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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Welcome

Come, come, whoever you are. 
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. 
 It doesn't matter. 
Ours is not a caravan of despair. 
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. 
Come, yet again, come, come. 
~Rumi


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arrival* by Rumi

Sweetheart you have aroused my passion.
Your touch has filled me with desire.
I am no longer separate from you.
These are precious moments.
I beseech you, don't let me wait.
Let me merge with you.

~Rumi 

*Title mine.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Divine (Last Chapter)

Ben had experienced a connected moment, which allowed for transformation and tranquility. It was a moment of deliverance for Ben, a deliverance from the bondage of addiction, disease, and darkness. Once awake, Ben's awareness surfaced often.

"I saw the most tender scene last week," Ben reported a few weeks later. "I was sitting at the coffee shop, and a little boy three years old approached a graying golden retriever. He was unafraid; the boy walked straight up to the animal and extended his hand. The dog struggled but rose to his feet. The boy backward away a few steps but allowed his hand to remain outstretched. For a few moments, both stood silent with locked eyes. And then the dog took one gentle step and lovingly licked the boy's fingertips. A slow smile emerged on the boy's face. It was a beautiful moment," he sighed.

Graceful moments surround us. Grace is a gift of divine energy given to us as an affirmation of our belonging. It tells us have a safe home.

We do not force it or will it to happen. When we stop and open ourselves to connection, grace abounds. And when grace abounds, we are well. As we heal from our wounds, we become more sensitive to the universal energies around us, and we vibrate with spiritual connection. The recognition of our congruence with spiritual connection is the greatest gift of living. In recovery, it is our responsibility to reclaim that gift.  

***

All that's left is book selections, websites, telephone numbers. 

I hope you enjoyed this, learned things that are helpful, and now understand more about certain behaviors when it comes to addictions, of any kind.

The Divine (Part One)

Surrendering our intellectual defenses in the search for spiritual meaning can be threatening. Spiritual development, enhancement, and practice require a balance between the rational and the intuitive. The rational guides our steps along the road to emotional recovery; the intuitive opens us to the possibilities of connection to and through a higher power.

We are often unconscious of divine energy in our daily lives. Ben, a homosexual in early recovery, was working on this very issue. He told me, "I want intensity in my sex life; I want excitement. I have no idea what you're talking about when you talk about spiritual connection."

I suggested to Ben that spiritual connection existed in many things of which he was already aware, such as great music, dance, food, and nature. I suggested he spend some time in the natural settings that he loved. I suggested he quiet himself, take everything in, and see what happened.

"I tried the exercise," Ben reported the following week. "I went up to the reservoir. You know, they have a path that is three miles long. The only thing I noticed was the bare-topped men jogging," he explained with a smirk.

Despite Ben's resistance and lack of belief, he persevered. Each week, he returned with a similar story. It wasn't until the sixth week that he changed.

"You know, the most profound thing happened at the reservoir this week. It was late in the day, so it was quiet, and I was climbing this hill when I heard a rustling noise. I looked up, and I saw the leaves of this aspen tree dancing in the breeze. The sun illuminated them from behind, and it looked so magical. I was captivated by the beauty."

Putting It into Practice (Part Three)

That inner knowing can then develop into a sense of congruence with the world. That sense of belonging, of feeling "at home," gives us the optimistic energy to perform our best work. For the first time in our lives, we feel that we are among friends. Our lives become conscious expressions of our fitness to be alive and health; we experience being present in a world that cares for us.

To live this blessing, we must be restored to wholeness; we must recover our preciousness so long buried beneath the rubble of our wounding. We must bring together all the recovery tools we have begun to use in therapy. These tools include the ability to know our emotional fears or blocks, the ability to communicate our needs and wants, and the willingness to be vulnerable and to share respectfully our knowledge of ourselves with our partners.

Sexuality is at the heart of our life force. It is our creative urge, and it is not expressed only through sexually explicit acts. Because our sexuality is so linked to the essence of who we are, it is inexplicably interwoven into our spirituality. Healthy sex supports the awakening of our soul, or inner knowing and truth. It opens the possibility of deeper connection with others. This does not mean that the spiritual connectivity of sexual intercourse is memorable because it is intensely pleasurable. When we willingly and consciously enter the act of lovemaking, we offer our precious humanity to the care of our partners, and we accept our partners' offer of their precious humanity for our own safekeeping. That is an awesome at of spiritual communion, and a responsibility not to be taken lightly. To betray it would plunge us sex addicts back to where we were when we were first betrayed, when we thought that love and betrayal were the same thing.

*** 

Putting It into Practice (Part Two)

Jacob was unable to tolerate the blending of the concrete, comprehended by intellect, and the spiritual apprehended by faith. Without the willingness to explore and integrate the physical, emotional and spiritual accepts of the self, Jacob cut himself off from the miracle of recovery. He locked himself into the painful reality of the status quo.

Jacob left treatment shortly after our group meeting. His tears demonstrated his inner conflict between the familiar ramparts of his rigid intellectuality and his defiance and fear of spiritual uncertainty. I believe that the bridge that leads to the world of spiritual connection gives us our sense of preciousness. Jacob was unwilling or afraid to cross it.

We need to trust in the preciousness of ourselves, which allows us to recognize the preciousness in others. And then we need to trust in the a power greater than ourselves, which binds humans together in a community of love or, at least, respect. Without this trust, we cannot begin to chisel away at the defenses of dysfunctional adaptation, which hide our true and precious beings -- our authentic selves.

On the spiritual level the barrier against entry becomes most powerful. The hold on the mundane would is strong. The doubts in our intellectual minds have contempt for the mysteries of higher truths. But our trust in a higher power creates the possibility of connection with forces greater than ourselves. These forces give us the serenity to believe that we belong in the universal order. Through faith, we become a part of the beneficent operation of the universe, rather than apart from it. 

Putting It into Practice (Part One)

Jacob, a man in his mid-fifties, is a retired engineer whose training taught him to solve problems and implement change with precision, allowing no margin for errors.

"When I was in graduate school, all I did was study," Jacob explains. "I had no social life, no friends. I ate, slept, went to class, and studied; that was my life."
"What was that like for you, to live that way?" I ask.
"I didn't have a choice; if I wanted to get through school, I had to work for my grades--not like my roommate, who was a natural."
"It must have been lonely."
"You sound like you were determined."
"Let me explain how it was," Jacob continues. "The tests were basically equations we had to solve, like if you were an engineer and this was the equation for the bridge you were building. The calculations had to be correct; there was no margin for error. Otherwise, the bridge would collapse; anything less than 100 percent was failure."

Jacob had been in therapy and group process for six months. He had been struggling with the concept of spirituality and was often confused, offended, and frustrated by the abstract idea of something greater than himself. His frustrations were often demonstrated by outbursts of anger and pain.

"You know, I need proof," Jacob began one night during a group discussion.
"I need proof that this stuff is real. If you can give me some empirical data, then I might be able to buy into this stuff. But otherwise, I'm not buying it."
"I have no proof," I said.
"Then I can't buy it," he snapped. "You know I want to get it," he continued, his anger melting into tears of frustration. "I really do," he said, his voice trailing off.

Jacob was struggling with a concept beyond his grasp. Everything he'd been taught intuitively and intellectually was counter to what he was hearing. He was scared to let go of what he knew. If it was incorrect, like an incorrect equation for a bridge, his world would come crashing down.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fred

Website:
Dr. Frederick Penzel, PHD - Specializes in Clinical Psychology - Male 

Help anonymously is out  there.

His own words...

Sex Addiction is called an intimacy disorder because people who are sex addicts do not know how to relate in an intimate (close) relationship in an open and comfortable way.  Not only are sex and intimacy detached from one another they are not even in the same neighborhood.  Intimacy is an essential part of love relationships.  It is the ability to share all parts of ourselves (our thoughts, our bodies, our feelings), to be vulnerable, and to be honest about what is going on inside of us.  Even with someone they love, sex addicts are “intimacy disabled”, that is they are fearful of sharing their true selves with another person and are therefore unable to share one or more aspects of their true selves.  They are unhappy and lonely and desperately want to “connect”.  Like the now cliché lyric says, they are “looking for love in all the wrong places”.  But the solution to the problem does not lie outside of them.  It is more than just bad choices, poor judgment or a lack of adequate information.  It is a deeper problem and that is why it is termed and intimacy disorder.  The sex addict is literally unable to break down the wall that distorts and separates his sex life from his normal life and unable to integrate the various parts of himself in the context of a loving relationship.

Sexual addiction as an intimacy disorder results in part from a lack of adequate bonding due to some disruption in the relationship to a primary caregiver (usually the parent).  Sex addicts were often sexually abused as children but they are more often emotionally neglected and tend to come from families that are rigid, authoritarian or sexually repressed.  This failure leads to an inability to trust and to bond normally with another and a fear of sharing all the parts of oneself with another.   In sex addicts this intimacy disorder results in the addict leading a “double life”.  Most often the addict’s sex life exists apart from his or her life with a spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend.  Even when the sex addict is having sex with a partner or spouse, it is often the case that the addict is not “all there”.  He or she may be lost in fantasy or just going through the motions.  Many addicts feel they are having satisfying sex with their partners when in fact they are not really able to be present.  Even addicts who feel they really desire their partner usually have some other more compelling and highly charged experience that they revert to outside of their relationship whether it is serial seduction, hook-ups, prostitutes, chat rooms or affairs.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Meadows

The most trusted name in trauma and addiction treatment.

