Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Feed--REALLY Feed--Your Craving Brain

We can certainly feel hungry for sex. But as hunger pangs go, our addictive urges and cravings are terrible predictors of what will actually "hit the spot" and leave us feeling full and satisfied. We may feel like we need a sexual release. But after acting out we are left feeling empty, guilty, ashamed. 

It turns out that we as humans can be lousy predictors of what will make us feel good. George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University calls this the "Intrapersonal Empathy Gap." When we don't know others as well as we think we do, there's a gap in our inTERpersonal empathy. But we don't even know our future selves as well as we think we do--hence the inTRApersonal empathy gap. 

When you're in hot pursuit of an opportunity to act out, if feels like you're sneaking your future self a delightful, forbidden gift. "Look what I'm working really hard to get for you!" Once you've acted out, you sneer at your past self and say, "How could you imagine I'd want more of that crap in my life?!"

Try out this exercise. It can help provide you with alternative activities at those moments when you're vulnerable to acting out. It will also illustrate some of the gaps in your empathy for your future self. Hopefully it will make you more willing in the future to try constructive activities that don't seem very appealing in the heat of the moment.

In the middle of a page, make a list of possible activities you could turn to when you're at risk of relapsing. Then, in a column to the left, rate each activity from 1-10 according to how satisfying you think the activity will be. For example, here's Paul's list:

Satisfaction                 Activity
6                     Browse news websites
7                     Listen to music
7                     Talk with coworkers
5                     Work hard
7                     Lunch with family
8                     Play football on Wii
7                     Volunteer at church
8                     Sub for Santa
7                     Caroling with neighbors
7                     Lunch with coworkers
8                     Browse entertainment websites
4                     Go running

Then create a right hand column where you can rate actual satisfaction from 1-10. Throughout the coming week or two, right after you engage in each of the activities, rate how satisfied you feel. Here is the completed assignment Paul showed me two weeks later:

 Projected                                                            Actual
Satisfaction                 Activity                          Satisfaction
6                     Browse news websites                     2 (ugh!)
7                     Listen to music                                 9
7                     Talk with coworkers                        8
5                     Work hard                                       8
7                     Lunch with family                             9
8                     Play football on Wii                          6
7                     Volunteer at church                          8
8                     Sub for Santa                                   10
1                     Caroling with neighbors                    9
7                     Lunch with coworkers                      8
8                     Browse entertainment websites         2
4                     Go running                                       7

Notice the gaps--some of the huge!--between how satisfying Paul thought these activities would be and how much he actually enjoyed them. 

It has made him rethink all the time he spends online and playing video games. And has made him more willing to try things that sound challenging (working hard) or even miserable (Caroling with a group of neighbor families)

Try out this exercise for yourself. And stop ingesting poisonous activities--they make your future self sick every time!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sober is Different

Three months ago Kyle was masturbating to porn almost daily. Every time he tried to go without, the pull became almost unbearable. He said during one of our sessions, "Sex is the ultimate for me. The rest of the life pales in comparison."

He's now been sober for two months.

"When I consider doing porn, it feels a lot more hollow and pointless. Life's gotten better as I've been clean for a while. I guess I'm forming new habits.

"I've see more control and confidence in all aspects of my life. I'm studying to go back to school. I can sit down and do that more readily now. It feels like my life is moving forward. I'm more patient with the tasks I have to do at work.

"I'm more emotionally stable. It used to be such a roller coaster when I gave in after being sober for a few days, in those rare instances. I would be so low the next day, it was terrible. I was down on myself, irritable, less patient with my roommates. Most of the time I was giving in daily so it was a constant cloud that hung over me and dragged down my self-esteem."

Kyle summed up the difference he's experiencing in these words: "I'm a happy person."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

John's Addiction Behind His Addiction

Seems a lot of people can relate to my last post. I’ll share John’s story, but first, let’s briefly review what I mean by the Addiction behind the Addiction: You have a life pattern that is commonplace and seemingly benign. But when you do too much of it, you’re more vulnerable to acting out in a way that’s more obviously problematic, more clearly an addiction.

As soon John learned about this idea, he knew right away what his ABA was: screen time. He was always turning to TV, the internet, his iPad, or smartphone.

So he started pushing the four pause buttons sometimes instead of always going straight to screens. Here’s how it went last Sunday night:

Declare the Thought: "I am so done with all of my duties and responsibilities and being around people and figuring out what they need and how I can help them. I just want to veg... escape... I want oblivion."

Face the Feeling: If I don't turn on the TV or get out my phone and check sports scores or political news I feel antsy, out of sorts."

Notice what's Now: Heaviness in my chest. My two kids youngest kids hanging near me. My daughter’s asking if she can read her chapter book to me. It’s a mystery she’s really into.

Do what’s You: I'll let her read to me. That will have more meaning to me in the long run than watching a football game I couldn’t care less about. My son snuggles up there with us and my daughter reads chapter after chapter. This is the most I've ever read with her and both of them are loving the time together.

It was 8:45 when they were done reading and John felt so relaxed he just laid there in his bed. He ended up falling asleep and slept for the next nine hours straight until it was time to get up Monday morning.

John had been exhausted!

If he had turned on the TV or his iPad instead, how well would those have restored his exhausted body and given him what he really needed? It may have felt like “down time” to him, but chances are he would have stayed up even later. In fact, sometimes at night he finds himself so tired he doesn’t even have the energy to get up and turn off the TV! 

Instead of getting more sleep and correcting the existing imbalance, his ABA would have emptied his tank further, making him even more vulnerable to relapsing with porn.

Good job, John!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Addiction Behind the Addiction

Meredith is working to better manage her eating and her temper. But she has learned she's much more likely to lapse in one of those areas when she feels discouraged.

It may sound odd to characterize discouragement as an addiction. But it is very seductive. And certain things in her life can trigger her to relapse. She starts thinking in ways that wouldn't make much sense to her at other times when she's in her right mind. And then she behaves in ways that don't serve her well. For Meredith, discouragement might as well be an addiction. I think of it as "the addiction behind her other addictions."

