Friday, December 9, 2016

5 Ways to Cope with Life's Letdowns Besides Porn (They're so Hard Some Folks Prefer to Stick with Porn)

These five practices are an essential part of porn recovery. Not surprisingly, they also seem to be ways to develop key elements of emotional maturity:

1) Tolerate Pain. It's a painful truth: there's no legitimate way out of legitimate suffering that doesn't entail suffering. One of my clients says that in emotionally painful moments he reminds himself, "It hurts. Let it hurt. Don't run from it. Keep letting it hurt. It won't go on forever, but for now... It hurts. Let it hurt. Don't run from it. Keep letting it hurt..." and so on.

2) Improve Life in Legitimate Ways. Working to actually make my life better is so much harder than wishing and hoping and fantasizing that a better life is just delivered to me effortlessly because I'm a great guy and I deserve it. Porn flies in the face of legitimate life improvement, giving me the illusion that, in exchange for no effort output on my end, I am the man who deserves the ultimate hold-nothing-back intimacy that in real life must be earned by cultivating trust, safety, affection, and deep investment.

But when I talk about real life improvement as a skill for coping with life letdowns, I'm not talking about building myself into the man of a woman's dreams. I'm talking about taking responsibility for my own emotional well-being. It could include making the afternoon a bit better by taking a ten-minute walk and enjoying the clouds against the snow-capped mountains. Or practicing the guitar both because I enjoy it at the time and because I'm working toward the goal of getting better at it.

Tip: You're probably engaged in wish/hope/fantasize/entitled-pleasure-recipient mode rather than legitimate life improvement if your way of making the day better includes spending too much, eating too much, or doing other activities in an out-of-balance way.

Another Tip: If you keep trying to make your case to someone else that they should make your life better in some way (like trying to convince your wife or girlfriend that they should have more sex with you), you probably have not yet fully settled into your powerful position as the creator and liver of your own life.

3) Seek Empathy. When we are suffering because life let us down, one legitimate way to deal with our hurt is to share it with someone who cares and who is willing to join us in our distress. If I'm stressed about money, my wife can do this by listening and being compassionate and supportive. If empathy is what I'm looking for, that will be a restorative and bonding experience. If, on the other hand, I'm hoping that she will see how stressed out I am and completely change her ways with spending or get a second job to make up for the shortfalls that stress me out, then I'm not seeking empathy, but influence. And the conversation probably will be stressful and might feel manipulative to her.

4) Rely on Spiritual Strength. This kind of reliance may come in various forms. Here are a few examples: a) Holding in mind my eventual goals--the reasons I am convinced it is worth it to delay gratification and suffer temporarily. b) Surrendering my pain to God and trusting that he will either provide relief or turn my pain into something good--at least eventually. c) Praying for and receiving from a Source beyond myself strength to make it though disappointment and challenges. d) Taking a new and higher view of some aspect of my struggle--a new (or freshly rebooted old) mental or philosophical twist that gives me strength to struggle on in my recovery efforts.

5) Surrender Control. Accept the limits of what we can make happen and allow life to be just as it is. Accept that it's not life's job to meet my needs, and so there will be lots of times when we experience it as something less than what we would prefer it to be. This differs from the first practice we discussed, Tolerate Pain, in that there can be a real serenity to this acceptance. We have stopped mentally fighting the fact that life isn't what we want, we have stopped lamenting it, and are willing to let ourselves feel serene and content in the midst of an imperfect, messy, emotionally unwieldy life.

Your turn: Do you take issue with any of these five practices? Any additional ones you would add to my list?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Share Feelings Daily to Relieve the Stresses That Can Fuel Relapse

During the last several months my seventeen year old client, Randall, has been talking to his parents at night about the emotional ups and downs of his day. I love how he described the effect: "It's how I dry up the gasoline that's been poured on my woodpile all day." He has discovered that leaving his distressing emotions unexpressed is like leaving a flammable puddle around the firewood of his life. It makes him much more vulnerable to relapsing to pornography and masturbation once he gets on the computer to do homework or goes into his room at bedtime. Since he started talking out his ups and downs, he's only lapsed to porn and masturbation twice. Back before he started, he was slipping up two or three times a week.

Helen and Brad, a couple I'm working with, are also making a habit of checking in and sharing their emotional "highs and lows"--or, as my nephew Tyler calls them, "happies and crappies".

Last night it went like this:

Helen: "How was your day?"

Brad: "Pretty good. I had to get all of the outlines turned in for the classes I'll be teaching next semester. It was a relief to get that step all wrapped up. But I found out there are a ton of new departmental requirements for the Environmental Design class. I basically have to start from scratch on a lot of the materials for that course."

Helen: "Ouch. I bet that was hard to hear."

