Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catch Zombie Mode to Reduce Risk of Relapse

It was Sunday afternoon and Joseph's wife, Mindy, was concerned.

"What's going on? Is something wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing's wrong. I'm just playing League of Legends. Is there something wrong with that?"

"I usually don't have a problem with you playing," she said. "I don't know why it's bugging me today. I guess it just seems like you've been in zombie mode for the last few hours. You seemed off even before you got on the computer to play."

Joseph got off the computer. He was annoyed about it at first. But then he realized he should sit down with Mindy and unpack why he'd gone into zombie mode. What had been eating at him before he detached?

He knew that this is the way it had often gone when he used to relapse with porn: he'd feel some kind of underlying negative emotion, he wouldn't address it, he'd start playing games or escape into some other screen activity, and after a while he might move into the realm of porn.

So he sorted through the events from earlier in the day in search of it: was there some underlying negative emotion he'd been trying to escape?

Their pastor, Steve, had asked them all to volunteer at least an hour each week over the holidays to in their church's food pantry. He'd told himself that with the extra hours he was putting in at work this month and the demands of their young family, he wouldn't have time. But then he'd started feeling bad about not helping. He'd laid down to take a nap once he got home from church, but he couldn't fall asleep. He just ended up feeling lethargic. He played a game on the iPad with his oldest son. Then he'd gotten on the computer to play.

"Yeah," he acknowledged to Mindy, "I'm feeling pretty burned out with all of these demands bombarding me. Seems like there's always something that's not getting done. But more is still piling on top of me all the time, regardless of what I've gotten done or still have left to do. Plus I guess I've been wanting to set aside all the trivial demands of life and do some meaningful service activity, so when Steve asked us to do that part of me was like, 'Yeah, this is perfect, it's what I've been looking for.' I guess I shut down that generous, giving part of myself and maybe part of me was feeling bad about that. It's a drag when life is all about the grind, very rarely about doing something extra in a meaningful way."

Later Joseph said to me, "It was good to talk it all out with Mindy. Once I unpacked all of that and realized what had been troubling me, it made more sense why my brain wanted to go into zombie mode."

These days Joseph, with Mindy's help at times, is getting better at catching zombie mode and evaluating why he is detaching before it ever reaches the point of sexual temptation.

That's good, proactive recovery.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Step Back from Your Addiction and Toward What Really Matters to You

Two essential processes can foster recovery from addiction: stepping back from the cravings and hopelessness associated with addiction and stepping toward what really matters to you. 

How to take a step back from your addiction.

I like the way Ekhart Tolle suggests doing this. When you start to feel a pull, say to yourself,

"There is that voice in my head telling me I can't pass up this opportunity... and here I am standing back, listening to that voice, watching it. 

Or perhaps, 

"There is that voice inside me, telling me that I'm a loser because I gave in again... and here I am standing back, listening to that voice and watching it."

Don't just wait until you get feel susceptible to urges or to guilt. Practice at least once a day stepping back from the voice inside your head and listening to it, watching it. You'll notice that it tells you all kinds of things: That you're a failure in some other aspect of your life. That you should withdraw from situations where you don't shine. That your efforts are futile. That other people are leaving you out of something important. 

Once a day--or perhaps a few times--step back from your mind see those thoughts for what they are: not realities, thoughts.

How to take a step toward what really matters to you.

Pick something off your value menu and do it.

To create your personal value menu, 1) identify some of your values and 2) brainstorm brief actions you can take that are consistent with those values.

1) To identify a few of your values:

Consider what makes you you. Are you caring? Enthusiastic? Clever? Passionate? Those are some of your values. 

What are the key elements of those activities you find deeply satisfying? Do they enlist your creativity? Is it the rewarding interactions with other people? Is it the solitude? Novelty? 

When your life is over, what will look back and be very glad you did? Scratch your kids back at night? Work hard to support your family financially? Sing in a choir? Serve soup to the homeless or serve in your church? Care for that feral cat in the neighborhood? Make delicious food to feed your loved ones?

Come up with just a few answers to these questions, and you've identified some of your values. 

2) Now, brainstorm to identify three activities you can do at almost any time that helps shape your life in a way--even if only in a very minuscule way--that is consistent with one of those values. 

One of Heather's values is generosity--she wants to be a kind, caring, loving person. One activity on her value menu is sharing eye-contact and a smile with someone. If she finds herself getting sucked into a dark, downward spiral as she sits at her desk in a middle school advising center, she will look for a chance to catch the eye of one of the students who seems to need it and smile at them.

One of Rodney's values is physical fitness. If he finds his energy sagging and his vulnerability to relapse heightening, he'll take a 2-minute walk around the complex where he works. 

One of Greg's values is family recreation. In a spare moment he may quickly check out one of his favorite travel blogs or mentally plan a family activity for the week like roasting hot dogs in the backyard fire pit. 

One of Celeste's values is peace. Since a messy office interferes with her inner peace, one of her quick value activities is to take one piece of paper on her desk and do what's needed to get it off her desk: put it in her "to do" stack, her "future reference" file, or throw it away.

Once you have listed three brief value-oriented actions you can take in the heat of the moment, your value menu is complete. Treat it as a working list, and occasionally add a fresh item to the list to replace a familiar one once it's gotten stale.

How to put these into practice:

At least once a day, take a minute or two to step back from the mind and put into words what it's saying to you at that time. Then consider the three items on your value and do one of them. 

Let me know what you discover as you put this one-two recovery punch into practice in your life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

All Because He Had the Guts to Get Real with Her

Chad had a regular porn habit from age 13 to 31. Eventually he got into strip clubs and erotic massages. Off and on throughout that entire time he tried to quit acting out sexually, but never could stay away from it for long.

After two decades addicted, Chad's been sober for just over a year now. When I asked him what has helped most, he identified some key fundamental changes:

  • He has deepened his connection with his values, goals, and sense of purpose in life. When temptations hit he has a distinct sense: "That's not me to get involved in that stuff anymore. That's not where my life is going." When he feels the draw of temptation, he turns his attention back to what he's trying to accomplish in life.
  • He no longer spends time roaming the internet. He uses it for a specific purpose and then gets off again.
  • He has worked to develop a some helpful ways to manage his stress. When he's not able to wind down at night, he will use one of the relaxation videos he found on YouTube. When he's confused or weighed down with burdens, he writes in a journal. When he gets anxious and sick to his stomach, he practices a mindfulness meditation technique. 
  • He has made a real effort to stop objectifying women. He looks them in the eye. He considers who they are as individual human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.

Despite how much the above changes have helped, he claims that one final, key change has made the biggest difference of all:

One year ago Chad opened up in total honesty and got his wife, Samantha, involved in his recovery.

Here's an example of how it goes for them these days:

"At work I took a quick lunch with a buddy. As we chatted in the break room, on the TV screen behind him there was a scene of a woman taking her shirt off. Combined with all the long hours I've been working, that made for a rough day. I noticed a heightened susceptibility. It felt like my mind was weaker and I was less able to hold my focus on work tasks.

"I called Samantha and put it out on the table. It helps to talk to her about those kind of things. She was understanding. She appreciates it. It helps her to feel included.

"In the beginning I really had to face down my shame in order to bring up something like that. It's become routine for us now though. The moment I talked her about it, things shifted. It was like the temptation was neutralized in some way. The wildfire was stopped in its tracks and it didn't spread anymore.

