Saturday, March 26, 2011

Picture Your Porn-Free Future

If our work together accomplishes exactly what you hope, how will things be different for you in six weeks... six months... six years?

It's a question I ask all my new clients.

Jake didn't need time to ponder. "I won't have this problem, my porn habit, weighing me down. I'll be able to focus on other things in my life without worrying when the obsessions are going to return with a vengeance and eclipse everything important to me."

What will that be like for you?

"Oh, a tremendous relief. I will know that my hopes and efforts weren't in vain. I have to admit, with how much I've struggled, I've started wondering whether it's a dream that will never come true."

What will that mean to you? To feel that relief? To know you've made it?

"Oh..." Jacob's face reddened and his voice faltered. "That would mean everything to me. It feels like this is the main thing holding me back from the life I want. I have a wonderful wife, a new daughter, a job I like... It would finally feel like I'm living the life I want, complete and free with this cleaned up. I wouldn't have this burden, this recurring failure, holding me back and pressing me down."

I always know we're getting somewhere when folks talk about burdens lifting, murkiness clearing, being able to breathe more easily. Things are brighter, lighter, and there's plenty of oxygen. Life is good!

It would be huge for you.

"It would mean everything to me. For the first time in my adult life, I could count on my mind being under my own control."

If there were a price tag on this future you're envisioning, how much would you be willing to pay to have it?

"It would be priceless. There's limit to what I would pay."

If I were to travel into the future, follow you around for a day, videotape everything, then come back and push play right now, what would we see on-screen?

"Me living with self-respect and confidence."

How could we tell that's what you feel inside? What would we see on-screen? 

"I'd be looking the people I care about in the eye. You'd see my wife smiling instead of looking tense. I'd be involved, working side-by-side with people instead of withdrawing back to my own cubicle in hopes that they won't notice that I have this dark side. I'd look at ease and have a smile on my face when I went to bed at night."

Bingo. Jake's individuality and personalized vision for the future is really sinking in for me. He's not just one more client struggling with the same problem I work on with most of my other clients. I'm starting to feel hopeful for his future and excited about helping him get there. I'm eager for that future moment when Jake and I will look back and celebrate his progress and freedom. His success!

It's absolutely crucial to build a clear, personalized vision of a porn-free future. If we don't know exactly where we're going, we reduce our chances of getting there.

Feel free to go back and read the italicized bold questions above, as though they were directed at you.

Write out your answers.

Then, take two or three of the most inspiring tidbits and use them as a part of your Cue Mastery practice. Keep practicing that exercise as directed there. Each repetition is building within your brain a ready route, an escape hatch of sorts, for those key times when you feel drawn by either the euphoria or the inertia of your addiction.

Hang in there! You deserve that better future, the one you can almost taste! You're not expecting it to fall into your lap; you're learning and working and even searching online for solutions. You may not feel sure of it yet, but I'm confident because I've seen hundreds of people find freedom: the path you're on now is the one that will take you there!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

San Francisco Garden Show Review - 2011

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is now open for your viewing pleasure.
It is located in San Mateo from March 23- 27 2011.

This year the show gardens were thoughtful in their design approach with consideration towards our current down turned economy , otherwise known as the ‘cone of doom’.
This translates to nice safe design with an eye toward recycled and affordable materials and the inclusion of the current trend of ‘grow your own food for Christ sakes!'.

The few gardens that appealed to my sense of quality construction, unique design and well balanced proportions are as follows :

Outdoor Environments got my vote for highly detailed construction craftsmanship.
The cubic arbor constructed out of richly oiled ipe wood displayed clean and tight lines.
The joinery was pure perfection.
Artfully placed across one corner was a swag of ceramic sculpture work by local artist Marcia Donahue.
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

For looking outside the Pi r squared box ( that was the name of the exhibit ) Jeffery Gordon Smith wowed us with an organic formed vignette that used a variety of upcycled materials.
A giant orange tea cup ( a hot tub ) sat prominently in the center of the garden. I loved the shape, form and color but was horrified that it used environmentally assaulting wood heat to power the tub. Can you imagine the amount of highly polluting wood smoke it will create just to take a 20 minute soak ? ! Major points off for this eco offending energy polluting appendage. If they made a clean burning gas or electric tub in this shape, he’d gain back some eco- conscience credibility. His exhibit won lots of awards and shared ( a first ) the grand poobah prize of the Golden Gate Cup - Best in show award. ( note the 2008 winner.. .. a shameless plug )
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From Mar 24, 2011

