Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifty-One

Decision-Making: Identifying the Options

As discussed in the previous lesson, the purpose of this stage is to begin mastering the skill of decision-making in a compulsive environment.

This skill will be divided into the following steps:

  • Identifying the options available to you in a particular event
  • Filtering each option through your existing values/boundaries
  • Anticipating the consequences of those remaining options
  • Making the decision to act
  • Taking responsibility for the consequences of that action

By mastering the skill of decision-making, you will have developed the ability to look upon each urge that you experience as a trigger for growth. This concept has been discussed previously; now is the time to begin implementing it (if you haven't done so already). With this skill mastered, and in conjunction with what you have already learned over the course of your life, your perception of compulsive behavior, addiction and all related issues should take their final breath in relation to the control they have had on your life. From the moment you have mastered decision-making, the remainder of your experiences with compulsive behavior will be limited to the times when you will get lazy, complacent or when you lose track of your values and goals. And don't fool yourself: these times will occur. But unless you make a conscious choice to ignore the warning signs that accompany them, you will never again have to face the chaos that accompanies the life of an addict.

Decision Making and Urge Control

In order to master urge control, you must first learn to isolate your emotions from your identity. You must learn to see your emotions as a tool for assessing your environment, rather than as a tool for decision making. In practical terms, all this means is that when you feel an urge to act in a destructive way, you recognize that this feeling you are experiencing is an emotional reaction to be interpreted, not an impetus to act. Once you have made this realization, you have 'isolated the urge'. The next step is to process it.

'Processing the urge' involves nothing more than running it through a healthy decision making process. By the end of such process, you will have not only reduced the options that the stimuli has triggered (and thus, the emotional chaos), but will have put yourself in a position to make value-based decisions — even if that includes the decision to act in a destructive way.

Identifying the Options

The first step in developing a healthy decision-making process is to get into the habit of identifying all realistic options that are available to you. Most often, only one or two such options are recognized, and so the process is rather automatic. You already know the arguments for and against these options, you already know how you are eventually going to act, but you go through the motions anyway in order to provide the suspense and justification for any destructive decisions that you make. To master a healthy decision-making process, take those 30-60 seconds after the urge has been felt and before the trance sets in, and use them to examine the options that you have available to you. Set aside the urge temporarily, set aside the stimuli that you are facing. Set aside your emotions. Do this for just for those few seconds, so that you may truly develop a deepening self-awareness. This step should be rather simple, and can be accomplished in a matter of seconds.

Let's look at this in action by examining a compulsive ritual that involves pornography:

It's late, you are home from work, you are bored, emotionally drained...and you just want to relax before going to bed. As you are sitting there on the couch, you decide to check your e-mail. When you do this, you come across a spam mail involving an enticing picture of an attractive college girl in her dorm. The urge hits. You think to yourself, ah, what the heck...I haven't jerked off in a few days, I deserve it. So you click on the link "just to see what is there". And as you are browsing through additional pictures, you expand your curiosity to include other links as well. Eventually, you settle on a certain image, and masturbate to orgasm. You then erase your computer's history, cache, cookies, etc., sensing the accomplishment of having viewed porn 'successfully'. On this particular occasion, you feel no guilt or shame, but rather...you go to bed feeling satisfied and emotionally fulfilled.

Elements of the Ritual:

  1. Feelings of boredom, feelings of being emotionally drained
  2. Inadvertently view photo of attractive female through spam
  3. Urge to masturbate/Anxiety to click (or not to click) on image link develops
  4. You click on the image (and feel a sense of relief — this time; the next time? Perhaps guilt. Or failure. Or moral weakness.)
  5. You view photos, and expand the search for more photos on other sites
  6. You begin intensely fantasizing about a particular image or two
  7. You begin masturbating
  8. You achieve orgasm
  9. You clear away all evidence without being caught

This is a fairly common and straight forward ritual. One difference to this versus the prototypical ritual is that here, the 30-60 seconds of 'urge control' will occur not between the first and second elements, but between third and fourth elements. There is nothing wrong with this, as such elements in a ritual are subjective.

So here we are, we have viewed the spammed image, and have recognized the urge/anxiety that accompanied the image. What's next? Take out your values list and read through it? Not anymore. The next step is to isolate the emotions [the anxiety, the excitement, the (enter emotion here)]. Once the emotions/urge is isolated, you begin exploring all reasonable options that are available to you. Let's do that.

Reasonable Options for Above Scenario

  • Option 1: Click on the image to satisfy your curiosity
  • Option 2: Delete the image and continue on with other e-mail
  • Option 3: Save the image for possible future use
  • Option 4: Delete the image, but continue on to porn sites
  • Option 5: Wake up your partner to discuss the situation
  • Option 6: Call your sponsor, counselor, etc. to discuss the situation
  • Option 7: Fantasize/Masturbate to the image before deleting it

Again, when exploring options, use common sense. Even here we probably created more options than we would have considered in a real situation, given the simplicity of the ritual in question...but this is a learning environment and so we will err on the side of overkill.