"It was so hard to start letting my wife into my thoughts. I was accustomed to hiding not only my actions, but my temptations and cravings. But communicating about it has definitely had a positive influence on our relationship. We're more connected. I'm no longer keeping those walls up. We're in it together, I'm not grappling with this alone anymore. It's an 'us' thing now."

Even now that Samantha knows everything about him, she still loves and supports him. In fact, they're closer than ever. His transparency has elicited her support, and her understanding makes it easier for him to open up.

I can see the difference this has made in Chad. He carries himself with more dignity. Instead of hanging his head, feeling like a terrible person with a shameful habit, he seems to see himself more as a respectable guy who's dealing with a fairly common struggle. His sexual issues no longer define and isolate him. They're something he's learned to manage--with the help and support of a loving wife.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How He Helps When Her Wounds Get Reopened

She tried to call him on his cell phone, but he didn't answer. It was 4:30 Friday afternoon. She tried again, no answer.

An old familiar sick feeling swept over her.

Emily pinched her eyes closed, trying to ignore the tidal wave that had just swept her up. She dialed the number of his desk phone. With a lump in her throat and her heart pounding, she waited. Dennis picked up after two rings.

"I've been calling you. Why didn't you pick up?" She was doing her best to sound calm.

His stomach dropped. He looked down at his phone. "Sweetie, I don't show any missed calls." He braced himself.

Talk about bad timing. He was heading to South Carolina on business the following Tuesday and still had so much to do to get ready. He had been planning on leaving the office around six. But now, who knew when he'd get out of there? This could take hours. Even worse, it could ruin their weekend together. 

But Dennis also knew that this was an ordeal of his own making. He settled in for the process. He reminded himself, "This takes her right back to when she couldn't reach me before. She thinks I'm involved with other women again." 

Instead of accusing Emily of overreacting and throwing up his hands, he sat and pondered the reasons her worries were justified. He coached himself through it: "I need to be humble and patient. Eventually the truth will win and she'll know that I haven't gone back off track. But right now she's upset, she's doubtful." He reminded himself what he'd been reading in Philippians: Don't worry. Pray. God will provide what's needed. 

"I can't explain why the call didn't ring through," he said, "but... I'm sorry you have to feel this way because of my old behaviors."

"I was doing fine," Emily said. "But now I can't stop shaking."

"Oh, Sweetie," he said. He cried for her, for what he'd put her through.

Later he thought, "I've spent three years in therapy trying to get to where I can do that: open up, try to understand where her feelings come from, receive them. Mark's been reminding me that for our relationship to heal, I need to show up so that she has someone who's THERE to bond to. No matter where we are, even if it's in hell, if we're there together and there's understanding and closeness, we're still connected. And that's what matters most, being together through it all. If I hang in there and stay with it, we can get to the point where that closeness matters even more--and carries more weight--than all the hell I've put her through."

They talked for 45 minutes. 

Later, they spent the whole evening together and had a good time. 

In bed, with the lights off, she said, "It made a big difference, the way you handled it when I called. You didn't get upset. You didn't raise your voice. You didn't defend yourself." During the call she could tell that he stayed tender and connected to her throughout. When his voice cracked and she knew how distraught he was over it, she'd realized that she wasn't going through it alone. She didn't have to go through that hell alone anymore. "If you can keep reacting this way, we'll keep working through whatever comes up. We'll make it."

Hearing Emily say that meant more to Dennis than anything. "We will make it," he promised. "No matter what comes up, we'll work through it together."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trade Your Addictive Ritual for a Healing One

After struggling for days to resist the impulse, an addict shuts the door to his office. His heart pounds as he enters a search term into the internet browser on his phone, launching yet again into the ritual of his addiction. 

A ritual is a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order that we follow regularly and invariably. Our addictions owe some of their potency to their ritualistic nature. Instead of simply doing nothing when we're tempted to act out, it can be easier to abstain from our self-defeating ritual if we put in a positive ritual in its place. The following is a guest post by my friend, Jason Webb. Some of my clients have tried the practice he prescribes and found it to be helpful. 

We need to be in the right state of mind to be truly effective and to avoid problems. It is too easy to fall into anger, impatience, compulsions, hurry, apathy, etc. To avoid those, we need to be in a state of mind that is more centered, gratitude-based, in the moment, confident, in-tune with divinity, and open. 

There are lots of techniques to change your state of mind, like meditation, affirmations, etc., but they seem to only get you part of the way there and each take time. It turns out that many of them can be combined into a prayer of about 2 - 5 minutes and you can end your prayer in a wonderful state of mind that makes it much easier to be patient, warm, persuasive, caring, thoughtful, careful, etc. and to make better choices in general.

The prayer starts with getting in a comfortable position where you can take deep breathes and have some privacy.  It is hard to be in a good state of mind when you are in pain or discomfort. I sit cross-legged and it seems to work well. Then close your eyes so it is easier to focus on how you feel.

Take a couple of deep breathes, in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you breathe out through your mouth make a little sound that feels natural. I will usually make a "ooooh" sound naturally.  The "ooooh" sound is usually associated with stress, pain, etc. How you feel impacts your body and vice-versa. I am also usually a little hunched over, too.  This is a position of stress, too.  How I comfortably sit and the breathing sound I make tells me a little about how I am feeling deep inside.

Use your body to help feel a little better. Change the natural sound to a more confident sound.  "Ahhh" is usually a good confident sound, so I use that. Change your posture to a more confident posture. I pull my shoulders back, sit a little straighter and move my head and arms so that I am facing the world. I do that until I start to feel more confident and strong.  It usually takes several breathes.  I also notice that when I am feeling confident and strong, I can pause for longer between breathing in and out with more calm. This also floods your brain with oxygen and we want your brain to be active for what comes next.

Then, connect with your feelings and with the moment by focusing your attention on the physical sensations you are feeling in a specific part of your body. I usually pick my big toe unless some other part is distracting me with pain or some other strong sensation. If I have a hard time focusing my attention, I will touch my toe and maybe rub it slightly until I can focus on it. I do that until I feel like I can focus and not be easily distracted. The more focused you are during the prayer, the more of an impact it will have for you.

When I feel ready, then I start my prayer and I speak out loud for the whole prayer (normal voice). Any words that you say or think will impact you, but spoken words are more of an impact. I invoke Deity and ask that my word will be heard. You can invoke the divine however you want, even if you are an atheist. 

Current research shows that there are parts of our brain (I call them the "god-seeking" parts) that regulate how we handle contradiction, disappointment, lies, paradoxes, unsolved problems, the unknown, etc. and that seems to be a major driving force in our drive to religion (e.g. why do bad things happen to good people, what happens after we die, how do I know that I should marry that person, should I take a risk and start this business, how do I deal with this diagnosis from my doctor). It also is how we can adapt to almost anything that life throws at us without going to a "blue-screen of death" like computers will do when stuff doesn't make sense. This part of our brain influences what we believe about ourselves and our situation in life. Also, these parts of our brain have many more connections and brain cells devoted to them than the rational parts of our brain and they are more directly connected to our feelings and the unconscious regulation of our body. Whether you believe in God or not, this is a powerful and important part of your brain that finds divinity/mysticism to be useful, so even if there is no God, it is helpful to access that part of your brain by seeking the help of something beyond you. Doing this will wake up that part of your brain and let it pay attention to the rest of the prayer. If there is a god, then all the better.

