Category Archives: Recovery

Sponsors: the missing link for many recovering sex addicts

Sponsorship is the missing link for many people in recovery … and especially for sex addicts. Sex addicts are especially prone to isolation and many guys struggle with the willingness to persevere in the ups and downs that occur in sponsor relationships. (I’ll be using male language here, because this was originally written for the 90 Days to Sexual Sanity program … which is for male sexual strugglers.)

I don’t have empirical research to back this up, but I talk to a lot of people about this subject, and continue to get this message: the sex addict who’s actively working with a sponsor is the exception rather than the rule. That’s a big part of the reason why so many people are struggling and not recovering.

In early AA, there were no “walkins.” People didn’t come to the meetings without being sponsored in by someone. AA continues to have a stronger commitment to sponsorship than most sex addiction groups.

This is especially true with church based groups like Celebrate Recovery. In fact, the material I have seen from Celebrate Recovery applies principles of sponsorship to either sponsors or “accountability partners.” Big problem.

If you are focusing your recovery around a relationship with an accountability partner, you are asking for trouble. If you were out in the middle of a lake, struggling to swim and starting to drown, who would you rather have … another guy who’s drowning like you, or someone who’s a strong swimmer? Your accountability partner in the water is just as likely to pull you down into the water with him as he is to pull you to shore. Find someone who is further along than you are, who you can learn from and lean on.

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Recovery requires positive messages to counteract shame

Recovery from sex addiction is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It requires thinking and acting in ways that run counter to many of the messages we hear from others, and tell ourselves.

The counter-cultural examples are probably the most obvious. Think about the many messages we get that promote recreational sex and pornography as normal and healthy. As sexual strugglers, we realize that these things are destructive for us. So we need continual reminders of this to counteract the onslaught of the messages of popular culture. We need continual reminders of our commitment to sexual sanity when we are confronted by suggestive TV or movie scenes, advertisements, or web sites.

But there are other kinds of messages that are just as destructive to our souls and dangerous for our recovery. Many of us fail to recognize their power. Shaming, self-derogatory messages set us up for relapse just as sexually-triggering messages do. To maintain our recovery, we must be on guard against messages that put us down and undermine our hope for a better future for ourselves.

We get these messages from other people, and from our own self-talk. Maybe when you were growing up, you were teased or put down in some way, and now as an adult you find that it’s very easy to put yourself down. You somehow internalized those messages, and now you’re hearing them in your own head.

There are two ways to deal with these negative and hurtful messages: (1) guard yourself from places where these messages get reinforced, by limiting time spent with people who are negative, critical, and/or disrespectful (2) counter-act the negative messages with positive messages that remind you of the truth, and reinforce your hope.

1. Limit exposure to negative messages

As important as this first strategy is – limiting our exposure to these negative messages – sometimes it can be hard to do. Some of us get a lot of negative, critical messages from our spouses. Especially in early recovery, we bear the brunt of anger and sadness from our spouses, and it’s not uncommon to hear a lot of “what is wrong with you?” kinds of messages.

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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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Make a new start with “90 Days to Sexual Sanity”

We’re excited to announce a new program to help people break free from compulsive sexual behavior and live spiritually free, sexually healthy lives! “90 Days to Sexual Sanity” is a program that offers direction and help to start a process of recovery (or re-start one that is drifting). This program is for people who are struggling with sexual behavior – whether or not this struggle is at the level of an addiction – and want to make positive change. Here’s what the program involves:

Daily “90 Days Guide” sent via email each morning

Each day participants will receive an email each day that provides teaching, next step ideas, and a recovery meditation … all designed with help for the sexual struggler in mind.

(1) You’ll get teaching about an important aspect of personal recovery and sexual health.
(2) You’ll get a specific assignment – a tangible action step – that will help you move forward in your recovery. These action steps are designed to be accomplished in a few minutes’ time.
(3) You’ll get a meditation from one of the many excellent meditation books published by Hazelden. The meditation will be specifically selected and targeted for its relevance to recovery from sexual struggles.

The goal of these daily guides is to provide brief reminders about the “how” and “why” of recovery, and to help participants take some tangible action that moves them forward in recovery.

Weekly coaching and support call

Along with the “daily next step” guides, participants in the “90 Days to Sexual Sanity” program will receive a weekly coaching call, facilitated by Mark Brouwer, which will offer a combination of teaching, accountability, and coaching around issues that participants are facing in their recovery.

For those who will be making the call from an office environment – or other place where they are unable to talk freely – opportunities will be available to get a message to the callers via instant message, so you can check in or ask a question without being overheard by someone nearby.

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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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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:


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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