Help. Hope. Healing.

An Equal Harm

By Rex Goode

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An Analysis of Acting In Behavior
based on
Patrick J. Carnes’ Don’t Call It Love

  • Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D.
  • Don’t Call It Love
  • February 1992, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
  • Paperback, 390pp.
  • ($15.95 US)
    Order this book


    Introduction
    Acting In Defined

    Dr. Patrick J. Carnes, in his book, Don’t Call It Love, wrote:

    There are pitfalls other than relapse, however. In alcoholism treatment, the term “dry drunk” is used to describe someone who is still behaving like an alcoholic even though he or she is not drinking. Similarly, as we have noted, sex addiction can switch to anorexic forms, which are just as obsessive. To understand the problem, it is useful to recall the distinction between acting out and acting in. Acting out is the release part of the shame cycle. Acting in is the control part of the shame cycle. Acting in involves excessive rigidity, self-denial, and control. This binge-purge cycle of shame can exist without compulsive behavior. Rather than resolve the feelings that emerge in early recovery, some addicts will begin acting in. It is the only alternative they know to acting out, but it is still living in the extreme. Because acting in looks better, it is important for addicts not to mistake acting in for recovery. The swing of the psychic pendulum from acting out to acting in appears in many areas of addicts’ lives. 

    Boundaries – With acting out, boundaries collapse or do not exist. Acting in generates excessive boundaries which exaggerate separation needs. 

    Anxiety – By acting out, an addict seeks release of tension and anxiety. By acting in, an addict copes by making safety an inordinate priority. 

    Intimacy – When acting out, addicts are emotionally absent. When acting in, they can sense their feelings but do so in isolation. 

    Needs – Acting out is self-indulgent; needs are met to excess. Acting in minimizes the needs but creates deprivation. 

    Feelings – Acting out is associated with feelings of anger. Acting in is most often based on fear. 

    Responsibility – Acting out is defiant: “I’ll do it when I want to.” Acting in is obsessive: “I have to do it right and ahead of time.” 

    Presence – In the presence of someone who is acting out, others feel manuevered or conned. Someone acting in appears to be a “fanatic.” 

    Structure – Acting out activities are most often surround by chaos. Acting in activities require rigid structures. 

    Perceptions – Addicts who are acting out use no common sense or judgment, so their perceptions are unqualified. Acting in creates a mind-set that is excessively critical and extremely judgmental. 

    These characteristics are summarized in Table 7-1. Essentially, acting out and acting in can be seen as two different kinds of systems. Acting out is a system that is random, out of control. Acting in is a “closed” system highly resistant to change. Addicts in recovery need to avoid both extremes, working toward an open system that is flexible enough to accommodate change but solid enough to provide stability. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN     ACTING OUT
    excessive <—- Boundaries—-> collapse
    safety <—- Anxiety—-> release
    isolation <—- Intimacy—-> emotionally absent
    deprivation <—- Needs—-> excess
    fear <—- Feelings—-> anger
    obsessive <—- Responsibility—-> defiant
    fanatic <—- Presence—-> seductive
    rigid <—- Structure—-> chaotic
    judgmental <—- Perceptions—-> unqualified

    Part 1
    Boundaries

    From Don’t Call It Love:

    Boundaries – With acting out, boundaries collapse or do not exist. Acting in generates excessive boundaries which exaggerate separation needs. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    excessive <—- Boundaries —-> collapse

    Most of the acting out behaviors to which I was prone could really be described as a collapse of the boundaries I had been taught and even believed in. When I acted out, I felt like I was watching a movie of myself doing things that disgusted me, but because it was a movie, I couldn’t change what I knew was going to happen. Have you ever watched a movie for the tenth time and even though you know the character is going to get killed, you still talk to him through the screen and tell him not to open that door? That’s the way it was for me.