Discover a higher quality of life, free from trauma and addiction.

The Meadows Home Page
For over 35 years, The Meadows has helped more than 45,000 individuals in their struggles with the effects of trauma and addiction. The Meadows treatment model is unparalleled in producing successful outcomes for recovery as a renowned, time tested and proven model for treating trauma and addiction. 

The Meadows


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Robert Weiss

There is a man called Robert Weiss is the founder of SA recovery in Los Angles. He states that the struggles [sex addicts] have are around intimacy, being vulnerable, being real, telling the truth," he says, adding that "people that have these kinds of issues don't just struggle in one way. They struggle in multiple ways."
Robert's website below:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spiritual Development

The spirituality of recovery is about healing the wounds of abandonment and disconnection. A baseline definition of spirituality is connection: with self, with others, with life at large, and with a power greater than yourself. Within the backdrop of connectedness, spirituality, as it relates to healthy sexuality, necessitates the reconnection with self. This then allows for the possibility of healthy sexual connection with others. The act of self-discovery is at the center of discovery.

When we emerge from sexual dysfunction into health, we are like a sculptor who see, in a formless block of marble, the shape of something beautiful and desired. When we work on ourselves, we chip away at what has hidden our beauty and desirability from view. As Stephanie Urbina Jones sings: "I am chiseling out my soul like Michelangelo. Found my spirit in the stone, I am chiseling out my soul."

If we are able to be the artist of our personhood, we must first connect to the fullness of who we are. Because of our traumatic histories, we have been entombed; we need to break out from that which blocks the expression of our capacity for relational intimacy, so that we can connect to our partners and to a power greater than ourselves.

Michelangelo released the figures entombed within the marble; the sculptor liberates the image latent in the stone. that liberated image is what we often call "the authentic self." The authentic self is the precious gift of who we are, restored to us by chiseling out the soul from its entombment in trauma-induced sickness.

A second image comes from a novelty shop in Florence, Italy. The shop sells replicas of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures. The caption on the bottom reads, "Be patient; God isn't finished with me yet." This tells us that the search for self is a process and that chiseling the soul is the artistic goal of the spiritual life.
 ***

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chiseling Out Your Soul (Part Five)

The Twelve-Step program says that healthy self-love is the basis of recovery. it states: "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps," addicts learn that they are not terminally unique, and this reduces the sense of shame that is at the core of all sex addicts. This is the gift of humility. Addicts recognize their own humanness, which allows the emergence of the true self.

At the heart of the Twelve-Steps model is spirituality. Addicts are challenged by the twelve steps to admit their powerlessness, to develop a relationship with a power greater than themselves, and to turn their will and lives over to this higher power. The goal of the steps is to allow addicts to see how their choices about their behaviors are not working, that they are not in control, and that they need help.

However, the mere language of the twelve steps -- "letting go, turning it over, surrendering" -- is enough to make an addict flee a twelve-step meeting. Being in control, or having the illusion of control, is how he survived. "Surrender" translated into shame, abandonment, fear, or death. The addict closed off his internal world as if he were cast away on a deserted island. Having no needs or wants, he learned to sustain emotional deprivation and even take pride in the lack of sustenance. Holding onto control or the illusion of control provided a false sense of security.

The transformation of recovery comes about with a realization: The only things you have control over are your choices, not the outcomes. It is a huge moment in recovery when an individual realizes that he needs help, and that, through letting go of control, change is possible.

The addict who is involved in individual and group therapy, as well as a twelve-step program, has a better chance of maintaining sobriety. One reason for this success rate is the enormous impact that twelve-step program meetings can have on challenging the addict's cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are thought patterns or defenses that protect us from our pain. Because these defenses operate from the unconscious, the individual is often unaware of them until his beliefs and attitudes regarding change are challenged. The irony is that, even though defenses protect the addict from his pain, these same defenses are the obstacles that stand in the way of recovery. For addicts, even considering discarding their defenses is extremely frightening because it leaves them vulnerable to feeling pain.

***

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chiseling Out Your Soul (Part Four)

The first step on the path is often the most difficult, because the idea of going to a meeting of strangers to disclose your most shameful behavior and thoughts is often unimaginable. The gift of the twelve-step program is the reduction of shame. When you walk into a room and share your story and hear others, you might, for the first time in your life, feel relief from the grasp of your addiction. Instead of people running away from you, horrified by your past, they embrace and invite you into their healing circle. This experience can be a spiritual moment because of the possibility of transformation and hope.

The Twelve-Step model can also change sex addicts' core beliefs. The group holds addicts accountable by requiring them to work the twelve steps, and it can function as an addict's first "healthy family," accepting them unconditionally. Such groups help addicts by mirroring, supporting, and affirming them as they move toward sober and healthy sexuality.

When addicts share their experiences, strength, and hope, individuals do not sit in judgement or call them perverts. Rather, people say, I identify with you." As shame is lifted, individuals move into a better position; they are less defensive and can begin to look at their cognitive distortions and other coping mechanism. Self-esteem will undo addiction; just as abandonment fuels shame and shame fuels addiction, healthy self-love fuels connection, which it the base or glue of spirituality. 

Chiseling Out Your Soul (Part Three)

The Sex Addicts Anonymous Book explains the importance of working through the twelve steps:
These steps are the heart of our program. They contain a depth that we could hardly have guessed when we started. As we work them, we experience a spiritual transformation. Over time, we establish a relationship with a Power greater than ourselves, each of us coming to an understanding of a Higher Power that is personal for us. Although the steps use the word God to indicate power, SAA is not affiliated with any religion, creed, or dogma. The program offers spiritual solution to our addiction, without requiring adherence to any specific set of beliefs or practices. The path is wide enough for everyone who wishes to walk it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chiseling Out Your Soul (Part Two)

When the "pink cloud" bursts, elation is replaced with a cold dose of reality. The process no longer feels effortless; it is tedious and arduous. Often the client wants to stop recovery or may be vulnerable to relapse.

Recovery is restoration of the soul. This deep process may seemingly have a life of its own, an unspoken agenda that you have been invited to join. The journey is more intuitive than intelligent, more feeling than thinking, more being than doing, more releasing than controlling. It is a journey that feels counter-intuitive to all that your adapted self has taught you about yourself and about life. That's where the challenge lies; it's where, if your courage prevails, victorious results are realized.

I have mentioned twelve-step groups throughout this book, and I believe they are very helpful to recovering sex addicts. The Twelve-Step model for sexual addiction was born of of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, the focus and language involve sexual issues. The twelve steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous are:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over addictive sexual behavior--that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God and we understood God.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. We continued through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other sex addicts and to practice these principles in our lives.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chiseling Out Your Soul (Part One)

To know and live in a place of peace is the hope I hold for my clients. However, the path of recovery can often feel treacherous and full of steep slopes, crags, and ravines. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a metaphor that likens the recovery process to peeling back the layers of an onion. As we gain access to the center, we gain deeper understanding and we clear the way for growth.

Riding the highs and lows of recovery can also feel like a roller coaster. Sometimes the rising path feels limitless, exciting, and clear, while the descent evokes an overwhelming sense of despair and disorientation. This is the nature of the healing process.

It is important to understand this process because, in the beginning, there can be great elation, as you find your able to quickly gain insight, resources, and support around recovery. You are developing new awareness as old paradigms shift and new ones emerge. It is as if the world has gone from black-and-white to color. Everything becomes clearer and more enriching; there is hope and promise. This period is called the "pink cloud," and it is a time in which you experience discovery, personal awareness, a sense of gratitude, and motivation. The pat is clear, and the answers come easily. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Good News

It is paramount in recovery to accept your own process. We all do it differently. I witness over and over how sex addicts tend to compare their progress in recovery to others. This born out of the shame of their wounding at the core of their addiction. It is vital that they become aware of this propensity to judge and measure and then learn to intervene on this self-destructive pattern. This intervention is vital to the early stages of the recovery process because, if we continue to "beat ourselves up," we fuel the shame that drives the addict. If we continue to engage in self-destructive and judgmental thoughts, we are in jeopardy of relapse.

It is fundamental to understand that your healing process is as unique as your fingerprint. It is yours to honor. I support my clients in reciting and internalizing the affirmations and slogans from Alcoholics Anonymous: "Progress, not perfection," and "Easy does it." These simple messages tend to have a soothing effect shame, like a cooling balm on an infected wound. The simple and humble truths of these statements provide a refuge from the barrage of habitual, self-demeaning, destructive judgments with which our addict has attacked us for so long.

