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.

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