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.