We tend to heal as we are wounded. The earlier, more pervasive, intense, and repetitive the abuse, the longer it can take to heal. The more intrusive the wounding, the tighter the recoil. The challenge in early recovery lies in the ability to allow internal, healing vitality to take over. We were born with the storehouse of good health and joy, but we have been out of contact wit it for so long. This is a huge challenge for most addicts because it requires us to let go and trust. Letting go can cause overwhelming feelings of anxiety: "If I let go, I will get hurt. I might die."

It is important to acknowledge these old beliefs and to challenge their treachery. When anxiety attacks us, there are practical things we can do: prayer, self-affirmation, exercise, controlled breathing, a telephone call to our sponsor. These things work.

I often share with my clients that like love, (added by me), recovery is a "process, not an event." This process requires patience and acceptance. It is vital to celebrate and honor all accomplishments, great and small. Your recovery is unique and precious. The gifts of this are reflected in the promise of all Twelve Step work:

"If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. You will know a new freedom and a new happiness. You will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend and the word 'serenity,' and we will know peace."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Genital Pleasure

In the stage leading up to genital sex, you have been delaying gratification, which is extremely difficult for recovering sex addicts.

The goundwork has been laid for genital sex. The slow relational work and in-the-moment physicality have been safely and trustingly shared. You will talk to your partner about moving into the genital sex stage. Your conversation might sound like this:

"You know that I feel closer and closer to you, and I want to share with you the experience of the physical aspect of our sexuality. And I want to introduce some of the stuff that we have already been able to do together. This involves creating pleasure, not only genitally, but throughout the whole body, the senses, and the environment we create. So I was thinking that, the first time we are sexual, we could bring some of the techniques we have used into the room with us and allow them to be present as we start to make love."

Another scenario might proceed differently as one partner shares:

"I am really scared. I have a lot of fear about having sex with you because I have never experienced sex with someone I really care about. I think it is going to be really different, but not only am I scared, I am really excited."
"You know, I really hear what you are saying. I am excited about it, too," the partner says.

When both parties have agreed to genital contact, the sexual experience will be much different than it was during the addiction. Hopefully, the restored trust, attunement to one's body, use of boundaries, and communication skills will allow for a loving exchange that results in feelings of comfort, safety, warmth, and love. The results will be shame-free and life-enhancing, a very new experience for the addict. This will begin the restoration of genital fulfillment, and ongoing process of exploration. It can be not only new and challenging, but fun as well.

***

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Existing Significant Relationships (Part Three)

Early relationship repair begins by focusing on the individual issues and how those dysfunctions are being played out. Ideally, both partners are seeking individual and couples therapy. They are looking for support groups that can lend insight into their healing process. During the period of sexual abstinence, it is important to connect through activities the promote trust, partnership building, and fun, such as hiking, golf, or bridge. It also is important to schedule date nights with focus on a relaxed, stress-free environment.

I invite both partners to take a time-out from genital contact, a period of abstinence. The goal is to allow anger, resentments, and betrayal to heal. The reintroduction of genital connection will take place over a period of time and with a specific plan.

You can then move into nongential connection, which include cuddling, caressing, massaging, hand-holding and kissing. Integrating what you have learned through individual attunement and nurturing is the first step in nongential contact. It involves expressing your needs and getting to know your partner. This slows down the process, allowing each partner to be present and attuned to the other. This can feel awkward, but, the comfort level will most likely increase when this process begins.

***

Monday, December 2, 2013

Existing Significant Relationships (Part Two)

In these cases, a disclosure will be necessary to begin the healing process. Disclosures may also be needed when the partner is only partially aware of the addict's behaviors. He or she may have found online porn but may be unaware of the addict's anonymous sexual encounters.

I have rarely conducted a disclosure wherein the partner did not have some inkling that the other partner was indulging in some clandestine and perverse behaviors that were betraying the relationship. Very rarely have the offended parties been shocked and had no prior knowledge. Usually they had seen the symptoms, but they had ignored them.

Disclosures are not meant to hurt the partner, but rather to begin the process of relational repair. If secrets exist on either side of the relationship, healthy connection is not possible.

I have often been challenged or questions about disclosures in relationship to the ninth step of the Twelve Step model, which states that the recovering person has "made direct amends to such people wherever possible, expect when to do so would injure them or others." Making a disclosure is never pleasant, but, if it is done in a manner that supports both partners, the result is not "harm;" it is feelings of pain, which are real and necessary to acknowledge.

Pain is a healthy and necessary element of the healing process; it allows growth and awareness. To avoid feelings, or the possibility of feeling, is to avoid recovery. 

Telling the truth in a supportive boundaried manner with the intention to heal a relationship may bring up feelings as pain, fear, shame, or guilt. The expression of these feelings in your partner may be painful to witness; however, the disclosure is not intended to injury them, but rather to allow for the truth to be revealed.

It is important to follow a specific plan when making disclosures in a respectful manner, ideally in a therapeutic setting that supports both partners. Often addicts jump the gun or are insensitive to their partners' needs. They may have difficulty knowing what or how to say it. They may have good intentions, but, in their haste to disclose, they reveal too much, perhaps without offering any emotional support. They may tell only part of the truth, attempting to control or ease the blow, and then "leak" information that prolongs their partner's pain.

Once the disclosures are made, the reconstruction can begin. Communication and boundary practice will be the most important aspects of early relational repair. Vital activities include scheduling couple and family check-in times, doing feeling checks, giving and receiving affirmations, focusing on what is right or working in the relationship, and learning to voice and meet each other's needs and wants.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Existing Significant Relationships (Part One)

Repairing existing relationships is another focus of healing. If you are in recovery, chances are your partner is aware of your addiction; it is probably the reason you entered treatment. He or she found receipts, e-mails, videos, or computer images, or received a call from an angry sex partner, disclosing the lurid details of your acting-out behavior.

Your partner was devastated, shocked, enraged, and desperate.  There were threats of suicide or homicide, accusations, name-calling, ultimatums, disbelief, and questions - so many questions.

You were shocked by the intensity of your partner's reaction. Witnessing your partner's gut-wrenching pain and anger was like staring at the carnage of your addiction. It was a reflection of the darkest parts of your addiction and the unimaginable places you allowed it to go.

You tried to explain, manage, apologize, make promises, implement change, or take actions to amend, but nothing seemed to help. Your partner's reaction was continuous, emotional waves so unpredictable that you felt like a boat being ravaged by a turbulent sea.

Like your wounding, the betrayal cut your partner to his or her core. The deepest parts of his or personhood were violated, probably a reflection of your partner's own trauma history. He or she needs to be angry to process the betrayal, and this process must be respected.

The reality is that this process is difficult, even when it is carried out in a boundaried, healthy fashion. For a person who does not have an understanding of the recovery process to receive such painful, intimate information can result in an excruciating loss of control. And although this loss of control can precipitate a crisis, there is good news: The crisis can create such desperation that the sufferer becomes ready to learn a new, healthier way to cope with the situation.

This crisis is like that of alcoholics who get "sick and tired of being sick and tired." They know the next drink will kill them, but they can't live without it. They reach bottom as the crisis confronts them with all its awful might. With great good fortune, they may finally be ready to accept help.  

There is always the possibility, although it is less likely, that your partner is unaware of your addiction. He or she is choosing to live in denial or knows something is "off" but is unwilling to explore the reasons. Your partner has developed his or her own coping mechanisms that serve to distract. These include work, over-scheduling, exercise, overeating, and overspending.

 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part Six)

"What happened after you finished your conversation with your friend?"
"I checked it out with her, and she came clean about how she was feeling left out, jealous. So it was cool."

As the weeks passed, Hank's relationship progressed into a deeper connection.

"I think I need to tell her about my past -- you know, all the sex stuff," he said. "but I am not sure how to do it."

Fear was written all over Hank's body as he made this suggestion. The idea of being vulnerable and risking rejection is one of the most difficult challenges that recovering sex addicts face. The concept of being accepted and valued despite their past behaviors is so foreign and unimaginable that they can barely visualize it, much less believe they deserve it.

When Hank told Sara about himself, he began by explaining his sex abuse history, laying the foundation as to why his life had taken its particular course.

Hank began by explaining that his father, an ex-amateur wrestler, beat him, especially when he was drunk. His mother left when Hank was three, never to be seen again. He later found out she had been killed in a car accident when he was seven. His father regularly took him to bars, where Hank was exposed to his father's drunken stupors and carousing.

"I hated those times," Hank explained to Sara.
"My dad was so loud and obnoxious. Even though the place was a dump, I got embarrassed. He'd pick up women, often more than one a night, and either had sex right in front of my brother and me," Hank said, pausing to collect his thoughts.
"My sex education started early..."

In the middle of Hank's sentence, and much to his surprise, Sara reached out to touch his hand.
"I really admire you, Hank," she said with tenderness. I know this is hard for you, and I feel really special that you are willing to share this with me."

Hank now shakes his head as he relays the story: "It's a freaking miracle."

Hank had been willing to be vulnerable, and the results were an even deeper connection to Sara. He had picked someone who was willing to accept his past and believe in his future.