    When I wasn’t acting in, I retreated the whole other direction. Life wasn’t like a movie. It was more like trying to write a screenplay. I had my lines written and everyone else’s. If people didn’t recite their lines the way I had planned, I was utterly frustrated. I had boundaries for me and boundaries for them, and they’d better cooperate or face my wrath.


    Part 2
    Anxiety

    From Dr. Carnes:

    Anxiety – By acting out, an addict seeks release of tension and anxiety. By acting in, an addict copes by making safety an inordinate priority. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    safety <—- Anxiety —-> release

    The risks I took to act out were extraordinary. Since my acting out was to have sex with males and this was in late 60s and early 70s, I was taking a great risk even finding partners.

    Would I get beat up if they didn’t want to? It was possible. Never happened though.

    Would they tell their friends? Probably not. The only ones who told their friends brought their friends the next time. Still, I was constantly afraid it would get around school. I think the main reason it didn’t was because they were as ashamed and scared as I was.

    There were plenty of other risks I took as well. The actual anxiety I built up around the adventure of acting out and then completing it without being caught was what kept me coming back. The risk was more exciting than the actual sexual experience.

    One time, I had brought the guy into my house and acted out with him in the living room. If either of my parents had come home, I wouldn’t have had time to hide what I was doing before they would have walked in on me. I didn’t want to get caught, but it felt good to feel like I was doing something without any fear.

    Other risks were when I would act out in semi-public places where there was the possibility of being seen by strangers.

    The reason it felt good to act riskily was that the rest of the time I spent in utter fear, fear that people knew who I was, fear that I would be caught, fear that I was going to hell.

    Some people will find it hard to believe that I was afraid of being caught given that I would intentionally act out in situations where I could have been caught. It was a matter of letting the fear build and then releasing the fear by risky behavior.

    That’s why acting in was so dangerous for me. I wasn’t merely abstaining. I was building up the anxiety so the next experience would be more of a release.


    Part 3
    Intimacy

    Dr. Carnes wrote:

    Intimacy – When acting out, addicts are emotionally absent. When acting in, they can sense their feelings but do so in isolation. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    isolation <—- Intimacy —-> emotionally absent

    For me, acting out required me to enter an altered state where I shut off all of my normal emotions. If someone were to ask me how I felt when I was acting out, I’d have to answer that I didn’t feel anything, not emotionally. There was a certain amount of desperation, trying to tell myself to stop, even praying I would stop while I was doing it, but I was literally, as the scriptures say, past feeling.

    I think that this was largely due to having been the victim of abuse. While being abused, to escape the pain and shame, my consciousness seemed to be watching it as a spectator. In fact, that’s how I remember being beaten. I remember it as a third party watching it.

    I carried that over into acting out, also remembering acting out as a third party watching it. For many years, I was plagued with dreams about some of those incidents, and they were all as watching them from the side or above, like a television.

    When I wasn’t acting out, I was acting in, which for me meant that I was a loner, sitting in my room on sunny days when other children were out playing. If I was out with them, I felt lonely even in a large group.

    What feelings I did feel I kept to myself, especially since many of them were feelings of attraction to my male friends.

    The thing about acting in and intimacy is that you can be extremely friendly and even somewhat mushy, but there’s still a shallowness that harbors feelings you don’t express.


    Part 4
    Needs

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Needs – Acting out is self-indulgent; needs are met to excess. Acting in minimizes the needs but creates deprivation. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    deprivation <—- Needs —-> excess

    From my earliest acting out days (beginning at age 7), I had a strong sense of what I was doing. I actually understood that I needed something and that the way I was getting my needs met was inappropriate. I also understood that the way I was getting my needs met was to miss the target. In other words, I knew I really needed love instead of sex. However, I had decided I wasn’t going to get love, so I was going to get what I could.

    It’s amazing how sexual abuse can age you. My mother commented once, before she found out what had happed to me, that I always seemed like an adult. I went from 6 to 20 in less than a year.

