Thursday, April 3, 2014

You Are Not Alone

Here's a guest post from a wonderful new member of our Suncrest Counseling family, Kylie Bair. 

A tall, athletic BYU student sits across from me fidgeting, unable to get comfortable. It's our first meeting; I'm learning the basics. Loves to play soccer. Enjoys time with friends. Excited that a brother is coming home from an LDS mission soon. 


Then I dive in: "So, what brought you in to see me today?"


Deafening silence. 
Eyes shut. Then a mumble: “I struggle with looking at pornography.” 

A tear runs down her face, which she promptly wipes away.

As you read about my experience with this individual, who did you imagine walking into my office? My guess is that you envisioned a male. What was your initial reaction when you finally learned that it was a female coming in to address a pornography addiction? As I’ve worked with numerous female clients who struggle with pornography and sexual addictions, one of the most difficult things to address is their fear that this is a man’s problem, thus making them, in their own words, a “really horrible”, “broken,” or “appalling” woman.

Pornography has been referred to as, “the drug of the new millennium” (Kastleman, 2007) and has been said to be “more addictive than crack cocaine” (Duke, 2010). If we were to change avenues for a moment and look at narcotics, would we not recognize that both males and females struggle with drug addictions? Would it make sense then to say that if both a man and a woman where to consume heroin, that only a man would experience its effects? The women that I work with have adopted a very similar distortion in that while pornography, the “drug of the new millennium” is rampantly available to all in our society, somehow only men should be affected by it.

Recent research shows that pornography use is increasing among women:


• A 2006 survey released by Internet Filter Review showed that one in three visitors to pornography sites were women.
• About 30 percent of internet pornography consumers are women, according to the 2008 Internet Pornography Statistics.
• The 2006 Internet Filter Review poll also found that 9.4 million women access adult websites each month, and that 13 percent of women admit to accessing pornography at work.

To any women who may be struggling with a pornography or sexual addiction, here are some steps that I have suggested to my clients that have helped initiate affirmative change:


• A lot of women stay imprisoned in the addiction because of discouragement or fear that no other woman struggles with this specific problem. Gain hope from knowing that you are not alone.
• Identify triggers and create a safer environment. For example, if your “drug of choice” is viewing pornography on your laptop in your room, set boundaries to only use your computer in an open area or utilize an internet filter blocking certain websites.
• Reach out for help. This step is vital, whether it is a trusted family member, friend, ecclesiastic leader, or a professional counselor, getting support is a crucial step toward creating change.

Don’t stay trapped because of fear. You are not alone. If you have a pornography or sexual addiction, take the necessary steps to regain your life. Change is possible.

References:

  • Duke, Rachel. (2010). More women lured to pornography addiction. The Washington Times, LLC.
  • Internet Filter Review (2006).
  • Internet Pornography Statistics (2008).
  • Kastleman, Mark (2007). The drug of the new millennium: The science of how internet pornography radically alters the human brain.
Kylie Bair is a licensed therapist and specializes in addiction recovery, specifically female pornography addiction. She graduated from the clinical Master of Social Work program at BYU. Kylie has gained valuable experience as a therapist at the Children’s Justice Center working with primary and secondary victims of sexual abuse, LDS Family Services, and is currently working in the American Fork office of Suncrest Counseling.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Devote Ten Minutes a Day to Your Freedom

Getting caught up in something addictive is the most natural thing in the world. So do the unnatural thing. Take the Ten Minute Challenge. Over the next two weeks, spend ten minutes each day playing one or more of the four Freedom Games described in these four posts:





Play any one of them--or sometimes all four--when you're tempted. Or use them proactively to bolster your defenses. Don't forget to let us know the Ten Minute Challenge goes for you!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The "Instant Replay" Technique

You feel like things are going well with your recovery, you've been on track for awhile. But tonight your wife's out of town and you're alone in bed. It's 11:45, but you're still wide-eyed, not drowsy at all. Then suddenly a previously viewed image pops into your mind. Whoa! The pull is even more potent now than it was the first time you saw it! The tractor beam of temptation just locked onto you.

