Recovery from addiction is about moving to health, not just stopping a behavior

Recovery is about moving toward health: emotional health, spiritual health, sexual health, relational health, even physical health. It may be helpful to think about recovery in terms of restoring health to the multiple complex dimensions of our being.

Ours is a program of recovery, not simply a program of abstinence. A person can abstain from addictive sexual behaviors, yet still be tremendously unhappy, anxious, and isolated. Recovering alcoholics warn of the dangers of being a “dry drunk” or “white-knuckling it.” Both phrases speak of the same reality … someone finds ways of stopping their alcohol use while not dealing with the underlying emotional issues that led to the addiction in the first place. As the saying goes, “If you just take the alcohol out of the alcoholic, you’re still left with the ‘ic'” (Or “ick,” if you need the hint about what we’re getting at here).

Finding abstinence without moving towards emotional and spiritual health gives rise to cross addiction. We trade our sex addiction for work or food addiction, or gambling, or some chemical. Recovery is the restoration of health, not simply the cessation of certain problematic behaviors.

This is why we often say that our addiction and recovery are about much more than just sex. Our sexual struggles are the tip of the iceberg. The real issues are the things underneath the water line … our coping strategies, feelings, core beliefs, and misplaced expectations.

At an AA meeting years ago, I heard a guy talk about how he hadn’t been working the steps or going to many meetings, but he’d been able to stay sober. He made this statement sort of as a challenge, wondering if “all this AA stuff” was really necessary for him. The leader of the meeting broke protocol and did “cross talk” (spoke directly to him and responded to his comments publicly in the meeting). He asked the $100,000 question: “Okay so you haven’t had a drink … but are you happy, joyous, and free?”

Those words (happy, joyous, and free), are the life experiences granted to people who are living in recovery. They are the byproducts of health. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want. I want not only the cessation of certain sexual behaviors, I want to be happy, joyous, and free!

Maybe today is a good time to evaluate how happy and healthy you are, instead of just thinking about how abstinent you have been.

3 thoughts on “Recovery from addiction is about moving to health, not just stopping a behavior”

  1. Thanks Mark for the encouraging post. Recovery has been a lot of work, especially in being willing to be “ENTIRELY READY to ask God to remove ALL my defects of character.” (Step 6) Many of my “survival strategy” attitudes and core beliefs have “served me well”, if you would, but have hijacked my ability to reach true serenity across the board. I am seeing that in so many parts of my life, this little rebellious adolescent at heart keeps rearing his ugly head. My sponsor kindly puts it, “You may be sober, but you’re still sick.” I have really come to accept that it is not just the sexual compulsions/behaviors that need to be surrendered, but all of me!

    God really pulled my covers through the White Book in the section that states: “If we are content with ourselves, simply minus the compulsion, there can be no recovery. Recovery is more than mere sobriety.”

    Thank you for investing in your own heart and total recovery package so you can encourage and invest in guys like myself.

  2. Thank you for the comments Paul. I really like the quote from the White book … I don’t know how I missed that one! It says in a couple sentences what I tried to say in the whole article. Maybe another side of the picture is more positive … and this is what has helped me over the years in my own recovery … true recovery makes me a different person, and that is what I truly want to be. Too many people are playing too small of a game in recovery.

  3. Hello Mark,

    I have stopped looking at pornography almost a year ago (1/2/2011 ~ was my last slip up). However, I still feel I am not addressing many of the underlying causes which lead me to porn and masturbating.

    I have always been a painfully shy man, which has been difficult for me, because I am also very proud and fear appearing weak to myself or anyone else.

    I wish I could address my social anxiety in a mature and compassionate way, but I get very inpatient with myself and I start to think all this “touchy feely” stuff is bull shit, and I am wasting my time trying to solve something that can’t be solved.

    At times I feel that I am “not cool” and that nobody would like me if they ever found out how weak and social inept I am. These scary and lonely feeling generally lead me to feeling angry, which I now understand is a coping mechanism used to “try” and hide the sadness, fear, loneliness, and embarrassment I feel.

    I don’t know how to own up to my shyness, shame, and loneliness (and the deep longing to belong & be happy). So I walk around with anger written all of my face and body language to “show the world” I can defend myself against perceived threats. I know this is imagined and all in my head, and I know this anger will only lead to misery. However, I become preoccupied with being angry, in a way it saves me from feeling awkward and gives me a chance to feel a little better. However, I obsess on the anger and perceived threat. I explain the threat of “how I was wronged” over and over in my head and how I am right to be angry. The truly sad part of this ritual is that it makes me miss out on all the things that life has to offer, and deep down all the things I long for.

    This eventually leads me to a need to feel better. This is where my pornography addiction stems from. I need to feel pleasure, I need to feel alive, and I don’t want to hurt any longer. I’m no good at real life, so this will have to be my substitute.

    Yes, recovery is about facing the painful feelings that lead you to pornography. Recovery isn’t just about abstinence.

    When I log onto this site, it is usually not by accident. I have been facing some real stuff lately and I have reverted to my old tendencies mentioned above i.e., embarrassment followed by anger, followed by obsessive self talk, followed by misery, followed by masturbation, followed by longing onto this site for answers.

    I will have better days; I just hope that I learn from every one of these bumps on the road.


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