If there is one 12-step slogan or practice to use as your go-to during a crisis, Awareness, Acceptance, Action might be one. If you’re feeling isolated, lonely or anxious this simple tool can help bring you to a more centered and connected place. Below is a Gestalt therapy approach to this important practice.
One of the main contributing elements of sexual addiction is being “out of awareness.” We use this phrase in Gestalt therapy to signify doing things habitually. When addicts don’t notice their thoughts, feelings or physical sensations before acting out, they are out-of-awareness (Regarding physical awareness: ever get a feeling in your gut or a knot in your stomach telling you acting out is probably a bad idea, yet you ignore it and do it anyway?)
The movement from feeling angry, depressed, self-pitying or lonely (or add any triggering feeling) to acting out sexually can be so automatic, that acting out doesn’t even feel like a choice. It’s like driving through a red light and imagining that it’s green.
Awareness helps you see that the red light actually is a red light. Acting out is a choice and awareness allows you to make the right choice. Awareness allows you to press pause on habitual behavior and give your recovery a fighting chance to admit powerlessness and let go of the need to act out. Below are three tools that will help you to build awareness.
- Mindfulness Meditation – Meditation helps the addict observe their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Just find a comfortable spot in your home, sit with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Now focus on your breath. When your mind conjures up a thought or feeling, just observe it and let it go. Then return to the breath. Repeat. That is the practice. This takes your mind off acting out and grounds you in your body. Even one minute per day can help build awareness.
- Name it to Tame it — This is a psychology slogan has been proven to allow people to separate from their emotions. You build awareness by naming the emotion or physical sensation and, somehow, its power diminishes. Example: Sometimes feeling tired or angry can precipitate acting out. If you simply say to yourself, “I’m tired,” or “I’m angry” you will be able to reduce the power of the feeling and your mere awareness of the feeling may prevent any negative outcome
- Turning it over — Call a group member, sponsor or a program friend and share your difficult or triggering thoughts, feelings or physical sensations. “Turning it over” helps build awareness by externalizing challenging feelings. When we are in dialogue with a safe person, we’re out of dialogue with the addict in our head. And if you ask for feedback, you might receive some constructive support.
Addicts suffer from a fear of imagined criticism and judgement from others and real criticism and judgement from themselves. This often stems from a childhood in which we felt that we were not good enough in the eyes of our caregivers or we even felt that we didn’t exist at all. We may not have had the power or awareness to accept ourselves back then, but as recovering addicts today — we do now.
Once we have an awareness of our thoughts, feelings and sensations, the next step is to accept that it’s ok to have them. Addicts sometimes are aware of their feelings, but they are not accepting of them. In fact, they often deny feelings or for even fight them. When that happens, addiction almost always win out. Instead: try acceptance. “I accept that I am angry and want to act out” or “I won’t judge myself for wanting to act out because I broke up with my girlfriend”or simply, “I accept myself as I am.” The end goal of self-acceptance is non-judgement.
So now you’ve become aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations. You’ve come to accept them as well. Generally, when you engage in a process of awareness and acceptance, the next right action reveals itself. But what if it doesn’t?
Three great slogans come to mind:
1.) Don’t just do something, sit there. 2.) If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. Sex addicts suffer from impulsive behavior. They often spur into action, without thinking or feeling. Doing so can frequently lead to very negative consequences. Try not doing anything and see what that feels like.
If you do need to act, the best actions take place mindfully with an integration of thought, feeling and a balanced sense of physical well-being. If you can’t get a thought or image out of your mind and feel a need to act out, try putting awareness and acceptance first, and then take a recovery action, instead of an impulsive one that may lead to sexual acting out. Listed below are some recovery actions.
Recovery actions: Take three deep breaths – Call your sponsor – Go for a walk (if that’s healthy for you) – Read recovery literature like S-recovery 12-step pamphlets or the AA big book – Go to a live 12-step meeting or get on a phone or zoom meeting – Call a program friend – Do some physical exercise – Listen to some calming music – Cook a healthy meal – Pray – Meditate – Journal
Finally, during the time of COVID-19…• Use awareness to remember that we are all suffering through this as a recovery community, as a city, as a state, as a nation and as a world. Sometimes, you may feel alone in this situation — you really aren’t! We’re all in this together.
• Use acceptance to remember, that this virus is bigger than you are. Try to remember an important part of the serenity pray and “…accept the things I cannot change.”
• Use action and make it a recovery action — have a videoconference with a program friend, write in your journal about these unique times, make a gratitude list, and try to ask yourself what opportunities this strange environment might yield.