I then check how I feel.  If I have medium or stronger feelings, good or bad, I talk about them one at a time (if not, I skip this part). I will first explained what happened to cause the feeling (be specific).  Then I will explain how that made me feel.  Then I will talk about the need that was not met (or was met) by what happened to cause that feeling.  Doing this will reduce the effect of your negative feelings and increase the effect of your positive ones. Here is an example of me having two feelings and going through them one at a time:  I came home late last night after working hard all day and was excited to have some fun but when I got home then things were a disaster. That made me really frustrated and I still feel that way now. I need fun with my family and when I didn't get the fun, that made me frustrated. Also, this morning I woke up and didn't have a headache. That made me happy. I usually wake up with a headache and I need to feel comfortable, so waking up in a comfortable bed free of pain made me happy. 

Next comes gratitude.  Say, I am grateful for .... Pause between each one and get a sense of what you are really grateful for.  Don't just go through a list of things that you usually say.  Have it be based on your feelings right now. Do it until you feel like you are done.  Don't feel like you have to be grateful for your kids, spouse or job just because you should be. Only express gratitude for things that you feel grateful for at that moment.  If you can't think of anything, then sit there quietly until you can.  If that gives you feelings, then talk about your feelings. People who are grateful are happier, have more hope, are solution oriented, willing to take more risks, more fun to be around, etc.

Next comes your future self. Pray that you will be the things you want to be.  Phrase it in a way that allows you to say the phrase "I will ..."  Try to feel that way or feel what it would be like to be that way as you say each thing.  As an example, I say, "Please bless me that I will be fun today, that I will be careful of other people's feelings, that I will find joy in the moment today, that I will help others, that I will prosper, that I will be clever, that I will make good choices today, and that I will be a good parent."  I pause a little between each one and try to feel that as being true. This helps you remember who you want to be and helps your attitude be pointed in that direction.

Next comes everybody else. All the research I've seen says that people who are truly happy are those who lose themselves in something else or someone else, usually in the service of others. So now we want to turn our focus outward. I will pray for people that I know.  I will say things like: "Please bless soandso that they will be safe on their trip; please bless my children that they will learn good things, please bless that I will be able to find clever solutions for the needs of my customers; and please bless my customers that they will find the things that they need to be successful." This will turn your attention away from yourself. Also, since the things you are now praying about are usually things over which you have little to no control, without the divine it is not logical that your words will have any meaning. This is illogical and inconsistent with a godless reality. That strongly activates the "god-seeking" parts of your brain to help cement the good that your words have been doing for you. There is a lot of research that shows that the human brain will do almost anything to make the world make sense to it, so by saying these things that don't actually make sense in the context of a prayer if there is no divinity, you call on that ability. Doing so turns your attention to others, away from yourself, and bring the power of your subconscious to bear on everything that you have said and done in the prayer.

Then I close the prayer and get up.  I'm done and I usually feel very centered, calm, and positive for a several hours.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Wives of Porn Addicts Wish All Church Leaders Knew

In the midst of dealing with her husband's sexual addiction, Cynthia held onto the hope for recovery and healing. In the process of working and struggling and growing, she's met many other amazing women in the same situation. With their help, she compiled this list of insights that may benefit ecclesiastical leaders and the women they're helping:
  1. We are simply devastated. 
  2. We need to know about our husbands’ actions so that we don’t blame ourselves for whatever feels wrong in our marriages. 
  3. We also need to know of our husbands’ actions to help protect ourselves, our children, and our homes. Keeping someone in a relationship under false pretenses represents exploitation. 
  4. We will not get over it quickly. We would if we could, but it will take time and effort to find our way back to emotional health. 
  5. Our husbands’ lies have harmed us at least as much as the actual betrayal. 
  6. It is hard for us to reach out for support. 
  7. We need support. 
  8. Other women who have been in our shoes can provide vital support. 
  9. Our bishops may be the first people we reach out to after discovering our husbands’ addictions. It may be hard for us to trust Priesthood holders since our husband has held the Priesthood in our home. If we feel invalidated by our bishops, it will be so much harder for us to reach out for further support. 
  10. We may need ongoing support from our bishops. It may be hard for us to ask for this ongoing support. A little bit of reaching out and following up from our bishops may go a long way in helping us not feel overlooked or forgotten. 
  11. We did not cause this and we cannot cure it. 
  12. In most cases we have done nothing to bring this situation into our lives. It feels so unfair that we have no choice but to deal with it. 
  13. We are baffled that we ended up here. We have tried to do all the things that we thought would bring us our happy eternal marriage. This is the last thing we expected. 
  14. We may feel cheated that we ended up here despite doing everything right. 
  15. Our husbands do not act out with pornography and masturbation because we give them too little sex; they will not stop acting out with pornography and masturbation if we give them more sex. 
  16. We are in no position to be asked to give our husbands support. If anything we need their support to come to terms with what they have done. 
  17. The best way for us to support our husbands is to hold them accountable. Being asked to “forgive and forget” too early will hurt us both. 
  18. The best support we can give to our husbands is a healthy wife. We need to do what it takes to find our way back to healthy. 
  19. Despite our best efforts, our marriages may not survive. 
  20. Most addicts lie or minimize when asked about their addictions. Their bishops are not likely to have heard the entire story from our husbands. 
  21. Many of our husbands will continue to act out and to lie to us (and to their bishops) after their initial meetings with their bishops. It may not be appropriate to encourage us to trust them yet because they may not be trustworthy yet. 
  22. Even addicts dedicated to recovery tend to relapse several times before achieving lengthy sobriety. 
  23. We need to set some boundaries with our husbands to protect ourselves from ongoing harm. 
  24. We need to eventually forgive our husbands. We may not be capable of forgiving them as early as we may be asked to do. We will do our best to leave a place in our hearts for forgiveness to come. 
  25. Forgiveness does not mean tolerating harm. 
  26. Our husbands have most likely been trying for years to overcome their addictions by fasting, praying, reading their scriptures and attending the temple. These are vital components in their repentance and in building their spirituality. In most cases our husbands need more help than this to recover from addiction. 
  27. Our husbands are incapable of giving up their addictions if they keep them a secret. 
  28. Trust and forgiveness are not the same thing. We will probably forgive before we trust again. Trust needs to be earned once it has been lost. 
  29. If we are asked to make changes to help our husbands overcome their problems, and they don’t change, then we feel like we didn’t try hard enough or lacked faith. It may increase our shame. Only our husbands are responsible for their own behavior. 
  30. Letting our husbands off the hook too easily may decrease the urgency they feel about getting help. 
  31. We feel really ashamed as well. We feel embarrassed that we married someone with this problem, or that we didn’t see it sooner. 
  32. We may feel that if we were prettier, smarter, or more “something,” they would not have this problem. This is not true. In almost all cases, they were addicted before they ever met us. 
  33. We feel alone. We feel like no one else has this problem. 
  34. Isolation compounds our pain. 
  35. Our husbands have not been good husbands. They have been selfish and lacking in empathy. Addiction results in other bad behaviors that have been harming us. 
  36. We need to know what resources are available to help us. A bishop who is familiar with this problem and what these resources are could go a long way to helping us feel better sooner. 
  37. Our husbands’ actions in no way decrease our own worthiness. 
  38. We may want and need increased access to Priesthood blessings. Our husbands may not be worthy to give those blessings, and even if they are, they might not be the ones we want to ask to give them to us. It may be valuable to have our bishops help us identify who we can ask when we need this particular type of help. 
  39. We value our anonymity. We would appreciate our bishops encouraging discretion in anyone who may realize we are meeting frequently (e.g. executive secretary). 
  40. We want our bishops to not be afraid to admit what they don't know. They can ask us what they can do to help us. 
  41. We would like our bishops to not assume they know everything they need to know on this topic. Be open to good information. 
  42. We have experienced trauma because of our husbands’ betrayals. This trauma is not an indicator that we are not using the Atonement. 
  43. We should not simply replace all negative thoughts with positive ones. That shows denial of the impact this problem has in our lives. In order to heal from these difficult emotions, we need to allow ourselves to feel them. 
  44. We most likely need outside help to recover, just like our husbands do. Good counseling and regular support group meetings can help us tremendously. 
  45. We will not automatically get better when our husbands stop acting out. Our progress may actually lag behind theirs. The history of deception keeps us from being able to trust that we are now safe, even if they say that they have not relapsed in a long time. 
  46. Many marriages that fail from this problem actually fail because of the continued lying more than the continued acting out. 
  47. If our husbands have been caught instead of voluntarily disclosing, they may not actually have any desire to get better, no matter what impression they make. 
  48. We need help regardless of our husbands’ desire for help. 
  49. We may need help remembering that we have worth as individuals, no matter the outcome of our marriages. 
  50. This addiction has caused us to doubt ourselves, our own intuition and the guidance we are receiving from the Lord. We need you to support us as we seek for our own answers from the Spirit and make our own choices going forward.
  51. Extreme emotions are normal in our circumstances. We should not feel ashamed for feeling them.
Many thanks to Cynthia and the other women for sharing these insights. Are there any you would add?

