The Explanation Not the Excuse

In our PCS Intensive process, I’ve yet to work with someone suffering from an addiction who has not experienced some essence of trauma, whether that be overt, obvious traumatic experiences, or the other, the covert, one-thousand-paper-cut-style traumas. And so to unlock the door to full-course healing we, as therapists, have to help them identify and process these events, in order to understand why they adopted this maladaptive, addictive coping style in the first place. We also have to help them grieve these traumas and develop empathy for themselves and the person or child they were when these difficult events occurred. We help them understand that they can really only give empathy and intimacy to others to the degree they can give it to themselves. So often, we will ask the Adult today to imagine being there for the Child then, and fulfilling what that Child needed and did not get. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing that Adult finally grieve what was denied them, and grow as the Adult showing up as the “parent” today for that Child, in the here-and-now. Clients will often say they feel as if they have lifted a heavy weight they have carried most of life.

Then what often happens is the Client shares their trauma processing with their significant other, partner or spouse. And when the Client informs this loved one of the trauma and neglect that is most certainly behind the addictive behavior the loved one has been subjected to, often for years, and, understandably, their significant other is less than happy. It is as if we, the therapists, are hand-holding this Client and giving them a pass for their hurtful behaviors (whether that involves sexual betrayals, alcohol of drug-related incidents, gambling precious finances, etc.). They want to tell the Client to take their trauma egg and “you’ve got to be kidding me”, Build-a-Bears, and shove them…somewhere! The Client might explain that the Build-a-Bear is to remind them to show up as the “parent” today for that Child that was harmed back-then, and, again understandably, the loved one has heard enough. They respond, “It sounds like they’re helping you find your grand EXCUSE for all the harm you’ve caused!”

Makes sense. And so, clarity is necessary, as the one who has endured someone’s hurtful, addictive behavior deserves empathy and beyond. So, one thousand percent, trauma is NOT an excuse; it’s an explanation.

A Client needs to understand what happened in order to realize that back then, they most certainly had zero power and control over their life circumstances. Now they can face the explanation and grieve and process it. From there, they are encouraged to understand that today, as an Adult, they fully have power and choice, and therefore, are fully responsible for ALL of the decisions they make. They are also responsible for any harm they cause. Their childhood trauma, though at times awful and heartbreaking, is NOT an EXCUSE.

At times I have seen Clients attempt to use their traumatic childhood experiences as a “trauma shield,” in order to dodge what they perceive as shame-inducing blame and finger-pointing. It is a maladaptive way of avoiding the hurt and pain of the one they have harmed, and they cling to it like a life-line. It is at this juncture that I and their team of therapists try and help them understand that unconditional love and acceptance is the pathway to true internal freedom, and to get there and be free of shame, one has to embrace all that is wonderful about them, and all that is challenging about them as well.

When a Client can speak openly about what makes them hard to live with, shame ceases to have an leverage over that individual, and only then are they truly on the path to strength and recovery. No longer allowing the explanation to control them or their choices, and no longer needing an excuse to manage their shame and avoid responsibility.

As an EMDR and experiential therapist, the most satisfying part of my work is seeing someone genuinely experience self-love and watching them gain insight as they process traumatic events in their lives. It is beyond satisfying to hear them name their challenges and talk about how those behaviors no longer serve them. Many people shed tears and believe they look “terrible” after EMDR; however, I will ask them to look in the mirror and what they see is the opposite – they see a person free of the weight that has held them back; a person who has never looked better!

Aging

Hayes & Roadin – 2003 developed four factors as a measure to understand the aging process.  They are:

  • Chronological Age – The number of years that have elapsed since birth. Time may be considered as a simple number of many events and experiences.
  • Biological Age – A person’s age in terms of biological health. The younger a person’s biological health, the longer a person is expected to live regardless of chronological age.
  • Psychological Age – An individual’s adaptive capacities compared with those of other individuals of the same chronological Age. Thus, older adults who continue to learn are more flexible, motivated, in control of their emotions and are able to think clearly.  They are able to utilize more adaptive behaviors than their chronological age.
  • Social Age – The social roles and expectations related to a person’s age.  Older adults who continue with their social interactions and activities age longer than their chronological age.

The following information is provided by The World Health Organization (WHO) concerning ageism. 

The term “ageism” was coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969. The definition of ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others based on age.

There are three levels of ageism:

  • Micro level – Individual
  • Meso level – Social networks
  • Macro level ­– Institutional and cultural

Data from the 2020 National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 82% of older Americans reported experiencing ageism regularly, 65% experienced ageist messages from the media, 45% experienced interpersonal intentional ageism and 46% had internalized ageism.

