Recovery Workshop: Lesson Twenty-Four

Identifying Your Compulsive Elements

These next few lessons will be 'hands-on'. Over the next few days, you will be completing tasks that will ensure your understanding of the key concepts involved with developing a functional awareness of your addiction. What's more, you will begin the process of applying this information to your specific behavior.

Elements of YOUR Compulsive Behavior

In Lesson 17 (Understanding Addiction II), you were introduced to the concept of the wheel of sexual compulsion. For ease, that wheel will be reproduced here:

Sexual Compulsion Wheel

Note the outer ring of elements that make up this wheel (sensory, danger, suspense, etc.). This will be the focus of today's lesson. Identifying the elements involved with your specific rituals.

What you should already know:

a) each element represents a way of intensifying the overall stimulation that is derived in any given sexual behavior

b) the elements shown are common in sexually compulsive behavior, but they are not exclusive; there may be other elements that you engage in to help intensify the overall stimulation that you experience

c) each ritual should be assessed separately. Meaning, the elements involved in one ritual involving masturbation may be completely different than the elements of another. This requires that, when assessing the elements of a ritual, you work with one specific ritual at a time.

d) Over time, and after assessing many different rituals, you will have enough information to look for patterns that can further your awareness. Patterns that will allow you to key in on several primary elements to master.

Extracting the Elements of a Sexual Ritual

Let's start simple.

First, consider a fairly straightforward sexual behavior that you engage in. Masturbation would be a good one to start with; having sex with your partner another. These behaviors do not need to be related to your addiction; healthy sexual behavior will serve the same purpose.

Second, envision the LAST TIME that you engaged in this behavior. Note again that you are not going to assess this ritual as a general pattern; you are going to assess it in isolation. There are many long-term reasons for this, but the short-term reason is that it will allow you to focus on the specific emotions elicited by each element.

Third, list the elements of that behavior which served to change your emotions in some way. Identify any element of the behavior that either stimulated pleasurable feelings in you or created some type of conflict. If you end your list with less than three elements, you have not achieved the depth that will be required to succeed in developing a functional awareness of your addiction.

Fourth, with each element, identify the role that it played in stimulating your emotions. As in, did it intensify your immediate emotional stimulation; add to your overall emotional stimulation; reduce your immediate emotional stimulation (and thus, increase the overall stimulation achieved at orgasm).

Just the Elements

At this point, we are only interested in identifying the elements of a single ritualistic behavior. If after assessing one behavior you feel comfortable with how to extract the elements of a sexual ritual, then you are free to move on to the next lesson. Personally, it took me breaking down a good fifty or so to feel comfortable with this...but I have always been a bit obsessive. ‹smile›

A Real-Life Example

The following is an example of how one person broke down the elements of one of their sexual rituals:

Mike is a 32 yo married father of two. Just starting out in recovery, he is asked to describe the problem that he is experiencing and describes it as: "I can't stop surfing the Internet for porn. I use it to masturbate late at night and my wife found out when she discovered a bunch of images that I had downloaded."

Mike originally sees his behavior as a single event: "a problem with porn".

As Mike progresses in developing a functional awareness of his addiction, he recognizes that the first step in assessing his behavior is to measure it. And so, he chooses a specific time when he viewed porn and consciously broke it down into its smaller, emotionally-stimulating elements.

Mike's Elements for a Specific Porn-Viewing Event

  • Element #1 Made several sexual advances towards wife, she rejected me.
  • Element #2 Felt sorry for myself; felt anger/frustration over marriage
  • Element #3 Experienced urge to relieve myself through masturbation
  • Element #4 Began looking forward to wife going to bed
  • Element #5 Wife went to bed; Had to ensure that she was asleep
  • Element #6 Began process of preparing the environment for secret porn viewing
  • Element #7 Began searching Internet for porn
  • Element #8 Came across an image of two cheerleaders kissing
  • Element #9 Began fantasizing that I was with them
  • Element #10 Began masturbating
  • Element #11 Orgasmed
  • Element #12 Went into 'clean-up mode' — erasing history files, tracking information from my computer
  • Element #13 Felt accomplishment at having had a successful experience without being caught

Because Mike is in early recovery and has just begun to learn these concepts, he assigns numerical measurements to each of the elements above. These SUBJECTIVE, ARBITRARY measurements (e.g. no right or wrong; 'gut feelings' only) provide Mike with a means for seeing the concrete role that each element has played in this overall compulsive experience.

Finally, after identifying the role that each element played, he then considers the impact that the filters of time, habituation and frequency had on those elements. This filter recognition is important as he learns to manipulate the variables involved in his compulsive actions.

Note: for those in early recovery, going through the motions of assigning actual values for each element is strongly recommended. Eventually, when your ability to see the roles that these individual elements play occur naturally, such measuring becomes obsolete. It's only value (to those in recovery) is to help isolate the behavior from your identity...and to see it for what it is. Not a natural, uncontrollable force, but a well-developed pattern that can be identified and manipulated.

Would these have been the elements that you identified? It doesn't matter. In a sense, there is no right or wrong here. There is only perception and awareness here. And your job is to apply a healthy perception and a deepening awareness to your behavior.

Lesson 24 Exercise:

I. Create your own Wheel of Sexual Compulsion that is more closely related to your behavior. This can be done by simply listing the cumulative elements involved in your compulsive behavior. This shouldn't take you more than five minutes. List these elements (associated with no particular ritual — but more your addiction in general) in your recovery thread.

II. Choose a real-life example of EVERY major sexual ritual that you engage in (these should be compulsive rituals, not healthy) and break each down into their smallest elements (based on the elements identified in your wheel of sexual compulsion).

Most people will identify two to four such Major Rituals. If you can identify with more than five such rituals, just list the most common five.

To be successful in your transition to health, you will need to master your ability to identify not only these elements, but also to recognize the role that they play in stimulating you. Don't settle for anything less than mastery here.

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