We start my home meeting by checking in with our sobriety dates and the three most significant behaviors in one of our circles (Outer, Middle or Inner). I was relieved to find that my inner circle wasn’t that much different than most. Our addictions range from pornography to prostitutes to affairs to compulsive masturbation to exhibitionism. I’ve come to see that they’re all just different symptoms of the same disease.
Early on my middle circle was simple. (The middle circle are those “slippery behaviors” that don’t constitute acting out, but put our sobriety at risk.) Early on for me the middle circle was being a click away from nudity on the internet, being in neighborhoods that have the places or people that were part of my acting out (prostitutes, massage parlors, adult bookstores), any celebrity “news” site or publication.
I would listen to people mention euphoric recall in their middle circles and I had no real appreciation for what they were talking about. I was fresh out of intensive therapy and full disclosure to my wife. I had written pages and pages estimating how much my addiction had cost me in terms of money and time. I had spent weeks focused on how close I came to losing my family and career to my acting out. I had no fond memories of acting out.
Today, after 18 months of sobriety, the pain and debilitating shame I felt after acting out is no longer fresh in my mind. Sometimes when I’m not paying close attention to my feelings…when I’m bored or under more stress than usual… my mind will wander. I’ll remember the excitement of acting out. The sexual thrill I got out of each encounter or finding a new picture or video. On occasion I’ll have a vivid memory of a person or act…and start to miss acting out.
There’s a great line in James McMurty’s song Hurricane Party, “I don’t want another drink, I only want that last one again, it gave me such a fine glow, smoky and slow.” To me, that describes euphoric recall to a “T”. I remember the person, the act, the thrill, the “glow” if you will. When I find myself in the spell of that feeling my sobriety is in grave danger. The key for me is to remember when I feel that longing for the “fine glow” coming on, I need to remember what comes after. The shame, the guilt, the fear of being caught. I need to remind myself of the horrible consequences that come with acting out.
One of my tools to combat euphoric recall are two letters I wrote to myself in rehab. The first describes my life if I am successful in my recovery. The proverbial house with the white picket fence, sitting on the patio with my wife watching our daughters and dogs play in the backyard. The second letter describes my life if I fail to stay sober. Sitting in the dark in a one bedroom apartment debating whether I can afford new tires for my truck after sending my wife a child support check and paying for plane tickets so my daughters can visit me for two weeks in the summer. Even two years after I wrote it, that letter brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me that I haven’t hit rock bottom yet. As bad as my life was in my active addiction, it could have gotten much worse. My disease won’t stop until it kills me.
What’s encouraging is that the life I live now is better than the life I described in my sucessful recovery letter. We’ve qualified for a mortgage and are shopping for the house that will be home for the rest of my life. My wife and I are truly intimate again, emotionally and physically. I am at the pinacle of my career, working in the job I’ve dreamed of since I graduated from West Point. I enjoy my life more than I ever have, or ever dreamed I would.
Today when I talk about my middle circle, euphoric recall is the first item on the list. It’s the most dangerous to my sobriety, and the one I have to be on guard against every day. Every day of sobriety puts me a day further from the incomprehensible pain that acting out brought to my life. To stay sober I have to make sure that I equate acting out with that pain, not the memories of euphoric recall. I also remind myself, that I’m pretty euphoric about the life I have as a sober addict.