Friday, March 29, 2013

Putting It Into Practice Part Two

Jacob left treatment shortly after our group meeting. His tears demonstrated his inner conflict between the familiar ramparts of his rigid intellectuality and his defiance and fear of spiritual uncertainty. I believe that bridge that leads to the world of spiritual connection leads us to our sense of preciousness. Jacob was unwilling to cross it.

We need to trust in the preciousness of ourselves, which allows us to recognize the preciousness in others. and then we need to trust in a power greater than ourselves, which binds humans together in a community of love or, at least, respect. Without this trust, we cannot begin to chisel away at the defenses of dysfunctional adaptation, which hides our true and precious beings... our authentic selves.

On the spiritual level the barrier against entry becomes most powerful. The hold on the mundane world world is strong. The doubts in or intellectual minds have contempt for the mysteries of higher truths. But our trust in a higher power creates the possibility of connection with forces greater than ourselves. These forces give us our serenity believe that we belong to the universal order. Through faith, we become a part of the beneficent operation of the universe, rather than apart from it.

That inner knowing can then develop into a sense of connection, or segway, with the world. That sense of belonging, of feeling, "at home," gives us the optimistic energy to perform our best work. For the first time in our lives, we addicts, we feel we are among friends. Our lives become conscious expressions of our fitness to be alive and healthy; we experience being present in a world that cares for us.

To live this blessing, we must be restored to wholeness; we must recover our preciousness so long buried beneath the rubble of our wounding. We must bring together all the recovery tools we have begun to use in therapy. These tools include the ability to know our emotional wants, the willingness to be vulnerable and share respectfully our knowledge of ourselves with our partners.    

Sexuality is at the heart of our life force. It is our creative urge, and it is not only expressed through sexually explicit acts. Because our sexuality is to linked to the essence of who we are, it is inexplicity interwoven into our spirituality. Healthy sex supports the awakening of our soul, our inner knowing and truth. It opens the possibility of deeper connection with others. This does not mean that the spiritual connectivity of sexual intercourse is memorable only because it is uplifting. It is. It is also memorable because it is intensely pleasurable. When we willingly and consciously enter the act of lovemaking, we offer our precious humanity to the care of our partners, and we accept our partners' offer of the precious humanity for our own safekeeping. This is an awesome act of spiritual communion, and a responsibility not to be taken lightly. To betray it would plunge us addicts back to where we were when we were first betrayed, when we were taught that love and betrayal were the same thing.

Putting It Into Practice

Jacob, a man in his mid-fifties, is a retired engineer whose training taught him to solve problems and implement change with precision, allowing no margin for errors.

"When I was in graduate school, all I did was study," Jacob explains. "I had no social life, no friends, I ate, slept, went to class, and studied; that was my life."
"What was that like for you, to live that way?" I asked.
"I didn't have a choice; if I wanted to get through school, I had to work for my grades... not like my roommate, who was a natural."
"It must have been lonely."
"It didn't matter, I wanted to graduate."
"You sound like you were determined."
"Let me explain how it was," Jacob continues. "The tests were basically equations we had to solve, like if you were an engineer and this was the equation for the bridge you were building. The calculations had to be correct; there was no margin for error. Otherwise, the bridge would collapse; anything less than 100 percent was failure."

Jacob had been in therapy and group process for six months. He had been struggling with the concept of spirituality and was often confused, offended, and frustrated by the abstract idea of something greater than himself. His frustrations were often demonstrated by outbursts of anger and pain.

"You know, I need proof," Jacob began one night during a group session. "I need proof that this stuff is real. If you can give me empirical data, then I might be able to buy into this stuff. But otherwise, I'm not buying it."
"I have no proof," I said.
"Then I can't buy it," he snapped. "You know I want to get it," he continued, his anger melting into tears of frustration. "I really do," he said, his voice trailing off.

Jacob was struggling with the concept beyond his grasp. Everything he had been taught intuitively and intellectually was counter to what he was hearing. He was scared to let go of what he knew. If it was incorrect, like an incorrect equation for a bridge, his world would come crashing down.

