Fighting Your Own Impulses

Or Imposing Self-harm

Max Vakhtbovych

This is a difficult topic for me. I am strong and for the most part able to resist many of my impulses, but I have been fighting urges to act on the negative ones all of my life. Some impulses are positive and should not be ignored. For example when you see hunger and pain outside of your own community and you have an impulse to help, you should act on it. Warning: I may be a bit preachy in this blog.

Impulse defined: a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act (Google)

The Impact of Impulse Decisions on our Lives

The world is made up of a vast array of different personality types; some strong with good intentions and others, out-of-control and divisive. We have various tools at our disposal that help us to control aspects of our personalities that might cause harm or pain. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to discuss impulses that have an impact on our own future, not necessarily the future of others. Obviously, our decisions affect and impact those around us as well; however, it is the more personal variety I am exploring today.

Decisions About Where to Live

Acting on impulses regarding where you live can have long lasting effects. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I could live here,” better still, how many times have you thought it or said it yourself?

Where you end up residing is by far one of the most important decisions of your life. Granted, wherever you decide to live, it is possible to leave; however, the amount of details that one has to attend to in order to relocate, are cumbersome to say the least. So much of your happiness depends on your external environment. This is one impulse that should definitely be checked and kept in control. Do your homework, visit and spend some time there, ask people who live there, write a pros and cons list, work-up a budget, and have a plan.

Don’t overthink it.

Health Decisions

Our impulses often take us to dark places that are difficult or impossible to resist. For example, no one likes pain: psychological pain, physical pain, and or emotional pain. Our instinct tells us that we should do everything we can to make it go away. Unfortunately, many of today’s remedies are harmful to us and may have long lasting effects. So when you turn to the bottle for relief and escape, your mind tells you that it’s a temporary escape; you only need one cocktail and you won’t need it again tomorrow. I know too many alcoholics who went down that slippery slope with little or no awareness that it was happening, while it was happening. So many people die due to alcohol abuse and the casualties of abuse, every day, yet it’s hardly ever a part of the public conversation. You know why that is and it’s time to face the horrible truth. We mandate the wearing of masks, ban smoking indoors, and we keep transgender people out of certain bathrooms, but we allow excess drinking almost everywhere. No one has the right to put others in danger.

Relationships

Regrets are usually a waste of time, but I have one regret which will haunt me my entire life: my marriage. My ex-wife was perfect in every way: beautiful, smart, trustworthy, loving, and devoted. We were never compatible because she was straight and I was closeted. How could she have known when I hid it so well? But my impulse was to snatch her up because she could provide the life I “thought” I wanted and should have. I could be a husband, a father, and we could live happily ever after. In what universe? When will people stop judging one another and start opening up to the many faces of love.

If you’re one of those people saying, “But isn’t it much better than it used to be?” shame on you.

I take full responsibility for the farce of my marriage, but I also blame the world around me that taught me to discard any other possibility. I have apologized to the woman I married many times; still, the pain I caused her will never be fully forgotten. I appreciate her love and forgiveness, because that and my integrity, are all I have.

Giving Birth to Children

I know that human beings, like all animals, are naturally meant to procreate and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop bringing children into the world.

However . . . I firmly believe that some make the decision to have children without thinking it through. Most of what I feel comes from my own experience of having a mother who had seven children in a very short period of time. She had little or no concern about how she would care for and feed her babies. My father probably had even less concern, sadly, I never got to ask.

I have a couple of female friends who consciously decided not to mother children. They gave it a great deal of thought and came to this very sound conclusion. Both have told me that they have been getting grief for their decision for years; some people think there is something wrong with them for not wanting children. I think our grief is misplaced, we should be focusing on those who decide to give birth and then either abuse their children and/or put the burden on others to care for them. Obviously there are exceptions, I don’t feel the need to explain what those are.

The Impulses I Fight Daily and How I Control them

I’m happy to share the impulses I have that I believe could be problematic in my own life. I view these urges as a weakness; controlling my destructive behavior has always been challenging. I know that I am harder on myself than I need to be, but the alternative is not an option. My intention is to let you know you’re not alone; fighting one’s demons is an uphill battle. Yes, the things I share are extremely personal; however, I hid my true self for over 20 years and that didn’t do anyone any good. Counseling has helped me over the years; however, I suspect my story includes a fight to the end. Giving you a glimpse of my journey helps me to try harder and heal from past mistakes.

Alcohol Abuse: I often mention alcohol in my blogs, therefore, I thought I should address it. I have been fortunate when it comes to alcohol. As I have said before, I occasionally enjoy a late afternoon cocktail and a glass or two of wine with my evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, I might have a second cocktail, but this is very rare. I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse, however, there are several reasons I limit my alcohol intake:

  • I like being in total control — my somewhat compulsive personality dictates my behavior
  • I prefer not to pay the high price of alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
  • There are times when I am out and driving (certainly not of late); alcohol and driving cannot happen
  • I drink slowly and enjoy my cocktail or wine.
  • I do not drink to become inebriated and can honestly say I never have (except at that one Bar Mitzvah when I was 12 years old).