The other day she was trying to organize a nice family dinner. Her fifteen year old daughter didn't come to the table until she'd been called four times. Then she rolled her eyes when Meredith asked her to pray. Then the two younger kids were being noisy and rambunctious.

She's been working with me to slow her reactions down, so she texted me later that night:

Declare the Thought: "So much for a nice dinner. Look at the state of your family. As hard as you try, you're not measuring up. God certainly doesn't approve of you."

Face the Feeling: Sad. Shame that I don't have things more together. I feel lonely and out in the cold spiritually."

Notice What's Now: "Tight in my gut. Table still a mess from dinner. Younger kids playing quietly on the iPad in the family room."

Do What's You: "I walked over and sat by the kids and watched the movie they were into. My little Pony. Asked them about it. Claire was excited to explain the personalities of a couple of the horses."

Typically, an addict will first work on their surface addiction using these steps. For Meredith this was back when she was giving in regularly to the urges to overeat or yell. For you it might be the urge to view porn, to overspend, or to drink.

Over time, however, just like Meredith, you'll then start to see other, more subtle emotional patterns or "addictions" that help set the stage for your "acting out" behaviors and overt addictions. As you track the process and put it into words, you'll notice that some thoughts and feelings keep showing up in the vicinity of your worst temptations!

How convenient: you can use the exact same 4-step sequence on those subtler underlying patterns of self-defeating thinking and feeling.

It's like recognizing the landmarks further upstream so that we can drag our boat onto the bank long before we get to the most dangerous waterfall.

Just as these four steps help us push the pause button so that we don't act out, they can help push the pause button before our emotions take too strong a hold. They often provide just enough space for us to see our inner reaction for what it is and not let it drive an outer reaction.

Later, we'll be so glad we had that four-step pause button and took the opportunity to push it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Declare Your Thoughts

If you've ever traveled abroad you've had this experience: when you arrive at the customs checkpoint you have to declare or reveal what you're bringing into the country. It can be odd to do a mental inventory of your luggage and realize there's an item of concern or  significance. I mean, you're the one who packed the stuff; it's not like someone snuck it in there on you! And yet there's something about having to write it out on a form or say it out loud to a customs agent that heightens your awareness.

The same phenomenon occurs with our thinking. Lots of odd things we pack around in our heads never get evaluated or questioned. So it never quite occurs to us: this thought is explosive... that one is toxic and contraband... there's way too much of this one... and that one is downright dangerous. So unhelpful thoughts can just keep rattling around in there doing untold damage.

Starting today, become the customs agent of your own thinking. You don't have to charge a duty or try to confiscate anything. Just say to your mind, "What thoughts are you carrying around? You need to declare them."

Two or three times today, particularly when you feel a shift in your emotional state, text out the thought you're having to yourself or someone in your support network or write it out on a sticky note or 3x5 card.

Hanging on the wall next to the TSA checkpoint of the Salt Lake Airport there is a big display of contraband items agents have confiscated from the luggage of travelers. There are guns, knives, nunchucks, chinese throwing stars, and even a machete.

In a similar spirit, here is a display of some of the thoughts my clients have caught their minds casually carrying around:

  • "I can't get over this problem despite years of effort. Why bother even trying to stand up to temptation?"
  • "That travel magazine in the waiting room rack has a woman in an infinity pool. I should browse through it and see if there are any other beautiful women I can enjoy checking out."
  • "Shelly wants me to get up with the baby this morning even though she knows I haven't gotten much sleep. She doesn't really care about what I need. I guess if my needs are going to get met I'll have to take care of them myself."
  • "This is a pretty mainstream website. I can look at these images, no problem."
  • "My roommate goes to his night class on Thursdays so I'll have the place to myself. I can get online and do whatever I want."
  • "This still isn't working. The problems with this work project never end. And there's always some new crisis at home. God is cursing me because I'm a sinner."
  • "Can you believe the material they're comfortable putting out? I need to get a better look at just how low they've let their standards drop." 

Simply exposing these kinds of thoughts by expressing them can be very powerful. Once they're stated explicitly, we can see that they don't make much sense. They're not nearly as convincing when they're dragged into the cold light of day. Language is the realm of logic and objectivity, and putting words to our thoughts helps restore our mental clarity.

If you think it might help to declare your thoughts to someone but you're not sure who, feel free to text them to me: 801-564-7566. I'm a collector. You'll be helping me expand my display.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How To Take Urges In Stride: A Review of George Collins' Book, Breaking the Cycle

In the war on porn addiction, George Collins is a Navy Seal and this book is his Zero Dark Thirty.

No one knows enemy terrain like George. His descriptions are so gritty one of my sexually addicted therapy clients found it hard to read. Tough to look at the grim realities of an addiction that still holds you captive.

That's one of the beauties of having George as a tour guide through the territory. He makes you look. Next stop: a prostitute describing how she really feels about sex with her customers. On a field trip with one of his clients, George pays her to be honest instead of paying her to fake pleasure. She tells it like it is. The curtain is pulled back and the trance of addiction shatters.

The heart of the book is the recovery skills we get to see in action. How do you deal with urges and cravings? George demonstrates beautifully how to catch the mind in the act as it tries to play its tricks on you. He calls this "turning on the lights in your personal amphitheater " Insist that the addictive voice put into words what it wants. As we activate the language brain we ramp up our capacity for objectivity. Rip the urge out of the realm of swirling, breathless yearnings that have remained so potent, in part because they usually never quite get articulated.

In the articulation, urges lose some of their power. Getting everything out on the table in this way--making thoughts and cravings explicit--is the beginning of the end of being ruled by the autopilot mode that characterizes addiction.

But it's only the beginning of the end. And now we get to what I love most about the book.

George's gives a blow-by-blow account of his own fight to extract himself from the jaws of addiction. That it's possible simply becomes undeniable--we watch him do it! A memoir alone would be gift enough to those similarly stuck. What makes this an even more exhilarating read is that he, better than anyone else I know of, describes exactly how he did it, providing invaluable guidance on how we, too, can do it for ourselves. Breaking the Cycle is part autobiography, part self-help book, and the two are meshed masterfully.

