Recovery Workshop: Lesson Eighteen
Understanding Addiction III
Three Filters: Time, Intensity and Frequency
Continuing the cookie analogy from the previous lesson: to know which ingredients make up the best cookies is not enough. You must also know how long to cook it for (time), the amount of each ingredient to add (intensity), and the types of sprinkles or frosting you add when you get bored with the initial ingredients (habituation)." . Similarly, with each element of a compulsive ritual, you must take into consideration how long a behavior is performed, how efficiently you perform it and how often. These considerations make up the filters of all compulsive elements: time, intensity and habituation.
Time — Understanding the role that time plays in the preparation and participation of a compulsive behavior is essential to understanding the extent of the stimulation generated from that behavior. Each person has their own threshold for the amount of pleasure to be extracted from any one sexual or romantic event. The closer an addict comes to reaching this threshold without going over, the more stimulating the experience will be for them. Once the threshold is passed, any additional stimuli tends to serve as the antithesis to pleasure, replacing the aura of pleasurable feelings with a negative stress response. This time threshold is most often associated with sensory stimulation, but can be identified in other compulsive elements as well. Each ingredient of the sexually compulsive wheel must be filtered through time to be measured accurately.
Intensity — intensity refers to how well you have mastered the techniques involved in performing a specific behavior. Anybody can touch themselves, but knowing where to touch, how to touch — that's what creates the mood for which you strive. The same can be said for danger, or suspense, or having an orgasm — anyone can create these elements, but the more skilled a person becomes at doing this, the more stimulating the experience will be.
Consider my own experience with fantasy. When I first began to fantasize for the sole purpose of altering my mood (versus the casual fantasies that everyone experiences), the images I was able to create were spontaneous and superficial. Usually, they were triggered by pornography, or from some real-life person who I had taken a mental snapshot of in my mind. The experience can be likened to watching a television set — I had little control over the content and I knew that what I was seeing was not real. When I fantasized, I was limited to the real images of people that I had access to and I knew that the fantasies I was having were just that — fantasies. As time passed, I began to fantasize more and more. With practice, I was able to turn what was once merely a pleasant distraction into a significant tool for altering my feelings. Fantasies were no longer limited to a kind of psychological dream state, but rather, they began to actually transcend reality. No longer was I content to just fantasize, but I brought myself closer and closer to believing that those fantasies could be real. Oh, the power of our minds.
In the past, fantasizing meant picturing a woman in my head, and role-playing one or two short scenes to set the stage for the masturbation. Again, pornography was perfect for such behavior, as it was difficult to achieve reality through fantasy alone. As I began to master the techniques of fantasy, however, I developed the skills to make that woman real. Dialogue was no longer made up of one or two sentences, but of entire conversations. The woman's existence grew from a simple visual stimulus, to an emotionally-complex being who, with the addition of other compulsive elements from the wheel (smell, taste, touch...), produced the illusion of reality. This type of fantasy often triggers the romantic delusions found in stalkers and other obsessive relationships — but we'll save that discussion for a little further down the road.
Like the filter of TIME, every element on the compulsive wheel must first filter through INTENSITY before it can be accurately measured in the course of a particular compulsive ritual/behavior.
Habituation — no matter how sweet the chocolate, no matter how rich the dough, eating too much of it (or eating it too often) will result in a decrease in the overall satisfaction that a particular ingredient produces. The same can be said for the elements of the wheel: each has the ability to reach a saturation point. Unlike time, where the closer a person gets to their threshold, the more intense the arousal; habituation dictates that the farther an addict stays away from the saturation point, the more stimulating the experience. In other words, performing the same exact behaviors over and over and over will tend to decrease the overall stimulation that is produced. Altering those behaviors, or introducing new rituals into the existing patterns serve to stave off habituation, and provide a renewed boost to the overall power of the stimulation.
Putting it all into play...
You have now been introduced to many of the common elements of sexually compulsive behavior and have identified the three main filters that integrate with each element. What's likely, is that you have only a fuzzy understanding of what and why this awareness is so important. That's okay. It will take you breaking down hundreds of compulsive rituals before true mastery will set in. For now, let's expand the practicality of your knowledge by breaking down the rituals of another.
Warning! By design, the rituals described here are extreme. This was done for two reasons. One, to allow you to objectively observe complex rituals relating to behavior that you have likely not engaged in. And two, to reinforce that there are no sexual behaviors that are out-of-bounds in recovery. Nothing that you have done, thought or fantasized about is 'too extreme'. Every ritual you have ever experienced can be broken down into these same common elements...and every ritual performs the same practical roles. That is what is important in learning to end your addiction, not the specifics — be those mild or severe. Common or bizarre.
Lesson 18 Exercise:
I. Consider the following situations and see if you can identify the elements that make up each behavior:
Jerry is a 45-year-old sales clerk at the local grocery store. He is also an exhibitionist. While working, he picks one customer each day that he is attracted to, and memorizes certain things about them: their address on the check (or other form of identification); their marital status; the type of car they drive. While on his break, Jerry takes his instant camera and snaps several shots of his genitals while masturbating in the back storeroom. These photos he places in an envelope, the envelope he places on the woman's front door (or car windshield) on the way home from work. Then he waits. This kind of waiting is filled with fantasies of how the woman will react — the shock she will experience, or possibly the pleasure...whatever the fantasies dictate. That he is able to see the woman retrieve the photos is one part of the ritual; the other involves the need to ejaculate at the exact time the envelope is opened and the pictures are seen. For Jerry, there is only a three or four second window of opportunity for complete success, and sometimes he would wait up to six or seven hours for this opportunity to present itself — all the while attempting to keep himself at the verge of orgasm, but not past it.
