Bottom Lines

April 27, 2016

 

Mike, the author of the fantastic porn addiction and recovery blog Hi my name is Mike writes about what he calls “bottom lines.” “A bottom line” he writes, “is a line you draw around behaviors and daily patterns to create a buffer zone between healthy living and living in the ‘danger zone’ where you might become triggered and ultimately slip or act out.”

This tool seems very useful to me, and I decided to compile a list of the behaviors that most often lead to a slip.

  • Allowing myself to do a Google image search when I’m bored.
  • Allowing myself to do ANY kind of Internet browsing when I’m bored.
  • Allowing myself to get on the computer for any reason when I’m alone and tired, angry, hungry, stressed out or lonely. Even if I have work to do.
  • Using the computer for entertainment, unless specifically sitting down to watch a movie.
  • Reading the news for entertainment.
  • Watching TV for any reason, especially (since I don’t have a TV at home) when I’m travelling alone.
  • Allowing myself to get to a place where I’m physically depleted, especially hungry, when I can be alone with a computer.
  • Allowing paperwork to pile up at work, so that I have too much to do (and avoid doing) at the end of the day.

In large part, I notice that what comes up for me again and again is wasting time. Almost everything I do on the computer, except for work or blogging or intentional entertainment (almost always with my wife), seems to fall into the category of wasting time. It is basically procrastination, and looking at porn is procrastination par excellence: it is not just an avoidance of work, but of life itself.

My bottom line list, then, is fairly simple:

  • Do not use the computer or other electronic media for entertainment.
  • Do not use the computer for any reason (even if I have work to do), when I am alone and tired, stressed out, angry, lonely, or bored.
  • Do not allow paperwork or other bureaucratic chores to build up. If something needs to be done, do it as soon as possible.
  • Do not allow myself to get to a place of depletion. Bring snacks to work and program in appropriate breaks.

I will probably have to add to this list, but I think it’s a good start. I’m actually pretty sure that if I follow these guidelines, I can avoid a real slip entirely.

Thank you, Mike!

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Bottom Lines

Looking For a Heading

P1000824 copy

April 26, 2016

 

I’m not feeling nearly as energetic as I was during the first days of the diet. I’m still getting these moments of utter deflation, in which I also tend to feel hopeless and depressed. I suppose it could be because the most recent porn slip was less than two weeks ago. Two weeks is usually the point at which I start to feel like myself again.

Also, significantly, my mom is coming for a visit. She lives all the way across the country, so getting her out here is a bit of a hassle. She is also terrible with computers, so it usually falls to us to get her plane tickets. Even just writing about this makes me feel sluggish. This is something I definitely need to work with.

Last night I finally managed to arrange an airbnb apartment for her, which helps me to relax a little. I am in a constant struggle to have her be a part of our lives (especially important now that there is a kiddo), but also keep some space in the relationship. My mom is the kind of mother whose secret dream would probably be to have my wife and me move into her house on the East Coast with our children. She never remarried after my dad left, and instead has put 90% of her emotional eggs in my basket, something I have resented since before I was a teenager. I have actually spent most of my life trying to get as far away from her as possible, a strategy that just doesn’t work anymore, now that she is a grandmother and entering her early 70s. I want her to be a part of our son’s life, and I know that it is up to me to make sure that she is cared for as she continues to age.

One thing I definitely do not want to do is move back East. There is no work for my wife there, and it would be difficult for me to get licensed as a therapist. Also, I don’t have any friends there anymore, and I start to get depressed whenever I even think about going there for a trip, much less permanently.

We love living on the West Coast. We live in a beautiful city, near big water and mountains. We love to hike and kayak. We dream of raising our family with this outdoor lifestyle, retiring to a cabin near the ocean and spending our later years doing expedition kayaking.

But it’s expensive here. We have little in our bank accounts, and not much saved up for retirement. We have done some real estate investing in the past, but it is far too expensive for us to buy anything here, at least not in the city. We rent our apartment. We have discussed the possibility of buying something with my mom, (she would buy it, really, we would help to find it and perhaps do some work on it) but it would be a huge investment for her, and we don’t know for sure how permanent we are here. It’s expensive as it is for my mom to come out, making mortgage payments on a 300k apartment wouldn’t help. It feels more like stress than a great idea.

