Monday, October 10, 2011

Craving Tenderness

Frank's struggle has spanned half a century. He got into porn before he was even a teenager, and now, at age 63, he still considers it an addiction.

When I started meeting with Frank over a year ago, he succumbed almost daily to temptation. Lately, he sometimes goes weeks between lapses. Despite his improved track record, there are still times when Frank gets swept away by the stiff current of craving.

A couple of weeks ago, Frank had given in to the urge two days before our session. It was a good chance to take a step back and consider what put him in a state where he was more vulnerable.

"I felt bad that day. Carol was coming home from her sister's place in Arizona. I told her to wake me up when she got home. Well, I woke up at about 6:00 p.m. That's the middle of the night for me since I work graveyard. I was surprised to hear the TV on in the other room. I thought, She got home and didn't even bother to wake me up. I was annoyed."

Later that night, in his office at the plastics manufacturing plant, Frank got online and masturbated to pornography.

"Did you talk to Carol about how you felt?" I asked

"Not really," Frank responded. "I asked her why she didn't wake me up, but then I had to run off to work."

"If you had talked to her, what might you have said?"

"I wouldn't have talked to her. I don't want to put that burden on her. Especially after what I did that night when I was feeling bad. I don't want to put the blame for that on her."

"It's not that you'd be blaming her," I insisted, "just opening up to her about important, tender feelings. I role played for him what he might say: 'It was so good when you called from Blanding. I missed you this last week. The house seemed empty and my whole day revolved around you getting home. Then, when I woke up discovered you were home, and concluded you simply hadn't bothered to come wake me up, something collapsed inside. You're so important to me. If I start to feel like I don't matter to you, it feels lousy inside. I can go through the motions of the day, but not whole-heartedly. There's a part of me that keeps feeling wounded and vulnerable."

Although I put more tenderly than Frank would, I could tell by the tears welling in the corner of his eyes that I'd touched a chord.

When Frank and I met again this week, he said "I talked to Carol about opening up to her in that way. She said she'd welcome it. She's been wanting that kind of closeness for years."

That week, when Frank had a bad day, he came home and spilled his guts. "I had all these errands to run, but I sat for the longest time waiting at the doctor's office. Then, when they finally took me back, they had to keep poking me trying to get blood. It took three different nurses and over an hour to finally collect it. Now I'll only get five hours of sleep tonight. It'ts so frustrating."

I could imagine Carol: "Oh, Honey. I'm sorry you had to go through all that. It must have been so frustrating to have everything slow you down as you were trying to get things done and get back here to bed on time."

"I bet you slept better after talking to Carol," I said.

"It sure has felt better," Frank admitted. Then he described the kind of changes in his pornography struggle that  I've come to expect over the years as I've seen couples learn to connect more deeply and emotionally: "Mind doesn't tend to wander to sex as much... urges are easier to dismiss..."

Rock on Frank! Keep it up and before long you'll be firing me. As much as I've grown to love you and enjoy the time we spend together a couple times a month, I will welcome that day and celebrate with you that landmark on your path of recovery!

Image: Ambro /

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