    Some of the boys I acted out with, who were usually as young as me, treated me like a kind of god. I knew how to do things that they had never even thought of and it was basking in their adoration that I became excessive in grabbing for my needs.

    On the play field at school, I was the last choice for any sports. I was less than a nobody. I was downright undesirable. In sexual experimentation, therefore, I found my niche of leadership.

    Here was the paradox. I viewed myself as untrustworthy around boys, so despite the real need to be around them, I kept as much to myself as possible at school and in the neighborhood. I thought it would keep me safe, but it only contributed to the loneliness that led me into acting out.

    The pendulum of acting in and out was very much between depriving myself of much needed friendship and using my secret knowledge to gain friends by sexual extortion.


    Part 5
    Feelings

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Feelings – Acting out is associated with feelings of anger. Acting in is most often based on fear. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    fear <—- Feelings —-> anger

    I’m certain that acting out for me was a product of my rage at being molested at six years old. It was also seeking for the comfort of intensely pleasurable experiences.

    Acting in was a product of fear of many things, as I stated before, of acting out, of being in danger, and of going to hell.

    I think that recovery is a product of peace and that anger and fear are neither.


    Part 6
    Responsibility

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Responsibility – Acting out is defiant: “I’ll do it when I want to.” Acting in is obsessive: “I have to do it right and ahead of time.” 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    obsessive <—- Responsibility —-> defiant

    My defiance took a form that to this day causes me some anguish. I had never given up on prayer from the time I was little. My mother did a good job of instilling that in me. Unfortunately, when I was in an acting out mode, I defied God, in prayer, regarding my behavior. I actually said in my prayers that I was not doing anything wrong.

    Acting in, on the other hand, is a matter of being obsessed with always doing things right and always being right. That was the way I was with everything. If it wasn’t my way, I became angry and acted out. If someone left some clutter in my space, I acted out.

    I criticized everything. Everyone was wrong, because I was so obsessed with always being right, or at least having everyone think I was right, that any interruption in things being right sent me back into that mode where nothing was right.


    Part 7
    Presence

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Presence – In the presence of someone who is acting out, others feel manuevered or conned. Someone acting in appears to be a “fanatic.” 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    fanatic <—- Presence —-> seductive

    This is the element of the acting out/in model about how other people view you.

    He is saying that fanaticism is evidence of an addict who is acting in. That was certainly true of me. Most people saw me as a fanatic about religion. Even when I was not active in the Church, I was so gung-ho about the gospel that I appeared to be something I wasn’t.

    During the years of my acting out, was when I became so well-acquainted with the scriptures. I’m not saying that was all bad, but my motivations were bad. I wanted to be viewed as something I wasn’t, so I pulled out all the stops to make the right impression.

    My heaviest year of acting out was when I was fifteen. That same year, though I didn’t even attend church, I went with a school mate who was LDS, to a local Protestant church and had a major Bible bash with the minister.

    In acting out, I was utterly irresistible once I identified a vicitm. I knew exactly how to seduce just about any kid my age and even older. In one place I lived, I had acted out with every boy in a two-block radius in all directions. My seductive presence was too much for boys my age, because they were all curious about sex, and I knew I could afford them the opportunity to experiment.

    I was so adept at reading their moods and watching for problems in their homes. I knew what modes of emotionality made me more likely to act out, so I waited for such opportunities with others. If they had an argument with a parent, I would turn up the seductiveness. If they had been punished for doing something, I would speak comfort to them and send out tentacles of enmeshment.

    So, it is very much true of me that when I act in, others perceive me to be a fanatic about religion, and when I act out, others are susceptible to being seduced by me.


    Part 8
    Structure

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Structure – Acting out activities are most often surround by chaos. Acting in activities require rigid structures. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    rigid <—- Presence —-> chaotic

    Have you ever been around someone whose life always seemed in crisis? This is often evidence that the person is an addict of some kind, or in the family with an addict. They have no real structure to their lives. There is one crisis after another, seemingly not related to the actual addiction, but caused by the lack of manageability the addiction brings.

