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. 

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