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The Partner’s Fear of Letting Go in Sex Addiction

Recently I wrote a post on the experience of teaching my daughter to ride her two-wheel bike for the first time.  From my experience of being a road cyclist and watching her gain skills for balance on the bike, I noticed the parallels of cycling and recovery.  In this post I want to look at the perspective of the person running behind the bike.  The experience of being a parent and running behind the bike supporting my daughter with the need to let go, I am reminded of the spouse’s process necessary in the recovery process of sex addiction.   Have you experienced the feeling of running behind a child, supporting the child on the bike, yet, knowing you need to let go?  Do you remember the feeling the panic of the moment you knew you needed to let them go so they will find their own skill, power, and strength to continue?   How can a parent let go running behind the bike knowing full well there might be hurt involved?  How can a spouse stop being vigilant knowing there might be more unconscionable collateral damage?  Often, the spouse has been broadsided with the discovery of the addiction and it would seem counter-intuitive to let go of vigilance now!

 As a parent teaching skills, or as a spouse in the relationship affected by sex addiction, we know we NEED to let go. Working through the fear of letting go and actually letting go are quite another story.  Any parent who has taught their child to ride a bike knows the difficulty in letting go and similarly, any partner who has felt the absolute power of betrayal from sex addiction knows the fear of letting go.  Once it is time to transition to two-wheel riding, it is a time for the parent to prepare to let go and allow the child to gain necessary skills of safety.  Once the sex addiction is surfaced, often previously hidden in secret, the spouse must learn to let go. Addict and spouse alike need new skills to master safety in life and in the relationship.  This is quite a paradox to let go and trust in the face of fear.

 I mentioned Soren Kierkegaard’s writings on the “leap of faith” in my previous post.    Addicts need to make a leap of faith to trust the recovery process.  In my mind there is no greater leap to make than the spouse who has felt the betrayal of sex addiction in their relationship.  As the parent who runs behind the bike, if they don’t let go once the child is gaining the skills to begin, they can undermine the child’s ability to learn from natural consequences.  A spouse who stays vigilant over their spouses recovery runs risk of not only enabling or undermining their spouses recovery, but their own growth process by learning the ability to self-soothe and gain new skills for healthy safe relationships.  Easier said than done and one of the paradoxes of recovery.

Soren Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is the concept of independence is gained in interdependence.  The mother who believes her child can take those first steps or pedals and actually cheers them on creates a better environment of skill building and the child’s belief in self-mastery than the parent who might knowingly, or unknowingly, tell or imply to their child they can’t.  Often I hear partners of sex addicts say:  “My partner was the one acting out and has the problem!  Why do I have to work on things?”  In addiction there is an interplay of dynamics in the family and /or couple’s  relationship system.  The parent running behind the bike doesn’t have to master the same exact skills as the person on the bike, but both have to learn skills to make growth a successful endeavor.   So it is in the repair process of the couple.  There is an interplay of a dynamic relationship and equally the need for new skills for all involved in the addictive process.

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Overheard at The 93rd PGA…Sex in the City Meets Family Values

Do you remember the Clinton Era when current events were catalyst  to anxiety-provoking conversations with our children?  Conversations that we could have never imagined?  Do you remember the media sound bites that pushed the envelope for further definitions of adult conversations?”   I felt it was deja vous at the 93rd PGA!  This past weekend John’s Creek, Georgia hosted the prestigious 93rd PGA Golf Tournament.  As a Metro-Atlanta community we were excited to see people and the golfers seeking their prize come from all over the world.  Most days there were  40,000-50,000 spectators in attendance.  The whole event was quite a spectacle.  Earlier this year the PGA President Alan Wronowski announced its junior golf initiative.   He announced plans to launch the PGA Sports Academy to grow participation among junior golfers that promote fitness, nutrition, rules, etiquette, sportsmanship and life skills.  The PGA promotes strong vision for family participation and growing youth in the sport.  To aid the effort Junior Tickets were offered free of charge!  We attended 3 of 4 days as a family.

