Soon after being confronted with the reality of my sex addiction, and at the time not knowing where to turn, I sought out a professional therapist to assist me in my recovery. During one of our first sessions together he asked me to visualize a “triggering situation,” a scenario that would most likely result in me acting out in my addiction. He then asked me to visualize walking away from the situation or stopping it.
It needed to be a scenario that I knew would cause me to act out if left to myself and then imagine stopping myself at the very moment I was tempted to follow through in an inappropriate way. This sounded like a great idea, a mental role play so I’d be prepared for when temptations of this type happened in real life.
At that time in my life I flew out of state frequently for business. I imagined on such a trip that I would sit next to an attractive woman on the plane and start a conversation that would lead to dinner and then escalate from there.
Following the advice of my therapist, I imagined that as soon as she sat in my row I would exercise willpower, get up and go to another seat. Simple solution, right? Who was I kidding? I knew I would not get up from that seat! I tried to role play the situation in my mind again and again, trying to create enough willpower to get up and sit somewhere else but if I was honest with myself I knew that would never happen.
I got very discouraged with these exercises of trying to find a safe course out of a triggering situation. If I could not imagine a safe solution in my mind, how would I survive it when it became a reality? The truth was, placed in that position I was doomed to fail every time. I had to admit to my therapist, that I couldn’t visualize myself getting up from that seat! Even if I imagined I could do it once, I knew I couldn’t do it consistently over time. I knew in my heart that if the situation I imagined had presented itself in real life, I would try to create a relationship with that person that would lead somewhere it shouldn’t go. Even though I would not have admitted it at the time, I had lost my willpower given the wrong circumstances.
So what was the solution for me? Was there a realistic answer? It took me a while to think of an honest solution but when it came to me, it was simpler than I expected. I finally came to the realization that I had no power to stop myself if I was presented with a bad scenario. I only had the power to create a safe scenario so I would not find myself in that situation in the first place. How would I do that? Not ever fly again? Maybe.
My solution was to make sure my imagined situation could never take place. I would only be able to stop the situation before it started. I would never allow myself to sit beside an attractive woman because I would bring another attractive female on each flight: my wife. The solution would cost more money, and impose on my wife’s time, but for us it was a small price to pay to receive protection from a situation where I was powerless over my addiction. With my wife at my side, those flights became more peaceful. I didn’t have to think about who sat next to me. In addition I would now spend more time with my wife and enjoy the warmer weather of our destination in contrast to the Utah winter.
Eventually I ended up changing to a job that didn’t require frequent travel, but I had established from that moment of my life a boundary that provided me protection. The boundary that I don’t fly alone. Twenty years later I still respect that boundary, my wife and I love to get a way and we have become great traveling partners.
This boundary didn’t constrain me, it gave me freedom and peace of mind because I knew I didn’t have to think about who sat next to me or who I would have with me in the hotel room that night. I didn’t have to choose between good and evil. I chose not to choose. I made the decision to take away a choice that would harm me.
If I have problems with pornography on the internet, I can choose to add a filter to my computer and phone and have the password set by my wife or an accountability partner. Once I make that choice, I make the decision to be free from the future choices the temptation will present to me. I make the decision in advance to not have access to sites that will trigger me. I create a boundary of protection.
Do you remember in the Book of Mormon all those fortresses that captain Moroni had his people erect against the innumerable hosts of the Laminates? They created walls of protection that saved their lives. I loved this analogy when I first heard it. I always wondered why there were so many chapters on war in the Book of Mormon. I have since come to realize that those chapters speak to me. They speak of my war, my conflict.
Once I am humble enough to see that I need walls of protection, my boundaries make my life more manageable. I no longer have to consider my enemy’s numerous possible approaches to my soul. There are barriers, walls that help me be more safe and therefore I am free.
The walls themselves are useless without a heart that desires protection. For the Nephites the walls and ditches they built to repel the Lamanites were of little use unless they exercised their desire for divine protection. It was their righteous desires and the power of God that delivered them. So it is with my boundaries. You and I, as addicts, know that no matter how many filters we put in our lives- if we don’t have the heart to follow Him, there is no filter, no boundary, no wall tall enough or strong enough to stop us from going out there to act out.
It is only through His power that the obsession of the addiction can be kept in check. Not gone- but restrained. The boundaries I create give me the freedom to not have to choose every day or every moment if I am going to go to the left or to the right. Choosing not to choose is a great tool, but only He can begin to change our hearts from within.
So what are the boundaries that you should create?
I cannot speak of anyone’s boundaries but my own. I will give some examples that have worked for me and others, but I believe each journey is unique. Your experience with the Spirit will guide you to create boundaries that are tailored to you. Your sponsor and others will also be able to help you. You probably already know what some of your boundaries should be. Things that you have likely postponed for too long. Things you may think you cannot live without. Things that will require a lot of faith, strength and hope from you. This is the part of the equation you have to bring to the table. This part is what makes us ask Him, “what lack I yet” or “what do you want me to give up?” What is my part to surrender, the part to which I am so attached, that unless I let go I cannot expect divine help? Sometimes the answer will seem more than you can bear. I know it is hard. All I can tell you is that when you give up whatever that is- things will be better. I promise you that He does take the sting of giving up what seems so much a part of us.
The Spirit will guide you to have courage and to help you know how to build your fort of protection. Perhaps your walls must be higher or thicker. Your sponsor, accountability partner, bishop or others in a group can help you with building your own fort.
