Wednesday, September 23

Repress-able Joy

I woke up in a happy mood this morning. This has been so for two or three of the last three or four days. I've just been waking up happy, joyous. Briefly.

I have a few theories about why this is happening. First, my wife and I made love last night and it was passionate and intimate. It felt good in all the ways I aspire to feel good about sex in my life in recovery. So, that's a factor in feeling good. But I also think the positive sexual experience grew out of other positive experiences lately.

I've started a new creative endeavor. I'm going back and being creative in the way I used to as a young man. It's very free and goofy and I'm really enjoying it. There are opportunities to control in everything I do, but this time I'm doing it with an intention to let go and to have fun.

Another positive development is that I've been very productive at work. On the suggestion of a friend, I've been doing the thing I think is most difficult in the day first, even when I don't want to. I usually don't want to do the difficult thing, usually don't want to do it at all. But I've just been doing it despite my fear and reservations. I've been taking care of the hard things first, and the rest of work has been taking care of itself. I've been able to accomplish some things that have been on my list for a while, in one case, five months.

Concurrent with all this, I've been taking the time to meditate the full 20 minutes every day. I always meditate some, but if I'm tired or rushed or stressed, I might just do 10 minutes, or even 5. And then I take a nap or something. The last week, I've committed to the whole time. And I think that has helped.

So, all of those positive things, I believe, have contributed to a feeling of well-being. And I've been feeling it throughout the day.



This morning, after I awoke in a good mood, feeling some joy, I realized as I brushed my teeth and prepared to meditate that I actually have a habit of building a barrier around my feelings. I feel like I intentionally distract myself, or create busy-ness to disconnect from feeling.

It was like I was telling my joy to just go away.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, right? While I was meditating, I had an intuition that my habit to do this comes from my tendency to feel bad about myself. Stuffing my feelings is a defensive reaction against both the hostile environment of the world, and more seriously, from the hostile environment of my own mind.

So, I've quite naturally held my feelings at arms' length because my feelings tend to be negative.

They weren't negative this morning. They aren't right now. Yet still, my impulse is to escape them, to minimize them, to distrust or demean my feelings.

That's a hard way to live. It's a little adventurous, maybe even heroic to do this if you are actually living a life of terrible events and emotions. But I'm not right now. Things are going pretty well for me. And so it's just pathetic. How good does it have to get before I can be free?

I don't need my environment to get any better today for me to be better. I need to change my attitude. The greatest gift I've received in my recovery is not my sobriety. The greatest gift is knowing that I can change. I have experienced it, and I can change fundamentally with God's help.

So, today, I am mindful of my negative tendencies. I hold them gently as I examine them. I forgive myself for my shortcomings. And I becoming willing to let them go. God, you may take away my negative self-talk. I don't need it any more.

Friday, September 18

Three seconds

One of the first tools of recovery I learned in SAA was the Three Second Rule (TSR). The subject recently came up in a meeting, and I've had a chance to think and meditate on it and I'd like to share my thoughts.

Ogling or leering at women was a big issue for me when I first got into recovery. Check-out clerks, waitresses, co-workers, movie characters, stage actors, relatives at a family reunion, there really weren't many situations when I wasn't trying to check people out, to get some small thrill that I could relish in the moment and also take home for later.

I really wasn't all that conscious of it. It was just a part of my life, like breathing air.

Recovery opened my eyes. I learned that my ogling was part of my addiction. It was very painful and shameful to be out of control all the time. I started feeling like a creep and I wanted it to end.

The TSR allows a short look. It doesn't expect you to be perfect. It doesn't expect you not to notice that another person is attractive. Ideally, it encourages you to "notice" and no more. It sets boundaries around my behavior. Ultimately, the TSR is a mindfulness practice.

It does have its drawbacks, or rather I have my drawbacks that make the TSR less than ideal. I can get a pretty deep scoop of objectifying in three seconds. If my attitude is "I get my three seconds", the boundary-testing addict in me will take advantage of that. I was with a struggling member once at a coffee shop who was looking out the window, meticulously taking only three seconds to leer at each woman that walked by. For a full hour. I've never -- by the grace of God -- been as bad as that, but I have to admit I'm in the same ballpark.

So, if my intention, my desire is to get a sexual charge out of looking at people, the TSR is meaningless. It's just a brief shot of insanity. There's no recovery there. I need something more elemental than the TSR.

I have three possible states of mind when I come into contact with an attractive person.