Brian Swope of Terra Seca design is a perennial favorite designer of mine. He never fails to shy away from pushing the limits of design. This year his rock wave garden was impressive. Undulating waves of stone criss crossed over one another with drifts of tufted grass riding the waves. Unfortunately the lighting designer for the show did his exhibit no favors in using the incorrect light to highlight his design craftsmanship. The disturbing yellow lights killed the life out of the plants. When will the show hire a great theatrical lighting company like they use to do when they worked with Holtzmueller Lighting at Fort Mason ?
Good design deserves decent lighting .
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

The artfully sculpted stonework from “A Lost Art Stonework & Design” company featuring Douglas Bryants creative handcrafted craftsmanship was quite impressive, especially when you consider he had only 3 days to construct his wall . I’m looking forward to hiring this young talented man in the future should such a opportunity present itself.
From Mar 24, 2011

One of my alma mater’s , Filoli, ( I did one of my Horticultural Internships there ) won the Golden Gate Cup Award for its beautiful rendition of a slice of California living. In true traditional flavor, Filoli festooned its exhibit with a beautiful show of spring daffodils blooming amongst exquisitely set native boulders. The well known and loved Dovecote was brought into the garden but the designer, Lucy Tolmac, spiffed it up with a modern twist by covering it with a veneer of savory succulents.
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From Mar 24, 2011

From Mar 24, 2011

Well that’s enough verbiage for now. Here are a few more images from the show.
If you can, I hope you can make it down to the show. I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.

From Mar 24, 2011

From Mar 24, 2011

From Mar 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Path from Craving to Freedom

When we crave, the primitive motivational core of the brain screams "Go!" We find ourselves drawn back to something we promised ourselves we would avoid.

A Fool's Dilemma: 

In the throes of addiction, there are only two apparent ways out of the craving state. One is to resist. We try to wrench ourselves out of "Go!" and back into "Stop!" mode. The problem is, all of our "Stop!" efforts don't eclipse the "Go!" signal in the brain. An inner arms race of sorts is launched. Fighting a craving does not resolve it, and a we keep bouncing like a pinball back into the craving state we were trying to escape.

We sometimes get so tired of fighting that the other way out of our craving state not only sounds more and more appealing but starts to make more and more sense. We succumb to temptation. We give in and "Go!" We proceed from Craving and on to Indulging & Gratification, and then inevitably on to Satiation & Guilt.

After indulging, it may seem like we're free. Guilt and satiation both keep the craving monster at bay--for a time. However, indulging is just as sure a route back to craving, even if it is more roundabout than fighting was. The "Go!" state, when it returns, is stronger than ever, reinforced in the brain by the gratification of our latest indulgence.

The Best Way Out:

Anna Childress, a researcher the University of Pennsylvania, is my heroine in the field of addiction. She has made a career of studying the brain's "Go!" signal and developing anti-craving tools and strategies.

The coolest thing Childress came up with was a creative way to help addicts pave a third path out of the craving state. She showed cocaine addicts videos of someone using cocaine, which triggered in them a craving state. Then, instead of leaving them to their usual options--fighting or succumbing--she guided them to practice a state of mastery by engaging in techniques such as calming their breathing and envisioning a sober future. They repeated this process over and over again, practicing effective coping skills while in a state of craving. Later, when they faced triggers in the real world, their brain had plenty of practice taking this third exit.

"Cue Exposure and Coping Skills Training" has been utilized and embellished by many others since Childress came up with it, and has been found to be extremely effective in reducing addicts vulnerability to relapse. The sequence of going from craving to mastery starts to become almost as automatic as relapse once was.

The coolest part is that this third path doesn't just loop back to the trap of craving. The state of mastery enables an addict to move on with their day and eventually, when practiced regularly, to move on with their life. Not only can we get better at it over time, it becomes more rewarding. Freedom is pleasurable in its own way, so the brain starts to become more enticed by the route of mastery.

Commit to the Process: 

Amidst a devastating fire, hundreds of children safely exit the school building in an orderly manner. This feat is possible--and in fact almost automatic--because they practiced doing the same thing over and over during fire drills.

We can develop the ability to respond with the same alacrity to potentially devastating cravings, but we need the same kind of practice and repetition.