Filtering Each Option Through Your Values/Boundaries

Once you have your options identified, you will want to filter each option through your current prioritized value list, and through your current awareness of boundaries. Something to consider: while we are presenting this as two separate steps, in reality, identifying your options and filtering them through your values/boundaries will be a simultaneous action.

If you are to succeed in mastering urge control, one of your greatest benefits will be to remove your emotions from this filtering process. There will be nothing better for you as you begin to master decision making than to get yourself into a pattern of thinking in a mechanical, functional way. When you do this, you are assured of using the proper filters (values/boundaries) for your options, rather than to have those options be skewed by improper filters (emotions). As you progress, you will again introduce emotional filters back into the process, but try not to do so here.

This step also reinforces why it is so important for you to not have an intellectual understanding of your values/boundaries, but to have a functional, working knowledge of them. When your values/boundaries are at the foundation of your life, then filtering such options becomes automatic and instantaneous.

In the example set above, these options would have been subjectively filtered as follows: (for argument's sake — each of your filters will be unique)

  • Option 1: Click on the image to satisfy your curiosity — Remains an option; value independence; value the right to view porn; value the right to masturbate
  • Option 2: Delete the image and continue on with other e-mail — Remains an option; proud to tell wife about it; value time management; value maturity; value emotional control
  • Option 3: Save the image for possible future use — No longer an option; Violates boundary: I will not do anything that I wouldn't feel good telling my wife about openly. No further examination needed
  • Option 4: Delete the image, but continue on to porn sites — No Longer an Option; Violates boundary: I will act in a way that I would want my son to act if he were in my shoes. No further examination needed
  • Option 5: Wake up partner to discuss the situation — Remains an option; value communication, openness
  • Option 6: Call sponsor, counselor, etc. to discuss the situation — Remains an option: no values or boundaries violated
  • Option 7: Fantasize/Masturbate to the image before deleting it — Remains an option. Boundaries allow for occasional masturbation/fantasy. Could tell wife about it comfortably.

Please note that in all options when even a single boundary is violated, there is no need to continue evaluating that option. Make the MECHANICAL decision to filter that option out. This should prove to be a difficult task at first, as the ability to isolate/separate your emotions takes practice. But once you have gained this ability, filtering your options through your current boundaries and values becomes automatic — allowing you to focus instead on the consequences of those options.

Anticipating the Consequences

The next step in the decision-making process is to anticipate the most likely consequences of the remaining options. In the scenario above, that would be Options 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7. For the most part, identifying these consequences will be a rather straight-forward process. The only complexity will be in remembering to anticipate both the consequences for acting in a particular way, and for not acting in a particular way.

Also, you should consider the consequences of each remaining option in the context of both being discovered and in not being discovered. This will be the area of decision making that will require the most investment of time and effort on your part, but it is essential in developing consistently healthy behavioral patterns.

Anticipating the Consequences of Option #1:

Most likely consequences if I choose this option:

Excitement, temporary emotional satisfaction, reduced sleep, anxiety of getting caught

Most likely consequences if I do not choose this option:

Pride in making a value-based decision, additional time, temporary increase in anxiety

Most likely consequences if this behavior is discovered:

Guilt, shame, anger from spouse, embarrassment, emotional chaos

Most likely consequences if this behavior is not discovered:

Guilt, shame, disappointment in self

You would then proceed on to the next option. Again, remember that while we are breaking this process down into its smallest parts, once you have learned this skill the entire decision-making process will seem natural and automatic. It won't seem so 'mechanical'. But for now, mechanical is what you are seeking.

Lesson 51 Exercise:

To make a healthy decision — to master the skill of making healthy decisions — you must gain confidence in quickly and accurately identifying what options are available in any given situation, recognize the consequences of those actions, and ultimately, trusting yourself to choose the option best suited to promoting your values.

Share the following in your thread:


A. Consider one of your specific compulsive rituals. Or, if you feel comfortable, consider an entire compulsive chain. Identify the point in that ritual/chain when you should begin considering the options that you have available. What are these options? (consider reasonable options only)

B. Of the options listed above, which would be automatically filtered out because of your boundaries? What would you do in the case of a value conflict? (i.e. when the same option would create both positive and negative influences on your value system)

C. Of the remaining options, what would be the anticipated consequences of the following:
i. You make the decision to act on this option
ii. You make the decision NOT to act on this option
iii. You make the decision to act on this option, and that decision becomes known by others
iv. You make the decision to act on this option, and that decision remains secret

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