All posts by MindlessCraft

Recidivism due to stress?

I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.

At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.

Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.

Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.

Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.

Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.

The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.

The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.

In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.

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Growing up, in darkness

Mom seemed absolutely traumatized, even morally outraged, at the idea that I might become an adolescent, and then an adult. So, I tried to protect her from that truth. I hid that fact from the light. Peter Pan, many classic Disney tales, and the entire Santa Claus industry do make most middle class developed world families hold back a tear when children start to grow beyond the emotional boundaries of the hundred acre woods.

But, most families hold back that tear, and let – or even encourage – their children to grow up. And, often the tear is more joyful than sorrowful. I got the impression it was different with my mother. She seemed truly distressed – sometimes scornful and angry —when I showed interest in things, people, activities, interests, and concepts that lived outside the nursery room. Having children was somehow important to her. Having those children grow up represented a loss to her.

So, I endeavored to lead a double-life: pretending to remain an eternal child when near my mother, and secretly struggling to appear mature when with peers. I became interested in girls, secretly. My body developed and my interests diversified, secretly. I learned to hide my relationships. I associated with friends and with girls, covertly. I tried alcohol and tobacco, covertly. I viewed porn, covertly.

I can’t help but wonder whether the double-life of adultery, porn, and lies that nearly destroyed us actually began in elementary school or even earlier.

As a parent, I don’t want my sons to be afraid or ashamed to talk to us about growing up: about girls, beer, smoking, drugs, safe sex, porn, desires, fears, and indecision. I don’t want them to be ashamed or afraid to disagree with us. I don’t want to push them to be a particular thing nor discourage them from being some other thing. I want them to be themselves in front of me, just as they are in front of peers, teachers, girls, grandparents, bosses, friends, enemies, and total strangers.

Unforgivable

What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime? 

What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?

I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.

I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.

My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.

The villain in disguise

Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.

I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.

There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.

I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.

Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.

I became my mother

I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother. 

Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.

I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.

The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.

Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.

What I did and how I view it

I had an image of TL in my mind long before I even met her. I started to form the image even before I knew she existed. The image was a virgin woman who was very impressed by me and by sex with me. She never disagreed with me. She never surprised me by having a unique or unexpected preference, behavior, or past experience. She was exciting and strong, but never nearly as exciting and strong as me. She was great. But, I was greater.

Then I met TL and eventually married her. There was mounting evidence that she was not a virgin, and that she had unique and unexpected opinions, past experiences, skills, aptitudes, relationships, and preferences. I began to suspect she was an independent adult human being. I began to fear she was as great as or greater than me.

That threatened me. It made me feel anger, jealousy, and resentment. I was infatuated with “the image.” I was cruel and neglectful toward TL, the real woman.

I pursued years of adultery, porn, and masturbation to feel greater than I was. It didn’t work. I hoped it would give me control over sex and how women view me. It did not.

Now, since D-day, I have learned about love and friendship. I’m trying to give TL love and friendship.

But, the damage has already been done. I’ve already driven away all her old friends by pouting and moaning when she might see them, with me feeling intimidated that they encouraged TL, the non-virgin woman with her own thoughts and opinions, to be herself instead of being “the image.” I’ve already made TL afraid to be herself and even made her forget who herself is. I’ve already missed a million opportunities to support her and encourage her for her own strengths, for being herself.

I love TL, not “the image” nor anyone else. But, my years of obsession with the childish image were sick and hurtful.

Does anyone else out there understand this? I was not a sex addict. I was obsessed with a sick fantasy, at the expense of a real woman. I wasn’t tempted by other women. I was seduced by jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and anger at TL for not being “the image.” I didn’t just make bad choices. I was motivated by bad thinking and bad feelings.

TL deserved much better.

Things I did to make affair partners think I chose them over my wife

TL often asks what I did or said to make each affair partner think I would choose them over my wife. I don’t exactly know the answer to this question, nor do I feel confident that I understand why she asks. Nonetheless, if trying to answer this question could possibly be helpful to my betrayed spouse, here’s my attempt. 

One. The first affair partner (AP1) once during the affair asked whether I was still having sex with TL. I said something like, “Well, sometimes I still have to do command performances.” That comment was aimed at making AP1 think I preferred her to TL. That was, in fact, not true. I very much wanted and preferred sex with TL, and did not want to admit that to AP1 for fear that AP1 would then realize I was just using her for illicit sex and flattery. But, it makes sense that the whole incident would be hurtful to TL in any case, and that TL would have no reason to believe that I did not really prefer AP1

Two. During one illicit rendezvous with AP1, I said something like, “Oh, I’m so happy.” I was happy. But, not because of AP1. I was happy because I was selfishly indulging myself. I was happy to be stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The cookies themselves were rather tasteless. Still, AP1 probably interpreted my comment as saying I preferred her.

Three. I cannot think of any specific thing I said or did with the second affair partner (AP2) to make her think I preferred her. However, I frequently rather brazenly approached her for sex and told her I wanted her. This probably made AP2 think I preferred her to TL.

Four. I do not think there was any specific thing I said or did with the third and final affair partner (AP3) to make her think I would choose her over TL. However, I gave AP3 significant quantities of time and attention, no doubt making her think I preferred her to TL.

That’s what I know on this topic. I also know that I did choose TL and have always preferred TL to anyone else. One of the many reasons that was not properly evident was that I buried my love and desire for TL under a rotting pile of jealousy, self-pity, anger, and selfishness. My work now is aimed at hauling away that mountain of filth of my creation and trying to salvage the love that was suffocating under it.

10 Days to Self-Esteem

I’m now working with a book called 10 Days to Self-Esteem. The first chapter said to identify my goals with regard to self-esteem. 

Goals for self-esteem:

Stop wishing the past had been different.

Stop being disappointed in myself.

Stop being disappointed in my life.

The chapter concluded by asking me to evaluate what it had just told me, to summarize what I learned, and to say if there were things I liked or did not like about what I read.

Evaluation of step one:

I learned that right now I have minimal depression and borderline anxiety. I am somewhat dissatisfied with my marriage in terms of how we relate to each other. It will require consistent work to become mentally healthy.

What I didn’t like about step one was that it did not explain how depression, anxiety, and relationship quality are necessarily the beginning of a discussion about self-esteem. Is it not possible that one has low self-esteem despite not being terribly depressed or anxious and having a decent relationship? I was disappointed that step one did not include any ideas that were really new to me. I was disappointed that step one was a bit elementary.

I liked the suggestion that self-help could be more effective than just continuously talking to a psychoanalyst. I liked the idea that success is determined in large part by how much effort you put into it, and your sincere commitment. I think there was some practical value to finally articulating my goals with regard to self-esteem. Just aiming to have more self-esteem is a bit imprecise and hard to measure.

I won’t blog about everything I read and do in 10 Days to Self-Esteem because most of the thoughts I would share are not new to readers of this blog. But, here are a couple thoughts from it that I do really want to share.

Epictetus said, “Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” This is just like Buddhism. If wanting something is making you suffer, stop wanting that thing.

Life is not fair, and it’s counterproductive to wish it was fair. That’s not from the book. It’s my own thought that the book helped me find. Of all such thoughts, this one is particularly meaningful to me. I wasted much of my life mourning the loss of some childhood fantasy. I really wish to stop wasting my life.

Chapter four says do a cost-benefit analysis of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Among other things, it suggests a technique for untwisting thinking called “the acceptance paradox,” which is really a Buddhist principle.

Teachings of Buddha

After converting to Judaism three years ago, I’m finally using my mental health time on the sabbath to just read the Hebrew Bible. I’m still in Genesis. I’ll have more to say on this topic, I hope, when I get beyond the portion of that tome that is the mythical ethnic history of a particular tribe. Meanwhile, during recent travel, I found a copy of The Teachings of Buddha in a hotel room. I read it front to cover. It is a quick read. It too has portions that are the mythical ethnic history of some tribes. It also has other portions that are clearly-written advice on mental health. Some of the advice struck me as applicable to my own struggles with mental health. 

