Patrick Carnes Task 4: Examining the Damage Done

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Establishing Sobriety. That sounds like a pretty daunting task. I don’t know exactly what that might mean with respect to Carnes, but what does he say?

Speaker 2: In Establishing Sobriety, basically that’s where we’re working on a relapse-prevention plan, your three circles, your healthy sex plan moving forward, so Establishing Sobriety is a lot about how we’re going to prevent relapse, how am I going to make my sobriety statement. It’s embracing this kind of new life that you’re going on. I can explain a little bit about the three circles, which … The great thing about these tasks is that they’re in order, and we usually go in order, but not necessarily so. When I first see a client, one of the first things that I do, after breaking through some of the denial, even before the educating piece, is doing the three-circle exercise. You can call it the three circles, the boundary plan, sobriety statement, some people call it, which I like, the red light, yellow light, green light.

Basically, the reason that I do that at the beginning is because when a client comes to me for the first time and they just find out that they’re a sex addict, or we’re starting to uncover some of this stuff, I don’t feel comfortable just sending them out without anything concrete, as to, okay, what am I going to do until next week. In the three circles, I always say it’s a working document, so it’s going to change, but at least it gives them a, what is my absolute no, what’s my abstinence list, which is the red light. What is my kind of grey area where, if I do this or if I experience this, or if I feel this, it may trigger my wanting to act out, which is what we call the yellow zone. Then, the green zone is everything that I want healthy in my life. Things that I want to fulfill me, things that I want to make me happy. For example, a lot of people … One person will put in their inner circle, no masturbation, no pornography, no escorts, no back page.

In their yellow zone they may put, if I’m too angry, or if I’m too tired, or if I’m really angry, or if I get into a fight with my wife. Other things that can go into the yellow zone is frustrations at work. These are all feelings that can start off that cycle, where I feel the negative feeling, then I act out, I feel shame, then I act out again. We want to really be aware of being in that yellow zone, because it’s kind of one foot in, one foot out. Then, in the green zone, they may put, spending time with my partner, spending time with my children, exercising, eating healthy, going to my therapist, going to my group therapy, going to my meetings, calling my sponsor. The way that I describe it is, if a patient wakes up in the morning and looks at this three circle that they’ve created, and they set their intention for the day as to, I’m establishing my sobriety. I’m in recovery. This is my sobriety plan. Let me focus on doing what’s in the green.

It’s very unlikely for them to get into the yellow, and if they do get into the yellow, they could very easily go back to the resources that they have in the green, as opposed to if they don’t have anything in the green, if they’re not going to meetings, if they’re not going into therapy, if they don’t have connections in the outside world, they’re not taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, then their chances of experiencing something negative and wanting to go act out just increase drastically. That’s an exercise that, although it’s in Chapter Six of that book and it’s in the Establishing Sobriety, I tend to do it pretty early on with my clients.

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