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Mountain and the Meadow of Addiction: The Rewards of Persisting in Your Recovery Work

The author of this guest post is Trevor Earl, a very perceptive and talented therapist working in our South Jordan office. You can contact him at our office (801-255-1155) or email him at trevor@suncrestcounseling.com

Growing up on the foothills of Mount Timpanogos provided me with immediate access to a forest playground for hiking, camping, four wheeling, and experiencing adventures. I have done multiple activities on this mountain, and it has been the source of some of my most cherished memories. I have hiked the face. I have explored Battle Creek and Dry Canyon as well as summited the mountain directly in front of Mount Timpanogos, known to locals as Mount Baldy. During the course of these adventures I was challenged, but eventually I achieved my goals.

However, there was one hike that always got the best of me. This was my journey that I always failed to complete. It was my hike to THE meadow. This meadow symbolized more than a hike to me. It was something elusive that I was not quite able to figure out. I knew that I could get there, but every time I started to hike to it I was derailed, frustrated, and eventually gave up.

This is similar to the situations that people have faced in their battles with addictions. Whether these addictions are to drugs, porn, gambling, cutting, or something else, there is a common bond that most addicts share. This is the bond of having this one thing that they cannot quite conquer, despite being able to succeed in other aspects of their lives. It does not make sense why they cannot kick this “bad habit,” and the more times they fail, the more they suffer the consequences, and the more they doubt their abilities to succeed.

One day I decided enough was enough and that I was going to get to that meadow. I got a hold of one of my friends, we packed up some essential items to take with us on the hike, and we started the journey to the elusive meadow.
Now there is one thing you need to know about me—I am terrified of bears! And it just so happens that at the beginning of this hike there is a giant sign that says, “BE BEAR AWARE.” This caused me to have feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and fear. Not only did I have this hike to go on, but in the process I might become lunch meat for an animal that could overpower me at will.

After struggling with an addiction for an extended period of time it seems like there is always some kind of “bear” that gets in the way of recovery. It feels like it is something bigger than one could possibly fight off if they had to encounter it. The worst part is that it is often early in the recovery process that one starts to detect signs of something they are afraid of. Like the BE BEAR AWARE sign, it causes feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, anxiety, or self-defeating thoughts.

The good news is that despite encountering this BE BEAR AWARE sign I could still see my meadow, my objective, my goal, and I continued to trudge along. Shortly after the sign, it came time to veer off of my normal, designated path, and start to trail blaze. You see, there was no path to this meadow. I also had never been able to get there. I was going to have to get there by trailblazing and by keeping the meadow in sight. I quickly found out that this was easier said than done.

Much like veering off of a beaten path to get to a meadow, when individuals attempt to conquer an addiction they need to step into an unknown. Whether the addiction serves as a way to avoid or deal with tough emotions, to excite, to help relax, or to connect, breaking this routine will require an individual to try something new, or step into the unknown. One of the keys to recovery is having a “meadow” (values) to be fighting to get to. Values that can help them work through the unknown to keep working towards a goal that they have in mind.

As I continued my hike I ran into different obstacles. Shortly after I started trail blazing I came upon a wasp nests that I had to navigate through. Then there was a rock slide that I had to cross over. And then I had to crawl on my hands and knees for approximately a mile, under scrub oak. At times I lost sight of the meadow that I was hiking too. It seemed so distant and so unattainable. There were times that I could barely even see the sun because the scrub oak was so thick. It was at these times that the temptation to quit and turn around was the most influential. I wondered if this was really worth the effort, and if not getting to the meadow was really such a bad thing.

Often when facing an addiction, people face these same thoughts and similar obstacles. As they are constantly being bombarded with cravings, triggers, doubts, and at times broken relationships, they may question if is it really worth it, or if their addiction is really that bad At times these obstacles become so thick that it is difficult for them to see what is really worth working for, or what they value.

Eventually I made it to the meadow. Remember my friend that I set out on the journey with? He made it too. At times he was there to encourage me, or remind me of my goal. At other times it was just nice to have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. Mostly it was having someone’s support so I did not need to make my journey alone.

This is where therapy comes in play. Therapy is to help someone navigate through an addiction. A therapist can help someone that is struggling to find a “meadow” (value) to go after and discover what makes them truly want to get better. They can then help facilitate the creation of a plan to help the client remember what the desired outcome is, despite having obstacles appear that will cloud their view. A Therapist can also help the client come up with ideas to help work through feelings and thoughts of anxiety, helplessness, and despair.

Perhaps most crucial is that a therapist is there as someone who has seen others get to their meadows, and while each journey is unique, they can help a client prepare for and navigate through unanticipated obstacles that most people suffering from an addiction will unavoidably go through on their trail to recovery. They can help provide you with the essential items needed to make it over the rock slides, under the scrub oak, and past the bear on your way to your meadow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't Relapse! (But if You Do...)

Here are 3 tools I often give clients as a packet to complete as soon as they can after relapsing. Some people just use one; others find it helpful to do all three. They can help you break down your last relapse, see it more clearly, and give you some good momentum for preventing the next one. 

Here's an even better idea: why wait for a relapse? You can also use them to get back on track after a close call! 

Give these exercises a try and let us know if they help.

Exercise #1: Retrace Your Steps

Use these codes to categorized each numbered item in the sequence: H = What Happened, D = What you Did, T = What you Thought, F = What you Felt emotionally, B = What you noticed in your Body

1. What I ended up doing... D:

2. and before that...

3. and before that...

4. and before that...

5. and before that...

6. and before that...

7. and before that...

8. and before that...

9. and before that...

10. and before that... (continue as long as it's meaningful...)

Sample Retrace Your Steps from Derek

1. What I ended up doing: D: Looked at porn on my phone

2. and before that... F: Was tempted to find porn

3. and before that... F: Overwhelmed, worried about how behind I am on school assignments

4. and before that... H: Weekend ended

5. and before that... D: Watched a lot of TV

6. and before that... D: Put off doing my homework

7. and before that... F: Frustrated that the essay isn’t perfect, can’t seem to get some of the wording up to my satisfaction

8. and before that... D: Worked on my essay

9. and before that... F: Excited, enthusiastic

10. and before that... T: I’m determined to get better grades this semester

(Before completing this exercise, Derek would have never suspected that being determined to get good grades would be a part of the sequence that led to his relapse.)

