Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifty-Three
Decision-Making: Making the Decision
Once you have recognized that an urge is upon you, identified the options available, anticipated the consequences of those options and isolated the emotions from your decision-making, it is time to make the decision. This includes, of course, the decision to act by "not acting".
Of all the steps in the decision-making process, this one is the simplest. It requires only that you select which consequences you would like to incur. This is done by returning to your values list and your goals list to determine which option provides you with the best opportunity for becoming the person that you are striving to become. Once this decision is made, you will proceed to assess the actual consequences of the action that you took.
While making the decision to select one option over another may seem like an an easy one to make (and often it is), there comes a time when the combination of both positive and negative factors involved in a particular option outweigh a separate option which has only positive factors. Unless you prepare yourself for this, you might come to the conclusion that because one option is all positive, and the second option is both positive and negative...the first option should be selected. But that is not always the case, and choosing the 'all positive' option may very well leave you feeling unsatisfied emotionally. Let's look at the following example:
You lie down to sleep, and feel your mind racing. There are no particular stressors that you are dealing with, but you can't seem to turn off this anxiety that is keeping you awake. You know from past experience, that masturbating helps to relax you. You now experience the urge to masturbate, and with that recognition of the urge, you immediately identify that what you are experiencing is merely an emotion. A feeling. You have isolated it from your core.
The next step is to identify your options. Basically, you can masturbate; or you can not masturbate. As you filter these two options through your boundaries, you recognize that neither violates any boundaries that you have for yourself. Additionally, neither option directly contradicts any major values that you posses. And so you evaluate the anticipated consequences of both options.
Option 1: If you decide to masturbate, you will feel more relaxed, will get to sleep faster, will wake up feeling more refreshed, will feel some anxiety over whether or not this was 'OK' to do... If others find out that you masturbated (depending on the boundaries of the relationship), you may experience shame, guilt, embarrassment...but not a significant amount. If no one finds out about your behavior, you may feel guilt, but unlikely.
Option 2: If you decide NOT to masturbate, you may feel some pride in making a value-based decision; the anxiety that triggered the urge will remain, and most likely intensify; you will lose additional sleep; become increasingly frustrated. If your partner finds out that you faced this decision and decided not to masturbate, you should feel a significantly increased sense of pride and accomplishment. If your partner never finds out, you may feel (again, depending on the boundaries/values that exist in the relationship) that by not masturbating, you suffered through a few hours of anxiety needlessly. Or, you may find that enormous pride that comes from knowing you did what was in your best interest...because you wanted to, not because you had to.
In reality, additional options would exist, like alternative activities...but just limiting yourself to these two, you can see how there is no easy answer. Initially, the decision NOT to masturbate might seem to be the best choice, but when you look at the consequences closely...such a decision might not be in your best long-term interests. That is why it is so important to have a mastery of your values and boundaries...and why it is so important that you initially isolate your emotions from this decision-making process. You need to develop the ability to accurately perceive what is in your best long-term, value based interest.
How am I supposed to do all this in 30-60 Seconds?
As you begin to master the skill, it becomes automatic. The first few times working through a particular urge, you may have to break down the chain's elements step by step...but after a few times, this becomes unnecessary. Take the example shown earlier. Let's say that on the next night, you experience the same urge...but you have already explored the options, you have already explored the potential consequences...and so there is no need to do so again.
The only remaining step in decision-making is to take responsibility for the consequences of whatever action you have decided upon — as this is where your ultimate learning and growth will stem. If you have made the decision to act in a manner consistent with what you feel to be your best option at the time, you have placed yourself in a position to grow. This growth is accomplished be assessing the consequences of your actions, and then accepting responsibility for those consequences. All of the consequences. Whether you anticipated them or not. Whether you can rationalize them or not. Whether you can justify them or not. Accept the responsibility for playing a role in their development, do what you can to reasonably make amends, and then move closer towards the person that you are striving to become.
Lesson 53 Exercise:
When it comes time to actually make the decision as to what action you are going to take next, it is not always easy to separate the healthy options from the destructive ones. The ones based on values versus the ones based on emotions. Often, these two areas overlap. This is where experience, time and a commitment to make what you believe to be the best choice at that time comes in.
A. Describe a situation where you would consider masturbation to be against your values — and therefore, a destructive act. Describe a situation where you would consider masturbating to be within your values — and therefore, a healthy act.
B. In your recovery thread, list other common value conflicts involving sexual and/or romantic behavior that you have found yourself engaged in? Or that you may find yourself engaged in, given your history.
Hint: think romantic relationships, fantasizing, etc.