How To Practice Cue Mastery:

Commit now to beat your own path from craving to freedom by practicing Cue/Mastery twice a day over the next three weeks and then once a day for three weeks after that. You're building a neurological bridge that will enable your brain to go from craving to mastery in the heat of even the most tempting moments.

Here's how your twice-daily practice will go:

1. Bring to mind a trigger situation. Imagine it vividly. 

2. Once you feel the pull, take your heart rate for 15 seconds. 

3. Practice these mastery inducers/craving neutralizers: 

  • take eight nice, slow, full breaths. Keep count by moving your thumb from one finger to another at the end of each exhale...
  • then, dwell for a few moments on how much a future of freedom will mean to you...
  • then, imagine doing something enjoyable or meaningful that's incompatible with relapse...

4. Take your heart rate again for 15 seconds. 

Keep a record of your practice. Think of it as your twice-a-day dose of antibiotic: take one first thing after waking up and again later right before going to bed.

I've not only seen the result of the research by Dr. Childress and others, I've seen the fruits of this technique in the lives of my clients. I'm confident that it will be well worth your while.

Let me know how it goes!

One Real Wrinkled Wife or a Harem of Airbrushed Goddesses?

Candeo is running this article on their blog. While you're over there check out their free mini-course.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Porn Derails Our Bonding Instinct

Gary Wilson and Marnia Robinson have just posted my latest article on their fantastic site, Your Brain on Porn.

While your over there checking it out, watch Gary's videos about pornography addiction and the brain. If you struggle with pornography, it will help you understand what's going on in your brain. That understanding should help reduce your shame over the struggle. You're hooked because your brain's overloaded by content it's designed not to ignore, not because you're morally weak. A greater understanding what's going on in your brain will also help you more effectively work to avoid relapse.

If it's your partner who's had a porn habit, Gary's videos might help you take your their struggle less personally. The survival core of their brain has been tricked into seeking pornography as a survival imperative. It's a lot like any other addiction.

They get a lot of traffic over there, and I really appreciate their generosity in giving me a place to share these ideas about the effect of pornography on our ability to love and bond with a partner.

(Photo from Southern California photographer Jessica Claire.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Don't Fight Your Urges, Cure Your Cravings

There are lots of reasons addiction continues, even when we're trying to stop.

One big contributor is the knee-jerk way we handle urges and cravings.

Let's talk first about how we usually handle them (which too often fails miserably) and then we'll talk about a more helpful way (which can help us stay on the path of recovery).

Once a craving is triggered, we find ourselves in an ambivalent state. This is the very nature of addiction. Part of my brain starts pressing on the gas pedal, another part the brake.

Here's where we start to go wrong: Since we've failed at times to resist our urges, we think we need to resist more intently in order to successfully avoid relapse. We assume that fighting harder will be the key. We throw all our weight into pressing on the brake.

  • We think, "Oh, no!"
  • We get single-minded about avoiding a lapse
  • We think we have no choice but to fight, resist, restrain
  • We hold our breath, put our head down, and try to weather this hard time

This approach can initiate an all-out arms race between our urges and our restraint. Once it gets going, we may be battling for hours--or even days!

Our craving may have put us into reactive mode, but the way we're handling it has only intensified that reactivity. We're getting more intense and tunnel-visioned.

Reactive mode is a very different state of mind (and body) from mastery mode, which is how we operate when we're at our best.

In mastery mode:

  • Problems are viewed as something to handle, not to panic about
  • We remain broad-minded enough to notice what's actually going on 
  • We remain open-minded enough to remember that we have options and calmly look for ones we hadn't noticed before
  • We keep breathing, learning, adapting--and then we get back to (and on with) our regularly scheduled life with as little fanfare and drama as possible

In reactive mode, we're like a resident of a burning building in a full panic. We're more likely to do things that don't serve us well.

In mastery mode, we're more like a trained firefighter. We know what we need to do and we go about doing it in spite of the heat.

To foster mastery, we can deliberately cultivate its characteristics:

  • Accept the urge as a part of life (oh, yeah, that--yawn) instead of as this hugely significant problem or invitation and opportunity
  • Breathe (nice, full breaths) to keep the brain oxygenated
  • Notice (specific sights, sounds, touch) to keep oriented to what's real now instead of looping into panic or fantasy
  • Choose how to respond. Experiment by trying out a different response instead of by doing what we've always done, which has so often failed

Steven had successfully avoided pornography for months. Nonetheless, despite his best efforts, he could not manage to completely abstain from masturbation. This may not sound like a big deal to most people, but Steven was twenty years old, devout in his LDS faith, and otherwise ready to serve a mission.