Satisfying desire is like quenching thirst with salt water, the text said. In the bad old days, I desired flattery and erotic ego-stroking. Every time I thought I was obtaining those things, from an affair partner for example, I found them not credible, insufficient, and unsatisfying. I also desired sexual stimulus, to the point where I would regularly see prostitutes or masturbate to porn to obtain it. No quantity of those things was ever enough. I always walked away wanting more. They didn’t give me what I really wanted from them: the confidence and comfort of seeing myself as a desirable adult man. I have now quit drinking the seawater. It has been five years since I last used adultery, prostitutes, or porn. The less I use them, the less I want them. It is a self-generating virtuous cycle.

If the mind is filled with wise and pure and unselfish thoughts, there will be no place for worldly passions to take root, the text continued. Here’s my interpretation. Every bad apple in your fruit bowl leaves you with that much less room for fresh, healthy fruit. Conversely, every good piece of fruit leaves that much less room for bad apples. I’ve spent the last five years filling my bowl with good, fresh fruit, in the form of healthy goals, giving friendship, and showing compassion. There is almost no space left in my mind for self-pity or desire for ego-stroking.

The book continued. One kind of person is like letters carved in rock. They hold grudges. Another is like letters carved in sand. They anger, but it passes. Another is like letters carved in running water. The anger does not have an impact. They keep moving forward. This thought reminded me that I used to get very angry, and often held that anger for years. The anger usually wasted my time and energy while achieving nothing. I was angry at my wife for not being a virgin when we married. I was angry at drivers who cut me off. I was angry at women who did not make me see myself as a desirable adult man. I was angry at colleagues and bureaucrats who did not immediately see my point of view or wish to make my life easier. What did all this anger get me? Nothing. Who did this anger affect? Me. I have been working to not take things personally, and to not expend energy on anger.

Eliminate thoughts that stimulate greed, anger, and foolishness, and encourage thoughts that stimulate charity and kindness, the book said. Here’s my interpretation. So, it is not unhealthy to avoid bad thoughts as long as one also encourages good thoughts. Bad thoughts may erupt if suppressed and not replaced. But, if bad thoughts are eliminated and replaced with good thoughts, there will be no place for the bad thoughts.

The work should be directed toward the future, not the past. I had to study the past to identify the sources of my bad decisions. I know those sources. They are not a mystery. They are my cultural internal conflict, jealousy, self-pity, and thinking my wife owed me something. These ways of thinking can not recur by surprise. I know the signs. I am not suppressing them, only to have them erupt unexpectedly. I am not just avoiding unhealthy thoughts, as I should. I am also replacing them with healthy thoughts. This practice of unearthing old thoughts of jealousy and insecurity can and must cease now.

The book went on. True offering is not followed by regret or self-praise. Poor men can offer labor, life, compassion, kind glances, smiles, kind words, a seat, and shelter. This thought just struck me as a useful guide for future acts of kindness.

Here is more from Buddha. If a person has a repentant spirit, his sins will disappear. If he is unrepentant, his sins will continue and condemn him forever. I’m no expert on Christian teachings, but that thought sounds familiar. I guess it’s meant as encouragement to sinners, to tell them it is never too late to start trying to be a better person.

To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret for the past are like reeds that are cut and whither away, the book said. Dead reeds. That’s what I spent too much of my life creating. As Jon Marsh said in Recovery Nation, I hurt myself by not living to my potential. I’v thrown away too much of my life. To me, that’s good motivation to not throw away more of it, especially now that the years behind me no doubt outweigh those ahead of me and the most productive period of my life is winding to a close. Buddha continued on this theme. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present. Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

I made her feel like I settled for her

I understand why TL feels like a consolation prize, an afterthought, or a plan B. Perhaps she fears I loved my first affair partner (AP1), would have divorced TL for AP1 if I’d had the balls to do so or if AP1 had been a virgin, and only stayed with TL because we moved to a new city and AP1 finally realized I was just using her. Perhaps TL fears I long for the love of AP1, but just settled for TL to avoid being alone and divorced. 

Perhaps TL fears I loved my second affair partner (AP2), only stayed with TL because we again moved to a different city, and that I spend time inside my head reminiscing about sex with AP2.

Perhaps TL fears I loved my third affair partner (AP3), only returned to TL because AP3 moved to a different city, and that I would have gone on to pursue AP3 permanently had TL kicked me out of the house when she discovered that affair.

None of those fears are true. I never loved anyone but TL.

But, if the roles were reversed, I’m sure I would have those same fears, despite the unfaithful spouse’s attempts to reassure me. I get it. It reminds me a little of my fears that TL had better sex with more desirable men before she started seeing me and that she just settled for me for practical reasons. I don’t mean to suggest that my fears were equivalent to hers nor that mine were healthy. They were not. I just mean to say that I’m trying to empathize with TL regarding her fears.

What can I do to help TL? Really, I could use some advice.

I want her to know that those APs were meaningless and remain meaningless to me. I want her to know that I never loved anyone but her, despite the fact that I told APs I loved them.

I want everyone to know that if TL and I were on a sinking ship with those three APs and a two-person life raft, I’d put TL in the life raft with me immediately and leave the others to perish.

After 18 years of being disloyal, and only five years of trying to be a good husband and friend, how can I prove to TL that she is and always will be my first, best, and only love?

Self-pity

We know self-pity was one of my root problems, giving me excuses for my selfish and hurtful behavior. I read quite a bit on overcoming self-pity, and found some common themes: identify and accept sources of your pain; accomplish something, even something small; list good things and be grateful; give selflessly; refuse to waste time and energy on misery; and focus on duties, goals, plans. The basic source of my pain was my jealousy. I remember being jealous of a cousin who was better at video games than I was when we were nine-years old. I was jealous of other children, then jealous of girlfriends and peers, and finally jealous of my wife. Similar to self-pity, the common prescriptions for jealousy include gratitude, mindfulness, and becoming less self-centered. 

Self-pity is the opposite of self-esteem. Internal low self esteem can cause attention seeking through self pity, I read. In self-pity you have an inner childish desire to be dependent. In my case, could this have come from being taught by my parents that independence is not good, kind, and expected? Could it come from not being encouraged to be independent? Self pity is alluring because it rejects responsibility and blames others. Self pity is abandoning responsibility instead of taking loving action to help yourself; it is trying to manipulate others into giving you the compassion you ought to give yourself.

Another prescription says ask myself, “What makes me unhappy?” Then, it says, change it. If not possible, change my attitude toward it. That basically comes from Buddhism; life is suffering, and if you’re suffering from wanting something then stop wanting it. So, if I want to change reality, I can either suffer from wanting that impossibility, or simply stop wanting it.

How to stop being jealous of her premarital experiences?

This is a difficult topic to discuss. Women, as well as modern men with even half a brain, may say it is ridiculous or misogynist for me to have been jealous of my wife for having one-night stands before marriage.. They’re right. It is ridiculous and misogynist, especially considering that she is relatively liberal and progressive and that I would also like to be liberal and progressive. The following fact may make your jaws drop further. Prior to our marriage, I had more sexual experience than she had, with a roughly similar number of previous partners. So, how could I be jealous? I had no right to be jealous. Of course, I had no right to be jealous.

Nonetheless, I was jealous. I was jealous that she had several successful one-night stands with people she had met only a few hours before intercourse while I, on the other hand, had never had even one one-night stand with a complete stranger. Yes, it’s still ridiculous and misogynist for me to have such jealousy. But, I was jealous. And, it drove me insane – or, more insane.

This is the basic jealousy that I used to motivate and justify my attitude within our marriage that my wife owed me sex, my insatiable demand for sex and ego-stroking, and my adultery. With my goal of preventing future adultery and selfishness on my part, I should be certain to prevent a recurrence of this ridiculous and misogynist jealousy. How?

First, I can reason that whether I become more sexually desirable than her previous partners or not, it will not affect our relationship, her view of me, or my view of myself, and it will be impossible to verify it. Can I get a bigger penis than her previous partners? No. Can I get a better body than her previous partners? I can improve my body, gradually and within my genetically predetermined limits. Otherwise, no, I can’t. Can I give her more physical pleasure than her previous partners? I can pay more attention to the things she prefers. I should do that anyway. Will it work? Who knows? There is no way for me to know. I’m not her. And, what does all this matter? If I become more sexually desirable to her, will she want me more or love me more? Who knows? Will she compliment me more than she already does?  If she did, would I believe it? No. If I become better or more desirable, would I like myself more? How would I know? Probably not. If I fail to become more desirable than her previous partners, will she leave me? No.

