Category Archives: RN

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.

Core Identity

Lesson 43 of Recovery Nation continues explaining urge control. Lesson 44 talks about the role of core identity in making values-based choices rather than emotion-based choices. A couple of paragraphs stood out to me.

“When this structure of boundaries/values is not developed . . . Rather than filtering the behavior through a structured system of checks and balances (e.g. values and boundaries) that will either accept the behavior as healthy and appropriate, or spit it out as unhealthy and destructive…it is processed on an immediate pleasure/pain principle. If it is pleasurable, say, masturbating…then it is processed as something to repeat. And values begin to develop surrounding this pleasurable, yet destructive behavior. If it is processed as painful, it is something to be avoided…and again, the developing value system will reflect this. Honesty is a good example.

When honesty is based on emotions as opposed to values…say, when the decision to be dishonest is made in an attempt to avoid shame, anger, guilt, conflict, etc., dishonesty is then processed as an effective tool in managing your life. When a value-based decision to be honest is made…say, when the decision to be honest is made based purely on the fact that you have chosen to value honesty in your life…it is your values that are processed as an effective tool in managing your life. And, when these decisions are coupled with a positive emotional reaction (e.g. pride, confidence, strength), the desire to repeat them will develop. It’s human nature.”

“In a healthy person, their core identity involves the development of multiple values and boundaries — each of which have been reinforced and refined by experience. In an unhealthy person, such a development has also occurred, except that the values and boundaries that have been developed focus on immediate gratification, rather than long term stability and fulfillment. Their values, to put it bluntly, are immature.”

Exercise 44 says: “For a moment, imagine your life apart from your physical being…apart from your possessions…apart from your friends, your family and every other living being. What you are left with is your core identity. It is who you are. It is this identity that then allows you to relate to your physical self, your friends, your family…”

A. Describe in your recovery thread the role that your core identity will play in helping you to establish/maintain a healthy life.

The first thing that strikes me about this “core identity” concept is my suspicion that many multiethnic people, like me, may have an added complication when developing their core identity as children or adolescents: mixed signals. In my case, for example, I could have incorporated religious values into my identity. As a child I was told to follow the community’s dominant religion’s value system. But, as an adolescent I was told that the religion was bad. Also, I was raised to think I should be Japanese, when real Japanese nationals considered me to be white. Only later in life did I learn that in fact it is possible to be ethnically Japanese, non-white, totally unattached to the Japanese nation, and proudly American, simultaneously. The other big mixed signal I had was the teaching that me becoming an adult man would be a hurtful thing for my mother. This contradicted the fact that becoming an adult man was, in fact, my most important dream.

Since D-day, I have worked to create a new relationship with religion. I have realized that mixed signals about ethnicity could have played a role in my immature core identity, though I had reconciled those particular mixed signals long before D-day. Most importantly, I am working on sorting out the fact that the important point about “being a man,” is not the difference between a man and a woman or between a straight man and a gay man. Rather, the relevant opposite of “being a man” in this equation is “being a child.”

B. Describe the role that value-based experiences will play in further developing your core identity.

With those mixed signals sorted — especially the one about growing up, rather than behaving like a child — the new values fit quite nicely: gratitude, honesty, and maturity.

C. Take some time to examine the current state of your core identity. How in tune with it are you? When you engage in activity that is destructive, what role does your core identity play in that decision? How is it affected by the consequences of that decision?

I think now I can describe my core identity as: husband, father, adult man, American, Jewish, ethnically mixed, aspiring scholar and teacher, aspiring writer, and aspiring to physical health and fitness. Any destructive behavior that might tempt me would counter each one of those aspects of my identity, beginning with that of husband and father.

Mastering Rituals and Chains

Lesson 42 of Recovery Nation returns to discussing compulsive rituals and chains.

It says ” . . . share the following:

to identify the ELEMENTS associated with a simple compulsive ritual that you have previously engaged in (think Wheel of Sexual Compulsivity)

to walk through a single compulsive ritual and identify the BEGINNING of that ritual; the POINT OF NO RETURN; and the time that you would CREATE A BREAK

To walk through a complex compulsive ritual involving several single rituals in a single event (e.g. porn and alcohol; masturbation and voyeuring)

To share the dynamics of a compulsive chain (e.g. multiple rituals) and how that chain effects your overall life management needs/skills”

Alright, some of the foregoing is no longer relevant to me, and some of it was never relevant. The points about chains and complex rituals don’t seem to have ever been relevant to me. Right now, I can think of the following compulsions I ought to overcome:

Picking at my fingernail cuticles,

Picking inside my ears,

Scratching my butt when I’m trying to sleep,

Obsessing over a list of tasks at home or at work instead of flexing to meet changing circumstances, and 

Obsessively tidying 

I think the element they all have in common is my failure to focus on the most important things at the given moment. The beginning is my wandering mind, and being distracted by my own thoughts or untamed energy. I suppose the point of no return is when I act on the compulsion to scratch, pick, tidy, or work on a checklist or routine. The break would be when I am able to talk to myself about my hope of not giving in to those urges.

