Noticing what you notice helps in recovery from sex or pornography addiction

“What you see depends on what window you look out of.” I heard Lyle Schaller say this at a conference I attended years ago. Schaller is a consultant, not a recovery guru, and he was talking about how people deal with controversial topics. But the word picture he created stuck with me ever since, and has helped me understand the process of recovery.

People tend to see controversial issues differently, because they view the same issues from different perspectives. They see different sides of the same argument, because they are looking at it from different angles. It’s like they are wearing different glasses, or as Schaller puts it, it’s like they’re looking out different windows. It’s a question of focus and perspective.

So is recovery from sexual struggles. Think of it this way: When you go out to a shopping mall, what do you notice? When you’re out in public, what do you pay attention to? Noticing what we notice can not only help us diagnose how our recovery is going … it can also carry us further along in recovery.

In the men’s workshops I teach with my friend Mark Laaser, he often gives a lecture about vision, and makes a similar point: when we make a new commitment to recovery, we will start to see differently. We’ll start to notice things we didn’t notice before. It’s like we get a new pair of glasses.

Think of the classic example of a person who’s planning to buy a car: Let’s say this person decides she wants to buy a Toyota Camry. Now everywhere she looks, she starts noticing Camrys. Where did they come from? They were always there, she just didn’t notice them before. Now she does.

The science of attention

In her excellent book Rapt, Winnefred Gallagher writes: “Rapidly developing neuroscience shows that as the terms ‘in focus’ and ‘out of focus’ suggest, attention shapes your experience by selecting and clearly depicting something in your external or internal world, leaving the rest a blur.”

Our senses are able to pick up an incredible amount of stimuli at any given moment, but the conscious part of our brain is only able to process a small amount of that stimuli. The way we deal with that discrepancy is that we learn selective focus, tuning out much of what we experience, and only consciously processing the things we find interesting or important. That is the role of attention … what we choose to focus on, and what we ignore.

This is why three people can encounter the same situation, and remember things quite differently. They were focused on – and thus perceiving and tuning out – different things.

In our addiction, our minds were tuned in to sexual arousal, and we picked up signals from women or men, and potential sexually suggestive sights that other people wouldn’t notice. If an attractive woman walked across the street a block away, we were aware of it. We were looking at life through the window of potential sexual arousal.

But now in recovery, we are learning to tune into and appreciate beauty all around us that is not sexually suggestive. In the past we might not have noticed how funny the neighbor kid across the street really is, or how happy the old couple is who sit next us in church, or how wonderful the grass and the air smells after a rain, or the amazing color of a sunset. In the fog of our addiction, we blew right past so many beautiful things like this.

For all these years I thought of myself as a connoisseur of beauty, when I was only focusing on the beauty of women’s bodies. Now I’m learning how much more there is to life and the world, and how much richness I have been missing. Hopefully as you have been establishing a stronger recovery over the past months, you are starting to notice new aspects of beauty all around you. Try being more aware today.

Your challenge — look for beauty in unexpected places

I have a challenge for you. For the next several days, look for beauty in unexpected places. Spend the next couple days with this task in mind: look for beauty in various places around you. It could be in the character of people, in places, (non-erotic) art, and especially nature. Try going through your day with “beauty lenses” on … and see what happens.

What do you think about this issue of focus? Have you found your focus changing? Do you wish it was changing more? Tell us what you think in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Noticing what you notice helps in recovery from sex or pornography addiction”

  1. Thanks for this. I have the book Rapt but haven’t read it. Maybe I should! I have been noticing that in recovery I am noticing a lot more where I am looking when I’m at the mall or places like that. I could’t. Agree more with your post thanks again.

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