You might succumb: Oh my, wow. Yes. Of course I won't go all the way down that path. But wow, that little flashback is enjoyable enough on its own. Relish it just a bit. Mmm... Okay, now it's fading. Dang, I just starting to have fun! I should get online and see if I can find more like that...

Instead of succumbing, you might struggle: Oh my, wow. No. I can't even start down that path. I can't believe those images are still popping into my head. I thought I was doing so well. And yet my wife is gone for one night and the devil pulls out the big guns. Seriously? Am I ever going to get to the point where I'm not even fazed by temptation? Are all my efforts going to ever pay off? I've been studying my scriptures. I've been attending my 12-step meetings. Maybe I'll never get over this. Am I hopelessly addicted? No! I'm determined. I can win. I will conquer! This addiction will NOT beat me. I am not going to give in. I'm gonna push out that intrusive thought, wrench my mind away from that tempting image.

My advice: Don't succumb, but don't struggle, either. Neither of those is the path toward freedom. Instead break one of the rules of addiction we've been talking about in the last few blog posts:

Look at Your Lenses
Face Your Feelings
Notice What's Now
Do What's You

The "Instant Replay" is one powerful way to look at your lenses. Catch yourself right after you start to feel the pull of temptation. Notice what started it: that previously viewed image popping into your mind. Rewind the tape and replay it again, only this time you're the play-by-play announcer: "I just thought, 'She was so sexy in that PG-13 movie. I wonder what other movies I could see her in."

Then restate it in "you" form, changing it from something said by you to something said to you. "You loved how sexy she was in that film. You know there have to be other movies where she's shown even more skin--you should go Google her and see if you can find an even better scene!"

Then identify the part of your mind doing the talking. Is that Clinger, who likes that old habit and can't bear the thought of giving it up? Or maybe it's Jason Bourne, who can wait dormant, out of sight for months but then burst onto the scene with a vengeance once he has a mission to accomplish? In the end, you decide it's probably Lonely Joe, who hates to sleep alone, but finds it easier to claim he's horny than to admit he misses your wife when she's gone.

My kids love the game Fugitive. One group tries to make it from their buddy's house all the way over to our house without being caught by the others. The fugitives jump fences and commando crawl through fields and backyards, doing all they can to go undetected. If anyone in the posse locks onto one of the fugitives with the beam of their flashlight, it's game over for them.

One of my clients said that, for him, illuminating Lonely Joe with the Instant Replay Game is a little bit like shining the flashlight on a fugitive. Game over. Spell broken. Temptation significantly diminished.

Give it a try and let us know if it has that kind of effect on you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 4

Have you started breaking any of the first three rules yet? I hope your insubordination is starting to make a difference.

Addiction's Rule #4: Only Unoriginal Actions Allowed. Our addictive behaviors are like the jerks of our knee when the patellar tendon is struck with a mallet. They tend to be tired, uninspired, and overdone. As we find our vein and shoot up or tip another tall one back, we're indistinguishable from millions of other people throughout the history of the world who've done the very same thing in the very same way. (Yawn.)

I encourage my clients who are addicted to sex to ask themselves: is there anything I'm doing that couldn't be done by anyone else in the human race--and for that matter, most of the animal kingdom? Even by a couple of overexcited dogs in the park? If it sounds disrespectful to put it that way, that's the point. It's not us as individuals, but such behavior that is completely unworthy of respect. It's addiction itself that assaults our humanity and insult our dignity.

Is there anything original about the way I overeat or yell at my kids? Stop the scene and insert another actor. We don't bring anything to those activities that no one else could. Are we really content with being interchangeable?

When we were moving to California, I pulled the moving van into the parking lot of a Reno hotel at 1:30 a.m. As I walked to the reservations counter, I could see a bank of slot machines. To my amazement, even at that time of night, every machine in the row was occupied. These people didn't seem to be having much fun. By their long faces, slumped shoulders, I would never have guessed that this was an activity they'd been saving up for and anticipating all week. They looked more like automatons along an assembly line. Grab, lift, insert, reach, pull, watch... Grab, lift, insert, reach, pull, watch... Wow. The oppressed laborers I'd seen in a documentary about Chinese sweat shops seemed more vibrant than these folks. As I walked to my room, I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. And I had to live on student wages. I was so glad gambling wasn't one of my vices, and I didn't have to take my place at one of those machines.