As for sexual compulsions, once again, those are years in the past. And, I’m still not convinced they were compulsions. I remember them as conscious choices — bad and selfish choices.

Mastering Boundary Awareness

Lesson 41 of Recovery Nation says to review the previous four lessons, and then keep a journal for a month. I’m already doing the journal. Then it says to interview someone close to ask about their boundaries. I discussed this with my wife, TL. We used my Lesson 40 responses as a starting point. She seemed to say that my list of her boundaries was fairly accurate. She added: never choose to ignore her, never treat her like she doesn’t exist; when she reaches out to me like a friend in need, don’t abandon her, don’t choose to turn away from her, and always acknowledge her existence.

Respecting others’ boundaries 

Lesson 40 of Recovery Nation is about identifying the boundaries of others and learning how to respect the. I think that’s the assignment.

I. Choose someone in your life that you feel close to. A spouse. A child. A parent. A friend. Rather than assuming what boundaries they have; or what values they want protected…take some time to step into their lives. Refresh those perceptions that you have. Consider how you can HELP THEM reinforce those boundaries. Post a few thoughts about this in your thread.

This first step seems to have two parts: identify someone else’s boundaries, and then figure out ways to help that person enforce those boundaries. Well, let me use my wife, TL, as the subject here. Without just walking over and asking her, can I list what I understand to be her boundaries? Here’s my attempt:

No dishonesty 

No failure to communicate 

No broken commitments 

No focus on sex; friendship has priority 

No failure to defend her from others (mother-in-law, etc.)

No choosing work, fitness, or anything else before the relationship 

There may be others, but the aforementioned are the ones I know for sure. Now, how can I help her enforce those? Here are my ideas:

No dishonesty: give her complete access to all my things, phones, computers, and communications; communicate frequently about my whereabouts and activities 

No failure to communicate: speak and write many times each day 

No broken commitments: try not to make commitments, write down and plan toward commitments once I make them 

No focus on sex; friendship has priority: talk to her frequently, each day; watch for opportunities to be helpful 

No failure to defend her from others (mother-in-law, etc.): be on alert when my mother or other hurtful people are around 

No choosing work, fitness, or anything else before the relationship: be on alert for opportunities to flex out of my routines or plans to be attentive to her

II. Consider what you could do should YOU become aware that you have violated a boundary of theirs.

This is a tough question. I’m not sure I know the answer. I suppose the clearest thing I could aim to do is to correct my mistake or oversight, right away.

III. Consider your reaction should they tell you that you have violated a boundary of theirs. Think beyond defensiveness…keep working until you grasp a healthy reaction.

 
When this happens, I am apologetic and regretful. I’d like to figure out a more helpful reaction, and I welcome suggestions.

Healthy Sexual Boundaries

Lesson 39 of Recovery Nation speaks of broken boundaries and of establishing new boundaries. It lists a few examples of broken boundaries that are sadly familiar to me:

Unprotected sex with a stranger

Extra-marital sex that jeopardizes life stability

It then asks me to follow several steps. It says, “The following is intended as a step-by-step guide for rebuilding your sexual values and for developing the boundaries that will protect those values. It is not intended to be completed in a matter of hours, but to be developed over the course of weeks, months and years. This is certainly not the only way to develop healthy sexual values, but it is a guaranteed effective way.”

“Step 1 Take Inventory of Your Current Sexual Values

Your first step in redeveloping healthy sexual values is to brainstorm a list of all sexually-related values that you currently hold. Don’t worry about how socially acceptable this list may be, nor concern yourself with whether a particular value is healthy or unhealthy. Your goal here is only to identify your current thoughts/attitudes relating to your own sexuality.”

I borrowed some of their examples, and added a few. The following list may be incomplete. I’m trying to explore whether there are any I have forgotten. Also, the list includes some items I’d like to keep and ingrain and some items I should probably work to change. The first three seem healthy and the remaining five seem unhealthy.

