Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifty-Eight

Constructing Reactive Action Plans

Action Plans: Using the Plan

As has been stated again and again throughout this workshop, intellectual knowledge is one thing, practical knowledge another. The purpose of this lesson is to gain a more practical, functional view of action plans in the course of your day-to-day life. This will be done by exploring common situations that are experienced in the recovery process.

Situations that will be explored in this lesson:

  • Your recovery is going well. Thoughts are slowing. Urges diminishing.
  • You find yourself actively engaged in a destructive behavior/pattern of behaviors
  • You find yourself trying to talk yourself into engaging in risky behavior
  • You are accused of/suspected of acting out by your partner, and while they can't prove it, you know that it is true
  • While you are not acting out, you recognize that your life is becoming increasingly stressed
  • You come across an unexpected trigger
  • You anticipate the presence of a known trigger in a future activity

Obviously, there are hundreds more 'common situations' where predetermined action plans can play a vital role in helping you to manage your decisions in a healthy, value-based way. Also, because the intent of any recovery tool is not to be so rigid that it loses its natural flow, the action plans for these situations will be developed using a variety of formats. All healthy and effective, though not all textbook. Your goal is to develop natural action plans that mix with the flow of your life...not to become some mechanized shell.

Action Plan #1 : Your recovery is going well. Thoughts are slowing. Urges diminishing. Confidence and motivation is growing.

Possible Situation

After years of protecting your actions through a web of secrets and lies, you have chosen a path based in health and values. You are committed to ending your addiction and, while you don't yet have a clear understanding of what that really means, you nonetheless feel different. For the first time, you sense a real opportunity that you have never experienced before. You are starting to believe that rebuilding your life just may be possible. You have hope and you associate this hope with your recovery efforts.

Common Outcomes

1) Eventually, the freshness will begin to stale. Because the desire to change will no longer be as strong (e.g. the immediacy will have been lost), this will often translate into the mistaken belief that your motivation to recover has been lost. Or, that you have 'topped out' — you've come as far as you are able/did the best that you could, but can go no further. What happens when you hit this wall? Complacency sets in. And because it usually does so early in the transition process (first three to six months), the skills you have been developing have never matured into functional life skills. And so, as the stress in your life begins to build...as the complacency continues to mount...you will lack the ability to effectively manage that stress and will naturally return to the one life management skill that you have mastered: immediate emotional gratification via some compulsive act.

2) The second common outcome occurs when you realize that, while you may be feeling good about your progress, you know that deep down, you continue to protect yourself with ongoing secrets and lies. They may play no role in your current state of affairs (no pun intended). Or, they may play a prominent role in maintaining your 'security net' that you have built 'just in case recovery doesn't work'. You may consciously choose to maintain these secrets because of the pain and shame that would result from sharing them with others; you may unwittingly keep them hidden as a result of denial and perhaps even true ignorance. But no matter the reason, deep down, you know that because these secrets and lies continue to exist, you are keeping your addiction alive. You are feeding the very 'dual-identity' existence in which addiction flourishes.

Desired Outcome

The very best outcome in this situation is to continuously reflect on the reality that the changes that you are making in your life are no longer about addiction. The path that you are traveling is a much broader path — one that leads towards personal development and maturity, as opposed to behavioral control. And so, with this perception, the day-to-day emotions that are experienced are best kept in proper balance. You recognize that being too motivated for recovery is often just as destructive to long-term recovery as being not motivated enough. The desired outcome is that the 'bigger picture' never strays too far from sight: you are now engaged in a lifelong process of change — assessment, adjustment...repeat.

A reminder, action plans can come in all sorts of styles...you will want to develop a style(s) that is most effective for you.

Possible Action Plan for #1:

Situation

Recovery is going well

thoughts are slowing, emotions stabilizing, urges diminishing, excitement felt, motivation for change is high

Actions to take:

  • Remember that all emotions are temporary and in a state of flux
  • Be wary of measuring progress based on feelings. Use objective criteria as the foundation for measuring progress.
  • Continue weekly self-assessments for the first three months of this transition to ensure that I recognize potential problems before they develop into unmanageable crises
  • After three months, re-assess progress and motivation for following through with a complete transition from addiction to health

Action Plan #2: You find yourself actively engaged in a destructive behavior/pattern of behaviors

Possible Situation

You have committed yourself to recovery and have maintained a significant reduction/abstinence in all compulsive behavior that has been problematic for you. Your partner has noted these changes and you both are beginning to rebuild trust and confidence in the relationship and in each other. Then one night, you do something that is against the values that you are developing. You brush it aside as a mere hiccup in your transition (or, you completely berate yourself), yet a few days later, you do it again. Slowly, you find that these 'slips' are beginning to influence other aspects of your life. Decision-making, other values (like honesty), your time/energy. Still, you believe yourself to be 'in recovery'...as does your partner.