She’s probably had bigger penises, more muscular dudes, and guys that made her orgasm more. I can’t change that. Wanting to change that just hurts me. It does not help me, in any way. She was able to score one-night stands. I was, and am, too impatient and self-conscious to try. I can’t change that in the past, and it’s not really worth it to me to try changing it in the future, even in some hypothetical future in which I become single again. One reason I never had one-night stands is that they were not worth the effort for me. Women can have them with relatively low investment in time and bruised egos. For a skinny, short, average guy like me, the investment in time and bruised egos is just too high. I need to stop blaming her, me, and God for that fact. It’s just a fact. I must stop, definitively, wanting to change that fact that cannot be changed. Wanting to change it caused me suffering. To prevent future suffering, I must not allow myself to want to change that fact.

Second, I can stop blaming her for things that are not her fault. It’s not her fault she had opportunities and took them while I was too impatient and insecure to invest the time and take the chances. It’s not her fault God made me the way I am and made her the way she is.

Third, I can try to keep it in my thick skull that marriage is primarily about friendship, and not primarily about sex, possessing my spouse, nor about meeting my needs for ego-stroking. One example of behaving as a friend is to be happy for her that she had some good experiences rather than being jealous of her.

So, again, it’s clearly self-defeating and even cruel of me to be jealous of her. What do you think of my strategy for excising the jealousy? Am I missing anything? Will it work? Or, is managing my negative conditioning the only realistic approach to it?

How to extinguish negative conditioning?

My most basic problem is that whenever I think of sex, intoxication, tobacco, or marijuana, I have an immediate, instinctive, almost subconscious negative feeling. Since before I could walk or talk, my parents and community taught me, perhaps without even much conscious effort, that those things were repulsive and should be avoided. Now, like Pavlov’s dog trying to learn a new trick, years after the formative experiment, I struggle to eliminate those subconscious impulses, those subconscious negative views of otherwise normal, modern human activities.   

As I grew through childhood and adolescence, I learned from television, literature, music, films, peers, and other sources that most modern adults, at least most in the cultural milieu where I wanted to live, view sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana more objectively. They apparently see those things more matter-of-factly, without judgment, the same way I had viewed common activities such as eating caloric foods, luxuriating in a steam bath, or appreciating a work of art. By the way, I can understand now how some people can learn to be judgmental about other activities that I consider mundane, things such as coffee or certain types of art. Back to my point, I grew up to have an internal conflict, with one part of my mind having learned to be judgmental about sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana, and another part of my mind simultaneously drawn to those forbidden fruits.

Problem one was that I went on to abuse each of those four things in a self-destructive manner. While an inner voice told me sex was bad, another component of my own mind rebelled against those thoughts and indulged in adultery, porn, and masturbation. Similarly, I sought out intoxication and fell to unspoken peer pressure to use marijuana during my twenties. Similarly, I used tobacco at several points in my life. I’m confidently and comfortably beyond all those problems now. Marijuana is, as it once had been, simply uninteresting to me. I might have a cigar again one day, maybe; but the thought of it is not very appealing now. I drink alcohol in moderation. And, I am faithful and moderate regarding sex now.

Problem two was that, despite my hypocritical behavior, I struggled to stop myself from judging other people unfairly when they engaged in those things. I used to be terribly critical of other people for engaging in smoking, getting drunk, or having premarital sex, despite my own awful history with those things. Even now, when I encounter talk of or hints of smoking, intoxication, or premarital sex, I am forced to have a quick internal dialogue in my head. “They’re doing something immoral and shameful,” says a voice in my head. “No, dammit, stop thinking that,” says another voice, recalling the words of our first marriage counselor who said those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” “That’s unhealthy, self-destructive thinking,” I now tell myself. It works well enough. However, it’s still necessary, even after all the evidence that my moral judgments are harmful. And, the temptation to judge not only pings in my head when I am faced with real examples of smoking, intoxication, and premarital sex. It also pings when I encounter references in film, music, literature, and pop culture.

My personal mental and marital health objective is to eliminate my conditioned negative views of those four things. I don’t really know how. Is it possible to extinguish those impulses to judge other people? Or, is managing them the most realistic goal? I don’t feel they will drive me to again commit adultery or deceit. But, the impulses to view those four things critically are irritating.

The “Lynn” Incident

I’ve tried to trace the roots, or at least the history, of my retroactive jealousy. Clearly, I experienced it in my relationship with TL. I clearly recall experiencing it with my long-time girlfriend prior to TL. What about before that? Perhaps the first, albeit brief, time was an incident during my senior or junior year of high school. I’ll try to recount the story here. Tell me what you think. 

Here’s the story, from my writer’s sketchbook of ideas. This is a true story. The names are changed.

Mindless focused on his work, carefully counting items on the grocery store shelves, rearranging cans that were out of place, and noting items that were running low in stock.

“Mindless,” a woman’s voice called sweetly from behind him. By the time he raised his eyes, she was standing before him.

“Mindless,” she said, looking at him temptingly. She actually looked more attractive than when he had last seen her. Something was different. She was older. Yes. But, there was something more.

“Lynn,” he said, not even trying to conceal his surprise. He stood to greet her. Suddenly, she was right up next to him, gently touching his upper arm and looking flirtatiously into his eyes. Her perfume smelled of musk and spice.

“How have you been?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said, wondering why she asked. “You?”

“I’m wonderful,” Lynn cooed.

“Why her? Why now?” Mindless asked himself. “I left her long ago because she was not ready. She was not willing to give herself to me.”

“We should get together,” she said, as though that year, when they were both sophomores, was only yesterday.

“Maybe.” Mindless was suddenly suspicious. He didn’t know why.

“I have a secret to tell you.”

He took the bait. “What secret?”

“I’m different now,” she said. “Remember that thing I wouldn’t do?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I did it,” she said, as though he should be happy.

“What in the hell is she talking about?” he asked himself. “Is she saying she gave herself to someone else?” He stood there, a bit dumbfounded.

“Do you want to know who it was?” she whispered, seemingly excited to share the news.

“Okay,” Mindless lied.

“It’s one of your friends,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Guess.”

Mindless paused, “I really have no idea.”

“Think about it,” she teased him. “He’s the brother of one of my good friends.”

Mindless thought, “That actually shows how little I know this girl. Who are her friends? I really don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” he said out loud.

“Jay Johnston,” she announced, as if he should have guessed by now.

“Huh?”Mindless asked himself. “How should I have guessed that? Who the hell is Jay Johnston? Sure, we went to school together. We know the same people. Beyond that, he is nothing to me. And, why would she tell me that? Why should I want to know that?”

“Oh,” he said aloud. “I see.”

“So,” Lynn said, seductively, “why don’t you meet me tonight when you finish here?”

“Maybe.” He knew as he said it that he would not meet her. She could go to hell.

“What a stupid girl?,” he thought. “Why would she think I would want her after another man had her? Why did she give herself to him before giving herself to me? I don’t need her. She’s not worth it.”

So, that’s the “Lynn” incident. I’ve never really understood it. Why did she think I would want sex with her after she had denied it to me, given it to someone else, and then forced me to confront the fact? Why didn’t I just cast off my pride and enjoy the chance for sex? In any case, that may be the first time in my life that I experienced that retroactive jealousy. Is it normal? Did I never recover from it? Am I missing something else here?

Chasing Amy Syndrome

Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”

“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”

There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.

I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.

Done with Recovery Nation

I finished it. I’m not sure what I think about that. I guess the main point was that I should keep a close eye on my values and be sure my behavior lines up with them. 
The good thing about being done with Recovery Nation is that I can now use my daily “mental health study time” (I need a better name for it) to read some more specific things about self-esteem, retroactive jealousy, and problems with my birth family.

STDs and Testing

I figured the Recovery Nation chapter on STDs would be redundant. TL and I are already painfully aware that I gave her herpes after contracting it from a prostitute. But, the following passage is a haunting reminder of what I have done. 