I will only have sex with my wife.

I will only think about sex as it relates to my wife.

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

Women want to have sex when they are physically attracted to someone

I am insecure about the size of my penis

I need to make my partner orgasm for sex to be successful

If a romantic partner won’t have sex with me, there’s something wrong with the relationship

My sex drive is unusually strong

“Step 2 Define an Ideal Ending

Your goal here is to define three to five ideal sexual values that you will begin developing into your life.”

Here’s my attempt:

I will only engage in sexual activity with my partner

I will never engage in sexual behavior that places my sexual partner or myself in physical, legal or social danger

I will be a compassionate, considerate sexual partner; as opposed to a sexual performer

I will not engage in sexual behavior that I know to be high risk for destructive consequences

“Step 3 Define a Beginning

I. Take out the list of current sexual values that you developed in Step One

II. Remove each value that is unrelated to, irrelevant towards and/or contrasting with the values identified in Step Two.”

Here’s what remains on my list:

I will only have sex with my wife.

I will only think about sex as it relates to my wife.

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

“III. All remaining values on your list should now represent your current healthy sexual values; and all should be related to helping you achieve your immediate developmental goals.

This filtered list is your starting point — your beginning. This list is the foundation for the remainder of your sexual development. From this point forward, your goal will be to add only healthy values to this list — values that will bring you closer and closer to the goals identified in the previous step.”

“Step 4 Define Your Existing Vulnerabilities”

One obstacle is the constant parade of attractive women on television, in print media, and in real public spaces that tempt a man to look too closely, to retain a mental image, or to ask oneself whether the interest might be mutual.

The other obstacle I can identify is impatience. Patience is another one of my goals, and I need to employ it in order to keep myself focused on emotional issues, rather than sexual desire, with my wife.

“You will not be able to identify all potential obstacles, nor should you try. This step requires only that you look ahead to identify the most realistic obstacles that you might face. Additionally, it is intended to address only those obstacles that will keep you from achieving the developmental goals set forth in Step Two. With each obstacle identified, an action plan should be developed (not now) that will outline exactly the course of action that you will take should such an obstacle appear.”

“Step 5 Ask for Feedback

Step Five suggests that you take your list of healthy sexual values and discuss them with someone you trust.”

“Step 6 Select Initial Value for Development

Step six requires that you select a single sexual value from your current foundation of sexual values to begin actively developing.”

I will focus on the emotional relationship, not the sexual relationship, with my wife.

“Step 7 Define the boundaries that will protect the selected value”

When I feel sexual desire, I will convert that feeling into a feeling of concern for my wife and a genuine attempt to understand what she wants and needs at the moment.

When my wife expresses something, I will make a genuine effort to put work, sex, household chores, and daily objectives out of my mind and focus on active listening.

“Step 8 Observe Others”

“Step 9 Look for Opportunities to Apply Your Values”

“Step 10 Evaluate the Consequences”

“Step 11 Continue to Ask for Feedback”

“Step 12 Redefine Values/Boundaries

From the feedback received from others…from your own assessing of the consequences of your value-based decisions…continue to make adjustments to your existing values and boundaries.”

“Step 13 Update Your List of Vulnerabilities”

“Step 14 Return to Step Seven

As mentioned, value development is a long process that will continue for the remainder of your life. That does not mean that you must put forth a conscious, sustained effort for the remainder of your life, only that development will occur slowly, through a process of change.”

Evaluating boundaries 

Lesson 38 of Recovery Nation says to consider at least two situations where this value may be threatened. Are the existing boundaries enough to protect against this threat? The value of counting my blessings could be threatened when several simultaneous, perhaps unrelated challenges arise, for example, forced retirement, combined with a wife under stress, combined with parents and children wanting attention. I do think the boundaries I created in the previous lesson would be enough to help, if I adhere to them diligently. Second, my value of maturity will surely be tested next time my mother visits or we visit her. Again, my boundaries seem adequate. It’s just my consistent adherence to them that will be crucial.

More on boundaries 

Lesson 37 of Recovery Nation again discusses boundaries. It says to develop five boundaries for each of my top three values and then to develop three absolute boundaries.

