A Little Writing Goes a Long Way

What I am writing about today may be most helpful to people who are early in the recovery process, or people who are still deciding if they have a problem at all. Although the technique is so simple, I think it is useful for any decision that will require a change in behavior. It is the cause-and-effect log. 

When I was first beginning to get sober, I realized the power of addiction to distort my memories. Many times I felt deeply convicted to make a change on a Sunday night, only to feel a vague commitment to change by Monday afternoon. It occurred to me that something must be lost between those times even though they were less than a day apart. I had journaled in the past, but my negative associations to the act of journaling (too hard, too time-consuming, unfocused, etc.), and the chaos created by addiction made it very hard for me to journal with any consistency. I knew that I needed to stop, but I needed the data to prove to myself that I needed to stop.

The way I discovered what was being lost was to conduct an experiment with myself as the subject. I committed to keeping an honest record of my addiction behaviors, and their consequences to how I felt. If you are (or think you may be) addicted to a substance, this means getting into the details of your use - amount, cost, time of use, time of re-use, and whatever other inputs you think are important. If porn or sex is the thing you struggle with, you might record things like the time you spent online viewing pornography or searching for a hook-up, where you went to meet someone, what you did, how long it took, etc.  There isn't a right way to do this. Imagine that you are a scientist, and you are trying to figure out the answer to the question, "Should this subject modify his/her pattern of using?" What matters most is that you are willing to be honest. These are your lab notes; no one else will see them.

The other half of any good experiment is recording the result. In this case, that mostly means how you felt. After a few days of doing this recovery experiment, it will start to become apparent what works, and what doesn't. That's right, you may find that your decisions are mostly working out fine. Part of doing this honestly means not prejudging the outcome. I know from my experience that some social engagements felt easier for me when I was using. I had to weigh the loss of that social facilitation against the other effects my using was having. Effects I was able to see clearly in my cause-and-effect log. 

Like any other tool in recovery, this isn't a magic bullet. Although, after collecting data for a few weeks you will be able to see what behaviors lead to what outcomes. If you find that the behaviors in question are bringing joy into your life, and helping you accomplish your goals, then it doesn't make sense to view those behaviors as addictions. On the other hand, if they are causing you pain, and interrupting your life, this log makes it much more difficult to minimize the issue.