Category Archives: Recovery

What Is Childhood Trauma?

scared girlThe roots of most addictive behaviors have to do with unresolved childhood trauma. People become dependent (or addicted) to substances or behaviors because they learned to turn to them in early life as a way of coping.

I’m citing a couple of great (and brief) articles about childhood trauma, to give you some background on this topic. First, there is a great article on the Uplift Program website about childhood trauma. Included in the article is a great definition, from a 1992 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report. They define childhood trauma as “a repeated pattern of damaging interactions between parent(s) [or, presumably, other significant adults] and child that becomes typical of the relationship.”

Here are some quotes from the article:

“Nearly every researcher agrees that early childhood traumas (i.e. those that happen before the age of six) lie at the root of most long-term depression and anxiety, and many emotional and psychological illnesses. Severe traumas can even alter the very chemistry and physiology of the brain itself! Among mental health professionals, and even some childhood development specialists, there is sometimes a lack of understanding over exactly what constitutes childhood trauma.

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What is Recovery Coaching?

Message in a bottleHere are some helpful distinctions about what recovery coaching is — and isn’t. This list comes from Jana Heckerman, in a recent article from Addiction Professional journal.

What recovery coaching is NOT

Let’s first address what coaching isn’t. It is not:

  • Therapy. Well-trained coaches are very aware of the line between therapy and coaching and are careful to honor that line and refer out to therapists when indicated.
  • A replacement for primary treatment, a 12-Step program, or clinical care.
  • A substitute for or the equivalent of a “sober companion” or “sober coach.”
  • For anyone still actively involved with their substance of choice.
  • About affirmations, positive thinking, or platitudes.

What recovery coaching IS

Now let’s look at what coaching is and how it is useful in the recovery process.

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“Unmanageability” and Sex Addiction

Out of control fireAlexandra Katehakis has a great article on her site about unmanagebility that got me thinking. Part of the reason many sex addicts struggle to get and stay sober is that sex addiction can be hidden in ways that other addictions cannot. It’s true that “we reap what we sow,” but still. People can go for years dysfunctionally dependent on various types of sexual activity to help them cope with life … and keep this hidden from people around them.

But eventually life starts to unravel. And inexorably, the soul of the addict starts to shrivel up. When we live in unreality, consistently behaving in ways that run counter to our values, and keep significant parts of our lives hidden from people we love, part of us dies … no matter how good we are at lying.

Here’s a few lines from Alexandra’s article:

There are a lot of “functioning” addicts out there, whatever that means! People who are highly compartmentalized can “function” in life. That means, they can fool their partners, their bosses, and even themselves, for awhile. Eventually though, the addiction always catches up with them.

In the tradition of the 12-steps “unmanagability” really means “messes.”

What about relying on God’s power to help you heal from addiction?

addiction and lightMany of the talks I give are in settings with evangelical Christians, and there is sometimes an unwritten expectation that the solutions offered in these settings should fit a specific schema. If the steps suggested for healing and recovery don’t sound “spiritual” enough, people get nervous. I recently gave a talk, and got the question “What about the power of God? Where is the power of Christ to bring healing in all this?”

I had emphasized the need for people to get into recovery groups with other guys, to get honest, and establish boundaries around sexual behavior (among other things). But to people used to hearing messages where the solution to every problem boils down to more prayer / Bible study / evangelism, this probably sounded a little spiritually weak.

I have great respect for people who are devout, and who seek growth and healing in life from habits that arise out of their faith. But too many Christians make the mistake of seeing God’s work only in the mysterious and subjective. In an email response to the organizers of the event, here is what I said about this issue:

Continue reading What about relying on God’s power to help you heal from addiction?

HOLDING HOPE: a telephone seminar for partners, parents, and friends of people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior

Holding HopeThis February I am offering a four-part telephone seminar for spouses, friends, and parents of people struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors. I keep hearing that more help is needed, not just for sex addicts, but also for the people who love them — the wives, children, parents, and friends in addicts’ lives who are hurt, angry, anxious, and struggling to know how to help. Sexual compulsivity undermines marriages and families like no other addiction, and tragically, most spouses and family members suffer alone. Sex addiction carries its own unique and powerful shame, and many people don’t know where to turn for help and support.

Some specifics about the teleseminar:

Dates: Wednesdays in February (the 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th)

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A profile of 12 step programs for sex addiction

groupIf someone is an alcoholic, and wants to participate in a 12 Step Recovery program, it’s simple … go to AA. If someone wants to find a 12 Step Recovery program for sexual addiction, it’s more complicated. There are a variety of 12 step programs addressing sexual addiction. What follows in an excerpt from an article on the “Christians in Recovery” site (with some slight edits from me, to update errant info):


People often ask why there are so many fellowships and how we differ. The nationwide fellowships originated between 1973 and 1979 in widely separated parts of the country. Each had already begun taking shape before learning of the others. As a result, each developed differently, and most formed separate networks. The differences have much to do with the personalities and needs of the founding members, especially the experience, strength and hope penned by the founders in their pamphlets and texts, often called in the AA tradition our “big books.”

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How to recognize safe people

For people in recovery, one of the most important issues is finding safe, genuinely intimate relationships. Many addicts have built walls of isolation around them, and don’t know where to turn for support and authentic friendship. Obviously, getting involved in recovery groups and finding friendships there is ideal. But even within a group of like-minded, recovering people, some are more likely to be supportive and helpful than others. Discernment is called for.

And what about other relationships, beyond the confines and relative safety of a 12-step or LIFE group? What about old friends, neighbors, or family? Some people have very limited access to recovery groups, and must develop safe and intimate friendships with people who don’t have the shared experience of a recovery journey. How can you discern who to trust? How can you recognize “safe people” who are candidates for genuine friendship?

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Wishing and Fantasizing

Wishing wellAt the workshops I do with Faithful and True Ministries (for people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior), we talk a lot about the role of fantasy. We help people “take every thought captive,” not by trying to shut the thought out and make it go away, but by evaluating it, and trying to learn from it. When we look with sober and compassionate eyes at our fantasies, we find that they reveal hidden longings that often have arisen from unmet needs in our past. And when we learn ways to meet our needs in healthy ways, and work through the pain in our past, our fantasies lose much of their power.

This is true both of sexual and non-sexual fantasy. Many people have money fantasies (about winning the lottery, for example). Or sports fantasies. To this day, I find it hard to listen to certian types of music without fantasizing about being the musician on stage, playing the music I am listening to. These fantasies create scenarios where our desires for attention, esteem, security, and/or a host of other needs get met.

In my work as a coach, I also have come to see that fantasies can often be a barrier to healthy action. The more I fantasize about something, the less mental energy (and physical time) I have to devote to actually doing something about it. If I’m fantasizing about money, chances are I’m not doing the things I should be doing for my financial well-being. If I’m fantasizing about playing an instrument onstage, then I’m not working to develop my skills as a musician in real life.

All of this brings me to an extended, yet elegant, quote from Jim McGregor. Here’s what he says about wishing and fantasizing, and its role in recovery:

Wishing that I were someone else – more famous, wealthier, stronger, more beautiful, or more serene – is destructive to my well-being.

By changing my attitude of wishing and fantasizing to that of acceptance and gratitude, I will no longer be devastated by disappointments and losses.

Being famous, wealthy, strong, beautiful or serene is fine but not required for my well-being.

The reality of the present moment is my starting point. I can choose to let go and allow the growth process to begin, or I can continue to fantasize and stay where I am.