1. Counting my blessings. What five boundaries would flow from this? Tough question. Perhaps the following. a) If I think of something in the past that I might wish was different, remind myself that wishing to change the past is a self-defeating, dangerous waste of time. b) If I think of something I might wish were different about my wife or sons, remind myself that they are irreplaceable, wanting to control everything about them is sick and hurtful, and that I could easily lose them through an act of God or an act of stupidity on my part. c) If I think that the day is not good or that my life is not good, remind myself that I have seen plenty of people with much less wealth, health, or comfort than I have. d) If I think I just accomplished something laudable and that people should recognize me, remind myself that I have made plenty of mistakes and that I should just be grateful I did not make another mistake. e) If I think that I just made a mistake and that therefore life would be bad, remind myself that everyone makes mistakes and that successful people think about what they might learn from their mistakes.

2. Honesty. a) If a thought occurs that makes me fear sharing it with my wife, remind myself that such fear is an important sign that I indeed should share it with her. b) When considering the best way to respond to requests or questions from anyone who is not a child, boss, or customer, remind myself that honesty is easiest in the long run and that even children, bosses, and customers can usually benefit from an honest reply, as long as it is diplomatic. c) When considering whether to share a piece of information with my wife, remind myself that sharing and transparency are helpful even if it has nothing to do with sexual malfeasance. d) When considering any action, remind myself not to do it if is something I would be ashamed to describe to my wife, sons, parents, bosses, peers, or others. e) When sending or receiving any written communication with females, remind myself to tell my wife about it right away.

3. Maturity. a) When speaking with my mother, remind myself that I am an adult and that my responsibility to my wife outweighs my fear of my mother. b) As I make continuous decisions about my own behavior, remind myself that I am an example for my sons and others. c) When daunted by work, whether at my job or at home, remind myself that an adult man must take responsibility for providing for his family, and not just financially. d) When afraid to speak up or take initiative, remind myself that speaking up and taking initiative are examples of maturity. e) When facing criticism, remind myself that an adult should use the criticism as a chance to learn and grow.

Three absolute boundaries. a) Never hide anything from my wife. b) Never overlook an idea for how to support my wife. c) Never put off communicating with my wife.

Boundaries

Lesson 36 of Recovery Nation is about boundaries. I suspect it is building toward something. It poses a couple of very simple questions.

I. Describe a scenario from your past where not having a well-defined set of boundaries has prolonged and/or intensified the personal consequences that you have experienced.

Every affair and every visit to a prostitute was enabled by my poorly-defined boundaries. The consequences are clear: a broken marriage, disease, lost money, lost time, heartache, and more.

II. Describe a situation in your life where having solid boundaries will assist you in managing the event in such a way as to protect your value system.

Sometimes I am tempted to wonder what women, be they co-workers or strangers, think of me. Well-defined boundaries help me ward off such thoughts.

Monitoring exercises 

Lesson 35 of Recovery Nation asked me to make a daily and a weekly goal. 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.” I guess my weekly agenda for this exercise is really similar to my daily agenda: evaluate myself on whether and how I made my wife, sons, and dog my highest priority for my time and energy during the week.

Immediate gratification versus measured decisions 

Lesson 34 of Recovery Nation contains one bit of wisdom that resonates with me. “The seeking of immediate gratification begins in infancy and should transition to a more mature, delayed-gratification pattern by late adolescence. When this transition does not take place, it is most often a result of either abuse or parental neglect. The most common reasons for emotionally stunted development are extremely controlling parent(s); hyper-religiosity; severe lack of nurturing; and physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In such situations, the child is not exposed to the more advanced decision-making processes that come with necessary developmental elements like being allowed to make mistakes or being encouraged to take risks. . . . People raised in such environments have never had the opportunity to be taught with compassion and interest by those who are closest to them. They have never had the opportunity to share their long-term goals with family and have those goals valued. Most often, such dreams were met with negativity and/or doubt; or by approval “as long as the long-term goals are in accordance with the parents’ wishes.”

I wasn’t abused or neglected by my parents. But, I was raised with hyper-religiousity. My parents were not religious in the traditional sense of the word. But, perhaps just from following examples of their family, peers, and community, they surrounded me with super conservative views of gender roles, sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, dating, and other aspects of modern life. I was not taught about consequences of sex or substances, only that those things were bad and should be avoided. Even discussion of those things on television or in overhead conversations was hushed up and avoided, as if invoking the topic might inadvertently summon an evil spirit. And, did my parents encourage me to dream or plan? Did they approve of my dreams? No. They only encouraged their plans for my career, my spouse, and my lifestyle.