“One of the most devastating consequences of having engaged in sexually compulsive behavior is the potential that you may have compromised your physical health and/or the health of your partner. What complicates this is the reality that most who engage in such behavior also tend to engage in ‘magical thinking’ in terms of contracting such diseases. That being, ‘they likely won’t; don’t have an STD and so, there is no need to admit the possibility that they may’. ”

This “magical thinking” is real. That’s exactly what I did. That concept itself probably suggests further research I can do. How did I let myself engage in magical thinking? I don’t really understand it. I must have subconsciously calculated that my insecurity and obsessions were more important to me than health. It’s very sad.

Five positive statements

Recovery Nation offers a couple prescriptions for handling self-talk. 
“1) Every negative self-thought must be challenged. Every time.”

“2) Create a list of five important affirmations (positive statements) about you, your life and/or your long-term goals. And every morning for the next forty-four days, read this list to yourself before you leave the house.”

Five statements? Hmm. First, I have two sons whom I want to raise to be successful, or at least happy. Second, I have a beautiful wife who is a great friend and supporter. Third, I’m pretty good at writing and speaking. Fourth, my dog loves me. Fifth, I enjoy skiing and diving.

Wow. That was surprisingly difficult. I know it should not have been. But, it was. Could I have done that 14 years ago, before my oldest son was born? How about before I was married? As an adolescent? Perhaps not. And, had I tried to do it back then, would I have become depressed, or would I have considered doing a better job of setting goals and striving for them? 

This, self-esteem, I believe, is where I really ought to focus my attention, for the sake of understanding the root cause of my infidelity and preventing recidivism.

Exploring sexual intimacy 

Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on sexual intimacy was a bit confusing. It began with the following. 

“Intimacy is a limited value. By this, we are referring to the limited, finite scale of which the positive stimulation produced by the value exists. There are other limited values: honesty, for one; order, another. In each, there exists a maximum amount of positive energy that can be generated, and once that maximum has been achieved, there is only way for the stimulation to go…negatively. When a limited value is at its threshold (that threshold being, you are completely satisfied with the role this value is playing in your life), you have achieved the maximum emotional benefit that this value provides, and the focus then turns to maintaining it. Unlike compulsive behaviors, there is no habituation that takes place with values. Self-esteem, honesty, intimacy…such values do not require more and more to achieve the same emotional results. They simply need to be maintained. Which is a major reason why, once the compulsive behaviors have ended, and the underlying roles those behaviors were fulfilling have been replaced, the potential for relapse not only diminishes, but disappears altogether.”

I’m struggling to see the practical application of that passage. I think Jon Marsh, with his unfortunately piss-poor grasp of the English language and the skill of writing, is trying to say.that one can rid oneself of compulsive behaviors by replacing those behaviors with healthy values. That fits with the following passage later in the chapter.

“That means, the next time you are about to pick up another addiction recovery book to read, or the next time you are about to make yet another post on your online recovery support board, read a book on one of your values. Learn how to be honest. Develop the skills that it takes to have self-respect. Or, go to a discussion board that focuses on something that you are interested in, outside of recovery. Begin expanding as a person. Begin allowing yourself to make real changes in your life. Begin the transition from recovery to health…by focusing on the health.”

I’ll summarize the next part of this lesson by saying that Marsh believes there are eight elements of sexual intimacy. He says: “As we examine each of the elements, keep in mind your role in past relationships (or the role of your partner). What parts of the wheel were missing? What parts have you yet to develop properly?”

Elements Involved in Sexual Intimacy

“Reality: the knowledge that your perceptions of the relationship are similar to your partner’s perceptions of the relationship.” Obviously, by leading a double-life, lying, and cheating, I robbed TL of this important element of sexual intimacy. I believe I am safe now in knowing my perception of the relationship is the same as hers, from my point of view. I think I may have had some distorted, irrational views on reality in the past, at the beginning of our relationship. I think I may have irrationally feared that she was less interested in our relationship than I was.

“Choice: the feeling that you openly choose to be with the person that you are experiencing intimacy with; the feeling of “not being stuck” in the relationship.” Now, TL perhaps feels stuck in our relationship. Though I betrayed her, she may feel that our children and our weak financial situation leave her stuck with me. I have never felt stuck with TL. But, I do recall that feeling in a previous long-term relationship. Accurately or not, one part of me kept thinking, “I should be able to find a more attractive girlfriend.” Another part of me would respond, “No, I can’t. This is the best I can do.”

“Trust: the knowledge that your partner is honest with you; that you are honest with your partner; that your partner knows that you are being honest; and that you know that your partner is being honest.” Here’s another aspect of sexual intimacy I obviously destroyed for TL. On the other hand, TL has never given me anything but honesty.

“Pride: the willingness and desire to tell others about your relationship.” I have always felt proud of my relationship with TL. Again, I undermined this good aspect of our relationship by hiding my relationship with TL from potential affair partners. Thus, TL does not believe that I am proud of our relationship. She, on the other hand, has always been proud of our relationship, and shown it. I, however, wallowing in self-doubt, refused to believe that she was proud of our relationship.

“Respect: the feeling of wonder and amazement towards your partner as a human being; equality.” I began our relationship feeling this kind of respect for TL. Then I soon buried it under jealousy, insecurity, and unhealthy expectations.

“Vulnerability: the willingness to risk emotional damage in the attempt to grow as a person/couple; the knowledge that your partner will use the information/experiences you share in positive, fulfilling ways.” This is an interesting topic. I’m not sure I completely understand it. In the early years of our relationship, I was irrationally possessive of TL. I whined and pouted to prevent her from going out without me. I was manipulative and unfair. Was I afraid that would make me vulnerable? Is that what it means to be vulnerable, in this context? Or, does vulnerable mean being willing to share private, intimate thoughts, feelings, and ideas? If that’s what it means, then I have been vulnerable with TL. I think she has been vulnerable with me. If not, how would I know?

“Self-love: the knowledge that the more you love yourself in healthy, productive ways, the more positive emotions that you will have to share with your partner; the more accepting of yourself that you are, the more accepting of your partner you will be.” This is a rather new concept. It makes sense. If I’m not so insecure, I should be freer to accept her, unburdened by jealousy, fear, or doubt. This is a work in progress for me. If I had to guess which one aspect of intimacy was the most difficult for me, this would be the one. In fact, this one concept may be the root of many of my problems. For so many decades, I just wasn’t at ease with myself. I wasn’t confident, relaxed, focused, or natural. Instead, I was always imagining what others might be thinking about me. I’m much happier with myself now, but it came severs decades too late.

“Sensory Stimulation: the understanding that all sensory stimulation between you and your partner is geared towards communicating to that person’s soul; the use of intentional sensory manipulation to bring emotional pleasure to one or both.” I’m not very good at this. I’ve tried to improve. I do have some difficulty understanding it. I need to remember to focus on this.

Exploring the Concept of Love

I read Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on the concept of love. The following passage is helpful enough that I want to save it and use it again. 
“Love is not attraction. One does not fall in love with a person based on their physical appearance. In other words, love at first sight does not exist in a healthy reality.”

“Love is not stability. Though stability can and should play a big part in a long-term, committed relationship…remaining in that relationship for the sole sake of stability does not equate to love. There must be some interest in seeing the relationship and/or the individuals grow.”

“Love is not a distraction, nor a shortcut. To often, rather than looking at one’s own chaotic life, a person seeks out “love” from others in an effort to distract them from having to deal with that life. Or to artificially produce the esteem that would otherwise require years to develop.”

“Love is not selfish. For love to occur, it must be by choice. It must be through the desire to care for, nurture, share and experience certain parts of your life with that person…and for those feelings to be reciprocated. This isn’t to suggest that love cannot include selfish acts…it can and should. Individual boundaries that include clear expectations of the other’s behavior within the relationship are examples of this. Without these boundaries and “selfish expectations”, it would be too easy to be taken advantage of by a selfish partner.”