Exercise #2: Mental Redo

Part A. At what point(s) could I have changed courses? What could I have done different?






Part B. Mentally practice 5x interrupting what I actually did and taking the path(s) above instead.

What do you notice as you mentally run through taking these other, better courses?

Exercise #3: Letter to a Friend

Imagine one of your friends just did what you’ve done and has the exact feelings you do right now. Write them a note, starting with “Dear ________”. Offer encouragement, your perspective as an outsider, and anything else that will help them to keep the problem in proportion. Remind them of what good people they are and how much they have to offer. After you've finished, read below for more instructions.*


Dear ______________,

*Only read below after you’ve completed the letter:
Now, cross out your friend’s name and insert your own. Read this “letter to yourself” with an open mind.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 11: Reverse Conditioning

Over and over again, you've paired the image of a sexually attractive person with the habit of lusting. In time, you don't even have to choose to lust when you see something or someone tempting--the sequence initiates automatically.

To change this pattern, you can condition yourself in a different direction by deliberately pairing trigger events with another, better sequence every time you're triggered.

To do so, try responding to triggers with a brief gesture designed to remind yourself who you are and what you care about.

George Collins suggests one I've found to be quite powerful: put your hand on your heart, look heavenward, and silently mouth or quietly say the words "Thank you."

This process is a sort of value anchor. When you think or see something that would usually trigger a lust lapse, it helps by:

  • Reminding you who you are: a human being with a heart, not just an animal driven by your genitals.
  • Orienting your attention upward instead of downward--heavenward if you're a spiritual person--and toward what you're grateful for, giving you somewhere to focus besides the potential object of your lust.
  • Initiating gratitude, a higher level (human) feelings state that can be a potent antidote for the animalistic state of lust. 
  • Giving you something to ponder: what, exactly, am I grateful for right now? This gives the searching mechanism in the mind something else to scope out besides objects of and opportunities for lust.
  • Bringing you back to your realm of power. From a spiritual perspective: the devil operates in the realm of thoughts and feelings. When we wrestle on his home territory, he has better footing. But (at least according to my beliefs) he doesn't possess muscles or vocal chords. So when we initiate even a simple behavior (placing your hand on your heart) or make even a brief, quiet statement ("Thank you"), we're like the alligator that just dragged the lion into the water, where our advantage lies.

In his book, Breaking the Cycle, Collins tells about a time when he came upon an attractive woman in a grocery store aisle. She bent down in front of him to grab a can of soup from a low shelf. His old lust-based reflex would have been to stare. Instead, he reached for his protein powder, put it into his cart, and turned to walk away. As he did, he put his hand on his heart and quietly whispered, "Thank you."

From the other direction came the soft voice of a woman he hadn't noticed before: "You're welcome."

Rather than a coincidence that she was standing there and responded as she did, it seemed to George like a little gift meant just for him. As he walked toward the cash register, tears came to his eyes as he relished how nice it was to be breaking free of the clutches of his sex addiction and deciding for himself where to focus and what to think.

One remarkable thing about reverse conditioning is that it can turn a source of aggravation--everyday triggers--into an ongoing series of opportunities to do something that bolsters your recovery instead. Little events that used to trip you up become the innoculations that help your mental immune system get stronger.

Keep at it regularly and this little reverse conditioning, value anchoring process will become a habit. Before long, you'll end up like George. You'll find that your brain, in response to triggers, automatically initiates movement down a better, more life-affirming path.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Address Low Female Desire So You Can Make Love More Often

Sexless and sex-sparse marriages leave men (and some women) more vulnerable to porn problems. No one gets everything they want in the sex department, but if yearnings are rarely or never fulfilled, despair may cloud judgment and good-hearted people may end up falling to temptation in weak moments.

For this reason and countless others, it's a good idea for all couples to keep their sexual relationship vibrant and active. At times that's easy and comes naturally to both partners. At other times sex is less enjoyable than usual and may not even seem worth the effort.

Levels of sexual desire can wax and wane for either partner, but sometimes the problem is more persistent. In some cases, chronic low female sexual desire is the end result of a downward spiral that includes:
  1. Inadequate time and attention being given to foreplay and the buildup of her sexual desire.
  2. As a result, she isn't adequately lubricated during sex. 
  3. Therefore, sex is not only less pleasurable than it might be, sometimes it's downright painful. 
  4. Her nervous system keeps her body out of "relax and enjoy sex" mode and in "brace myself against pain" mode. 
  5. Enjoyment and orgasm become nearly impossible. 
  6. That distasteful sexual experience creates a lasting negative association.
  7. She finds herself wanting to avoid sex altogether.
  8. She goes into their next encounter tense, bracing for another bad experience.
  9. And so on the downward spiral continues. 
When a couple works patiently together to assure the woman becomes adequately aroused before sex and climaxes during lovemaking, it makes for a much more fulfilling experience. Such positive experiences also create lasting associations, and she finds herself more eager to have sex. 

Sometimes, however, even when a couple diligently works to foster mutually fulfilling lovemaking experiences, desire, arousal and orgasm remain elusive. They may try and try but never get there, or finally succeed but only after a great deal of effort. They don't always have the time or energy to go through the process in the ways that work. Sometimes, even when they do persist, she doesn't find it as stimulating as usual and they tire of the ordeal. 

I've found a particular approach helpful for about 70-80% of such couples. If you try it out, remember that sexual desire and enjoyment require a delicate balance of many complicated factors, particularly for women, so don't get too discouraged or critical of yourself if the technique doesn't "work" for you.

This technique adapted from Claire Hutchins' book, Five Minutes to Orgasm Every Time You Make Love. The woman is on top, in the straddle position. Close your eyes and turn your attention to your own pleasure. (Don't worry that you're depriving him--most men are plenty turned on by this process.) Use your index or middle finger to rub your own clitoris. Use KY Jelly or another lubricant if needed. Experiment and vary the rate of movement and intensity of pressure. Some women find it stimulating to imagine various scenarios of lovemaking, talk about things that turn them on, or moan to express their pleasure. However, if it works better for you, don't hesitate to keep your focus inward, on your own sensations and experience, particularly when you are first experimenting with this approach. Over time as you get better at finding your pleasure zone and reaching orgasm, you'll open your eyes more often during the experience and communicate more freely. In general the process will become more interactive.

Some of my conservative religious clients are hesitant at first to try out this technique because they equate it with masturbation. I encourage them to consider whether self-stimulation during intercourse with their husband might be different from the masturbation that is discouraged by their Church. (I agree that masturbation can be detrimental when individuals are off on their own pleasuring themselves--having a solo experience--rather than channeling that sexual energy back into connecting with their spouse.)

I also ask, "How successful would your husband be at experiencing pleasure and achieving orgasm if he did not stimulate himself during sex? He thrusts because it stimulates him. You don't view that as him using your vagina to masturbate himself. You don't ask him to abstain from thrusting and only let you stimulate him. If you decide to experiment with this technique, as you do, consider whether rubbing your own clitoris during sex may be comparable to him engaging in the thrusting motion."

I don't try to talk a couple into doing anything they're genuinely uncomfortable with. Most of them have simply never considered this kind of technique as an option. I want to give them permission to explore and discover for themselves and then follow their own consciences and sensibilities in the matter.

The majority of my religious clients report after trying this approach that they're comfortable with it and it becomes a part of their lovemaking repertoire. It is a nice way to awaken her interest, heighten her pleasure, and more readily reach orgasm--even when she's tired, not as easily aroused as usual, or they don't have a lot of time or energy. 