Hank was able to experience a common occurrence for sex addicts in recovery. When we are on the healing path and doing our work, we tend to attract people who match our healthy energy. It is a simple equation, like energies attracting. Hand was doing his work and reaping the benefits. He began to realize he was not the navigator of his life, able to chart his course. He was making choices and decision that allowed him to experience true intimacy and relational connection.

*** 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part Five)

Hank, a thirty-ish committed bachelor, has been in therapy for more than a year.  Through the years, he as learned to defend his emotional core with a gruff, intimidating exterior. His full-body tattoos, heavy-metal jewelry, leather jacket, motorcycle boots that match his Harley, and his deep voice and bulging muscles send the message: "Don't mess with me."

Hank recently began dating a woman named Sara; it's the first exclusive relationship in his life. He is heartily embraced and is implementing healthy relationship tools: boundaries, communication skills, being real, staying in touch with your feelings, and getting reality checks from his support groups.

A few weeks into his relationship, Hank called the office between appointments, asking for clarification and support.

"I need to check something out with you," he began. "I got together with Sara last night, and she started to rail on me, how I was being an asshole."
"What caused that reaction?" I asked.
"We were out having a steak, and I ran into a buddy of mine. I started talking to him, and the next thing I know, she's shooting me the death look. You would have thought I was hitting on some chick," he said. "So I did that bubble thing, the boundary, you know, what we worked on last week: putting an energy field around me, protecting myself. Is that what I am supposed to do?"
"You got it," I said in an affirming tone. "How did that feel?"
"Felt good, safe. I liked it."

Hank's willingness to implement the relationship skills he is learning demonstrates his commitment to recovery. The building of new skills can often feel tedious, awkward, and uncomfortable. But the results of one's efforts can be gratifying.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part Four)

That's the nice scenario. But let's say her response sounds like this:

"You know, this is not the first time that I have heard something like this. When you decide you want to be honest with me, give me a ring. Meanwhile, I have some thinking to do."

We may conclude that the recovering addict does not have right partner. As this point, at least you know the truth and have created an appropriate place to stop investing in the relationship. You are slowing down that process to find safety for yourself and for the relationship if you think it is worth pursuing.

Even though this painful scenario is not far-fetched, my clients who are walking the path of recovery usually find that honest intimacy in communication has good results.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part Three)

Let us say the response to you get is polite but wary. It might sound like this:

"I appreciate your honesty. What I have heard is that you come from a sexually unhealthy and overactive family and that damaged you. Now you are getting treatment for it, and I am grateful for that. But I have some fear around this. Do you think you are well enough to go out with me? I mean, what are you talking about?  You say that you don't want to go into details now, but trust me with the details. Why are you withholding from me? Do you trust me?"
"I do. But the problem is I don't necessarily trust myself. I still have a lot of shame about what I am dealing with, and I haven't done this before. And I want to do this right."
"You know, I really hear you. And from what I know about you, that's great. I feel very warm toward you."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part Two)

Some kinds of sexual acting-out histories are particularly risky to talk about because they are so blatantly condemned by society. Bestiality is one example. Here is a scenario of how such a fraught discussion might proceed:

"I'm really enjoying your company, and I really want to move into a more committed relationship with you, be with you exclusively. But there are some things I want to share with you so that you will know who I am and where I'm coming from. I think this will bring us closer in our relationship. In the past, I have had some issues around my sexuality. Those issues began when I was a child when my family was highly sexualized and did not have appropriate boundaries around sexuality. And so I learned that was was my most important need. That's where I was valued. That's where the power and attention were. That moved me into some unhealthy behavior as an adult.

"Now I am going to therapy and am in a group in order to deal with these issues. I am not currently active in these inappropriate behaviors. What I am active in is what we are experiencing right now. but I want you to know this about my past, and I want you to ask me any questions that you need to for clarity. I don't want to go into the details of it right now, but I do want you to know who I am now."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Slow Courtship (Part One)


 Intimacy with a New Partner

When sex addicts move into a more intimate relationship, they must slow down the process. I recommend seventeen dates spread over at least three months before genital contact. During that slow courtship, the recovering sex addict has time to practice the habits of self-esteem and boundaries that he has learned in therapy and in group.

This courtship period at first involves boundaried communication, emphasizing the pleasures involved in being honest and respectful. I urge clients to use talking and listening boundaries because this kind of connection creates safety and trust. The recovering individual is implying, "I trust you. I am willing to be open to you. I trust myself enough to trust you."

For most sex and love addicts, sex has always equaled power and control, something other than connection. So entering love in this way is a whole new experience for a sex addict because he is being present. And being present can be terrifying.

Once you are developing good communication skills, learning who your partner really is, and knowing your own needs and wants, you introduce physical but non-genital expressions of affection and love.

Activities might include massages, holding hands, snuggling, rubbing each other's back, and washing each other's hair; this allows connection to the physical. You want to take what you enjoy and share that with your partner. And your partner will do the same.

Learning relationship skills, meaning boundaried behaviors, is hard enough. So how does a recovering sex addict share, during the boundaried interchange, that he or she has behaved in destructive, unethical, immoral, and harmful ways?

If you are starting to date a new person, you want to share in broad strokes. You don't want to get into the details, but you do want him or her to know you have issues around your sexuality that are based in your trauma. Go into detail only to the level of what appears appropriate to you. You must trust your sense of authenticity.

Before you do this, do a practice run with your Twelve Step sponsor or therapist. Have it scripted out. Talk about it in group and with other people who have done it. Prepare yourself before the event with your support people and afterward share with them what the experience was like for the two of you. By doing so, you are connecting in a healthy way, and you are supporting yourself in doing something that is terrifying to sex addicts.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Stages of Relationships (Part Two)

The room is crowded, with all members of group in attendance. The energy seems low, perhaps due to the tender issues being explored. The usual banter is absent, replaced by a somber mood.

It is Mark's turn to share with the group. His assignment was the exploration or visual representation of the addiction. He has made a collage and, as he unrolls the larger butcher-block paper, I am immediately struck by the sparse images spread before us.
"This is my addiction," Mark says with little enthusiasm.
"Tell us about it," I say.

He begins with a litany of meandering thoughts, like blood leaking from a loose tourniquet that fails to arrest the bloodbath that has occurred.Making little eye contact, Mark limply points to the pasted images. "This picture of tornado damage represents the damaged caused by my addiction: this money represents the money I have spent on my addiction."

The group's feedback is equally benign: "It sounds like you worked hard on this. Good job. Thanks for sharing."
"Okay, Tim," I say to the last group member to give feedback. "now tell him what you really think."

Tim looks at me with fear in his eyes, as if to say, "Let me skate through this; I am not in the mood for a challenge."
"Are you willing to be real with Mark instead of sugarcoating it?" I ask.

Tim looks up at Mark, making brief eye contact and then quickly lowers his head like a racer guilty of a false start. Taking a deep breath, he looks straight into Mark's eyes, this time holding contact.

"I just can't buy this, man," he says, gesturing toward the collage. "I mean, for me, my addiction was dark, dangerous, ruthless. I mean, ready to destroy. I think you're holding back," Tim  continues, courageously positioning himself in a vulnerable emotional exchange.
"Why do you think Mark would hold back?" I ask Tim.
"Well, I know for me it was the shame, I couldn't show this stuff to anyone."
"What was it like when you finally did?"
"I felt really good, you know, a relief," Tim continues, seeming to have found his stride. "I really want to get to know you, man; that's why we're here. I'm not here to judge you. I've been there."
"How does that feel, Mark, to hear that from Tim?"
"It feels good," he says, still walled off.
"Mark," I say, pushing his comfort zone. "I want you to respond with what is really going on for you."

Taking a deep breath as if garnering strength, he looks up at Tim: "I guess this is all new to me. I don't know; thanks for what you said."
"Mark, I want you to dig deeper. How does this feel?"
"It's different, you know, scary for me. I'm afraid if I show who I was in my addiction, you are all going to run away, and I can't say I'd blame you."

This my be the first authentic moment Mark has had in a very long time. This is the beginning of authentic connection. A pivotal turning point in his recovery, being real and intimate is a courageous step toward healthy sexual connection on all levels.

***

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stages of Relationships (Part One)

Stages of Relationships

The fear of being discovered as defective makes sex addicts fear intimacy. The closer they move to their partners, the more vulnerable they feel. This increasing vulnerability scares sex addicts into aggressive and defensive postures.

The emotional walls addicts construct cause them to conduct their relationships in extremes. Their containment boundaries fail them, and they spew their emotions like a garden hose. Or their protective boundaries fail them, and they become emotionally flooded, not allowing themselves to be approached or touched by any emotion or physical contact. Or they may wall themselves off so thoroughly from their own authentic emotions and the desire to be physical that they become as silent and untouchable as a tightly shut clam. Boundary practice teaches us to regulate the levels of respect, affection, and sexual intimacy that are appropriate to our relationships.

With implementation of boundaries, the development of healthy relationships, it is helpful to apply the concentric circle model. This concept may be difficult or awkward for the recovering sex addict because of his limited ability to relate. To explore these levels, let's consider the diagram below.

