Handling episodes of failure

Any real-world system will fail occasionally. A robust (resilient, sustainable, etc.) system must not only avoid failure as much as possible; the system must also handle whatever failures do happen. This post is about handling those failures.

A failure might be more than a single event. There might be a losing of one’s balance, then a period of being out of balance, then balance being restored. By an “episode” of failure, I mean this whole process, with three phases:

  • falling in the hole
  • being in the hole
  • climbing out of the hole

The whole episode might be over in minutes, perhaps it might be hours, or even days, or longer, …

n.b.: examples in this post will be from temper loss or cigarettes (I used to smoke, from early 80s to late 90s). The actual failures I am dealing with are to do with using pornography.

Falling in

At the time the fall might be too sudden to notice until after it’s happened. Looking back, the fall can be seen as a drawn out slide. The first thing then is to learn to recognise what is happening as it happens.

I should recognise what is happening. I shouldn’t kid myself on that something else is going on. If I am gradually losing my temper, I should recognise that and acknowledge it. I shouldn’t allow myself to make up some story to explain away what I’m doing.

I should try to identify what has pushed me on to this slope. It might be tiredness or boredom or enfored tedium at work; it might be a verbal battering from my wife; the ensuing feeling of a lack of agency; it might be something more idiosyncratic or even random.

Once I have recognised that I am on the slippery slope, I should fight back. There is no need to lose my balance completely over every nudge. Throw in diversions: go and eat an apple; physically remove myself from the situation: go into another room, go for a walk; find and do a small well defined task: wash the dishes, reply to an email. The smartphone or tablet is an easy portal into sin – oil for the slippery slope — make sure it is parked on the other side of the room. Always resist.

I can resist, I can fight back, and I might be able to claw my way out without falling all the way in.

However, sometimes, at some point, there will come a time when it is better to concede defeat rather than to battle on. Two examples from giving up smoking:

  • desperate for a fag I am raging about in a foul mood and can think of little else but whether or not I should have a cigarette. This is helping nobody. I should have a smoke, clear my head and improve my mood. The thing here will be to have a consciously “remedial” smoke, recognise that as “completion” (see below), and to climb back out of the hole asap.
  • nights out on the town were always the hardest for giving-up smokers. One thing I (and some others) did, was to have a cigarette late afternoon before going out. This would stop cravings, and strengthen will-power during the night out. A stitch in time saves nine.

All through the resistance I should draw strength from having Jesus by my side, turn to scripture and Christian, encouraging texts, be open to the Spirit moving within me to lift me out.

However, once I have conceded defeat and realised/decided that I am falling in the hole, I should not leave Jesus behind. I would fall in and be away from “all that” and not want to go back. I should grab hold of Him and drag Him in with me.

This idea has only just occurred to me and I don’t quite know what it means. I should remember that my sins are forgiven — not at some time afterwards, but forgiven already. Even while I sin I am forgiven already and being forgiven. I should remember that, not as a licence to sin, but as a way of infecting or contaminating the sin, and my urge to sin, with God’s grace. Practically, that might put me off the sinning, or it might lift me out of it sooner rather than later.

Dragging Jesus down into my own little hell sounds desperate, yucky and upsetting for me, and even evil, but there it is. It’s an idea.

Being in

Once in the hole I wallow there, indulging and nurturing my bad mood (replace with sinful behaviour of choice). I have turned away and separated myself from Jesus and I don’t want to turn back.

Why do I do that? I feel as if turning back would be a defeat. Really it would be a victory.

Once I have fallen in the hole I should recognise — admit explicitly to myself — what has happened. I should recognise it as a defeat. If I didn’t manage to drag Jesus down with me I should call on Him now — either to lift me out or to just be with me in this little hell.

I should not fear judgement, and I should not judge myself.

I should not dig myself deeper into the hole. As soon as I realise I am in there I should start climbing out.

Climbing out

An episode can have a false finish — I think I am out but I quickly fall back in — so climbing out means *really* climbing out.