George models how to navigate the imperfect realm of recovery. He demos how to keep plugging along even when things seem ugly. When he's out in public with his wife and a beautiful woman catches his eye, George neither succumbs to lust nor kicks himself for being triggered. He reaches up and brushes his cheek with his hand to do a beard test. A little reminder that he is a real, mature man and chooses to look at women as amazing, real human beings rather than props to be used in a lust fantasy. He has so regularly done the beard test in response to triggers that it has become his new automatic. Sometimes his wife asks "Where is she?" before George even realizes he felt a pull or that he responded appropriately to it.

The lesson: it's not being triggered that matters--that's a part of life, take it in stride. It's how we respond that's key.

Later, as George's recovery seems to be humming along quite nicely, he finds himself back in the throes of an extremely potent craving. Once again, instead of succumbing or lamenting he stays curious and looks more closely to explore what made it so potent. He dissects it: part of it was that it's a gorgeous sunshiny day and part of it was the click of those high heels walking up the stairs. So he calls it the "Blue Sky and High Heels" moment. And we can all relate to those moments when you're going along, doing fine, and out of the blue jolted back into state where you're raring and ready to go full bore on an old, self-destructive path.

George saw that moment for what it was and put words to it. We're shown again the power of language and self-awareness. As we step back and apply language to an experience, we're no longer immersed in and entranced by the experience. The automatic workings of the mind no longer dictate our reality and we become more able to respond as we choose.

Expose the workings of the reactive mind and then choose how you'll respond.

That's the essence of being in recovery and it's a process that's illustrated again in the climactic story of the book, which brought me to tears. George is not only in recovery himself, he has become a licensed therapist and started a private practice. Look how far he's come--he's helping other people find the same freedom he enjoys! But he glances out the window of his new office and sees a young women's soccer team practicing on the field next door. "I really should bring my field glasses so that I can get a closer look," he thinks to himself.

George could have brought the field glasses to work the next day. He could have hung his head in shame, "So you're the professional who's supposed to help others? Can't even keep yourself together. A few girls playing soccer put you right back at square one!" Instead he smiled to himself about the power of the addicted mind. Then considered how he might respond.

He went to a sporting goods store and bought a box of Hacky Sacks. He delivered them in person and watched the coach pass them out to the team. As the girls took the little beanbags and started kicking them around, they escaped the dreamy realm of potential sex objects and burst into George's real life. He saw them for who they are: playful young human beings with bright eyes and braces and pimples and giggles and anxieties and hopes and dreams all their own.

George walked back to his office with no need to fight the urge to bring binoculars into the office.

Now that's a guy in recovery. And that story and his others show us that we can get there, too.

When we finish the book we realize we've gained much more than half a dozen excellent recovery tools and some dang good stories about how and when to use them. We're like the kid who found a real Swiss Army knife in the bottom of his cereal box. Having been immersed in it, some of it has rubbed off on us: George's sense of hope and his appreciation for human dignity, both our own and other peoples'.

Thanks George, for this amazing book. And thanks even more for living the courageous, loving life that enabled you to write it. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What If He Won't Quit Porn?

I take seriously any book recommendation from a client, but when Elizabeth raved about Victoria and Gary Prater's book, Love and Pornography, my interest was really piqued. 

That's because Elizabeth is a wonderful woman with a heart of gold and she's been through a hellish struggle over the last three years. 

It all started when her daughter discovered her husband Charles's pornography stash on their computer and showed it to Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth went numb, then she almost threw up. Into her mind reverberated something Charles had said to her in anger two decades earlier: "Our sex life is the pits! If it doesn't get better soon, I'm gonna get it elsewhere!" 

Since then she'd been terrified that someday she'd discover that he'd been unfaithful. 

That moment, there at the computer with her daughter, felt to Elizabeth like the realization of her worst fear. On the one hand, her mind knew that these were just images on the computer. But her heart was screaming, "He is getting it elsewhere! From these knock-out, anonymous women who freely offer their perfect bodies for his viewing pleasure. And he's not just viewing them! In his mind he's screwing them!" 

On the heels of those thoughts about Charles and his pornography, into Elizabeth's mind rushed this slam on herself: "I've failed. I don't satisfy him. I've never had what it takes. And look at me now, old and out of shape. I'll never be enough for him!" 

Elizabeth told Charles how hurt she was by the discovery. 

She thought they'd work through it the way they had another struggle years earlier. He'd come to her in a similar way with concerns about how much she was spending. She'd taken out some credit cards he didn't know about and he was very troubled by the added debt. And hurt by her secrecy. 

It was hard for her to change her spending habits, but when she saw how much it hurt him she knew she had to do it. She turned it around, became more frugal, and had never gone back to her old ways.

She could tell Charles felt bad about the porn. He felt even worse that his daughter had been the one to run onto it. And when he saw how much it meant to Elizabeth he quickly promised that he wouldn't look at it anymore. 

For a while, he didn't. But then she found evidence of it again. Perhaps it was just an isolated slip. She let it go.

A few months later she could tell his time on porn was creeping back up so she raised the issue again. He got angry and defensive. "I don't look nearly as much as a lot of other men do! What's the big deal?" 

She hasn't brought it up since even though she knows he's still looking. 

It's been excruciating for Elizabeth because it has seemed to her that "He doesn't care about me enough to get off it and stay off." She has wondered, "How important am I to him, anyway?" 

But then Charles is sweet and doting and accommodating and loving. They spend long weekends together, taking trips and relishing each other's company. "That is the guy I married!" she cheers silently to herself. "He's still the man I've always known and loved." 

But their relationship never seems to rest long in one position. She's gone back and forth between feeling like "It's worth it" to "I can't stand it anymore" more times than she can count. 

Three years in now, Elizabeth has come to terms with the fact that Charles is the one who has to decide for himself what role porn will play in his life. She's firm in her conclusion that she doesn't want a divorce even if he never quits. There's too much good in the life they've built together. 

