Abstinence. What the heck is it? And why bother? Abstinence takes many forms in this program. The tool is described in the fourfold as "Abstinence, partial or total". Some people DO abstain from ALL sex (including masturbation) for a period of time to "clear things up." But the program ISN’T about having no sex. We aren’t here to repress our God-given sexuality.
For me, abstinence means avoiding behaviors that harm me. We each define our own Sexual Recovery Plan. Our plans should be clear and understandable. They should spell out exactly the things from which we want to abstain.
At some point, hopefully in a calm, sane, thoughtful state, we sit and write our Plan. For some of us, it takes a number of drafts. But we end up with a document about the CORE of our problem. Any Plan is valid that’s written down and shared with another recovering addict.
Having a well-defined plan is very important. I need to be clear about what I want and don’t want. Later, if I get a little "loopy," I can refer to the plan.
Most of us have one or more things from which we need to abstain. Within our ranks, this may range from the "no sex for 90 days" version to the "I gotta know his name before we do it" variety. As long as the Plan is written clearly, you can tell what the person is choosing not to do. And that’s the deal.
I CHOOSE to abstain from pornography. I’m not happy about it, but I can’t use it without getting hooked. Porno is like heroin to me. I’ve binged with it and I’ve "Jones-ed" for it. I’ve stolen porno and spent my food money on porno. I’ve risked my job and I’ve damaged relationships with the people I loved. Using porno HURTS me. So I put it on my Plan. Now, the challenge is to abstain.
Tony R, a brilliant self-help guru with big teeth, says we are driven to pleasure and away from pain. This model helps me understand my behavior. Early in life, when things were horrible, I went to fantasy and masturbation to kill the pain. And it felt good to masturbate. Unfortunately, I got deeper and deeper into it, especially once I discovered porno, and it became a big, painful problem in its own right.
But I still associate porno with pleasure. No wonder I still want to go there! Now, I can’t lie to myself and say I don’t enjoy looking at porno. I love it! But, when I’m clear about the COSTS of using porno, I connect with the massive pain it’s caused me. This way, I can associate porno (correctly) with more pain than pleasure. And I’ll move away from it organically. Doing a written First Step or hearing a newcomer in a meeting helps me reconnect to the TRUTH about acting out.
To complete the "Tony R model," I have to have something to move towards. The right- hand column of my Plan holds the things I want to move towards. By having a strong desire to do something (pleasurable), I can reduce further the pull that porno has on me.
A therapist looked at my Plan and said, "Oh, this is great. In the right column you list the things you’ll do to meet the needs you were trying to meet with sex."
I did? An "aha moment." "Acting out" for me means using sex to meet needs that aren’t sexual. You know: feed-a-fever, feed-a-cold, feed-boredom, feed-depression, feed, feed, feed!
This distinction helps me to further refine the model. Now I associate PAIN with acting out. I associate pleasure with the things that I want to do. And I rightly attempt to meet needs with appropriate responses. Often my needs are met without touching porno!
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. And it’s difficult. I keep falling down on the job! But, by living in the moment, I’m able to move forward each day anew. And I’m so grateful that I’m able to live fully when I abstain from a life of active addiction. Acting out with porno was robbing me of life. Now I’m reclaiming life, and I owe it to this program. There are a couple of slogans that give me some comfort when I’m really struggling to maintain abstinence.
First things first. Abstain from the stuff that’s really going to harm me. If I need comfort and so overeat a little, that’s cool. Food isn’t going to kill me today. If I try to be perfect, I always end up a failure. Just focus on the first things first!
Easy does it. Proceed gently and bite off only reasonable amounts. I usually choke if I bite off more than I can chew. This is difficult work. When I fall of the horse, I just get back on. That’s all there is to do.