Jacob was unable to tolerate the blending of the concreted, comprehended by intellect, and the spiritual and integrate the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the self, Jacob cut himself off from eh miracle of  recovery. He locked himself into the painful reality of his status quo.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Drifting off into the slumber, Ben was jolted by a loud clap of thunder. Groggy, he sat up and noticed one of his Nanny's bras draped over a doorknob. Intrigued, Ben unwrapped himself from the warmth of the comforter and reached for her undergarments. He observed it functional design, so different from any of the frilly, scantily designed undergarments he had seen in the Playboy magazines his Dad kept in the basement. He caressed the bra against his cheek; it felt soothing and comforting, but also wrong. Being so close to something so intimate to Nanny's felt naughty, but also felt titillating.

Despite Ben's recognition that he had violated Nanny's privacy, he was unable to stop. He knew it was wrong, but, even worse, he was enjoying it. An overwhelming urge overtook him and, in that moment, Ben made a decision that changed his life. He stole Nanny's bra. He violated his core values, but he could not help himself. The relief was too great.

Ben's ritual of stealing Nanny's bras and masturbating with me lasted for years. It was his first sexual 'high'.

Ben's compulsive behaviors fused shame and fear with sexual arousal. Ben's mother taught him that needing or wanting love and attention was "selfish." Ben learned that his emotional dependence on her led to shaming words, which cut him to his core. His Nanny had provided for some emotional needs, but her succor came too late to overcome the traumatic damage caused by his mother. He had already learned his traumatic lesson: do not trust anyone, especially women.

Ben's father also taught through example: Provide superficial comfort for your woman so that she will leave you alone, then retaliate by stealing away to your secret stash of Playboy magazines in the basement.

When Ben began to steal bras, he was acting out his anger: anger against what his mother was incapable of giving him, and the shame and pain of his traumatically induced worthlessness. Nanny, as a mother-substitute, received this deflected anger.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Spiritual Development

The spirituality of recovery is about healing the wounds of abandonment and disconnection. A baseline definition of spirituality is connection: with self, with others, with life at large, and with a power greater than yourself. Within this backdrop of connectedness, spirituality, as it relates to healthy sexuality, necessitates the reconnection  with self. This then allow for the possibility of a healthy sexual connection with others. The act of self-discovery is at the center of recovery.

When we emerge from sexual functionality into health, we are like a sculptor who sees, in a formless block of marble, the shape of something beautiful and desired. When we work on ourselves, we chip away at what has hidden our beauty and desirability from view. As Stephanie Urbina Jones sings, "I'm chiseling out my soul like Michelangelo. Found my spirit in the stone, I am chilling out my soul."

If we are to be the artist of our personhood, we must first connect to the fullness of who we are. Because of our traumatic histories, we have been entombed; we need to break out of that which blocks the expression of our capacity for relational intimacy, so that we can connect to our partners and to a power greater than ourselves.

Michelangelo released figures entombed within the marble; the sculptor liberates the image latent in the stone. That liberated image is what we often call 'the authentic self'. The authentic self is the precious gift of who we are, restored to us by chiseling our the soul from its entombment in trauma-induced sickness.

A second image image comes from a novelty shop in Florence, Italy. The shop sells replicas of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures. The caption on the bottom reads, "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." This tells us that the search for self is a process and that chiseling the soul is the artistic goal of the spiritual life.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Ben's mother, incapable of nurturing her child, leaves him feeling worthless, unwanted and shamed. The painful message he receives from her is, "I don't want you. You are burden. Leave me alone." A young child cannot reason that rejection by his mother is due to her limited emotional rejection. Instead, he internalizes the abandonment as being his fault; he believes, "There is something inherently wrong with me." When a precious part of a person is no longer nurtured but damaged through abuse and emotional abandonment, this creates the shame core. A the core of who we are, we believe we are worthless and irreparably flawed.