When both partners reliably experience ecstasy and orgasm, they're both more invested in making sure they make love on a regular basis. And that's good for each of them as individuals and for the vitality of the bond they share. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 10: Let Cravings Remind You to Address Real Needs

It's not as easy as it may seem to keep us addicted. Craving must lead to acting out because it's acting out that fuels future cravings. If we stop acting on our cravings, the entire machinery of addiction starts to wind down. Momentum starts to fade. Therefore, to keep the cycle going, the elements that foster the illusion of desirability must continually be convincingly recreated. That illusion of desirability, the spell we fall under when we're craving, is the linchpin of addiction. Break this trance and you've begun the process of breaking free of addiction's trap.

I liken the trance of addiction to the spell the Disney Corporation works so skillfully to hold us in when we're in one of their parks. They know all of the elements of trance must be painstakingly maintained in order to foster the "magic" that is key to their success. That's why you'll never see Aladdin break out his cell phone from the pocket of his harem pants to check a text from his buddy about what they're doing after work tonight. So we're left happy in the illusion that no resident of ancient Agrabah would carry a cell phone. Nor would he get a text even if he did have a phone, because his best friend is a monkey.

My client, Brandon, is becoming more and more familiar with the elements that fuel his addictive trance. He came in to our last session with a list and expounded to me on each item:

Working a ton: I find that whenever I work like I did over the past couple of weeks--7 shifts in 9 days at one point--I get worn down. I feel shaky emotionally. I feel like I'm on thinner ice spiritually. It's like I'm an empty bucket, but the things I usually find fulfilling, like going for a walk or watching a cool documentary, don't do the trick anymore. Even when I'm not at work I can't seem to wind down. There's a low grade tension that's a part of my life like background noise.

Self-doubt: I wonder more whether I'm a good husband and father. I doubt my spiritual contributions--wouldn't I have done more as Elder's Quorum President and felt closer to the Spirit of the Lord if I hadn't been dealing with this pornography addiction? Have I made the right career decisions? Would we have been better off staying in Albuquerque? My imagination generates these scenarios where life would have been easier or more fulfilling if I'd taken a different path. I'd be doing more with friends because I'd still be living around people I've known for a longer time. I'd have more free time because the hospital there does their shifts differently. And so I'd have taken twice as many bike rides this summer as I've been able to here... if only! I make myself miserable that way.

Nice guy mode: I don't bring up the things I want or need. I just suck it up. I'm reluctant to confront people and stand up for myself. I don't try to take the shoes back to the store, even though they don't fit after all. The shoe box just sits in the trunk of my car. I don't tell our lead that I've already worked my share of weekend shifts for the month. The ugliness of my parents always fighting is etched in my hard drive. I just want everyone to be okay and get along. My mom always told me I was the peacemaker, and I do love tranquility, but now it keeps me stuck going along with things I really shouldn't.

Brandon and I spent the hour identifying and working with three "helpers" that coincide with the trance-fueling patterns he had identified. He called these helpers Plow Horse, Second Guesser, and Nice Guy. He acknowledged that they had been trying to make his life better, but also that they didn't know the whole picture. There were some ways that they were not serving him well. We discussed what he could do--how he could handle some of the situations that he be facing over the next few days--that would be more consistent with who he is as a person and what he wants in life. That sounded much better to him than simply continuing these same patterns he had identified. And it sounded ten times better than lapsing to porn, as he'd been more tempted to do lately because he felt out of balance. 

Brandon made a few plans for taking action:
  • Arrange for a couple of long lunches in the next week to go biking.
  • Invite some friends to go out to eat with us this Friday or Saturday.
  • Try taking the kids swimming with me some evening to see if that's a better release than TV.
  • Make sure I go on a walk with Lisa every evening even if I still feel tense afterward.
  • Talk with my lead and be more firm about my schedule preferences (I know from looking at my colleagues schedules that the squeaky wheel sometimes gets the grease.)
Although planning was just the beginning of actually creating a more balanced life, Brandon let out a big sigh and his shoulders relaxed a bit as he looked over his list and considered whether there was anything else he wanted to add to it. He was listening to his soul and considering what it needed. And he was going to act on those needs even if it was difficult. 

Think about how much worse off he'd been if he'd allow all of the stress to merely drive him back to viewing porn and masturbating to it. Sure, there would have been an immediate release of the tension. But there's also the blinding and numbing effect of addiction. He would have set himself back even further from understanding himself and what he genuinely needed. Plus he would have felt guilty and ashamed, and thus even less entitled to asking for what he needs in all the various other arenas of life. 

Addiction to porn sucks away our humanity. Recovery may be about denying ourselves in some small ways, but it's mainly about regaining our humanity and respecting who we are and what we genuinely need. 

Next time you find yourself more compelled by the trance of your cravings, take a step back and consider the various areas of your life that may be out of balance. Then take concrete steps to restore balance in each of those arenas. 

Let your cravings be the light on the dashboard of your life, reminding you to change your worn belts and top off your fluid levels. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Celebrating Freedom!

It's Independence Day in the United States, and everywhere I go I'm reminded of the blessings of freedom and liberty. 

As focused as I am on our nation's independence is, I also rejoice in the growing personal freedom that I see everyday in the lives of clients and readers of this blog. Here's an email I got this week from a former client, Valerie:

Hi Mark,

It has been awhile since we touched base. We've been busy with, well, life. I have been giving myself time to struggle and Randall and I have been working hard on the road to healing and recovery for both of us. 

Struggle is the perfect word to describe the journey we've been on. We have had screaming matches (unusual for us), we've had tears, hugs, and laughter. We've threatened to give up and we have vowed never to give up. I guess you could say that we have gone through a lot the past couple of months. 

I have been reading your blog, praying, participating in actions that bring me closer to the Holy Ghost, as well as having my days of frantically going through the internet search history and obsessing about my appearance. 

I am working everyday towards putting my efforts toward more uplifting and liberating actions rather than the ones that destroy me. I am actually progressing and using the tools that you describe in your blog. 

Our communication is flourishing and Randall is still porn free! He has been working hard on his own as well as on us. 

This email is just to update you and extend to my enduring gratitude towards you, Suncrest Counseling, and all the work you do. We could not have gotten through as much as we have without y'all. Thank you. 

Warm Regards,


My hat's off to you, Valerie and Randall, and all of the rest of you who are putting your heart and soul into trying to change and heal. May God continue to bless you in your quest for personal freedom!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 9: Remember SAND in the Heat of the Moment

These days I’m encouraging my clients to carry a sand timer (you know, those tiny hourglasses that come in kids’ games) and use the word SAND to remind them of four key tools that can help break the trance of temptation in the heat of the moment:

S: State the Sentiment
A: Absorb the Emotion
N: Notice What’s Now
D: Do What’s You

A more detailed explanation of each of these tools can be found in these other Gentle Art of Self-Control lessons:

State the Sentiment in Lesson 3: Look at Your Lenses
Absorb the Emotion in Lesson 6: Face Your Feelings
Notice What’s Now in Lesson 7: Free the Looping Mind
Do What’s You in Lesson 8: Do What’s You

You can use SAND whenever you need help taking back control of your life. When you’re tempted to relapse, remember SAND, pick one or more of the tools, and implement it.

And the SAND reminder is not just for avoiding relapse. You can use it when you’re feeling pushed around by feelings of any kind: discouragement, resentment, frustration, loneliness, anger, envy, etc.