My wife and I lived in the Southwest for most of our marriage, and we still own a couple of houses and a couple of small apartments there. If we moved back, we could easily afford a bigger place for my mom. She could buy a medium sized house for the price of a tiny apartment here. Or she could move into one of our places. Or, after not too long, we would probably be able to afford another place and make sure it had a sizable casita for her in the back. It is just so much easier to live there.

My fear is that if we move back, all of our kayaking dreams will dry up. There’s no ocean in the desert. Maybe we could still work towards a future in which that would be possible, but it would be more difficult. I think I know my wife pretty well, and if we sell the kayak, it’s going to be a VERY long time before she’s going to be willing to try again.

For myself, I think the draw is increasingly back towards the Southwest. We will almost definitely stay here for at least the next two years, and that feels good to me. Also, my wife has her own reasons for wanting to stay, although I know she also dreams of the Southwest sometimes. I guess we’ll just have to see.

Looking For a Heading

Update

April 16, 2016

 

First, the diet is still going well. I allowed myself an ice cream today, but other than that I have been keeping it well and continuing to feel much better physically.

Second, I told my wife that I had slipped with the porn. That always brings relief, but I also hate it because now she has to live with it too. I guess she was living with it anyway, and better that she knows the truth.

Terrible withdrawals. Waves of depression, wishing for death, and intense craving to use again.

But also, waves of okay-ness. I haven’t been able to post because of the block on my computer. Got it sorted so that I can access the blog. That helps.

How is it that I am able to feel so much love and also be such a selfish prick?

Thanks for listening.

Update

Meditation Issues

April 15, 2016

 

Not sure where I’m going today. Feeling a mix of things, patches of depression from the slip(s), and also periods of calm and wellbeing, especially since I asked my wife to put a block on the computer again. Perhaps the biggest source of agony around the slips is the thought that this will never stop, that I will never be free. Having the block on my computer helps me to feel safe at least for the time being: no matter how badly I want to, I will not be able to use.

Meditated for two hours yesterday. I’ve been working my way through a 200-hour Bodhisattva training. I started it last summer when I was on retreat, and it is a requirement for another retreat I’m hoping to do this summer. I partially love the practices, and partially hate them. I’m currently working on a practice designed to remove blockages from feeling the heart. It involves a visualization of the heart as a thousand-petaled lotus, as I breathe in, I’m supposed to visualize a petal beginning to open up, and as I exhale I’m supposed to visualize it relaxing open. There’s a bit more to it than this, but this is the body of the practice. I’m supposed to do it for an hour at a time. It drives me CRAZY. After about fifteen minutes I’m looking at my watch, stretching, checking out the scars on my arms and hands. I am usually a pretty patient meditator. I have done several month-long semi-silent retreats, and I generally like sitting meditation very much. But this practice just makes me so uncomfortable.

Partially, I just don’t like being told what to do. In ordinary sitting meditation the instruction is very simple, sit and watch what goes on in your mind and body, using the breath to anchor you if necessary.

In this meditation the instructions are explicit. I find myself getting angry. My heart doesn’t WANT to open, goddammit.

I’ve been trying to work with trust: trusting that the instructions are valid, trusting that this is designed to help me, I guess in a big sense trusting my teacher and the lineage I study in. Also trusting myself, that I can do it, that I will know to stop if it isn’t right.

It’s a tough balance. My instinct says STOP, and I’m hesitant to give that instinct up entirely (as I should be!). I need to care for and trust my own heart before I trust anyone or anything else. This is given some credence in light off how I felt after doing the meditation. I felt very spacey and uncertain. Usually I feel clear and grounded after I sit.

There’s something to this. I do have to trust that the meditation is a valid practice. I trust my teacher very deeply, both because of how he presents himself and the teachings, and also because of the quality of his students. I trust the lineage because it has never steered me wrong. Usually my heart is in perfect alignment with both what my teacher says and what the lineage has to say. That’s why he’s my teacher.

So my guess is that something else is going on. It may be that I’m doing the practice wrong. I know I can get a bit aggressive with stuff (especially myself), and perhaps I am putting too much will or force behind this meditation. There is a kind of feeling of cranking my heart open, which I’m pretty sure isn’t right. Although powerful, most Buddhist practices I am familiar with require a light touch. You can’t brutalize yourself into enlightenment.

Meditation Issues

Don’t Even Ask.