Workplace Examples of Ageism

  • Using a person’s age to decide whether to hire or not
  • Asking a person’s age not related to the type of work
  • Company policies that negatively reflect a person’s age
  • Rejecting a person by age because they are seen as out of touch, less skilled or fixed in their ways
  • Taking advantage of a person by bullying, critizing or harassing because of their age

Personal Examples of Ageism

  • Elder abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual or financial
  • Making jokes demeaning a person’s abilities or appearance
  • Taking away a person’s independence because of their age
  • Withholding medical and mental treatment due to the person’s age
  • Forcing a person to undergo unnecessary procedures

Ageism has far reaching consequences and effects all age groups worldwide.  As a person ages, their physical and mental health declines requiring greater care.  With the need for greater care the cost of this care increases.  WHO reported that the United States spends billions of dollars each year to treat the elderly’s medical and mental health condition.

Ageism is associated with an earlier death; estimated to be 7.5 years on average.  They are seen as less capable and worthy of care.

How to Combat Ageism

Education – Provide a better understanding of the process and how to manage this process.

Intergenerational Intervention – Develop and encourage more cooperation, compassion and empathy between the age groups.

  • Change the law and practices to reduce inequality and discrimination.
  • On an individual level, become knowledgeable about the aging process
  • Enable a person to become more aware of their feelings, manner of thinking and decision making
  • Be able to call on life experiences to engage the aging person
  • Help the aging person develop allies so they can be heard, recognized, respected and appreciated for their views, knowledge and life experiences

What Are the Positive Views of Aging?

  • 88% feel more comfortable being themselves
  • 80% have a strong sense of purpose
  • 67% feel more positive about aging
  • 65% think their life is better than they thought it would be
  • (taken from Institute for Healthcare Policy and Intervention, University of Michigan)

The aging process involves many factors including heredity/genetics, cultural, nutritional, level of exercise, level of education, early child development process, plus many more.  It is a complex process which requires a good deal of patience, diligence, foresight, planning and fortitude.

I would like to conclude with a brief vignette.  My mother-in-law, who was a mother to me was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 88.  She received treatment for it successfully! She was a sage with a willingness to share her wisdom and life experiences.  I am sure that if I asked her about ageism she would respond with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face.  “Those people should be forgiven for they known not what they are thinking or saying.”  She lived another 15 years and passed peacefully at 103 years old.  Her beacon of light continues to shine brightly to this day.

Having Difficult Conversations with People You Love

Series Three: Blog Thirty-Four

Recovery is messy. Having a conversation with someone you love about relational
experiences that you have hurt is difficult. This challenge includes every
relationship but is particularly difficult when the harm and hurt involves betrayal
and broken trust. Much has been written regarding broken trust. In the world of
addiction recovery, families and partners decry that it is the lie and deceit that
unravels safety even more than the destructive behavior itself. It is so difficult to
converse about relational recovery issues without getting stuck with defensiveness.
Defending your position will block the possibility toward healing at a deeper level.
No one matures in recovery to a place that they are able to eliminate defensiveness.
Here are a few things to consider that can help you manage your own defensive
tendency.