    Truth is, you’ll only see it this way if you are very close to the family, because they’ll be very rigid in most other things. More casual observers will see them as organized, doing it all, following the American and Mormon dreams.

    In my own life, I could never accomplish anything when acting out, because my life was full of chaos. I could never stick to one task long enough to finish it and I was a decided underacheiver. Even though I stopped sexually acting out when I was sixteen, I continued with many other addictive behaviors for a few years. As a result of my acting out, I never went to college, never went on a mission, and worked for low wages the first few years of my marriage.

    Not everything that happened in my chaotic life was a direct result of my acting out, but because of the unmanageability, I was always one step ahead of the next crisis.

    Acting in didn’t help either, because I would become inflexible and demanding with my wife and kids. I was large and in charge, my way or the highway, and the one with the priesthood, therefore, “Obey me or offend God.”

    This rigid attitude kept my life as unmanageable as the chaos did. Nothing was ever good enough when I was acting in, and when I was acting out, I couldn’t possible finish it anyway.

    After getting some control over my acting in and acting out, amazing things started to happen. My career took off. My mind cleared. I felt at peace.

    In recovery, structures are flexible but firm enough to be productive.


    Part 9
    Perceptions

    Dr. Carnes says:

    Perceptions – Addicts who are acting out use no common sense or judgment, so their perceptions are unqualified. Acting in creates a mind-set that is excessively critical and extremely judgmental. 


    Table 7-1
    LIVING IN THE EXTREMES


    ACTING IN       ACTING OUT
    judgmental <—- Perceptions —-> unqualified

    I think that what Dr. Carnes is saying about perceptions being unqualified is that there is this distorted perception of the world that there is really no right or wrong. What I feel like doing right this moment is what I should do. The consequences don’t matter. The underlying feelings don’t matter.

    I think this idea was heavily reflected in my ability to pray while I acted out as if what I was doing was completely fine.

    At the same time, when I was acting in, I was easily offended, highly critical, insistent on getting my own way, tenacious about disagreements, judgmental about others.

    I was utterly homophobic. If gays were hurt in some of the news of my day, they were getting what they deserved. I disliked homosexuals a great deal. Never mind that I was one of them. I wasn’t about to let that get in my way of condemning them.

    I measured everyone’s words, on any topic, and thought in my mind how superior I was. I was smarter than everyone. I was always in the right in any disagreement. I was to be obeyed without question.

    The world would have been a better place, I reasoned, if everyone were like me.


    Part 10
    An Equal Harm

    Since acting in involves excessive control but results in some pretty hefty obedience to gospel standards, we might ask what the harm is in the acting in side of compulsion. After all, when a sex addict is acting in, he is keeping the law of chastity, which has to be a good thing, right?

    I agree that when we are purely talking about the law of chastity, it is infinitely better to be obedient than disobedient, but we must remember that there are other laws at work here. With acting in, another very important law comes into play, an eternal law that is at the very foundation of the plan of salvation and happiness. It is that right for which we struggled in the pre-existence against the plan of Lucifer. It is the right to choose for ourselves and the importance of allowing others that same right.

    Disobedience of that law has a heavy price for priesthood holders. The Lord says regarding those who violate this law, “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” I am, of course, speaking of the exercise of unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:37)

    Just like acting out has a cycle, acting in has a cycle. I’ve talked before about the four stages of the addictive cycle. It seems to me this cycle exists for acting in as well as acting out. I’ve compared the two for sex addicts and have found some interesting things from my own experience.