April 13, 2016

 

A shitty morning for a shitty guy. Actually a beautiful morning, crisp but sunny. Shitty leaving the house, screaming kiddo.

Also not really a shitty guy, but some shitty stuff went down.

Series of slips. I think it started Monday. Two days ago. Is that true, or was there a slip over the weekend? Something tells me maybe there was a slip on Saturday, when my wife was at a training. Maybe a brief slip then, not sure. I think there was a slip then, but I was able to “hold it together,” by which I mean lie about it by not saying anything. I was able to put it away, not let it get out of control. I think I didn’t masturbate and I was able to get mad at the porn, feel sad for the people in the pictures. Felt like a victory.

But then Monday, a choice. A palpable choice. I decided to do it. And it was a pretty major slip. Fucked up a couple of sessions with clients, not badly perhaps, but I could have given more. People pay a lot to see me, they deserve to get me at the top of my game.

Again didn’t tell my wife. Decided not to masturbate. Did Yoga. Tried to use it as a way to see porn as suffering. That worked pretty well, but Tuesday morning I woke up early, masturbated in the shower, and then was so surprised to feel an overpowering urge to look at porn again. Surprise surprise. Most of the day at work between sessions.

Asked my wife to put a block on my computer this morning. I didn’t tell her I had used, but if she asks I will.

Worst thing is the separation. Even if I can “fake it,” be cheerful and affectionate and do the stuff I need to do, I still feel completely separate from her, and that hurts a lot. The kiddo is also going through a “Momma” faze, he says Momma even when he’s asking me to pick him up. It may just be linguistic (we’ve been singing a song lately that has “Momma, Momma” in the refrain), but it also kind of hurts, like, “what about Dad?”

It may be the Universe saying “Dad’s not here and the kiddo knows it,” or it may just be me knowing that I’m not as here as I should be, and I feel guilty about it. Either way, it hurts.

Don’t Even Ask.

A NEW LEASE

 

P1020430April 12, 2016

 

I have often thought to myself that I should quit drinking, but I’ve never been able to get together the motivation to do it. I wouldn’t say I’m an alcoholic by a long shot, but I certainly use alcohol as a crutch. I get into cycles of “beer to relax, coffee to motivate,” which wreak havoc on my body, immune system, nervous system, organs, etc.

My wife and I have been talking seriously about having a second child. Mentally, philosophically, and spiritually, I think this is a great idea. I think it’s most likely the best thing for our little one, and both my wife and I love the idea of a larger family.

But I’m so tired. All the time. Weak and weary. I easily succumb to depression, and I think this has a lot to do with just how worn out I feel all the time. When I think about having a second child in this light, I actually wonder if it will be possible. I worry that I might not be up to the task, might not be able to care for two little ones when the one we have already feels like too much sometimes.

So an experiment. I am going to begin to focus on being healthy. I haven’t been able to give up alcohol because it is a necessary part of an unhealthy system. So instead I’m going to change the whole system.

What this looks like in practice is that I am giving up five things that I know sap my energy: coffee, alcohol, sugar, wheat and dairy. I will still allow myself tea, which is less brutal to the system (and which has other health benefits). Honey and maple syrup are allowed in moderation, but no refined sugar or sugary snacks. And an absolute ban on alcohol and coffee.

I have been following this diet for a week now, and I can already feel positive effects. My energy levels are up, and my anxiety levels are way down. There have also been some negative effects. I have felt hungry constantly, even when I allow myself large portions of nutritious food. I think my body may be freaking out a little bit. There is definitely some withdrawal, especially from the coffee and sugar. The first day was fine, but the second day I didn’t drink enough tea and ended up with a pounding headache.

The motivation for this shift is two-fold. First, as mentioned, I think it is actually a necessary step in order to be ready to have a second child. That is a huge motivator for me.

The second has to do with recovery. I have been reading a book called Recovery 2.0 by Tommy Rosen. In this fantastic book, Rosen writes about what he calls “the frequency of addiction,” a kind of vibrational frequency that keeps us hooked into addictive patterns. When we allow ourselves to continue living with addictive/compulsive behavior, even apparently unrelated to our core addiction, it keeps us locked into an addictive mindset. We continue to think and act like addicts. A big part of that has to do with eating habits.

