We have found that much of our shame is rooted in a kind of merciless perfectionism. Because we are human, we invariably fall short of our lofty ideals, and then sink into a destructive cycle of self-condemnation, shame and eventually, acting out in our Inner Circle.
Such all or nothing thinking permeates our lives and is the source of much pain and confusion. Many in our program have found recovery only by freeing our minds from the shackles of moralistic perfectionism, learning to embrace our common humanity and avoiding extremes. After all, we are neither gods nor devils, but perpetually imperfect human beings.
The Middle Circle is where we place behavior of which we are uncertain. Recognizing that we come into this program resentful, afraid and confused about our sexuality, we know it is not [possible] to go from Inner to Outer Circle overnight. While the Inner Circle refers to behaviors which keep us in permanent isolation and fantasy, the Outer Circle refers to behaviors which help us move out into the real world.
We are all humans and ours is a program of progress, not perfection. We are trying to move towards a sane sexual ideal, but we have found that one does not rise from the gutter to the heavens in one amazing leap. We do not always know what is good for us and what isn’t, nor are we always willing to do the absolute best thing—thus the need for a “Middle Circle” in which we place those sexual behaviors which fall neither in the category of demoralizing addictions from which we absolutely must abstain, nor in the category of ideal behavior. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines, and to abstain from some behavior(s). Herein lie the gray areas which, in our black and white thinking, we have refused to live with all our lives.
Within the Middle Circle, however, there are some behaviors which if not addressed will eventually lead us back to our Inner Circle. We call these “boundary behaviors.” Some examples of actions which may be defined as boundary behaviors are: cruising for prostitutes or for a place to practice voyeurism, acting seductively in an inappropriate situation or contacting an old acting out partner in order to renew an addictive sexual relationship. Crossing a boundary is engaging in a ritual or slippery behavior that may result in acting out. Engaging in boundary behaviors does not change our sobriety date, but because we recognize that our sobriety is jeopardized, we take action to re-connect with the program. If we find that we are engaging in boundary behaviors, we need to respond in a healthy way to take care of ourselves, lest we cross into Inner Circle behaviors.
There are several things we can do:
- tell another member of the group,
- tell our sponsor,
- read recovery literature
- attend a recovery meeting and talk about our behaviors.
Being accountable and reaching out takes away the shame and the feelings of helplessness. It may be hard for us to admit that we have crossed a boundary, but it is just this type of honesty that heals us and allows us not to drift toward destruction.
As we gain sobriety by having clear boundaries and working our program, it becomes much easier to stay sober and to truly enjoy recovery. As time goes on, and as we work the 12 steps of recovery and grow in our participation in meetings and service, our compulsions and obsessions are progressively lifted. We may then find that behaviors which were acceptable for us when we were new must now be put into the Inner Circle.
- Isolation and secretiveness toward the people who care for me, especially recovery people.
- Not acknowledging my emotional, spiritual, physical or mental needs to another in relationship to self and to another.
- Feeling the need to use sex purely as a “drug” to avoid feelings, instead of a way of expressing love to another or myself.
- Feeling the need to cross the boundary of those in committed relationships to get my “forbidden fruit” fix.
- Isolation from people, especially recovery people.
- Lingering in euphoric recall or dreams of acting out situations (fantasy or real) or of acting out partners.
- Being near others who are trying to engage me in flirting with them.
- Stress at work or at home.
- Dealing with recovery issues.
- Dealing with family of origin issues.
- Women/girls of any age (visual/mental obsessing/euphoric recall).
- Away from home, off schedule, not in control of my time.
- Surfing TV channels known for borderline sexual content