His masturbation habit was fouling up the most spiritually meaningful quest of his life! He told me that he felt the way Frodo Baggins might if he were forever stuck in the shire!

Since this goal was so important to him, it was completely novel idea to view sexual temptations as (yawn) "Oh, yeah, that... that's just part of life, and a mundane part at that."

But he liked the idea. He laughed and shrugged when I described it to him, which let me know that he was already more relaxed and breathing easier.

I encouraged Steven to take acceptance to an even higher level. "This week when you're tempted, say to yourself: "Good! A chance to practice mastery!" He assured me that, if the week was typical, he would have plenty of chances to practice. I coached him to then breathe and notice what he can see, hear or feel... and then finally to deliberately choose to respond in a way he wasn't accustomed to.

It's convenient that these repeatable features of mastery mode follow the first letters of the alphabet:

  • Accept
  • Breathe & Notice
  • Choose

After his first week of practice, Steven came back a bit confused. "I finally felt prepared, so why weren't there as many opportunities to practice as I was expecting?"

"Exactly!" I said. "As soon as your brain knows that you have a way of handling urges and cravings, they're no longer viewed as these all-important things to be vigilant about. They become merely one type of feature among so many on the landscape. The little emotional sentinel in your brain is no longer on high alert and on the lookout for sexual triggers as potent threats, which the pleasure center of your brain then morphs into potent opportunities."

It's all about potency. When sexual content is less potent, triggers and opportunities start to blend into the endless parade of other stuff that goes on in your day. As they should! Sex is a part of life, but it's not the biggest part! It doesn't deserve all of the energy we've been giving it!

Several weeks later, Steven told me about an experience from a few days earlier. He'd arrived home after dark from playing basketball with some buddies. Everyone else in the house was asleep. As he walked to the top of the stairs to go down and shower and hit the sack, it hit him that he was at risk. In a moment, he was in high alert: "I've gone over two months now without masturbating. I'm closer now to leaving on my mission than I've ever been! But I've lapsed before in the shower, and with everyone asleep I'm more at risk!"

Steven felt an intense desire to stay on track, and knew that it might be followed soon by an equally strong--or perhaps even more overwhelming!--desire for sexual pleasure and release. It had been weeks now and he was a healthy young man with a strong sex drive! Should he hit the sack without showering? Even if he did and he made it through this night, could he ever truly hope to make it an entire three months, the goal he was working toward?!

Then, at the top of the stairs, it occurred to him: "I'm doing this to myself. I'm working myself up. But I don't have to! This is a great chance to practice mastery!"

He took a nice, full breath and really looked at the textured pattern in the ceiling above the stairs as he descended. Another breath as he listened to the sound of the furnace in the next room. With the next breath he felt the cool metal of the doorknob to the bathroom door in his hand. Right then it popped into his mind: one way that he could choose to behave differently. He could leave the bathroom door unlocked while he showered. That would certainly be an experiment he'd never tried before. On the one hand, he knew that everyone was probably asleep, but on the other hand he just couldn't imagine masturbating in the shower with an unlocked bathroom door.

Although I kept listening as Steven finished the story of that night, once he got to this point I knew all I needed to know. Before hearing about the outcome of his efforts that evening, I was already confident in the outcome of his entire treatment. Whether he had successfully avoided masturbating that night or not (as it turned out, he didn't lapse), he would succeed in overcoming the habit. He was developing the ability to shift out of reactivity and back to a state of mastery.

Instead of remaining the burning building's panicky resident, we can like Steven become a firefighter. Over time we will get better and better at it until we can handle what once might have been the most threatening situation with calmness and grace.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Between Addiction and Life, Take Life!

One of the most fascinating studies on addiction was conducted in the late 70's with an interesting and unique group of addicts.

These weren't alcoholics from the inner city or trendy youth using club drugs in discotheques. The addicts studied by Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander were rats.

He had fed them water laced with morphine, sweetened to help the rodents get past their initial resistance to the drug's bitter taste. Once they'd been drugging up long enough to get hooked, he put them into an environment that he called "Rat Park." Unlike the usual bland existence of lab rats, they had access to a spa and neighborhood clubhouse. Well, at least the rat versions of those: pals to socialize with, balls to roll, tunnels to climb, wheels to run on, and colorful scenery all around.

