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.

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