For years I have used caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as crutches to get through the day. A cup of coffee to get me through the morning, shoveling chocolates or cookies or into my face between therapy sessions, a drink at night to relax. Wheat and dairy have been my comfort foods, when I get depressed I eat a lot of bread and cheese and pasta, things that feel good but which ultimately just gum up my system and drain my energy.

So no more. While I am treating this as an experiment, and while I have given myself permission to fail, this move feels very energizing and congruent. Just quitting drinking didn’t feel right, it felt like I was depriving myself of something. Same with my (many) attempts to give up sugar. But somehow the whole package does feel right. It feels like a new lease on life, like a new view of health and nutrition. If I continue to feel as good as I have for the past couple of days, I can’t see any reason why I would stop living this way. It just feels good.

A NEW LEASE

FEMINISM, PORNOGRAPHY, AND CONTROL

streetcar

 

March 22, 2016

Much of the work I do as a therapist involves working with couples. Every so often, I come across a couple in which there are deep control issues. One way this manifests is as the controlling, often abusive husband or boyfriend. You know the guy: he doesn’t want his wife to hang out with her friends because he’s jealous, or because they’re “a bad influence.” He isolates her, socially, and sometimes geographically. He doesn’t like her working because he “wants to take care of her.” He quickly or gradually takes away more and more of her autonomy until, physically or psychologically she can’t escape. She becomes dependent on him. Often, this contains an element of physical violence. It’s a nightmare.

I do not want to “be this guy.” On some level, I am the opposite of this guy. I’m, you know, a feminist. I support my wife psychologically and emotionally. I want her to succeed. I want her to have her own friends, pursue her own goals, to be a complete and autonomous person. I’m not the kind of guy who would ever, ever lash out at her for smoking when I smoke occasionally myself. I would never get furious with her for getting Internet service so that she can communicate with her friends far away. I would never criticize her for spending time with someone other than me when I am visiting her, completely missing the fact that I was also spending time with other people, people I don’t even know. Oh wait…

Yes, I am guilty of all of these things. Most of them, to be fair, happened a long time ago, long before Therapy School. But the tendencies still exist. They are latent in me as they are in all people. And they are particularly dangerous in men because until very recently, the entire socio-economic, cultural, and religious superstructure of society supported a world run by men, in which women were at worst controlled completely and at best minimized and devalued. In much of the world this is still the case, and even in the “liberated” West, old habits die hard.

This relates directly to pornography addiction in two ways. First, addiction is all about control. It is about controlling experience. Pornography is in large part about controlling, or exerting dominance over women. I don’t want to go deeply into feminist theories about pornography, but I will point out the obvious. Most pornography is made by men. Most pornography is targeted to a male audience. Most pornography is from the point of view of the male gaze; it is about how men see women, not about how women see men. While most pornography does show both men and women experiencing pleasure, the final shot of almost any pornographic scene, the “money shot,” is all about dominance: the man owns the woman, his pleasure is supreme, she kneels and is receptive and submissive, etc. etc.

It has often occurred to me that pornography is a vestige or artifact of patriarchy. It is interesting to note that all kinds of men watch pornography. Many of the people I know who feel that they have a problem with pornography, or who feel that they may be addicted to it, are actually really nice guys. Feministy. With strong, intelligent wives and girlfriends. Who would never overtly align themselves with patriarchal culture or misogynist values. Guys like me.

It is very difficult to reverse thousands of years of human culture in a few decades. Even for those of us who would fully embrace a new paradigm based on true equality, there may be a… holding back.

For me that has taken the form of addiction to Internet pornography. For all that I outwardly and inwardly support freedom and equality, there is a deeply rooted place in which I still need to exert control. In which I still need to dominate and feel superior. To take and give pleasure rather than to share it. It is a place in which I strangle the feminine within myself, and not surprisingly, it causes huge damage in my relationship with my wife, and with women in general. It’s no wonder I feel so shy and awkward around women. I have murdered them in my dreams.

I write this not in order to bring hate upon myself, but because I believe it is important to look at all aspects of the problem. I want to live in a world in which equality exists not just as an idea, but as a lived reality. I actually think that this is necessary for the survival of our species. I don’t hate myself for being a man, or for having sexual desire, or even for looking at porn. What I hate is the feeling of constriction that comes from repeatedly crushing a vital part of myself.

 

Film still: Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire © 1951 Warner Bros.

FEMINISM, PORNOGRAPHY, AND CONTROL