Alexander had an interesting hypothesis: it's not the drug itself, but an addicts impoverished life that keeps them going back to their pathological escape. The rat subjects in other addiction studies typically kept up their "drug-seeking" behavior. Alexander argued that they remained dependent because their cages were comparable to the lifestyles of many human addicts: impoverished.

Here's the question he wanted to answer with his research: Could we reduce the incidence of addiction by providing and enriched environment with lots of opportunities to enjoy life?

So, what about those rats in Rat Park? Did they remain junkies, constantly loading up on morphine?

Actually, they preferred plain water to the morphine laced, sweetened water--even though they loved the sweet taste! Once they could socialize, choose how to spend their days, and enjoy themselves... apparently they weren't interested in numbing themselves!

Easy enough if you're a rat who's been set up for success by a kindly rodent psychologist landlord, but how do we make our own lives a little bit more like a human version of Rat Park?

What kind of activities should I try?

Try thoroughly absorbing activities. My colleague, Kreg Edgmon, has addicted teenage clients in their residential programs train for and compete in triathlons. I think that's fantastic: Diving in the pool and feeling the water all around you. Blazing down the road on a bike with the wind rushing by. Willing yourself to keep pounding on foot when your body's screaming to stop. Activities don't need to be that intense to immerse us--even gardening fully engages us when we're not our knees, hands buried in the earth.

Go for variety. Think of it this way: you're not looking for one thing to replace your addiction, you're trying to create a more fulfilling life. It takes an entire well-balanced lifestyle to replace the one thing you're giving up: porn. That makes it more challenging than just "finding something else to do," but having this mentality will help you be more patient and treat it as a long-term quest.

What if nothing lights a fire in me?

Don't worry, nothing will, especially at first. Don't expect thrills. Start to put better, healthier things in your life and let enjoyment come on its own terms.

Several months into his recovery, Peter began one of our sessions telling me about the delightful conversation he'd had with his teenage daughter, Breanne. She had called him to walk her home from a friend's house that Sunday night because it had gotten dark while she was there visiting. She talked with Peter about the music she liked, a board game her friend's family loved to play, and even the World War II veteran she was interviewing for a history report.

Peter's eyes were bright as he told me about this experience, but then his face suddenly sobered. "After we got home I told Jillian how much fun I'd had talking with Breanne. It was great to get that little window into her life. I tried to think back to when I'd last had a conversation of that depth with her. The last time that came to mind was when I drove to her cousin's house for a sleepover several years ago. She told me all about all of her friends' ninth birthday parties and exactly how she wanted hers to be. Then it occurred to me: back then she was turning nine, now she's fourteen. It's been five years! That's how long I've been caught up in this blasted addiction!"

Peter hadn't even realized that time with his kids had stopped lighting a fire in him until after he had been in recovery for a while and it started lighting a fire in him again.

But I don't have time to enjoy myself!

Of course you don't! Who does?

That's no reason to give up on it. James was an avid golfer before he descended into alcoholism, but that was also before he got married and had kids. When we talked in group about honoring our own desires, he appreciated the sentiment but didn't see a way he could put it into action. Being a father myself I respected how busy he was, but some of the other group members kept pressing him about it.

The next week James reported back with a grin on his face. "I'd been feeling sorry for myself ever since I started working swing shift and Carol and I have been trading off taking care of the kids. I knew I was doing the most important thing, but part of me was playing the martyr. 'I never get to do what I want to do.' That mentality sure fed my drinking: 'At least I have this.'

"I thought I had valid reasons for my suffering, but last week you guys kept calling them lame excuses. It kept eating at me after group: 'Do you want to keep feeling sorry for yourself or do you want to do something about it?' The next day I sawed off a few of my old clubs and moved the grip down so that they were short enough for Kelton, my six-year-old. Then we drove over to the city course and took Olivia, who's three, and plopped her in the golf cart. It was a gorgeous day and we were one of the only threesomes on the course. The kids loved it. They smelled French Fries in the clubhouse when we were done and wanted some, so I went back to the house and fried up some homemade ones for lunch. It was one of the best days I've had with my kids, they absolutely loved it."

Apparently, the good life is not just for rodents after all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bromeliads at the Pacific Orchid Expo.

Today, Sunday March 6, ‘11 is the last day of the San Francisco Pacific Orchid Exhibition held at the airy Fort Mason Wharf building.

Yesterday I volunteered to help the San Francisco Bromeliad Club - LINK _ with their sales booth and was so happy to have had the experience to work side by side with my club members and see some of the extraordinary orchids and orchid garden vignettes.

