Kickstart Your Recovery Episode 05: Take Care of Your Self

Take Care of Your Self – How self-care is one of the most empowering ways to uplift yourself from indulgence and craft a life that’s good for you and good for others.

To start us off, I’d like to share with you a recent experience I had while attending a group call with several members of the Purify Your Gaze support Community.

One member who we’ll call Omar for the sake of this discussion was sharing how he had recently went to a spiritual retreat or Islamic Studies seminar of sorts. And what he found is that although the experience there was very positive and uplifting, the very same night he came home – or very soon after – he relapsed back to his old habits.

This is something I’ve noticed from the experience of several members I’ve interacted with in our Purify Your Gaze community – not just Omar.

It’s not uncommon that the person who struggles with turning to unwanted sexual behaviors is the very same person who is actively engaged in Islamic activities – whether it’s attending weekend seminars on Islamic studies or participating in da’wah programs over the span of 40 days, in the case of one member I spoke with.

And what I’ve found is that it’s not a coincidence that these individuals are struggling with turning to pornography and also involved in these activities – there’s actually a very interesting link between the two.

The common experience is that sincere Muslims who are simply trying to live a proper, upright life get so fed up with their unwanted behaviors – and in this frustration the idea of changing their environment completely and spending some time in a spiritually uplifting environment with no opportunity to act out sexually becomes very appealing. Not only is it appealing, but it often seems like “that’s exactly what I need” – to get away from my acting out, and get spiritually recharged.

And they do – they leave home, they spend a weekend or even a month away from home, and the experience is often times very uplifting, very fun, and their problems are literally behind them. There is no thought whatsoever of acting out sexually.

Here’s where it gets interesting, however – what happens the moment they return home?

You’d expect that spiritual experience would at least stay for a while, right?

But oftentimes these individuals fall back into their sin the very same night they return home, or very soon after. And oftentimes they are shocked and surprised, because it’s not what they expected. And they feel even worse about their problem – “how could I do this after such a spiritually uplifting activity?”

I find this phenomenon very revealing.. Let’s take some lessons away from this phenomenon.

Take away 1: It’s not about sex

The first thing that this phenomenon reveals is this: if you turn to sexual behaviors compulsively, then you can be confident that it’s not really about the sex.

We all have sexual needs, but when you start turning to sex compulsively, and it becomes a habit that you turn to regularly, and you feel it’s out of control, and it’s used often to cope with stress, then it means you’re using it to fill needs that have nothing at all to do with sexuality.

In this story of Omar, we can see that when he would go to these weekend seminars, he would not even think about acting out.

Why is that? It’s because he was in a place where his emotional needs were being met in a positive way. There simply was no need to fantasize about turning to sexually acting out.

He was learning things that would uplift him spiritually. He would always be surrounded by friends, and he would be having lots of fun. He would not be overwhelmed by the stressors of his daily life, whether it be school or work or family problems or whatever it may be. It’s a utopia in many ways.

Now think about the times when he’s back in his normal life routine. There would not be spiritual nourishment consistently. If you’re lucky you’ll see your friends once or twice a week. There’s work stress, there’s school stress, there’s family problems.

Turning to sex then comes in as the drug of choice to escape the problems of life.

Omar has genuine, even beautiful, needs as a human being – and often he sought to meet them in healthy ways. The only problem is that more often than not he turned to destructive behaviors to meet those needs.

The 6 Human Needs

Now I’d like to give you all a very powerful framework to think about your emotional needs as a human being. I believe this framework was developed by someone very popular in the realm of self-development, Tony Robbins.

If you apply this framework in your own life, I believe it has the potential to leave you feeling more fulfilled and to help you make choices that are better for you and better for those around you as well.

He says that the reason people do anything that they do is to meet these 6 needs that every human being has. They are:

  1. Certainty – you need to feel safe, you need some level of predictability.
  2. Variety – even so, you still need some level of excitement and newness in your life.
  3. Significance – you have to feel like you matter, like you have a place in this world.
  4. Love and Connection – This is one of the most basic ones we turn to time and time again
  5. Growth – the idea is that if you are not growing, you are dying
  6. Contribution – in order to feel truly fulfilled you must feel like you are part of something larger than your own self

I’m personally blown away by the sheer power of this very simple framework. If you take any activity that you do in your life – whether it’s healthy or unhealthy – can’t you see that it is used as a vehicle to meet one or even several of these needs?