We are born precious and valuable, even though our humanity has its physical and emotional limitations. To accept the perfect imperfections of the essence of the healthy ego-state. Whatever imperfections we have, they are part of our humanity... facts not to be despised, feared, or railed against us. Our imperfections remind us that we are not gods, that we are humans among other humans, each, with our own set of strengths and weaknesses. We have to work to do if we are to maximize the good and minimize the bad. The self-affirming correction is a joy, considering that the payoff is a healthy self-esteem and social comfort.

However abuse and abandonment can erode our sense that we are precious and valuable. We begin to define ourselves by our flaws. Abuse can take many forms: physical, emotional, neglect, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual. When our caregivers do not teach or support us in accepting our perfect imperfection, they have abandoned their primary responsibility to us. It is fair to call such parental failure as "abandonment."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Hank, a thirty-ish committed bachelor, has been in therapy for more than a year. Through the years, he has learned to defend his emotional core with a gruff, imitating exterior. His full-body tattoos, heavy-metal jewelry, leather jacket, motorcycle tattoos match his Harley, and his deep voice and bulging muscles send the message, "Don't mess with me."

Hank recently began dating a woman named Sara; it's the first exclusive relationship of his life. He is heartily embraced and implementing healthy relationship boundaries, communication skills, being real, staying in touch  with his feelings, and getting reality checks from his support group.

A few weeks into his relationship, Hank called the office between appointments, asking for clarification and support.

"I need to check something out with you," he began.
"I got together with Sara last night, and she started to rail on me, how I was being an asshole."
"What caused that reaction?" I asked.
"Were were out having a steak, and I ran into a buddy of mine. I started talking to him, and the next thing I know, she's shooting me the death look. You would have thought I was hitting on some chick," he said. "So I did that bubble thing, the boundary, you know, what we worked on last week: putting an energy field around me, protecting myself. I is what I'm supposed to do?"
"You got it." I said in an affirming tone. "How did that feel?"
"It felt good, safe. I liked it."

Hanks willingness to implement the relationship skills he is learning (in therapy) demonstrates his commitment to recovery. The building of new skills can often feel tedious, awkward, and uncomfortable. But the results of one's efforts can be gratifying.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Just before dawn Ben creeps downstairs,not daring to awaken anyone. The pads on the bottom of his Dr Dentons grip the polished hardwood floors as he rounds the corner into the kitchen. Flipping on the light, he is temporarily blinded. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, is large and formal. The counter-tops and the imported Italian marble floors reflect the recessed ceiling lights.

The rumbles of Ben's stomach have driven him out of his warm bed. Knowing it is too wake anyone, Bend decides to make his first-ever breakfast for himself. Scooting the heavy wooden chair across the floor, Ben is careful not to make a sound. This is the arduous task because the chair weighs half as much as he does. But the pride Ben is feeling at his independence foretells any shortcomings.

Placing the chair under the cabinet, Ben carefully climbs up. He reaches for the familiar red-and-white box and his ceramic blue bowl. Gingerly he set them down on the counter as he lowers himself to the floor.

Pulling on the refrigerator door, he retrieves the milk and sets it on the counter next to the bowl. Ben climbs back up on the chair as he begins to tilt the cereal box ever so slightly. He then shakes the contents into the bowl. But, as he shakes a little harder, the contents gain momentum and spill out over the sides of the bowl, rolling over the counter and onto the floor. Deciding he can lean it up later, Ben reaches for the mil. The weight and cumbersome shape of the gallon container make it impossible for Ben to maneuver. It slips of of his hands, bounces off the counter, makes a loud thud, splits open, and gushes all over the floor. Just as Ben is climbing down to attend to the mess, his mother rounds the corner.

"What are you doing?" she screeches. "Look at the mess you are making! It's five o'clock in the morning, and I'll never get back to sleep. All you can do is think of yourself?"

Ben's big blue eyes are fixed on his mother, who grabs the broom and begins hitting and shooing Ben out of the kitchen.

For Ben, an only child, his mother's reactions to his immature and youthful imperfection remain constant over the years... until he stops trying to please her.