The exhibit that most caught my eye was designed by Davis Dalbok of Living Green , a luxuriously beautiful showroom in the design district of the city that ‘brings you an eclectic selection of artefacts, specimen tropical foliage and objects that reflect the wonder and simple beauty of Nature’.
From academy

Trailing right behind Davis’s exhibit was the profoundly prolific explosion of fantastic foliaged bromeliads exhibited by the Bromeliad Club designed by member Peter Wan.
From academy

Many of the bromeliad species in this exhibit can live comfortably outdoor in the San Francisco Bay area. Some may have to retreat to a green house or under an overhead eave during one of our occasional winter cold snaps, but for the most part many bromeliads do well growing outdoor in an area with bright warm light ( not blazing hot sun )
From Pina Colada

From Pina Colada

From Pina Colada

From Pina Colada

And the Bromeliad Society booth has “THE IT” new hot plant of the year : Tillandsias, otherwise wise known as ‘air plants’.
Tillandsias are all the range this year. It started with interior decorators putting Tillandsias in a glass vase evoking the idea of a terrarium.
Now you see Tillandsias hanging in small glass globes in boutique nurseries across the US priced in the 25 to 40 dollar range.
The secret is, most Tillandsias are actually a fairly inexpensive plant. We had blooming Tilladsias priced in the 5 to 10.00 range.
From Pina Colada

One can pick up a glass orb in Chinatown for $ 2.00 or find a glass vase at a second hand store or Pier One imports in the 10.00 range.
For less than $ 15.00 you can have a beautiful terrarium of your own without spending a lot of money.
Place a small bit of moss or a few small rocks in with your Tillandsia glass vase and you’ll be sporting the same designs that grace the pages of Garden Design, Architectural Digest and Elle Decor for a fraction of the price but to big design effect.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Liberating the Enslaved Mind

The good news: Rod had just been promoted at work. The bad news: it was creating havoc with his addiction.

He was under more pressure. He felt like he had to work harder than ever to live up to new expectations. He was afraid that his boss might conclude that he’d made a mistake in hiring Rod, the only guy on the new executive team without an MBA.

As a result, Rod was always second-guessing himself when he wanted to take a full-lunch break or go in to work on time instead of early. “I gotta get this done.” “I gotta keep working.” “I can’t let that go until tomorrow.”

As I heard him describe the previous couple of weeks, it sounded to me like he was in “gotta” mode all day long now. It didn’t surprise me to hear him say that by the end of the day his brain was lapsing back into its most self-destructive “gotta” trance: “I gotta find some porn!”

“I’m up late, Phyllis is sleeping, and I feel like I gotta eat something else to help me wind down. I gotta watch something else before I’ll feel relaxed enough to sleep. But another bowl of Cheerios and one more episode of CSI don’t always do the trick. I’m still up, still antsy. That’s when I fall back into porn.”

Rod didn’t just need to just handle his evenings differently, he needed to handle his entire days differently. Here’s what I suggested:

12-Step adherents call it surrender. Zen folks call it freeing ourselves from attachments. Whatever you call it, here’s how to do it--at least here’s how Rod descred it the next time I talked to him:

“I just kept reminding that I don’t control everything. Whether I accept that or not, it’s true, so I might as well accept it. I may not perform well enough to keep my job. People do get fired, that’s part of life. I’ve been fired before, and it wasn’t the end of the world. Whether I do keep my job or not isn’t entirely under my control. Every time I leave work on time or put off until tomorrow reviewing a database from one of our teams I’m running a risk. However, life’s not all about work, not all about keeping this job. Several times a day I’ve been letting go of all my efforts to make good things happen. I take a minute to relax and focus on what I have already accomplished, everything I already have available to enjoy in my life. I smell the roses. The entirety of the remainder of my life is not dependent on how things go here and now. ”

Not everyone needs structure in order to step back and surrender, but some of us really benefit from it. One of my clients has a mindfulness gong ap on his Droid that goes off at random times, reminding him to stay attentive in the present moment. Rod had a reminder cue set on his calendar for half-past every hour. He would pushed himself away from his desk and take deep breaths. He reminded himself that oxygen was a gift from above, not from his boss and not based on his performance. Air would be available to him whenever he needed it and wherever he went for the rest of his life. For three or four breaths he would really drink in that gift instead of as though through he was sucking it through a coffee straw. After a half minute or so, he would pull his chair back up to the desk and get started on his work again, in a fresher, more relaxed frame of mind.

