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The Road
By DH
12/19/2011 3:26:19 PM
A close friend of mine that struggles with MB recently asked me in an email: I am working on the spiritual aspect, but how do you overcome the physical aspect of sexual addiction?

I replied:
Overcome the physical aspect? You mean stop doing it? Or do you mean fully and finally break the actual chemical addiction to dopamine or endorphins or whatever it is that our brains become dependent on?

As I understand it, addictions develop from a pattern of self-medication. This addiction, like any other -- like alcohol or drugs, or wrath or gluttony -- develops because it gives us some immediate and temporary relief from some form of anxiety; it lets us escape whatever the cause of the anxiety is (stress, boredom, physical illness, loneliness, etc.) and feel like we are in control. The trouble is that once your brain has formed a path from anxiety to the dopamine rush associated with a particular activity (whether that is drugs or pornography or eating, or even something healthy like exercise), that path is formed -- maybe forever.

So IF the question is how do you get rid of the temptation (the neural pathway), I think the answer is that you may not entirely be able to get rid of the temptation.

But don't despair, just because a road exists doesn't mean you have to drive on it. Like any other road, you can abandon it and let it grow over with weeds. And this is the key: the longer you don't drive on it, the less likely your brain is to try to direct future traffic to it.

Your brain is a creature of habit and efficiency. Your best bet to weaken the temptation is to put time between you and the last time the road was used.

But that road won't overgrow with weeds overnight. Your brain will want to send every anxious driver down the same shortcut road until it is overgrown. Don't be discouraged if you have been clean for a few days, or weeks, and you still feel the temptation seemingly all the time, that is what withdrawal is. There is no quick way to rewire your brain; it just takes time.

As I said earlier,your brain is a very efficient machine, your brain sticks with what works. Your brain will send anxious drivers on the shortest route to relief available. Every time.

Your brain soon figures out that when an anxious driver shows up and you are alone in your room, you let the driver go down this super short road that leads to immediate results (but, like the Hydra, taking that shortcut will actually produce more anxious drivers, such as guilt and shame, and when THOSE drivers get sent down the same road, it becomes what we call a "vicious cycle")

But it is, of course, possible to handle feelings of anxiety without rushing off for MB/P. We handle anxiety in public somehow and we manage to control ourselves. Why doesn't my brain send anxiety down the shortcut road when I am in a public place? I think it is because the traffic cop in our brain that tells us what to do with our anxiety has been told a few times that his shortcut is roadblocked when I am in public, so he eventually stops trying to use it.

I think there must be ways to train our brains to respond to anxiety in private in more healthy ways too. We just need to set up roadblocks at home. If I leave my door open or something like that, I reduce the temptation to MB. Another way is to have an accountability system. My discomfort with having to tell someone that I slipped is a kind of roadblock that tells my traffic cop to divert traffic to some other road.

If you block the traffic long enough, the road will grow over with weeds.

This does not mean that you will never be tempted again -- after all, the road is there, under the weeds. Iit will probably always be there. And someday, when an extremely anxious driver shows up, the traffic cop might think "Woah! We've got to get this anxious driver to a hospital NOW! Take this old abandoned road, it is the fastest one." That kind of temptation can and probably WILL show up months or even years after the road was abandoned. But it is critical in that situation that you do not allow the road to be used or else the cop might start trying to send more cars down it, and it might get cleaned up and become a highway.

So I believe that there may always be some physical remnant of addiction. The road may always exist. But temptations are more manageable the longer it has been since the road was used.

On a practical note, for HOW to abandon the road, I think it has to be an all out blitz. You can't send in one attack on this thing and hope it works; you have to use all your weapons at once. Do the 12 step, get on LDSAR if it helps, pray morning and night, type up your favorite scriptures and hang them in problem areas. Put pictures of Jesus up in your bedroom and bathroom -- laminate one and put it in the shower if you have to, you can do the same with a great scripture, listen to church music while you shower, be careful with your movies and music choices. Set up roadblocks (like accountability), DO EVERYTHING to show God you are serious, and most importantly: when the anxious driver approaches, recognize it and send him some other way. Try to get relief some other way.

Try to get your traffic cop to re-prioritize his traffic directions based on new orders from the president of the united states of YOU -- these are the new orders: efficiency is not the top priority for dealing with anxiety or boredom; the top priority now is your love for your savior, your worthiness, and your self respect,.

Do all these attacks at once. You have to blitz until you start to notice that the road is growing over with weeds. Even then, you can't relax, but you might find that certain of your new good habits have themselves become new roads (good roads) that your traffic cop has started sending cars down (like listening to uplifting music when you are anxious, or saying a prayer, etc.)

I was thinking of this analogy last night and it was helping me understand why it is okay to feel tempted and we shouldn't beat ourselves up about that or get discouraged, but it is extremely dangerous to give in.

Every time we decide between giving in or to resisting and re-routing the anxious driver to another road, we are training our brains for how to act with the next anxious driver.

Comments:

Love the analogy    
"Love it, love it.

"it is okay to feel tempted and we shouldn't beat ourselves up about that or get discouraged"

That one realization has helped me immensely. I used to get so frustrated when temptation would come. "Why won't this just stop!" "I'm just always going to be a bad person..."

When I realized that it was OK and Normal for me to have these temptations--not just because almost everyone does, but because of my history, I should EXPECT to have temptations like this--I was more able to deal with those "anxious drivers." I could say, "Look, I know you want to use that short-cut road. But that road is extremely dangerous. We have closed it. I understand where you are coming from. I know we used to send drivers that way, but we don't do that any more. There were way, way too many fatal accidents that way.""
posted at 15:33:43 on December 19, 2011 by beclean
out loud    
"I like the voice you give the cop.

It sounds silly, but it is useful to say those things out loud to move this process from the subconscious to the conscious mind:

'Hey, here's an anxious driver. But this road is too dangerous. I know we have other ways of getting this guy to settle down. look for another road.""
posted at 16:17:57 on December 19, 2011 by DH
Thank you for this metaphor    
"It has already helped me to avoid acting out when I was strongly tempted. Thank you for putting another arrow in my quiver to help me get rid of this awful addiction.

This is going in my favorites.

I picture a road overgrown with weeds...Yes!"
posted at 22:03:48 on December 21, 2011 by dog
Good post    
"I have never thought of it this way before."
posted at 12:35:29 on April 7, 2012 by Anonymous


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"[The Savior] is saying to us, "Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then, when you walk where I am going," He says, "we can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness," He promises. "I will give you answers to your prayers. I will give you rest to your souls.""

— Jeffrey R. Holland

General Conference, April 2006