    1. PREOCCUPATION
      Acting out
      Preoccupation with sex.
      Acting in
      Preoccupation with righteousness.
    2. RITUALIZATION
      Acting out
      Repeatable processes that set up the addict and his environment for sex.
      Acting in
      Repeatable processes of self- and other-control. (Spiritual fortresses)
    3. COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR
      Acting out
      Sexual behavior including masturbation.
      Acting in
      Criticism of others, self-righteousness, exercise of unrighteous dominion, outbursts of anger.
    4. NEGATIVE REACTION
      Acting out
      Self-hatred, despair, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-recrimination.
      Acting in
      Anger at others, excessive judgment of self and others, depression over the lack of spirituality of others around us, determination to cutoff contact with persons we deem detrimental to our pursuit of righteousness, blaming others for our problems, disappointment.

    The pain of the fourth step is what sends addicts back to square one. It could be either the acting out square one or the acting in square one. Niether situation is a good thing.

    In examining myself, I can see that just like I had countless partners in acting out, I had innumerable victims of my acting in. The most notable victims of my acting in have been the beloved members of my own family, beginning with my mother.

    During acting in mode, when I was a boy, I was always upset and judgmental at my mother for marrying my stepfather. He wasn’t a member of the Church and I sat in my judgment seat and complained within myself about the choices she made that caused all of my trouble, or so I thought.

    As I began to lessen the degree of my acting out, I started to get a glimpse of the strength of my mother, and instead of judging her for the things I perceived she had done wrong, I began to feel gratitude for the sacrifices she made for my benefit.

    That doesn’t leave me with an illusion that she was somehow perfect. It did help me remember, however, that when I was three years old and she married my stepfather, she was a single mother and that within the last three years some pretty horrible things had happened to her. When she was pregnant with her second child (me), her husband left her one night never to return. Shortly after that, her older child was killed in a car accident. In the small town where she lived, she was under a lot of condemnation from local officials who tried to take me away from her, because she had to work to support us and left me in the care of her sister in the evenings. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing today, but in a small town in the fifties, there was quite a stigma attached to it.

    I suspect that if we were to take a close look at the people we judge, we would see that there are things in their lives we cannot comprehend the pain of. We cannot second-guess their decisions.

    My stepfather also became a victim of my acting in. I’ve talked before of his distance and aloofness as a father, resulting from his beliefs about masculinity. What I didn’t know at the time was some of the things he went through as a boy. As part of my acting in, I felt superior to him because he wasn’t a member of the Church. He smoked and drank coffee. I can remember that even as early as seven years old, I judged him as unfit as a father figure for me because he didn’t go to church with us and didn’t obey the Word of Wisdom. The harm of the acting in was not only directed at him, but it deprived me of an important connection I should have had with him.

    I remember one time being such a stickler for absolute correctness in the use of gospel terminology that I rebuffed my stepsister for the too frequent use of “the Lord” when she was talking about spiritual things. From the time of that self-righteous correction of her language, she quickly declined in her interest in the gospel. I’m not saying that is all my fault, but I certainly aided her growing opinion that the people of the Church were too quick to judge and that she didn’t belong there. I had great fear that she would surpass me in some way, and so I cut her off.

    My wife has been the biggest victim of my acting in behaviors. Too often I have secretly and openly blamed her for a great many things, too innumerable to mention. I have judged her for not being as willing as me to do the right things. “If only she would do this or that, we would be a lot better off spiritually. I can’t do everything. Why won’t she follow me when I lead?” That kind of stuff.

    My children have also suffered from my acting in. I have all too often expected perfection when it was not reasonable to do so.

    There is nothing wrong with doing right, but there is great harm in forcing, coercing, shaming, and dominating others to do right. It is Satan’s original desire and the method he now chooses for accomplishing his work. We can no more force ourselves to be righteous than we can force others to be righteous.

    We cannot change ourselves by force, only by a nourishing of our hearts with good and lovely things, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves, unconditionally and without judgment.

    When we are acting in, we exert control over ourselves. So afraid are we at those times, of not being able to measure up, that we seek to control every detail of our environments, including the behavior and righteousness of those around us. If they don’t cooperate by being as righteous as we are trying to be, all of our efforts will be in vain. That is because in that mode we have no personal spiritual power of our own. It is utterly and completely dependent on the strength of others around us and when they fail us, we blame them for our own failings.

