Becky had been through her crazy masturbation cycle so many times it was easy for us to map out the steps: 1. Try to slog through life even though it's tough, 2. Feel so lousy that I'm desperate for an escape, 3. Resist sexual temptation for a while, 4. Finally give in for a few minutes of escape and pleasure, 5. Feel crappy about myself for once again choosing the fleeting high of that lousy coping strategy: masturbation! (According to Becky, "For me it really is self-abuse!") 6. Wallow in the post-masturbation for awhile--anywhere from a few minutes to a day or more. 7. Commit to never give in again because the longer I go the better I feel and masturbating is just not consistent with the way I want to live... so I get back in the mode of 1. trying to slog through life even if (when) I start to feel lousy again.
Of all the recovery tools Becky learned during her treatment she particularly liked Self-Loving Touch. You'll see below that she not only started touching herself differently, she learned to talk to herself differently. Previously, these unspoken messages had always accompanied her self-touch as she masturbated: "You shouldn't be touching yourself this way! You shouldn't want it! I can't believe you're so weak--if you were a better person you would have more self-control! This habit is wrong. I can't believe you're doing it again. You should be ashamed of yourself--and in fact you soon will be!"
Fortunately, there is a wide repertoire of other ways to touch ourselves and radically different mental messages we can send ourselves as we do. Here are a few Becky found to be powerful:
1. The Hug
When she was in need to soothing and comfort, she would cross her arms in front of herself and hug herself gently by grabbing her triceps or firmly by clutching her shoulders. She would say to herself, "There there. I got you. I love you. Everything's going to be okay. I'm right here... here for you... I'll always be right here." She found this to be helpful when she missed her family, most of whom lived far away in Minnesota, or on those days when she felt more rejected than usual by customers she talked to on the phone in her work at the call center.
2. "Got Your Back"
When she felt in need of encouragement or a stiffening of her backbone, she'd reach her right hand back and gently press against her shoulder blade or the spine right between her shoulder blades. Sometimes she'd hold her hand there for a minute or so. She'd say to herself things like, "Chin up, Girl. Take courage now. I got your back." Even though she initially thought she'd rely on this form of self-touch when she felt the need to take on challenges or stand up for herself, she quickly discovered that it made her more friendly and outgoing. She noticed she was more able to interact in ways that were bold without being intense or confrontational about it. For instance, her roommate had recently started making snide comments about how untidy her bedroom had become. Becky was able to talk to that roommate about her depression and her efforts to get on top of it. She told her how much she would appreciate her support instead of criticism. When the conversation was over Becky was in awe of how at ease she'd felt advocating for herself.
3. Wonder Woman
When she was in need of confidence, Becky took two minutes to stand in the Wonder Woman pose with her hands on her hips. If you're tempted to roll your eyes right about now (Oh no Mark, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world for me to stand up from my desk in the middle of the day and strike the wonder woman pose for a couple of minutes!) you've gotta check out Amy Cuddy's TED Talk: Your body language shapes who you are. I'll let you hear straight from Any all the research backing it up. (I heard recently that hers is the second most viewed TED Talk of all time!) The Wonder Woman pose was easy for Becky to strike at home as she stood by the picture window that looked out over the parking lot of her apartment complex and the neighborhoods beyond. During the workdays she'd take a minute or two to do it in the stall when she took a bathroom break, making sure sure as she did to keep breathing only through her mouth (not for the sake of some yoga energy effect but simply so that she wouldn't have to whiff the toilets the whole time). She said she often walked away from those Wonder Woman moments feeling like, "I'm the boss! This is MY life. Ain't no one gonna shove me out of the driver's seat!"
4. Face Cradle
When the stress that had built up from the day made it hard for her to sleep, Becky was particularly vulnerable to the temptation to masturbate. At such moments sometimes she would place a hand on each side of her face and cradle her face the way she might a cute little child's. "Hey Sweetie. I adore you. Can't get enough of you." Perhaps now you're really rolling your eyes. How silly would it be to talk to myself this way as an adult? It's funny how we find self-loving statements so odd, and yet don't bat an eye at self-loathing talk. ("Idiot! You blew it! There yo go again, always messing things up! What's wrong with you?") So don't assume self-tenderness is as silly as it may seem at first or dismiss its potential to make a difference for you. Consider the possibility that part of what makes it seem absurd is how different it is from the way you usually treat yourself. If you like the way you treat yourself and it's bringing great results in your life, then keep it up. But if the way you talk to yourself may be playing a role in keeping you down and sabotaging your own efforts to improve, then consider taking your face in your hands and at least experimenting with this kind of tender loving self-talk.
5. Head Ruffle
When she was watching TV or driving, Becky would sometimes reach up and ruffle her own hair the way a loving Grandpa might. As she did this she might think to herself, "Hey Kid, You're okay, you know that! I'm pretty dang fond of you. Stay right here by me. Being by you makes my day." First Becky noticed that this had a bit in common with the way she used to twist her hair in her pointer finger as she sucked her thumb to soothe herself as she tried to fall asleep during the period when she struggled most with anxiety after her step-father started abusing her. Looking back she realized that she discovered soothing self-touch before she ever discovered sexual self-touch. She had long since given up the hair-twisting and thumb-sucking but had never been able to overcome the masturbation. She wondered whether her self-control efforts might have gone better earlier if she had kept diversifying her self-touch way back then rather than narrowing her repertoire to the one form of self-touching she felt the worst about! The after-effects of ruffling her own hair was that she sometimes noticed feeling slightly encouraged about herself and her life and a bit more spunky and confident.
Pick one or two of these forms of self touch and try it out a time or two during the coming week. Let us know what it's like for you. If you're feeling creative, experiment with some other form of self-touch that's not listed here and tell us about it.