Then, in a moment of absolute honesty, you recognize that you've done it again. You have fallen back into the compulsive hole from which you have worked so hard to climb. But what to do about it? You can't tell your partner (at least you don't think you can) — and thus lose all that you have built. And as you continue to struggle with this reality, the doubts, the guilt, the shame, the lies, the stress all begin to come creeping back into your life.

Common Outcome

The most common outcome in this situation is that you feel trapped, which increases the pressure you feel in your inability to manage your life...which increases the urge to act out to help stabilize those negative emotions. If there was a way of backing-up, starting over...you would, in a second. But there is no such way, and so...you are faced with yet another 'failed recovery'.

Desired Outcome

The desired outcome in this situation is, with an eye on the big picture, recognizing that EVERY BEHAVIOR you engage in, EVERY DECISION you make, EVERY CONSEQUENCE you endure matters. This creates the very real perception that the very instant you recognize you are off-track — no matter how far off-track you may be at the time — that the best course of action to take in such situations is to embrace immediate responsibility for every behavior, every consequence, every decision from that moment forward.

Additionally, a full assessment of the slip should be completed in a manner that promotes learning and growth...as opposed to guilt and shame.

Possible Action Plan for #2:

Situation

In a moment of absolute honesty, I recognize that I am engaging in behavior that I know to be destructive.

Solution:

When I find myself engaging in such behavior, the first thing that I will do is to stop it. Remove all links, break all ties, eliminate all connection to this behavior. Next, I will write out how this behavior — with absolute honesty — re-emerged into my life to see if their are patterns to watch for, break-downs in my current life management skills that need to be addressed. When appropriate, I will talk to someone who cares about me about this. The goal here will be to reinforce the good parts of my life and character, as opposed to focusing on 'where I went wrong'. If there are consequences that stem from this relapse, I will accept them with my head held high and then move forward once more.

Action Plan #3: You recognize that you are trying to talk yourself into engaging in risky behavior

Possible Situation

You are traveling out of town and the hotel you are staying at offers a variety of porn videos that advertise how discreetly the charges would be billed. At first, you look through the titles "out of curiosity", but you know that, deep down, you are trying to convince yourself to order one. After all, this is a unique situation. You're partner is not here. It's just an activity. Etc. How you rationalize it is not as important as the fact that you are trying to rationalize it. The bottom line though is that you are considering engaging in a behavior that you would need to lie about to avoid facing shame and/or embarrassment.

Common Outcome

The most common outcome is that you eventually engage in the behavior you are trying to talk yourself into (or talk yourself out of, depending on your perception). This then triggers months of instability and set-backs. On the subtle side, such behavior might have no overt consequences — serving only to reinforce the notion of maintaining a secret life. This, along with planting yet another seed of doubt about recovery to be feasted upon by your addiction. On the overt side, this 'one time' act can be discovered and all of the trust, hope and faith that you have developed in your recovery will have been significantly and unnecessarily damaged.

Desired Outcome

The desired outcome is that you learn to recognize the feelings associated with such risky decision-making. They are unique from other feelings that you have. Part shame, part excitement, part helplessness, part freedom, part inevitability — whatever the feeling might be for you, it is important to recognize it. Once you have, it will be easier to engage in a single plan of action, as opposed to preparing yourself for every possible situation in which you might find yourself. Once the skill to recognize that 'feeling' has been developed, the next step is to recognize that your goal is not to avoid acting on that feeling, but rather, to act on it, but in a healthy way. It will be the developing of confidence in this healthy action that will provide the emotional stability and fulfillment necessary to successfully manage such urges.

Possible Action Plan for #3

Situation I'm alone and am trying to talk myself into 'getting away with something' that I know is unhealthy for my life

Solution: When I am facing a situation where I am tempted to engage in behavior that I know to be against my value system, I will take a step back and relax. I will recognize that the one constant to making such impulsive/compulsive decisions is that the short term consequences that I might be able to achieve will NEVER provide for a greater benefit than value-based decisions. Both have consequences that I must endure...so the crux of my decision is based on not whether I should act or not, but on what action I should take.

