Recovery Workshop: Lesson Forty-Seven

Practical Urge Awareness

All of this information on urge control is useless until you put it into action. That is the purpose of today's lesson: putting it into action.

In all likelihood, you are not currently acting out with regularity. If by this time in your transition you are, something is wrong with the foundation you are building. At WORST, you should be experiencing spontaneous daily fantasies that you become aware of within seconds and can redirect fairly easily. At worst, you should face a significant compulsive urge — one that requires a conscious effort to manage — no more than twice per week. If you have not achieved this state by now, consider the professional coaching option — as you are not successfully putting the pieces together on your own. That is at worst. At best, you are having no significant urges and are preparing yourself for times when you are likely to objectify and/or sexualize your environment.

No matter where you may be on this spectrum, you need to know the following: if you once struggled with addiction, there will come a time when you will again face an urge that requires your ability to manage it. That requires mature emotional management skills and values-based decision-making. You must prepare yourself for this time now. And, you must maintain that preparation on at least a monthly basis for the rest of your life or you will unnecessarily leave yourself vulnerable to relapse. At some point in your recovery, you will know with absolute certainty that you are 'beyond' the life you once lived. But know that while a permanent end to addiction can be achieved, the roots to the compulsive rituals you once used to feed that addiction will remain dormant. The learning patterns have been ingrained and hold the potential to awaken in times of extreme stress and/or imbalance. This is human nature and you must prepare yourself for it.

Take note: do not be discouraged with the realization that these dormant rituals remain a part of you. Knowing this is a good thing. A powerful thing. This knowledge, coupled with your understanding of the circumstances in which they may return (times of emotional instability; complacency) provides you with the very framework you need for ending your addiction permanently. By maintaining your ongoing monitoring; maintaining your emotional management skills; by continuing to focus on building your life (rather than keeping it from collapsing) will never face a crisis of relapse. Yes, you will face urges — but the intensity of these urges will be reduced, the frequency will be significantly reduced...and the confidence you will have for managing them will be in place. What's more, the appearance of these urges alone will trigger not fear, but awareness. The awareness that you need to stop what you are doing, assess your emotional state, assess your overall balance and take the steps necessary to regain that balance.

This is what is meant by 'practical urge awareness'. It is your ability to recognize future urges not as a threat, but as part of an effective warning system to detect when your life is slipping out of balance. By attempting to manage the urge alone, you are in essence treating the symptom and not the disease. On the other hand, when you recognize urges as the symptom of a life insufficiently managed, it frees you to use future urges as a part of your healthy monitoring system.

Let's look at this in a real-life example. Jump ahead two years from now. Your life is relatively stable and you have a strong foundation of values in place. It has been well over a year since you have experienced any significant urges and by anyone's account, you are healthy. Then, out of nowhere, you are faced with the opportunity to have an affair. Early in recovery, you had prepared yourself for such a possibility and even created a values-based action plan as to how you would respond. You practiced this action plan again and again until you felt comfortable with implementing it in a real situation. But that was over a year ago and you haven't touched it since. You are healthy, you have had no urges...there was no need to go back to such rudimentary tools.

And now here you are, facing the opportunity to have this affair. Feeling the urge as strong as ever. And actually, perceiving it as stronger than you remember since it has been so long since you last experienced it. And you are lost. Unable to enact the action plan that you developed because you are no longer connected to that action plan. Unprepared for the rush of emotions that you are experiencing. And you panic. Abandon all that you have learned in the face of this situation that you were unprepared for. You react to the situation...rather than act upon the situation.

That is what complacency will do to you. It will allow you to walk into these types of situations unprepared. Unprepared for the emotions of the situation, if not the mechanics. On the other hand, when you take a practical approach to experiencing an urge, you are not as much focusing on the urge as you are the foundation that led to the urge being experienced. Managing that urge becomes your second priority, understanding why it has occurred is primary.

And so, urges become the very triggers for boosting your awareness. When an urge is experienced, you don't immediately try to fight/suppress use it as a trigger for action. You use it to assess where you are in regards to your values, your balance, your priorities, your emotions. By that time, you will have enough experience with awareness to assess these things accurately on the fly. And you will respond as follows:

The Master

The master will recognize the urge as a trigger for action. The actions that are taken will be in relation to his/her values, priorities, goals, etc. The urge itself will be nonchalantly dismissed with the realization that at worst, by denying themselves the target of this urge, they face only temporary emotional discomfort. They don't fear this. They don't feed it through misplaced anxiety. They simply accept it as a natural part of being human. And embrace the discomfort as the price the proudly pay for living a life congruent with their values.

The Student

The student will take the more mechanical approach. And this is where you likely are and will remain until it all 'clicks'. The student will recognize the urge, feel mild confusion, frustration and doubt (which will actually intensify the urge). They will remember that urges can be used as triggers for actions and will mechanically go through the process of doing just that. They will review their values, their balance...but they will not feel completely comfortable with what they are doing. Eventually, they will get to the point where they feel they must manage the urge itself — and will do so to the best of their ability. Again, following the structure outlined in the workshop but too, not really connecting to why they are doing it. Intellectually they understand, but emotionally they experience the urge as the more powerful entity...and their response as temporary.

This response, while adequate, will shift at some point. At some point, you will have a 'light bulb moment'. A moment of clarity when everything you have learned will come together to form a single life management strategy. The clouds will part and you will become a master of urge control, emotional management, decision-making, etc. And as it so often happens, this general mastery will occur simultaneously — because you will realize that what you are mastering is life management (of which each of these skills play a critical role).

The Immature

The immature will have allowed complacency to set it and be blind-sided by the experience of a spontaneous urge. All that they will have learned will be set aside and they will fear the intensity of the urge itself. They will doubt themselves — thus fueling the urge's intensity. They will be unable to apply what they have previously learned to this unique situation and panic — further fueling the urge's intensity. They will see the very presence of the urge as a sign of failure — further fueling the urge's intensity. They will crumble in the face of this urge and ironically, put themselves in the position of having to give in to the urge in order to regain emotional stability.

Your responsibility in urge control is not limited to managing the urge, it is to place those urges in the practical context of managing your life. But do note, few can jump directly to a mastery of urge control simply through intellectual understanding. Some can, but again, few. The common path is to master the reactive side of urge control before integrating the practical side.

Lesson 47 Exercise:

1. Just as you have with your values and your emotions, it is time to transfer the knowledge that you are developing to a practical application in your day-to-day life. This cannot be done without first developing an awareness of the times when such information is applicable. Over the next 48 hours, envision at least ten different REALISTIC scenarios where you may encounter a compulsive urge in the future and documetn these in your recovery thread.

2. With each scenario:
  • Identify how you would know when that urge/ritual would likely begin, when the likely 'point of no return' would be and when you would 'create the break'. Do this in your head.
  • Anticipate the emotions associated with that particular ritual, isolate those emotions from your 'core identity' and prepare yourself to make a values-based decision (versus an emotions-based decision). Do this in your head.
  • Choose one such scenario and document it in your recovery thread.
  • If you are in coaching, you will be asked to review several of these to make sure that you understand the concepts involved. If you are not in coaching, feel free to post additional scenarios for review.
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