    Acting in is the process of committing the sin of unrighteous dominion against ourselves and others. Doctrine and Covenants section 121 is the perfect picture of an addict acting in.

    Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

    Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world [acting out], and aspire to the honors of men [acting in]. that they do not learn this one lesson–

    That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

    That they may be conferred up on us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins [denial], or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition [acting in], or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men [acting in], in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

    Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

    We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    Hence many are called but few are chosen. (D&C 121:34-39)

    Can we, who so desperately fight to be faithful to the gospel, afford to grieve the Spirit of the Lord by our acting in? I have left a greater wake of victims behind me by acting in than I ever did by acting out.

    We must strive to do the will of God with all our hearts, but we can not and must not extend those desires to control or criticize others around us so we can feel strong. If we don’t have the strength to act according to our convictions in spite of the weaknesses of others, we are as weak as we perceive them to be. Admitting that weakness is the the first step to overcoming them. It is not the second step to look down on others who aren’t getting with our program, especially when those others are our close family members.

    The Lord went on to say:

    No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile– (D&C 121:41-42)

    These are the methods we are to use in overcoming our problems. We must treat ourselves with the same persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness, meeknes, and unfeigned love as we need to treat others.

    We must do it without hypocrisy. When acting in, we still are secretly filthy, filled with the burden of sexual sin, yet judgmental of even the smallest infractions committed by others.

    We must go forward without guile, which is the tendency to hide our own weaknesses from others while assuring ourselves that we are doing better than they are.

    To overcome addiction, the only true course is one of true righteousness and spiritual power. True spirituality has only one sublime expression–charity (the pure love of Christ). Though we have all other virtuous attributes, as the apostle Paul taught, without charity we are as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13)

    Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men… (D&C 121:45)

    If we are trying to climb the ladder of recovery on the backs of others, we are climbing up the wrong way.


    Part 11
    The Aspects

    Dr. Carnes says:

    To understand the problem, it is useful to recall the distinction between acting out and acting in. Acting out is the release part of the shame cycle. Acting in is the control part of the shame cycle. Acting in involves excessive rigidity, self-denial, and control.

    I think what he is saying is that acting in is like tying yourself up in a chair with nine ropes to avoid acting out. Each rope is a different aspect of life.

    Note that he says that acting in involves “excessive” rigidity, self-denial, and control. The operative word there is “excessive.” We are supposed to be rigid when it comes to keeping the commandments, deny ourselves of all ungodliness, and exercize self-control.

    The problem is in how we accomplish these things. To be excessively rigid puts us in danger of being inflexible with others, whom we are to show more mercy than justice to. To excessively deny ourselves may put us in danger of denying ourselves of some very important and appropriate needs. To exercize excessive self-control may keep us from gaining the personal strength to control ourselves through a change of heart.

    Returning to the rope analogy, we can’t look at Carnes’ nine aspects as nine different ways to act in. They are actually nine aspects of the same behavior.

    The nine ropes are: Boundaries, Anxiety, Intimacy, Needs, Feelings, Responsibility, Presence, Structure, and Preceptions.

    My opinion is that all acting in and acting out stems from boundary mismanagement. Acting out involves ignoring boundaries and acting in involves excessive and unreasonable boundaries. In both cases, when the cycle of acting in and out becomes unmanageable, boundaries need to be reassessed with the help of someone like a sponsor.

    Anxiety issues have to do with how the addiction ebs and flows. Notice when people are talking about being tempted there is this enormous anxiety that shows through. When they are acting in, there is a preoccupation with safety, which manifests in hiding (disappearing from the group for a few days).

    The intimacy aspect has to do with feeling feelings. Acting out causes emotional absence (the lights are on but no one is home). Acting in has us in touch with our feelings, but unwilling to share them or give them conscious notice.

