As a sex addict , I daily encounter a variety of situations that could result in a slip or relapse if not handled effectively. I was reflecting on that fact this morning at our meeting. I find that my sobriety is “comfortable” to the extent that I’m able to identify those situations and respond effectively. For me, this is daily Step 1, 2, and 3 work. Every time I identify and respond well to these dangerous situations, I’m reaffirming that I am myself powerless, that there is a power that can restore my sanity, and that it is beneficial to defer to his will. Here’s what I’ve found to be an effective response to dangerous situations.
Identify the Threat
Before I can respond effectively to a dangerous situation, I have to be able to reliably identify dangerous situations. An emergency response plan is useless if I unreliably sense danger. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for me, I have years of material to aid in my attempt to define danger.
- Is surfing aimlessly on the computer for hours a danger? Yes, yes it is. That’s happened time and time again in my career as an addict. What started as an innocent wandering got ever more close to the edge and then splat.
- Is time alone at home dangerous? Yes. How many times in the past has my wife announced she’s headed out to go shopping and has my serene mind slipped seamlessly into plotting how to exploit the unexpected opportunity?
- Is looking at ads along the side or bottom of news stories problematic? Yep. That glance often been the first stumble down the path of a day or week long binge.
- Is lingering in bed in the morning dangerous ground? You bet. Idle time in general has repeatedly ended up play time and then remorse time.
What about glancing at a woman’s body parts? Is that dangerous? Or what about spinning up a fantasy in my head? Is that problematic? Sexaholics Anonymous’ literature has a repeating refrain: lust is deadly for the addict and true sobriety requires victory over lust. Does my experience bear that out? Going back to my impressive addict’s resume:
- Is second look at an attractive woman situation to be avoided? It seems innocent enough, but examining my extensive experience, I see countless vows to be done with the pornography or masturbation or sex outside of marriage that were undermined by more and more lust-hits. A glance here and there. Strategic positioning to get a better longer look. All those looked provided some comfort and relief at the moment, but ended up getting me increasingly sexually excited until the inevitable relapse. So yes, the historical record makes clear that the second look is a dangerous situation for me.
- How about the first look? Sometimes a first look is unavoidable, but I’ve discovered many times it is not. I see something out of the corner of my eye that my mind thinks, or knows, is an attractive woman. Is it dangerous for me to first-look when I have that sense, or that curiosity? My experience shows that it is. Even the desire to discover if it really is a beautiful woman or not is an indicator that my mind is in a dangerous place. And how many times has the intentional-first-look target turned out to be someone in my wheel-house and how many times has that tiny bit of momentum brought me to the teetering edge and seen me plunge right in? Too many to count. Yes, the first look is a danger.
- Spinning up fantasies? God yes. Again, going back to the historical record, my fantasies always end in me acting out.
Is This Particular Dangerous Situation Dangerous?
Another feature of my life as an addict is the repeated questioning of each dangerous situation to determine if it’s still a dangerous situation. Surely it’s not. Surely I’m stronger this time. After all, I was REALLY serious this last time I promised never to act out again. The last hundred times I was tripped up in a similar situation I hadn’t started my new accountability arrangement. I’m certainly not going to go down that hole knowing that I’ll have to tell a friend. So I’ll be content to only peer down the hole from my safe distance. Wrong again Sherlock.
My experience with questioning if each historically-proven dangerous situation will in this instance again prove to be dangerous is in itself a dangerous place to be. So in addition to the necessity of identifying general categories of dangerous situations, it has also been immensely helpful for me to abandon the practice of reevaluating each particular instance of a dangerous situation. It was dangerous a hundred times before. I assume it will be dangerous this time and respond accordingly. In a crisis, it is imperative to act rapidly. There’s a template. Whether it’s a deadly situation with an active-shooter, a ground ball to the shortstop with a runner on first with no outs, or an addict on a summer day at the pool with the kids. The well trained first responder or shortstop or recovering addict will recognize the critical situation immediately. No need, no time, to stop and think if this one might be the exception to the rule. Delay is dangerous, rebellion may be fatal, as it says in the Twelve and Twelve (p. 69).
Acting Decisively in Dangerous Situations
It is common for people, even without special training, to know when they are entering a dangerous situation and to perish despite this foreknowledge. Often the fly in the soup is not acting decisively in the situation. The trained professional can often escape the situation where the amateur can’t because he or she has studied ahead of time how to respond to THIS situation and practiced over and over the proper response to THIS situation. After this preparation, the situation is identified even before it has fully formed and he or she is poised for action.
- The first responder has practiced over and over how to sweep a building containing an active shooter. He does not pause to consult his text book or call up his instructor when he gets the call for help. Every moment counts, so he acts rapidly and decisively. Every time when the situation matches such and such pattern, he responds with such and such action.
- When the shortstop spots an opportunity for a double play, if the ball is hit within his reach, he acts decisively. He doesn’t have time to review what his fielding coach said to him that one time. He doesn’t pause to think if this time perhaps he should mix things up and throw to 1st and let the 1st baseman then throw to 2nd. He scoops up the ball and spins to rocket it to the second baseman. THAT is what you do in THAT situation. Always.
To be able to act rapidly and decisively, you have to figure out the appropriate action well ahead of the dangerous event. Cramming may work for a quiz at school, but it won’t do in a crisis. Plan ahead and then practice every chance that comes along.
I have provided a partial list above of the dangerous situations in which I find myself. Here are some of the decisive actions that I find to be effective if I will use them rapidly and decisively:
- Surfing aimlessly for hours? Don’t. What is my need? Research something for work? Stick to it. Checking the news? Make it snappy.
- Alone time at home? Leave if possible. Go to the library. Go to a park. Go volunteer some place. (It helps me to have a list of options at the ready.) Can’t leave for some legitimate reason (really)? As soon as I know of the alone time I’m texting a friend in the program. If I’ve identified alone time at home as the danger zone, I’m not going to wait around to see if it might not be dangerous this time. I need to act immediately.
- Ads at the side and bottom of a news story? Eyes center! Is it maybe something that might be OK and interesting? Nope! Move along. Did my eyes inadvertently stumble across a suggestive ad? I’m texting a friend ASAP. I’m not waiting around to see if it will create energy this time around. Who cares? I want to be sober and so I’m not going to take chances.
- Lingering in the bed alone in the morning. Get up baby, get up! Is this morning the exception to my rule? Unless I’m ill (really), my action plan for the morning is simple: get out of bed and do something.
- Notice an attractive woman? Don’t look a second time. Just don’t do it. Is she on her own moving in and out of my field of view? What have I determined to do ahead of time? I move somewhere else. Turn around. Close my eyes. Leave. Whatever it takes, because my unquestionable action plan says: don’t look twice.
- A woman bends over to pick up something in front of me? Look up immediately. Look away immediately. What if there isn’t cleavage this time? Who cares? If it is there, it’s poison and I want to live.
- Sense some attractive person out of the corner of my eye? Don’t look. Just don’t look. It is not necessary for me to verify my hunch, and it is likely to be a trap for my addict’s mind.
- A suggestive image pops into my mind? Are my eyes closed? Open them immediately. Are my eyes open, surrender through prayer: “God, let me find in you what I’m looking for in her.” “God, take away this lust, I don’t want any part of it.” Or “take it away, I do want it.” Does the image come back? Rinse and repeat and call or text a friend. Get moving and serve someone in need. I’m a dead man if I start to question if this dangerous situation is dangerous THIS time. And I’m a dead man if I dilly dally on the action.
Conclusion: Plan the Work and Work the Plan
I want a comfortable sobriety and a life lived to the full. Certainly there are times when working my plan is tiresome, but the consistent investment has paid huge dividends. Gone for the most part is all the futile will-power wrestling about whether this or that situation is problematic and the futile will-power wrestling once I’ve discovered I’m in the soup. There’s more to my recovery than this action plan, but without this action plan, there’s no real progress for me in working the other steps and no long-term recovery. The sober life is a good life. I’ve found it’s worth the effort.
Tired of guilt, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness, and pain? Click to find a meeting!