I sometimes think: something caused me to fall in the hole; some “issue” must be “resolved” before I can climb out properly. But often, e.g. if I am nursing a bad temper, something quite random and irrelevant will lift my mood away; sometimes I can lift myself out by reasoning or by dwelling on something else. Perhaps thinking I have to stay in the hole until I can “resolve” something is a trickery to keep me in there.

I *can* just decide to climb out. I *can* decide to stay out.

One easy opportunity to climb out is at the end of the day. Unfortunately, for me, these episodes can last several days. That means at some point in the morning, I decide to continue my sinful behaviour.

I should overcome my reluctance to turn to Jesus while I am in the hole. I think my desire to stay in the hole is some kind of generalised resentment. If I can convince myself that, even in the middle of it all, Jesus can be there for me — he didn’t cast a stone either, after all the others had gone — it will be easier to pray in the evening, and hand everything over to God, and in the morning to take pleasure in being out of the hole.

Once I am out of the hole, I should recognise the end of the episode — I should assert it, draw a line under it. At the first opportunity I should reflect on the episode as a complete thing: with a beginning, a middle and an end. I should pray in explicit detail for forgiveness (C. S. Lewis makes that point in Mere Christianity), and give thanks that I am out.

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Total Purge

At the end of August I did a Total Purge of all my Bad Things. It wasn’t a single event as it took a few days to find and extract everything and dispose of it safely. Everything went out.

  • I threw out all my knickers and bras, my strappy nightie.
  • I threw out my toys: a dildo and a set of butt plugs.
  • I threw out all the “product”: lubes and cleaners, a tube of hair removal cream.
  • I threw out all the packaging I’d saved, and the one French book.
  • I deleted all the porn from my computers and my iPad
  • I deleted all the selfies I’d taken of myself dressed up.
  • I deleted all of my online personas – on twitter, flickr and wordpress.

Last time I did a big purge like this was at the end of 2013. It was triggered by sudden shock at seeing how much I’d spent on this secret “hobby” over the year (nearly £300). I threw out a lot of lovely things. I kept back a pair of red cotton shorties that were special for me. I didn’t delete all of the porn or any of the selfies.

This time there was no sudden shock like that – although I probably clocked up a similar amount this last year (haven’t counted up yet — didn’t want this to be about money).

[update: I have counted up:

  • 2015: £194 (25th May — 8th Dec)
  • 2016: £92.60 (17th Jan — 17th Aug)
  • TOTAL: £286.60

So about £20/month.

Previous years for comparison:

  • 2012: £98.64 (19th July — 10th Oct) = £25/month
  • 2013: £217.25 (12th Feb — 31st Oct) = £24/month

Odd that I don’t have any 2012 receipts until July. I started keeping the book in September 2012 so possibly before that I wasn’t keeping all receipts.

Have only one receipt from 2011, which is the earliest.]

In mid-August I went on a bit of a shopping spree in Northern City — I can remember the tug-of-war in my head: detailed internal debate over whether I “needed” another bra; “should” I buy those crotchless panties I’d been fawning over online.

The clincher was that I was going to London on business the next week and if I went shopping here now I wouldn’t need to go shopping in London. Of course after I’d been in one shop, the others easily followed. Decided I didn’t need a bra after all, bought five pairs of knickers, then saw a bra that I just Had To Have … but the lady couldn’t find one in my size.

I was unhappy since that day, with a kind of nameless anxiety mounting.

I nearly did go shopping in London — I was fully intending to go buy a bra & panty set; had even checked the shop had my size … but on the way to my hotel I passed a Large Church (High Church of England).

That completely ruined my mood.

Another Large Church (Wesleyan) on the way to the client in the morning.

A very anxious week after that, especially tortured when trying to get to sleep at night. Not so much about sin or “addiction”, more general worries about work and money and all the bric-a-brac of life. I think at some point the dressing up had stopped being an effective refuge.

At the begining of the next week (30th Aug – 1st Sept) I systematically went through everything, throwing out, deleting, closing down.