    The needs aspect has to do with how we operate in relationship to what we feel we need. Acting out just grabs for everything we think we need and does it without thinking. While acting in, we pretend we don’t really have needs, and therefore isolate or drive people away with antisocial behavior.

    The feelings aspect identifies how addicts typically feel when acting in or out. Acting out is generally associated with anger. Acting in is generally associated with fear.

    Then there is how we exercize the principle of responsibility. When acting out, we are utterly irresponsible but in denial about it. In other words, “I can do anything I please.” Acting in is excessive responsibility for doing everything right, on time, the way it MUST be done. Since this is so impossible to actually do, anything going wrong produces shame and swings the pendulum back towards acting out.

    When Carnes talks about Presence, he’s talking about what an addict looks like to people around him. An addict in an acting out phase seems somewhat seductive to people around him. An addict in an acting in phase seems like a fanatic, either about religion, a clean house, or anything else. Excessive religiosity is common with acting in. Such an addict becomes like a walking icon of faith, never reading anything but scriptures or religious books, playing only spiritual music, and giving pat answers from a religious context to everything.

    Structures are different depending on the acting state. Acters-out are surrounded by chaos. Acters-in are play-by-rules-at-all-costs and the rules are more important than fellowship and fun.

    Perceptions are about how we view others and their activities. Acting out makes no qualifications–anything goes, if it feels good do it, and people gotta do what people gotta do. Acting in is harsh, critical, and judgmental.

    The thing with all nine of these aspects is that each one represents a different end of nine different scales that intersect sometimes. So, someone acting in may not be registering on nine scales, but the retreat to one end of each scale or the other is likely there.

    It’s not always about what the addict himself knows, but also what others can see that he can’t, like the fanatacism of the Presence scale.

    Carnes says:

    This binge-purge cycle of shame can exist without compulsive behavior. Rather than resolve the feelings that emerge in early recovery, some addicts will begin acting in. It is the only alternative they know to acting out, but it is still living in the extreme. Because acting in looks better, it is important for addicts not to mistake acting in for recovery.

    Acting in is often a long-term thing. You can go a long time without acting out and still be acting in. I went years being all of the extremes in these various aspects. Imagine how difficult I was to live with. I still find myself doing some of them. I guess the short answer, is, you don’t have to register on all the scales to be acting in.

    With each of these aspects, there is an appropriate middle ground that represents recovery. Finding that middle ground is difficult, but important.

    Part of the reason I am unimpressed by how long it has been since acting out last is that acting in is extremely damaging to the person and his family, and so I don’t think it really means a lot to say how long it has been since the last indulgence. If that period of time was filled with acting in behavior, there is no sobriety, only abstinence. Abstinence is not completely without value, but it is only half of the task, at most.

    So, I’ve abstained from sexual activity with males for twenty-seven years. That’s good. I should do that, but how long has it been since I emotionally ripped someone up because I was acting in? Not very long at all. My twenty-seven years means nothing if I’m going to treat people like dirt just to maintain it.

    Abstinence is not the same as sobriety. Acting in is still self-medicating. That’s why they call them “dry drunks” in AA.

    Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds. (Jacob 2:35)

     

    Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen. (Mosiah 5:15)

     

    Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32)

     

    The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:46)


    Part 12
    Sobriety

    If acting out and acting in are living in the extremes, there must be something in-between. That something is true sobriety, as opposed to the mere abstinence of acting in or the rampant abandon of acting out.

    I took a look at the extremes and came up with a list of what I felt was in the middle. This is published in the Clean-LDS document, “What Every Bishop Should Know…”.