  1. Take time to acknowledge your own tendency toward defensiveness:
    In context, cultural history underscores that there is a great fear of rejection and being disconnected from community. Historically, to be disconnected or disfellowshipped meant death. People do not survive without connection with community. People tend to minimize, deflect and rationalize their behavior to avoid the anticipation of rejection from others. It is helpful to embrace your own tendency to avoid the fear of rejection through defensiveness. Tell on yourself to your partner and your family. Take time to share with your partner and family an experience and take responsibility for it in a good way that is restorative to a relationship. Simply tell on yourself.
  1. Create an atmosphere that adopts collective responsibility: Everyone is responsible for their own actions, for sure. Regardless of environmental influence, each person in a relationship to community is accountable for their behavior and actions. However, when sitting down to discuss relational problems, it is important that each party identify behavioral change that can promote a different outcome. This is difficult. When betrayal occurs because of addictive behavior, the injured party is hurt and it is difficult to focus on what they might do to improve the
    relationship. This is not the same as the injured party looking at what they did to cause the harm. Relationship healing requires that each take responsibility for their own contribution to relational distance. From this position, both addict and partner can create an improved environment that fosters a healing outcome. Healing requires collective responsibility.
  2. Rather than defend, spend time listening to your partner’s harm. It must go both ways. When you or your partner has been harmed, it is important to listen and validate. Focus on listening to the story of the one harmed. Spend as much time as they need to validate h/her story of harm. Acknowledgement comes from listening. It breeds validation. Once you have heard their pain and they feel validated then you can share your experience. It might take awhile. It will feel like a slow way to a shortcut. But, when you hear the depth of loss and pain felt by your partner
    because of your offense, it will be healing and will create a sacred safe space for rebuilding trust.
  3. Practice amends making. In recovery, amends can be difficult. Sometimes amends are symbolic. Other times they are actual. You don’t have to know which needs to be employed. This is when you trust the collective process between you and your partner and your community of support. A commitment to amends will lead to a healing action that will emerge as a result of collective dialogue.
  4. Evidential change: Shifting away from defensiveness leads toward essential change. For healing to stick, there must be the evidence of commitment to doing things different. This does not require perfection. But it will employ circling back to make amends of behavior when you backslide into old destructive behaviors. The commitment to change is a focus on eliminating the destructive response so that when the hurtful behavior appears, the behavior itself becomes more important than the point you are trying to make. You work to eliminate the destructive response. In this way you build an “I care about you” environment.
  5. Recognize that the current reaction often has historical roots. Subconsciously, your over-reaction that initiates defensiveness may have roots with past experiences of feeling dominated at other times in your life. Particularly, you need to pay attention to those childhood experiences that fuel mistaken beliefs in the here and now. This is a subtle awareness that requires introspection. During the magical years of childhood, you will make emotional conclusions about relationships that are harbored throughout your life. Even though you grow and develop physically, intellectually and socially, you can get stuck with an emotionally immature belief that was cemented during the vulnerable years of childhood emotional development. So, if you felt that you did not matter as a child, it is likely that you will be vulnerable to respond like a child when your partner treats you in a way that triggers that childhood experience. Being aware of this is a beginning to shifting away from childhood conclusions and embracing adult empowerment when you feel defensive.

Overcoming defensiveness requires that you treat your partner with dignity and
respect when you have harmed them. When you hold presence for your partner’s
pain, you establish an environment to deconstruct shame and blame. When you
feel defensiveness coming up in your conversation, privately identify it as like heat
coming through your body. Sit with it and speak to yourself with care and
compassion until it passes. Don’t say or do anything until the heat of defensiveness
subsides. Recognize the difference between intention and impact. Work to change
what you are doing so that your intention matches your impact of action. Then
respond in a different way.

Congruence: The Hard Work of Recovery

Series Three: Blog Thirty-Three

It is my experience as a recovering addict and professional who has treated
addiction for 28 years, congruent living is difficult. Everyone is inconsistent,
hypocritical and incongruent in some area of their life. Addicts in recovery struggle
to be consistent with word and action. They clash with saying one thing and doing
another. Double life living is a daily conflict that most addicts battle to overcome.
That said, it is not as if we should give up and make excuses for these flaws in
human behavior.


Congruence is the pathway to connection which is a key part of the foundation for
spirituality. St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, poet and Catholic priest once
said that “the virtuous soul that is alone and without community, is like a lone
burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter”. Congruence is cultivated in
the context of community. Typically, it remains elusive without accountability.
Here is a common example for an addict who struggles with congruence. In group,
h/she may announce with conviction that they need to end a romantic or friendship
relationship that is destructive. However, relational decisions require dynamic
sensitivity and not rigid black and white conclusions. Add to the mix that an addict
begins to feel emotionally needy and then begins to rationalize that the absolute
relational cut off announced to group was too much. What should be done? Often,
an addict will make a decision to renew the connection without being accountable
to the support community. It could be that they wanted to avoid the conflict with
others or the embarrassment of walking back the decision that was previously
announced. At any rate, they live incongruently to their values and their word by
acting opposite to what was rigorously declared.


With sexual addiction there are a myriad of examples that underscore incongruity.
An addict decides alone that masturbation, porn, or getting massages is now
healthy without checking in with their support community. When they do check in
they either talk about their behaviors with vagueness or they announce with
defensiveness and clarity that the decision they have made is resolute and right.
They indicate there is no room for discussion!


Many addicts fear that in recovery they cannot make their own decision about what
they want to do. They worry that they must ask for permission in order to do whatever they would like. They tend to enter recovery circles with shares that do not tell the whole picture. They paint the picture they want others to see in fear that someone will tell them what they have done or decisions they have made were wrong.


Even addicts in recovery who are not acting out, continue to live with a root attitude of “I want what I want when I want it”. Many have not surrendered to living in consultation with a support community. Others surround themselves with those who do not confront current recovery issues with themselves or others. Consequently, these addicts proverbially “put a cork in the bottle” of addictive behavior but continue with manipulation in decision-making that leave them incongruent to their values.