Note by the retyper of the book. This is not the circle in the book. In the book it is:

Inner circle: Intimate relationship
Second circle: Second level friendship
First circle:  First level friendship
Outer circle: Acquaintances

The concentric circles represents levels of relational development or emotional connection: The closer to the center of the circle, the more intimate the relationship. 

The outermost region represent acquaintances, such as the clerk in the coffee shop. You are friendly with him or her but share little about your internal emotional world: "How is it going? Can you believe this weather? How about that game last night?" This emotional level allows for an amiable hello or passing exchange of niceties. The level of emotional risk is low, the exchange pleasant.

The next circle represents first-level friendship. These relationships are deeper than acquaintanceship. This may be a new relationship you are building and perhaps assessing to determine if it is appropriate to move into a deeper emotional connection. Or it could be a long-term relationship based on shared interests, hobbies, or beliefs. You enjoy the relationship but realize your emotional connection is limited.

The second-level friendship is developed and nurtured through deep trust and emotional connection. These are confidantes who have established mutual respect and are committed to the continual growth of the relationship. These friendships are very similar to an intimate relationship minus the sexual connection.

An intimate relationship reflects the emotional of a second level-friendship but includes a physical component. These are committed relationships between potential or lifetime partners. These relationships are nurtured at the deepest levels.

The circle and its levels can be adjusted for individual needs. For example, your levels of friendship maybe more defined; an added level or levels may feel more appropriate within your internal construct. The levels are also fluid; a person who is an acquaintance may progress into a second-level friend, or someone with whom you have a more intimate relationship may shift to an outer level. Life circumstances -- such as a move, a shift in job responsible, an illness, or the birth of a child -- may dictate a change in connection to another person.

I invite the sex addict to asses each relationship and where it falls within this continuum. You may realize that one level is deprived, whereas other levels are overflowing. As in all aspects of recovery, the goal is balance. Hopefully, this exercise will assist in the conscious assessment of your connections to others and in the enrichment of their development.

Relational closeness may feel overwhelming to the recovering sex addict because the threat of emotional exposure is not longer masked by sex. Learning to be present, authentic, and honest is part of the learning cure in developing healthy relationships.

***

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vulnerability (Part Four)

As Janet drives, she is struck by the transformation of the foliage as she ascends the mountainside. The desolate terrain give way to a forest that stretches out like a multicolored carpet. When Janet turns the corner into downtown, she notices the yellow and crimson leaves dancing across the street, reminding her of Midwestern autumns. She is lost in her sweet memories and emotions when she is jolted out of her reverie by a sharp cry and the abrupt curling of her husband's body in the passenger seat, as if he is blocking the right hook of a prizefighter.

Shocked and upset, she yells at him: "What's wrong with you?"

His body is now poised like an animal ready to pounce. She is both surprised and curious about his erratic behavior.

"What is the matter?" she says impatiently.
"There was a car pulling out, and you didn't see it," he says with agitation, his finger pointing in the direction of the parking space.
"I saw it," she snaps back, feeling attacked and defensive.
"Well, you didn't act like you saw it," he says in an accusatory tone.

Janet feels insulted and dismissed. "Does he think I am incapable of driving?" she wonders from her victim stance.

Janet takes a deep breath. She wants to unleash her anger and shame on him, but instead she takes another breath, attempting to calm herself. This is where the challenge lies in mature emotional connection. Despite how her partner has acted or know she makes herself into a victim, Janet must choose to move beyond her primal response by interrupting her knee-jerk reaction.

Janet takes another breath, securing her containment boundary with the intention of creating emotional safety within the relationship. If she released her unbridled rage, she would experience boundary failure. She would be living in the reaction to her wounding. Instead, she choose to collect her feelings, reactions, and thoughts.

Janet chooses to respond from a mature and emotionally centered place. She will become curious about her response, as well as her partner's. She will become clear about her own history as it relates to the present moment and will invite her partner to do the same. This where intimacy and vulnerability begin.

Each of us is a collection of experiences that, when explained, will weave a clear path to understanding, compassion, and connection in our relationships. This conscious thought and action takes a lot of energy, awareness, and willingness. It is a practiced behavior that, with continued reinforcement, becomes more and more automatic.

"What's going on? You seem really reactive in the car," Janet says in a calmer manner.

Her husband just stares back at her, seemingly lost in thought.

"Have you been hurt in a car accident?" she asks with more tenderness.

Pausing and seemingly surprised by the question, he says, "Yeah, I have. I took out three windshields with my head."

When Janet's husband shares his history, his body relaxes and his eyes soften. Her sense of irritation is replaced by a sense of compassion, warmth, and love.

Through our trauma, we are conditioned to personalize another's response. In reality, it is always about the other person's wounding, experiences, beliefs, and filters. To avoid the victim stance, it is vital that we learn to ask, to be curious about the other's reality. When we do, we allow for connection, and that is where intimacy exists. We need to notice the response of the other but lose our own boundary by reacting from our wounding.

Where so many relationships land, however, is in the blame game: "You made me feel frightened, sad, angry, shamed, guilty," and so on.

These unrealistic accusations are basis for the resentments they harbor, and the walls from which they attack, defend, or retreat. Because the only "self" with whom sex addicts are in contact is the wounded self, they fear their inadequacies will be discovered if the truth is known. Because they cannot believe in themselves, they cannot trust anyone else to believe in them; if their partners knew the truth about them, they would leave them. Dysfunctional reasoning tells them to take what they want before it can be denied them.

***

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vulnerability (Part Three)

Learning boundaries is a fundamental tool in relational development. In order for our relationship to become intimate, we much learn the art of controlled vulnerability. A concept from the work on boundaries presented by Pia Mellody. Controlled vulnerability means the ability to keep yourself safe and utilize boundaries, while at the same time being vulnerable. Controlled vulnerability keeps us open enough that our partners can know us, but it defends us from destructive incoming energy.

Our bodies are made up of energy. We learned as children to become attuned to our caregivers' energy. We knew when they walked in the room what their mood was, without saying a word. In fact, most of us became hyper-vigilant to energy; it's the way we learned to survive.

Addicts live in extremes. They flood energy like Ingrid Berman in Casablanca, oozing sexual energy like think molasses dripping off the screen. Or they are walled off, emotionally shut down like the Terminator, a robotic character void of emotional connection and authenticity.

The goal in emotional maturity is the moderate expression of our energy, neither flooding nor damming its flow. It becomes a steady stream of conscious expression.

When we practice controlled vulnerability, we protect our partners from the unloving or disrespectful energies that we, as perfectly imperfect human beings, have their potential to discharge. This is the job of our "containment boundary," whereby we protect our partners from ourselves. At the same time, we learn to protect ourselves from unloving or disrespectful energies targeted towards us. This is the job of our "protective boundary," whereby we protect ourselves from our partner's lack of containment.

Sex addicts have fears of abandonment and judgment. Their fears build unconscious expectations that their partners in relationship "make them feel" the way they do. This is called "the victim stance," and it runs rampant in our culture. We habitually blame another person or situation rather than taking responsibility for the realities we choose to create. I say "choose" because our realities and reactions are products of our personal experiences. What might upset one individual could mean nothing to another. A person's response to a certain situation or another person is determined by his or her individual experience.

For example, if every time your father beat you, a red light turned on, you became conditioned to respond when you saw a red light. You may break into a cold sweat, your breath may become shallow, or you may panic.

Or let's say that your mother was controlling, or yelled or withheld her attention when she was upset with you. You will respond within your relationships the way you responded to her. You will react to a certain behavior, tone of voice, or other nuance that taps into your original wounding. This is why the implementation of boundaries -- for both partners -- becomes crucial as relationships develop.

***

Friday, November 8, 2013

Vulnerability (Part Two)

The floors of the high school halls shine like the polished deck of a luxury yacht. The low morning light gleams from them as Mitchell makes his way to this locker. His habit of arriving early to school began years ago. The early start gives him an added edge, which Mitchell finds comforting. He usually sits on the floor, his back against his locker, reviewing or finishing his homework. He likes to imagine that the "peer-proclaimed wimp" is in control. It provides a confidence booster prior to the distress he feels when the halls stream with fellow students.

Mitchell's daydream is interrupted as he notices the signs hung by the student council the night before; brightly colored artwork lines the halls. Mitchell feels despair as he reads the announcements for the homecoming dance.

Mitchell lives in a small town in southern Indiana, a tight-knit community that demonstrates its enthusiasm and spirit through Forth of July parades, town-hall Christmas carols, and sold-out high school sporting events. An event like this is a big deal.

"How did the dance turn out for you?" I ask.
"It was the worst," Mitchell say. "My mother, if you can believe this, set me up with this girl, who I later found out she was paid to go -- some girl from another county who didn't talk to me all night."
"Your mother probably thought she was being helpful, but that must have felt like a huge betrayal. And then the humiliation of how your date acted," I say.
"Exactly," Mitchell says, no animated. "That really cemented my fear and distrust of women."
"Wasn't this when your addiction really took off?"
"Big time. After that, I just gave up."