“Love is not a guess. In love, it is the responsibility of each partner to share his or her true self with the other. Let’s repeat that. In love, it is the responsibility of EACH PARTNER to share his or her true self with the other. Without this, the experience of love can achieve nothing more than an illusion. Without honesty and the sharing of one’s inner self…any emotions experienced are based on projections and images. Additionally, love is never having to guess how your partner really feels. To trust that they are sharing their true selves with you.”

“Love is not desperate. When feelings of love are not reciprocated, or when the target of your love does not treat you in a way that reflects the way that you want to be treated…then the relationship is not based in love. Most likely, when someone continues to pursue such a relationship, there are unresolved issues from one’s past, or emotional deficiencies (e.g. low self-esteem)…but the feelings that are being experienced are not love. Love does not have to be won. It does not have to be proven.”

“Love is not a savior. Love should never be sought in an attempt to “rescue” your otherwise unsatisfying and/or chaotic life. Additionally, love should never be used as a bargaining tool after “rescuing” another person. Love is best experienced when you have first learned to love yourself. That is more than a cliché…it is absolutely true in terms of the fulfillment that love can bring.”

“Love is not dangerous. In love, there should never be a worry that your vulnerabilities will ever be used against you. Or that something you share in complete sincerity is later taken out of context or used to judge you. Communication is open and instant. Even if that means to communicate that you are not in an emotional state to effectively communicate at a particular moment.”

The exercise says: “Post your own understanding of what love is. The role that love plays in your life (or the role that you would like love to play in your life).”

Maybe this will be easier if I break it down to the specific subtopics Jon Marsh suggested. What can I say, for example, about self-love? I’m sure I have spent too much of my life being unhappy with my physical body, my abilities, and my accomplishments. Conversely, I spent too little time realizing that I have some control over each of those things. Do I love myself? Did I love myself? I don’t know. Perhaps I worried so much about how others viewed me that I neglected to consider how I view myself. Actually, I’d welcome some feedback on this topic. How does one know whether one loves oneself? How does that look? How does that feel?

How about romantic love? I want the best for TL, I want to be with her, and I don’t expect anything in return. I wasn’t always that way. I used to expect her to be perfect, to meet my every need or whim, and to make me feel better about myself or about life. In that regard, I didn’t learn what romantic love is until after I had already caused terrible damage to TL, until after D-day.

What about familial love? I know I have unconditional love for my children. I just know it. I would love them no matter what they did or didn’t do. I also know that I have struggled to stop myself from putting too many expectations on them with regard to sports, homework, extracurricular activities, and anything that does not involve them sitting on their butts playing video games or watching television. Is expecting too much of them an unloving act on my part?

Speaking of familial love, what about my parents and brother? I do think I love them. Yet, I don’t really like talking to them or being with them and I do carry around varying degrees of anger toward them. Is that contradiction really possible?

That’s the extent of love in my life, except for the unconditional love I have for my pet dog. But, even she makes me very angry at times, when she bites too much or destroys something in the house.

Is that enough love in my life? I think it is. Why not? I think the main thing I need to remember is to keep my love for TL unconditional.

Addiction Recovery and Your Family of Origin

I read the Recovery Nation supplemental lesson on family of origin. Again, I want to quote a few passages that seemed relevant to me. 
“Further development involving this person’s “family values” might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior–further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.”

“For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries–boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person’s life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making.”

“Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such “family issues”, you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.”

“Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target–like God, or animals.”

“Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one’s family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their “family of origin”–and their parents, in particular.”

The exercise with this lesson says: “Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. As you think, consider the following:”

“1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?”

“2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?”

I think I had unconditional love from my father, and he was present in my life. But, I think the amount of time I spent with my mother dwarfed the amount of time I spent with my father, or with any other human being. She was omnipresent, in my mind. And, in my admittedly biased memories, hardly any other person was ever present. My only sibling was born when I was five-years old. In my memory, other relatives, friends, neighbors, or others were rarely present, very rarely. I thought that my mother went out of her way to discourage friends and acquaintances, even shunning her own friendships and her own relatives. I’m sure I exaggerate that situation in my own memories, but it does capture my feelings.

I never thought much about whether my mother loved me, unconditionally or otherwise. She often said she loved me, so I figured she did. She probably did, and does. But, I recall constantly resenting her. Though it may be another exaggeration in my own mind, I thought she inappropriately controlled every aspect of my life: where I went, what I did, what I ate, what I wore, my entire grooming and appearance, with whom I associated, what I watched on television, what music I heard, and more. I also always thought that all my peers had enormous amounts of freedom that I did not have. I’m sure I focused too much on my negative view of the situation. I especially say that now that I have one son who is constantly complaining that everyone in the world except him gets to watch raunchy movies and have no bedtime.

Did I have unconditional love from my parents? Maybe I did. But, I didn’t think I did. Did I give unconditional love? No, probably never. I think I only gave unconditional love to pets. I thought I was giving unconditional love to my own children, but later realized I was somehow communicating some sort of unrealistic expectations about athletic interests to them. As for giving unconditional love to TL, that’s something I’ve been trying to learn since D-day.

I have long blamed my mother’s parenting style for preventing me from learning how to make my own healthy decisions. I do learn rather slowly from my own mistakes. Perhaps my mother assumed that meant I would never learn. I’ve also written about how I believe my mother’s own inner struggle between freedom and her Victorian upbringing was passed down to me. In short, she told me progressive modernism was smart and good, but she behaved as though anything other than a strictly conservative lifestyle was evil. She also taught me that sex was an unspeakably evil act, women were only for marrying, and she did not want me to marry or grow up. Among other things, that upbringing put little or no value on maturity and taking on adult responsibilities. In fact, I believed those things were discouraged, and that they would hurt my mother’s feelings too much.

Your Search for Meaning

I read the supplemental lesson called “Your Search for Meaning” in Recovery Nation. It does not include exercises or questions. It is just a lecture. But, it is encouraging. Just as I have put real emphasis on spirituality in my life since D-day, Marsh describes his own individual approach to it and how it helps with changing compulsive or hurtful behavior patterns. I hate to just quote large portions of what he wrote. But, aside from his habitual disregard for English grammar and syntax, Marsh did a pretty good job of capturing some thoughts I found helpful. Here they are: 

“Developing your own understanding of “why you are here” can be a tremendous source of strength, guidance, energy and stability in your life. From a strictly “recovery” standpoint, it is not important what you believe, only that you do believe.”

“Having a clear understanding of the reason for your existence allows you to not take yourself so seriously. It allows you to keep your perceptions in perspective.”

 

“Being agnostic for many years, I searched for answers my entire life. I studied anthropology, world religions…talked endlessly to stout Christians, Muslims…I wanted desperately to “feel” God in my life. When I was truly honest with myself, I knew that that feeling had never come. In reading the Bible, I just couldn’t get past the thoughts that it was man’s word I was reading, not God’s. And knowing how manipulative, controlling, selfish and domineering man has been throughout the ages…I was not too receptive to the Bible’s messages. Was I sincere about wanting to feel Him? If you have completed the Recovery Workshop, you should have no more doubts as to how deep my sincerity runs. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed…alone, when it was just me and God. I would spend hours sitting alone in my house…my car…in the middle of a forest…anywhere where I could to finally feel His presence. It never came. Then, after many years of searching, logic finally got the better of me. I had always considered myself a logical person, and realized that, logically, I had only two choices: I could go on believing that there is no God, and that my life is essentially meaningless (existentially); or I could have faith that God does exist and in return, be rewarded with a purpose and “meaning” that will last for the rest of my life. If I was wrong? Then it wouldn’t matter anyway.”

“Logically, there was no down side to developing my spirituality. Of course, it had to be one that I believed in, and one that made sense to me…I couldn’t openly lie to myself…that would destroy the value of spirituality altogether. And after many, many years of intense searching… I developed my own understanding of God and Heaven and the role it plays in my life. I won’t go in to what those beliefs are; though if you, as an individual struggling with similar issues would like to know…I would be more than happy to share them with you individually. There will be no conversion attempts, only God as I see Him. Or, more accurately, as He has guided me towards seeing Him.”

