Exercises in Recovery


 Acting Out or Acting in Recovery:  The Choice is Yours

   A recovering person, we will call, Jonas shares his recovery journey here in this lesson.  Maybe it would be helpful to process what you did the last time you acted out.  Be specific, but not graphic.  Break it into small steps.  The following is his example.  He wrote in color to describe the feeling as he was in the state of mind.

My Trip to Canada

  • I went to Canada and felt rushed to get there.

  • While driving I had time to think about the last time I acted out there. (alternating between worry, self pity and euphoric recall)

  • I felt tired from driving and wondered why my wife doesn't help more.

  • Felt like wanting to make love, but wife isn't going to want to. (assuming, pre-judging)

  • I saw a convenience store and thought I should get some gas. (worrying about gas prices, thinking subliminally, "I wonder if they have a 'bad' magazine section." 

  • I drive past it.

  • I turn around and drive to the store, thinking I should get fuel as I am not sure when I will find another gas station.

  • I fill up and then go into pay (not paying outside, but unconsciously wanting to go into the store)  (I can fell my adrenaline go up)

  • I think, "why am I doing this?"  I counter with "what, I am just going inside to pay.  I am not sinning"  (but in my heart I am, because this is not a passing thought, but an intent to lust.

  • I find no "bad" magazine, but there is a gal dressed for summer.  I avoid looking, but feel the urge. I am not praying automatically

  • I go to the car and drive, feeling bad that I had these feelings.  Feeling like I am in cycle.  Feeling depressed, "why am I so triggered."  "Can't I be normal."  (Self pity, resentment that I can't be like other people, resentment that God is not "helping me.")  I am still holding onto the image that I saw in the store inadvertently.  Yes, I didn't try to look, but it sticks in my mind.

  • Three hours later, I am unpacking to the motel I am staying in.  I look for items that might suggest that there might be porn on the TV.  I am not trying to act out, but my radar is on.  (When I am not in cycle, I don't even think about this.  But when I am in cycle my radar is on.)

  • My radar is on wondering what the couple might be doing next door, or even if there is a couple

  • I think about going to the pool.  Maybe there is something there to see.  (I think, I better not go.  I counter with, "for Pete's sake, you mean you will never go to a pool again.  Is this recovery?"  I think that there is no harm in swimming.  This isn't a sin.  I am not even going there to act out, but to just relax.  Self care is good. (Self care is good, but if I am in cycle, no amount of self-justification is going to work.  What I am fooling myself. I am in cycle and I need to call someone in the program, come up with a 24 hour plan, read some AA literature, read the Bible, pray, and to remember what is the worst that could happen.  Think on this.  Think of my salvation and where 'just a little acting out is going to get me.' 

There are two options I can take.  I will list what happens with both.


Option 1:  "Steps toward Acting Out"
  • I go to the pool.  I soak in some images, "inadvertently"  I start to pamper myself with food, drink and the sun which makes my body too much into itself --Sensuality.

  • I let my mind wander.

  • I go back to the motel room.  I check out TV to see what is on. 

  • I think about blocking the channels, but want to see if there are any there.  I am feeling a bit desperate.

  • I feel like I can't call anyone, because I am in an embarrassing state physically, mentally and emotionally.  "I want what I want and no one is going to stop me."

  • I end up watching a little snippet of something I shouldn't see.  (I have acted out at least mentally and emotionally and I feel guilty and ashamed.)

  • I feel like I might as well act out.  My body, etc 'needs' it.

  • I act out.  I am disgusted with myself.  I feel ashamed and guilty.  I can't pray.  I feel like such a loser.  I feel like just sitting there.

  • 2 hours past.  I still feel bad, I decide instantly to act out again.

  • I even have more pain. 

  • 4 to 6 to 8 hours later, I decide to call someone.  I get an answering machine.  I explained that I have acted out.  I mumble a half hearted message about wanting a call back.  I really don't.  But I am "doing the program."

  • I worry about what they think of me.

  • 2 days later I call my sponsor.  I can't really remember all the downhill steps of acting out, but I have a sure resolve to not do it again.  (as if I had control.  What?  I thought you admitted powerlessness last October in a meeting in Seattle.  I am confused)

Option 2:  "Taking Action in Recovery" 
  • I realize I am in cycle.  I really I have only sinned a little. 

  • I STOP the Cycle 

  • I GO call someone immediately. (calling fellow recovering members is probably the most sure way to sober ourselves up)

  • I don't save face (by minimizing, and not showing any emotion) but I save my rear end by (humiliating myself with emotion, with honest and an attitude that I don't care what they think, "I am trying to get sober and what they think doesn't matter, but what I do to get well is what matters most."

  • I don't go to the pool, but go somewhere safe.

  • I make a 24 hour plan or an evening plan. "By God's grace, 1) I am going to read a little from program literature; 2) I am going to read from the Gospels until the feeling passes; 3) I am going to go to dinner at a safe restaurant; 4) I am going to write in my journal starting with a three item gratefulness inventory.  4) I am going to journal about what is bothering me.  If I know how to do the fourth step, write one out.  5) I think about how bad the acting out could get if I just take one sip (or look).

  • I YIELD to God and surrender this to Him.  Yield to direction, to my sponsor's advice and the principles of the program.

  • 2 hours later, I call my sponsor.  (yes, I called someone or him earlier, but calling after two hours is a great idea) we can do all the right stuff and then act out saying, "it didn't work."  But, calling later will ensure some sobriety until the feeling passes.  If someone was suicidal would we expect that they could move out of it in just one phone call.  No, we would call again to check in again.

  • Pray evening prayers.  Thank God and praise him for another day of sobriety.

  • Wear pajamas that are appropriate for staying sober.

  • If tempted, understand that the plan will be to get up (like clockwork, without an emotional disturbance) and pray.  The more automatic it is, the better it seems to work.  (panicking makes us feel like we are doing something wrong)

  • I wake up to face another day.  I feel good, loved and connected.

So, you might want to journal what you did wrong.  Think about what you want to do right next time and write it down.  Laminate it and carry it with you like a credit card.  Read it every few hours, days or weeks depending on you need.  Share what you wrote with a sponsor, therapist or friend in recovery. Notice how it wasn't really graphic.  But share to the point where you aren't saving face, that is you feel embarrassed.  Tell on yourself.  You will recovery this way.  I have clients do this exercise and it is really beneficial.  


Copyright 2008.  Erik Bohlin, M.A., LMHC




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