I mention alcoholism now and again because I have several individuals in my life who are alcoholics. I do would not and do not judge those who have a difficult time controlling their alcohol intake; I am aware that addiction is a disease . It is painful to watch someone you care about spin out of control due to substance abuse. I have seen a tremendous amount of success with Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics/Marijuana Anonymous. To be honest, quick rehabilitation programs seem to be less effective. It is my understanding that alcoholism is linked to genetics. I’m not a professional abuse counselor and my opinion is just that. Please challenge me if you believe I have a problem with alcohol abuse.

Gambling: this vice is an entirely different story. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not control my impulse to gamble, it would become a problem. Both of my parents loved and abused gambling. My mother incurred a massive amount of debt due to her habit; I believe my father was able to keep his impulse under control, but I have no doubt that he lost a great deal of money in his life; horse racing was his vice.

The most I have ever lost at one time, was about $1800 on a cruise ship. It was my birthday and stupid me was thinking: you have to win, it’s your birthday. Any smart person will tell you that you cannot gamble expecting to win. In this case I visited the ATM machine on the ship three times in one night. I told myself that I could go to the machine once and that would be my limit. Ha, that never works. Because I was so angry for losing that much money, I convinced myself that it could not and would not happen again. This is how I control my gambling:

  • I limit myself to three casino visits per year (I usually come closer to five or six visits).
  • My bank has a daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card.
  • I put a certain amount of cash in my pocket and I leave my credit cards and ATM card at home (harder to do on a ship, but even leaving the cards in my cabin, is a deterrent.
  • I do not live near a casino and that was always a conscious choice.
  • If the impulse is strong, I will often treat myself to a nice dinner instead.

Gamblers are judged harshly in our society, therefore, it is seldom discussed with friends or family. Instead, it is divisive and draped in shame. Even writing about my own battle with it is shame filled and upsetting.

Overeating or Impulse Eating: this too has been a lifelong battle for me. I love food; not just sweets, I enjoy savory food with as much fervor. I’ve written several blogs about my struggles with eating; to be frank, I have for the most part conquered this addiction. Portion control, meditation, and vanity, have prevented obesity. At this point in my life comfort is essential. If I eat too much, I am uncomfortable and in the end, it’s not worth the limited pleasure I might have gotten from two more ribs or that second piece of cake.

All of these impulses, although personal, affect the wellbeing of others in your life. Acknowledging you might have a problem, monitoring your behavior and seeking help, are all essential for success in overcoming these difficulties. As I write about my own struggles, there are a few realities that come to mind: the impulses I speak of effect many of us; more than society cares to admit, we cope with most of these difficulties on our own because of the stigma attached to them, and lastly, to be flawed and challenged is to be human. Never give up the fight; giving in or giving up, is the worst thing you can do. If you need help, ask for it.

I realize that I did not cover every impulse we struggle with in our lives. Admittedly, the stress most of us are under during this pandemic, only make resisting negative impulses more challenging.

I'm really not good with impulse control Picture Quote #1

Resources:

When Loss of Self-Control is Really an Impulse Control Disorder, Family First Intervention, March, 6, 2019

Is Impulsive Behavior a Disorder? Healthline, May 12, 2020

Alcohol Abuse, Harvard Health Publishing, December 2014

If you don’t mind sorting through some bullshit and aggrandizing, there is some great stuff on Goop (sample below):

Question of the Week:

Have you acted on an impulse that ended up being a disaster? How did you fix it or are you still trying?

I Was Taught to Keep it All Inside

I’ve been on an honesty kick for a long time and it doesn’t always work for me.

 

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Up against a wall

 

You hear a lot about gay people “coming out” these days. There are many incredible stories; each unique and compelling. Mine is no different — act straight, marry, keep it from the boss, tell your sister first; she of course tells you she already knew and so it goes. What you don’t hear is that when you’re gay, you don’t come out once, you come out again and again . . . and again.

Allow me to explain. I’m at a fundraiser sitting at a table with eight strangers. They have no idea who I am, where I am from, and what I do for a living — let alone know about my sexual orientation. To be polite, we all make small talk. If I bring a female friend, she is automatically my wife. I am not being critical mind you, it’s a reasonable assumption. So one of the first comments is, “So how long have you two been together?” or “Do you have any children?” I’m wondering to myself whether or not to tell the truth. If I stay silent or play along with the charade, am I doing a disservice to all gays and lesbians? We fought long and hard to be out and proud; if I stay silent, I am complicit?

When I am honest with people I sometimes get these reactions:

“You don’t look gay.”

“I had no idea.”

“But you act so straight!” (Having worked so hard at acting straight in my teens and 20’s, this is my personal favorite.)