The first day we attended the event there was much frenetic activity as 156 of  the top  golfers in the world, including Tiger Woods, came to compete for the prize.   I arrived with my daughter on Thursday afternoon (the first official day of play) to meet my husband (already present as a volunteer on the course).  As I backed into the parking space on the grassy field across from the Atlanta Athletic Club, my daughter exclaimed…”Mommy look an airplane is flying with a sign behind it.  What is that for?”  Trying not to hit the cars around me I said “You’ll have to read it to me, sweetie, because I can’t look at this instant.”  Mommy what does “ ’No cover charge’ mean?” Huh?  We got out of the car and walked to the pedestrian bridge designed to allow pedestrians to cross over 4 lanes of traffic.  The plane circled by, yet again.  This time I could see the sign and realized it was an advertisement for an Atlanta Night club a.k.a “a strip club”.  While we crossed on the bridge over 4 lanes of highway traffic, passing pedestrians going the other way to leave the venue, no less than four times, I heard 4 different groups of men loudly talking about what a great strip club that was.  It was repetitive and loud enough for my daughter to wonder what the conversations were about.  Oh boy, this is going to be a great event.  I am a therapist with specific training in matters regarding child development, sex, sex addiction, and pretty current on headline topics.  What does the untrained parent do in this situation?  I felt for them.

The field of players was narrowed after two days of play.  Tiger did not make the cut but that didn’t dampen enthusiasm in numbers of those attending or their spirits.  Crowd conversation turned to speculation as to why Tiger didn’t make the cut.  Things overheard included:  “That plane was hounding him and he couldn’t concentrate.”  Others said “He’s just lost it all, his life is awash, so sad.”  Still others speculated on his physical and mental limitations with comments like his knee is beyond repair or” it is ‘all in his head’ ”. This led to more questions from my daughter about what people were saying and why they were talking so much about Tiger Woods.  I spoke with her about living a life of balance.  Tiger reportedly lost his balance, the magic of his game, and reportedly his perspective on life. I further explained I know he reportedly made decisions that cost him his family and he divorced.  She replied with concern “That is sad mommy.  When people lose their balance like that can they ever gain it back?”  Thinking of my clients I treat for sex addiction, I offered “Yes, honey I do believe people can rebuild their life.  I see people fall out of balance and rebuild their lives to something better than they could imagine – but that it takes time and willingness to do so.”  I know it takes 3-5 years for a person to restore the balance in their life, IF they acknowledge the problem and begin working on balance IF one is struggling with addiction .

As if this wasn’t enough to contend with in coming days of tourney play, another plane began flying with the banner “Hot Girls at the Oasis…Hot Girls”.  Well you know where this is going.  My ever inquisitive child NOW wants to know what this means.  It is a stretch, but a teachable moment.  I am reminded Ashely Madison tried to be a sponsor for the Super Bowl this year but was turned down.  Many pro sports have had their share of image management concerns, lately.  The bad boys of basketball, steroid use in baseball, and doping allegations in cycling circles come to mind.  All sport disciplines have done what they can to manage damage control.  I feel for the PGA executives in their junior initiative.  Can they really control air space? 

I was privy to overhear a very positive conversation after a player, who was a crowd favorite, came off the course of play on Sunday.  I overheard the sports psychologist speaking to a club official about what she does when her player is in a slump.  She said “what I do is help them change the tape, change the channel that is in their head.”  As a therapist that is the best one can do whether their client is in a slump, in a depression, or getting past the crisis for living a life out of balance.   As a therapist trained to treat sex addiction, I think that is one of the best strategies for changing the messages addicts play in their heads which contribute to the shame spiral and a life out of balance.   The habits of the addiction cycle have to change into positive habits of the recovery cycle.  It takes time, but the belief, the vision, and a changed internal voice have to be there.  I heard the winner of the 93rd PGA, Keegan Bradley say “I have dreamed of this my entire life”.  Now that’s vision.  I am reminded of the The Art of Racing in the Rain:  our future follows our vision.  Where is your aim? And where is your vision?  Vision  determines the success of our future!   Way to go Keegan Bradley!!