During, I felt calm and even strong, refused to get upset or reconsider (no, “but /this/ one I can keep?”).

Apart from my accounts book, which has records of all my spending on this going back to 2011, I have kept nothing.

In the days afterwards I have felt slightly sick. Such extreme violence. I feel like I have razed the city to the ground and ploughed the land into fields. I have made it very hard for myself to go back.

Shame

poem.crop

Yesterday I did something that made me feel so ashamed. Far too ashamed to give any details here (and I don’t want to be tempted to “explain it away”). In the immediate aftermath I was full of disgust at myself. Of course I have done things like this before. Of course I will do things like this again. A sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even the word “sin” seems to pretty it up — encapsulate and tidy away the revulsion I feel.

[I should say, nobody was hurt or even inconvenienced by what I did. Probably (hopefully!) nobody even noticed.]

In bed at night I found this poem.

Quite shocking to read by chance something that is so close to how I feel.

The first two verses felt very true, as I ruefully remembered the morning. How much I’d like to forget what I’d done, or wall off temptation far away.

When I read “O my saviour, who my refuge art”, I suddenly thought of taking these things I’d done — that day, still fresh and close in my memory — and showing them to Jesus. That felt horrible, and I felt even more ashamed.

But the lines after that didn’t feel quite right. I don’t really want Jesus to be a wall inside me. I want him to be a kind of better temptation. I want to learn to turn to him instead of following my baser urges.

I don’t want to be divided from my sin — so my sin can carry on doing its own thing without troubling me? Isn’t that worse?

I have to own my sin, own these horrid things I do. I have to find a way to give them up somehow to God or Jesus. What a weird kind of offering. I don’t know what to do with it.

I forgot to pray that night. I forgot to ask for forgiveness. Will try to remember tonight.

Bad habits update

A quick review of the situation and next steps.

Recall my bad habits are:

  • watching porn
  • looking at women
  • wearing ladies underwear

Watching porn

This is going very well.

*** “Lesbians” only

In the middle of July I put myself on a “lesbians only” porn regime. I grant that this will probably not impress many of my readers here, but I think it’s worth noting. I was finding straight hardcore porn too rough and mechanical. I stuck to the regime, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Anyway, the point here is that it was a kind of “diet” where I was making and sticking to a commitment — small as it was — to avoid certain sights — and fantasies actually: my idle sexual fantasy life just about evaporated (at least its porn incarnation).

*** No porn at all

On 18th August I read Trusting God with My Marriage, a guest post by Robi of Hopeful Wife Today, about discovering her husband’s porn habit affected her marriage, and what they have been doing since. I thought it was a very powerful post. I was moved to comment, and I’ve been reading her own blog as well.

I have not looked at any porn since that day! And I’m not really missing it.

Looking at women

This is the thing I’m most struggling with now. I have good days and I have bad days. Really I am disgusted with myself. This needs a special post to itself.

Wearing ladies underwear

I have more or less given myself up to this. I enjoy it so much and it is such a comfort. I’m not travelling on business very much at the moment, and Wife and Son are rarely away together, so I don’t have much opportunity.

I cycle to work quite early and shower at work. After shower slipping into panties and bra is so nice. I wear the bra for half an hour or so as long as I think it’s safe.

The “no porn” could probably be qualified, as most days I will have at least a quick look at some lingerie sections of online department stores. I’d like to cut that out, especially as I’m not going to be buying any more any time soon.

Next steps

I want to write more here about these bad habits. Reading Robi’s post was very helpful for me.

Shortly after starting my “lesbians only” regime I started a new blog, thinking I would write there about these things, but I don’t thing a separate blog would be a good idea: it would probably end up as too much of a “celebration” of the bad habits.

I worry that I might alienate the few readers I have. However, I think this is the right venue to tackle these issues.

Part of tackling these issues will be writing more often about my wife.

So, I am going to try and writing something every week (writing will not be elegant). I’ll try and rotate topics: my bad habits; my wife; reading; being a Christian.

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