(not so) Happy Holidays

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The holidays are upon us and for many people, they aren’t so happy. The reason is that the holidays usually mean engagement with family, which can be incredibly triggering. This can be true for both a man struggling with sexual integrity issues and also for his wife.

For men, often family-of-origin issues are at play. It can be an interaction with dad that taps a nerve. Or it could be a comment from mom that just sits awkwardly.  It could be the house or a particular room in the house that brings back old memories. Whatever the event, it can be a trigger that catches people off-guard. Without realizing it, some of the old emotions can surface and subtly lure a man back towards medicating and acting out.

Likewise for wives, family and often (especially) the in-laws can be triggering. I hear stories of wives returning from Christmas with the husband’s family bearing resentment, anger, and also insight! They sometimes see relational dynamics that shed light on their husband’s mannerisms, attitudes and behavioral patterns. In fact, I frequently hear wives say they see the kid come out. In other words, they see the origin of some of the childish behavior they witness in their adult husbands.

All that said, here’s the good news: the holidays can be an incredible time of growth! Personally, we can grow by handling family triggers better than ever before. We can do intimacy (speaking non-sexually) with our spouses unlike ever before.  We can connect with the folks walking our journey with us. We can also let the difficulties drive us deeper towards Jesus.

So, a few of suggestions for this holiday season:

  1. Practice self-awareness through journaling. For both husband and wife, it is imperative to be dialed-in to what’s happening in your heart. Finishing your day with a quick download in your journal can be enough to process some of the emotions that could lead to acting out.
  2. If you know your family situation causes strife and is potentially toxic, prep your accountability partners/support people for daily phone calls to check in. It may be a 10-minute conversation with someone in your corner that can talk you off a ledge.  It can also be a conversation like this that helps you see your family with a new level of grace.
  3. Try to remember that everyone comes to the Thanksgiving table with a story. People show up with that story playing out, and sometimes it’s messy.
  4. Remember that no matter where you are in your story, you are not disqualified from helping someone bump into Jesus.

Final Four

After the brief detour to talk about the many faces of a man in recovery, we’re getting back on track. Time to round out the discussion on Secondary Boundaries. What we’ve covered so far:

  1. Geographic
  2. Situational
  3. Relational
  4. Intellectual
  5. Psychological
  6. Financial

Now for the final 4.

7. Emotional feelings. This is the stuff going on at a heart level that might propel us into the addictive cycle. It is important to identify and acknowledge which emotions increase your propensity to medicate. That said, we have to go to the deepest levels. For example, Anger is easy to identify. However, underneath that anger may be hurt, fear, failure, shame or disappointment. We must identify those. Stress is a common one. But when many people say stress, what they mean is they feel overwhelmed and fearful of failure. Some guys act out when they feel excited and happy. Others when they feel sad, lonely or rejection.

8. Spiritualwhere are you and God? We know we can’t fight this alone. And we know that if God doesn’t intervene we’re hopeless. Sometimes God is near, sometimes far. In one of my groups a guy described his relationship with God like this: “I feel like I’m a member of a large audience, 1000’s of people, and I know God the way I know the speaker on a stage. He doesn’t know me, he just knows I’m out there. I don’t really know him, but I know he’s up there speaking, and I should be listening.” Living in that relational space with God could be a space where you act out sexually. Or perhaps when you feel like God is miles away. Or maybe even when you come off a mountain top high with God, like after a mens retreat. The important thing here is again to raise your awareness and plan for those occasions.

9. Physiological – think body. It is unfortunately too frequent for guys to say that crossed a line and acted out sexually because of some bodily urge. Is there a reality to our cycles of sperm production and the feelings of needing a release? Yes. And did God make appropriations in our bodies for that release? Yes. Which means we don’t have to take matters into our own hands (literally or figuratively). Don’t let natural urges be the driver on acting out. Create plans around physiological boundaries. Limit time laying in bed in the morning, or limit time in the shower. Double check your motive for pursuing sexual intimacy with your wife. Don’t give yourself the excuse that your urges and just natural impulses and thus you are entitled to some behavior. I always come back to this verse when thinking about these boundaries:

Jude 1:10b – and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals – these are the very things that destroy them.

10. Technologicalanything related to technology. We’ve heard so many of the stories of guys acting out using playstations, kindles, ipads, cellphones, laptops, etc. There’s an endless supply of media devices to be used for evil or good. Don’t be so careless as to think that using an online device is safe. It is not. There is always a risk, even if you have a filters in place. Create safeguards around how & when you use technology. Make sure your accountability folks know those boundaries and help you be accountable for them.

Hopefully this info is helpful. Another reminder, the goal isn’t to have a narrow, boxed in life. It is to have freedom because we have guard rails that keep us from getting off in the ditch.

More Fences

Picking up from the last post about secondary boundaries, today we’ll look at 3 more. Again the idea isn’t to manage our lives by avoiding these boundaries at all costs. Instead it is about using these boundaries as signals to help us navigate life in a God honoring way, especially as it pertains to sexual integrity. Let’s jump in.

4. Intellectual – think curiosity. Intellectual boundaries are those places in our minds where we may end up triggered. The most common example of this is when a guy says he saw something on TV or in a magazine, then felt curious, so he jumped online and googled it. He is basically asking to be slimed. It is something that has or could have a sexual hook to it. It could be a person’s name, a product or object, or even an article. If your radar is up and your mind starts to wonder towards something with a sexual edge to it, it is probably an Intellectual Boundary.

5. Psychologicalmental health issues. Some people act out sexually in times of depression. Others in the swings of a bipolar disorder or in the manic phases of bipolar disorder. Still others in the midst of anxiety or when they feel panicky. Mental health issues play an important role for some people and seeing a doctor to discuss medication is the right next step. If you (or someone close to you) can help see a trend or pattern of sexual volatility around mental health struggles, it’s time to get that checked out.

6. Financialmoney. I’ve talked to guys who act out on payday and for very different reasons. Some because they feel powerful and in control, they feel adequate and want to celebrate their achievements. Others because payday is a reminder of their inadequacy and shortcomings, knowing there is too much month and not enough check. Financial talks with spouses can be stressful, as can figuring out how to pay for your son/daughters next semester at college. Mounting debt, unexpected auto expenses, medical bills, etc. can all be a factor. With financial boundaries, the goal is to have a plan in place to handle the issues that will arise. Perhaps on the front end that looks like taking a Crown Financial or a Financial Peace class. It also looks like be on the same page as your spouse, which those classes can help with.

I urge you to discuss these boundaries with your accountability partners. Ask them to help you identify trends and to see your blindspots. Get their input on what appropriate boundaries are and what the plan should look like to deal with them. Be prayerful with them to invite God in, and ask His input on your structure and path forward.