Thinking back to the story of Omar – can’t you see that going to these weekend seminars would do a great job at meeting some of these needs? For example, variety – leaving home, having lots of fun with his classmates, trying out new food. Love and Connection – there’s an amazing sense of community at these classes is there not? Growth! Of course. Spiritually growing, learning new things.

In a way, can’t you see that going to these classes is an addiction? Not that I’m saying it’s a bad one.

Takeaway #2: The need to be proactive

Going back to the story, the most surprising part is that many individuals find themselves turning back to their old habits as soon as they get back home. Sometimes even when they were doing well before going to the class or activity!

How can we understand that?

Here is my personal take on this phenomenon…

Don’t you agree that when Omar or anyone else goes to these spiritually uplifting events, all of his needs are handed to him in a silver platter?

It’s all there, ready for him to enjoy. He doesn’t have to try to have a good time and feel good and fulfilled. He doesn’t have to be proactive. He simply has to go with the flow.

Now, it’s great that such an activity makes it so easy to feel fulfilled. But here’s the problem.

Prior to going, Omar probably had his guard up. He knew he had to be on the watch so that he doesn’t fall back into his old habits. He had to monitor his emotional well-being, otherwise he knew he would fall back to his old habits.

Guess what happens when you find your needs being handed to you?

The guard comes down. And so when he gets back home, the guard is still down. And he falls back when he least expected it.

What does this teach us?

It shows that we need to be proactive about meeting our needs in healthy ways.

Many people in life are looking around, hoping that the people and the things around them are going to make them feel loved, certainty, significance, variety.

And, honestly, I can’t blame you for turning to certain activities to get these needs met. Who am I to say that going to a class or with a da’wah group is a bad idea?

But again, it’s important to be intentional and proactive about taking responsibility to meet your  own needs.

Take away #3 – self care is a powerful way for consistent and long-term fulfillment

So hopefully by now you can see that it’s important to be proactive about meeting your needs in healthy ways. And while it is great to have avenues that meet your needs, such as going to a weekend class – this won’t be enough to overcome your addiction to unhealthy habits – you need to meet your needs in ways that give you consistent and long-term fulfillment. And that’s really the key here. That’s what many people lack in their lives.

And so finally I am ready to introduce the concept of “self-care” and why it’s so important for someone seeking to recover from unwanted sexual behaviors.

So what is “self-care” all about?

The way I would define it is this: to do the things that help you feel good, but to do it from a place of care rather than indulgence.

You see, everyone does things that help them feel good – plenty of people spend hours watching TV, plenty of people turn to junk food (myself included).

But how many people do things that help them to feel good because they actually care for themselves? How many people actually believe that “the needs I have are legitimate, and I deserve to have them met, and I care enough about myself to meet them in healthy ways”?

Here’s the thing: when your emotional needs are not being met – you will do something to get them met, whether you like it or not, whether you’re conscious about it or not.

The only difference is this: if you are conscious and proactive about it, you can do things that feel good, are good for you, and are good for others.

If you are not proactive about it, however, then you will always choose the thing that requires least effort and has the most immediate pleasure, and oftentimes you’ll ignore the long term effects and how it may affect others as well.

Now can you see why choosing to meet your needs in healthy ways is the road less travelled?

It’s because it takes a conscious choice to do so.

Very few people think about going for a run when they feel bad – it’s the last thing you’d want to do! Most people would rather lie in bed, or eat ice cream, or turn to their unwanted habits.

But a few fortunate people at some point decided “I deserve to have my needs met in healthy ways” and made a commitment to practice self-care, and that commitment enabled them to go for a run when they least wanted to. And when they did that enough times, it actually became second nature. Their brain became rewired because they found a more pleasurable and healthy addiction, so to speak. The thought of turning to old habits became less and less appealing, as they experienced time and time again the long-term pleasures associated with making a more healthy choice.