    Since, in acting out, boundaries either don’t exist or are totally ignored, and in acting in, they are excessive and inappropriately harsh, then recovery must be either somewhere in between or not even on the same scale. I tend to think they aren’t even part of the collapse/excessive scale. I think that in recovery, boundaries are natural. I don’t keep extensive lists of boundaries anymore. I know in my heart what I want out of life and I know what activities are detrimental to those goals, so I steer clear of certain situations. I’m not saying that I don’t have boundaries. I am simply beyond the point of needing them so formally declared. In early recovery (3-5 years of abstinence), I think that formal boundaries, approved by a sponsor, are absolutely essential.

    In acting out, we seek for a release from anxieties and find, in compulsive behavior, an effective, if damaging, way to feel that release. In acting in, we retreat into the safest possible position, largely out of fear. It only helps temporarily. In recovery, I feel peace from the world and its problems. I am not free of anxiety. Anxiety is a part of life. Part of the safety of acting in is to retreat from anxiety. Peace, on the other hand, is something that co-exists with anxiety. Though I may be concerned about something, there is a peace from Christ that overrides all anxiety.

    In acting out, I was able to focus away from my problems by acting out, but also to focus away from the acting out by having something like an out-of-body experience. In acting in, I felt utterly alone, that no one understood me, and that I had no place on earth. In recovery, I have resolved both issues. I am present for all joy and all pain. I share intimate and meaningful contact with people of different genders, races, and creeds. I feel connected and able.

    In acting out, my entire focus was on my perceived needs. I thought only about how I could get them met, whether appropriately or inappropriately. It didn’t matter. My needs were the center of the universe. In acting in, I was so terrified of my needs that I denied myself any contact because my needs always led to trouble. I was either getting my needs met to excess or not at all. Now, most of my needs are met and when they aren’t, I have a sense of peace that they will come in the Lord’s own due time.

    The emotions of acting out are associated with anger. The emotions of acting in are based on fear. I still get angry and I still am sometimes afraid, but these are based on reasonable reactions to events, whereas before they were simply modes I got into. In recovery, the main emotion I experience is joy, sometimes simultaneously with anger and fear. The main difference is that whereas I medicated anger with acting out and fear with acting in, I now face both my anger and fear. The result is joy.

    Acting out is a mode of defiance, assigning responsibility for problems to anyone and everyone else. Acting in is obsession with doing things right, on time, and being responsible for absolutely everything. It’s the attitude of not only making sure every detail of every task is handled, but making sure everyone else is handling all of their details as well. In recovery, there is a sense of responsibility for only those things we are truly responsible for. If we err, we repent and accept responsibility. If something is our duty to do, we try to do it. If it is not, we offer service without controlling the other person. We are realistically only responsible for the things we can affect.

    Being around a sex addict who is acting out leaves us with the sense of either being seduced ourselves, or watching someone else be seduced. It is a very uncomfortable situation to see. You know there’s something wrong with the words being said or the nuances of behavior, but can’t quite put a finger on it. Being around someone who is acting in is like watching a televangelist. It doesn’t have to be about religion. Fanatacism can be about a lot of things, like a particular product, lifestyle, or hobby. You get the sense that the person needs a little more balance in their life. Being around someone in recovery is to sense a caring, giving, and emotionally mature person. You don’t feel charmed or railed upon. You just feel comfortable.

    Acting out is surrounded by chaos. Acting in is surrounded by sturdy, evenly-layed brick walls. Recovery is a matter of flexible self-discipline.

    Acting out has no real standards. Anything goes. Morality is situational. Acting in is judgmental, critical, and only those who get in line with the addict’s view of right and wrong are deserving of love. People in recovery speak the truth in love. They are compassionate, but firm. It’s the old chestnut about hate the sin and love the sinner. It is more than a saying to a person in recovery. It is how life is lived and relationships are honored.

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    2 Responses to “An Equal Harm”

    1. julie said:

      thanks for this insight Rex. I recognize so many ways in which these things are true for me. I also swing from acting out to acting in. I think it would be good for me to get that book and read it more for myself. Maybe then I can figure out real recovery.
      Julie

    2. Rex Goode said:

      You really should read it. It made everything so clear to me.

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