“If you were married to a woman, you must be bisexual.”

“Are you the man or the woman in a relationship?”

I have learned over the years that people can say some fairly stupid and insensitive things without intentionally meaning to offend. I either nervously chuckle or ignore the comment. Either reaction is not very honest, is it? What I would like to say is, “Now that you’ve made your bias clear, tell me what you really think about gay people?”

Let’s put it out there, have some dialogue. But, I don’t say what I’m thinking, I keep my mouth shut, remain silent and hope that the moment passes quickly. I do this because it’s what I was taught to do since I was old enough to comprehend life lessons. Adults teach children to keep the truth inside:

  • to spare the hurt feelings of others
  • to keep them out of trouble
  • to keep them safe
  • to keep children from sharing the truth about their parent’s lives (i.e., what happens in this family, stays with this family)
  • it’s the “norm;” that’s how we’ve always done it

I hid the truth until I was 28 years old; up until that point I worked hard to hide who I was from myself and everyone else.

Being honest, telling the truth, telling the whole truth, speaking your mind, sharing secrets, whistle blowing, and so on. They’re not the same things are they? Everyone seems to define “truth” differently these days. So when someone tells you that they are telling the truth, what exactly does that mean?

 

The Truth Can be Painful and Consequences Can be Real

Having made a conscious effort to be honest has been fairly difficult at times. People say that they want to hear the truth when in fact, they cannot handle the truth. I acknowledge that my truth may not be someone else’s truth — for example, politics:  I may believe that our current administration is corrupt and dangerous and others might believe that it’s the best leadership we’ve had in a long time. This is a difficult debate because one will argue the facts which are fairly skewed these days, depending on the reporting. This kind of truth aside, deciding to share the truth with someone can put both parties in a difficult position. The truth can do irreparable damage and that is something you may have to live with. I don’t believe examples are necessary since most people have experienced what I am referring to.

Many of us make a conscious decision to keep the truth to ourselves in order to keep the peace.  The problem with this decision is that individuals who need to be told they have an alcohol problem, or that they are being psychologically abused or that their severe weight problem is killing them, will continue to talk themselves into a lie. I have a friend who told me that her doctor told her that it is better for her to smoke cigarettes because if she quits she might have a nervous breakdown. She’s told herself this lie so many times, she actually believes that it’s true.

 

Coming to Terms with the Truth you Tell Yourself

A few years ago I found myself in a toxic work environment. Telling ourselves we are no longer happy at work; I believe it is one of the most common truths we may have to tell ourselves. It’s very easy to become comfortable and feel safe in a toxic environment; after all, it’s all you know and the alternative might be too frightening to face.

Once you are able and willing to be honest with yourself about your career or work environment, change needs to happen and the old adage that “change is good” will prove true once again.

There are many truths we keep from ourselves:  failing health, toxic relationships, financial ruin, alcohol or drug abuse, missed opportunities, why having an affair is hurting many people, etc. Facing any and all of these life issues can be challenging; however, failure to do so will only mean future problems that may end up being insurmountable.

 

My Future and How I Intend to Deal with Truth

One of the reasons for moving overseas was to find truth. Life for me was becoming mundane and way too simple; I was choosing the path of least resistance nearly every time. I’m not referring to seeking the truth about our existence, what I’m trying to find is my on truth:  who am I, what am I looking for, and how do I find it?

I am aware that these are big questions and finding the answers is a lifelong journey. I believe the answers lie in self-reflection, self-assessment and shaking things up. Looking in the mirror can be difficult. If you look hard enough, you might see the truth. So many are reluctant to look because they’re afraid of what they might find. I’m not so much afraid as I am concerned. I’m concerned that I will not be able to change what I don’t like. For example, I learned awhile back that I can be unfairly critical. I can hold people to a standard that is unrealistic and unfair. I don’t like this one bit. The question is, can I change it? I’m not sure that I can, but I have made a commitment to try.

Other lies I tell myself:

  • One more cocktail won’t hurt you
  • You can leave your bicycle helmet home this one time
  • It’s better not to put yourself out there because men are all slime buckets
  • Trump will definitely be impeached
  • You don’t have to cover your head from the sun
  • You can eat whatever you want and work it off

Being open about these lies is a good first step; it’s time to face them. My friends and family tell me I’m too hard on myself. I believe it’s an easy out — I don’t want to face my shit so I’d prefer you didn’t face yours. I’ll have none of that:  “the truth shall set me free” (to paraphrase the bible and that may be a first for me).

 

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Tattoo on my forearm is the Chinese word for TRUTH. I had the word tattooed in this location as a constant reminder.

 

 

Disclaimer:  You may find that I repeat myself in a blog by sharing something I have previously shared. I must admit that I do not reread previously published blogs. If I re-introduce a story or topic, it is because I believe it is worth mentioning again. The way I see it, there will only be a problem if my story changes.