Monday, September 20, 2010

Conveying Raw Feelings

"I don’t think I’ve ever viewed pornography before noon," Chester said. "I feel strong in the morning. I’ve had my personal devotional. I usually get in to the office early. I have my checklist made up of tasks I’m hoping to accomplish for the day. I usually start out the workday clearheaded, hitting on all cylinders, and optimistic that I’ll get everything done.

"Very rarely do I cross the finish line at 5:30 feeling the same way I did coming out of the gate. I usually tear myself away from my desk barely in time to catch the train, my head overflowing with all the stuff that didn’t get done.

"I’m most likely to get caught up in porn in the afternoon. Like last Thursday: I finished all my corrections to one audit at about 3:00, then realized I had four more to do by the end of the week. I was either going to have to stay ridiculously late that night and perhaps still not get everything done by Friday afternoon, or give my boss the bad news that we’d have to push the deadline into the following week. I hate that kind of conversation, I hate letting people down. I do everything I can to avoid it. So I sat there, trying to work, but mostly stewing over what to do—call my boss or not—and feeling crappy about both options."

When I asked him if there were times when it went better, Chester admitted that it really helped to call and check in with his wife at such times. "She’ll update me on how her day is going. Then she’ll ask about my day. I don’t usually say much, just ‘fine’ or maybe a brief comment about something that bugged me that day. Things seem to go a lot better when I take a break from the mounting pressure, take a walk around the courtyard of our office building, and check in with Linda."

Having seen lots of men progress in their recovery, it was clear to me that, although it helped some, it wasn’t enough for Chester to say "fine" or comment briefly about his day. He was grabbing an emotional snack; he needed the nourishment of a full meal. That level of emotional connection and release left him hungry still.

I’m not faulting Chester. He didn’t realize how much emotional support he needed, nor did he know how to ask Linda for it. It’s not easy to put into words, the way Chester sometimes got feeling in the middle of the afternoon. How could he be more open with Linda about it? If he were to simply go with what he was feeling at the time in its most basic, raw and unvarnished form, he might just call her and moan on the phone. Sort of like he felt like doing when he was starting to come down with the flu. I asked him to give her a heads up that he was going to try that out—call and moan to her when he was out on his walk—and ask her if she’d be willing at such times was to simply respond with a soft, sincere, sympathetic, "Oh, honey," "There, there," or just "Ohhhh."

"This might sound like a pretty infantile, wimpy form of communication," I acknowledged. "Just remember, and perhaps remind your wife: you can be vulnerable by reaching out, or you’ll be vulnerable to acting out."

Chester was in a raw, primal, emotionally driven state every time he decided to go to porn. We can’t pacify those kind of feelings by trying to be mature or snap out of it. We need to acknowledge our neediness at such times. The genuine need we have is to connect, and we can only do it by revealing that inner unwieldy, ineffable yuckiness to someone who cares to hear it, is strong enough to handle it, and loves us enough that, most of the time at least, they’ll stay attentive, responsive and engaged with us even when they see firsthand, up close and personal, that we’re struggling. If we don’t even let ourselves stay with the feelings that are going on inside at such times, let alone ask our beloved to be with us in the midst of them, then we’re bound to keep hankering for our old familiar illicit form of soothing and deliverance.

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