Lesson 34 Exercise:

A. Describe a time in your life when the “Immediate Gratification” principle has come into play: Probably the most glaring and most recent example of this in my life is when I would go out with my last affair partner. I focused on the immediate gratification of grooming her for sex, even when my attempts at doing so we’re lame ad unsuccessful. I did not weigh longer-term consequences such as humiliating my family, ruining our reputation, wasting money, wasting time, or the potential pain it would cause my wife if she learned of my behavior.

B. As best as you can, describe the anxiety you feel when you are trying to NOT ACT on a compulsive sexual thought or behavior. I never really tried to not act on sexual thoughts with real people before D-day; I consciously acted on them. More relevant examples might be times in my life when I tried not to masturbate or smoke. I would sometimes get so narrowly focused on doing the unwanted behavior, telling myself it would put my mind at ease and allow me to sleep, that I didn’t consider healthier alternatives.

C. As best as you can, describe the feeling that you experience while you are engaging in a certain compulsive sexual thought or behavior. It’s been well over four years since I have masturbated or used porn. So, I don’t remember the feelings well. I think I would describe the feelings as shame and fear of getting caught.

Progress reports

Lesson 32 Exercise of Recovery Nation returns to the values-based action plans. It asks me to review my progress and see whether my plans need updates. Here’s my thinking on this.

Proactive action plan 1. Counting my blessings. At dinner we do the “what am I thankful for” exercise. Regularly, especially when challenged by life, I should do the exercise internally too.

A. Do the “what am I thankful for” exercise daily, at dinner time, when possible.

B. Reflect deeply on Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and family members’ birthdays, to thank God.

C. When viewing other people’s misfortunes, remind myself of my blessings.

D. When viewing other people’s blessings, remind myself that everyone has blessings and misfortunes.

Progress: After discovering the importance of this value over the past four years, I find myself now getting a bit complacent on this particular action plan. I am a much more grateful person than I ever was. But, I do need to remind myself of my blessings more regularly. For example, today I am very thankful that my wife and I have made some new plans together that give us both some hope. I am thankful that my sons are doing well academically and socially. I am thankful to find myself actively working to support my wife emotionally. And, I am thankful to have such a beautiful and intelligent woman as my partner.

Proactive action plan 2. Honesty. I should remind myself of this value when talking with others.

A. If I do, think, remember, or experience anything I hesitate to tell my wife, due to fear or embarrassment, I must tell her, right away.

Progress: I do believe I am on track with this action plan.

Proactive action plan 3. Maturity. This is really what I always wanted out of life: to be grown-up and responsible for myself. I should remind myself that it requires responsibility and courage.

A. Accept reality. Don’t focus on wishing some fact, past decision, or past action had been different.

B. Make decisions that are not conflicting or incoherent.

C. Focus on the future, not the past.

Progress: I think I am on track. An example is my acceptance that I must retire soon and change careers, as well as my acceptance of the work I must continue doing to try repairing our marriage.

Proactive action plan 4. Being a good husband. This means keeping my wife’s needs and desires prominently in mind.

A. Focus on her happiness. Search for ways to show her a fun or interesting time.

B. Focus on her need for companionship, optimism, and emotional support. Make it a priority to spend time with her. Focus on her when we are together. Do not make any sort of comment that could be negative or discouraging when she talks of her ideas.

C. Search for opportunities to highlight her abilities or accomplishments.

Progress: I am actively working on this each day, but I do need to stay focused on it.

Proactive action plan 5. Being a good father. This means enabling my kids to succeed and to be happy.

A. Make it a priority to spend time with them. Suggest fun and active things we can do together.

B. Make it a priority to discuss their questions and interests.

C. Give them structure, but try to be minimalist in that regard, to avoid creating resentment or dependence.

Progress: This is a work in progress.

Proactive action plan 6. Wanting the best for my family. This means vigilantly monitoring my decisions to avoid selfish behavior.

A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s safety.

B. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s money.

C. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s time.

D. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s happiness.

Progress: I think I am doing fine on this effort.

Proactive action plan 7. Protecting my family. An example is summoning the courage to stand up to my mother, who has a history of criticizing my wife.

A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s dignity, honor, and reputation.

B. Speak up quickly when anyone, be it my mother or a stranger, says anything bigoted or disparaging.

C. Drop everything, instantly, to respond to my wife’s concerns about safety, even before stopping to think about whether I fully understand the concerns.

Progress: I think I am doing fine on this, but it demands vigilance.

