The following post contains excerpts from Week 5 of the Fortify Program. To find more useful tips to aid you in recovery, check out the full program.
When it comes to addictive or compulsive patterns, no matter how great our plans are, it’s frustrating to still be swept away— even when, deep down, we’d really like to be moving in the other direction.
A previous blog post talked about choice points—moments where we have an option to step away. Finding the power and desire to step away, however, is no simple matter. Because we are so incredibly accustomed to being on autopilot, we may not notice the underlying forces and currents that can dictate our behavior from time to time.
The good news is this: you’ve already started the journey to not be so “caught up” in these patterns and to begin regaining power in your life. As a way to help ground and stabilize you in vulnerable moments, let’s talk about something concrete and practical – something you can pull out when the urge to use pornography or indulge other unwanted sexual behaviors hits.
One of our favorite strategies is a four-step, secret-weapon that we call, “STAR,” which stands for:
S—Step back and observe
T—Take a few conscious breaths
A—Ask yourself what you really want
Back in the day when explorers would get lost at sea, they would look to the North Star for guidance—a fixed point that could help them find the right direction. In a similar way, this STAR can help anchor us when we’re feeling especially vulnerable and starting to get pulled back into the force and momentum of the addiction cycle.
Let’s talk about each element of STAR, and how it can help you find freedom.
S: Step back and observe
As you feel the urge to use, it can be helpful to step back, calmly observe the situation, and check out what’s really happening: What am I really feeling here? What kinds of thoughts are hitting me? This may not feel natural at first - and can definitely take practice—but give it a try sometime. And whenever that urge comes, stop and take a step back.
Taking a step back, of course, doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be able to step away from the cycle. Even after stepping back and observing the situation, it’s easy to still feel pulled and captivated by the urge. Because of that, the T in STAR is important.
T: Take a few conscious breaths
Don’t roll your eyes at this one, there is legit science behind it. Give your brain what it needs to do its job and give it a good dose of oxygen. Your muscles will be able to relax a bit and you will feel more grounded. Some people find it advantageous to examine how their breath physically feels; literally feeling the actual sensation of just breathing. Close your eyes and feel your lungs fill up slowly. You are no longer frantic, you are in control and you can make a rational, informed decision. From there, you are ready for the next step of STAR.
A: Ask yourself what you really want
Now that you’ve taken a few conscious breaths to ground yourself, it’s now a good time to ask yourself more directly what you really want right now? As much as we can all be drawn to passing urges, this is about asking yourself: what do I love most? More than just reacting to whatever appetite hits us in the moment, this is about re-connecting with whatever anchors, desires and passions we have that are even deeper—and more important—than those immediate cravings.
It can be helpful to think through all the different kinds of hobbies and relationships that could become anchors for you personally. That way, rather than just turning away from something, you’re turning towards what you love most.
Rather than following whatever impulse hits your body, this progression of stepping back, observing, breathing and inquiring into our deepest desires can help orient us to be able to respond in a way we really want. That, of course, doesn’t mean the decision is settled.
It’s still up to you to follow through and respond based on what you really want, which brings us to the last step of STAR.
You’ve stepped back from the situation, you put yourself in control and what happens next is completely your choice. The choice was always yours to make, but now you have a chance of doing this thing right. That isn’t up to us or anyone else, it’s up to you. We are rooting for you.
To help put you in the right direction, here are some tips: look around and find something to do. It can be anything, but it is more powerful if it’s something that is active. A few good examples we’ve heard from successful Fortifiers are; exercise, hobbies, talking to someone (including yourself), or just even getting outside for a minute. On the flip side, we would suggest you stay away from doing things that can make you feel worse or even fuel the addiction, like eating junk food or watching too much TV. These things might just put you back in a weak spot. The key to this step is changing things up and giving yourself the chance to think clearly.
What Happens If I Mess Up?
Don’t forget the main rule of the STAR Method:
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
You might not master STAR right away and have a setback. Don’t beat yourself up too much, just be sure to use it next time. Maybe you do it successfully and the urge comes back ten minutes later. Stay strong. Take it from us, STAR works and it can work every time, even if you have to use it every ten minutes until you win the battle.
You will have good days, and you will bad days, but it is what you do on those days that matters.