by Dan Drake, LMFT, LCPP, CCPS-S, CSAT-S
How time flies… I’ve been wanting to write this blog for months but haven’t had a chance until now. Because I get a lot of emails asking about the basics of sex addiction recovery I wanted to write about how to create a solid foundation: from sex addiction to recovery. While this is by no means an exhaustive list; if you do the following you’ll be well on your way to laying that cornerstone.
So what are some elements of a good recovery foundation?
1) Determine if You Have a Problem
Just because you are engaging in certain behaviors, doesn’t automatically make you an addict. Take this quick screening (Am I a Sex Addict) to determine if your behaviors really are compulsive. You can also look at the PATHOS screening test. I’ve posted it in a previous blog. If those two screening tests show that your behaviors are NOT addictive/compulsive, I recommend that you talk to a therapist or spiritual advisor who might help you with issues around shame and/or around your sexuality.
2) Gather More Information
If your behaviors ARE compulsive/addictive, a good book to start with is Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes. This was the first major book written about sex addiction, and I really find that it remains relevant across the years. It’s a foundational book to help you learn more as you start the journey of recovery. A workbook that goes along with Out of the Shadows is Facing the Shadow. This workbook helps you personalize for your own life what you’ve read in Out of the Shadows. There are many more great books that have been written over the past 30 years on sex addiction, but those are a couple of books to start with. I’ve included several other resources here.
There are a lot of great sites that can help you gather more information about compulsive sexual behaviors. Some good sites include sexhelp.com and The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health. One site in particular that shows the impact of internet pornography on our brains is www.yourbrainonporn.com. I’ve listed others here, including sites for individuals of faith.
3) Build Community
It’s really important to reach out and build a supportive community to help you stop compulsive sexual behaviors. Addictions, particularly sex addiction, is an intimacy disorder and is often characterized by isolation. It sounds strange to think that an individual engaging in a lot of sex or sexual behaviors could feel isolated. Yet if you are indeed addicted, it’s likely that the sexual behaviors you’re experiencing ultimately leave you feeling empty. For that reason, building a supportive community where you can learn to be vulnerable and authentic is vital to recovery. This is an extremely difficult step, particularly because you’ll have to risk shame, embarrassment, and/or stigma. Yet, healing through community is invaluable.
12-step meetings are a great way to build community and healthy dependency upon others. As an added bonus, they’re free. Most of us have heard of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Just like AA, those that are struggling with compulsive/addictive sexual behaviors also have meetings they can attend. I’ve listed some 12-step programs here and have talked about some of the different programs available in a previous blog. Depending on your state or country, some programs have a bigger presence. Check your local area and see which program (SAA, SA, SLAA, SRA, SCA, COSA, S-Anon, etc.) have the best attendance and track record. In more rural areas or countries that don’t have any strong “S” programs, programs such as SAA offer meetings via telephone or the internet. These programs can help you build support, reduce shame, and help stop compulsive sexual behaviors.
4) Find a Sponsor
Attending meetings is important, but true sobriety and recovery happens when you start to build accountability. Accountability requires relating to others, particularly those who have walked the path before you. A sponsor is one of those individuals. In any of the 12-step programs I mentioned above, you can find a sponsor who will help you walk the path of recovery. This person is a vital resource to help you when you need support, to help hold you accountable to your commitments, and most importantly to help you work the 12 steps. If you’ve never been to a 12-step meeting, this might all sound foreign to you, but give it a shot – You can always find a temporary sponsor who can help you break the isolation. As they share their own experience, strength, and hope with you, you can begin to heal from your compulsive sexual behaviors.
5) Find a Therapist
Finding a local therapist in your area who specializes in treating sex addiction is really important as well. You might find that 12-step meetings such as SAA, SA, SLAA, etc. are enough for you to find and maintain sobriety. If so, great! However, sex addiction is about so much more than sex. Like someone who turns to alcohol or other chemicals, addictive/compulsive sexual behaviors similarly arise out of a need to manage pain, trauma, fears, inadequacies, intolerable feelings, loneliness, etc. For that reason, it’s very important to find a therapist who can help you not only build and maintain sobriety but who can also help you get to the root of what led you to the behaviors in the first place (and what will ultimately KEEP you from continuing to engage in those behaviors). A great place to find a therapist who specializes in treating sex addiction is: https://www.sexhelp.com/sex-addiction-help/sex-addiction-therapists. There you will find a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) who can help.
I hope that helps you start this journey. These steps are very helpful in starting this process. Again, this is by no means meant as an exhaustive list, but my hope is that it can help you get on the right track towards finding help and health in your life. I’d like to hear from you, so let me know if you have any questions or comments.