After “finishing” my Cuddle Chronicles series (though is a touchy-feely queer man’s journey with physical touch ever really complete?) I’ve been pondering what tales to tell next. I’m flexing my Enneagram muscles in our currently airing ConvoCast series, so that’s been a ton o’ nerdy fun trading all those stories within our community. When I consider my own life of late, what comes to mind is therapy — things I’ve been learning, processing, and learning some more these last several years.
Some awarenesses have unspooled slowly, and others have been total lightbulb concepts, new language and practices, a clearer lens to see my world and the world. It’s why I love the Enneagram so much, learning patterns that help me both individually and interconnected with others.
Here’s one vocabulary term I’ve taken away from therapy: euphoric recall. I’d never heard that phrase until last year, and it gives language to this nebulous internal struggle I’ve faced since my first bout with pornography at 19. The phrase pops up in addiction/recovery circles, and a quick Google search took me to one site that put euphoric recall this way:
Euphoria means intense happiness. When an addict has an episode of euphoric recall, they will recall their using or drinking with happiness and comfort. The negative experiences and consequences that have been caused by addiction are pushed out of the mind. Only “positive” memories are remembered.
When I first heard euphoric recall described similarly, I immediately resonated. Because I do that all the time. Not with alcohol. Not with narcotics. But with other men. With fantasy. Sexual fantasies about men. Men from the Internet. Men in my real life. Men from the past. Men in the present.
Men. Men. Men. All the time, men. I can see roots of this internal struggle going all the way back to childhood.
When I was a lonely elementary school kid, I made up innocent stories of boyhood connection featuring myself and my male classmates, literally writing them down in notebooks, playing out countless others in my head. Come puberty, such stories and fantasies grew sexualized. Lying in bed at night, I felt aroused turning those metaphorical pages in my head, following the story wherever it led.
And then once I started watching porn, I replayed those videos internally without even having to click the play button on a screen. Like .mp4 files stored in my brain that could never be deleted. I replayed encounters in similar fashions when I started engaging in promiscuous web chats.
I can’t see inside everyone else’s brains, but my propensity to replay feels particularly nefarious. It feels all-consuming, euphorically recalling those images and videos and web sessions, ignoring any fallout.
I shared this sentiment on the Enneagram Four’s ConvoCast episode, but as a Four-wing-Five straddling the Heart/Head triads, I feel staked to a 500-year mortgage on 500 acres at the intersection of Feelings and Thoughts Boulevards. Whenever I’m awake, as long as I’m conscious, if I’m not intensely feeling something I’m intensely thinking; if I’m not overthinking it, I’m over-feeling it.
I’ve often struggled to fall asleep at night because I just can’t turn off inside — whether it’s my heart or my head, or both. Everything just buzzes and blares, nonstop, until I find ways, healthy or otherwise, to release the feels or silence the thoughts (porn, masturbation, replays of Seinfeld, etc.).
I’ve been practicing meditating, just sitting upright in silence for five to ten minutes at a time, and you can imagine how fun that’s been. It’s a struggle — the first nanosecond I actually find silence, the feelings and thoughts come roaring.
Remember that friend who abandoned you??
Remember how aroused you got during that long hug with him??
Remember that video you watched last night, that fetish you can’t talk about????
General thoughts and feelings hit me all day, but especially at night I experience what I now identify as euphoric recall: replaying sexual or pseudo-sexual experiences, over and over. Replaying those arousing times of touch or conversation, over and over. Re-fantasizing my sexual fantasies, altering details here and there like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, or building entirely new fantasies like Lego castles of desire.
In those moments I remember only the euphoria, the “intense happiness” of my elaborate inner fantasy world, while ever-ignoring reality. I get a charge from the creativity, the scenarios, the control. The ability to live out something in make-believe what I’m too terrified to pursue in real life.
Terrified slash convicted.
Myriad mental and relational health issues aside, my sexual fantasies are a betrayal of my beliefs as a Jesus-follower. I treat men not as fellow image-bearers but as objects for my pleasure, able to be used and discarded as I wish. I feel sad typing that out.
But then there is also the mental/relational health side of things — the consequences I conveniently forget amid my constantly replaying states of euphoria. The truth is, and I hate admitting this, there is horrific consequence.
I so badly wish there weren’t. How I wish I could do whatever the heck I want with the fantasized men in my head, with no bearing on the outside world, on the other people — the other men — in my life.
But when I’m stuck in my head, when I’m entrenched in my fantasies, I’m not spending time with other people. Real people. And the more I punch my ticket from the present world to fantasy land, the less I want to return to this harrowing place.
It’s so much safer in my fantasies, after all. Men can’t hurt me there. Men can’t annoy me or abandon me. I can use them and use them to my heart’s wildest desire, and they always comply.
It’s just easier to isolate and live out a slew of fake relationships than accept or pursue the real ones in my life. Flaws and all.
But my lack of availability to others only starts my consequences. I also become unavailable to myself; my self-care suffers. The dishes overflow for weeks, sleep hygiene goes out the window, and fast food orders accumulate. Forget any sort of fitness or hobbies.
Ultimately, I’m not as available to the Lord. I don’t take time in His word, I stop praying, I stop listening, and I neglect the things He wants me to create, or what to practice in community.
Lulled by the clouds of euphoric recall, I trick myself into thinking I’m safely on autopilot when it’s actually a nosedive.
In those compromised times of staking out even more fantasy acreage for my 500-year mortgage, I need to escape the weight of my head and my heart. This circles back to that Enneagram Four conversation: we heart/head types desperately need outlets beyond the whirlpools of our thoughts and feelings. We need to connect with our bodies.
CrossFit was my running joke on the YOBcast for a while, but I can’t tell you how great CrossFit was for my mental health, even more than my physical; forget the biceps, lats, and pecs (actually, wait, I’ll take those too). Biking and hiking are other ways I love connecting with my body, along with the real world beyond a screen.
I’ve started walking with a pebble in my pocket as a way to ground myself when thoughts and feelings take over. I simply reach inside and remember the present moment. Essential oils also help ground me in my home, bring me back to the real world despite the swirling pull of the fantasy.
Euphoric recall has served me well to survive a lot of lonely times. It does a phenomenal job in the short term. It fills my evenings and nights and wee hours of the morning. Something to do. Somewhere to connect. Like pedaling to power a lightbulb that distracts me from the dark.
But I can’t pedal forever. Eventually the light goes back out. Leaves me alone in the dark.
Naming my struggle with euphoric recall has illuminated my need to exchange all these fantasy men with real men. Real men who, yes, can get mad at me. Real men who annoy me. Real men who can hurt me, betray me, abandon me. And vice versa, for that matter.
But also real men who can bless me. Real men whom I can bless.
Alas, I can’t bless anyone when I’m neglecting others, myself, and the Lord, following these roads of euphoria that only lead right back to a heart full of longing.
I want more than the fleeting charge of euphoric recall. I want what’s real — even though I feel the wince in my soul that real relationships take real work.
I have more to share from my therapeutic learnings over the years. But for now I’ll close on that harrowing, challenging, but reassuring note.
There is no zap to the mountaintop. Real progress takes real work. And I have to believe it’s worth the work.
Do you also struggle with this concept of euphoric recall? How do you escape your head or your heart, or both, when troublesome thoughts and feelings consume you?