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)








Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 7: Free the Looping Mind

The last couple of lessons have focused on developing the willingness to sit through temptation and difficult feelings. However, being willing to accept our urges and our distress doesn’t mean we’re content to wallow in them. Remember, one of the advantages of acceptance strategies is that they help shrink the footprint of the problem in our lives. If we’re enduring loop after loop of unwanted thoughts and feelings, it may be helpful to exercise a different aspect of the acceptance approach: mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to “get out of your head and back into your life,” as Steve Hayes puts it.

Lost in the Loop

On Google Earth, the satellite view of the roundabout that circles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris shows cars driving six abreast in some places. Having gone an extra rotation or two myself in one of our little local roundabouts, I can only imagine what would feel like to be on the inside lane circling that grand arch, wanting to exit, trying to nudge over, unable to make my way out. Like a little moon, doomed to keep orbiting a giant planet.

That's the way the addictive cycle can feel. We know our old habits don't serve us, yet we keep finding ourselves back in their orbit, unable to break the gravitational pull. When we give in to an urge, the monster of addiction devours our time, energy, and focus. And the energy we use up struggling against our urges is also consumed by that beast. So is the time we spend feeling guilty about our past lapses and worried we may not be able to resist next time.

In the meantime, real life, with all its vitality and opportunity, continues to proceed as usual. As we're busily looping through these cycles of succumbing and resisting, delighting in the high of our addiction or abhorring its consequences, life does go on. Outside the six lane roundabout there are crepes to eat and the Louvre to explore.

And Now Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Life, Already In Progress

Sometimes, we get caught up in an unnecessary struggle because we give typical temptations more meaning, power, and attention than they deserve. We think, “Oh no, not these feelings again! Does this mean I’m a terrible person? That I’m hopelessly addicted? That I’m on the verge of acting on these thoughts?” Instead of getting caught up in the struggle, we can choose instead to accept the fact that we had an urge. We don’t have to “deal with” every common craving. We can turn away both from what appeals to us and from a fight to avoid what appeals to us. Without much fanfare, we can simply turn back to real life and get on with it. We can acknowledge the pull and then move right on—even if it’s only to some mundane aspect of life.

That’s great news when we need to get unstuck: Whatever our mind might be doing related to our addiction—either entertaining or fighting it—there’s always another potential focus for attention, there-and-available, ready to engage us: the present reality.

Noticing what's now helps us get back in the flow of real life and on our way again.

Here’s another way of putting it: Attending to reality is like eating fresh food; staying stuck in the loop of addiction is like re-swallowing vomit. Interestingly enough, our attention is a fairly narrow throat. Seems we cannot swallow fresh food and vomit at the same time. And guess what? Between the two, fresh food gets the right of way.

Scientists who study consciousness call this the Reality First policy. Here’s how Daniel Gilbert sums it up: “Your brain must use its visual and auditory cortices to execute acts of visual and auditory imagination, and if these areas are already busy doing their primary job—namely, seeing and hearing things in the real world—then they are not available for acts of imagination.” [Stumbling on Happiness, p. 135.]

In other words, when the brain has a choice between content coming from itself or input from the real world, it prioritizes input from the real world. Perhaps this “reality override” system helps insure our survival. But we can use this principle to pop the rivets that bind our attention to addiction and engage ourselves back in our real lives, which are still right here waiting to be lived. And with real life comes a myriad of other interests and potential pursuits that are worthier of our attention.

The Breathe & Notice Game

To interrupt the looping mind, some people find it helpful to take a deep breath and turn their attention to something concrete like a sight, sound or touch. Doing this three or four times in a row can help the mind free itself. For instance: Take a nice, full breath and notice: “There’s a poplar tree way down the street.” Focus intently on it for a moment. Then breathe again and notice: “There’s the sound of a car engine.” Hold that focus…. Breathe and notice: “There’s the hard sidewalk beneath my feet.” Feel it. Feel it. Feel it with each step.

Broadening our attention to notice sensory input helps interrupt our fixations and obsessions. In the process of attending to here-and-now sensations, taking a few nice, full breaths helps relax the body and calm it down. Instead of bracing ourselves against temptation, we’re loosening up. We’re oxygenating the brain and body so that we can approach the problem with all of our usual resourcefulness and intelligence still intact. We can only keep our wits about us when the body’s not in hyperaroused panic mode.

As simple as this technique sounds, it can help us stay rooted in reality here-and-now, where we can see more of our options. With more of our options in view, we’re prepared to take action, and to do so in different ways than we have been in the habit of doing. We are in the driver’s seat, not our addiction. Surprisingly, of all the techniques I teach my clients, this simple one seems to always get the most rave reviews.

Playing the Game

Adam always craved a smoke when he was stressed out. His worst trigger was boredom. It was his day off and no one else was home. Itching for a cigarette, he decided it was time to take a walk. He took a breath and noticed his lungs filling up as he walked. He inhaled again and checked out one of the yellow dashes in the middle of the gray asphalt road. He took another breath and noticed the sound of a semi-truck revving to shift gears. As he was about to focus on how the sidewalk felt under his feet, he saw see a Weeping Birch tree. He thought, Wait--is there such thing as a Weeping Birch? He remembered that he would be helping his dad with his yard that weekend. I’ll have to ask him. He really knows his flora and fauna. Maybe he can help me decide which tree would best shade our new backyard. The Breathe & Notice Game had done its job. He was back engaged in real life, no longer lost in the loop of craving.

Personally, I’ve found the Breathe and Notice Game to be as helpful as any self-help technique I’ve ever tried. One day I was in a funk feeling ashamed about a voicemail I'd just left for a family friend. "Kathy, we heard you had a biopsy and are wondering how it went. When you get a chance, let us know." Well, it was a biopsy of her breast tissue. Sheez, Mark, how about a little sensitivity? You don't just leave a message like that! You couldn't wait for Jenny to call? What if Carl picks up the message? I had plenty to do, but I couldn't focus on other things. I'd get started on something and the shame would pop back in: How would you feel if someone left a message like that left for Jenny? How embarrassing. I was definitely lost in an unproductive loop. I sat down and took a breath. Tight in my chest. As I exhaled again I looked out the window and noticed the line of the trees against the snow on a peak of the Wasatch Mountains. Breathe again--there's the sound of my daughter chatting with her friend in the other room. Breathe and reach up to feel the skin on my cheek. As I stood up to try again to go about the business of the day I thought, Kathy may have cancer, and I'm worried about what she or Carl might think about a message I left on their voicemail? I shook my head and smiled at the natural self-centeredness of the mind. I was out of the loop and never did get swept up by it again.

In the flow of consciousness, we simply cannot be caught in an eddy and traveling downstream at the same time. Either we are spinning with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam in one of our familiar thought eddies or feeling eddies… or we’re flowing over the next rock, around a new bend and past landscape features on the shore we've never seen before. Pausing to breathe and notice what's now can help get us back in the flow of real life and on our way again.

Challenge for the Week: Play the Breathe & Notice Game

Take time once or twice a day to interrupt whatever else you’ve been caught up in and breathe and notice. It takes less than a minute and it may help you feel more grounded in the here-and-now. As you play the game you'll simply take some nice, full breaths and notice a few sensations. Here’s what you’ll be doing. Go ahead and try it out right now to practice:

Inhale and notice what you feel someplace in your body right now. Anyplace. If you don't notice anything, just move on. Take another breath and notice something you can see. Really focus on what it looks like at this very second. Let that go now, and with the next breath pay attention to one thing you can hear right now. Then inhale and focus on something you can feel against your skin, be it the armrest of your chair against your forearm or the sun warming the back of your neck. Finally, breathe and notice your current situation: "I'm waiting at the dentist's for my daughter." "It's Friday afternoon and I'm driving home--end of a long week." "I'm on the couch watching TV late at night."

After you've practiced for a few days, you'll be more likely to remember to breathe and notice at those key moments when a potent urge hits. Or when you start to go into the kind of funk that can set you up for feeling tempted later.

Please let us know in the comment section below how it goes for you when you try out the Breathe & Notice Game. How did it impact your consciousness? Did you find that it helped in any way? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 6: Face Your Feelings

Over the last few weeks we've been learning to drop the rope in the old, familiar the tug-of-war with our urges. As we practice the skills discussed so far we’re succumbing less often and we’re not wasting so much energy resisting. Because we’re less consumed by the battle, other feature of life pop into the foreground. One of the most prominent of these is our emotions. As we face life without our old shock absorber, we not only suffer the pain of withdrawing from it, we also get reintroduced to all facets of feelings that go with regular life.

At its most basic level, overcoming addiction is about not doing when you feel like doing. Simply refraining in the heat of key moments. Most of the time it's easy to refrain from acting. We don't mind sitting still all the day long when we're out in the sunshine. The challenge is in our dark moments. What about when we're pinned down in the black shadows? Then we really want out. We feel like we need to get out. Can we really stand to do nothing then? If we don't do something about our situation and our emotions, they may continue to deteriorate--and they're bad enough already. Quick, do something before things get even worse!

Addiction insists: if you're down, don't just sit there! Do something to bring yourself back up. And by all means, whatever you do, don't let yourself drop even further!

Addiction seems like our enemy most of the time, but then we start to suffer the emotional bumps and bruises of everyday living, then anything that helps us escape or numb ourselves seems like a familiar friend in a time of need. Feeling unsettled and out of sorts? Lookie here: a tidy little way to feel better quick. A trap door out of having to deal with life, having to suffer. Addiction may be a last resort, but it sure seems better than--gulp--feeling even more down than we already are!

Facing life without the shock absorber of addiction means settling back and sitting through our discomforts. Tolerating tedium. Giving ourselves up to the grind of withdrawal. Weathering the storm and waiting for the sun to come out on its own again, instead of holding mother nature in a headlock until she grudgingly spits sunbeams into our waiting palm. Sobriety is about finally, willingly, accepting that life unfolds on its own terms, not ours. Facing our feelings means letting ourselves experience the entire natural range of human emotions, including those at the dark end of the spectrum.

Make Way for the Freight Train

My client, Alyssa, and her husband, Ron, were chatting with the couple next-door about the exercise boot camp they’d just completed. Ron got more and more animated discussing the crazy workout routines, things like hoisting tractor tires and dragging weights through the parking lot by a chain. He raved about the pace of their training runs and all of their other accomplishments in the class.

It really upset Alyssa to watch Ron interact this way. He was so engaged and complimentary. She realized, it might not hurt so much if I felt like he sometimes directed some of that same energy my way. I’m dying of thirst for this kind of attention and most days he won’t even listen for five minutes while I tell him about my day. And yet look at him now, completely captivated!

Alyssa wanted to bolt, but she stood there politely to avoid making a scene. She felt all out of sorts, swamped by emotion, as she walked back in her home. It was at was times like these that she used to go to food for comfort and soothing. Right now she wanted so badly to go eat some chocolate. And yet she didn’t want to! She’d been in recovery from that habit for several months. As the urge hit her with renewed force, she doubted that the skills she’d been practicing were enough to help her stay on track on a day like this.

She knew she needed some space to even give her recovery tools a chance. She walked into her home office and sat down at her desk. The tears poured out. It felt like she was being slammed by a freight train of emotion.

She took a nice, full breath and tried to imagine that the air she was inhaling was blowing up like a balloon inside to create a little more space inside of her. Breathe again. Can I somehow make room for all the emotion I’m feeling? An image popped into her mind of a freight train going through a tunnel inside of her instead of smashing through her. She took another breath and imagined the space expanding even more. The tight knots in her neck and chest started to loosen. The train of emotion seemed to be scraping the walls of the tunnel, sparks flying, but at least it was passing through instead of pushing her along.

She kept breathing and expanding, breathing and expanding. She was allowing herself to fully feel how much it hurt to feel ignored and like she was unimportant, like she was less interesting to the most important person in her life than the next-door neighbors were! A new wave of hot tears flowed.

Previously, Alyssa had always braced against these kinds of feelings. She might tell herself she was being silly or oversensitive. She’d try not to be bothered, only to find that the hurt lingered at the fringes of consciousness for hours or even days.

But she never could seem to contract away from her feelings without withdrawing from Ron and even her children. The shield she held up against emotions seemed to separate her from the rest of her life as well.

Now Alyssa was staying with her emotions, willingly experiencing them, as unpleasant and challenging as that was at the moment. She had made the commitment to stay with her real life in all its rambunctiousness rather than escape by way of her old destructive eating habits. It was tiring, painful work.

When Alyssa walked out of her office a few minutes later, the poignant ache in her chest was still there. But there was also a clean feeling. She was breathing freely, not holding her breath. Her heart felt it had been hammered by a meat tenderizer. And she was going to help her daughter with her math homework. She recalled a time when that would have felt impossible. Having been hit by the cue ball of emotional upset, she would have rolled right to the corner pocket of overeating. The same cue ball had just hit her, and yet she was now headed left at a 90 degree angle instead of going straight. She was going to do something that she’d chosen to do instead of doing the same old thing she felt compelled to do. It was a victory of conscience over reflex, the human being over the human animal, made possible by her willingness to face—instead of run from—emotional pain.

No Escape from the Poop

After he started keeping track of his relapses, Carlos quickly recognized a pattern: the last two times he’d looked at porn had been after some sour interaction with is little sister. “It eats at me,” he said, “that she doesn’t do her share. What makes it worse is that my parents let her off the hook for it!”

As an example, he cited a recurring conflict over cleaning up the dog poop from their three German Shepherds from the back yard. “She’ll come in and say she’s been out there working for a half hour, yet she only has a few turds in the bottom of her bag. A half hour?! I can fill two bags in that time. And that’s exactly what I’ll have to do because next time it’s my turn. It’s not fair!”

As combustible emotions go, resentment is like rocket fuel for addiction, making this the perfect emotional issue for us to work on. Even if Carlos’ sister did a 180 degree turn and tomorrow started gathering her share of the crap, there will be no shortage of other people to step in and play that role in Carlos’ inner drama: classmates who refuse to do their share of a group project, roommates who never do the dishes, or a boss who never gives him enough credit for his hard work.

“Next time you think about it or have to go out and clean up after the dogs,” I suggested, “Imagine resentment is this tide of emotion that has been sweeping you up. It gets bigger than you, so you can’t resist the force of it. But imagine you’re a sponge. By weight you’re lighter than the liquid you’re absorbing, but if you’re big enough you can still soak up every ounce of it that comes your way.” I had Carlos imagine that with each breath he took into his lungs, he was creating more of those air pockets inside a sponge, more available space to be filled by a challenging emotion like resentment.

“Your goal is not to get over your resentment so that you don’t have to feel it anymore. Rather, it’s to get through the resentment so that, even though you feel the full force of it, you can still act exactly the way you choose to and focus your attention back on what matters most to you.”

Next time Carlos was on poop patrol, he tried just plodding through the job so that he could get done with it and move on with his day even though he was feeling resentment the whole time. He tried breathing as I’d coached him—“The job stunk even more when I was taking those deep breaths!” Halfway through the job he was tempted to go inside and bellyache to his parents, arguing with them as usual about how unfair it was. But he hung in there and just kept gathering the poop. “It was so weird, my ears actually started to hurt.” He then dropped the bags in the trash can and started shooting hoops in the driveway. “It was worth it then, after I was all done. I was proud of myself that I hadn’t gotten caught up in a big drama over it. And I was glad I’d gotten it done and over with.”

Inadequacies In Your Face

It was a moment when Steven usually would have taken a razor blade or sharp knife and made cuts on his arm. He was feeling like a loser.

It was exasperating. After all I’ve done to get my life on a better track, I still end up feel this way?! he thought. He’d worked his tail off to make it through high school. He’d raised his GPA to 3.6. The short film he’d made in his film class won “Best Picture” in the high school film festival that included all the schools from his town and the surrounding communities. He was even getting along better with his parents and brother.

But this morning he got another email from the Facebook group someone in his graduating class started to help them all update each other about their college plans and progress. The girl in his biology class was going to the George Washington University. Here were photos from her visit to campus. Here is where she’ll be living. Here were my classy roommates.

With the insecurity of his dad’s employment, Steven would not even be attending Boise State. It was the community college for him. His heart sank again as he thought about it. I’m a loser compared to all these other kids, he thought. I’ve always been one step behind, on the outs, never quite able to measure up or even be a real part of the group. It was times like these when the urge to cut came back with a vengeance.

As Steven tried to sit with his feelings, his chest ached from the hurt. He took deep breaths to try to let the feelings in and through. As he imagined allowing the feelings he thought of the big redwood tree they’d seen on a recent family vacation to Northern California that was big enough for a truck to drive through. His feelings sure felt like a Mack Truck right now. He breathed and felt the pain and wondered what it was like to be connected and involved and a part of things. He wondered why it was not his fate to be a part of the in crowd and feel more a part of things socially.

The heartache didn’t go away, but he managed to weather it without cutting, which would have only served to make things worse.

Stillness Despite a Sense of Urgency

A few days after he learned about making room for feelings, Evan woke up in a panic about the tax ramifications of a recent business decision. His company had arranged the purchase of some assets and the sale of others in a way that would enable them to avoid paying capital gains tax. But in the midst of those negotiations and making those arrangements, he’d ignored a key matter—one that percolated up and made its way into his consciousness at 3:00 a.m.

He jumped up and opened up his laptop to do some quick research. What he found only made him feel worse. It looked like this process would cost them almost a hundred thousand more than he’d expected. Was it really as bad as it looked? If so, how would they ever come up with that kind of money? He was dying to get on the phone and talk to their tax attorney. But it was just after 4:00 a.m. He’d have to wait.

It was only once he realized he was going to have to sit in the discomfort he was feeling that it occurred to him that this was exactly the kind of thing I’d been encouraging him to practice: sitting still even when we feel a sense of urgency to act. Rather than go back to bed and toss and turn in a tortured state, Evan sat there in a tortured state and focused on what he felt in his body. He kept trying to breathe.

Evan reminded himself that his next breath was not dependent on working out these financial matters. His next breath was a gift from God that he could let in no matter how things might end up going with the tax situation. It was God himself, the creator of the universe, who was granting Evan his breath. No matter how well Evan’s business thrived or how badly it flopped, it could not grant him oxygen. Evan kept letting that in and reminding himself to be still and see the financial issues for what they are: important, but not life and death.

Evan wanted to put in the call to his attorney right at 7:00 a.m. He wanted to do it so badly that he knew he probably should wait. So between 7:00 and 7:20 Evan practice sitting in his distress a little longer. Then he said, “That was a stretch, that was my personal growth for the week, I don’t know if it did me any good but to heck with it now, I’m putting in the call!”

I was proud of him. Personally, I think exercises like this do us a lot of good. They show us who gets to decide our behavior. They provide undeniable proof that urgency doesn’t drive us, we’re the ones in the driver’s seat.

Standing Up to Old Tendencies

Shelly had been working to overcome her tendency to placate others and always bow to their needs rather than take care of herself in legitimate and needful ways. Growing up in a home with an extremely demanding father, there was no room for her even to consider her needs. She was always in the habit of trying to make sure she didn’t upset others, especially Dad. At times when all was calm and there was no yelling going on in their home, that meant Dad wasn’t upset by anything she or anyone else had done, at least for the time being. Then she could take a sigh of relief and feel content herself. She didn’t have the luxury of considering what she wanted or how she preferred things to go. He had a hair trigger temper, so it was just a matter of time until he’d explode again and everyone including Shelly would be scrambling to try to restore the peace again.

Shelly’s husband, Wendell, was a completely different man from her dad. He was patient and loving and was a gentle father to their growing children. But Shelly’s demons still haunted her. They kept her feeling like she was always on the verge of upsetting others and being in the dog house because of it.

One night Wendell got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Halfway to the toilet, he stubbed his toe on a cleaning bucket Shelly had left next to the bathroom counter. Shelly was jarred from her sleep by Wendell’s yelp of pain and then his cussing. Everything in her screamed, Jump up, run in there, and apologize, which she did immediately. Wendell was still wincing in pain, but he sighed and apologized himself for overreacting.

Then Shelly felt this surge of energy hit her, driving her to go search the house for other things she’d left out and other areas of untidiness. The kitchen counter was still a mess. Hadn’t she left the vacuum out in the family room?

But she’d been playing the Neutral Gear Game, which you’ll learn at the end of this chapter, for five minutes a day over the previous week. So instead of scrambling, she decided to go back in and sit on the bed and simply weather storm of urges to run around to put everything away.

Once she got to the bed, the weight of all those old desires to make things better tumbled down on her like an avalanche. She crumpled to the bed and sobbed. Wendell came in and put his hand on her side and talked softly and tried to soothe her. In the face of the feeling that she needed to do more to make things better, Shelly surrendered to the reality that she’d never done enough, never could have done enough enough. She’d been struggling to meet a need she could never meet.

There was still that little girl inside who had always yearned for a peaceful family life and just knew that if she worked hard enough and did everything right, she could make it happen. There was a flood of acceptance now that life was so different than that. At the same time, with that acceptance there flowed an accompanying grief that that little girl never got to enjoy what she’d worked so hard for, what she’d genuinely needed, and what every child deserves to enjoy: a secure home environment with emotionally safe caretakers.

As heart-wrenching as it was, this experience for Shelly was the beginning of what Oprah Winfrey defines as forgiveness: Giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.

Challenge for the Week: The Neutral Gear Game

Every day throughout the next week, set aside five minutes to sit still and do nothing. Set an egg timer or use the timer on your phone for five minutes and wait for it to go off without ever checking to see how much time you have left.

Notice your inclinations and desires as they parade by. "I need to turn up the heat in here. I should have gone to the bathroom before I started. My nose tickles--let me just give it a little scratch. I gotta tell the kids to turn down the volume on that TV. Did I remember to take the meat out of the freezer? My back hurts in this chair--I need to sit up straighter. Shoot, I never answered Sarah's urgent email!"

When we feel all these impulses and then continue to sit still, we break the link between wanting and getting, between urgency and action. Rather than being bullied by our feelings, we prove that we can stand up to them.

Fear tells us, "If you don't act when I loom over you, I'll give you the ultimate punishment: you get to suffer even more of me!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game demonstrates both to us and to our fear that we, and not it, are the ones who decide what we do. Low self-esteem tells us, "If you don't shape up and get busy and produce something admirable, I'll glom on tighter and smother you even more!" Playing the Neutral Gear Game says, "I may work on that project in a few minutes, but it will be because I choose to, and not because I'm prodded to do it by the hot poker of emotion that you keep jabbing into me."

As we face our feelings, we discover we're stronger than we realized. We learn we can take it. We see that it's okay to feel bad. We don't have to escape or numb our feelings, we can simply let them run their course. Once we can tolerate whatever feelings arise, we get to stay firmly ensconced in the driver's seat of our lives. That's so much better than being tied up in the trunk, being driven here and there whenever our strongest emotions decide to come around and bully us.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 5: Willingly Go through Withdrawal

It’s a real challenge to accept our thoughts, as we’ve been encouraging so far, but then to stop short of acting on them. It’s no small thing to refrain from acting when we feel compelled.

When we’ve tried to hold ourselves back from acting in the past, we may have become accustomed to doing it by trying to muster all our willpower and grit. But acceptance based coping isn’t about straining against temptation, it’s about refraining in a more mellow, Zen way. What we’re trying to pull off is forbearance, which is defined as “to politely or patiently restrain an impulse to do something.”

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or painless, just gentler.

In fact, acceptance based coping is anything but easy. Forbearance requires a quiet courage, a willingness to experience the lonely discomfort that goes with not fulfilling addictive urges and cravings. When we politely, patiently refrain from a gratifying habit, we quickly and surely come face to face with all the feelings from which gratification has been shielding us. Instead of continuing to try to numb ourselves, we can let ourselves be willing to go through withdrawal.

Feeling a compulsion to act is like finding ourselves on a conveyor belt headed toward misery. We're starting to smell the misery already. And even taste it! Ew yuck! It feels like we're headed for more pain if we don't get busy moving in the opposite direction. Standing up to compulsion is sort of like sitting calmly on the conveyor belt in the lotus position, allowing it to carry us along. Saying, essentially, I am willing and ready to suffer discomfort rather than continue being a slave to the entire ordeal of scrambling and squirming and exerting myself to avoid it.

Plow through Suffering Instead of Piling More of it Up

One of the biggest lies of addiction is that there is a bona fide way out of legitimate suffering. Some folks have so bought into this lie that they don’t even want to consider recovery unless it can be done in a way that provides even more relief from suffering than addiction does!

Addictive patterns have been effective at bulldozing suffering away from us. However, they’ve only served to amass a pile of suffering right in front of us. We can either start plowing through more of the discomfort than we’re accustomed to facing or keep piling up more and more of it in our own way on the path that leads ahead.

I tell clients, every ounce of suffering you do now is buying you a pound of life later.

The discomfort of recovery, especially initially, occurs in part because we’ve trained our brain to expect pleasure instead of pain. We’re in withdrawal. The longer we’ve been addicted, the worse our withdrawal symptoms.

We did it to ourselves: it felt so good we overdid gratification. The brain’s pleasure system turned its own sensitivity down to compensate for the overload. Desensitized in this way, we needed more than before to have the same effect. Over time our gratification threshold kept rising until even too much was not enough.

Then we enter recovery and get better and better at choosing not to act on our urges. Our pleasure system screams, “What?! Don’t do this to me or you’ll have hell to pay!” And so we either forbear and have hell to pay now—or we succumb and add to the hell we’ll have to pay later.

Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter of the brain’s pleasure system. Natural levels of this chemical messenger help us savor a solid golf shot and delight in the sound of our kids laughing in the next room. When addiction floods us with dopamine, the production manager in the brain says, “Whoa, way too much! Dry up some of those dopamine springs. Tighten those hinges on the flood gates.” Our dopamine response gets dampened. Then, ordinary pleasures start to seem pedestrian. Even our addiction tickles us less, and gratifications in that realm become fewer and further between.

In this state we’re like the muscleman who has busted the high striker game but keeps pounding at the slivered shards of the lever with the mallet, hoping the puck will somehow still fly up and ring the bell just (slam)… one (slam)… more (slam)… time.

Unfortunately, at that point, entering recovery is even less enjoyable than continuing to chase addictive urges. Entering recovery means going from the dilapidated dopamine carnival… to the dopamine desert.

You’re Not Alone in the Desert

When you’re going through the discomfort of withdrawal it’s very helpful to dialogue with others who are who are similarly suffering alongside you. This is just one of the many reasons people find it helpful to attend a support group.

Gene was determined not to slip back to drinking, but as he faced life without alcohol he was amazed at how harsh it all seemed. As he grumbled and moaned at the 12-step meetings he attended, Pete, the man who would later become his sponsor, just sat and listened and nodded sympathetically. Gene later told me, “When Pete and I chatted after those early meetings I could tell he really cared but he didn’t buy into any of my complaints or the perceived injustices of my life. ‘I understand,’ he’d say or ‘Wow, rough.’ But then when we were done talking he’d always say, ‘It’s going to be okay. Just keep coming.’

“The way Pete responded to me reminds me of my mom with her grandkids. She’ll listen to them whine or even full out tantrum but she won’t pamper ‘em or spank ‘em. She’ll look at ‘em with a soft smile and nod. Then when they’re ready she’ll pick ‘em up and coo for a while or rock ‘em until they fall asleep.”

“I asked Pete how he put up with me in those early days. He said ‘I wasn’t putting up with you. That wasn’t you. That was the drunk inside of you kicking and screaming as he left your body. You were only four days sober that first meeting. No one is in their right mind after four days. The way you were acting was normal.”

It’s great to be accepted exactly as we are, where we are right now, by other people who’ve been there themselves.

As he looked back at his struggle later, Gene reminded me, “I wasn’t only facing the hell of withdrawal, for the first time in my life I was facing the reality of life without a shock absorber. I’d been drinking more or less since I was in Junior High. It was always my escape, my cushion.”

Facing life was tough for Gene compared to drinking in part because hadn’t been developing the life skills and maturity other people naturally develop when they have to face reality all the time as they mature. Gene had gotten older, but because he relied on his addiction as a crutch and a shield, he hadn’t matured!

The NoFap Reddit is an online forum for people trying to kick their pornography and masturbation habit. As fellow “fapstronauts,” as they call themselves, share the tough parts of their journey, there’s always someone who’ll write back who can relate to what you’re going through. Here’s just one of thousands of examples of encouraging comments:

Hey brother, your story means a lot thanks for sharing. I, too, know the pain of ED from too much porn and masturbation. Those years severely messed up my libido. It’s not going to be easy but you can do it. Just take it one day at a time, each passing day you will care less and less about that old crap you thought you could never live without.

It’s strangely encouraging to read about how much other people struggled when they were at your point in the process. You quickly realize, “I’m not so unusual! Everyone goes through this hell!”

Suffer Like a Scientist by Chronicling Your Journey

I’m always amazed when people who have gone through immense suffering somehow manage to write about it—sometimes writing even as they go through it. Sort of like being an anthropologist in hell. Viktor Frankl described his suffering in Nazi concentration camps in Man’s Search for Meaning. Corrie ten Boom managed to pull it off, too, in The Hiding Place. More recent examples that come to mind are Ishmael Beah’s heartbreaking memoir, A Long Way Gone, about his abduction as a boy into the brutal life of a soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war and Immaculee Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell about being hunted for three months by machete-wielding killers during the Rwandan genocide.

It sounds impossible to write in the face of torture and the threat of death. But I don’t even know if I could do it at a time when I’m stressed out because I have a difficult boss. Life was rough for Lauren Weisberger during the year she worked for a relentlessly demanding editor of Vogue magazine. I probably would have shut down mentally and emotionally and tried to get through that time in my life the way a little kid closes their eyes and runs through the sprinklers. Instead, Weisberger stayed observant enough that she was able to write a novel based on her time at the magazine: The Devil Wears Prada.

Anytime we can manage to put our experience into words, we’re activating the language hemisphere of the brain. We are becoming less like a firefighter, more like a scientist. Were gathering more data, buying in less to the drama.

