How long does the recovery process take?

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Sex addiction recovery is a lifelong commitment. Based on what I have seen there is no quick fix.

In the beginning of my own recovery, I was determined to learn what I needed to know and then move on as quickly as possible. I read everything I could find on the topic of sex addiction and sped my way through the recovery workbooks that were recommended to me. I even got a sponsor and worked the twelve steps at record pace.

Over time, however, I realized that this approach was not going to bring me the lasting freedom from addiction that I so desperately craved. Unlike other areas of my life in which I had been successful – school, work, hobbies – I found that I couldn’t just execute my way through recovery. Although “doing the work” was necessary, it was not sufficient to keep me sober.

After all, if willpower was enough, I wouldn’t be an addict. I had to accept that execution was not enough. I had to surrender to a new way of life.

Sex addiction is quite similar to compulsive overeating. Even though an obese person might be able to lose their excess weight in relatively short order, they will have to work every day for the rest of their lives to keep the weight off. They will have to monitor what they put into their bodies on a daily basis. And they’ll have to go to the gym regularly.

The recovery process is the same for a sex addict. I have to be constantly aware of the images and words I take into my body. I have to go to meetings regularly and stay accountable to my friends and my partner. Lasting freedom from my addiction requires a lifelong commitment to recovery.

Is therapy a necessary part of the recovery process?

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I do not believe that therapy is necessary for a sex addict to achieve sobriety. In many cases, the tools and support within 12 step groups are sufficient. Although I have found my experiences in therapy to be extremely rewarding, I know sex addicts who have achieved and maintained long term sobriety without the assistance of therapy.

That noted, I do not believe my relationship with my wife would have survived without the specialized sex addiction therapists who have supported us on our journey. The pain of betrayal I caused my wife was simply too deep for us to process on our own. We needed a skilled third party to help us rebuild our relationship.

I am convinced that complete transparency is a requirement for an optimal relationship. How could my wife ever possibly trust me again if she didn’t get a full disclosure of my acting out behavior? Without outside help I don’t believe I would have had the courage to be completely honest. Also, my wife is firm in her conviction that women should not be put through the disclosure process without the support of a therapist. The pain is simply too great to experience alone.

We completed our disclosure during a three-day intensive with Dr. Milton Magness. The couple’s recovery system we learned during the intensive with Dr. Magness was absolutely critical to our early recovery. I highly recommend his program, or ones like it. After completing our intensive, I saw hope in my wife’s eyes for the first time in the six months since I had hit my bottom. For those who are interested, Dr. Magness’ book “Stop Sex Addiction” and the materials on his website are excellent resources for couples and individuals just starting out on their recovery journey.

Sex addiction is a mental illness

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Contrary to popular belief, sex addiction is not a moral issue.  For many years I suffered under the guilt and shame of my addiction. I thought I was a “bad” person because I could not control my sexual behavior.

The truth is that I am a good man who suffers from a mental illness.

If moral education was the answer, I never would have had a problem. I come from a deeply religious family where I was given a strong sense of “right” and “wrong.” In fact, in the other areas of my life I am highly principled. Unfortunately, these principles do not help me when it comes to sex related issues.

Exposure to pornography at a young age hard wired the power of sexual imagery into my little brain. As a young boy I learned how to use this sexual euphoria to deal with difficult emotions. If I felt sad or alone, I could find some pornography and instantly feel better.

As I grew older, however, this crutch became a liability. My wife (understandably) did not appreciate that my “medicine” was staring at naked women. I also began to suffer from the secret life this behavior created. I had to lie in order to maintain access to my “medicine.”

So, I’m quite convinced today that my sexually compulsive behavior is a result of a mental illness. That noted, even though sex addiction is a mental illness I am still 100% responsible for my actions. Like the advertisement for a treatment center used to say when I was a kid, “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem.”

Based on my own experience, I know that by surrendering to a rigorous recovery process I can experience freedom from my sexually compulsive behavior.

 

Total lifestyle change

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In my experience, longterm sobriety is a result of a total lifestyle change. Accepting this fact took me a long time. I thought incremental change would get me where I wanted to go. Big surprise, it didn’t.

Even though I had been in recovery from my sexual addiction for several years, worked the steps, and had a sponsor, I had failed to get longer than four months of continuous sobriety. My achilles heel was inconsistency. I was a fantastic sprinter and a horrible marathon runner.

This changed when I hit my bottom. I had experienced (and caused) enough pain that I wanted to change with the “desperation of a drowning man.” I realized that meant I would have to do things differently.

To support this effort, I placed a whiteboard on the wall of my bedroom with a list of healthy behaviors I wanted to adopt. Behaviors like meditation, prayer and going to meetings ran down the board with the days of the week running across the top. Every time I did a behavior I put a check on the board. Lo and behold, after a few months I was feeling stronger in my recovery than ever. That effort kicked off my first stretch of long term sobriety.

To help others on their journey I have created an accountability tool to track these behavioral changes. Registered users can check it out here: accountability tool.