Category Archives: Addiction

The first task of recovery: Establishing Sobriety

Pat Carnes is one of the “founding fathers” of the sex addiction field. One of his fundamental principles is that the first task of recovery is to “establish sobriety.” There are two ways to understand this, both of which are essential:

1. To establish sobriety, we must define it

First, we need to “establish” what we mean by sobriety. This is not as easy as it first appears. “Sobriety” – when used in reference to compulsive sexual behavior – is the state of living that is free from the addictive or compulsive behavior. Sexual sobriety is not the same thing as sexual purity … it’s not sexual perfection. It is the ongoing experience of abstaining from unhealthy, addictive sexual behaviors. But, of course, this begs the question … which behaviors are addictive, and which behaviors are healthy?

Recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs is simpler. Sobriety there means abstaining from the drug. Period. But sexual behaviors are much more varied, and recovery for most married people will not involve ongoing abstinence from sexual activity. The task of early recovery is to determine what kinds of sexual behaviors are healthy and lead to genuine intimacy, and which ones are unhealthy and destructive.

Some programs (such as Sex Addicts Anonymous) leave the definition of the specific behaviors in this category up to each individual addict. In these programs, each person decides for him or herself what behaviors are “off-limits”. Other programs are critical of this approach, believing that it creates too much room for self-delusion, and it allows people to define their sobriety so broadly that they don’t really make progress in addressing their problems.

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Dealing with Isolation

I suppose it’s a “chicken and egg” kind of question: What comes first – isolation or addictive sexual behavior (a.s.b.)? People who are isolated are at risk for getting sucked into a.s.b., and people who engage in a.s.b. tend to get progressively more isolated. In the workshops I teach, I’m always struck by how isolated the men are. Aside from their wives (if married), they have no one they relate to on anything deeper than a surface level.

On the road of recovery, breaking the pattern of isolation is essential. Genuine connection is the key to relapse prevention and long term health. Having other people in our lives who know the whole truth about us breaks the shame, dispels the loneliness, and offers accountability and support we need when we start to get “slippery” about our boundaries.

I recently came across a helpful exercise for gauging how isolated we are feeling in key relational areas. The author of the article describes why isolation matters:

The more isolated we feel, the more likely we will be to act out. Sexual addiction is an effort to “fix” our isolated feelings with sex. Sex gives us a feeling of connectedness, even if it is a total fantasy of connectedness. You can’t connect with an actor in a porn movie or image. You can’t connect with a prostitute. In reality, even a short lived extramarital affair is not true connectedness, it is merely a short term, unreal relationship.

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Melody Beattie on Codependency

Codependency is a huge issue for people in recovery from compulsive sexual behavior. While much discussion in the past has centered around how the spouse or partner of an addict is codependent (in that they put up with behaviors and do other things that subtly enable the addiction to continue), my observation is that most addicts are codependent as well. In fact, my colleague Mark Laaser contends that he has yet to meet a married sex addict who is not codependent!

Codependency is sometimes misunderstood, and frequently means different things to different people. I like the way wikipedia describes it: A “codependent” is loosely defined as someone who exhibits too much, and often inappropriate, caring for persons who depend on him or her. A “codependent” is one side of a relationship between mutually needy people. The dependent, or obviously needy party(s) may have emotional, physical, financial difficulties, or addictions they seemingly are unable to surmount. The “codependent” party exhibits behaviour which controls, makes excuses for, pities, and takes other actions to perpetuate the obviously needy party’s condition, because of their desire to be needed and fear of doing anything that would change the relationship.

I would highlight the concept of fear. Codependency arises out of insecurity and neediness, and renders us incapable of being fully honest (confronting someone might cause them to dislike or leave us, and we can’t bear that thought). It also keeps us in perpetual rescuer mode — we fear what might happen to the person if we don’t help them out.

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Sex Addiction in the News: Hollywood still doesn’t get it

A recent NY Times article reports a strange and unfortunate promotional strategy for the upcoming movie Choke: beads commonly used as sex toys attached to a bookmark. The movie Choke is about a sex addict. We’ll see if the portrayal is accurate or if it just relies on easy stereotypes. If so, it wouldn’t be the first (Blades of Glory comes readily to mind).

As the Times article puts it: “Move over, tubby; take a break, old maid, there’s a new straw man available for theatrical ridicule: the sex addict. Even as Hollywood has learned, slowly, not to mock the handicapped or brand all Middle Easterners as terrorists, and has turned a more sensitive eye toward alcoholics and drug addicts, it has shown little tact in portraying people diagnosed with sex addiction.”

Later in the article we read:

One participant, who asked for anonymity in accordance with [12 step sex addiction recovery] program’s traditions, said he was offended by the sex toy promotion at Choke.

“It’s like if they made a movie about alcoholism and they were handing out shot glasses or a movie about diabetes and they were handing out sugar cookies,” said the man, who is in his 40s and works in publishing.

What made him seek help was a pattern of “rapidly diving into one romantic entanglement after another, sometimes more than one at a time, without getting to know a person,” he said.

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Article on mayo clinic site addresses sex addiction

An article on the Mayo Clinic website gives a decent overview of sex addiction (in this case referred to as “compulsive sexual behavior”). While it’s not the best overview I’ve seen about sex addiction, this article is worth mentioning, if only because it’s got the weight of a well-respected institution (Mayo Clinic) behind it. Here are some excerpts:

Symptoms:

In general, if your sexual behavior is compulsive, you may have these behavior patterns:
* Having multiple sexual partners or extramarital affairs
* Having sex with anonymous partners or prostitutes
* Avoiding emotional involvement in sexual relationships
* Using commercial sexually explicit phone and Internet services
* Engaging in excessive masturbation
* Frequently using pornographic materials
* Engaging in masochistic or sadistic sex
* Exposing yourself in public (exhibitionism)

People with compulsive sexual behavior often use sex as an escape from other problems, such as loneliness, depression, anxiety or stress. You may continue to engage in risky sexual behavior despite serious consequences, such as health problems, the potential for sexually transmitted diseases and the loss of important relationships.

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David Duchovny in treatment for sex addiction

“X-Files” star David Duchovny, who currently plays a womanizing writer on the cable television series “Californication,” released a statement on Thursday (August 28) that he has entered a facility for treatment of sex addiction. He asked for privacy and respect for his family while they go through this time.

At this point, not much else is known, other than the basic announcement, which many news organizations picked up. Duchovny has been married to actress Tea Leoni since 1997, and they have two children.

It’s sad to see anyone struggle with sexual compulsion, but our hats are off to Duchovny for at least getting help. Hopefully many others who need help will follow his example.

Porn addiction among college students

Latest news from the “it’s about time” front: The University of Texas at Dallas is including porn addiction counseling as part of their counseling services on campus. By now, we all know what a problem porn addiction can be and it’s great to see colleges working to deal with this issue on campus. If you are in college and are spending more time looking at porn than studying, you may want to check out this website. Here is an excerpt of the article … which contains some basic info about sex addiction:

“Pornography as a potential addiction … can happen when people spend increasing amounts of time using pornography and begin using increasingly more extreme pornographic material. This increase in use occurs even though the use has negative consequences. Some people find that their entire sex life revolves around pornography and they are unable to be sexually involved with a real person without the use of pornography.

How would you know if your pornography use is harmful to you? The following are some signs that pornography use is problematic: