Saturday, February 12, 2011

Intimacy is More Satisfying than Gratification

Spencer writes, "Please talk more about how expressing our needs heals addiction. What do you mean when you say, 'it's more powerful to express our needs than to actually address our needs'?"

Spencer, I'm so glad you asked. It's such an important topic in recovery from addiction. Thanks for the chance to explain.

Here's what I've discovered in my own life and over the years working with clients: There's great power in becoming more aware of what's going on inside us and then revealing it to someone else, especially our spouse.

A good word for letting down our guard in this way is intimacy. It's about getting naked with our partner, not physically, but emotionally.

By taking the risk of being vulnerable and being real, we open the door for something very powerful to happen. We can be seen and heard for who we are. My wife can really get me. She can connect more fully with the real me than she ever has before, because I've just revealed to her even more of me to which she can relate.

The bond between us can strengthen because my interface with her has enlarged--there's more surface area to adhere.

One of the most helpful things we can do in recovery is conduct an autopsy on a close calls or relapses. (I like to assure clients: if our subject--their relapse--isn't dead before the autopsy, it probably will be by the time we're done.)

During these post-mortums, I'm always looking for the moment in their life when something real was going on inside, but it was something they quickly found unacceptable or automatically decided they shouldn't feel, so they tried to dismiss or suppress it.

I'm looking for missed chances to be real, missed opportunities for intimacy.

These are such important moments, because they show us those key turning points in our everyday life when we can be more aware of what we feel and stay connected to it instead of detaching from it. We can be real instead of trying to convince ourselves and others we feel something we don't. (A draining feat, often unsuccessful, and the trying can sure lead to dysfunction and misery.)

Here's how this looks in real life:

Trent was excited because his company's holiday party was at his favorite Mexican restaurant. As he walked down the buffet line in the banquet room, he realized that wouldn't be able to construct his favorite burrito because some of the ingredients he loved were missing. He'd dumped the pork and the black beans on his tortilla, but there was no sour cream or guacamole. It felt unsatisfying to sprinkled just lettuce and tomato chunks on top.

Trent felt bad, but he heard a voice inside saying, "Don't be a wimp. They're treating you to dinner for crying out loud." Then he remembered what he had discovered about being real. He knew from times past that the feelings he was having could put a kink in his mood for the night and hamper his ability to really "get into" and enjoy the party. Feeling ungratified could hamper his ability to enjoy himself and enjoy other people.

Unacknowledged resentments didn't evaporate, he had found. He would have found it easier to resent something during the CEO's state-of-the-company talk. Easier to find fault with little things about other party-goers. Easier to be irritated and annoyed with Stacy on the drive home.

What did Trent do? Simply ask a server for sour cream and guac? That might have worked fine, but what he did instead turned out to be even more powerful. He sat down by Stacy and said, "I was so disappointed when I got to the condiments and saw that there was no sour cream or guacamole."

Stacy looked over at his burrito and remembered what he usually ordered. "Oh, yeah. I bet that was a bummer for you."

Sounds simple, but very satisfying: Trent stays real with himself. He decides to be real with her. She gets him. She lets him in and let's him know she did. He stays more firmly rooted in reality. Enjoys the party more because he's not inwardly divided. He's not wasting mental and emotional wattage trying not to feel, trying to pretend he's not feeling something he really is feeling.

He talks to Stacy and it's over that quickly. Instead of the emotional energy staying contained and continuing to build up inside, it diffuses through Stacy like electricity through a ground wire.

That's the tremendous power of opening up to someone we love and having them understand and accept us as we are.

Trent felt at ease again. He got home that night tired and ready to sleep, instead of feeling disconnected and off-kilter and hankering for his old addiction to porn.


  1. Thank you, that helps me understand it better. I especially like the metaphor of larger surface area to allow better adherence. It seems I want to put a veneer over my life to present to myself/my family/the world a smooth and unblemished surface, but smooth surfaces have less surface area than the cracked creased pitted reality under the veneer.

  2. Oooh, I love that Spencer! "The cracked, creased, pitted reality under the veneer" I think of the people I know and love, and those I feel closest to are those who are real about their cracks, creases, and pits. It makes me want to let others know the real me.