Congruency is the pathway for the brave. It is difficult for addicts to look themselves in the mirror and tell the truth about a choice or decision when there is resistance to that reality. One of the most difficult points of maturity to attain is to be honest about a deep emotional issue. It is difficult to admit to yourself and others that you simply do not want nor intend to stop a particular destructive behavior. It is uncomfortable to confess that you depend upon that destructive behavior to get you through difficulty. You are able to make grandiose declarations about other areas of life that are less threatening. However, congruency requires that you go deep and face what you don’t want to do and be honest and accountable with yourself right there! Embrace your unwillingness, failure and desperation. This challenge is not only true for addicts but it is true for everyone. Think about your world. Maybe, there is someone you won’t seek forgiveness and reconciliation because you are afraid to face the ugly resentment that breeds distance between you and that person. You tell yourself that you made an initial reasonable effort toward forgiveness in the beginning with an unsatisfactory response. You reason that there are others who do appreciate and love you. You wonder why should you go further. Yet, the truth is that you need to address your feelings of resentment that are growing deep within you. Congruence requires that you be brave and honest with yourself, even when it is not noticeable to others.
Recovery requires that you tell on yourself to others in your support community. This is difficult. Without this practice, congruence is impossible. When you meet with your sponsor or support community, it is important to begin your share with the last thing you want these people to know about you, and that is the first thing you lead with! Why? It is the practice of congruent living. I have noticed when my son Sam goes kayaking that one of the first things he does when he jumps in his kayak is to immediately roll the kayak and submerge his entire body in the ice cold water. It seems to be a ritual of preparation for the water to come. I believe that is what we do in our recovery community. We jump right in with the deepest truth-telling. It takes a commitment to practice telling on yourself in this radical way. Congruency requires that you establish clarity and commitment to your concrete values about life. You will never be congruent if you are not clear about what you believe. Addicts struggle with this. For an addict, what has been valued is anything in the moment that helps them get what they want. You can stop acting out in your addiction but still live life with this mindset. You won’t be congruent until you do a deeper dive into what values matter most to you. Likely, you will need time, and a mentor (sponsor, spiritual guide, etc) to create these deeper values. Do the hard work. Go deep and hammer out what you believe, cherish and value. Only then, do you have the necessary framework to practice congruency.


Finally, congruence requires that you embrace the defeated moments, moments of paranoia and fear, and that you lean into counterintuitive behavior. This, too, is difficult. First, defeat hurts and carries shame with it. The human tendency is to run from shame and minimize the defeat experience. These are moments that are juicy for congruence. These are times to know yourself best. Being honest in defeat is a mark of maturity and congruence. Wisdom and life lessons can only come from this space. Paranoia and fear are common experiences on the journey of recovery. Sometimes recovery feels like free falling, as if you are totally not in control. It’s true. Things can go wrong and you get paranoid, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Congruence requires that you sit with these difficult experience and practice
counterintuitive behaviors. With congruence, you learn to let go when you desperately want to hang on! You learn to die to what you don’t need in order to live! You learn to win by losing what you recognize is no longer important! You practice embracing what you don’t know that leads to be settled with what you do know.


Congruence is a core paradox that is fundamental to the recovery journey. The
only way to find peace in your unsettled world is through grasping the thin air of
congruent living in the context of accountability and community support.

Live Broken Open

Series Three: Blog Thirty-two

“Deep love, deep healing come with a deep emotional price. Those who pay are enriched in the deepest way”- Anonymous

I listened to a friend who was overwhelmed with humiliation.  I spoke with another friend who triggered anxiety, anger and frustration. I heard from another friend who was paralyzed with fear. I received a call from one with overwhelming sadness from the loss of relationship. Even, yet another who spoke of bewilderment and uncertainty about direction for a beloved family member. There was bitterness and resentment connected to overwhelming defeat. 

How are you suppose to live in recovery when you are whipped around and turned upside down? Every day life experience can turn you inside out like a glove. The compass needle never stays still in recovery. You go back and forth. One moment you are centered and the next moment you are like a pin ball between bumpers. You must learn to shift from living in fear to fear living in you. We don’t avoid it. We learn to not allow fear to dominate. How do I right size fear?