How to develop habits of self-care?

So can you see now how focusing on self-care is one of the most empowering ways to overcome destructive behaviors and start building your life by finding the things that not only feel good, but are good for you and good for others as well?

So how do you develop habits of self-care? What habits do you focus on? The possibilities are endless, so where do you start?

Well, I gotta break it to you – it’s really all up to you.

But you can use this guideline: the key is your intention.

You don’t turn to pornography because you care about yourself. Acting out sexually is an act of self-neglect. You turn to it because you’d rather numb out the pain you feel rather than listening to it and addressing it in healthy ways. (I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I believe this is the reality.)

So, if you want to turn things around, start with actually caring for yourself. And bring that intention to the things you do.

Want to read extra Quran? Do it because you care about yourself, rather than doing it from a place of shame.

Want to exercise more? Do it because you care about yourself, rather than because you feel you are unworthy because you are too overweight or too underweight.

Want to spend more time with friends? Do it because you care about yourself, rather than expecting others to love you when you’re unwilling to love yourself.

Just keep in mind that by practicing self-care, you are choosing to prefer long-term fulfillment over the “easy and delicious” options also available to you. So it won’t always be easy. You won’t always want to do it. But you do because you care about yourself, and you care to see yourself grow into the beautiful human you know you can be.

Possible Objections

Hopefully by now it’s clear that self-care is not a matter of being selfish or narcissistic, rather it’s all about taking responsibility to meet your needs in healthy ways rather than expecting other people or other things to meet them for you.

But some people may still feel like they’d rather focus their energy on serving other people.

Here’s the thing – you can only function fully as a human being when you’re needs are met.

Think about it – if you are without food for days, it would be silly to focus on trying to do higher level activities like volunteering or teaching or some other form of contribution. You have to have your need for food met, then you’ll be in a good place to give back to others.

Similarly, if your emotional needs are not adequately met, then your bucket is empty, you really don’t have much to give. I’ve heard it said several times before that “you cannot give what you don’t have”. Your heart must be full of love if you hope to love others. The best way to fill it with love is to consciously choose to engage in activities that fill your heart with love.

Another objection some may have is… Bara, I’m a medical student. I don’t have time to do this!

And I want to say this: self-care takes time and dedication. I was fascinated at times in my own practice that this stuff really takes time.

I can’t just do some quick 5 minute routine and feel fulfilled the rest of the day – the emotional part of me demands my attention, oftentimes for much longer than I would like.

So the fear is that you can’t be productive if you spend so much time for self-care.

But here’s how I see it: you can choose to ignore self-care and instead derive your sense of worth and significance from your studies or from your work or otherwise. And I can’t really blame you if that’s what you choose.

But has it worked for you? Have you found consistent and long-term fulfillment?

Or are you always saying “I can feel happy and fulfilled later on in life? When things are settled down”? That “later on” will never come, until you start taking responsibility for your own fulfillment and self-care.

You don’t need to choose between self-care and productivity, achievement, and success. Because starting with self-care will fill up your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reservoirs – so that you can give to your other pursuits the quality they really deserve.

I’m convinced from my study of personal development that true achievement does not come when you skip steps. You can’t try to make a meaningful contribution to the world before you’ve taken care of your own basic needs. You might make it by, but you won’t thrive.

The reason is you’ll always need your achievements to feel good about yourself. So rather than actually contributing to society from a place of love and care, you’ll be seeking recognition from a place of neediness.
I hope you got some ideas about how one of the most important keys to long term freedom from lustful habits is to consciously, proactively, and consistently “Take Care of Your Self”.

I look forward to seeing you next time where we’ll talk about embracing honesty in your life. Having a secret habit clearly poses a threat to living an honest life, yet understandably many people feel like there’s no way they can be entirely honest with their loved ones about their struggle. I’ve got an amazing story to share with you about what happened when one member’s marriage was on the line and he decided he would be completely, 100%, nothing-held-back honest with his wife about his struggle.