Mitchell learned to hide in his addiction to porn. He learned that his shame and fear of emotional rejection far outweighed his risk of being vulnerable. Instead of living in connection and sharing his truth with another, he leaned to live in reaction, behind walls of fear, anger, and resentment. This was the home of Mitchell's trauma. From this place, he could never have a relationship, much less a truly erotic one.

Like other recovering addicts working toward healthy sexuality, Mitchell must identify his fears and expectations as belonging to his wounding. He also must understand how his dysfunctional traumatized self undermines his attempts at intimacy.

This means that, if a person is going to engage with another, whether in friendship or intimacy, he has to learn how to access his needs and wants while respecting the needs and wants of his partner.

When we enter into a relationship, we strive not only for the enhancement of the self, but for the enhancement of the relationship. When we work for the betterment of the relationship, it takes us out of our self-centered fear and out from behind the walls of aggression, defense, and retreat. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Vulnerability (Part One)

Learning to Be in a Relationship

The step-by-step process by which we reacquaint ourselves with healthy pleasure is part of reviving our ability to recognize what is going on inside of us. Once we can properly identify our emotions, needs, and wants, and attune to our bodies, we must learn how to communicate that truth to others. Speaking our truth with respect and listening to the truth of others with respect are the basic necessities of healthy relationships. But, because sex addicts have damaged relational skills, in self-defeat they put all sorts of blocks in the way of relationship and connection.

Because of the wounds they have endured, leaning to relate is one of the most challenging tasks we undertake in our lives. As we have explored, the issue of betrayal is huge for sex addicts and so, in turn, is the restoration of trust.

Most recovering sex addicts are terrified of re-creating painful or shaming experiences. We teach ourselves to sexualize our feelings in order to buffer ourselves from being emotionally vulnerable. Sexual addiction becomes the defense against real or imagined emotional rejection.

Aware of it or not, the wounded sex addict learns to approach all potential and real relationships through the filter of his relational history. His intuition tells him that being close to or vulnerable with another is not safe. When a new person comes into his life, he will screen this person through his filter, and the message that will be relayed is: DANGER!

By the time sex addicts have arrived in treatment, they usually have few, if any, friends. They may have many people in their lives, but most of their relationships are based in enhancing their sex addiction.

***

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Precursors to the Sexual: Little Pleasures (End)

Mitchell, now three months further into treatment, looks tired and road-worn. His skin is sallow, his eyes puffy, and his expression blank.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore," he says in a defeated tone. "I'm having a hard time."
"How so?" I ask.
"It is just dragging me down."
"Have you relapsed, acted out?" I ask.
"No, no, not at all."
"Well, that's is great progress. Even though you are emotionally uncomfortable, you have been able to tolerate your feelings. Congratulations."

Mitchell's anger is deep-seated. The rejection he experienced early in life made power and control the compass of his life.

It is the second of May, and Mitchell, who has crossed each date off the kitchen calendar for the past month, is well aware it is his birthday. As is tradition in his first-grade class, his mother will bring cupcakes for the afternoon party, where his classmates will play games and sing "Happy Birthday." Mitchell is a shy, small boy who has few friends. He is often teased about his thick glasses and pigeon toes. At the tender age of six, he suffers from headaches and constant skin rashes. On this day, his birthday, Mitchell believes all of this will be put aside. For at least one day out of the year, he will feel proud.

Anxiously, he watches the clock. The afternoon bell rings, signaling the start of his party. Mitchell is ecstatic. But, to Mitchell's surprise, his classmates head for the door and out to the playground, not at all interested in participating in the classroom nerd's birthday party. Some kids even grab cupcakes as they go.

"Let's get out of here." Let's get away from this weirdo," he hears them mutter under their breath. Mitchell can barely breathe as tears stream down his face.

"It was devastating," Mitchell says.
"Sounds like it," I reply. "This memory is what triggered your sadness?"
"Yeah, it just came to me when I dropped my daughter off at school. I hadn't thought of it for years. I saw this kid with a balloon on the playground and, boom, there it was, clear as a bell, like it happened yesterday."

There is grief in recovery as we remember those times when we think we didn't deserve our place on this planet. So many of us have been told that it is shameful for us to have wants or needs. Self-care becomes a shameful act. WE forget that the pleasure associated with fulfilling our needs and wants is our precious birthright. Believing we deserve this becomes a daunting and smilingly unimaginable task.

***

Monday, November 4, 2013

Precursors to the Sexual: Little Pleasures (Part One)

Buddhists believe that, to be integrated into the creative and destructive natural processes of the universe, we must learn the acceptance of suffering. Psychoanalytic and existential therapies make a distinction between two fundamental kinds of suffering. One is a consequence of fate (i.e., everyday problems such as sickness, grandiose bosses, and rambunctious children). We bring further suffering on ourselves wen we try to escape it by denying its existence. If we accept the fact that suffering is part of our lives, we don't have to fight it by hiding our eyes from the truth -- or from what the truth demands of us in the way of acceptance.

Therapy is an effort to open our eyes to the reality of how we have distorted our minds and emotions in order to avoid and deny painful reality. Therapy does not deny that reality can be painful; it teaches acceptance and, at its best, the joyful transcendence that comes with the recognition of a power greater than ourselves.

Making yourself into a victim, as women tend to do, or making yourself into a stoic anti-dependent, as men tend to do, is a disemplowering delusion, part of an elaborate process of self-deception instigated by childhood abuse. Acceptance of suffering as part of the life of each human born of imperfect parents is a healthy recognition of the truth of the human condition. Such acceptance empowers us because it prompts us to find ways to live healthfully within that truth.
 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Intimacy Factor

In her book The Intimacy Factor, Pia Mellody explains that self-esteem is built through self-nurturing, or the attunement of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and wants. By attuning and pleasuring yourself at this level, you create connection -- a connection that was severed long ago.

As trauma survivors, we learn to disconnect not only from our feelings, but also from our bodies. This was how we survived. Coming home to our bodies, or being present, can feel awkward or uncomfortable. It can also generate a great deal of fear: a fear of the unknown, the fear of triggered memories, or actual physical discomfort or pain.

This is why recovery is a process, a gradual building of self-attunement and awareness. We allow ourselves to build on each step to avoid overwhelming or flooding our systems with too much change, confusion or information. We learn to live in the moderation of recovery, as opposed to the extremes of addiction.

"So what is the reward of lighting scented candles?" Mitchell asks snidely.
"It isn't about scented candles," I say. "It's about learning what you like and integrating that into your everyday life."
"And this helps how?"

Mitchell has come to learn that, by habitually catering to his sense of pleasure, he will reawaken his sensitivity to pleasure and discover that pleasure does not accompany fear, intensity, powerlessness, and shame. He will learn that pleasure is not the reward of manipulation and control; it is something he deserves, in and of itself.

It is not a usual part of my therapy to philosophize with clients about how, at the deepest level of our being, we are vitalized and made spiritual by our erotic energy. However, as "the holder of their shame," I know that my own creativity, based in my own recovery of sexual, spiritual energy, makes me an appropriate trustee of my clients' secrets. I draw my healing power from my belief that the liberation of sexual energy is a return to the authentic self and to the Eros, which is our sexual energy.

In these modern times, sexuality has become overwhelmingly associated with genital stimulation. But it is important to understand that there is an ancient and respected tradition in which sexuality -- what the Greeks called "Eros" -- was a divine energy at the center of creation.

In Plato's Symposium, Eros is the longing inherent in the human being for the Original Source, the Creator. It is the "sexual instinct," or spirit, that drives us from the earthly realm to seek transcendent union.This erotic theme is expressed in art, dance, literature, and mysticism. The philosopher Paul Tillich described Eros as "the driving force in all cultural creativity and in all mysticism."

One commentator on the Hebrew wisdom of the Torah said:
We moderns have an almost desperate need to be in control. The rugged individualist who is captain of his fate and master of his destiny is our cultural spiritual model. And yet we know in some deeper place that we cannot always, nor is it desirable for us, to always maintain control.  

The Eros of sex is the place where we learn to give up control. And a great truth is revealed to us. In the act of letting go -- of giving ourselves up -- in the la petite mort (the little death) of orgasm, we find ourselves as well. A the very moment when the self is lost, it is rediscovered in higher and more brilliant form. Sexual Eros models for us a moving beyond old contradictions. Self-control is not the sole cauldron in which self is forged. Losing control with holy intentionality becomes the place where finding higher self is a genuine possibility.
To surrender to this force of another is true eroticsm, and it is, in my opinion, holy. I believe that Eros in our intimate relationships models the undercurrent to a higher power. But for sex addicts, who are so damaged that they have lost the preciousness of their own being, true eroticism has become impossible.

***

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Foundation of Sexual Health

When Mitchell reconnected with the music that meant so much to him, he had a restorative association between pleasure and self-esteem. The music and Mitchell's authentic self became congruent; they fit together as part of a force greater than him.