“Being that there are thousands of books having been written on the soul, I will share only the most basic thoughts as they apply to recovery and health. The soul is a metaphysical concept that many believe to be the true self. Beyond your senses, beyond your muscles and bones and skin, beyond your emotions lies your energy source–your soul. Others will argue that a soul could not exist without emotions, and without senses. What is the truth? Nobody knows. Logically, it makes sense that if our life is perceived through our senses, and our senses elicit the emotional responses that make up our “soul”, then our soul’s could not exist without our senses. This is one of the more frustrating points for me to understand about most people’s perception of Heaven…because it contradicts their perception of the soul as an energy force, separate from the body. “It is your soul that goes to Heaven.” Why then, is it assumed that our soul will continue to experience thought, emotion and other such traits once it has left the very body that produced them? Not really looking for an answer, just emphasizing the point that nobody really knows what the “soul” is.”

“For me, it is when I close my eyes. All of the feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts…that is what makes up my soul. When I communicate with people, that is what I am trying to communicate with. Not whether they are young or old…fat or thin…tall of short…black or white…I close my eyes and try to get in touch with their soul. Or at least what I believe to be their soul. If I’m wrong, and that isn’t actually their soul, so what. It works for me, it works for my value system, and it promotes healthy relationships with others. That is all that matters. The truth is relative.”

“When considering your soul, like spirituality, it doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you develop a thorough understanding of this belief and that you use it to promote your life. In recovery, once you have a clearly defined “soul”, the process of separating your emotions from your behavior becomes that much easier.”

What is Love Addiction

I don’t really think I have or had what Jon Marsh calls love addiction. But, I read the relevant supplemental lesson in Recovery Nation to be sure. Marsh listed his own symptoms. Here they are, with my thoughts on whether I experienced them. 

• “The relationships all involved instant intimacy.” In my marriage and in other relationships did I proceed to intimacy instantly? If that means physical intimacy, then no, I did not. If it means emotional intimacy, maybe. Maybe it is my habit to either awkwardly avoid women or, alternately, to approach them with slightly more emotional intimacy than would be considered normal. I’m not sure. In any case, I now make a conscious effort to avoid emotional intimacy with any woman except TL.

• “Most required an intense, deeply-rooted need to have them like me. To tell me they love me. Until that happened, most actions within the relationship were geared towards achieving that goal.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was a sense of desperation involved with establishing/maintaining the relationship.” Maybe.

• “As the relationships began to lose their intensity…so too went the feelings of ‘love’.” Maybe.

• “There was a willingness to sacrifice any and everything for the relationship to succeed.” Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, in retrospect, my approach to some relationships did seem that way.

• “When the relationship would end while that intensity was still intact, I would experience a completely inappropriate sense of rejection, failure and desperation.” I don’t believe this ever happened to me.

• “There was a completely unrealistic perception of the person’s qualities at the beginning of the relationship; completely unrealistic expectations of their abilities towards the end.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was an intense, constant hypersensitivity/pressure within the relationship; and a constant need for reassurance.” Maybe. Perhaps that fits with some examples of me being overly or awkwardly jealous or possessive.

• “Many relationships were brief, intensely emotional sexual relationships, to experience the aura of that initial love and awe.” No, that doesn’t seem to fit.

• “In many relationships, there was an obsessive nature behind my acts – constantly checking up on my partners to assure that they weren’t cheating on me.” This may fit with my awkward, outsized jealousy, including retroactive jealousy.

• “In many relationships, there was a considerable, hair-triggered sense of jealousy – which was triggered from the fear of them meeting someone ‘better’ than me and/or leaving me.” Yes, I guess that’s true.

• “In many relationships, there was the need to be the end-all to their existence. Healthy boundaries…mutual growth…partnership? No idea what you are talking about.” Yes, I think I did this.

• “In several relationships, experiencing incredibly intense, emotional devastation that lasted for years after the relationship ended. The inability to let go. That I couldn’t live my life without that person.” No, this never happened.

Marsh says: “ . . .[B]ecause the root of most love addiction can be found in early relationships (childhood trauma involving . . .parental . . . domination/extreme performance pressure), the foundation of the healthy transition must involve a commitment to relearn/rebuild healthy relationships – which may or may not include the need to rebuild sexual values/boundaries. In sexual addiction, the foundation is to relearn/rebuild healthy sexual values/boundaries – and then to integrate those skills into healthy relationships.”

Marsh then lists his standard recommended steps for addressing sex addiction, which I’ve done, and says, “For love addiction, the path would be similar, but the following areas would need to be added:”

• “The need to initially isolate yourself from all obsessive relationships (in which the target is an active participant in the relationship).” I’ve done this, unless it’s possible to say that I behaved obsessively in my relationship with TL, my wife, too. In fact, I think that I was obsessive toward TL, and that overcoming that view of her has been an important part of improving myself as a person and improving our relationship since D-day. I used to treat her as a possession, putting unrealistic expectations on her. Now, I’m learning to treat her as a true friend and individual, something I never really understood nor valued in my earlier years.

• “The ability to redefine yourself as an individual.” Yes, this is a challenging, ongoing, and crucial task for me. It’s something I should have done as a child or adolescent, but perhaps didn’t do fully or properly.

• “The need to redefine the health/boundaries of all existing relationships early on in the recovery process.” Yes, this is done.

• “Learning the role that others play (both consciously and subconsciously) in actively prolonging your unhealthy behavioral patterns/addiction.” I think this is done.

• “Learning the role that society plays in encouraging/promoting love addiction (society actively recruits sexual addicts for profit; it promotes love addiction as an actual value to be admired/emulated – this is an important distinction).” Yes, this is done, and it us a helpful reminder.

• “Learning the process of redeveloping healthy relationships from ones that were once obsessive.” Right, I think that is what I am doing regarding my relationship with TL.

• “Dealing with loss as a choice, versus a consequence.” I don’t think this particular line item is relevant for me.

Marsh says, “Love is a universal need/experience in all healthy individuals. It is not like alcohol or porn – where the behaviors can be seen in terms of absolute abstinence. So, while past factors that led to the development of a love addiction cannot be permanently removed, the ability to develop permanently mature, healthy life management skills – and thus eliminate the need for that addiction – is most certainly attainable.” This suggests to me that “love addiction” might not even be the right term. Maybe a more accurate term would be “relationship addiction.”

Damn, I did it again!

Yesterday, TL noticed that I had gotten several lights in our son’s room repaired. Several days before that she had specifically asked me not to do so. The reason is unique to our house. Our son needs a nightlight, and the number of non-functioning bulbs in his room had reached the perfect balance for use as a nightlight: not too bright but not too dark. I told TL, as I had told myself, that the bulbs burn out so quickly that the repaired light would soon return to the balance she sought. Of course, that was not the point. The point was that TL had asked me to do something a certain way, I had said I would do so, and then I did the opposite.   

What happened? How did I make such a poor decision, and how can I do better in the future? First, faced with a choice between my commitment to do what I had told TL I would do and my neat-freak, checklist-driven compulsion to have everything repaired, I chose my compulsion. Second, I think that when she originally told me not to have it all repaired, I heard her and acknowledged her without truly listening to her. I still listened to that crazy voice in my head that insisted it would be just as good if all the bulbs were repaired. Third, I think that I did disagree with her original suggestion about not repairing the light, but for some reason I failed to verbalize it and discuss it. Yes, I can think of other examples, in my youth, and even in my professional life, when I disagreed silently, failed to discuss the issue out loud, and then just acted unilaterally. It seems to be a very bad habit I have.

What should I do about all this? I welcome suggestions. Here are my ideas. Perhaps by the time I was standing in that room with the repairman it was already too late for me to take preventive measures. By that time there was about a fifty percent chance that I would decide to do as I had told TL I would do and a fifty percent chance that I would do the wrong thing.

Perhaps my best chance to prevent a bad decision was back when TL originally suggested not repairing the light. So, I should have listened. But, how? How can I do better at making myself listen in such situations? Certainly, I need to make listening a big priority in my efforts to improve myself. But, is there more I could do?