To Break It: Do What's You. We weaken the hold of addiction whenever we show up for life and bring our unique flair to whatever we're doing. They broke the mold after they made you, right? So act like it! Do something only you can do. I'm not talking about climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. We can let our personality shine even when we're doing the simplest of tasks.

Fast forward to your 80th birthday. Imagine that you couldn't be happier with the way your life's gone from now until then. You've lived a life that's full. You travelled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, you did it youuur waaaay! Now imagine that you overhear a few of the conversations going on at the party. What are two or three of the adjectives you hope people will use to describe you and the way you lived?

She was so much fun.

He was so thoughtful.

She was so dedicated to our cause.

Now imagine that your visitors start telling stories about actions of yours they witnessed that demonstrate those qualities. And, lo and behold, you also recall the event they're talking about! Then it hits you that it was something you did in a moment when you were feeling the pull of your addiction, but decided to do something more personally meaningful instead.

"I remember walking out after taking the LSAT, turning on my phone, and finding a text from him asking me how it had gone."

"I remember her sharing with me some of her beautiful photographs."

"I remember when a huge group of us were walking into the building and he stood patiently and held the door for everyone else in line."

Your Daily Dose: The Value Menu Game. Take the time to come up with a list of perhaps half a dozen values and personality traits that make you who you are. List those across the top of a page. Then, list below those headings a few activities--or even brief gestures--that exhibit those qualities. Want to be someone who's respectful? Take the time to learn and use all your coworkers names. Spontaneous? Brainstorm some everyday adventures you take off on with your family. Playful? Help your nephew and his friends set up a spook alley. Appreciative? Start a list of people in your life who deserve thank you notes and watch for snippets of time throughout the week when you can work on writing and sending them.

Then, at least once a day, pick something off your Value Menu and do it! On a day when you have more time you might go give blood or help organize the shelves at the food bank. On a day you have no spare time at all, at least pause to hug your daughter and kiss her on the forehead on your way out the door. Who knows, maybe she'll be the one at your 80th birthday party who says, "She was so supportive. One morning when I was 11, she started giving me 'juicies and squishies'. From then on she did it every morning before she left for work." And then, just maybe, with tears in her eyes: "It couldn't have come at a better time. That affection from my mom helped me get through the next three years, which were the hardest of my life."

When you hear feedback like that, don't be surprised. When thoughtful care and conscious intention infuse your actions, when you "do what's you" instead of mindlessly repeating a compulsion, it's perfectly reasonable for others to see your actions as inspired.

Would mean less to your daughter if she knew that the hug and kiss were a real stretch for you at first? That it started out only because you valued her, rather than flowing from your natural affection? That at the time you felt more like compulsively shopping online than taking that time to show her love? I don't know about her, but to me it means even more. Actions like these are more dignified when our heart's not quite in them. Anyone can do what they feel like doing. What's really admirable is demanding something higher from ourselves when we could so easily do what's familiar and easy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 3

Follow addiction's rules and for sure you'll stay stuck. Keep breaking the rules and you might just get yourself kicked out of the ugly, cruel game.

Addiction's Rule #3: Stay Lost in the Loop. On Google Earth, the satellite view of the roundabout that circles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris shows cars driving six abreast in some places. Having gone an extra rotation or two myself in one of our little local roundabouts, I can only imagine what would feel like to be on the inside lane circling that grand arch, wanting to exit, trying to nudge over, unable to make my way out. Like a little moon, doomed to keep orbiting a giant planet. 

That's the way the addictive cycle can feel. We know our old habits don't serve us, yet we keep finding ourselves back in their orbit, unable to break the gravitational pull. 

When we give in to an urge, the monster of addiction devours our time, energy, and focus. But the energy we use up struggling against our urges is also consumed by that beast. So is the time we spend feeling guilty about our past lapses and worried we may not be able to resist next time. 

