Addiction and Revulsion

tl;dr

I am not repulsed by the object of my addiction. That might be an inconvenience but I don’t think it’s a problem.

I don’t think revulsion is helpful. The point is to look forward: find a way back to the right path and, while on the path, focus on the goal ahead.

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I’m not entirely convinced that describing my bad habits as “addiction” is useful, but I did used to smoke cigarettes (most of the 1980s, sometimes quite heavily; haven’t smoked at all since mid 1990s). Smoking cigarettes is uncontroversially an addiction so that habit gives me a comparison.

Recovered or recovering addicts sometimes talk about feeling revulsion for the object of their addiction & how their craving overcomes their revulsion, or how they still indulge in the activities that revolt them.

I’ve never felt that revulsion. e.g. with cigarettes, I never stopped enjoying smoking. I did have several failed attempts at quitting.

Towards the end of an episode when I’ve over-indulged and I’m sated I feel some revulsion bu tI think that’s different. That’s like the revulsion we feel when we’re given another bowl of trifle when we’ve already had four.

I do feel revulsion at myself (mild with smoking, stronger with pr0n) when I relapse — but that revulsion is linked to my weakness of will (or my strength of will in the wrong direction). It’s not linked to the object/activity, which I enjoy.

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Enjoying the fast

I have been fasting for just over a week now. Actually since midday Wednesday 20th March 2019. I want to write about it because it’s starting to waver and I need to give myself a bit of a boost. I am starting to waver I mean.

enjoying

Fasting (from sin) is not just avoidance of certain activities but is a positive activity in itself. Success of the fast depends — as much as or perhaps more than it depends on will-power in resisting sin — in enjoying and even celebrating the fasting.

Part of that can be enjoying the feeling of exerting power over myself. Enjoying the feeling of my exerting power over my weaker sinful side. Loving and guiding power of course put power nonetheless. There’s a danger of Pride creeping in here, so I must identify the side of me exerting power — my true self if you like — with Christ and the Holy Spirit. The side of me that loves Christ, finds refuge in Christ’s love, draws inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

My weaker side is not really to be vanquished but loved and reconciled to Christ along with the rest of me. I went through a phase of thinking of sins and sinful desires as demons possessing me, but now I think I should “own” these desires myself. These sins are things I do, these sinful desires are desires I have. I must weaken these desires and replace them with more wholesome joyful desires.

Celebrating the fast can also include chronicling successes and failures here and on twitter. This might be tedious or cringe-inducing for the reader.

Inspiration for this section came from Stuart L. Tutt‘s posts:

the fast

For Lent (from 6th March) I was (and still am) on an easy (but still worthwhile) fast — no social media apart from what is necessary for work (my Christian social media use is exempt: it is lightweight and it earns its keep). It was (and still is) going well.

On 17th March I read Fasting for Spiritual Wellness by Sarah Geringer. The post is about fasting from sugar and it talks directly about cravings and how to tackle them during a fast. I found it inspiring and couldn’t help but think about my cravings — not my twitter-fast-related cravings, there weren’t any, my bad-habit-related cravings which are there all the time even when I’m not fasting.

I found Sarah’s post inspiring and, boosted by the success of my easy fast, I started thinking about a more ambitious fast from my remaining bad habits. By Tuesday 19th March I had made up my mind and the fast was on.

Actually, not quite. All this sustained attention on the issue led to a long binge Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (wife was away). So the fast really started after that.

Scheduling sin

This post is about my bad habits of masturbating and watching pornography. I could have translated everything into smoking or eating cake but (a) that would have taken even longer to write (b) I might have missed some details. I think most of the gruesome details are confined to the section “My sticky demons”.

From Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”

Scheduling can also be used to /restrict/ the time spent on an activity. (p. 85)

I can think of three reasons to schedule something you want to do less of, or stop altogether (the first is given in Rubin):

  1. restriction/rationing (e.g., junk food twice a week instead of every night; 3 coffees a day instead of 6).
  2. avoiding untimely cravings, and consequently reducing chances of bingeing (e.g., always eating at mealtimes to avoid hunger — always eat at the allotted time, do not skip meals).
  3. breaking an association: if a bad habit is a response to anxiety, then scheduling the habit for some fixed time might weaken the association between anxiety & habit, and weaken the expectation that anxiety will lead to indulgence. This could then allow some other more healthy response to be associated with the anxiety stimulus. (I think Rubin gives an example of Grandma’s treacle pudding recipe — after Grandma died, eating treacle pudding brought sad memories, so the pudding was scheduled and given new associations.)

