Recovery Workshop: Lesson Twenty-Nine
The Role of Emotions
Emotions. Everyone knows what they are. They are the feelings you have. Happiness, loneliness, anger, pride, anxiety, aloofness, euphoria, regret, shame, guilt, excitement, love, love (it deserves to be mentioned twice) and many others. It is the emotions that we experience that have the greatest impact on our perceptions. And perceptions, as you will come to recognize, determine the way that we experience life. Two people can experience the exact same life event, yet take away two completely different emotional outcomes. Why? Because each will have their own unique perception of the event, which will directly relate to the emotions that are produced. This is an especially important awareness to make in understanding compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior...as the need to possess a functional understanding of the role that emotions play in both acting out and in recovery is essential.
The Role of Emotions in Addiction
Close your eyes. Well, first read the remainder of this paragraph...and then close your eyes. Once they are closed, take some time to think about the feelings that are going on inside of you. Think of how your thoughts influence those feelings. Pinch yourself on the arm and consider again the changes in how you feel, emotionally. Think of the best memory you have. Then think of the worst. Think of the range of experiences that you have had in your life. Fantasize about experiences you would like to have. Keep your focus on the emotions. From an addiction recovery view, what you are experiencing as you do this...is you. The real you. Not the physical person that you see in the mirror — though that is how most people perceive themselves. You are experiencing what some people refer to as 'your soul'. Others refer to it as your 'core identity'. Still others call it any number of things. All you need to know is that by developing an acute awareness of your emotions, you are learning to communicate directly with your inner self. It is this open, direct, honest communication with oneself that those who struggle with compulsive behavior most frequently take for granted. And it is what those who permanently end their compulsive patterns come to master.
Your emotions are the primary motivator for every voluntary action you will make as a human being. In a healthy person, these emotions are tied to a stable, balanced, prioritized value system; in an unhealthy person, they are tied to stimulus reaction. As you someday look back at "what it took to recover", you will inevitably come to the conclusion that your ability to develop emotional maturity played one of the biggest roles in ending the destructive patterns that you had engaged in. You will see that your addiction wasn't some spontaneous, evil entity that took over your life, but rather, it was a combination of poor emotional management, poor decision making, skewed perceptions and a significantly distorted identity that had all fused into a significantly destructive behavioral pattern. One that was systematically isolated and eliminated.
That, in essence, is recovery. It is gaining a functional awareness of your emotions and the role they play in altering your perceptions, decisions, etc. It is understanding how your emotions drive your behavior, and learning the skills to manage those emotions fluently. It is learning the intricate ways that emotions and perception combine to create the best and the worst experiences of your life. It is knowing that when you feel like you can't control your behavior, that that it is not the same thing as being unable to. That your urges are merely a finite range of emotional intensity — not some unstoppable, unidentifiable force. And it is learning to manage those emotions in a healthy way.
Lesson 29 Exercise:
The role of emotions in motivating behavior is a critical aspect of understanding addiction. Without emotions, addiction does not exists. Without that intense need, that desire, that craving...addiction does not exist. To better understand this principle, you are going to be asked to do something that will require a signficant emotional effort on your part.
A. Find a place where you will be alone and safe. Ensure that, for the next fifteen minutes, you won't be interrupted for any reason. Fifteen mintues (or longer, but not less than). Then close your eyes and just feel. Think of things that are important to you. Think of your values. Think of your regrets. Think of trauma that you have experienced. Think of wonderful moments. Let yourself experience whatever emotions that come freely. Focus on each of the emotions, and DO NOT OPEN YOUR EYES! (this is an important part of the exercise). Stay in touch with the feelings. Experience the emotions that come with these thoughts. Forget about your physical self...focus only on the emotions that you are experiencing.
Now, consider one of your milder compulsive behaviors. Try to get in touch with the feelings that are generated with this behavior. If you find yourself getting triggered to act, forbid yourself. Then focus on the anxiety that is produced with that decision. Really allow yourself to get in touch with the stress that is building. Consider the reality that, either during this exercise or soon thereafter, you will face the challenge of deciding whether or not you should act on these feelings. Begin to feel the consequences of both your decision to masturbate, and your decision to remain committed to recovery.
After you have done this for fifteen minutes (or longer), and before you engage in any compulsive behavior, open your eyes and complete the following:
A. Describe the emotions that you experienced and the thoughts that triggered them.
B. In assessing your own anxiety, describe the extremes of your personal experiences with anxiety. What has been the least anxious state you have experienced and the most extreme anxious state you have experienced?