What happens to your sexual addiction during recovery? Are you somehow “cured” of your cravings or urges for sexual behavior that always gave you that high before? Will there come a day when you’ll wake up and be able to function without the incessant guilt, shame and deceit that’s plagued you for so long? For many sexual addicts in recovery, these questions, and many more, are common.
You’re Not Alone
As part of your recovery, or even during your treatment, you probably started attending 12-step meetings. If you haven’t done so yet, check out the various groups. They include Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), or Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA). They have face-to-face meetings at many locations in the U.S. and internationally as well as online and telephone meetings. Why are these meetings important? More than anything else, you need support during your recovery from sexual addiction. You need to know that there are others out there who have gone through what you’re going through and are willing to help you as you struggle through the tough times.
You’ve done things in your life, various sexual behaviors, out of a ritual. At first, the thought of stopping this behavior fills you with fear. You’re afraid of what your life will become if you don’t have the reassurance of that sexual excitement. Will your life be lonely and tiresome? Will you feel less sexy or desirable? Will you fall apart or be an emotional train wreck? Men and women have these fears to begin with – and they’re perfectly natural. In fact, it’s part of the recovery process. As for the meetings, how can you discuss your intimate – or sordid, or exciting, or horrific – details in a roomful of strangers? You had a hard enough time getting used to talking about it to your therapist during treatment. Maybe you think that you can do recovery – whatever that is – on your own, now that you’ve completed treatment. Chin up, you tell yourself. You can do it. Wrong. You need others in your corner, people who have been through all the pitfalls, have hit bottom and got back up. You need someone who can help steer you in the right direction, listen to your fears, and help calm you. These are your allies, your brothers in fellowship. Another common worry is that you’ll have to give up too much of your time to attend meetings, to continue therapy or group discussions. Don’t pre-judge. Just go to the meetings regularly. Of course, you’re understandably afraid that these people whom you don’t yet know will reject you. How can they not, you wonder, if they really know all about you? After all, you’ve done some pretty bad things while pursuing your sexual obsessions. If you talk about them, especially those deeply held secrets, others will hate you. Truth is, however, each 12-step group member once had those same feelings. By going to the meetings, by doing the 12 steps, you will be able to recover your dignity, re-establish your self-respect and self-esteem. You will be able to fill your life with meaningful relationships instead of constantly pursuing out-of-control sexual obsessions.
Getting a Sponsor
After you’ve attended 12-step group meetings for a while, you may wish to find a sponsor. How do you do that? If there is someone with whom you share a similar story or background, you may want to approach them after the meeting and ask if they’ll be your sponsor. Maybe their story is different, but you respect them and their accomplishments, and/or you feel they will be of great help to you in your recovery. For any or all of these reasons, don’t be afraid to ask that person to sponsor you. According to SAA, a sponsor is a person who acts as your guide in the program. Ideally, the sponsor has worked the 12 steps, is abstinent of sexually addictive behavior, and can teach you what he or she has learned. The struggles, experience, successes and mistakes of your sponsor can help you as you start your path in recovery. Your sponsor can also help you understand how the program works, and guide you through the 12 steps.
Develop Your Sexual Recovery Plan
In conjunction with your therapist (if you have one and continue to see him or her), or on your own, it’s important that you begin to develop your own sexual recovery plan. In this plan, you will define what it means to be sexually responsible, to learn how to express your sexuality in ways that are acceptable to you and to others. Your plan should be something that doesn’t expend all your time and energy, put you at any legal risk, or physically, mentally or spiritually harms you.
What Will Fall Away
As you progress through the 12 steps and your continued therapy, the feelings of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. You will stop seeking things for your own self-satisfaction and begin to think of ways to help others. You will stop seeing your past behavior as something regrettable or that you have to close the door on it forever. Instead, you will accept that you were what you were then, and you are a different person now. You will have a whole new outlook on life, and your attitude will change. You will feel more self-confidence. You will know how to act in situations that, before, would throw you.
Recovery Doesn’t Mean No Sex
Sexual abstinence is not the goal for you in recovery – unless you choose to remain celibate, but that’s purely your decision. Instead, the goal should be a pursuit of healthy sexual behavior and true intimacy. You should strive, then, to see authentic love.
What If You Relapse?
Having a relapse plan is something you should be familiar with from your days in treatment. If, however, you didn’t attend a treatment program for sexual addiction and are starting your quest for healing mostly on your own, a relapse plan is something that you should prepare. What is a relapse plan? It isn’t a plan so that you can go and indulge in sexually addictive behavior. A relapse plan is what actions or steps you will take when you feel those incessant and impossible urges that could cause you to slip. Some possible thoughts/actions in a relapse plan include:
- Attend more meetings.
- Reach out to more people.
- Admit that I can’t do this on my own.
- Talk to others.
- Take it easy on myself.
- Resolve to get help on how to do better with future challenging thoughts/situations.
- Read more literature on sexual addiction and recovery.
- Put my recovery first.
- Be grateful for each day in recovery.
- Recognize that I am human.
- Share my recovery with others.
If You Do Slip
It may happen that you do slip. It isn’t inevitable, but it may occur. What should you do? Certainly not beat yourself up over it and think that you’ve lost all your momentum. You are human, after all. And humans sometimes make mistakes. What you do need to do after a slip is to double your resolve, get back into your meetings, talk with your sponsor, and forgive yourself. Learn from the slip – it’s an important part of your recovery.
Other Means of Recovery
If 12-step meetings prove not to be appropriate for you for whatever reason, there are other avenues.
- Private Psychotherapy – One-on-one counseling with a psychiatrist trained in treating sexually compulsive or addicted individuals is perhaps the best alternative. Some individuals continue private therapy in addition to attending 12-step group meetings. Whether the therapist uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Jungian, experiential, or other based approaches, you should be prepared to remain in counseling for the long run. Most therapy for sexual addiction lasts from 3 to 5 years.
- Hypnotherapy – Using deep relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy can help you readjust your priorities and alter your behavioral perception through suggestive techniques.
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) – Trained practitioners perform a formal therapeutic technique that transplants negative thoughts with more positive ones. NLP also helps to eliminate phobias.
Give Yourself Time
There will be days when you feel as if you’re wandering in a fog. You may not think you can make it through the day without giving into the temptation that may suddenly pop up. Your craving may seem impossible to ignore. But, with determination and resolve and adherence to your recovery plan, you will get through it. Call your sponsor. Go see your therapist. Distract yourself with physically or mentally challenging tasks. Do deep breathing exercises, anything to get your mind off the craving for a period of 20 minutes or so. After that, the craving should be gone. Recognize that each day in recovery is a gift. You are one day closer to your goals as you’ve listed them in your recovery plan. What do you want 30 days from now or 1 to 5 years ahead? Work toward achieving that goal. As you attain it, work toward the next one on your list – or make new goals. Your life should always be a process of discovery. According to sexual addiction treatment professionals, it takes time to learn new behavior patterns around sex. If you are in a relationship or marriage, and both of you want to continue together, therapy (individual and/or couples) can help provide guidance so that you can reconnect with each other. With effort and time, you can rebuild your relationship and rediscover intimacy. What should you expect in sexual addiction recovery? It is a process. It does take time. But the rewards are well worth it. Above all, this is something you can do. It is something that you must do – for yourself as a human being who is striving to live a life full of possibility.