Mitchell is a short, slight man in his early thirties who has an intense manner. His jaw is locked, his eyes stern, and his speech clipped. On the rare occasion when Mitchell smiles, he appears controlled and distant. It is as if there is something going on in his head that is distracting him, something that is more important or interesting.

"So, Mitchell," I ask, "how did your tasks around self-nurturing go this week?"
"I didn't do them," he says, unabashed.
"Why is that?" I ask.
He looks up at me, annoyed, without responding.

This type of resistance is typical in early recovery. It is important not to shame the client for not following though; instead, he must figure out what the resistance is all about.

"I think it's stupid," Mitchell says.
"Well, I can understand whit it can feel trivial, but there are reasons it is important."

Male resistance to self-nurturing is a universal pattern. I remember when I gave a talk on healthy sexuality to a group of twenty recovering sex addicts. I was describing the gifts of self-nurturing, such as stimulating the senses by lightening incense or scented candles, when a large, burly man flew out of his chair.

"You've got to be kidding me," he said without even waiting for me to call on him. "There is no way in hell I am going to be lighting scented candles or incense. What are the guys going to think when they come over? The only smell I like is the smell of propane!"

Of course, he got a good laugh. He was expressing what we explored in Chapter 9 - High-Profile Cases in Congress and the Church: the cultural bias and homophobia that are rampant in our culture. Being sensitive, nurturing, or sensuous with yourself is not about threatening your sexual orientation or masculinity; it is about being in touch with your body and learning to pleasure in non-genital ways.

Let's go back to our model for sexualized anger.

In our addiction, we learned to fill our shame core from the outside: how much sex we scored, how many secrets we could get away with, how large our porn collection got, how great we looked, how much attention we could solicit. These were all delusional ways we temporarily filled our void.

In recovery, we learn how to fill ourselves from the inside out. This is done through the arts of self-nurturing and self-care. Each time we honor ourselves by listening or supportively reacting to our internal cues, we are healing the shame core. This is the foundation of sexual health.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Place He is Now Ready To Embrace

Mitchell came into treatment desperate for help. Once a successful doctor, Mitchel lost his license after violating several patients under his medical care. His addiction destroyed the work he loved and the life he worked so hard to achieve. His once-full life has been reduced to a solitary existence contained within four walls of his efficiency apartment.

Mitchell looks at the dust covering his guitar; like a child's toy, it has sat idle for years. It was once his joy. As an adolescent, he taught himself to play and even started a band. When he reached college, he replaced the pleasure he got from the guitar with a fierce addiction to Internet porn.

Holding his guitar in his lap, he feels a familiar comfort, as pleasant memories spontaneously float through his mind. He notices a calmness that is juxtaposed with an electric excitement.

As he plucks each string, he feels exhilarated. Unlike the high of his sex addiction, this feels clean and healthy. Tentatively, he begins playing flamenco music; before he realizes it, Mitchell is transported, his fingers flying with precision. He is completely in the moment, present only in the notes and the melody he creates. He feels alive, full, complete, healthy, and whole.

Abruptly, Mitchell snaps his palm over the strings, silencing them. Painful feelings have welled up inside. But it is too late, and tears run down his cheeks. They are tears of sadness and joy, a strange combination of melancholy and hope. But he does not push them away. He lets them flow. Intuitively, he knows this is a passage to a better place, a place he is now ready to embrace. 

(To be continued.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Life Force (Part Two)

Lynn, a short woman, age twenty-five and lesbian, is four months into her recovery. She has been coming to treatment weekly because she acts out through affairs. In the beginning of treatment, she committed to a month-long celibacy contract with self and others. Lynn discovered that the idea of being sexual without the high felt foreign. Lynn never had sex while being emotionally present, the mere thought of it created anxiety and fear. In her feelings of inadequacy, she decided to extend the contract for a few weeks.

Note. This has been typed before but in keeping with my will to finish the book, in order, I'll reuse it.

"So how did your sexual encounter go with your partner this week?" I ask.
"It didn't," Lynn says, looking down and refusing to make eye contact.
"What happened?"
"Well, we started having foreplay, and then I just froze. I didn't know what to do, how to act. I felt so stupid."

Lynn sits on the edge of her king-sized bed, looking more childlike than adult. Alice, her partner of four years, has just stormed out of their bedroom, snapped on the lights in the living room, and zapped on the television to a deafening decibel level. Lynn's heart sinks. "This is not going to work," she thinks as tears start to flow.

Determined not to give up. she tentatively approaches Alice. "Honey," she says, sitting gingerly on the chair opposite her. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"What is there to talk about? Nothing happened," Alice snaps.
"Well, at least we tried," Lynn says, still hesitant.
Alice whips her head about and stares Lynn down.
"Try?" she says through gritted teeth. "You of all people know how to do IT; you've done it with just about everybody else but me. Maybe I am the problem, not you!"
Lynn's tears turn to sobs as she doubles over, gasping for air.
Alice knows she's gone too far. All of her pent-up anger and resentments exploded. She ad wanted to hurt Lynn, to make her feel her own pain. Now she regrets it. She wants their relationship to work, but like Lynn, she is at a loss.

Early recovery brings many challenges on many levels. Lynn and Alice were able to work through the hurt and betrayal. They were able to repair the wreckage of their capsized relationship, but they needed a plan, and they needed to apply this plan one step at a time.

Because the sexual urge is the energy source of our selfhood, sexual abuse caused us to lose contact with our creative identity. In order to get back in touch with our healthy needs and wants, we have to rediscover what it feels like to be authentic, free of traumatic intimidation, and vulnerable. This reconnection will be a careful and specific process of reflection and practical exercise. It is a step-by-step process. The goal is to rediscover, in the everyday events of our lives, the healthy bond between pleasure and sexuality. Only then will it be possible to see how spiritual truths and sexual energies energies are connected at the highest level of our being.

As we have explored, sex addicts had to disconnect from their feelings when they were children because to acknowledge the betrayal of their parents' role of caregiver would have been overwhelmingly threatening. So they adapted, denied their feelings, and lost contact with the care and nurturing they genuinely wanted and needed.

***

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Life Force

One Step at a Time

That's how it goes in early recovery: a minute, a step, and a thought at a time. Living in a seemingly foreign land, we begin to navigate our new life, our new selves. We learn to live with intention a conscious live, as opposed to one of disconnection and numbing. We begin to identify what we are feeling and the sensations in our bodies.

Most people believe their sexuality is about their genitals, the stimulation, gratification, or the "chase of the orgasm." Often, clients will explain sex as being so "intimate," when in reality they are describing intensity rather than intimacy. The more intensity or the "greater" the sex, the better the high.

Without the potential of a high, the idea of "normal" or healthy sex becomes fearful, even dreaded: "It will be boring. I will feel trapped." Addicts do not like change, nor do they like letting go of power and control -- or the illusion of it, because that is how they learned to survive. However, the reality is that sex in recovery is not boring; it is just different.

Healthy sexuality is 10 percent about our genitals, while the remaining 90 percent is about our life force, our creativity, and our passion. This energy taps into the core of who we are. That's what makes this addiction so powerful, what sets it apart from all others. Our sexuality comes from the depths of our being, and so does our recovery. Examining and integrating our healthy sexual selves from this perspective results in much more than just "mind-blowing sex." It provides a spectrum of possiblities, a transformation of the whole self.

***

Friday, October 25, 2013

Healthy Sexuality (Part Two)

Sitting at the cafe in Berkley, I feel overwhelmed. It has only been a week since I was discharged from treatment. The coffee shop is buzzing with UC Berkley students chatting and studying.

In my fragile state, I feel bombarded by the rattling of silverware, the clinking of glasses, the squeaking of chairs, the ringing of cell phone, and the clinking of computer keys. I feel faint and distorted.

As Ellen returns with our tea, I feel the beginnings of severe nausea. Ellen, oblivious to my mood, is chatting about the excitement she has found in her recovery. She has invited me to coffee after taking me to my first Twelve-Step meeting. Her face is moving in and out of focus, her voice pounding in my head like a kid jumping on a trampoline.

Abruptly, I stand. "I have to go," I say, surprising even myself at my rudeness.
"Oh, okay," Ellen says, as if she is used to such erratic mood swings.
"How much do I owe you?" I quickly ask.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Ellen replies with a kind smile.
"Get you next time," I say, turning and heading for the door.

I breathe the October night air. Attempting to orient myself, I wonder if this is my fate in recovery. Am I going mad? Have I entered the Twilight Zone and no one has told me?

I would later discover that those feelings, responses, and visceral experiences were all part of the withdrawal phase of sexual recovery. Like any addiction, sexual addiction has a withdrawal period, a process that is just as uncomfortable as chemical addiction. In our addiction, we have literally created an IV drip or chemical cocktail as addictive as heroin.

In choosing to get sober, we pull the plug on our drug, and we must suffer the consequences of our withdrawal. The symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, headaches, disorientation, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, loss of concentration, and depression.

Ellen and others had assured me there was a better way. And so, like most addicts, when my pain outweighed the reward, I made the leap of faith. I let go of my addiction and fell into the void of my recovery. The big question was: What would fill the void?