Proactive action plan 8. Meaningful relationships with my wife and kids. This means being mentally and emotionally present, not just physically present. It means focusing on them, and not being distracted by chores and similar compulsions.

A. When they stop to talk, I should give them my full attention; no multitasking.

B. Take time off to be there for all their special occasions and events.

C. Regularly seek ideas for weekend, holiday, and vacation activities with them, and make plans.

D. Be aware of their emotional struggles, and look for ways to be supportive.

Progress: This seems fine, but requires constant attention.

Proactive action plan 9. Being active. I love exercise and outdoor activity. This also means looking for efficient ways to be active, such as focusing on intensity instead of quantity and being active with other people so that exercise does not distract from my commitments to family.

A. When my wife or kids are available to do something together, invite them to do something active, such as walking, swimming, biking, playing catch, or whatever else might be accessible.

B. Continue my habit of getting 35 minutes of exercise before each normal work day, and don’t increase that quantity until I’m certain I’m working to 100 percent intensity for each of those 35 minutes each time.

C. Look for vacation activities that keep us active, such as skiing or walking tours.

Progress: I’m doing fine on this. Examples include taking advantage of my family’s interest in jumping on the trampoline, playing dodgeball, and riding bikes.

Proactive action plan 10. Being useful. For now, I enjoy this luxury at work and at home. I will thank God if I can continue having the time and opportunity to do work that is useful, for several more decades.

A. Search for my next job.

Progress: On track.

Proactive action plan 11. Lifelong learning. This comes with my career and my wife. In finding my next career, I need to remember this value.

A. Learn new skills or knowledge for my next job.

Progress: I’m practicing teaching.

Proactive action plan 12. Creating new ideas throughout life. My job allows me to exercise some creativity. Writing also helps. I want to be sure my next job also allows me to be creative.

A. Find a job that allows me to lead, create, speak, teach, or write.

Progress: On track. Our newest career change plan opens up more options.

Proactive action plan 13. Improving the community or world. I often look for ways to improve my neighborhood or community.

A. When I inevitably come across something that I want improved in my next community, talk with my wife about my ideas for getting involved and taking action. Consider the school or housing community.

Progress: On track.

Proactive action plan 14. Living with integrity. When faced with daily decisions or interactions, I must keep up my inner dialogue about honesty and courage.

A. Look for ways to be transparent in professional, personal, and business interactions.

B. When I think twice about speaking my mind, remind myself to have courage. As long as I behave in a way I can proudly describe to my wife, I have nothing to fear.

C. When tempted to adapt my behavior in the presence of bosses, co-workers, my birth family, attractive strangers, fellow parents, or other categories of people, remember that I want my behavior to be consistent, regardless of who is there to see me or hear me.

Progress: In progress.

Proactive action plan 15. Living with compassion. When relating to other people, I must maintain my inner dialogue about being empathetic and not being judgmental. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

A. When others, be they family or strangers, treat me harshly, remember to consider their emotional struggles or possible emotional struggles instead of taking it personally.

B. Before judging other people’s behavior, remember they may have faced difficulties that shaped their behavior.

Progress: on track, but this requires vigilance.

I don’t believe the plans need updates now.

Aligning values with stressors and rewards

Lesson 31 of Recovery Nation had some interesting questions.

A. Make a list of all identifiable stressors that have affected your emotional health over the past week. For each, document whether it is a mild, moderate, severe or extreme stressor. 

1) Supporting my wife in dealing with the trauma and grief I caused as well as with other “normal, routine” stressful issues: severe; 2) preparing for forced retirement, relocation, and job hunting: severe; 3) adjusting to fluid travel schedules and other responsibilities at work and as a parent-volunteer leader: moderate; 4) dealing with parents, dog, traffic, co-workers, and other people and events in general: mild

B. Return to your values list created earlier in the workshop. In a healthy life, the majority of energy being drained (e.g. stress) should be related to the pursuit of your highest prioritized values (top fifteen or so). Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the way that you are expending your energy? 

Here, again, are my top fifteen values

1. Counting my blessings

2. Honesty

3. Maturity 

4. Being a good husband 

5. Being a good father 

6. Wanting the best for my family

7. Protecting my family

8. Meaningful relationships with my wife and kids

9. Being active

10. Being useful

11. Lifelong learning 

12. Creating new ideas throughout life

13. Improving the community or world

14. Living with integrity 

15. Living with compassion 

Yes, in my view, it does appear that the stressors I listed above are basically related to the several top values that relate to family and earning a living.