No one does recovery clean. It is messy. Like the bully, you choose to either beat up or go down another street to avoid, your behavior is still governed by the bully. You must learn to face and address the bully of addiction in your life. Consider the following: 

  1. Live broken open: Wounds won’t heal unless they are exposed to air and light. When you are deeply injured or paralyzed with feelings of betrayal and fear, it is healing to drop your inner and outer mask and openly live broken. Broken open requires listening to honest friends. It is a way to shelter in place. Face your shadow and blindspots by bringing them to light in the presence of a support community.
  2. Make prayer a foundation stone in your life. Prayer is more about listening than it is about requesting. Slow your life and your mind. Listen to what God, the universe is telling you about you. Many treat prayer like a request line to God. “How should I pray?” “What should I ask God for?” It is as if I am putting my order in as clear as possible so that I get the right thing back. Yet, whether you believe in God or not, prayer is most effective when you listen to your feelings and life situation and discern what the universe or God is trying to tell you. Rather than verbalizing a prayer of thanksgiving for your meal, take time to listen to what the universe or God is telling you. Receive the insight and take in the connection to the plants and animals that sacrificed their lives so that you can eat. Listen and find the connection with the moment rather than filling the moment with your words. It will add intention to living broken open.
  3. Connect don’t compare with others. Subtly people constantly compare themselves to others. The things we compare about ourselves to others is endless. Comparison creates “us” versus “them”. Connection with others tells us to never forget that we belong to each other. There is no they. We are they. Mark Nepo wrote a powerful poem to remind—“Those who awake are the students—those who stay awake are the teachers—How we take turns”
  4. Treat life as sacred. Sacred comes from a willingness to make change. Sacred conversations brave the depths of radical change in the way you live. When I keep insisting on doing what I once was able to do but now cannot I will continue to break down what is sacred which is the possibility of change. Showing up and being present for every single moment is sacred. This is the focus in sacred community.
  5. Tune your recovery as you experience day to day life. Every day brings its own challenge. Recovery practice suggests that you manage fear and anxiety, stress and strain by constantly bringing yourself back to center. You learn not to turn against yourself. At the helm you will constantly make adjustments to avoid turning against yourself. Rather than life being a set of rules, or a specific formula to follow, recovery is a finely tuned dynamic with adjustments as you make your way through life. When you don’t know, no matter how much you dwell on what you don’t know, it doesn’t improve. It’s like searching for something you misplaced. After exhausting all the avenues, when you let go and surrender, the lost item uncannily shows up. Tuning recovery involves a kind of search and surrender. 

Recovery is a way of getting free from addiction. Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”. Wisdom in recovery is a way of sorting through the vast options of freedom that are before you. Wisdom does not exempt you from the journey It is provided to support you in the journey. It will help you deepen your inner roots to face difficult times and live broken open. 

Masturbation and the Sex Addict

Series Three: Blog Thirty-One

Masturbation is a healthy sexual experience shrouded with a cloak of shame. People make wisecracks about it. Religious institutions demonize it. Young kids have been terrorized for doing it. Children are told by their mothers or fathers “not touch yourself down there!” You would think we would have vast colonies of blind people as a backlash from those who were told that if they masturbated they would go blind!

Christianity’s roots for opposing masturbation is found in the Old Testament. There is a reference to Onan’s sin which essentially depicted him pulling out before ejaculation during the act of intercourse. It is assumed that “spilling your seed” included men who pulled out and finished orgasm with masturbation. The Roman Catholic church still officially condemns masturbation as a mortal sin.  It is uncertain how you would conduct accurate research to determine who does masturbate and who does not.  People honestly reporting their sexual practices in a shaming social environment is difficult to gather. Religious leaders are reticent to disclose their practice regarding masturbation. My sense is that you would be hard pressed to find a priest or Christian minister who has not masturbated. As a therapist, few Christian ministers discuss their sexual behavior, particularly their practice about masturbation. The subject of masturbation usually triggers a lot of embarrassment and shame when discussed in the confines of most Christian churches. There is a tendency to lie if asked “do you masturbate?” I have always wondered if Jesus masturbated? Of course, I will never know if he did. Nothing is ever mentioned about his psychosexual development. Jesus was described as being a spiritual and human being. Yet, how could he relate to being human without being a sexual being. There is nothing in the New Testament that mentions anything about the sexual experience of Jesus.

In the medical and psychology world it is generally understood that masturbation is considered healthy. It is described as a positive self-nurturing behavior that offers relief from muscle tension and stress. It provides emotional and physical comfort.  

That said, what about a sex addict who chronically masturbates? Can masturbation become problematic? Can masturbation become a substitute for sexual connection and intimacy in a committed relationship? The answer is, of course! When this substitute becomes a chronic pattern of behavior, relational intimacy suffers. Self-soothing behaviors become problematic when they are compulsively engaged to avoid unwanted emotions. Someone who enjoys ice cream and compulsively eats more and more every day to escape unwanted feelings is creating a problem with ice cream.  The same can be true for masturbation. Addiction can be understood as a pathological relationship to a mood altering substance or process that has life damaging consequences without the power to stop the destructive behavior by yourself.  Masturbation and ice cream and a myriad of other substances and processes can fit this description of addiction when abused.