In the meantime, real life, with all its vitality and opportunity, continues to proceed as usual. As we're busily looping through these cycles of succumbing and resisting, delighting in the high of our addiction or abhorring its consequences, life does go on. Outside the six lane roundabout there are crepes to eat and the Louvre to explore.

To Break It: Notice What's Now. Whatever our mind might be doing related to our addiction, there is always another potential focus for our consciousness, invariably there-and-available to engage our attention.

It is the present reality.

Attending to reality is like eating fresh food; staying stuck in the loop of addiction is like re-swallowing vomit.

Interestingly enough, our attention is a fairly narrow throat. Seems we cannot swallow fresh food and vomit at the same time. And guess what? Between the two, fresh food gets the right of way. Scientists who study consciousness call it the "reality first" principle. When the brain has a choice between content coming from itself or input from the real world, it prioritizes input from the real world. Perhaps it's a reality override system designed to insure our survival. But we can use this principle to pop the rivets that bind our attention to addiction and engage ourselves back in real life. With real life comes a myriad of other interests and potential pursuits that are worthier of our attention. We can use the "reality first" principle to turn from addiction back to our lives, which are still right here waiting to be lived.

Your Daily Dose: The Breathe & Notice Game. As you play this game you'll be taking some nice, full breaths and noticing a few things in the present moment. Inhale and notice what you feel someplace in your body right now. Anyplace. If you don't notice anything, just move on. Take another breath and notice something you can see. Really focus on what it looks like at this very second. Let that go now, and with the next breath pay attention to one thing you can hear right now. Then inhale and focus on something you can feel against your skin, be it the armrest of your chair against your forearm or the sun warming the back of your neck. Finally, breathe and notice your current situation: "I'm waiting at the dentist's for my daughter." "It's Friday afternoon and I'm driving home--end of a long week." "I'm on the couch watching TV late at night."

Sometimes the Breathe & Notice Game shatters the trance of an unhelpful sentiment and brings us back to our senses. 

Some people want a smoke when they're stressed out; let's say that for you the worst trigger is boredom. It's your day off and no one else is home. Itching for a cigarette, you decide it's time to take a walk. Breathe and notice your lungs filling up as you walk. Inhale again and check out one of the yellow dashes in the middle of the gray asphalt road. Breathe and notice the sound of the semi truck revving to shift gears. As you're about to focus on how the sidewalk sidewalk feels under your feet, you see a Weeping Birch tree. Wait--is there such thing as a Weeping Birch? You'll be helping your dad with his yard this weekend; you'll have to ask him. He really knows his flora and fauna. Maybe he can tell you which tree would best shade your new backyard. The Breathe & Notice Game did it's job. You're back in real life, no longer lost in the loop. 

One day I was in a funk feeling ashamed about a voicemail I'd just left for a family friend. "Kathy, we heard you had a biopsy and are wondering how it went. When you get a chance, let us know." Well, it was a biopsy of her breast tissue. "Sheez, Mark, how about a little sensitivity? You don't just leave a message like that! You couldn't wait for Jenny to call? What if Carl picks up the message?" I had plenty to do, but I couldn't focus on other things. I'd get started on something and the shame would pop back in: How would you feel if someone left a message like that left for Jenny? How embarrassing. I was definitely lost in an unproductive loop. I sat down and took a breath. Tight in my chest. As I exhaled again I looked out the window and noticed the line of the trees against the snow on a peak of the Wasatch Mountains. Breathe again--there's the sound of my daughter chatting with her friend in the other room. Breathe and reach up to feel the skin on my cheek. As I stood up to go about my business again I thought, "Kathy may have cancer, and I'm worried about what she or Carl might think about a message I left on their voicemail?" I shook my head and smiled at the natural self-centeredness of the mind. I was out of the loop and didn't get swept up by it again. 