But at times it still hurts, and she's always on the lookout for resources that help her make sense of what porn means to men and help her come to terms with her own strong feelings about the fact that her husband is so captivated by it.

Chapter five of Love and Pornography really hit home to Elizabeth. In it, the Praters take turns exploring the needs behind each of their pornography-oriented desires and behaviors. 

Gary starts the process. His exploration of the needs that drive his porn viewing is one of the most insightful I've ever heard. He goes beneath the obvious, beyond the fact that it turns him on sexually. 

In everyday life he sometimes feels like there's something wrong with him because of his pressing fascination with sex. That's when he's not viewing porn. But then, once he launches into a binge, that shameful feeling goes away. Suddenly he's part of a community of free thinkers who enjoy sex as much as he does. That sense of inclusion and acceptance is warmly comforting to him. 

And, of course, the fantasy of being approved by one attractive woman after another is exhilarating, too!

Gary also explores the exuberant feeling of freedom that goes along with surfing for porn. It's the complete opposite of the confined feeling he felt growing up in a home with strict parents and lots of rules. When Gary entertains the idea of giving up porn because it upsets Victoria, there awakens in him again that old sense of squelching and suppressing himself just to please others and conform to their opinion of what he should be.

Gary came to understand more fully that he has a deep and very important need to be in the driver’s seat of his own life. He determined that he would have to be the one to decide to get off porn, if he indeed decided to, rather than giving in to pressure from Victoria.

Elizabeth found Gary's insights very revealing. It helped her see that the needs and desires and struggles and choices that drive Charles' pornography viewing are arising from within himself, not from her perceived inadequacies or failures.

Next in chapter five comes Victoria's exploration of the inner workings of her own pain, a pain that for a long time led her to keep pressing Gary to get off porn. 

As she considered the variety of human needs that drive behavior, she resonated on a very powerful, visceral level when she considered the need to matter. When Gary went on porn, it seemed to Victoria that he left her behind. Her, the real world, and the real love she offered. Giving it all up for a fleeting fantasy. 

Before, when her pain over his porn use would awaken, Victoria allowed it to drive her to try to persuade Gary to see porn for what it was in her eyes: poorly produced, trashy entertainment that exploits vulnerable people. And to try to persuade him to give it up. Such a simple solution, it seemed to her!

Now, instead of acting in that usual way, Victoria allowed herself to feel deeply what Gary's porn use meant to her. She stayed in the feelings that came up for her, stayed with herself as she felt them, rather than trying to take action to rid herself of those feelings in any way she could. 

As Victoria settled herself in the feeling of not mattering to Gary, it occurred to her just how familiar it was to feel like that. She remembered trying to get the attention and love she needed from her mother, who suffered from mental illness. Her mom was so deeply lost in her own struggles, she simply did not have that love and attention to give Victoria. 

So now, Gary's porn had reopened Victoria's deepest and most painful emotional wound. He'd get on porn and she'd be instantly transported to the most vulnerable state she'd ever been in. 

Although this was insightful to Victoria, as you can imagine she didn't feel any particular healing effect so far because of the work she'd been doing to understand. 

But then she had the amazing realization: the pain she'd been through back then and the feelings that came up for her now could matter and needed to matter...to her. She could be there for herself in a way she never had before, in a way no one ever had before. She needed to be there for herself. By staying with her feelings when she was in pain she was, in a way, doing just that: staying with herself. Right when she needed it most. She could keep turning her loving attention toward her own suffering, and thus send the reassuring message to the most vulnerable part of her that she does matter. 

This was very healing for Victoria. It was also a very powerful process for Elizabeth to witness because she related so closely to Victoria's experience growing up. "It's almost like she was writing about my life!"

You know a self-help book is doing its job when it seems like it was written for you--or could have been written by you! That's why I'm recommending Love and Pornography. It will facilitate growth, communication, and understanding for any couple who finds that pornography is an ongoing struggle that's hard to resolve. 

My client, Elizabeth, read it a year ago and was disappointed because she didn't like the ending: after a period off porn, Gary goes back to it. That was when Elizabeth was still convinced that resolution of this issue for her would require Charles to kick the habit.

Oh, if life were only always that simple. 

But Elizabeth hasn't given up on happiness. "Life is too short to stay miserable," she often tells me with a smile. So her quest for understanding and peace continues. And Victoria and Gary Prater are providing her wonderful, much needed guidance and perspective. 

Check out their book and then please let us know what you think.

Monday, October 21, 2013

You Know He's In Recovery When...

Wow, I'm impressed.

I just finished a therapy session with Karen. We've worked together over the last 2+ years. The process has tested her to the core, but she has survived her husband, Neil's porn addiction, his descent into real life raunch, and eventual infidelity. And their relationship has survived.

Even more amazing, it's now going well for her individually and for them as a couple.

Perhaps most women would have given up on the marriage... and been fully justified in doing so. No doubt she entertained the thought. But somehow inside she remained convinced that the man she loved was still there, deep down.

That guy was certainly hard to see because Neil had become so detached. It wasn't just that he was a sex addict living a double life. He worked almost all of the time and when he was at home he was almost always off by himself. The kids noticed it--how could they not? It happened gradually, but they essentially lost the dad they'd known and loved.

When Neil finally admitted his affair to Karen, he had all but decided to leave and go live with the other woman. Karen told him it was up to him, but let him know that she was open to working things out if he decided to.

He decided he had to move out in order to make the decision with a clear head. I was doubtful. Statistics show that separation makes divorce more likely.

It was remarkable to me at the time. I might have expected Karen to say, "You're the one who had the affair and now I have to work to convince you to hang in there and try to work things out? Talk about salt in the wound! Forget that!" But she refrained.

In time, living on his own, Neil realized that wasn't the path he wanted to take. He decided to move back home and work on recovering from his sexual acting out.

Fast forward two years. It's been a long haul for them, working and growing individually and as a couple.

