At any point did you look to your values in a sincere effort for guidance in your decision-making?”

No, just as in the previous example, I acted before thinking.

“After making the decision to act on this sexual event, how long did the emotions elicited from the event last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. affair lasted two weeks)”

Again, I think it was less of a decision and more of a failure to make a decision, a failure to think. It alleviated my fear, but only slightly and only for a few moments.

“In the aftermath, did you make a conscious effort to evaluate the consequences of your decision? If so, what did you conclude? If not, do so now. What were the consequences — even if benign?”

Yes, the consequences came quite quickly. My lie was nearly immediately discovered. I further damaged our relationship.

“If there were consequences, how intense were the emotions elicited from those consequences? How long did they last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. guilt continues two years later; was caught by wife, distrust continues two years later, lost friendships continue, etc.)”

Again, the negative consequences were quite intense for several days, then they gradually de-crescendoed in the ensuing weeks.

Mistakes I made 

To help my therapist get a better sense of my history, I will try listing all the mistakes I have made in my marriage and grade each on a scale of one to ten in terms of how acceptable they are to me and to my wife. The list is long. I’m sure it will take me several tries and some reminders in order to remember everything.

As for understanding the ratings, let’s say one indicates something so unacceptable that most normal observers, with no additional information nor investment in me nor my wife, would suggest we seriously consider divorce, or something similarly decisive. Ten indicates something so acceptable that most such normal observers would say it’s really not a big deal and that everyone should forget about it. Of course, these ratings are entirely subjective and are simply my own best estimates.  

I will also note the approximate timeframe. Here goes.

1994 I didn’t stay the night with her on the night we eloped because I wanted it to be at my apartment, near my workplace, and I did not consider the importance of her staying with her pet dog during a time of transition. To me: 5; To her: 5

1994-5 I manipulatively pouted and fretted when she planned to get together with a girlfriend I didn’t like. To me: 5; To her: 5

1994 I had a tantrum and threw the checkbook once when I blamed her for misplacing it. To me: 5; To her: 5

1994 I went out with friends, on at least two occasions, harboring a desire to commit adultery. To me: 3; To her: 3

1994 I came home after one of those occasions and angrily called her a whore. She was innocently trying to talk to me, and I was obsessing on anger about my own sexual history. To me: 2; To her: 2

1994 I did not thoughtfully and compassionately consider alternatives to abortion. To me: 5; To her: 4

1994 I publicly kissed a male friend and then a female stranger while heavily intoxicated at a party. To me: 5; To her: 5

1994-2012 I covertly masturbated to porn, using magazines ant the Internet. To me: 6; To her: 6

1995 Full of self-pity and anger, I intentionally failed to acknowledge her on Valentine’s Day. To me: 4; To her: 4

1995 I covertly kissed and tried oral sex with a male friend one drunken night. To me: 2; To her: 2

1995-1998 I engaged in cybersex and behaved adulterously on the internet. To me: 4; To her: 4

1996-98 I met up with four different people I had met on the Internet, with adulterous intentions. Two were male and two female. I attempted intercourse with one of the females and received oral sex from the other. To me: 1; To her: 1

1998 I had a several month-long physical affair with a co-worker. To me: 1; To her: 1

2003-12 I frequented prostitutes. To me: 1; to her: 1

2003 I was doubtful and unsupportive of her wall mural project idea. To me: 7; To her: 7

2005-13 After contracting herpes, I used various lies and ploys to hide the fact, and I failed to take all reasonable steps to protect her. To me: 1; To her: 1

2006-11 For several months, I had a physical affair with the maid. Four or five years later I resumed contact with that maid in the form of a cyber affair. To me: 1; To her: 1

2012 For several weeks, I had a physical affair with a random available woman. To me: 1; To her: 1

2012 When she discovered the most recent adultery, I spent two more months lying to hide the rest of my hidden crimes. To me: 1; To her: 1

2014 I lied about covertly smoking. To me: 5; To her: 4

2014 I lazily failed to find a new counselor after a move and to get a vasectomy until reminded. To me: 7; To her: 6

2016 I made a thoughtless public remark that implied dissatisfaction with her housekeeping. To me: 7; To her: 6

2016 I thoughtlessly allowed our son to invite a friend to spend the night after having consciously and wholeheartedly agreed that we would not invite anyone to our house that day. To me: 8; To her: 7

2016 I lied about having clicked on a stupid pop-up ad for soft porn material. To me: 5; To her: 4

2016 I lazily failed to find a new counselor and keep up on my mental health homework for several weeks after a move. To me: 7; To her: 6

2017 I intentionally ignored her urgent e-mail in order to go to the gym and control my time. To me: 6; To her: 6

Decision-Making: Assessing the Consequences

Lesson fifty-four of Recovery Nation has a few good lines. Here’s a good way of describing people who thoughtlessly make bad decisions, as I did before D-day.