In the flow of consciousness, we simply cannot be caught in an eddy and traveling downstream at the same time. Either we are spinning with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam or flowing over the next rock, around a new bend and past landscape features on the shore we've never seen before. Noticing What's Now can help get us back in the flow of real life and on our way again.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 2

We don't want to keep giving in to our urges and cravings. But we've learned we can't resist forever, either, and as soon as we stop bracing ourselves, we fall right back into our old habits again.

This series of posts give us some things to do on a daily basis that help more than merely trying harder to fight our addictions and resist our urges and cravings. It's based on the fact that there are certain patterns that need to be maintained for addiction to keep its power in our lives. To keep its hold on us, addiction must keep us following its rules. Fortunately, we have the power to rebel and free ourselves. And we can do it by working smarter, not harder.

Addiction's Rule #2: Don't Get Too Down. At its most basic level, overcoming addiction is about not doing when you feel like doing. Simply refraining in the heat of key moments. Most of the time it's easy to refrain from acting. We don't mind sitting still all the day long when we're out in the sunshine. The challenge is in our dark moments. What about when we're pinned down in the black shadows? Then we really want out. We feel like we need to get out. Can we really stand to do nothing then? If we don't do something about our situation and our emotions, they may continue to deteriorate--and they're bad enough already. Quick, do something before things get even worse!

Addiction insists: if you're down, don't just sit there! Do something to bring yourself back up. And by all means, whatever you do, don't let yourself drop even further!

Addiction seems like our enemy most of the time, but then we start to suffer the emotional bumps and bruises of everyday living, then anything that helps us escape or numb ourselves seems like a familiar friend in a time of need. Feeling unsettled and out of sorts? Lookie here: a tidy little way to feel better quick. A trap door out of having to deal with life, having to suffer. Addiction may be a last resort, but it sure seems better than--gulp--feeling even more down than we already are!

To Break It: Face Your Feelings. Facing life without the shock absorber of addiction means settling back and sitting through our discomforts. Tolerating tedium. Giving ourselves up to the grind of withdrawal. Weathering the storm and waiting for the sun to come out on its own again, instead of holding mother nature in a headlock until she grudgingly spits sunbeams into our waiting palm. Sobriety is about finally, willingly, accepting that life unfolds on its own terms, not ours. Facing our feelings means letting ourselves experience the entire natural range of human emotions, including those at the dark end of the spectrum.

Feeling a compulsion to act is like finding ourselves on a conveyor belt headed toward misery. We're starting to smell the misery already. And even taste it! Ew yuck! It feels like we're headed for more pain if we don't get busy moving in the opposite direction. Standing up to compulsion is sort of like sitting calmly on the conveyor belt in the lotus position, allowing it to carry us along. Saying, essentially, I am willing and ready to suffer discomfort rather than continue being a slave to the entire ordeal of scrambling and squirming and exerting myself to avoid it.

Your Daily Dose: The Neutral Gear Game. For a few minutes, sit still and do nothing. Notice your inclinations and desires as they parade by. "I need to turn up the heat in here. I should have gone to the bathroom before I started. My nose tickles--let me just give it a little scratch. I gotta tell the kids to turn down the volume on that TV. Did I remember to take the meat out of the freezer? My back hurts in this chair--I need to sit up straighter. Shoot, I never answered Sarah's urgent email!"

When we feel all these impulses and then continue to sit still, we break the link between wanting and getting, between urgency and action. Rather than being bullied by our feelings, we prove that we can stand up to them.

Fear tells us, "If you don't act when I loom over you, I'll give you the ultimate punishment: you get to suffer even more of me!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game demonstrates both to us and to our fear that we, and not it, are the ones who decide what we do. Low self-esteem tells us, "If you don't shape up and get busy and produce something admirable, I'll glom on tighter and smother you even more!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game says, "I may work on that project in a few minutes, but it will be because I choose to, and not because I'm prodded to do it by the hot poker of emotion that you keep jabbing into me."

As we face our feelings, we discover we're stronger than we realized. We learn we can take it. We see that it's okay to feel bad. We don't have to escape or numb our feelings, we can simply let them run their course. Once we can tolerate whatever feelings arise, we get to stay firmly ensconced in the driver's seat of our lives. That's so much better than being tied up in the trunk, being driven here and there whenever our strongest emotions decide to come around and bully us.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 1

Some bad habits seem rock solid, unmovable. Especially the ones we keep trying to kick, but can't.