But today as I talked with Karen I was struck by some of the things she's been noticing about Neil these days. To me they're excellent indicators that a guy is in recovery and on the right track--hallmarks if you will.

So I wanted to share with you her observations and my thoughts about them:
  • "Three days in a row I noticed him petting our cat. Really enjoying it. He said at one point, 'I sure love this cat.'"
Addicts aren't prone to enjoy the little things in life. It takes much more to ring their bell. In recovery, the little things that bring contentment and fullness to life start to pop out again. Life steadily becomes richer and richer until, as a fully sensitized being, you're able to delight in the subtler pleasures of life like the taste of a decent cheese sandwich or the sight of the gutter overflowing on a rainy day.
  • "He's way more engaged with our son."
For the addict in recovery, everyday interactions become more interesting and worthwhile. "I don't know, Charlie, let me think about it. How about you, which Transformer would you choose to be?" When you're used to having your system jarred into the pleasure zone by high-decibel sexuality, it becomes mission impossible to read your kid's favorite Berenstain Bears book to him for the eighth time. It may not be that much more fun in recovery, but it feels more doable. Life is easier all around.

And there's the recovery of our capacity for attachment in relationships. As we recover from the trance of addiction, there's room within us to apprehend the dimension and facets of the real people in our lives. We realize anew what loved ones mean to us. We discover again how good it feels just to be around them.
  • "He's gone from being never happy to almost always happy--or at least at ease."
Speaking of the hell of addiction, Carrie Fisher said, "The problem with instant gratification is, it takes too long. It seemed like an eternity to get from the front door of the place where the party was back to the room where the drugs were."

The more constant and intense the gratification, the less easily satisfied we become. Being in the throes of addiction makes us miserable most of the time.

Not every guy in recovery is relaxed, easy going, walking around sighing with a contented smile on his face. But an addict in the active phase of his addiction almost never is.
  • "They were getting ready for a huge product roll-out at his work. His entire team was working really hard, but they were also all sleep deprived, irritable, and picking at each other more. He didn't hide the fact that some of those interactions made him feel bad. He came home and opened up to me and we talked about it most nights during that hard time."
To me it's a key hallmark of recovery: a willingness to deal with life as it is, to deal with difficult feelings on their own terms, rather than to squirm and wriggle away and dive for the escape hatch of addiction. Facing emotion rather than always scrambling and bargaining for a way out.

These words of Karen's also remind me of an observation Patrick Carnes made about a key indicator someone's in recovery from addiction. They become more transparent and willing to allow others to see the process they go through. They don't keep all their struggles private, waiting to present only the finished product to others. They open up about their ambivalence and uneasiness. They let others see some of the messiness of their inner life. And as a result they're able to get support when they need it most, instead of having to struggle along on their own.

Seeing this progress has brought a tremendous sense of relief to Karen. "What a difference the last couple of years have made," she said. "The view from here is much improved. The past is becoming more like a bad dream that is almost forgotten, rather than the living nightmare that it was."

So now readers, it's your turn. As you've observed your own recovery or that of a loved one, what indicator would you add to this list?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Rebooters Make

This week one of my clients, Douglas, shared with me a great post over on Gary Wilson and Marnia Robinson's site.

"Underdog" is the guy who runs their "Rebooting Your Brain" forum. It's a great resource for anyone trying to kick the porn habit.

On the forum you can set goals, share them with others, track your progress, and journal about how it's going.

Douglas found it so helpful to see in people's journals their periodic hard patches.

He discovered he wasn't the only one who had really strange dreams as he's detoxing from porn.

On a down day he read the journal of a guy who had once been really depressed for a few days. It was a simple and yet profound thing for him to see that things turned around and were back to normal for that other guy after a few days. It helped Douglas keep his own suffering in perspective and gave him hope.

That's big.

Reading other people's entries and keeping his own journal on that forum is helping him view his recovery from the bird's eye view. That's huge, since addiction keeps its hold by blinding us to the big picture and keeping us locked in the moment. Addiction is all about instant gratification; taking in the bigger picture is a way back into recovery.

Douglas said that the articles on the "Reuniting" and "Your Brain on Porn" sites are "warmly written" and useful. One that really hit home for him was by Underdog: "The Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Rebooters Make." Check it out. I think you'll also love the great insights and practicality of Underdog's suggestions.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"The Togetherness Project" Conference in SLC next Week!

This is a guest post by Jacy Boyack. Her organization, "The Togetherness Project," is hosting a conference next week in Salt Lake City. I know many of you will be interested--and hopefully able to attend and benefit from the support and wisdom that will be shared. 

I remember sitting alone in the stillness of my 1989 tri-level home.  I looked around the room, tears falling freely from my eyes. I gazed emptily into the family pictures that were crowding every shelf, and every wall. I had never before felt so broken as a human being. I had never felt such defeat as a woman, wife, lover, and friend.

One day earlier, just 24 hours prior, the smiles and the kisses were real, and the picture-perfect life was my reality.  I was living my dream and no one, nothing, could have ever prepared me for what I was about to discover. No one, nothing, could have ever prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on.

It only took one 45 minute conversation to change everything.


Atomically blasted.

I didn't even know what had hit me. All I knew is that I found myself flat on my face, spinning, confused, and totally disoriented. Because behind the happy smiles that I thought were genuine and accurate candids of our life, there was a secret. An addiction I had no idea was festering. A game-changer I had no idea was waiting on the sidelines.

I sobbed.

For days.

For weeks.

For months.

I didn't know one person could produce so many tears.

In absolute dismay, with a heavy heart that was literally broken in half, and with more shock and denial and emotional pain than one can imagine, I pled:

Why me?


I don't understand.

God in Heaven, I don't understand.

How could this have happened?

How did I not see it?

How could I have been so blind?


Please take it away. Take it away! I am not strong enough to handle this. I don't know how to handle this. I don't WANT to handle this. Can I handle this? I want my life, OUR LIFE, to be what it was. Please, take this away.

No matter how much I pled, it never did go back to "how it was", and it was never normal again.