Action Plan #4: You are accused of/suspected of acting out by your partner, and while they can't prove it, you know that it is true

Possible Situation

You had an online affair. It was a brief affair that involved intensely emotional and sexual elements. You took great pains to ensure that you were discreet. In fact, you waited until your partner had left town in order to actively engage in it. Upon your partner's return, he questioned you in regards to your aloofness and strongly suspected that something was wrong, but could offer no proof.

Common Outcome

Because there was no proof, you completely deny that anything is wrong, and become resentful at the accusations. "Besides, it's not harming anyone, why can't he just let it go? It's not like I actually slept with the guy." Such a mind set creates a greater strain on the relationship and a greater need to return to the escape of yet another affair. Additionally, it creates enormous pressure on your partner as they struggle to identify what is real and what is imagined.

Desired Outcome

You recognize that you were wrong to engage in such behavior — whether it was discovered or not — and take steps to alter the decision-making processes that led to it. Ideally, reassuring your partner's suspicions by taking responsibility for your actions is the best long-term option. Realistically, acknowledging your partner's fears/suspicions without degrading or attacking them is far more desirable than to just 'secretly get through this and never do it again'.

Possible Action Plan for #4:

Situation

When I am lying in order to keep a secret that could jeopardize the stability of my life, I will do the following:

  • Admit to myself that it was my actions that created this situation, not my partner's suspicions. If I cannot be honest with myself in this regard, further recovery will be little more than a charade. A key aspect of my recovery is that I present myself as a real, genuine person...this is impossible when I must lie about my actions.
  • I will examine alternatives to the decision-making process that went into the need to lie and determine the healthiest action that i could have taken
  • I will incorporate this healthier option into role plays that involve similar situations
  • I will apologize to my partner for the dishonesty, share with them the truth and share with them my plan for moving forward
  • I will accept all consequences for my behavior

Action Plan #5:While you are not acting out, you recognize that your life is becoming increasingly stressed

Possible Situation

You have just been promoted and your new job has forced a shift in your priorities. While this promotion is a 'good thing', you recognize that the long hours and increased pressure has led to other areas of your life being neglected. This neglect is now beginning to appear in the signs of a frustrated family, poor task management and obsessive work habits.

Common Outcome

Most often, people in this situation do little to anticipate/prepare for such changes. As well, they do little to adjust to those changes once they have begun. The time for action often occurs after the person has entered crisis mode, when action must be taken. Frequently, this then requires a pound of cure to deal with a life that has spun wildly out of balance.

Desired Outcome

To recognize the top ten signs that your life is becoming out of balance and to have an action plan in place that will force action and assessment long before the crisis stage is reached. Life will become unbalanced. Everyone's lives become unbalanced at one time or another. The desire is to learn to manage your own life so that action is taken at the early signs of imbalance — long before addiction is required to help stabilize that life.

Possible Action Plan for #5

Review the following:

Am I experiencing...

    • Depression
    • Extreme thinking
    • Fractured thinking
    • Crisis thinking
    • Anger
    • Hopelessness
    • Helplessness
    • Frustration with having to 'waste time' with family
    • Spending a significantly increased amount of time engaged in a particular 'escape' activity
    • Recognizing early signs of addiction relapse
    • Ruminating thoughts
    • A series of missed deadlines

    If so...

    • Recognize that my life is in jeopardy of spinning out of control and that action needs to be taken
    • Forgive myself for not being perfect
    • Review my current prioritized values list
    • Review my activities with my current long term goals
    • Reprioritize values/goals as needed
    • Develop a reasonable short term goals list that will help me regain focus and stability

Action Plan #6: You come across an unexpected trigger

Possible Situation

After having rid your life of all pornographic materials for the past six months, you are walking along the street alone and see a discarded Penthouse in a garbage can.

Common Outcome

Curiosity, pressure and lack of preparation get the best of you and so you pick up the magazine and shove it under your shirt for later viewing. Whether this triggers a relapse or not is irrelevant. What it will trigger is an increase in the level of emotional chaos in your life; and a decrease in the confidence and the pride that are developing in yourself.

Desired Outcome

You recognize that, while viewing one magazine may not be a big deal, the issue at stake here is not the magazine, but the commitment that you have made to living a life that you can be proud of. You walk away from the opportunity not feeling as if you had missed out on it, but that you had taken advantage of it.