“Rather than associating their identity with the decisions they have made throughout their life, they instead have learned to protect that identity by rationalizing, justifying and masking. These are not usually intentional responses, but have evolved over years and even decades. For many, such protection initially developed in response to overwhelming situations in childhood that they had little or no control over: abuse, parental domination, hyper-religious morality, abandonment. And so, they learned to adapt to such an environment by sheltering their true identity from the world…adapting a ‘dual-identity’ existence: the inner self — which is where the most intense feelings exist and where boundaries and values are all but non-existent; and their social self — where the majority of intellectual values and boundaries reside.”

I especially appreciate that this passage doesn’t just blame it all on abuse during childhood. In my case, the terms “parental domination” and “hyper-religious morality” seem more relevant.

Jon Marsh explains how a mentally unhealthy person can be quite hypocritical, with behavior that contradicts values they genuinely hold. The following quote is something I could have easily written about myself.

” . . . I remained capable of experiencing values, it’s just that they were never internalized. The values that I experienced were attached solely to my social self — the person that others saw. In my mind, I could have rightfully engaged in affairs to nourish my immediate emotional needs, yet still maintain the values that I presented to others by keeping the affairs secret. This meant that if I could engage in such a relationship and get away with it — and in my mind, I always believed that I could get away with it — I would do exactly that.”

The lesson goes on to discuss how to stop making bad decisions.

” . . . [T]he way of effectively eliminating such patterns is to change the emotional associations that are attached to that particular behavior. And this is done not by forced abstinence or will-power, but by recognizing and learning from the positive consequences associated with not engaging in the behavior.”

Let me paraphrase a particular passage I just read, to be sure I retain it. When you make a bad decision, based on emotions rather than values, the emotional or physical stimuli you receive from your bad behavior reinforces that behavior, making it more likely you will make a similar bad choice in the future. It is behavioral conditioning. If, on the other hand, you make a good decision, based on values, you can reward yourself for it by listing all the positive consequences of the good decision. That reward will reinforce the good behavior, making it easier for you to make a similar good decision in the future.

Lesson 54 Exercise:

“A. Select a VALUE-BASED decision that you have made in the past year. What were some NEGATIVE consequences that resulted from that decision? Example: Last month, I had the opportunity to take credit for the work of someone else. Because I value the importance of working hard to achieve personal success, I decided not to take such credit. The negative consequences that resulted were that I was not able to experience the accompanying praise from my boss; that I was not given credit that would have enhanced the probability of a promotion; that another coworker was seen as being more talented than me.”

This is kind of a disturbing exercise. How about my May 2014 values-based decision to stop obsessing over my sexual past, after struggling for quite some time with self-pity stoked by an article I accidentally saw in a magazine? Were there any negative consequences of that otherwise positive decision? I truly can not think of any negative consequences. The wrong decision, to wallow in self-pity longer, would have only brought me more pain. It would have been, as was the case so many times before in my life, an irrational decision, like a moth flying into a flame. Unlike the moth’s instinctive attraction to the light, I think my instinct was self-doubt. I doubted it was okay to accept my own sexual history as “normal” or “adequate.”

In any case, I can think of no negative consequences of choosing to stop obsessing on my sexual history. On the other hand, the positive consequences of that values-based decision included saving time, saving energy, and bringing peace to my mind.

“B. Select an EMOTION-BASED decision that you have made in the past year. What were some POSITIVE consequences that resulted from that decision? Example: While surfing the Internet, I was redirected to a site that offered a free week of unlimited online dating services. Though I knew that I had no business being at such a site, I clicked on the link and signed up for the free trial because it sounded like harmless fun. Lying about my marital status, I began searching for people to interact with…and engaged in several online affairs. The positive consequences that resulted were that I felt free and playful. My mind was filled with all sorts of fantasies and the online interactions were intellectually stimulating.”

This exercise is more difficult, and even more disturbing, than the last one. I suppose it was an emotion-based decision when I recently chose to ignore my wife, TL’s, urgent e-mail in favor of going to the gym. The positive consequence was that I completed my workout for the day. Of course, the many negative consequences included further damaging any trust my wife might have in me, traumatizing her with wondering what I was doing, and ruining my efforts to build our friendship and marriage.