Trying to understand sexual addiction and infidelity became my "new normal". Trying to overcome the devastating blow of betrayal became my "new normal". Weekly and bi-weekly visits to a therapist's office became my "new normal". After 7 months of processing the information, legal discussions with an attorney and going through the divorce process became my "new normal". Being a single mom became my "new normal".

Everything that was NOT normal, became my "new normal".


This was over three and a half years ago.

While I am proud of my recovery skills and my ability to overcome, I still have the very fresh and pink scars to prove that I was hit by that truck. I still trigger. I still feel confusion and grief and sadness when I reflect that time of my life and I feel physically sick to my stomach if I stay in that place for too long. But those times of raw and unimaginable heartache are becoming less and less invasively painful. 

Because something within me has ignited. Something bigger. Something I cannot deny any longer.

A movement is happening! Something is organically brewing and its powerful force is gaining momentum minute by minute, hour by hour.  I am in awe to see how many women are reaching out, how many women are genuinely trying to heal and become better people, and how many women are becoming less and less afraid and ashamed, as they search for love and hope and openness and healing.

Whether it be by just looking in the mirror and actually believing this has no reflection upon you, whether you are opening up to a trusted friend and telling them what is really happening in your life, whether you are joining the Hope and Healing forum, whether you are starting a blog (anonymous or not), whether you are attending your first 12-step meeting, whether you are writing letters to your church leaders telling them to pass your information along to other women in your shoes, whether you are emailing women as support, or writing a book, or doing interviews, or speaking out in your communities, we are part of a MOVEMENT!

We are overcoming the shame and taboo and secretive nature of this big, ugly, brewing beast and we are stepping into light. And this is the why The Togetherness Project was born: to create a place where we can come together and share our trials and our triumphs and our spirits as a sisterhood- face to face.

As of right now, women from all over the United States are coming to be apart of this day!

Women from 10 different states!

This is why I BELIEVE in the project as much as I do. Because there is an undeniable NEED. Every single day our numbers are growing in great measure... and those numbers will continue to grow because this plague is spreading like wildfire. It can be horrific, and, yes, there are times we wish it would be "taken from us" so that we could go back to normal and pretend it never existed. But this is not our reality. And the truth is, out of the despair and anguish and life-changes, there is so much strength and courage and GOOD, too. There is light and there is hope in this new found life and there is love like you would not believe. I know because I have witnessed it with my own eyes and I have felt it deep within my soul. I have been blessed with this contagious love I speak of, and I know many of you have, too. 

It is REAL and it will undoubtedly be present the day of the conference.

So no matter where you are in your journey, it is my hope that you will consider coming to this very unique day. Because this resource was created for women like me... it was created for women like you... it was created so that we can all come together and heal together.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." ~Martin Luther King Jr.

You are not alone.

All my love, 

Jacy Clemons Boyack

*Registration ENDS this Thursday October 10th. Find all of the information you need about the project HERE

Thursday, October 3, 2013

See Thoughts as Just Thoughts

Ideas can seem very potent when they're infused with lust.

"Check out those legs!"

"Is that really a video of...?!"

"Wow, what an image!"

When we buy into ideas like these, we fall into the trap of temptation. Even if we only entertain them briefly and don't go completely off the rails, we've shifted momentum back in the direction of compulsion and addiction.

In an attempt to steer clear of the risk of succumbing to lust, we may fall prey to a complementary hazard. To make doubly sure we don't give in, we put up a big fight against lust-infused ideas.

"Arghh! No! I was doing so well!"

"Oh my, that's intense. Better brace myself!"

"Hold on! Hang on! Don't give in!"

Unfortunately, we may then become like the driver who jerks the wheel to avoid the telephone pole on the right only to swerve into the lane of oncoming traffic on the left.

The problem is, by ratcheting up our mental resistance, we give our urges and cravings even more energy. Our tug-of-war with temptation keeps escalating into a full-blown nuclear arms race.

Perhaps you're saying, "Sure, that sounds familiar. But if I'm going to stop gearing up for all-out battle against lustful thoughts, what else can I do? How should I handle them? I can't let temptations go unchallenged. I don't want to take a casual approach to dealing with them. I've tried that before and seen where it got me--giving in more often than ever!"

Here's what I suggest instead: work to develop the ability to simply see thoughts as just thoughts. Practice pulling back from them far enough to recognize them for what they are. They're not power-packed, dangerous things. They're simply ideas, and they don't have much power over us, in and of themselves.

Once we see a thought as just a thought, we're less likely to buy into it. We can simply notice it and let it go. After all, that's what the vast majority of our thoughts do: they go the way they came. Pop in, drift out. Good, bad, and ugly thoughts; useful thoughts and useless thoughts, that's what they do. After they come, they typically go. And when we don't buy into them they tend to go on their own without our making a big fuss over them. Even the most unproductive, unsuitable thoughts ultimately remain inert unless we get caught up in them--or caught up in fighting them.

So here are three ways you can help yourself see your thoughts as just thoughts:

1. Dialogue with the less mature part of your mind that generated the thought. 

One afternoon Richard was driving past the high school on his way from work to pick up his daughter. He noticed a strikingly beautiful young woman. He smiled and said to himself, "Ah, there you are again fifteen-year-old mind. So you think that might be someone you could really hit it off with, huh? Interesting idea, for sure. And it might be a good one, if I were actually still 15 and looking for a sexy young girlfriend my own age. But remember, I'm 36. Yes, an interesting idea. But not very useful, thank you."

2. Personify your thought generator. 

See it as a slick salesman; a fascist dictator; one of the judges on beauty pageant panel; a radio announcer who's always yammering on about the same, tired topic; a master storyteller; or a bully.

Jared was late getting home from work. He was exhausted but not yet very sleepy, and everyone else in the house was already in bed. It occurred to him that he could easily go check out some porn and get a delightful sexual fix before he hit the sack. That would be such a relief. "Oh," he shrugged, "there's that same old talk show host making his case again on opportunity radio. Hello old friend. Still on the air, are you? Still going on and on about how great porn is, huh? Sometimes I pick up your prerecorded, ever-looping show, sometimes I'm tuned in to other stations, but I know you'll always be broadcasting, either way. Thanks for your untiring efforts. Thank you, but no thank you."