What elements did you come up with? The following are possibilities:
- Sensory stimulation — the visual attractiveness of the person; the visualization of his own genitalia; the visualization of watching the woman view his genitals; masturbation
- Fantasy — images of what the woman will think when viewing the pictures; possible illusions that the woman will see his genitals and be overcome with the desire to have sex with him
- Danger — Taking pictures of his genitals in a public place; someone might trace the photographs back to him; he may be seen placing the envelope on the victim's property; someone might call the police while he is waiting suspiciously for hours in his car for the victim to pick up the envelope
- Suspense — the uncertainty of whether or not she'll be the one to find the pictures; the uncertainty of how long it will take before she does; not knowing what her reaction will be
- Power — thinking that curiosity will force her to open the envelope, providing a feeling of control; possessing the information of who she is, where she lives, and what type of car she drives
- Orgasm — Masturbating while taking the photos themselves; Timing the ejaculation for when the person views the photos (or, for a lesser stimulation, while engaged in fantasy should the photos not be discovered prior to his leaving)
- Accomplishment — experienced only if the ritual goes as planned, and the ejaculation occurs at the same time as the photo discovery
These are only some of the possible elements involved in this particular ritual. Each element would then be filtered through time, intensity and habituation to get a more accurate view of the overall level of stimulation that is produced every time he engages in this ritual.
Let's take a look at another example that includes the three filters:
Stephanie is a 27-year-old woman who was violently raped her sophomore year in college. Since that time, she has made numerous attempts at heterosexual relationships, but all have ended as a result of emotional and physical frigidity. Stephanie's only companions were her Siamese cat and her German Shepherd. The affection she felt for these animals was very real, and quite intense. She began to believe that they actually loved her with the same human qualities involved in human romance. When she began to masturbate in front of them, she became aroused in a way that she was unable to do with men. Soon she began to include her pets in more active roles in this masturbation. The cat, with strategically placed drops of milk, would lick Stephanie's genitals. At first, two or three laps was all she could stand, but soon she was able to reach climax by using a slow milk drip. The dog, being a male, was allowed to mount her. She especially enjoyed erecting the dog's penis, then manually masturbating it. She thoroughly enjoyed the pleasure that she was providing to the animal she loved. With her finger, she would do the same to the cat's vagina. The longer the masturbation sessions with these animals, the more comforting and mind-altering the experience became. She actually became more stimulated from the sexual relationship with her pets than she ever could with a human. And though she was able to reach climax, the bulk of her satisfaction came at the point of climax for her animals.
What elements are involved in this type of sexually compulsive behavior?
- Fantasy — believing that her pets were in love with her; believing that animals experience sexuality in the same manner as humans
- Past — allowing the dog to violate her;
- Sensory stimulation — physical sensations provided by the animals
- Power — having complete control over the animals; having complete control over the experience
- Orgasm — her own; the "orgasms" experienced by her pets
- Accomplishment — reaching her goal of pleasing the ones she loves; experiencing passion and intimacy
To Stephanie, these elements would likely have been experienced as a progression of choice. At some point, she likely would have experienced a devastating realization that she was in far deeper than she could have ever imagined herself going. But if she were to step back and isolate the escalation this ritual, she would clearly see that her behaviors were more a progressive attempt to manage her emotions by intensifying the stimulation she derived from it. That it was this need for further stimulation that drew her farther and farther away from her values. And from her morality.
For instance, she had learned that allowing her animals to watch her masturbate was exciting. But soon, habituation set in and the stimulation she derived was not as intense. A change in the ritual was needed. As a result, she began including them in the sensory stimulation and an even greater sense of stimulation was the reward. But again, habituation would set in, and the need for yet another change in the ritual was needed: this time, to provide sexual pleasure to them. In regards to intensity, when Stephanie first began to manipulate her cat into licking her genitals, she did so with a few drops of milk. She soon learned (became more skilled at) that a slow, continuous flow of milk would provide for even greater sensations — she learned to control the intensity of the sensory experiences. Finally, regarding time, there is no clear-cut example of how time is involved in the short description of the situation above. Expanding that situation however, would lead to the discoveries of things like: how long her dog could mount her before it became physically uncomfortable; how long her cat could lick her before she became "over-stimulated". These would serve as excellent examples of her having surpassed the 'time threshold'.
Can you relate to Jerry or Stephanie? Most likely not. You most likely see their behaviors as bizarre and perverted as they have both created a rather complex series of rituals that provided them with their highest levels of stimulation. To victims, to neighbors and to the rest of society, Jerry's behavior might be nothing more than a nuisance. If caught, he might be labeled a pervert, face social isolation and perhaps even harassment. But to Jerry, the depth and the complexity of his exhibitionist rituals give testament to how distorted his sense of reality has become. The same can be said of Stephanie. Her behaviors have progressed to such a delusional state, that she would no longer feel normal without the animals in her life. To her, continuing the intimacy with her animals is a must; yet the more she continues, the less skilled at establishing intimacy with other humans she becomes. The less skilled in developing normal human values and skills, the greater the need for such bizarre rituals to maintain balance in her emotions.
II. Consider one of your own compulsive rituals. Identify circumstances when each of the three filters (time, habituation and intensity) have come into play. Make sure that you understand each filter to the point where you are able to identify them as a ritual is being performed. Post these personal examples in your recovery thread.