I have treated clients who have compulsively masturbated to the point of causing their penis or clitoris to bleed and continue to do so in spite of the pain and physical injury. Obviously, this is unhealthy.

When treating sexual addiction, there is no one suggestion that fits everyone. For many sex addicts, masturbation is off-limits. The reason is because masturbation became an organizing principle in their life that was utilized to avoid unwanted feelings. Eventually, it became a block to healthy emotional and sexual intimacy with their partner. Why take the risk of pursuing their partner for sexual connection when it was easier to simply masturbate to porn or a mental sexual image? You can be in total control and have orgasm exactly when you want to without needing to risk rejection or engage the responsibility of meeting your partner’s sexual needs. This is a common response of those who are addicted to masturbation. For many sex addicts, masturbation to fantasy is foundational to an explosion of sexual behaviors that are destructive. It becomes linked to destructive behaviors that betray their own values and/or commitments made in a monogamous relationship. Not all sex addicts are addicted to masturbation. Compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors are varied and wide. For the many who struggle with compulsive masturbation treatment is necessary.  It’s not that masturbating in a committed relationship was betrayal in and of itself.  However, fantasizing about being sexual with another through masturbation triggered many to act out sexually with other people. When this occurred they violated their vows and agreements in their committed relationship who did not agree to an open sexual relationship.  Masturbation became the fuel for infidelity. For these individuals, masturbation became a powerful rehearsal to the sexual pursuit of others.  For these sex addicts, abstaining from masturbation was necessary.

In recovery, masturbation is a bottom line behavior that is not practiced for many. Some introduce it later in their recovery program. When this occurs it is important that an addict do this with consultation with a therapist, sponsor and their community of support. When addicts do this without consultation it usually triggers a slip or relapse. It is important that an addict carefully manage addiction thinking in making this choice; thus, the need for consultation.  Some addicts do not need to put masturbation in their bottom line or inner circle of behaviors because they do not struggle with it or it did not figure into intimacy disability with self or a committed partner. There is not a one size fits all suggestion to recovery.  When it does apply, recovery maturity is needed to sift and sort when it is healthy to re-introduce masturbation. Generally, most sex addicts who are in the earliest stages of recovery, are wise to abstain from all sexual behaviors for a period of time in order to establish the practice of meeting emotional needs in ways other than sexual self-soothe. It is helpful to strengthen impulse control and to learn other healthy ways to meet emotional needs other than with sexual behavior. For some, masturbation without the involvement of a committed partner is always an acting out behavior that leads to a slippery slope of more destructive sexual behaviors. Here is a list of considerations regarding masturbation for an addict working a recovery program.

  1. Establishing boundaries around all sexual behaviors must be addressed with a therapist, sponsor and recovery community. It is unwise to make solitary decisions without input from others.
  2. When it is determined within the community of support that masturbation is not a part of a sex addict’s acting out behavior, it should not be listed as an acting out behavior (bottom line, red light or inner circle).
  3. When masturbation is determined to be an acting out behavior it should be listed in the inner circle of a sobriety contract.
  4. Masturbation should only be re-introduced if it is supported in consultation with the therapist, sponsor and group members. An addict must demonstrate recovery growth in relationship healing that merits the inclusion of masturbation. This takes considerable growth in recovery.
  5. Edging is a term used in recovery circles for those addicts who have masturbation as an inner circle behavior and touch themselves but do not orgasm. Is it acting out or not? This decision will vary from addict to addict. It is more important to practice identifying what are the emotional needs that must be met underneath the sexual urge. Then it is important to work toward addressing this need in an emotionally or physically healthy way. Judging edging behavior as acting out or not can become a head game that misses the opportunity to initiate healthy self parenting. 

Resilience – Self-Care – Intention and the ’S

We all know about self-care, and resilience has become a word I seem to hear around every corner these days. The horse is the true definition of resilience. They have evolved from small pig-like, three toed creatures into the majestic strong animals I have the pleasure to work with every day. They embody the definition of resilience: “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” How do we develop this in ourselves, our children, our employees? 

While I am a licensed professional counselor and my perspective comes from my work in the Eagala (www.eagala.org) model of equine-assisted psychotherapy, I hope I am able to help the reader see that this is relevant to everyone, every day, everywhere. 