3. File your thought in a folder your mental filing cabinet. 

On a news website, Paul saw a link promising a scandalous photo of a celebrity. "Shoot, I really like her music," he thought. "She seems like a decent person. I can't believe that even she has stooped to that level. I wonder how bad the picture is." Then, realizing where his mind was going, he imagined opening the drawer of a filing cabinet and pulling out a folder labeled CURIOSITY. He imagined a piece of paper with the celebrity's face on it with this caption: "You gotta check out just how raunchy she's let herself be." Other papers in that folder had captions like, "Whoa, is that something I shouldn't look at?" and "Just how bad is the trash they allow on mainstream websites these days?" Other files in the drawer had labels like, NOT PORN, JUST LINGERIE; YOU'VE WORKED HARD AND NEED RELIEF; YOU'VE ALREADY BLOWN IT, SO WHY NOT GO ALL OUT? Some of these files were bulging with papers. There were still plenty of folders, empty and unlabeled, to be filled as he discovers new angles lust takes to try to draw him back into justifying unwise behavior.

Try out one of these techniques and see if, over time, it helps neutralize some of your seemingly supercharged thoughts.

And, as always, if you find that this way of handling your thoughts makes a difference in your recovery, we'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The "Mental Redo"

Many equate being "in recovery" with being completely porn-free. If they blow it and have a slip, they conclude that they'll be back on track only after they've gone a few days--or perhaps even weeks--free of porn again.

That's an overly simplistic view. Think about how discouraging this perspective would be for someone who's just starting to try to get on the right track after viewing porn on a daily basis.

There are better indicators of whether we're in recovery or not. Either way we might relapse, perhaps even at the same rate to begin with. Whether we're in recovery or not we will likely regret that we lapsed, want to make a better choice next time, and fully intend to.

However, here's where a key difference emerges: when we're in recovery we do something distinctive after we lapse.

We probably won't be overly dramatic about it. We'll simply keep working our program. We may take notes on what we learned in enemy territory. We may report back to our therapist, sponsor, group, or a supportive loved one.

We're more able to take a slip in stride because we have a plan that takes it into account.

This is so different from someone who's not in recovery. They can't take a lapse in stride because their plan was to quit porn and never go back. Simple, straightforward, but unfortunately not very realistic for most people. Far from a twelve-step program, they've put their faith in a one-step program.

I strongly advocate working a recovery program over simply trying really hard to quit and never go back.

The mental redo is one example of a very powerful post-slip practice, and it takes just a few minutes to implement.

First, rewind and determine a point (or two or three) where you could have made a choice that would have led in a different direction. Then mentally practice, again and again (four or five times), taking that better route.

My client, Melissa, is 17 years old. She last lapsed when she was feeling lonely, frustrated, and angry one afternoon while alone in her room. She battled the urge for a while and then finally got on her phone and watched porn.

As she sat in my office she identified the moment when the urge first hit as the best potential turning point if and when she faces that situation again. I had her go back to that moment in her mind and imagine handling it differently. She closed her eyes and said, "I'm there. Okay, I know I shouldn't try to stay in there alone and win. So I get up off my bed and walk out of my room. I put my phone down on the kitchen counter and go find someone in the family to chat with. Yeah, I tell my brother about my bad day. He's always great when I reach out, I'm just reluctant to. So then we chat for a while and maybe watch something together. Wow, I did it! Give myself a high five." She clapped her hands together and smiled.

I had her run through that same imagined way of handling the situation again in her mind. Then I assigned her to mentally do it again on her own three times later that afternoon.

I've said it before on this blog: some key, very powerful parts of the brain that don't know the difference between imagination and reality. In fact, both Melissa and I got the chills as she imagined aloud handling things better than she had originally. As though it had been a real victory. And in a way, it was: her mind was getting the hang of it, leveling the mental jungle to make way for a different, better path.

A tennis player may curse themselves for missing a shot. They may hope they never make that error again. But it's also helpful to take a moment right after the error to mentally practice hitting the ball exactly the way they wish they would have. Swing the racket once or twice the right way. Let the body get the hang of doing it correctly. That's the same principle you're putting into practice when you implement a mental redo for the sake of your porn recovery.

If this post makes sense to you, make a commitment to yourself right now to run through a mental redo four or five times after each slip, relapse, or close call you have throughout the next month. By then you'll be able to tell whether this practice is giving you any traction against the addiction.

Then, let us know what you find. It's one thing for me to describe these practices; it's even more powerful for fellow readers to hear directly from you about what works and what doesn't.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Breaking the Trance of Temptation

What would you pay to be dragged around a warehouse for 15 minutes listening to an old, familiar song on a repeating loop in a slow moving cart guided by a chain hooked to a track in the floor with 14 other people in your cart, with other customer-filled carts behind you and in front of you for as far as you can see? How long would you wait in line for such a privilege? How far would you travel?

What if I told you that the whole time you'd also get to look at two dimensional cardboard cut-outs of buildings and landmarks from around the world and watch simplistic dolls mechanically “dance” to the tune that kept looping?

Getting excited yet?

A couple of years ago our entire family loaded into our Suburban and drove for 16 hours. The next morning we woke up and shelled out hard-earned money for admission to a nicely landscaped lot full of huge warehouse-like building with attractive facades. Then we eagerly waited for almost an hour to ride “It’s a Small World.”

No one complained because we were in a trance--a trance that convinced us it was all worth it. And we’re looking forward to going again, as soon as we can.

Look at the ride on Google Earth: it really does wind through a warehouse. So why is it a delightful experience instead of a drag? None of the riders really think they’re going around the world. But they’re willing to suspend their disbelief for a few minutes and buy into the trance. And there are a few key elements that help foster that process.