Whenever Henry and Carol go a long time without making love, Henry starts to feel lonely, like he isn’t a priority, disconnected from Carol, and grumpy. Unfortunately, because of their busy schedules, it happens quite often. In an effort to improve their sex lives, they agreed to be intimate at least one morning a week, either on Tuesday or Thursday, the mornings Henry starts work later than usual.

Last week, since they didn’t make love Tuesday morning, Henry was really looking forward to Thursday. Unfortunately, Carol didn’t sleep well Wednesday night and was exhausted Thursday morning. But she didn’t want him to feel neglected. “Tonight at 8:30,” she promised. “It’s a date,” he nodded.

Because it was such a hot day, Henry decided to push back to a little later in the evening the bike ride he had planned to take with his Step-Grandson, Greg, who was visiting them from out of town. Because they didn’t end up leaving until almost 8:00, he knew they wouldn’t be back until 9:30 or so. Nonetheless, he was still eagerly anticipating some alone time with Carol that evening and hopeful that she would also remember and make it a priority.

When Henry and Greg came in the house after their ride, Carol was on the couch with a storage box opened up and memorabilia strewn all over the coffee table. “This is all your mom’s stuff from when she was your age!” she motioned excitedly to her grandson. Greg sat down next to her and started looking at the trinkets and photographs.

Henry gets up to go to work at 5:00 on Friday mornings. He surveyed the stuff on the table and knew there was no end in sight. He turned and walked down the hall to their bedroom, filled with the awful sludge of disappointment.

I’ll just get on my iPad and check out the news before I hit the sack, he thought to himself. Then he realized, It’s at times like these, when I feel left out, unimportant, hungry for love, lonely—it’s times like these that I find myself going from news… to racy so-called news… to sexually provocative material on presumably mainstream websites… to pornographic material on edgy websites… to full-on porn.

He knew that if he didn’t do something fast, he’d soon be on that old luge run with no way off. He really wasn’t in the mood to use a tool he’d learned in therapy, but he plopped down on the bed and forced his mind to remember SAND:

S. State Your Sentiment. How would I put what I’m feeling into words? “I’m down at the bottom of the priority list. I’m the invisible guy. No one sees my needs… or my wounds… or cares!”

A. Absorb the Emotion. I’m disappointed. Hurt. I’m supposed to make room for the hurt and let it in instead of shrinking away from it? Don’t contract, expand and let the emotion in. Really?! Let it in. Ugh. Geez, that is really unpleasant. Henry forced himself to take a deep breath and imagined space opening up inside of himself where that emotion could reside.

N. Notice What’s Now. What can I see or hear? He lifted his head off the pillow and looked out the window. Their home has a view of the city skyline. He looked out at the lights and decided to zero in on one that stood out because it was yellow. He kept his focus on that light as he took another breath or two.

D. Do What’s You. What could I do that’s consistent with who I am and how I choose to live my life, not some habit or addiction that I’ve conditioned myself to go to? Henry wants more than anything to be a good man and a loving husband. Carol loves to be touched and massaged, so one of the actions on his Value Menu that takes just a minute or two is rubbing her shoulders. He peeled his body up off the bed, walked back out to the living room, and sat down on the armrest of the couch, right next to Carol. She and Greg were thumbing through her daughter’s yearbook, back and forth between the index and the various pictures of her. Neither of them gave any indication that they even realized Henry had come back in.

Despite the knot in his throat and the feeling of sludge in his body, Henry started to rub Carol’s shoulders. He felt her soften and relax almost immediately. He continued for a minute or so. At one point she pressed her check against his hand, pinning it between her check and shoulder. Then she sighed and looked up and smiled at him.

“Love you,” he said, “I’m going to bed now.”

“K, love you, too.” she said, turning back to her grandson and the yearbook.

Henry didn’t feel completely settled as he walked back to the bedroom. But, he admitted to himself, I feel a lot better than I do after what usually happens.

It sucks when we don’t get what we want. But it sucks even more when we don’t live as we choose—when we allow the strong feelings that go with not getting what we want to drive us back into doing things we truly, deep down, don’t want to do. And even though we might sincerely feel like other people are to blame for the way we acted, we still end up suffering the dreadful consequences.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Does His Obsession Have to Become Your Obsession?

Four years ago in April, my Client, Liz, discovered that her husband frequented porn and dating sites on his computer. Her eighteen-year-old daughter called her in to the computer one day: “Sorry Mom, but I think you’re going to want to see this.”

A year later when she started therapy with me, Liz still had intense feelings of anger and hatred toward her husband, Frank. A statement I heard repeatedly from her during that time was, “I want to nail his $#% to the wall!”

Fast forward three years and Liz and Frank are still together. She loves him and wants to retire together and enjoy their remaining years as much as they can. They both love to golf and travel. They’ve always relished their weekends together away from job demands. She manages a busy dental practice and he’s lasted decades in an accounting firm that burns out most employees in just a year or two. Their daughter comes to visit with her young son, and Liz delights in watching “Grandpa” roll around on the ground with his little buddy.

Frank still frequents porn and dating sites. Several times she has asked him to quit, making her case in various ways. Each time he promised he would, only to keep going back. Her high hopes were dashed every time she’d discover smut on his computer again.

She monitors his web habits by means he’s not aware of, so she knows the pattern. Typically he gets on when she’s out of the house, although occasionally it’s been while she’s in the other room or asleep. If she goes away overnight or for days at a time, that’s when he binges.

She’s accepted now that he’ll probably never get off it. Sure, she’d rather he didn’t go to porn and the dating sites, but he has lots of other great qualities that compensate for that weakness. Because of those and all they’ve shared and been through together over the 41 years, she’s going to keep trying to make the best of it.

The other day she shared her perspective on a topic that I thought would be worth passing along:

“There’s such a thing as too much curiosity. I wasted too much time over the last three years glued to his computer, looking at his search history, sorting through everything he’d been looking at.

“Some of it was absolutely necessary. Some of that detective work showed me that he goes to the dating sites to look at the photos, not because he’s planning to step out on me or wants to find local women to date. If I hadn’t come to understand what that was about for him, I never would have come to terms with it in the way I have.

“But the rest of it—being exposed to the world or porn and seeing all those sexy, slender bodies of younger women—that’s done me more harm than good.

“I wasted a lot of time on it, time I wish I’d spent in other, more productive ways.

“Just because he got sucked in, didn’t mean I needed to get sucked in. I wish now that I’d resisted the urge to delve into it to the degree that I did. I wish I’d let that be his thing and spent more of my time and energy on the things I care about.”

In your journey as an individual and as a couple, what’s your take on these questions:

How much time and energy should you spend on your partner’s porn habit?

Do you choose how much time and energy to spend, or do the worries take over and make you obsess about it involuntarily, even though you’d rather dwell on other things? Anything you’ve learned over time that you could pass on to others about how to deal with that morbid curiosity more effectively?

To what degree is it up to you to learn about addiction and recovery and to what degree is that his concern and his job? And what if you’re convinced that kicking his porn habit is his job, but he doesn’t do anything about it? Do you live with it the way Liz has decided to, or is it a relationship-breaker?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

WHY Kick a Porn Habit?

You are the reason this blog exists.

You're here, so I have a good idea WHAT you're trying to accomplish.

Today I'm curious to know WHY you care to do it.

As you work to kick the habit, what is your single biggest motivator?

What are two or three others in your top five?

What made you decide in the first place to try to make a change?

When you get discourage and are tempted to give up trying, what keeps you going?

When you wonder whether it's worth all the work, what do you bring to mind?

Give these questions some thought--and then please share your thoughts with us. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 8: Do What’s You

One of the greatest costs of addiction is the way it dehumanizes us. After all, free will is the very essence of what makes us human. Addiction interferes with our capacity to exercise our will, locking us instead in a pattern of succumbing to our baser, animalistic urges. Human dignity goes out the window. Our infinite potential goes wasted, as we slavishly chase this way and that at the dictates of our appetites and cravings.

Are You Being Yourself?

If you’re still to some degree in love with your addiction, it may be eye-opening to ask yourself these questions: When you’re in hot pursuit of pleasure in that realm, is the way you’re living unique to you as an individual? Or could you be interchangeable with any other human being—or even various members of the animal kingdom? If so, isn’t it about time you rose above the reptiles?

Our addictive behaviors are like the jerks of our knee when the patellar tendon is struck with a mallet. They tend to be tired, uninspired, and generic. As we do one more internet search for porn or tip another tall one back, we're indistinguishable from millions of other people throughout the history of the world who've done the very same thing in the very same way. Is there anything original about the way I overeat or yell at my kids? Stop the scene and insert another actor. We don't bring anything to those activities that no one else could. This is how addiction insults our dignity and robs us of our humanity.

We weaken the hold of addiction whenever we show up for life and bring our unique flair to whatever we're doing. They broke the mold after they made you, right? So act like it! Do something only you can do. I'm not talking about climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. We can let our personality shine even when we're doing the simplest of tasks.

Identify What Sets You Apart

Stephen Covey recommends exploring your vision and values:
  • What do you love to do? 
  • When are you at your best? 
  • What are your unique talents and gifts? 
  • If you had unlimited time and resources and knew you couldn’t fail, what would you choose to do? 
  • If your life is an epic journey with you as the hero/heroine, what is your journey about--what are you doing, who is it for, why are you doing it? 
  • What will your most important contribution be to the most important people in your life?
Fast forward to your 80th birthday. Imagine that you couldn't be happier with the way your life's gone from now until then. Now imagine that you overhear a few of the conversations going on at the party. What are two or three of the adjectives you hope people will use to describe you and the way you lived? “She was so much fun.” “He was so thoughtful.” “She was so dedicated to our cause.”

Now imagine that your visitors start telling stories about actions of yours they witnessed that demonstrate those qualities. And, lo and behold, the incident they're talking about was something you did in the next week or two during a time when you were feeling the pull of your addiction, but decided to do something more personally meaningful instead.

"I remember walking out after taking the doctor's office, turning on my phone, and finding a text from him asking me how it had gone." "I remember her sharing with me some of her beautiful photographs." "I remember when a huge group of us were walking into the building and he stood patiently and held the door for everyone else in line."

Play the Value Menu Game

In the heat of a tempting moment, it’s hard to come up with some creative alternative to acting out. Your Value Menu can be a sort of “cheat sheet” for times like that, full of value-based gratifications that will help make your days richer and your life more fulfilling.

Create Your Value Menu
  1. Down the left margin or column of your Value Menu, list several qualities you want to epitomize. These are values and personality traits that set you apart and make you who you are--or ones you’d like to develop. Sit and ponder the questions above by Stephen Covey until you have a list of at least five or six.
  2. To the right of each quality, list a few activities--or even brief gestures--that demonstrate or cultivate that quality. 
Want to be someone who's respectful? Take the time to learn and use all your coworkers names. Spontaneous? Brainstorm some everyday adventures you take off on with your family. Playful? Help your nephew and his friends set up a fun obstacle course. Appreciative? Start a list of people in your life who deserve thank you notes and watch for snippets of time throughout the week when you can work on writing and sending them.

Developing a Value Menu is a process, not an event. Keep brainstorming and adding activities as you come up with more. Over time it will become a document that is very personal and meaningful to you.

Use Your Value Menu

You can use your Value Menu at any time. In particular: when a craving hits, pick something off the Menu and do it. But even on those days when enjoying relative freedom from unwanted urges, don’t forget to pick an activity and do it.

Don’t try to jump all the way from tempted to saintly. Sure, if kindness is your value, then on a day when you have more time you might go give blood or help organize the shelves at the food bank. But on a day when you’re struggling and don’t have much energy, at least pause to hug your daughter and kiss her on the forehead first thing when you get home.

Relish the Results

Who knows, maybe the very daughter you start hugging and kissing this week will be the one at your 80th birthday party who says, "She was so supportive. One afternoon when I was 11, she started hugging me and kissing me on the forehead. After that, I got a hug from her every afternoon when she got home from work. It couldn't have come at a better time. That affection from my mom helped me get through the next three years, which were the hardest of my life."

Don't be surprised if you receive feedback like that. When thoughtful care and conscious intention infuse your actions, when you "do what's you" instead of mindlessly repeating a compulsion, it’s not uncommon for others to see your actions as inspired.

Would it mean less to your daughter if she knew that the hug and kiss were a real stretch for you at first? That it started out only because you valued her and did it as part of an exercise, rather than flowing from your natural affection? That at the time you felt more like compulsively shopping online than taking that time to show her love? To me, it means even more. Actions like these are more dignified when our heart's not quite in them--and even more when they’re a huge stretch. Anyone can do what they feel like doing. What's really admirable is demanding something higher from ourselves when we could so easily do what's familiar and easy.

Challenge for the Week: Create and Start Using Your Own Value Menu

Before you create your own, it may help to see an example of what a Value Menu looks like. My client, Merideth, gave me permission to share hers with you. Check hers out, then use the blank one below to create your own. Then, most importantly, take some opportunities this week, including when you feel tempted, to start using it.

Sample Value Menu

VALUE                                    ACTIVITY (Requires S=Seconds, M=Minutes, H=Hours, D=Days)

Adventurous,                           D: Pack up on Friday and head out of town for the weekend
Spontaneous                           H: Go do a service project on a whim
                                                H: Take a ski day, go golfing, fly fishing, take canyoneering class
                                                M: Learn online about hikes I want to take

Musical                                    S: Sing to my kids, in the shower, or in the car
                                                H: Practice our choir pieces
                                                M: Pop in a Andre Rieu DVD
                                                D: Attend convention; take music appreciation class

Outdoorsy                               M: Watch the clouds
                                                S: Appreciate trees, mountains or sky as I walk or drive around
                                                S: Gaze out the window at work or at home
                                                D: Plan a trip to the coast or other bird watching trip
                                                M: Plant bulbs

Supportive,                              H: Take my cousin or a friend to lunch
Loving                                     S: Text friend or sibling to check in about something in their life
                                                M: Put $10 gas in son’s car
                                                M: Call sister who’s struggling
                                                S: Hold the door open for people

Creative                                  H: Learn how to make cheese
                                                M: Go out in the garage and weld something
                                                M: Write poetry
                                                M: Tell tall tales to my kids

Appreciative                            M: List others’ acts of kindness and write them thank you notes
                                                S: Count blessings
                                                M: Practice gratitude meditation or take a “gratitude walk”

Physically Fit                           M: Go running; sign up for a race
                                                S: Take the stairs
                                                M: Look for recipes and make healthy meals

Diligent,                                   M: Spend a half hour making sales calls
Hard Worker                           H: Organize bookkeeping for the business
                                                M: Arrive at work five minutes early
                                                M: Return calls within a 24 hours

Your Value Menu

VALUE                                    ACTIVITY (Requires S=Seconds, M=Minutes, H=Hours, D=Days)