Control is the hallmark of addiction. That which we try to control ends up controlling us. When we become obsessive and compulsive about anything in life, we fan the flames of the very fire that can jump the break and become the wildfire of our worst habit. Or, to put it another way, we place our own mind in the very shackles our addiction will later use to lead it around against our will.

If we want to get over addiction, we need to confront our need for control and loosen our grip around the neck of life. Fortunately, even when we take our little break from being the general manager of the universe, the big blue globe keeps on turning.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kick the Porn and Relish Real Life

Check out my guest post just up this morning over on Jeff's blog MySuperchargedLife. He has a great life hack blog that discusses budgeting, getting the most out of life, and now: pornography! Thanks Jeff for your coaching and editing to help me take a more positive approach and get the article right!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Behind Every Raunchy Behavior Is a Tender Feeling

We were doing an autopsy on Darrin's last relapse. We were exploring around in hopes of gaining insight into what had made him vulnerable.

I had him imagine peeking into different rooms and seeing different parts of himself.

There, in that room, is the part that was about to go get the erotic massage last Saturday. What can you tell by looking at him? What was he feeling like? What did he really need?

There, in the next room, is the part of you that feels wise, spiritual, peaceful.

And in the next, the part of you that loves to play with the grandkids, drink milkshakes, and could just lay in bed in the morning and listen to the birds sing. The kid in you.

In another room, the part of you that exerts himself and carries heavy things and takes on the most physically taxing things that needs to be done.

Invite them all out into the main room, the one you're in, and have them sit around this large circular table. Let them know that this one part of you is particular need of their help. It's the part who can get feeling like sex is the only answer.

Is every other part of you willing to help by taking a sledgehammer and breaking down the wall that keeps that part of you isolated and alone? We need to turn the room he gets stuck in, with its cement walls and a metal door, into an alcove. He needs to be able to access the rest of you in the future when he's in need. His view of the rest of you may get obscured back in this recessed part of the room, but he need never be truly alone again.

Paul's imaginary parts cooperated and tore down the wall. Then I had him open his eyes and talk about it. His reaction to this little exercise surprised me.

"I had tender feelings. I wanted to cry. They (the other parts of himself) really cared and wanted to help."

"I recognized during that imagery that something I went through last week was harder than I had realized at the time. Strong feelings came up when you had me imagine the hard-working, physically exerting part of myself. Last Wednesday afternoon I worked my tail off replacing a fence post. My wife didn't even seem to care. I opened up the blinds in the bedroom the next day and said, 'Have you seen my handiwork from yesterday? Check out that fence post.' She was totally distracted. 'Oh, yeah. Wow.' Meant nothing to her. I wanted to take a minute and celebrate that."

Then Paul looked embarrassed. "But I can't tell her that. Blame her for my lapse."

"She's not to blame for your lapse," I suggested. "But burying your feelings not advocating for yourself might have contributed to your vulnerability. What if you had handled it differently: You open the blinds, she doesn't give it much notice, and you say, 'Let's try that again. Lillian celebrating Paul's hard work, take two... Ta-da!"

"Yeah, she would have laughed and come over and hugged me and admired it."

"Even if she hadn't, you would have felt better for acknowledging and honoring what you felt you needed. That must be an important love language for you: words of affirmation."

Paul's face was reddening. "Why is that so important to me."

"Don't know, but it seems pretty genuine."

Paul Nodded. "I need to be more aware of these feelings when they happen, instead of five days later when you drag them out of me."

"Don't put me out of a job too quickly," I said with a wink.

Were those tender feelings Paul had on Thursday even a part of what led him to act out sexually on Saturday? I'm not sure. Unacknowledged disappointments sometimes evaporate on their own. Too often, however, they don't, distilling instead into resentment, which prompts detachment, which becomes fertile ground for urges and cravings to take root.

The title of this post took the idea too far. Not every raunchy urge is preceded by a tender feeling. Sometimes it's simply time of day the brain is used to getting a sex fix and so it raises the possibility again out of habit. Or we're traveling on business again and historically that's been a time to relapse. Some urges might be triggered by little more than fluctuations in testosterone or spirituality. However, if none of those other culprits are in the vicinity, and sometimes even when they are, it's always good to dig around a bit for buried emotion. I've found it to be the most reliable of suspects.