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.