Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Topic 18. Creating Your Future

As you complete your aftercare plan, I ask you to think “big.” A story I often use with clients asks them to think To be more specific, I ask them to think of their favorite dessert (or if none, their favorite food). I ask them to tell me in great detail the last time they enjoyed the food. I encourage them to “play it up big.” For example, I love cookies. My favorite is chocolate chip cookies with milk chocolate and dark chocolate “chunks” as well as pecans with real vanilla in the cookie. I particularly enjoy them when the are hot and fresh and right out of the oven cooled just enough to stay together and hot enough for the chocolate to warm your mouth as it dissolves. As I reflect on what is written, I can “taste” the cookie and relive the experience. I can sense my mouth starting to water in anticipation of tasting what is little more than a thought of a past experience. As you read the paragraph, perhaps you can envision the same experience of tasking the last time you had a great cookie with a bit of mouth watering on your own. The next step in the experience is to tell the client to listen and follow very carefully the following direction: DO NOT THINK OF THE COOKIE! As hard as they try, and even as hard as you try, you can not not think about the cookie. Telling yourself not to think about bases the thought on the cookie even as you try to ignore it. In the same way, much of what we do in treating sexual compulsivity is based on “Don’t think about sex.” And, as a result, it’s all we think about. This topic is designed to help move the conversation away from a topic of not thinking about sexual compulsivity and to think about something greater in your life.

To set this future up, it is important to recognize that much of our behavior is based on fear. I don’t want to lose my job, relationship, house, etc. I don’t want this to or that to happen. There is a great line from a book I read as a teen ager nearly 30 years ago from Frank Herbert’s book Dune. In the book he penned the Litany of Fear and it is repeated here.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The litany focuses on all the big and little fears alike and how the create a type of death leading to isolation, withdrawal and despair. Much of treatment is focused on identifying these fears, correcting the thoughts that contribute to the fears, recognizing that I can survive through the fear and that afterwards I’m stronger for the experience. The last sentence is important, after the fear passes, “Only I will remain.” This is the start of the new life. If only I remain, who am I. Ultimately what remains is the future which I choose. It might be important to review the section on spirituality. It is these moments that all the fears burn away and the experience of something greater in the world occurs. For some people, this is the moment of spiritual awakening. As a mental health provider, it is important to take these moments and ask how do I make them livable and real in the daily encounter. William James in his book “Varieties of Religious Experiences” talks about recognizing the impact of spirituality in a person’s life. (He wrote this book in 1897, and his use of religion is akin to the term spirituality.) It is the way a person lives his or her life that we see the application of spirituality lived in the moment.

Review the topic on Spirituality. As you examine the exercise in the spirituality be sure to highlight the three to five values that are expressive of your spirituality. For some people, the concept is not helpful so I ask you to think of what values are important that you use to shape your life. These values are broad and primarily evoke a calling to move beyond the fear of life to stepping into the unknown. In the field of morality, we might label these values as virtues. As an example, in my life the values of healing, courage and freedom shape my life. These values are the bedrock of my work, of my relationships, and reflect my understanding of my faith. The key is that I use them to express my faith. You need to find the values that inspire you. I suggest around three.

Write these values here






As you move through the rest of stage three, ask yourself how these values are shaping your behaviors, your limits, your response to fears, your boundaries. Does my form of acting out behavior move me closer or further away from the value? How willing am I to do whatever it takes to live out and express these values. Many times the people who inspire us are examples where despite their fear they chose actions that expressed their values. Think about three major (relatively) recent individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. They lived values to the degree that the world recognized as inspiring. Yet, such examples are experienced daily. One of my mentors has a profound commitment to HIV prevention. I met him over 15 years ago and continue to be inspired by his passion and commitment to making a difference in the world. In a daily experience, I’m constantly inspired by clients as they move pass the garbage of shame resulting from the past. There is often a moment of insight where all the information clicks. From that moment, the process of therapy, while difficult, is completely difficult. It is the moment that hope is born. These values in this section reflect the hope.

These values that inspire you are remarkably stable, yet they can change. Often it is our awareness and language and skill in understanding these values that change more than the values themselves. For now, simply use the above values as s starting point. As I mentioned in the section on spirituality, it is a process not a product. This process of value clarification is ongoing. And I use it to profoundly shape the aftercare plan. Will this behavior protect the values? How do these values shape the next step for me?

Now, let me ask you, where did the thoughts of the cookie go? As we moved from “not thinking about the cookie,” we started a conversation about something of great importance in your life. Not thinking about the cookie became simple; it became a non-task. In the same way, identifying the values that shape your life makes not thinking about sexual compulsivity a non-task. Perhaps this is an over simplification, yet it is an example of the power of these thoughts in creating your future. A future that reflects an integration of your sexual health.

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