Let’s assume you are already clear on the fact that you are a sex addict. You have consulted with experts and ruled out other causes of hypersexual behavior such as medication reactions (as with some Parkinson’s drugs) and other psychological, physical or neurological disorders. Are there any wrong reasons to get help? Yes and no. The initial motivation for getting into sex addiction treatment is often as a means to some other end rather than as a way to become healthier. Yet in the process of recovery the motivation moves from outside of you to inside of you; from extrinsic to intrinsic. This is when you become truly engaged in recovery. And this process of embracing recovery even in the absence of any outside pressures to do so is what makes it possible to enjoy solid, long term sexual sobriety.
What drives people into recovery vs. what keeps them there
There are a number of situations that lead people to reach out for help and then stall out.
- Getting in trouble
This could be anything from getting arrested for indecent exposure to losing your job after being discovered using pornography at work to getting in trouble for sexual harassment. You may get into treatment because you are required to as a result of getting in trouble. But if that remains your only reason to change you will not get too far. You may stay committed to your addictive behavior and simply “white knuckle” your sobriety in order to meet society’s requirements. Chances are you will correct your legal or employment situation but you will still lack the recovery skills to stay away from sexual acting out. It is extremely hard to “embrace” recovery while you are feeling forced into it.
- Pressure from a partner
This is by far the most common reason propelling people to seek help initially. It’s not a bad reason, but if all you want is to get your wife back or placate your husband you will not only have a poor prognosis in recovery, you will also probably find that your partner continues to be mistrustful. And with good reason. Partners can regain trust in a sex addict but only if they see the addict as genuinely involved in their own individual growth. Furthermore, if you only want to get things “back the way they were” (before you were found out) then the chances are you will continue unhealthy patterns in your relationship that provided the excuse for your addictive sexual behavior.
- Social pressures
You may find that your sexual behavior is inconsistent with the belief system of your church or community. You want the good opinion of people you need to impress. You seek to appear to yourself and others as though you care about changing. Wanting to behave in accordance with principles is a good things except when it involves placing the locus of control outside of yourself. You are seeing your worth as determined by what others think and not what actually works for you in your life. This is a position of low self esteem and if it does not change in the course of treatment you may remain stuck.
- Self image
You may be stuck in your addiction even though you are active in treatment and support groups. Your addiction doesn’t square with how you want to think of yourself, and yet you don’t want to give it up. In this case you are only partially engaged in the recovery process. You can say “I’m trying really hard but I just can’t get sexually sober.” This allows you to let yourself off the hook while you continue to have frequent relapses. You can go to meetings that offer you fellowship and sympathy but you don’t have to change. The way out of this involves building in serious contingency plans for “upping” your program like going into a residential program and going back into therapy in the event that you are stalled out.
The right reasons
The journey of recovery involves establishing abstinence from the behavior, working through the issues that caused the problems, building a sense of commitment, connectedness and strength, and finding a new way of living based on honesty and integrity. If recovery doesn’t start to become valuable to you for its own sake then you are likely going to stall out half way through. You have found a way to keep one foot in denial. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource