When a client who is trying to avoid a sex addiction relapse has had a slip I can often tell before they say anything about it.
At first I wasn’t sure what it was that I was seeing; whether it was just intuition or whether they were actually doing something different. And with some clients I could tell right away and with others I couldn’t. So what was the difference?
Signs of a relapse
When I see clients who have had a slip since the last time I saw them I can sometimes spot the following signs:
A difference of style. The addict who is coming in laden with the knowledge that he has had a slip will likely be thinking about the fact that they have to discuss it with me. This often results in their seeming to be superficially jocular or casual. They seem to be tap dancing, probably because they feel embarrassed or ashamed about having let themselves and me down.
A difference in cognition. To a greater or lesser extent, a sex addict who has had a slip or a relapse will be suffering from the aftereffects of their drug. In order to go into the slip in the first place, the addict will have had to let go of part of their rational thinking, the part that has to do with weighing consequences, and thinking logically about the decision they are about to make. This suspension of higher order thinking, being in the “bubble” as it is called, may have residual effects on their apparent ability to think clearly and communicate clearly.
Lack of focus. The addict who has had a slip may seem scattered in the aftermath. They are not completely able to integrate what they know they have done to endanger their recovery and part of them doesn’t want to think about it or about anything else. They may deflect or divert the conversation and go off on tangents. They may even be questioning their interest in recovery, their need to change or the appropriateness of the program.
When are these signs missing?
Why is it sometimes easier for me as a therapist to spot a client who has relapsed than it might be for other people in their life, even their partner? And when are they able to fool me as well?
I think the answer has to do with the level of commitment to recovery that the addict has achieved. Most of my clients are trying to be honest with me. When they have something to say that they would previously have lied through their teeth about, they have an automatic high level of cognitive dissonance about it which causes some visible distress symptoms.
Likewise when the addict is still somewhat on the fence about whether and how much of their sexual acting out they really want to give up, then they will be better able to lie to themselves and therefore their deception will be more impenetrable.
It follows that the more someone has become committed to recovery the more difficult it will be for them to conceal the truth from someone they are close to. When an addict has not really given up the need for secrecy as a way of life, they will more readily adopt a false persona that may be hard to see through.
An addict who has lied to his wife for years and then gotten into recovery may be better able to slip into old deceitful habits with her than with a new person such as a therapist. The addict may have been doing well in recovery so far but when it comes to intimate relationships, recovery is more than just avoiding sex addiction relapse. Relationship recovery and the building of honesty and trust is a long term process that involves revamping the entire basis of the relationship.