Fortunately, the scaffolding that supports addiction in our lives is surprisingly flimsy. A few well-timed strikes on key support beams can do serious damage.

Defy a rule of addiction and you weaken its hold. Keep rebelling and you're on the path of freedom. Make rule-breaking a regular part of your life, and freedom will eventually be yours!

Over the next few days I'm going to post on some of the key rules of addiction and how to break them.

Addiction's Rule #1: Trust the Trance. Addiction simply cannot keep us relapsing unless, from time to time, it rips us out of our right minds and plops us into a state of urgency and craving. To sway us, our sentiments have to shift from the everyday-usual to distorted and driven. The continuation of addiction depends entirely on these intermittent episodes of absolutely immersed myopia.

To Break the Rule: Look at Your Lenses. This means taking the time to step back and look at our sentiments, rather than continuing to merely look at life through our sentiments.

Sentiment is defined as a thought, view, or attitude, based mainly on emotion instead of reason. Our sentiments morph and mutate all the time. They're like those transition lens glasses: clear indoors, darker outside on a sunny day. Our sentiments are naturally going to vacillate all over the place. One moment we're committed to finding a home for that poor orphaned cat and the next we're ready to scream at the landlord for cardboard-thin doors that don't block out the meowing.

Erratically bouncing sentiments are not a problem, they're part of life. The scientists who study consciousness insist that the problem is when we fuse with our sentiments. We forget that our emotional transition lenses will change shades again in a few minutes. When we're fused, this moment's sentiment doesn't get a skeptical squint from us, it gets total buy in. We break this rule of addiction when we squint skeptically and remember that we got to this point because the shade of our sentiments changed, and it will keep changing if we just give it time.

Your Daily Dose: The Instant Replay Game. When you catch a change in sentiment, even a seductively slight shift in your state of mind, 1) articulate the thought, 2) repeat the thought in "you" form (making it a statement said to you instead of by you), and then 3) attribute that thought to a part of your mind and give that part a pet name.

For example, let's say I've committed to watching my calorie intake. But halfway through an afternoon of spreadsheets I start to wonder if that's the leftover donuts I hear, beckoning me all the way from the break room. "Wait, I was gung-ho, now I'm starting to waver. Here's where I Instant Replay it: I just thought, 'I should go see if there are any donuts left.' Oh, 'go see.' That's an interesting way of putting it--not necessarily eat one, just gather recon. Which part my mind said, 'You should go see if there are any donuts left'? Let's see: Is that Hunger talking? Not really. Still full enough from lunch. Sweet Tooth maybe? Actually, I think it's Tom Sawyer talking: 'You're not going to just keep working, are you? Well okay, but if we can't play hooky, the least you can do is feed me another glazed with sprinkles.'"

Or let's say I'm trying to kick a porn habit. I've been doing great for a couple of months, but my wife's at her sister's place for the weekend. I walk in to get ready for bed and discover her iPad on the dresser. Unlike my laptop, it's not password protected. "Nope," I say to myself, and I turn to walk into the bathroom. But then I realize my heart's pounding and I'm breathless. "Ahh. Wow! That suddenly: launch sequence initiated. Time for Instant Replay: I just thought, 'I didn't go looking, the opportunity just fell into my lap!' Which one of you in there said, 'You didn't seek it out so, hey, you get a free pass'? Was that Lester the Luster--always hoping and hungry? Not particularly. It's not so much sex itself I'm craving. Just been a long day and I'm still feeling tense. Soother, that's you in there, isn't it, looking for a little tenderness. Or maybe Escapist, craving blissful oblivion. Well, I appreciate the input guys, I really do. But that hasn't worked out so well for me in the past, as you'll recall."

Hope that gives you enough to go on. Try out the Instant Replay Game for yourself. And be sure to tune in next time as we explore how to break addiction's Rule #2: Don't Get Too Down