Help for starting–or supporting–a program for recovery from sexual struggles

In 2007, I developed a program to help people who were dealing with sexual struggles in their lives. Some felt comfortable calling these struggles an addiction, while others weren’t so sure about that label. It started out as followup, or “aftercare,” program for people who attended workshops I helped facilitate with Dr. Mark Laaser.

I think this program could help you, if you are wanting to start something — a group or ministry — to help others, or get more support for your own recovery.

When I created the Recovery Journey, I wanted to offer something different: I wanted to offer something that would work with — and help supplement — work people might already be doing with a therapist, or involvement with a 12-Step recovery group. I didn’t want to create something to compete against the many good programs already out there, or compete with therapists who do face-to-face work. I wanted to create something that would work with those other modalities.

And I wanted to offer something that helped facilitate a practice that I’ve come to believe is essential for long term sobriety:

Doing a little something every day
to support your recovery

As my sexualsanity.com website grew, I started to get people in the program who hadn’t gone to a workshop, and I found it worked just as well — if not better — for them.

Over the years I continued to tweak the program, and for some time now it’s been known as “The Recovery Journey,” and hundreds of participants have gone through it. I wish I had exact numbers. At this point, I think somewhere close to 400 people have gone through the program: about 300 sexual strugglers, and 100 partners of strugglers, who’ve gone through the companion program.

To find out more about the Recovery Journey, 

or sign up for it,

go to the website:

http://recoveryjourney.com

Here’s a little about the program, and a little about what I’ve learned:

1. Set a specific length of time. I decided to focus on a specific span of time, to make it something that people could dedicate themselves to going through as a transition time … even though we all know that recovery is a lifelong journey. With a nod to the recovery tradition of focusing intensively for 90 Days, I eventually set up the program to run for 90 Days.

I recommend this as a way of starting something with other people. Have a group meet for 3 months. Have everybody make a commitment to faithful attendance for that set amount of time. Then, if it goes well, you can decide towards the end of that time if you want to keep going.

2. Include some teaching to solidify a deeper understanding of addiction and recovery. I set up the program to include a short teaching segment, along with an action step to take each day (I’ll say more about the action step below). In my work with people in recovery, I came to see how essential it is to maintain focus on one’s recovery commitment. I came up with the principle that we need to do “a little something EVERY DAY” to remind us of our commitment, and help us move in the right direction.

One way of doing that is to get reminders, along with some new information, about how addiction and recovery works. The problem with most group programs is that, at most, they meet once a week. People need to pay more consistent attention to their recovery, and having something that they work at every day — even for just a few minutes — really helps to solidify their recovery.

3. Make sure there’s more than just teaching concepts. Knowledge is not enough. The material was set up to include both teaching and some small application action step. It didn’t take long in the recovery field to see how essential it is that people take specific action in recovery, and not to let it simply be a conceptual exercise.

Too many people — especially white, middle class, educated Americans — assume that they are growing and transforming if they’re learning something new. They equate growth in recovery with growth in knowledge about recovery. This is a fatal error. Learning more about recovery will NOT help you, unless you take consistent action. In fact, learning more stuff about recovery, without taking action on it, usually makes your problems worse.

4. Make sure it’s do-able. I found that getting materials and work to do for this program every day, seven days a week, was overwhelming for people. In the early years, I sent people an email every day during the program with their reading for the day. The feedback I got was that it was too much … it was stressing people out and discouraging them when they fell behind. So I made two changes:

(1) Instead of emailing them every day with a single lesson, I just sent out one email each week, with that week’s lessons.
(2) I shifted the material around so that each week, there are five “full” days of material, and then two “light” days. On the “light” days, I simply encourage people to read from one of the great online Hazelden recovery meditation books. I provide links to them in the program materials. The idea is that if they missed a day or two during the week, they could catch up on the light days, if needed.

What I learned from 11 years running this program:

After nearly 400 people have gone through the program, here’s what I’ve found: People who stick with it have tremendous results. The challenge is getting them to stay with it. A lot of people start to drift, and don’t finish the program, or wind up skipping a lot of it. From the feedback I get from people, my sense is that it breaks down into three groups (with each group about the same size, or percentage of program participants):

  • Finishers — a third of the people, more or less, do it all
  • Fractionals — a third of the people do much of the program, but not all of it
  • Fizzlers — a third of the people fizzle out fairly early
    From the beginning, I’ve had a money-back guarantee. In all these years, I’ve only had one person ask for a refund, and he admitted he hadn’t done all the work. After my interaction with him, I was more clear with people: I’ll happily refund your money if you don’t think the program was helpful. But only if you’ve gone through and done the program.

How can you know if it’s helpful or not if you don’t actually do it? It’s like asking a pharmacist for a refund because “the medicine didn’t work,” when you didn’t even take the medicine!

After all these years I know that if people do the work, it will change their lives. There will always be “Fizzlers,” and nobody can do much to help them. The “Finishers” — and even the “Fractionals” — get a lot of help from the program.

Another thing I found was unexpected: Most people who’ve gone through the program tell me that they plan to work through it again, starting at the beginning … even if they had finished all the lessons. Those who’ve reported back to me after having done this say that getting reminders from things they had read the first time was good, and if they missed some lessons along the way, this second pass gave them a chance to access it.

I’ve come to believe that the most important issue —
the thing that most contributes to success —
is a strategy for support and accountability
to make sure someone keeps doing the work for the full 90 days.

If only there was a way to help with this …

Enter … The Recovery Journey Group Program

Some time ago, two different groups of people asked me if it would be possible for them to do the Recovery Journey as a group. Since then, I’ve been in touch with a couple groups who’ve done this. One group of guys I know did this twice with a few new people in the group the second time around.

The results have been spectacular. The people who go through it as a group get the benefit not only of the individual work, but also the benefit of support and encouragement from others. There is built in accountability, because participants report in to each other about how they are doing with the work. There is a chance to compare notes, and talk about things they are learning, or ask questions that have come up for them.

I put together a simple format for the group meetings. It’s very straightforward, and the focus is on talking with each other about how things are going in their own lives and recovery. It’s not a “study group” where people answer fill-in-the-blank questions. It’s more informal than that.

Some people do this gathering with just one other person. That works fine, but I think it works better when there are several people in the group. I’m not sure what the upper limit would be: maybe 10? If the group is too big, people don’t get enough time to talk.

If you want to do a group like this, please let me know. Just respond by using the form below, and I’ll get back to you. There is no charge for the group materials (and the group “materials” are very simple). But if I was going to start work with a group of guys … this is how I would do it.

To find out more about the Recovery Journey, 

or sign up for it,

go to the website:

http://recoveryjourney.com

 

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