What if I focused on summoning the courage and energy and investing the time to have a real discussion about a suggestion such as the one TL made? Perhaps my habit when I disagree with a suggestion is to quickly and subconsciously tell myself something counterproductive such as: “Expressing my disagreement will take too much time and energy. I’ll just rush past this point and deal with it later.” I think that’s part of it. I have a tendency to rush from one to-do list item to another without taking enough time to focus on quality, especially the quality of human interactions and human relationships. Perhaps I am comforted by schedules, checklists, and routines and uncomfortable with meaningful human interactions. I remember such feelings going way back to childhood. My habit is to rush through human interactions and assign them little value.

That’s the habit I need to break, I think. How? In the past few days I have been making a renewed effort to put spending time with my family, be it one of them or all of them, before doing other things. I was feeling good about my progress, but I was aware of the mental discomfort I still face, with my to-do list calling me like a seductress. Back when TL told me her thoughts about the light, I failed to see that even such a mundane topic was an opportunity to invest in a human interaction with her, to invest in our relationship. With my efforts to focus on values, perhaps I need to specifically focus on the value of human interactions and the value of investing in relationships with my family, even through seemingly mundane topics or relatively brief interactions. Let’s see if that helps.

Poly-Addictions & Switching

Lesson 67 of Recovery Nation says: “a) List the most likely behavior that you will need to monitor for potential ‘switching’ and/or compulsivity now that the sexual rituals have subsided. b) Are these listed anywhere on your weekly monitoring so that you can objectively assess them?” 

I recall that I’ve recently categorized my “compulsions” as either responses to nighttime restless energy, self-protecting cowardice, comfort-seeking inflexibility, or obsession with feelings of inadequacy. The value in categorizing these behaviors is to remember that while some may not fit easily into the standard language about compulsions, some do. This question is a good example. Three of these categories just don’t fit with the question.

One does: compulsive responses to nighttime restless energy. In the bad old days, I used porn, masturbation, prostitutes, and affair partners to address that energy. There were also occasions at the beginning of our marriage when I expected my wife to help me address that energy by giving me sex without proper emotional context, an approach that made her question my motives for initiating sex with her even after I stopped the negative approach. Later, after D-day, there was an unfortunate period when I used tobacco instead of sex to address that restless energy. Now, I think I have good self-control regarding my approach to that restless nighttime energy. But, I do need to monitor myself to be sure I don’t turn to alcohol, food, or any other inappropriate means of addressing that energy.

Recovery Triggers vs Relapse Triggers

Lesson 66 of Recovery Nation says: “a) Consider your perspective towards potential triggers when you were in early recovery. Consider your perspective now. How has this changed? b) List five potential triggers for you — that may lead you into a compulsive crisis. How can you shift your perspective of each so that they are not only NOT a threat to your values, but you can actually use these triggers to strengthen those values?” 
In the early part of recovery, I probably underestimated and misunderstood these triggers. I thought that the real cause of my malfeasance was not triggers and compulsions, but rather my own selfish, conscious choices. That remains true. The worst things I have done in life resulted from active, conscious decisions I made. That said, perhaps there are things I can learn by using this trigger concept now. There are indeed times when I am tempted to do or think self-defeating things.

Usually this does not happen now. But, occasionally, a reference to promiscuity in a magazine, television show, or overhead conversation will tempt me to ruminate on the past. Occasionally, an ad on an Internet page will tempt me to click on pictures of scantily-clad women. I am also occasionally tempted to lie, by omission, to protect myself from consequences, to cowardly remain silent when someone – usually my mother – attacks my wife, or to be inflexible when faced with emerging suggestions or needs.

My new, evolved perspective on these five types of “triggers” is recognition that they are not only real, but also relevant. In early recovery, I thought a trigger of this nature meant that I would see some woman and be attempted to touch her or talk with her, a temptation I knew was not a real problem for me. Now, I see that there are more subtle steps that are important temptations to overcome. How can I use these triggers to strengthen my values? I can look at them as much-needed opportunities to prove to myself, as well as to my wife and others, that I can consistently make good decisions.

Life After Recovery

Lesson 65 of Recovery Nation says: “Envision your life after recovery. Compare it to the vision that you began back in Lesson Two of the workshop. They should be nearly identical. Are they?” 

Here’s what I wrote back during Lesson Two.

“Iwant to demonstrate to my wife that I can love and protect her. If she is alive for my funeral, I want her to feel more positive about my life than negative. I want to have been a positive factor in her life. My lying and cheating have hurt her so badly that she has lost faith in me and lost respect for me. This fact truly disappoints me, even though — perhaps especially because — it was my own doing.

Likewise, I want to maintain an active, growing, useful relationship with my sons until I die. I see, with some disappointment, how my own relationship with my parents devolved, long ago, into nothing more than superficial gestures. I lost faith in their ability to teach me anything without an accompaniment of criticism and judgment. I don’t want my kids to ever fear telling me about themselves and their lives, as they grow and change. I want them to know that I am there to support them emotionally (not financially), and not think that they exist to act out my dreams or to be constrained by my fears.

I want to be active, mentally and physically, as long as my health allows. I’ve learned from experience that doing so makes me happy. But, I want to do it in a way that complements my other values: my wife and sons. I want to look back and know that I actively exercised my mind and body regularly, and that I accomplished something, no matter how small. I want to know that I did not waste my life with idleness or self-defeating behaviors. Whether it’s working, teaching, or writing, I want to feel I was continuously exploring, learning, and creating, even in small ways. Even if the scale is small, I want to feel I made a difference, in some positive way.”

It does still seem applicable.

Transitioning to Health

Lesson 64 of Recovery Nation asks, “What skills do you feel you have worked hard to develop? What skills need additional work?” 

I feel I have spent a lot of time developing values. What about skills? Is constant communication with my wife a skill? I have made progress on that. I still need more work on the following skills: listening, adapting to urgent events, and remaining focused on my highest priorities rather than being distracted by busy work or time fillers.

“Explore your attitude in regards to whether or not ‘addiction’ is a part of you; or merely a pattern that developed in your life.”

I still reject the term “addiction” in this endeavor. But, what about my unhealthy behaviors? What about lying, selfishness, inflexibility, backwards priorities, lack of empathy, and turning to self-destructive or time-wasting activities to make myself feel better? Lying, backwards priorities, lack of empathy, and time-wasting activities were terrible habits that began during childhood. I think they were developed patterns rather than a part of me. I’m working to learn and ingrain honesty and integrity in place of lying. I’m likewise learning to make and maintain healthy priorities. I’m trying to develop empathy. I have some, but more would be helpful. I have so far done a decent job of eliminating the time-wasting activities.

Selfishness and inflexibility strike me as more than just terrible habits that I learned. They might be personality traits for me; traits that I must manage for the rest of my life.

“Explore your awareness as to the role that your compulsive rituals played…and what it would mean should they return. Explore how you would respond? Explore your confidence level in that response.”

What should I consider compulsive rituals, for the sake of this exercise? They might fall into four categories. First, there were compulsive rituals I used to deal with restless energy, physical and mental energy that was not properly used in daily life nor stored through sleep. In this category I would include porn use, masturbation, habitual smoking, habitual drinking, and habitual – as opposed to relationship appropriate – sex, even with my wife. My concern about returning to any of those behaviors is, primarily, that it may be difficult to stop again. They’re like potato chips: bad for you, and it’s hard to have just one. Further, they might signal, to myself and to those around me, that I am neglecting my priorities and commitments.

I can think of three useful responses. One, tell my wife, immediately. If I can’t speak to her immediately, write to her about it. If I can’t do that, tell someone – anyone trustworthy – immediately. Telling someone will help me fortify the willpower to prevent it from recurring. Two, develop, discuss with my wife, and implement new, additional mechanisms for accountability, transparency, and self-control. Three, with the future in mind, and perhaps consulting literature and other people, I can try to figure out what thoughts or behaviors led to the problematic behavior. That could provide clues for preventing recurrence. I have a high level of confidence that those responses are realistic and helpful.

Second, there were rituals I used to try and compensate for feelings of inadequacy or a false sense of injustice. This is where I would list seeking sex, paid or available, outside my marriage. Obviously, a return to that behavior would end my marriage and perhaps destroy any remaining respect my sons or others might have for me. It could also bring renewed damage to health and reputation as well as further loss of money and time. And, it would violate my hard-won commitments to integrity, compassion, and empathy.