Jon Marsh said:

“The point to this exercise is to reinforce the reality that most all actions have both positive and negative consequences attached to them. When you evaluate the consequences of a particular decision, it is vital that you take into account all of the consequences — not just those that reinforce what you want to believe. In other words, do not fool yourself into thinking that all value-based action is healthy; and all emotion-based action is destructive. To do so is to destabilize the reality of the life that you are building and ultimately such thinking will lead you to disillusionment and regret.”

Decision-Making: Making the Decision

Lesson 53 of Recovery Nation says: “When it comes time to actually make the decision as to what action you are going to take next, it is not always easy to separate the healthy options from the destructive ones. The ones based on values versus the ones based on emotions. Often, these two areas overlap. This is where experience, time and a commitment to make what you believe to be the best choice at that time comes in.”

It suggests the following exercises:

A. Describe a situation where you would consider masturbation to be against your values — and therefore, a destructive act. Describe a situation where you would consider masturbating to be within your values — and therefore, a healthy act. 

For me, masturbation is always against my values. I made a commitment to myself to stop doing it, and I have kept that commitment successfully for nearly five years now. The relevant value is integrity: keeping my promise to myself.

B. In your recovery thread, list other common value conflicts involving sexual and/or romantic behavior that you have found yourself engaged in? Or that you may find yourself engaged in, given your history. Hint: think romantic relationships, fantasizing, etc.

To keep this discussion relevant, let me refer back to my list of bad decisions I have made in recent years. And, let me not limit my thinking to “sexual and/or romantic behavior.” I’m not going to rehash every recent bad decision, as I did in a recent post. I’m going to mention two here, the two that are most representative of current decisions that I may face now and in the future. First, what are the value conflicts involved in ignoring an urgent e-mail from my wife, TL? Responding right away supports my values of friendship, compassion, empathy, and flexibility. Ignoring it would support selfishness and control, over my time, in this case. Second, what values conflict when I lie about covertly smoking? Being honest and transparent supports my values of honesty and integrity. Hiding the truth would only support fear, cowardice, and duplicity.

Decision-Making: Isolating the Emotions

Lesson 52 of Recovery Nation says consider a situation in life where this ‘isolation’ of feelings/emotions has been known to occur and/or might prove beneficial. How about the example of having to separate your feelings of distaste for a particular person from your need to work with that person? Or, how about the challenge of feeling bored or shy at a party but making yourself talk to people anyway?

Decision-Making: Identifying the Options

Lesson fifty-one of Recovery Nation says, among other things, “By mastering the skill of decision-making, you will have developed the ability to look upon each urge that you experience as a trigger for growth. . . . From the moment you have mastered decision-making, the remainder of your experiences with compulsive behavior will be limited to the times when you will get lazy, complacent or when you lose track of your values and goals.” Whether you blame my problems on compulsions, urges, bad decisions, or all of the above, this line caught my attention. I think it caught my eye because I consider laziness, complacency, and losing track of my values as the biggest risks to my overall wellbeing.

Lesson fifty-one’s exercises are:

A. Consider one of your specific compulsive rituals. Identify the point in that ritual/chain when you should begin considering the options that you have available. What are these options? (consider reasonable options only) 

How about the urge to hide the truth? I think the sequence of events is the following. First, I fear angry or uncomfortable questions or lectures about my behavior, regardless of whether that fear is warranted or rational and whether my actions were truly wrong or just subject to discussion. Second, I feel an urge to hide the truth, an instinct of self-protection. Here I suspect that by the time I feel the self-protective instinct it may be too late to consider options. It seems better to start considering options as soon as I feel the initial fear. What are those options. One, I could hide, by lying. Two, I could summon up courage and use it to be honest and transparent. Those may be the only two real options in this scenario.

B. Of the options listed above, which would be automatically filtered out because of your boundaries? What would you do in the case of a value conflict? (i.e. when the same option would create both positive and negative influences on your value system) 

Hiding, by lying, should be filtered out by applying values of honesty and integrity. There should be no value conflict in this scenario. The conflict is simply between the values of courage, integrity, and honesty, on one hand, and the emotion of fear, on the other hand.

C. Of the remaining options, what would be the anticipated consequences of the following:
i. You make the decision to act on this option 

The consequences of acting courageously and honestly in this scenario might be building a track record and habit of honesty and transparency, as well as standing up to scrutiny.

ii. You make the decision NOT to act on this option 

The consequences of choosing not to act on honesty and integrity might include further undermining the trust I am trying to rebuild in our marriage.

iii. You make the decision to act on this option, and that decision becomes known by others 

What happens if I choose to act with honesty and integrity? I think that should help improve my relationship.

iv. You make the decision to act on this option, and that decision remains secret

What happens if I choose to act with honesty and integrity and it remains secret? While it may not help my relationship, it will provide me valuable practice, aimed at behavior modification.