Your Brain Rebalanced is a forum similar to the NoFap Reddit where contributors can journal about their recovery from addiction to porn and masturbation. Many members there have discovered that they are strengthened immensely by writing about their experience even if it includes suffering, especially at the beginning. Go check out their stories and consider chronicling your own.

Remember What it’s Like on the Other Side

It’s hard to abstain from addictive gratifications. Fortunately, it not only gets easier over time, it gets more and more rewarding. My client, Kyle, has an older brother who got into recovery from his addictions years ago and provides a lot of encouragement to Kyle as he tries to stay sober.

The other day he said to Kyle, “Once you change and have a better life, you’ll do anything not to go back.” His comment reminded me of some research on sex offenders I heard about recently. Seems the best preventer of recidivism wasn’t the severity of the punishment or the length of imprisonment—it is whether or not the offender has built a better life that they’re interested in protecting against the problems of the past.

In his book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck described the better life on the other side of addiction recovery:
As you go further into the desert—if you go far enough—you will begin to discover little patches of green, little oases that you had never seen before. And if you go still further, you may even discover some streams of living water underneath the sand, or if you go still further, you may even be able to fulfill your own ultimate destiny. 
Now if you doubt me, consider the example of a man who went on the journey far into the desert. He was the poet T. S. Eliot, who became famous early on in his career for writing poems of total aridity and despair. In the first, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." which he published in 1917 at age twenty-nine, he wrote: 
I grow old....I grow old... 
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? 
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 
I do not think that they will sing to me. 
It is important to keep in mind that J. Alfred Prufrock of the poem lived -- as did T. S. Eliot -- in a world of high society, the ultimate civilized world, yet he lived in a spiritual wasteland. Not surprisingly then, five years later, Eliot published a poem called "The Waste Land." And in this poem, he actually focused on the desert. It is also a poem that has in it a great deal of aridity and despair, but for the first time in Eliot's poetry there are little patches of green, little hints of vegetation here and there, images of water, and of shadow under rocks. 
Then in his late forties and early fifties, Eliot wrote poems like "Four Quartets," the first of which opens with references to a rose garden, birds calling and children laughing. And he went on to write some of the richest and most luxuriously verdant, and mystical poetry that has ever been written, and, indeed, he is reputed to have ended his life very joyfully.
Life gets fuller, and a full life is worth suffering for. Unfortunately, the mathematics of reward for clean living are exactly the opposite of the economy of addiction. Addiction pays early then exacts its price at a painfully glacial pace and in glacial proportions. Recovery costs most at the start when it offers very little in return. This is when we have to fan the flames of hope. We must convince ourselves that, as I said earlier, for every ounce of suffering sown we’ll be reaping a pound of life in the future harvest.

Every time I read the NoFap Reddit or the forum on Your Brain Rebalanced I hear someone describe the joy of this harvest. I also hear about it several times a month in my therapy practice from clients in recovery. Some exultant experience for them to relish as they progress along the path of giving up their addictive sexual behaviors. Here’s one from today:

One and a half week in, just riding the metro to school and listening to some Compass by Lady Antebellum. I was just so happy. I started tearing up, holding them back. I felt successful. I felt enlightened. I felt that I could take on the whole world. It didn't matter anymore what people thought of me, I didn't care about that pretty girl sitting across from me. I didn't want to stare at her nice legs. I just basked in my own pool of happiness.

Often, the rewards of recovery are not much more than the everyday pleasures that are possible when you’re not living in the hell of addiction. Several more examples:

· It’s great feeling a sense of wholeness that is not reliant on an external source.

· I made a girl at Subway genuinely laugh while we talked.

· I noticed something different about me today… I have so much more energy and can think quicker and clearer than ever before.

· I have a renewed sense of life, waking up to greet the morning sun and air.

· On the bus I started talking to a girl and it wasn’t forced at all, it felt completely natural. We talked halfway across town and only quit because I got to my stop.

· It’s such a relief not to worry about of being found by somebody.

When you’re feeling down and wondering whether it’s worth the pain you’re going through, just think of what it will be like on the other side of your suffering. And remember what Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

This Week's Challenge: Document Your Ordeal

Pick an avenue to express yourself and start writing about your experience. Write on paper, try out one of the online forums mentioned above, or use a confidential online journal app. Write about your hopes and your reasons for being in recovery, but be sure not to leave out the pain and hardships. Then be prepared to enjoy the view from further up the mountain when you look back on the experiences you're writing about today.