Brad: "Yeah, that won't be fun. How was your day?"

Helen: "We were short staffed so we got behind early and never caught up. All it takes is to be one person down and we're off track all day. You feel apologetic to people. Mostly they're understanding about it. Only one patient left in a huff. But I got good news this afternoon: Carly had extra tickets to the play this weekend so Rochelle and I can go with them. It's Mary Poppins."

Brad: "Nice. You two will love that."

This interaction may not seem all that profound, but conversations like these are building Brad and Helen's sense of emotional intimacy and friendship like never before. In their thirty-two years of marriage, they've never been in the habit of regularly sharing feelings.

Brad used to ask Helen, "Good day today?" in a chipper voice. To Helen it always seemed like he wasn't really interested in how her day was, but just wanted a cursory positive response like, "Fine Honey, how was yours?"

Brad knew that Helen might bring up something emotional on her own, but it felt like a minefield to him. In response to her strong feelings he might say something wrong, make suggestions when she just wanted a listening ear, or they might get mired in an emotionally heavy conversation that went on and on.

To help them improve their ability to share feelings, a couple of months ago I gave them the following homework. Like most couples, over time Helen and Brad have adhered less and less rigidly to this step-by-step structure, but in the beginning they found it useful to have these guidelines to keep them on track and make it a habit:

1) Make time to share feelings. When you have five or ten minutes to talk, ask each other, "What were your highs and lows today?"

2) Empathize. As your loved one talks about an event or interaction that stood out to them emotionally, try to get a feel for what it was like for them to go through it. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how you would have felt, if you'd gone through that experience. But only use your imagined feelings as one reference point--remember the unique person they are with their singular personal history and distinct emotional response profile.

3) Tune in to your body and notice what you feel physically. Your gut and muscles and breathing may be responding right now a little bit like they would have then, if you'd been the one in that situation. If your loved one talks about feeling embarrassed, can you feel a little bit of a flush in your face as you imagine what it was like for them? If they were frustrated, can you feel a little clench in your jaw or tightening of the muscles in your arms and hands? If they felt discouraged, can you feel a little deflation of energy throughout your body and a collapse of your posture?

It's a challenge to really let ourselves feel what another person is feeling. It requires what M. Scott Peck calls the "bracketing" of our own feelings and experience--holding them aside for a time so that we can really let in someone else's in. Don't be surprised when your brain wants to jump from hearing about their day to telling them about your own. Accept that as a natural impulse, but catch yourself, remind yourself to slow down, really listen, and let yourself feel with them a little bit of what they were feeling earlier. Empathy is a skill. It may not come naturally at first, but with practice you'll get better and better at it over time.

4) Validate their feelings. If their feelings registered inside you, let them know it. You can word it however you want, but one simple phrase that works almost all the time with distressing emotions is, "Ouch, I get why that was hard for you." To validate a positive emotion, you may say something like, "Wow, I bet that felt so good (or encouraging or relieving)."

A simple phrase of validation can work magic: suddenly, you or your loved one are no longer alone in the emotions you were feeling that day. And, as Sue Johnson put it, "To suffer is inevitable, but to suffer alone is unbearable." When someone empathizes with us and validates our feelings, we are been spared the unbearable! All because they were willing to review a key event or two of our day with us and help us discharge the feelings that built up, feelings that were too much for us to fully cope with effectively on our own at the time.

Try out this sharing exercise with a loved one and see if you experience the same relief Brad and Helen do. See if it supports your recovery efforts the way it does for Randall. And of course, as usual, we'd love to hear how it goes when you try it out!

Monday, December 5, 2016

How Dealing With a Partner’s Addiction Changes You

Faye Reitman has written a great post on this topic over on the Compulsion Solutions blog. Here are some excerpts:

There is so much to process and take in, so many feelings and questions to parse out, and it’s somewhere in the middle of this experience that you realize you’re feeling and acting differently. You’re making decisions or taking actions that you might never have thought possible. These feelings make sense when you realize why they’re happening. When you take your whole life apart and look at it under a microscope, you gain something new: perspective.

We Start With “Why Me?”

The agony and the angst at the beginning of your process seem unbearable. Many women believe that they will surely buckle under the strain of it all. Yet here you are, still surviving. That feeling alone can cause a profound change in you, because now, you’ve gotten a chance to see what you’re made of.

As you work through your own healing process, you will find that you can replace those “why me” questions with something a little more like “why not me?” – meaning you’re actually beginning to prioritize yourself.

Your biggest responsibility right now is you. During this process, many women discover themselves for the first time. When you learn to take the focus off of others and consider your own needs instead, you might join the ranks of women who decide to go back to school, or pick up an instrument that’s been abandoned for years, or become more social with their peers, or who begin having actual, real-deal fun with their children...