In our Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) trainings we learn to use the acronym SPUD’S. We look for Shifts, Patterns, Uniqueness, and Discrepancies in the actions and words of our clients and the presentation and interactions of the horses. I chose to carry this out of the office and into my world. It forces me to pause and helps me stay objective. The SPUD is the easy part. It is the ‘S that gets tricky. We run entire workshops focused on the ’S. It’s the three fingers pointing back at yourself when you are pointing at someone or something else. It represents our own Stuff. As a therapist I need to continually be aware of my triggers, projection, transference, counter transference etc and how it affects my interactions in the world. I have to be willing to actively engage in my own therapeutic work as it presents. In the office, it can be easy to miss or to put aside the ’S. However, in the arena it is another story. The horses know when someone is incongruent and/or they know when we are bringing our “Stuff” into the arena. They will call us out right in front of our clients. We have to check our “stuff” at the gate. If there is something lingering out of our awareness they will call it to attention. 

Stepping out of the arena and into the world, want can we do to minimize how our “stuff” impacts our relationships? I believe self-care is key. I see self-care as having 3 levels – the big get away vacations and our own therapy, the common bubble baths, massages, treat yourself sort of things, and the moment to moment daily practices that become part of who we are. All are important, but it is in the daily practices that we build resilience. The resilience skills that we teach as daily practices become the pebble in the water. First an increase in interoception – with this comes increased awareness and mindfulness – followed by greater insight to identify the ’S and address them. By knowing ourselves better from the inside out, we can then better engage with those around us. As a bonus, when we have mastered these skills and regulate ourselves, others become better able to regulate themselves. Experiment with this… the next time your kids, coworkers, family members are quarreling or having a disagreement take a moment to pause and notice your breath. Maybe take a step closer if you can. Just keep noticing your breath. See what happens. I know it sounds way too simple. It is simple – it is not easy. This is where intention comes to play. When we can pause and be more intentional in our interactions and observations we can often step away from our ’S in the moment and feel more confident in addressing them in a professional manner. 

I tell our clients that the horses are here to meet them in the moment, without judgment and ask them to offer themselves the same. The last spin I will put on this blog is a reminder to look at your world through the lens of information. The lens of judgment does not allow for healing, growth or learning. Encounter your ’S with excitement in the knowing that as you address them you become lighter, brighter, more self-aware, and better able to engage in the world with clarity and intention. 

TRANSpired

As a 28 year old non-binary Trans masculine individual who has gone through multiple self-evaluation periods, I’ve come to the conclusion, deep down we are all beings looking to grow strongly and beautifully. It is partially our environment that either hinders or helps us do so – PCS has provided a supportive space which made room for me personally to garden an environment that allowed growth. I realized, the grass is greener where we water it.

I began to really sit with myself and I began to water myself. I started to focus on my physical health with the theory that, “If I don’t use it, I lose it.” I began to focus on my mental health as I needed to fix the foundation I was building within. The more I stayed in tune with what I wanted instead of what others may have wanted of me, little shifts subtly took place. I started to plant seeds of how I pictured my garden, not one envisioned for me.

In a world where it seems scary to be authentically who I am, I haven’t allowed it to keep me from blossoming. We were meant to go through seasonal circumstances and within each season, there’s handsomeness and beauty. There’s self-love that transpires and when we have a hold of it, we shine.

My recent light brought me to write the below poem,

“March coming to a close,
Yet I’m more open than ever.
An anticipated chapter; I knew this time would come.
This time where every step feels worth the lunge.
A time where the shoes I’m wearing finally fit.
Comfortably.
I finally see – myself in mirrors.
I finally hear – myself in echoes.
And somehow,
It’s like, I finally let go.

I let go of fear,
And replaced it with faith.
I let go of anger,
And replaced it with love.
I let go of judgment,
And replaced it with acceptance.

Yesterday prepared me for today.
God knew I would see this day.
I was always worth it,
I just had to believe it too.”

And, I believe in you.

-Vané R. Moreno

He/him/She/her

Navigating Social Media as a Parent

Social media has changed the way we communicate, socialize, obtain information, and shape our opinions about the world, others, and ourselves and while this is very much a profound influence on our lives, many of us haven’t figured out how to effectively parent our children in relationship to it. 

Here are some tips that may help: 

1.    Accept that social media is here to stay. It is understandable that many parents are fearful and therefore are not fully embracing of social media.  However, coming from a place of fear doesn’t promote understanding, and the reality is that similar to things like pornography or drugs and alcohol, wanting these things to go away or trying to altogether avoid conversations about these things does not work. At some point young people will be exposed to them and there is no magic social media, sex, or drug/alcohol fairy that shows up when kids need guidance. As parents, we need to show up in that role. 