What if instead of winding through the dark, the lights in the ride shone brightly? What if there was no water-filled flume and you realized you were being dragged instead of floating? What if the speakers hissed with static and the soundtrack had glitches? What if the paint had worn off the landscape features and the cardboard underneath showed through? What if the attendant loading you onto the boat were smoking a cigarette and wearing worn out jeans and a Hurley tee shirt instead of a crisp sailor’s outfit?

It often takes many different elements, brought together in the right combination, to foster a trance. As we experience them all together in real time, they have a much more powerful effect.

We can identify the elements and see them for what they are—just ingredients that each make it just a little easier to buy into an illusion. As we extract them one by one from the whole and view each one separately, we can check our tendency to get swept up in and compelled by process we’re experiencing.

The other day my client, Richard, went through this process with a sexual craving that had led to a recent relapse. At the time the opportunity to get online and search for something delightfully erotic had felt so magical that he just couldn’t pass it up. The trance of temptation had a hold of him.

Once he got started, instead of delight he’d experienced a frantic sense of searching and a looming, just-around-the-corner guilt that was kept barely at bay only by the speed at which he raced through image after image. Sexual arousal mingled with anxiety and coagulated into a mess of empty but still throbbing intensity. Because he’d experienced it so often, there was an inevitability to the crash of guilt, shame, discouragement, and bruised confidence that followed in the wake of his frantic escapade through the virtual brothel.

Afterward, looking back, he picked out a few of the elements that had come together to catalyze his drop into the trance:
  • He was recovering from the flu and still felt tired and achy
  • The day before he’d missed his train stop and felt like an idiot
  • Thus he missed most of his biology class and had to borrow notes
  • He’s been bummed out to discover that his classes very interesting this semester
  • He gets impatient with professors who aren’t very good teachers
  • He’d stayed up late playing flag football with some buddies and was exhausted
  • All this homework means less time for what he wants to do
  • He bought a suspense novel he wants to read but hasn’t had time to crack it
  • He’s gotten lazy about cleaning up after himself so his place is messier than usual
  • He gets stressed out that he’s not bringing in income on the days he watches his young son
  • He still felt bad about giving in last week after doing well for almost two months
  • When temptation gets strong he feels trapped, out-of-control, and hopeless
  • He’s sick of hurting his wife and sure she’s sick of getting hurt
  • All this leaves him feeling unsettled—it’s a heartache that won’t go away
  • He feels sad about his situation and scared he might not be able to improve it
  • His wife is caught up in her new internship and paying less attention to him 
  • He wanted comfort and soothing but she hasn’t been available
  • Some images from his latest lapse kept popping back into his mind 
  • He discovered the internet had somehow been unblocked on his iPad

Any one or two of these elements wouldn’t have been enough to sweep Richard up. It would be like adding a great sound system and sailor suits to an otherwise lame ride at an amusement park. You’d still be too cognizant of the fact that you’re being dragged on a chain in a cart behind a bunch of other carts. You wouldn’t pay money or wait in line for the privilege. But all together these elements led him to that strange but familiar place where he concluded, “It’s futile to keep fighting these urges. And that path is so tantalizing. What the heck, might as well give in.”

What good does it do to separate out these elements after the fact? It helps the mind practice recognizing them for what they are. Then, in the future, when these factors start to come into play again, we will have a greater capacity to see them for what they are: just aspects of life that, whether troubling, upsetting, or mundane, are nonetheless simply a part of the rough-and-tumble life we are blessed/doomed to live. Certainly not justifications to go search for sexually arousing pictures on the internet to heighten the pleasure of masturbating.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Isn't It Normal to Fantasize about Sex with Someone Else?

The other day a client asked, “Isn’t it normal to fantasize about having sex with people besides your spouse?”

Rather than argue about what’s common or typical, I’d rather talk about what’s healthy and helpful.

My mentor Craig Berthold often told clients, “Anyone can have an affair. It’s easy. All you have to do is mentally practice having an affair first thing in the morning when you wake up for two minutes while you’re still lying in bed. Then fantasize about it again when you’re lying in bed at night before you fall asleep. Before long you’ll be having sex with someone besides your spouse in real life.”

This brings up a great question: Why would we permit our brain to repeatedly practice imagining behavior that we never want it to carry out in real life?

Fantasizing amounts to mental practice. We may justify our fantasies with the argument that, “It’s only imaginary.” But that minimizes just how powerful our imaginations are.

Those research subjects who spent half their practice time actually shooting free throws and half their practice time “only” imagining shooting free throws in the end shot a higher percentage of free throws than those who spent all their time shooting real free throws.

Whenever you practice something mentally, you’re training yourself. Mental training is powerful; it enables us to better pull off the actual behavior in real life.

I once saw an interview with a police officer who was asked how he was able to handle an intense situation in a calm, cool, and effective way. He saved an untold number of lives because in the middle of a night out with his wife he was able to quickly get back into “cop mode” and take down an armed maniac. He said, in essence, “I didn’t have to figure out how to handle the situation. My training kicked in. That’s what we train for: so that in situations like this we can do what we need to do instantaneously and automatically.”

I was so impressed, but then I was also spooked. His words reminded me of so many of my clients whose porn use escalated into real-life sexual acting out. They didn’t one day wake up and choose, “Today is the day I’ll cross the line from fantasy to reality.” So often, looking back, they felt like it “just happened.” But it didn’t just happen. Their brain had been practicing how to be unfaithful over and over again for years.

Then, the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong person presented themselves. Sometimes the act of sexual betrayal is described as feeling “almost surreal” when it actually happens, or “as though I was having an out of body experience” or “in a dream-like trance.” That fascinates and troubles me: Sexual fantasies are compelling only to the degree that a part of the brain is convinced we’re having the actual experience. And then the actual experience becomes easier because it feels like nothing more than fantasyland. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Call me a prude. Accuse me of setting an unrealistically high standard. All I know is what I see every day: how hard it is to rein back the power of fantasy once it’s been given free reign. I see the price couples and their families pay. My clients go through too many boxes of Kleenex in my office for me to take fantasy lightly. I’ll encourage the higher bar; the stricter, safer standard on this one.