My sticky demons

Two of my four bad habits are especially hard to throw off: #1 (I use pornography) and #4 (I masturbate).

Since September 2016, after I threw out all my things, I’ve kept a log of when I masturbate and when I use pornography. I had a good stretch without porn from September 2016 to the end of December that year, and I’ve had one or two good months without masturbation or pornography, but these successes are exceptional.

The general pattern is that I can abstain happily for 3 or 4 days. After this my mentally idle moments start drifting towards erotic and sexual fantasies. These fantasies become increasingly insistent and febrile and after another couple of days almost every waking moment — certainly idle time, housework time, and most of all lying in bed waiting for sleep time — my mind is full of pornographic narration and images.

During this time I am resisting the desire to masturbate, but this resistence seems increasingly pointless as my mind has already been taken over. I will start playing with myself and edging. Eventually I will have to choose a moment and masturbate to orgasm just to clear my head. Depending on how long this mentally feverish state lasts, it might take two or three orgasms during the day to calm down.

The period from the beginning of the insistent fantasies to the final orgasm is a kind of episode.

My desire to watch pornography builds more slowly. A short episode might not take me to porn. Things that might nudge me into reaching for porn are if I get cross (usually at my wife) or if I am inordinately bored or tired (like the “HALT” — Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, Tired — acronym in Lisa‘s video here). Another trigger is hearing or seeing the woman who works in the office next door: if I am in a “vulnerable state” (early episode) and I see her or hear her voice or footsteps I will feel a strong urge to go directly to the porn.

Once I have flipped into porn I can be looking at porn practically the whole time. I have a special twitter account. The iPhone means pictures and videos can be with me wherever I go — at the office, in a cafe, at home, in bed.

Visiting actual porn sites is the next level up — again it mainly depends on how long the episode lasts. If I have been triggered by the woman next door I will go straight to porn sites (with particular search terms in mind).

Writing this all up now, it seems odd that I resist masturbating longer than I resist watching pornography. That might just be that pornography is always within reach and easy to watch secretly (even with my wife in the room or next to me in bed).

Might it not be better to cave in to the desire to masturbate and give myself an orgasm, in order to pre-empt the desire to watch porn?

Why do I get like that?

It can’t be just hormones — sometimes (rarely) I can last for over a month with little apparent effort. No doubt HALT-style factors play a role as well. I need to find better ways to respond to HALT stimuli.

Sex with my wife is not going to start again any time soon. I need to find ways to move towards that goal.

In the meantime I want to:

  1. just cut down how much I do it
  2. pre-empt or reduce this porn & masturbation craving that comes over me
  3. break associations between this craving and HALT or other factors

So it seems a good fit for scheduling.

Scheduling masturbation

I think if I schedule masturbation successfully I can cut out the desire to watch porn altogether.

General principles:

  • make sure I never go too long without: avoid cravings
  • how long is “too long” can change (hopefully, gradually get longer)
  • not allowed to skip a scheduled session: again avoid cravings, also establish a new stronger association between masturbation and the schedule

I want to avoid making new associations (e.g., with being home alone or arriving at work).

When the scheduled time comes I should:

  1. park what I’m doing and go to the appointed safe place
  2. don’t use porn, try not to have sexual fantasies
    • perhaps fantasise about my wife, if that feels emotionally safe
    • think just about my body and its feelings
  3. afterwards: enjoy the feeling, read something calming, do not feel bad or guilty

So, when?

  • not at home with wife/son around
  • must be known in advance
  • try to avoid unnecessary associations

The only time/place I can think of is first or last thing at work. That gives ten slots a week.

At the start of each week (starting this weekend) I’ll randomly assign two or three of these slots to be M20 (masturbate to orgasm) slots.

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