Possible Action Plan for #6

Topic: Unexpected triggers

My Role: To identify that every trigger has both short and long-term consequences that must be considered before decisions are made as to how to act. Considering only short-term consequences (e.g. only harmful if I am caught...) is an unhealthy, immature way of managing my life.

Action Plan #7:You anticipate the presence of a known trigger in a future activity

Possible Situation

You are going to a class reunion where your 'first love' will be there. Your spouse cannot make the trip and you know that this reunion will stir old feelings.

Common Outcome

Because the fantasies of meeting up with this person will have no doubt been played again and again in your head in the months preceding the reunion, they will have created an atmosphere of intense anticipation and curiosity. Little time would have been devoted to how you should act, as the majority of time will be spent fantasizing about the excitement of it all. When the time comes where you meet, you are left at the mercy of the intensity of your emotions.

Desired Outcome

Prior to the reunion, you recognize that your emotions will be intense. You recognize that you will likely have strong feelings for this person and that may cause you to act in a way that you wouldn't ordinarily act. Prior to the reunion, you have role-played each of the most likely scenarios that may lead to actions that you would later regret. The most likely scenarios have been role-played (with healthy decision making being used) again and again to the point of automation.

As the reunion occurs, you do indeed feel these strong feelings and feel comfort in knowing that this is an opportunity to either place the long-term stability of your life in jeopardy or to engage in a decision-making process that will reaffirm those values that are most dear to you.

Possible Action Plan for #7:

Event: My husband's out-of-town friend is staying the week at our house. I am very attracted to him and my own husband has shown little interest in me for many months.

What to anticipate from me:

  • Fantasizing about him sexually
  • Talking down about my husband/our relationship to create need
  • Emotionally distancing myself from my marriage
  • Setting up times that I can be alone with his friend
  • Setting up situations where he 'accidentally' sees me in compromising dress or activity

What to anticipate from him:

  • Subtle sexual innuendo and flirting
  • Frequent compliments and attention
  • Minimizing the friendship between he and my spouse
  • Setting up times where he will be alone with me
  • Setting up situations where I 'accidentally' see him in compromising dress or activity
  • Conversations involving sex/romantic relationships when we are alone

What to do:

  • Role play the most common anticipated situations and how I will deal with them in a way that promotes my values
  • Review my own boundaries to ensure that I do not allow his behavior to cross those boundaries
  • Review our marriage boundaries to ensure that my own behavior does not violate those boundaries
  • Ingrain the notion that I will not act in any way that I would be uncomfortable with — should my husband act in a similar manner if my best friend was here visiting.

Conclusion

Action plans, when created as a functional, fluid tool in your life management repertoire can be the rock that stabilizes your entire transition. In the beginning, action plans can take the role of teacher and guidance counselor...providing you with a manual of how to get from spot A to spot B. Or, from Value A to Value B. Not sure how to act in a given situation? Write out an action plan, then adjust as necessary. Find yourself unable to handle a particular triggering event or situation? Develop an initial action plan and then continue to refine it until it meets your life management needs. But this is just the basics of action plans.

Action plans, ideally, do not need to be such a literal, black and white entity. As in, every situation must be written out ahead of time. The notion of such an approach is both exhausting and impossible. In the beginning, seeing action plans as black and white may be useful, but the closer you get to naturalizing those action plans...the closer you get to focusing them on the actual feelings you experience in any given situation, rather than the behaviors/situations, the more value they should hold for you.

Eventually, as you go on to master the use of action plans, you will also come to master the handful of feelings that can trigger relapse. Because there are really but a few. Once you have gained a deep awareness of exactly what feelings you experience at times of urge crisis, relapse, etc., — label these feelings in behavioral terms if you must, but it is more the feeling that you will be searching for, as it is the feeling that will continue to return in the future — . When you can learn to manage such feelings, the specific situation that you find yourself will not matter. You will be able to handle it with confidence. With or without a written action plan in place.

Lesson 58 Exercise:

Define the five rituals that you will most likely face in the next two years. For each, develop an action plan in five minutes or less...that focuses specifically on the immediate action you will take upon the awareness of the ritual; the anticipated emotions you will feel after you engage in that behavior; and the likely mind-games that you will play to get you to abandon your values-based decision making for emotion based decision making.

Post these in your thread.

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