It is an awful irony that the trauma we receive from being abused becomes from the dysfunctional guarantee that, for the rest of our lives, we will be emotionally unable to leave the family that has abused us. Trauma, in the form of post-traumatic stress syndrome, guarantees that we will always have our place at the psychic table where we were poisoned. Memories of the abusive family will shame us, and anger will be our defensive reaction.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Intimacy with a New Partner

When sex addicts move into a more intimate relationships, they must slow down the process. I recommend seventeen dates spread over at least three months before genital contact. During that courtship, the recovering sex addict has time to practice the habits of self-esteem and boundaries that he has learned in therapy and in group.

This courtship period at first involves boundaried communication, emphasizing the pleasures involved in being honest and respectful. I urge clients to use talking and listening boundaries because this kind of connection creates safety and trust. The recovering individual is implying, "I trust you. I am willing be open to you. I trust myself enough to trust you."

For most sex and love addicts, sex has always equaled power and control, something other than connection. So entering love in this way is a whole new experience for a sex addict because he is being present. And being present can be terrifying.

Once you are developing good communication skills, learning who your partner really is, and knowing your own needs and wants, you introduce physical but nongenital expressions of affection and love.

Activities might include massages, holding hands, snuggling, rubbing each other's back, and washing each other's hair and kissing; this allows a connection to the physical, the erotic, memory producing, creating desire. You want to take what you enjoy and share that with our partner. And your partner will be willing to do the same.

Learning relationship skills, meaning boundaried behaviors, is hard enough. So how does a recovering addict share, during the boundaried interchange, that he or she has behaved in destructive, unethical, immoral and harmful ways?

If you are starting to date a new person, you want to share in broad strokes. You don't want to get into the details,but you do want him or her to know that you have issues around your sexuality that are based in your trauma. Go into detail only to the level of what appears appropriate to you. You mist trust your sense of authenticity.

Before you do this, do a practice run with your Twelve-Step sponsor or therapist. Have it scripted out. Talk about it in group and with other people who have done it. Prepare yourself before the event with your support people and afterward share with them what the experience was like for the two of you. By doing so, your are connecting in a healthy way, and your are supporting yourself in doing something that is terrifying for sex addicts.

Some kinds of sexual acting-out histories are particularity risky to talk abut because they are so blatantly condemned by society. Bestiality is one example. "I'm really enjoying your company, and I really want to move into a more committed relationship with you, and be with you exclusively. But there are some things that I want to share with you so you will know who I am and where I'm coming from. I think this will bring us closer in our relationship. In the past, I have had some issues around my sexuality. Those issues began when I was a child when my family was highly sexualized and did not have appropriate boundaries around sex. And so I learned that sex was my most important need. That's where I was valued. That's where the power and attention were. That moved me into some unhealthy behavior as an adult.

"Now I am going to therapy and am in a group in order to deal with these issues. I am not currently active in those inappropriate behaviors. I am active in is what we are experiencing right now. But I want you to know this about my past, and I want you to ask me any questions that you need to for clarity. I don't want to go into the details of it right now, but I do want you to know who I am."

Let us say the response you get is polite but wary. It might sound like this, "I appreciate your honesty. What I have heard is that you come from a sexually unhealthy and overactive family and that damaged you. Now you are getting treatment for it, and I am grateful for that. But I have some fear around this. Do you think you are well enough to go out with me? I mean what are we talking about? You say that you don't want to go into details now, but trust me with the details. Why are you withholding from me? Do you trust me?"
"I do. But the problem is that I don't necessarily trust myself. I still have a lot of shame about what I am dealing with, and I haven't done this before. I want to do this right."
"You know, I really hear you. And from what I know about you, that's great. I feel very warm toward you."

That's the nice scenario. But let's say her response sounds like this:

"You know, this is not the first time that I have heard something like this. when you decide that you want to be honest with me, give me a ring. Meanwhile, I have some thinking to do."

We many conclude that the recovering addict does not have the right partner. At this point, at least you know the truth and have created an appropriate place to stop investing in the relationship. You are slowing down that process to find safety for yourself and for the relationship if you think it is worth pursuing.

Even though this painful scenario is not far-fetched, my clients who are walking the path of recovery usually find that honest intimacy in communication has good results.