C. Likewise, in a healthy life, the majority of meaning and stimulation that you gain should also be related to your highest values. Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the quality of life you are living?

Yes, it does seem to match. Five years ago I don’t believe it did match.

Emotions versus values: impulsive decisions versus logical decisions 

Lesson 30 of Recovery Nation is more helpful to me than several of the previous lessons. This passage is reassuring to me:

“Unlike emotions, which change rapidly and are heavily influenced by perceptions (and yes, our perceptions are also influenced by our emotions), values are the foundation of stability in a person’s life. They remain relatively consistent throughout the course of your life and in adults, only change through focused effort.

That’s good and bad. It’s bad in the sense that you will have to make the effort to learn a new way of looking at what you have previously taken for granted — that being, your decision-making process. It’s good in the fact that, once these new patterns are established, it will take another conscious effort to change them again. This durability aids those who are committed to a permanent recovery by ensuring that one misstep will not lead them to an instant and devastating crisis.”

The following passage helps me answer the question of how and why I did things that were not even in my own overall self-interest: “Most people struggling with compulsive behavior have learned to see their life in the here and now. Yes, they have memories of the past, and yes they can consider and plan for the future; but in dealing with their EMOTIONAL self, the only focus is on how they feel at the moment. And, it is this EMOTIONAL self that dictates their immediate actions.” Despite the fact that I don’t consider compulsion as the explanation of all my years of selfish behavior, this passage still makes sense to me in explaining how a person can do things that even conflict with their own beliefs, values, and long-term self-interest.

Emotions, compulsion, and anxiety 

I continued on to Lesson 29 of Recovery Nation. It took me through following exercises 

A. Find a place where you will be alone and safe. Ensure that, for the next fifteen minutes, you won’t be interrupted for any reason. Fifteen minutes (or longer, but not less than). Then close your eyes and just feel. Think of things that are important to you. Think of your values. Think of your regrets. Think of trauma that you have experienced. Think of wonderful moments. Let yourself experience whatever emotions that come freely. Focus on each of the emotions, and DO NOT OPEN YOUR EYES! (this is an important part of the exercise). Stay in touch with the feelings. Experience the emotions that come with these thoughts. Forget about your physical self…focus only on the emotions that you are experiencing. 

Now, consider one of your milder compulsive behaviors. Try to get in touch with the feelings that are generated with this behavior. If you find yourself getting triggered to act, forbid yourself. Then focus on the anxiety that is produced with that decision. Really allow yourself to get in touch with the stress that is building. Consider the reality that, either during this exercise or soon thereafter, you will face the challenge of deciding whether or not you should act on these feelings. Begin to feel the consequences of both your decision to masturbate, and your decision to remain committed to recovery. 

After you have done this for fifteen minutes (or longer), and before you engage in any compulsive behavior, open your eyes and complete the following: 

A. Describe the emotions that you experienced and the thoughts that triggered them. What is the question? Is this asking what emotions I experienced during the initial fifteen minutes of feeling about values, regrets, trauma, and wonderful moments? I thought about valuing my family. I thought about wanting to achieve financial security. That made me feel anxiety. I thought about wishing I had been more serious about academics and fitness in my younger years. That made me feel regret. I thought about my love of travel, outdoor activities, and new experiences. That made me feel comfortable and joyful.

Or, is the question what did I feel when thinking about a minor compulsion? The first compulsion that came to mind was this recently-developed habit of picking inside my ear. It started with some recent congestion that made me worry about a sinus and ear infection. Now, when I do it — not often, but often enough that my wife and I notice it — it is entirely without thought, almost like an instinct. I have to actively think to avoid doing it, if my mind is not otherwise fully engaged. When I start doing it, I have to actively think to cease doing it. Does it provoke or arise from an emotion? No. I think it just happens when I have untapped excess energy. I’ve always had a bit of trouble sitting still. Some of my family members can sit still for great lengths of time. That’s simply difficult for me.

B. In assessing your own anxiety, describe the extremes of your personal experiences with anxiety. What has been the least anxious state you have experienced and the most extreme anxious state you have experienced?  

