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.