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. 

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