I had learned the saying from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), "Fake it until you make it." I came to understand that you could act your way into good feelings and that proper behavior nurtures healthy emotions. Even if good behavior does not make you feel good at first, the AA saying urges: Do it anyway. Habitual sober behavior will eventually yield self-esteem, intimate relationships, and healthy sexuality, providing you are patient.

In the childhood abuse we sexually addicted people suffered, we were forced to disconnect ourselves. It was the result of sacrificing our authentic emotions in order to serve our immature and needy caretakers. The characteristic perversion resulting from this disconnection is that sex addicts lose the ability to get pleasure from sexual activity, even as they declare their need for sexual pleasure. In fact, they do not know what sexual pleasure is. The abuse they suffered in childhood caused them to fuse fear, shame, lack of power, and intensity with sexuality. Until addicts recover from this abuse, sexual motives will carry the rest of the painful bundle.

Recovering addicts will discover the use of manipulative sex to obliterate or ameliorate the fear, shame, and powerlessness wired into them by childhood sexual abuse. Emotional disconnection has caused a monumental mistranslation in which danger, intensity, fear, anger, shame, and powerlessness have come to mean "sexual pleasure."

Undoing this perversion of the emotional truth and revitalizing the addict's authentic shelf are the aims of recovery. During recovery, we reconnect to our authentic selves, and we recapture and experience the safety that we lacked as children. In this feeling of safety, we begin to build what I call a "congruent" self, wherein, on all levels of our being, we move toward intimacy in relationships.

So the answer to the original question -- "How do I know when I'm expressing myself in a healthy manner?" -- becomes clear. It is when we feel emotionally safe, connected, and affirmed in the act of sexual expression. We create this connection when we act with integrity, our values and beliefs intact.

An effective way to measure whether you have reached this point is to note how you feel after you have been sexual. Is it life-affirming and positive? Or is it the re-creation of what we have known all our lives: the feeling of shame? If your sexual expression elicits safety, love, and a feeling of emotional connection, it is healthy.

In recovery, our sexual experiences slowly become acts of affirmation and right intention, ultimately promoting an overall feeling of well-being. This is a process that takes time and patience; it provides a path into a place of sexual wellness and health.

Crawling into bed, I have feelings of hopelessness and despair. I don't believe I can take this level of pain. I want relief. I want to act out. But then I remember what one of the guys said to me in treatment. Looking into my eyes, he said, in a thoughtful, quite voice, "Maureen, you are worth it; you can do this." I believed, in that moment, that he believed in me. With that thought, that gift from a fellow addict, I was able to believe I could do it and that I was worth it. I knew, if only for that fleeting moment, that I was going to be alright.

***

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Healthy Sexuality (Part One)

Healthy sexuality is what we hope sexual recovery brings. We are often overwhelmed by the idea of "healthy" sex. The answers to questions such as, "What is healthy sexual expression,and how does a person determine when his or her sexual behavior is compulsive?" can feel like the cosmic mysteries. The recovering addict is not only intimidated by but afraid of the challenges of healthy intimacy.

The answers, however, are much simpler than most of us realize. The challenging part is finding our way there. When I was in recovery, I felt extreme emotional fragility. I had spent most of my adult life developing and acting out in my addiction, so when I chose sobriety, or stopped acting out in my sexual behavior, I felt a deep loss of identity. I had no idea who my authentic self was. All I knew was that I was no longer engaging in my destructive sexual behaviors.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

High-Profile Cases in Congress and the Church (End)

It is important these wounded and suffering individuals receive the treatment they need, that our culture recognize the prevalence of sexual perpetration's, and that we challenge ourselves to face the issue from an educated, rather than a purely reactive, stance.

That assessment needs to include the patient's psychological history, his capacity for victim empathy, and his willingness to change, including compliance with treatment and the integration of all levels of recovery.

Other factors that can come into play include:
  • The patient's mental health status. Is he mentally able to participate in treatment? Blocks may include psychotic breaks, levels of dissociation, and antisocial traits. 
  • Socioeconomic limits. Does he have a means of transportation to get to treatment?
  • Organic brain damage, the causes of which may include excessive drug use or head injury.
  • Cognitive functioning. Does he have the mental capacity to follow complex thought patterns and insight orientation? Is he able to connect his process to an emotional internal world? 
For some sexual offenders, treatment may consist of a functional process, whereas a deeper integrated experience will be appropriate for others. Fortunately, the fields of sexual offending treatment and sexual addiction treatment continue to grow, adding to their programs progressive materials for advancing the health of each patient.

One effective tool, "the typologies of offenders," was introduced in 1979 by Dr. Nicolas Groth. He divided sex offenders into two categories. The first is the regressed, or situational, offender. These individuals are more impulsive; their triggers for acting out are usually external and related to stress, such as getting a bad review at work or having a fight with their parent. Their offending behaviors usually fall in Level Two.

The second typology is the fixated offender. These offenders are less impulsive, planning their offenses over time. They are usually not under the influence of mood-altering chemicals, and their behaviors fall in Level Three.

The treatment outcome for the regressed, or situational, offenders who are motivated in treatment is usually positive. Often the regressed offender started acting out with legal behaviors but progressed into illegal behaviors. These patients usually have the capacity for victim empathy, can feel remorse, and, once the consequences are steep enough, are willing to work in a treatment program.

For the fixated offender, there has usually been no progression in the offending behaviors. Their offensive behaviors have remained constant over time, and often there is little to no victim empathy. The treatment modality for these clients is slightly different; the focus often is on building remorse, victim empathy, behavioral tasks, and accountability.

It is important these wounded and suffering individuals receive the treatment they need, that our culture recognize the prevalence of sexual perpetration's, and that we challenge ourselves to face the issue from an educated, rather than a purely reactive, stance. As a culture, we must collectively address these devastating behaviors, but rather challenges our paradigm, calling for continued explorations and answers that serve to promote positive and life-affirming actions.

***  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

High-Profile Cases in Congress and the Church (Part Nine)

Level One

These behaviors are legal and generally seen as culturally acceptable; however, they can be devastating when used compulsively. 
  • Masturbation 
  • Serial relationships
  • Adult pornography 
  • Cybersex (chat rooms, avatar on-line gaming)
  • Affairs
  • Fantasy
  • Cross-dressing
Level Two

These behaviors violate the most significant boundaries. If caught, the perpetrators can face severe legal consequences.
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Molestation
  • Cybersex (involving underage children or adolescents) 
In the assessment process, I look for patterns and treatment modalities that can best serve the patient. It is important to note that there have been two approaches to treating sexual offenders. The first is "the offender's model," largely used in criminal settings such as with incarcerated or paroled clients.   This model has historically been cognitive/behavioral model, meaning it addresses the thoughts that generate the individual's behavior. The cognitive/behavioral model can be an effective modality.

Many treatment centers and practitioners are expanding their programs, as explained by Barbara Schwartz in the book The Sex Offender: Corrections, Treatment and Legal Practice, "Society cannot afford to lock up all offenders forever. Instead, it should determine how offenders can be rehabilitated using a "whole system" or "integrative approach to treatment."

An integrated model is more congruent with the "addictions model" used at The Meadows because it focuses on the patient's behavior as it relates to his underlying trauma. The goal is the integration of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.

No matter what model or combination of models is implemented, each case needs individual assessments to determine appropriate treatment planning to best serve the patient's long-term goals.
   

Monday, October 21, 2013

High-Profile Cases in Congress and the Church (Part Eight)

Sipe's research also reports that 2 percent of the priest population can be classified as true pedophiles, with a three-to-one preference for boys. Four percent of the priest population sexually offends adolescents. Gender preference is distributed more evenly in this group.

With the onslaught of reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, it is my hope that the church will examine the role its culture plays in a priest's sexual maturity. Hopefully, the church will question how it might grow and enhance the well-being and health of not only the individual, but the institution as a whole.

It is important to note that sexual abuse is not limited to Catholic priests or politicians. I have used these cases as examples because of the recent play that have received in the popular media. These incidents serve as a springboard for exploring the larger issues of sexual offending and treatment. Sexual abuse always has and probably always will cross all political, economic, gender, sexual orientation, social, intellectual, religious, racial, and ethic lines.

Terminology and Treatment

In terms of treatment, the word "offending" can be defined in two ways: linguistically and legally. As we have already explored, it means to violate boundaries -- physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually. For the addict, boundary violation is often done to increase the high or to test limits; he is provocative by making sexually suggestive overtures, or she attempts to shock by telling lewd or embarrassing jokes.

In legal terms, sexual offense is the violation of a law. Offending behavior that breaks a law always falls into both categories: a boundary violation and a legal offense.

The laws of their consequences or legal judgments vary from state to state. Treatment also varies, given the type of offense and the history of an individual's behavior. When assessing patients who have acted out in legal terms, I want to explore their histories of acting out. Was there a progression to the behavior, and did it follow the cycle of addiction? I also compare their behaviors against a continuum. These behaviors exist on three levels, which are defined by both social and legal parameters.