As for helpful responses, perhaps it would be useful to recall that the offensive behavior in this case is not just adultery, but also even seeking the opportunity or conditions that could permit adultery. It’s not just asking a prostitute to name her price. It’s also seriously thinking about approaching a prostitute for the discussion. It’s not just touching or propositioning an available woman. It’s also conversing, verbally or non-verbally, with a woman in an attempt to determine whether she is available. So, to capture all this, how can I respond if I find myself seriously considering talking to a woman inappropriately? Viewing it that way, I can apply the same three responses I described above: tell someone, devise additional accountability mechanisms, and find the root cause. I am confident those responses are realistic and helpful.

Third, there were rituals I used for self-defense. This means lying or failing to defend the truth due to fear of confrontation. Returning to those behaviors would violate my developing commitments to integrity and courage. Upon discovering such behavior, the first response is to immediately correct the lie or confront the truth. Then, telling someone and exploring the root causes should help. Fourth, perhaps, were rituals for retaining the comfort of control. By this I mean inflexibility, failure to adapt to an emergent need to respond to my wife, son, or even boss or colleague. Returning to that inflexibility would, in addition to disappointing my family or others, disappoint me as I work to become more flexible. Again, the response is to immediately correct the inflexibility with flexibility, tell someone, and explore root causes with a view toward preventing recurrence. I am confident those responses are realistic and helpful.

“Explore your overall balance and stability…how much of your life is spent ‘fighting urges, managing urges, acting out, engaging in recovery activities, etc.’ versus how much of your life is spent just living”

I can lump the first three categories of compulsive rituals together: those related to restless energy, feelings of inadequacy, and self-defense. For the sake of trying to quantify the time and energy I spend managing such urges now, I’d put it at something less than one percent of my time and energy. The rituals related to comfort and control still require a bit more of my time and energy; let’s say one percent instead of less than one percent.

“Assess your identity for hyper-sexuality. How prevalent is it?”

Hyper-sexuality is definitely not part of my life today. I can regularly go to sleep without sex, and without feeling any insecurity or resentment nor having obsessive thoughts about it. I still frequently have a nagging desire for sex, but I am able to put it out of my mind and think of other things.

Was it before D-day? I certainly thought about sex many times more frequently and more intensely than I do now, and it was usually with associated feelings of dissatisfaction or insecurity.

“Assess your value system. How efficient are you in using it to make decisions, achieve balance, etc.?”

Without looking back at my notes, the values I want to keep near the top of my mind are integrity, family, flexibility, honesty, mindfulness, empathy, and courage. They are the right values. I think I need further practice at staying focused on them. They are a necessary counterweight to my negative instincts of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Evolving Weekly Monitoring

Lesson 63 of Recovery Nation says: “Review your current weekly monitoring and assess whether or not the areas you are assessing are 1) necessary and 2) adequate in strengthening your value system.  

Back in Lesson 35, I said I should do the following each week: “evaluate myself on whether and how I made my wife, sons, and dog my highest priority for my time and energy during the week” Also, I wrote myself a note and placed it near my cuff links, which I use every morning. The note said: “I will think of supporting TL before anything else today.”

How have I been doing on that? I think I have been inconsistent. I’ve had good days and not so good days on this topic. And, the note near my cuff links has really not helped. So, yes, I think the weekly monitoring on this topic is still necessary and adequate for strengthening my value system. But, it appears I need a new means of ensuring I remember and adhere to this goal each day and each week. Instead of relying on the note near my cuff links, I will start sending myself a daily electronic reminder each morning with the phrase “family first.”

Managing Relapse

 Lesson 62 of Recovery Nation says: “Develop three-five ‘most-likely’ scenarios where you might face relapse. Role play (in your head or with someone you trust) how you will manage these situations.” 

What is a “most likely scenario” for facing relapse? One scenario might be the next time we move, when we are developing new routines related to work, parenting, and everything. I might be tempted to slack on my daily recovery work and counseling. Perhaps to manage that temptation I could tell myself my favorite story about how to fit stones, pebbles, sand, and water in one container by putting the big rocks in first. Then, that should put me in a healthy frame of mind for starting on the top priorities.

Another scenario might be that TL calls or writes me with an urgent matter or brings up an urgent matter during the “sleeping hours.” That same story about stones and pebbles should help.

A third scenario might be that I am unexpectedly struck by a memory I had not previously shared with TL and I find the thought of telling her to be particularly intimidating. I could just remind myself that the trust, respect, and attraction she may have once had for me can’t really become any more damaged than they already are. Then I can remind myself that telling her the scary memory will at least be an opportunity for me to honor my commitment to tell her such things.

“Explore one unlikely situation where you might face relapse. A situation that you couldn’t possibly prepare for. Will your Relapse Plan allow you to manage it? Why or why not?”

This is a tough question. If I can’t prepare for it, how could I even imagine it now? Perhaps I could imagine the unlikely example of some woman unexpectedly propositioning me, with absolutely no provocation on my part. Reactive action plan number five should apply. Here I will reiterate it, with some minor tweaks to tailor it to the situation of being tempted by actual available sex.

Five. I am tempted to use sex alleviate my restlessness or actual physiological desire. I should recall my values of integrity and self-control. 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 I can cover my indulgence with a lie. That, of course, conflicts with my attempt to develop my values of honest and integrity.

What if I fail at this? What if I catch myself in the act of flirting or even touching? Recalling my values of integrity, self-control, and honesty, it may help to tell myself it’s not too late to change course. It’s not too late to literally step back, mentally review my priorities and values, tell the woman I am happily married and not even interested, walk away, call my wife, and make a new and improved plan for prevention.

Reactive Action Plan Number Six: Behavior Modification

 The other morning I walked around the house with dirty shoes, telling myself, “I’m really in a hurry, and the maid ought to clean the floor anyway.” TL reminded me that she had asked me before, on more than one occasion, not to wear dirty shoes in the house. I think that I had responded to each of those previous requests with something like, “okay, okay.” What I had failed to do was stop myself at those moments and make a plan for following through. Ultimately, the plan was quite simple: move my work shoes so that I keep them near the back door rather than in the bedroom, and keep slippers there too so I can change shoes before walking through the house. This incident made me think I should add another reactive action plan, this one to address listening and follow-through. 

Six. TL asks me to stop or change some behavior. 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. The response must be to create an action plan for the behavior in question. 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, “Changing this behavior will be easy so I don’t need a plan.” Time and again I find I can’t modify my own behavior without a plan.

Managing Slips

The Lesson 61 of Recovery Nation is largely a troubleshooting guide to be used in the case of future problems. It also includes the following practical exercise. 

2. Consider your current vision. See how it has evolved from it’s initial state (Lesson Two). See which areas of this vision continue to guide you, which you have come to evolve, which you have come to neglect and which are now irrelevant.

Following is a re-print of my vision statement from lesson two. As I re-read it, it still seems timely and relevant.

I want to demonstrate to my wife that I can love and protect her. If she is alive for my funeral, I want her to feel more positive about my life than negative. I want to have been a positive factor in her life. My lying and cheating have hurt her so badly that she has lost faith in me and lost respect for me. This fact truly disappoints me, even though — perhaps especially because — it was my own doing.

Likewise, I want to maintain an active, growing, useful relationship with my sons until I die. I see, with some disappointment, how my own relationship with my parents devolved, long ago, into nothing more than superficial gestures. I lost faith in their ability to teach me anything without an accompaniment of criticism and judgment. I don’t want my kids to ever fear telling me about themselves and their lives, as they grow and change. I want them to know that I am there to support them emotionally (not financially), and not think that they exist to act out my dreams or to be constrained by my fears.

I want to be active, mentally and physically, as long as my health allows. I’ve learned from experience that doing so makes me happy. But, I want to do it in a way that complements my other values: my wife and sons. I want to look back and know that I actively exercised my mind and body regularly, and that I accomplished something, no matter how small. I want to know that I did not waste my life with idleness or self-defeating behaviors. Whether it’s working, teaching, or writing, I want to feel I was continuously exploring, learning, and creating, even in small ways. Even if the scale is small, I want to feel I made a difference, in some positive way.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.