1. Obsess over their attractiveness, stare at body parts, fall into fantasy, etc.
2. Obsess over their attractiveness, don't look at body parts, try to control my thoughts, etc.
3. Accept their attractiveness, let it go, and move on to being in true contact with them.

Whichever state of mind I'm in is completely dependent on my spiritual health at the time. If I am in poor spiritual condition, in denial, I fall into #1. If I want to be a better person, but am not working my program, not attentive to all my needs, I am in mode #2. If I'm spiritually fit, accepting life on life's terms, I can live free in mode #3.

I'm not in control of my state of mind, but I am in control of my spiritual practice.

So, at best, the TSR is a technical stop-gag until my spirituality catches up. The TSR is not an end in itself. It just keeps you safe until you're no longer a danger to others.

Now, in my own experience, I find myself in all three states from time to time. Most of the time, I'm in mode #2, "wanting to be better". I'd like to live more of my life in mode #3, and that is actually how I'm living. To be honest, which is also to be kind, I do have my #1 moments. Or days. These are also the days when I'm not asking God to be a part of my life.

Here are a few suggestions to append a spiritual component to the Three Second Rule:

Daily Prayer. I ask God every morning to remove my desire to look at women's breasts. Every day.

Preemptive Prayer. When I know I'm going to be in a challenging situation, say, going into Target, I say a prayer along the lines of "God, please let me be just a shopper" or "God, please let me let women be people in this store today." That tends to level me out and deflates whatever addictive anticipation I might have built up.

Prayer of Gratitude. When I leave the store, or leave work, I thank God for helping me through a difficult environment. This acts as a bookend to the preemptive prayer.

Pray for the Person. I learned this one from a very spiritual member. He believes that his addictive sexual desire is a perversion of his strong and healthy desire to feel connected to other people. So, he says a prayer for the person he is attracted to, something along the line of "Please, God, help this person towards their true heart's desire." He doesn't say it to the person, it's a personal moment, not an evangelical moment. I think. Praying for the other person puts you in a God-centered mindset, and it also turns a negative into a positive. I have used this, altho I must admit I don't often have the awareness or the willingness to do so.

Any Old Prayer. Any prayer at any moment helps to take me out of my addictive mindset. Prayer makes me right-sized. My standard prayer is "thank you, God, for bringing me to this place." It's a nice, neutral prayer that covers however I feel and whatever is happening.

Now, you might note that all of the suggestions are spiritual, and all of them are prayer. Yep. The practical way to be free of our addictive tendencies is turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God. It works.

Wednesday, September 9

Concentric circles

I woke up this morning with a message from my Higher Power: the spiritual life is like the field of a magnet. The energy flows out from one end of the magnet into the air, and then curves around and flows back into the other end. The energy isn't held; it flows through. If the magnetic field comes in contact with another conductive object -- like a refrigerator -- the waves of the magnet flow with and within the other object.

It's a good message for me today. The last few days I've been thinking of life as give and take. I need something, and I go and get it. Or I need something and I have to give something up to get it. It's a dead-end street mindset. It's a zero-sum game. It's greedy and it's needy.

I haven't been feeling good about myself. I've felt cut off and isolated.

I had a wonderful talk last night with my wife. We took the time to open up and to be honest about how we're feeling about one another and how we're relating. It was emotionally challenging, but we stayed with it, gently. After that, I got into a wonderful conversation with my neighbor about creativity and creativity coaching. So, I was set up for a good change of spiritual weather.

So when I woke up with this magnet idea, I realized that everything is not mine and not not mine. There's a sharing, a mingling of my life with everything else. And that's the truth of the matter. That's the reality. My delusion is that I am alone and cut off. It only feels like reality because that's what I've been lead to believe and have accepted.

I'm working on a new belief system. That's the purpose of my recovery. What I'm walking towards is an acceptance of my connectedness to everything: God, the world, and all people, including you.

I attended a meeting this morning, and I kept the image of the circles -- the sharing -- in my mind and I was able to connect to everyone with compassion. There's a deep yearning for connection in me that I've buried. I think my sexual addiction is a damaged attempt to meet that yearning.

Like every day, I've felt challenged this morning and a little needy and disturbed. In that, I've remembered that I am connected, that what I'm having trouble with is not unique and it's not just my problem. Also, I've remembered that what I like is not all mine, and that I have much to give. I've been feeling more open to other people, with more willingness to look at the possibilities of connection, rather than the opportunities for rejection. And today I have a willingness to live in the reality of connection.