In the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous it says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
There are some things we cannot change. The Goliath of our addiction comes to us and invites us every day to battle with him. We can only muster our courage to change the things we can. But you and I know that the small sling of a filter on a computer, or the repeated plea of my prayers and daily scripture study cannot stop this eight foot well-armored challenger on their own. But if I do what I can, if I build my protective boundary walls, God will do something for me, that which I will call “the miracle that changed my life.”
While working with others, I have asked them to provide me a written list of ten boundaries that they should have in their lives to protect themselves. Here’s a sample list:
- Filter my computer or mobile device for which, of course, I don’t have the password. My wife or my sponsor may have that password and only they can grant me access to blocked sites.
- Avoid all R-rated movies despite their content and also many PG-13 movies that contain triggering images or language.
- Do not watch TV late at night, especially when alone. Set a time that I will go to bed and if I have to stay up late for special events, do not stay up by myself. Be accountable to my sponsor through a text or a call if there is an exception to my bedtime and report to them when I do go to bed.
- Do not go to the store by myself and wander around. This boundary created a better relationship with my children as I asked them to come with me to the store, even if it meant bribing them with a treat. At the beginning of my recovery it was better to have my wife with me instead of my children.
- Do not drive through streets where I know there might be triggering situations, even if it takes longer to get to where I’m going. Gas money spent, is meaningless when compared with the price of saving my soul.
- Do my Dailies. These are things that I should do on a regular schedule. Use meditation and pondering when reading The White Book of SA, the scriptures, Church magazines and other materials. Have morning and evening prayer. Pray with my wife morning and evening. Have self-examination, with daily prayer and meditation. (I am repeating myself on purpose). Physical exercise, daily if possible, but a minimum of three times weekly.
- Commit to recovery meetings. Commit to not just attend, but commit to participate. Going to 12 Step meetings is essential in recovery.
- Report to my accountability partner or sponsor at the end of every day. Let them know how things went that day. Report via text, phone call, voicemail, or whatever method it takes to make sure I have daily contact. I need someone to be accountable to everyday, regardless of what my report might be.
- If there are relationships that are toxic in my life- be they friends, work associates, or people by whom I am triggered- consider what might be required to change that. Sometimes a job change or physical move may be necessary.
- Unlike other addictions, we don’t have to go buy or sell to have our drug. Our drug is the thoughts in our head, and we can bring up those images any time we want. Dwelling on those thoughts will trigger us. So we need to keep our thoughts in check.
This list may not be easy. You may find it difficult to do some of these things. That is understandable, but please don’t be discouraged. Just start somewhere, even if it’s only a decision to start going to meetings. If you are a person who is sick and tired of dealing with your addiction, the list of suggestions above can help.
When those I sponsor come to me with their list for review, we discuss any changes or adjustments that we both feel are necessary, then we do something a little harder. I ask them if they would now prayerfully consider ten more boundaries they should set for themselves. The next list is more difficult because these are the things we may not even be aware are part of our addiction cycle. The addiction has infiltrated the crevices of every aspect of our lives. It influences many things we do. It lives in our minds. Alcoholics call these their hidden bottles. The following is an example of ten more boundaries that might be considered my hidden bottles:
- The way I talk to others- in my case, to women at my office or female clients. Would I talk to them that way if I knew the person on the other side of the phone was an overweight, fifty year old male rather than a beautiful woman?
- Secret money or accounts. Having access to cash or accounts that I can use to pay for my addiction. I have seen a lot of creativity in this arena. You know what to do on this one.
- Asking others to lock their computers because I knew that when they were not there I could use those devices for my addictive behaviors.
- For a while I struggled with the way I would choose my clothes in the mornings. Who was I looking to impress or to attract with what I chose to wear?
- The car I drove. Yes, I had to get rid of a car that I was very fond of, because when I was at a stop light I wanted others to notice me and I wanted to be lusted after.
- Other emotions. For example I noticed that when I was resentful I was more prone to seek my drug to medicate myself in order to feel better.
- Physical health and rest. I was most vulnerable when I was tired, hungry, or when I was sick and didn’t feel well.
- Boredom. Having no purpose or plan was always a trigger.
- Creating safe work or school conditions. You spend most of your day at work or school, it is only logical that your work or school environment should be safe for you. For some of us this should be on the first list.
- Be patient with your progress. Failure provides opportunity to learn how you can do things better next time, giving you understanding you might not have otherwise gained.
One evening as I was visiting a friend after a recovery meeting, he told me that the person he sponsored was sober most of the time but after going to a recovery meeting he would feel triggered. Looking at the situation closer he came to realize that after every recovery meeting, he would go to a local restaurant and eat a large meal. My friend, his sponsor, asked him to stop going to that restaurant after meetings and sure enough, the triggering stopped. Was it the food, the amount of food or the people he saw? It was an unhealthy ritual that he had to remove in order to stay sober.
Our addiction is like jello. You think you have it controlled by pushing it away but it ends up appearing somewhere else. As we progress in recovery we learn that the small things we do are sometimes hard to give up because we think we can’t cope without them, yet it is in these small things that we can find daily victory.
There was a day when I became aware that I would take a look at every girl that I passed while jogging. My two second glance was something I had done my entire life and something I had seen every male do. How could that be harmful? Although it felt harmless to me, it fed my addiction. So I decided to stop doing it.
Just like the chain smoker who says, “I can quit anytime I want,” I soon realized that once I decided to quit, it was really hard. I had to pray and talk to the Lord instead of looking. It was a daily fight and I had to be consistent in surrendering my automatic response, but with daily victories and the grace of God I, I no longer have to look. Today I have a choice.