This is interesting. What was the least anxious state I experienced? I don’t know. I can’t recall a time without anxiety about something: feeling I was missing out on experiences other kids were having; fearing being pushed around, teased, or disrespected; fearing my mother’s disapproving sighs and mumbles; fearing looking foolish or naive; fearing being inadequate; and, finally, fearing the future, especially in terms of financial security and relationship stability. What was my least anxious state? In fact, I think when I had relatively few problems, I went about creating problems for myself: comparing myself to others; agonizing about the past; and wanting contradicting, and therefore, unattainable things. As for a “least anxious state,” I think I could only describe it as being those times when I was relatively very focused on a discrete (not “discreet”) project or activity, be it work, family time, or fitness. Those are moments when my mind is so fully engaged that there is no room in my head for anxiety or other stray voltage.

What was the most extreme anxious state I experienced? I think that is each time my wife and I have an acutely intense discussion about the pain and injustice I caused her. This topic is with us constantly. But, once in a while, usually for a few days at a time, her pain and anger boil up so hot and my inability to help her becomes so clear that I fear we won’t be able to smile or relax again, at all.

Yanking my compulsive chain?

Knowing that at least one of my favorite readers not only seems to share our philosophy about infidelity and marital recovery but also is a mental health professional, I want to share my latest effort to learn something relevant from Recovery Nation. Lesson 28 asked me to think of my most recent acting out behavior in terms of a compulsive chain. Here’s my attempt at responding to the exercise questions.

1. “Develop a compulsive chain of your most recent acting out behavior.” I have had an enormous amount of trouble figuring out how to approach this exercise. At first I thought it was because my last acting out behavior was so long ago. Now I wonder whether I even understand what a compulsive behavior is, in the context of my personal failings. Was it a compulsive behavior when I told my wife I had not clicked on a tantalizing computer link when in fact I did? Maybe that’s it. If so, the chain of events was as follows. I’m talking about the lie, not about the click itself. First, trying to be proactive and honest, I told her I had seen a link on the Internet that purported to take the viewer to see “25 women you won’t believe exist.” Second, she asked me whether I had clicked on it. Third, I felt an internal burst of panic. I think it was fear. Fourth, instead of telling her the whole truth, that I had clicked the link but had successfully pulled myself away after a brief moment, I said that I had not clicked it. Fifth, I thought to myself, “Oh, shit, that wasn’t really true, was it?” Sixth, I thought to myself, “Hmm, what do I do now?” Seventh, I thought, “Well, hopefully that’s over, and maybe it’s safest not to reopen it.” How’s that for a compulsive chain? Is that compulsive lying? Or, is it compulsive cowardice?

2. “Upon completion of this chain, review it to ensure that you can recognize the way that each element affected your emotional state.” When I first started to tell my wife about the Internet incident I felt some fear. When she questioned me, the fear increased. Each time I thought about the predicament I had created for myself by responding with a thoughtless half-truth, I became more flustered and more afraid.

3. “Thinking as an addict, look for areas within this chain where you could add additional destructive elements that would have (most likely) increased the overall stimulation of the event. The actual events that you add should be realistic, and related to the chain itself. For instance, someone viewing porn might add the element of setting up a Power Point slide show of the images. Someone engaging in escort services might add the element of videotaping the encounters.”

This is where it becomes more confusing for me. Did I fail to tell my wife I had clicked the link because I was addicted to lying? Did lying stimulate me? I’d describe that as a terrible habit on my part, not an addiction. Maybe my click-bait lie example doesn’t really work as an example of a compulsive chain.  

Was it a compulsive chain when I began covertly smoking in 2013? Maybe. Perhaps the chain was as follows. First, I was mentally exhausted from adjusting to lots of new circumstances at work and disrupted daily routines, and I was lonely and restless due to being away from my wife. Subsequently, I felt an urge to do something self-indulgent. It could have been anything. In the past I might have masturbated or sought a prostitute or easy woman. But, I had sworn off those behaviors. Instead, I tried a chocolate ice cream bar. That worked for a few nights, until I got too worried about my caloric intake. So, I tried a cigarette. In retrospect, I should have instead tried a book or even a video game if I was intent on self-indulgence.  

That’s really it. It seems there were only two steps in that chain. Now the exercise asks me to think of ways I could have enhanced the self-indulgent pleasure from that cigarette. Well, I guess I could have combined the smoking with alcohol or sex. Thank God I was not tempted by those or other things during that part of my life.

Dear readers, that’s my latest effort at using Recovery Nation. It seems to be designed for me to talk about an act of compulsive sex. I struggle fitting my adultery into that rubric. The last time I had adulterous sex or even masturbation was four and a half years ago. Further, my adulterous sex was pre-meditated and intentional. It was not beyond my control. Does that fit with compulsion?