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Cultural Messages, the Power of Suggestion, and Sex Addiction

"The best thing you can spend on your children is your time."  –Louise Hart

Friday evening with temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I decided to do my scheduled run indoors on the treadmill.   To break the monotony of treadmill running, I decided to flip on the TV. I thought MTV could be music to help keep pace and the images might break the doldrums of static focus.  The MTV channel counted down the top 20 music videos of  As I ran watching images projected from the screen, my mind wandered to the several adolescents and their families that have contacted me in the recent weeks for their struggles with pornography.  As I watched I thought of the messages projected onto our youth in the form of entertainment.

I did a warm-up, 3 mile run, and a cool down.  In this time I saw the top videos counted down from 17 to 11.  In the countdown I watched  Lil’ Wayne and The Killers, numbers 17 and 16 respectively portray scantily-clad women sexually contorting, gyrating, and entertaining men  who passively watched in pleasure suggesting women were there for the sole purpose of selective enjoyment and entertainment.  In number 15, Kanye West sang from the church pulpit on the struggle of destitution, prostitution, and addiction in “Jesus Walks”.  He urged rappers to think about the messages they send.  The band Fall Out Boy, number 14, portrayed the innocence of days gone by of school dances where boys actually wore suits and girls wore pearl necklaces and corsages.  This video marked the struggle of the shy person in all of us that feels awkward to enter the dance floor and let loose.  The video highlighted the nerdy boy who struggles to get out there on the floor. He was eventually coaxed onto the floor by the new-millennium, scantily-clad, hottie as modern-day siren who  invited him alone onto the floor while the scene changed to the modern-era dirty dancing.  Justin Timberlake rang in at lucky number 13 with “Timbaland”.  Justin’s video and lyrics urged us to “get our sexy back” while showing a weird techno brothel of sorts where sordid rough sex, violence and voyeurism were mixed in fantasy.  Continuing the count Lady Gaga appeared with images and messages of sex, death, crutches, and wheelchairs….but that was just in the opening 10 seconds of her banned video Paparazzi. 

As I cooled down with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and images of Rorschach Ink blots flashed on the screen, I wondered am I crazy for thinking how much this impacts our youth? Elvis Pronounced Obscene

Since Elvis first swiveled his hips on The Ed Sullivan show, our culture has wrestled with societal messages and the values of our youth.  As I watched the current videos on the screen I was reminded of my CSAT training where Patrick Carnes, PhD, spoke of the tsunami facing our culture.  The numbers are rising quickly for those struggling with sex and pornography addiction, due largely in part by the internet born in our technological age.  The key factors that make sex on the Internet a powerful medium have long been referred to the “3 A’s” or the Triple A Engine (Cooper, 1998).  Those 3 “A’s” are:  Affordability, Anonymity, and Accessibility. 

I know MTV is so yesterday for today’s adolescent.  Why wait for your favorite music video to come on when you can seek it on YouTube instantaneously?  Yes, in the ancient age of the 80’s we had Madonna Shock spread in her Big Book exposed, but she was on coffee tables of those who chose and not laid out in public mass media for all to see.  Woodstock harkened our youth in the 60's to the fields of New York.  The Grateful Dead had their dead heads. Dead Heads were those who gave up the path of life they were on to follow the band as their sole focus.  Just because there was a cultural movement, not everyone joined the movement.  Similarly, sex and pornography addiction will not befall everyone who is exposed to pornography. I believe Sex Addiction is a complicated and complex disease.  It is not a morality issue any more in my mind than I think that alcoholism is.  In this post I do not mean to imply there needs to be a Carrie Nation in our day to police and guard us from the evils that bombard us. Those who carry certain risk factors are at greater risk, but I have to question the increasing numbers while I sampled a random 40 minutes of cultural messages. 

When computer technology became all the rage for the masses in the 80’s there was a phrase:  Garbage in, garbage out.  Addiction and Recovery are like that.  Where we direct our mind, our thoughts follow.  Recent research points to not much difference between the addicted brain and the goal-oriented brain.  Where we go is a matter of intention and focus.  Where will you maintain your focus today?