2.    In order to effectively manage your child’s social media use, you have to expose yourself to it, engage with it, and understand it.  Have your child introduce their favorite app(s) and tell you what they like about it and teach you how to use it. Make it fun.  Try to avoid criticizing social media, as this will reinforce the attitude of, “My parents just don’t get it.” This does not mean as parents we have to agree with all of what our kids are doing, or posting, or sharing – it is more about wanting them to see us as willing to listen and learn and maybe to consider that as their “old, out of touch” parents we might actually know a little bit of what we’re talking about. Judgement will only get in the way of what you really want — to have a closer relationship with you kids.  

3.    Find ways to connect vs. reject. One way to do this is to make it fun! Send messages through snapchat, tell them to make their bed with a goofy face filter, or try not to embarrass yourself doing a TikTok dance. One added benefit, is that when children realize they cannot so easily get away with things online, they are more transparent. Also, this can promote kids thinking twice and editing before sending a message or posting something inappropriate. If not, you will be there to help them manage it.  Young people are uniquely sensitive to the judgment of parents, teachers, friends, and the digital community. It might be that social media heightens this sensitivity and drives impulsiveness or pre-occupation with popularity, acceptance, or body image, but it did not create these issues. Yes, it can make it harder and more pressure-filled for kids, but if we make it all about social media, we are missing the big picture.

4.    Set up a plan – talk to your kids about what they might be exposed to ahead of time. Let them know they might see things that confuse them, upset them, or even scare them. Work to establish yourself as a person who they can turn to without fear of losing the privilege. Losing access for a time may be a necessary outcome, but do your best to not threaten it and to first understand what happened without shaming.  One tip is to avoid taking phones or social media away as a punishment if the problematic behavior was not related to that social media use. Remember the long-term goal is for our kids to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of social media use for themselves. Lastly, make sure to talk to other parents, therapists, or attend meetings/webinars on the subject. Do your best to stay informed so you can meet the needs of your kids. 

Sam Hardwig MA, LPC, CSAT CANDIDATE

Superhuman Therapists

Family, friends, and strangers often ask me what it’s like being a therapist. It is important to note: I just got here, so I may not be the best person to ask at this point. I completed my Doctorate in Psychology a few months ago, and I’m now completing a postdoctoral residency at Psychological Counseling Services.

I am not new to life, however, nor am I new to the trauma that can occur once thrown into this difficult and beautiful life. I am a combat veteran (Afghanistan) where I was a medic for the United States Army. I played in rock-n-roll bands for 20 years prior to that, and I worked in the hospitality industry for a decade as well. Most of it was really fun. You could say that I have lived among the people, dealing with real life problems, making all sorts of human mistakes. I then transformed several messes into something more productive and beautiful. I joke with my colleagues that I got to the game (clinical psychology) late because I spent my first three decades gathering personal research on trauma. Though I joke, it is very true. Now, I’m a pre-licensed clinical psychologist, and people of all kinds ask me what it’s like. They want to know what it is like holding someone’s darkest secrets and knowing the most intimate details of their life.

So far, I can tell you that it is sacred. I walk on hallowed ground every moment that I am in the presence of a client. Being a therapist can be demanding, as it requires that you do your own inner work, applying the knowledge you learn in school to your own personal life. It means getting in touch with your inner child and listening. It means getting in touch with your most vulnerable self and daring to heal. It means learning to say yes and learning to say no. It means having boundaries with family and friends, with all people truly. Being a therapist means waking up before the job to work out or taking your dog around the block as the sun is rising. It is practicing the same mindfulness you teach your clients. It’s practicing tolerance in traffic, in politics, in uncomfortable emotions. It’s sharing space. It’s taking healthy chances. It’s investing in your cells, so it is drinking water and balancing your diet. It’s going to bed early. It’s being physically and mentally active, socializing, and cooperating within a community. It’s having compassion for yourself when you stumble. Being a therapist is turning your own past trauma into healing and growth, subsequently shining a light for others.

A few have said, “Therapists sound superhuman.” I answer with this: It is simply important that we therapists practice what we preach, that we lead by example, that we ensure what we bring to the table is our inner, wiser Self who has been tried and is true, who is fluid and ever-changing, ever-growing, always being. No, we’re not superhuman. We are extra human, and our responsibility to our clients is “to do good and to do no harm.” It means all the things mentioned throughout this article. We are not superhuman. We are extra human, falling and succeeding in our own everyday lives often and regularly.

© Psychological Counseling Services