Long Term Sobriety and “White-Knuckling”

It feels strange writing about my past acting out/sex addiction. It seems a little forced because it feels behind me. NIne years ago, and especially before I did Ibogaine, I couldn’t have envisioned myself as free as I am now. I was so entrenched in the addiction, and had been for long (2.5 decades), that it was extremely difficult to see how life could be different. Now take my sobriety mostly for granted, which is a nice place to be. I still have a lot of healing work to do. Some of the drivers of addiction are still there. But I’m very grateful for the sobriety I have now.

I say “for the most part” because I respect the fact that things can change. I understand that if I am dumb and don’t take care of myself, and don’t keep making healthy decisions (or at least make more healthy decisions than unhealthy ones), I could end up right back where I was. It’s not as if porn doesn’t carry any attraction. It does. I just choose not to go there any more. I have more interesting things to do, things I care deeply about. And the longer I’ve stayed away, the less the cravings and temptations have become. Thankfully, now, the cravings rarely hit me. I can go months with no craving. In fact, I don’t remember when my last strong craving was!–something impossible to imagine back when I was hooked.

Just to be clear, however, it’s not as if I never want to act out. It’s just more at the level of something like ice-cream or cake. I know I shouldn’t eat sugar. It’s addictive and unhealthy for me. Sometimes I think “oh, it would be really nice to eat that.” But because my sugar addiction is basically broken, it’s more like an intermittent longing. It’s never a strong craving. Only if I eat sugar do I crave sugar. It’s the same for porn and acting out now. Sometimes I long for it. I think my brain/will is no longer hijacked as easily as it was before. So, it’s easier to stay out of the addiction.

For the first 3 or 4 years after Ibogaine, the cravings were much stronger and more frequent than now. To survive, I “white-knuckled” a lot. Pretty much everyone in recovery groups hears that white-knuckling is a bad thing. I agree that it’s not ideal and not sustainable over the long term. But, early in recovery, you gotta do what you gotta do. Or, at least, that’s how I thought about it. I believe white-knuckling is hard to avoid early in recovery because we just don’t know any better. And we are not yet well-practiced at reacting to our cravings (or any compulsion) with self-compassion and connection to God or a Higher Power or whatever. We just aren’t there yet. Now, thankfully, if I feel I’m white-knuckling, I know that something is off in my attitude or consciousness. I know that I need to slow down, feel into my suffering, and really listen to what’s there. Only when I truly connect, without judgement, does that the pain (the craving) transform to something that feels healing (rather than getting stuffed down again).

If you are seeking recovery and are unable to call up these positive attitudes and emotions toward yourself, I implore you to start learning. Don’t wait to learn until you have sobriety. And don’t give up if you feel it’s not working. The positive skills you learn while you are relapsing will help you when you finally stop. The skills of self-compassion and openness to learning from the very thing that’s hurting us (such as craving) is huge. Without these, as far as I can tell, we just put off for another day the lesson we need to learn now.

But, don’t give up. It takes time and practice to cultivate this kind of inner compassion. It also usually takes the help of someone who is better at it. In the meantime, if you need to white-knuckle, do that. And keep doing it until the new skill of self compassion can replace it!

Comments? Questions? Please share below!

And if you’d like some help building the skill of self-compassion, I’d love to be involved! Contact me here for a 30 minutes session at no charge.

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