It's making for a good day.

Friday, August 28

Emotional sobriety

The topic of today's meeting was emotional sobriety.

The way I picture my emotional sobriety is that I seem very together on the outside, but on the insides I'm feeling like there are monsters at war with heroes. Sometimes I'm the hero, sometimes I'm the monster. Sometimes I'm the frightened villager cowering beneath their massive feet.

And that seems real. The quiet everyday-ness of life seems like an emotional pretense for the all-too-real emotional warfare happening in my head. And my heart. And the base of my neck.

The other thing that comes to mind with emotional sobriety is boundaries. My boundaries are so poor, I don't know where I end and where someone else begins. If I care about you, your problem becomes my problem. And if you care about me, my problem becomes your problem. And then we live in the muck.

Someone in the meeting said something I found very profound. I only hurt the people I feel I have power over. I don't rage against my boss and I don't rage against strangers. But know me well enough, and I'll tell you what I really feel about you. And some of that will be hurtful.

I remember as a child never closing my bedroom door. I always felt, I guess, that that would be interpreted as hiding something, of holding back. I never looked at my room as a refuge from anyone or anything. I never had my own safe place. I always felt like I needed to be around and available.

People were never barred from my room. But no one ever came into my room either.

And now I suffer under this same open boundary in my primary relationship. I can't seem to ask for my own space. I can't seem to find my own emotional space. I'm always dragged in, and I feel no power to stay within myself. My wife is similarly wired. It's like standing in a pool of gasoline asking each other for a light some of time.

I don't have any answers today. I don't have a clue, really. Search... Search... Nope, nothing.

Perhaps... there's probably an amend to make to myself. An amend to take care of myself, to nurture myself. And an amend to all other people to let them be responsible for their own feelings. That's the best I can do today.

Someone shared that they have every intention -- on entering a difficult conversation -- of staying rational, staying balanced. But for them, before ten minutes are out, they are dragged in and part of the havoc. That's how it feels for me. I can have all the best plans and the best intentions, but when the clock starts, when things actually get going, I revert to my patterns with people.

I like the metaphor of the budding sapling. All great trees start as a little twig. Emotional sobriety is a gentle twig I mow down every day.

Wednesday, August 26

I'm not a doctor, but I play one in my life

The subject of today's meeting was Step Two. Two is key for me, because my Step One was very sincere, a very low bottom. I was disgusted by my behavior and I couldn't stop. Desperate. Step Three was fairly easy for me, because I've always been one to jump on the bandwagon. Very willing. Recovery has been a very good thing to commit to.

Step Two is hard, harder for me. I like to entertain the notion that I'm special, especially damned and beyond hope. I'm really not all that hard a case, but I feel incurable. I think this arises from my experience of not being able to fix myself. I can be so hard-headed that I think "If I can't fix it, no one can".

I'm such an expert. I am also an expert on most other people.

Step Two tells me that there is something out there that can make me whole. It also tells me that that power is not me. From this, I understand that the best thing I can do is get out of the way. The doctor (God) wants to work on me, but I need to get out of the way first.

That is really, really hard for me. For some reason, I am always searching, always reaching. I think my mind is completely devoted to being a problem-solver. There is no bigger problem than me. How is that for grandiosity?

Thinking about it more as I drove from the meeting, there is only one Step where I fix anything, and that is Step 9. I fix -- or at least try to fix -- the messes I have made along the way. And even that is a humble task, because I do not really fix the issue, I do my best to mend the issue. I treat the problems of the past, I do not ultimately correct them.

But the other Steps, the other actions of recovery, none of them are about me fixing anything. None. It is just not part of the program. What is a part? Accepting. Accepting. Always, always I want things to be different. I guess I am afraid that if I accept things, things will not change. That is my fear. That is the little "truth" that keeps me in a state of personal meddling.

God, I am afraid of letting go. I am afraid that I am not going to be taken care of. I am afraid that letting go means giving up. I am a fighter. I am a fighter. Man, am I beat up.

So, I have a lot to learn. Luckily, I do not have to go anywhere to, catch anything, hold anything to learn it. I just need to be here now. I need to let go.

Please God, you are welcome to my sorrow, you know how to sooth it.
You are welcome to my pain, you know how to treat it gently,
God, you are welcome to mistakes, you know which step lead me astray,
You are welcome to my plans, you know better than I.

May I accept what is happening now
May I move forward with simplicity
May I look backward with equanimity
May I be grateful for all that happens
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