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The Two D’s in Sex Addiction Recovery

"Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality."   
 Abraham Lincoln

In a previous post I have written about the two D’s in Sex Addiction:  Discovery and Disclosure.  This post will highlight the two D’s of Recovery. 

Recently, I was at my 5:15 a.m. spin class when the instructor shouted out “O.K. you got yourself here – that is the first part….now show us what you are made of!”  She talked about “the two D’s”:  Discipline and Drive.  First you have to show up, and while you are here….you must do the work and apply the energy.  These principles apply whether one wants to lose weight, plan for a triathlon, or finish an ironman.  

I found my mind wandering to that thought as it applies to other aspects of life and to recovery.   I hold an undergraduate degree in business.  While I was in college, Dean Mescon , our business school dean, published a book entitled Showing Up for Work and Other Secrets of Success.  That book title remains one of my favorite “pithy” titled books of all time.  The title connotes something simple and true.  First, one must show up.  Consistent effort over time pays off.  Dr. Patrick Carnes talks about the necessity to do something related to recovery at least 45 minutes every day.  In very early recovery that basic task of “90 meetings in 90 days” sets the structure of the discipline.

In recovery, there is the notion: “It works if you work it”.  You show up.  Now how do you apply your energy?  Do you find the courage to speak in the meeting when there is something of relevance to share about?  Do you reach out beyond your comfort zone to peers in times of need?  Do you work the steps with flourish? Do you aim your brain with meditation before your feet hit the floor in the morning?  Or do you avoid meetings, program, and peers in fear and isolation? 

Consistent efforts set the stage for lasting transformation.  In active addiction, acting out appears to be the fix to everyday problems.  The fix promised in active addiction is fleeting.  Lasting happiness remains elusive.  That which has been avoided in life begins to mount resulting in increased problems and more pain.  Those who enter into early sobriety initially may feel recovery is not all it promises to be, either.  Trusting in the process of recovery is initially very hard.  The consistent efforts of sobriety slowly give way to what some report as “the fog lifting”.  Each day one “shows up with discipline”, one gains increased clarity. Slowly, daily sobriety discipline skills build into the promise that creates a lasting reality of recovery.  Working a strong, disciplined program with passionate drive may not take away all your problems, but life will be better than you could have ever imagined. 

Are you showing up consistently?  How’s your drive? 

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The Sex Addiction Cycle, The Super Bowl, and The Audi

During the recent Super Bowl Sunday “parade of super commercials” Audi had a commercial depicting a young man going to the Prom.  He was going to the prom alone.   In that determination to go alone he had several family members and friends taunting him with the words “no one goes to the Prom alone”.  Even his grade-school aged sister in the chorus of taunts says:  “Only losers go to the Prom alone.”  His dad offers him the key to the Audi as incentive and courage to go it alone.  The next scene flashes and we see him boisterously walking onto the stage to take the prom queen and whisk her off in the A4.  The final scene portrays the young man and the prom queen screaming in the thrill of going top speed in the A4.  The commercial ends with the slogan “Bravery.  It is what defines us.”

Many of my male clients who struggle with sex addiction share with me a silent shame that began for them in adolescence, or even earlier  in their lives.  Many feel they didn’t have the courage to be who they dreamed or wished themselves to become in assured confidence.  They measured themselves against others constantly feeling inadequate and coming up short in relation to a perceived ideal.  Many have had experiences of abuse and shame that became permanent voices of inadequacy in their heads.   I have heard stories of locker room hazing and ridiculing by their peers.  I have heard stories of well-intended but misguided coaches creating “rituals of manhood” that would be considered abusive.   Overt and covert criticisms of their body, their abilities, and their manhood remain etched.    These experiences have left indelible marks of shame and rage on their virility.  Shame and rage become sublimated to sexual energy or fantasy in attempts to regain what was stripped from them, or put upon them.  This sexualized rage fuels the acting out in attempts to avoid those feelings for years to come.  These messages play over and over in their heads.  Messages remain imprinted in the forms of internalized self-talk and self-concept.

The addiction cycle begins with a faulty belief system.  Often that faulty belief system begins with these messages which were carried from those shameful episodes of childhood and adolescence.  Episodes of adult inadequacy call up those uncomfortable feelings to be avoided at all costs.  The attempts to avoid the feelings stoke the fires of the engine that feed the addiction cycle.   Pornography becomes the modern-day solution to regain virility.  Pornography gives relief to avoid the current uncomfortable feelings and act out the sexualized rage of inadequacy buried long ago.

Many men feel there was something they were missing.  The magic elixir of the Audi Key of courage was elusive to them in adolescence but easily tapped into in fantasy with the novelty of the porn hit.  A swirl of old shame to be avoided and a quick fix of feel-good pain-relief, followed by despair, shame and guilt, are hallmarks for the set-up of the addiction process.  

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The Presents of Presence in Sex Addiction Recovery

Recovery wisdom advises: Never allow yourself to get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, (HALT).  On this morning’s 6-mile run, with my run partner out of town and running on less sleep than normal, I was hitting 2 out of 4 of the precautionary directives.  If I let my mind wander to “I have to do 6 miles today” the run seemed like an impossible task.  I wanted to walk.  I wanted to slow down.  My thoughts entered the realm of “stinking thinking” and the dreaded “I can’t do this”.  Ughhh.  I was tired.  I was alone.  I didn’t have my music.  I was becoming bored.  All the tell-tale signs of the wheels falling off the bus were at-risk for coming into play. 

I began to change my focus.  First, I HAVE to do this.  This 6-mile run today is part of a bigger plan to reach my goals for a 15k race in January.  I do not want to let this long run slip by today.  One step at a time I have to keep my focus.  One step at a time I have to keep going.  I began to look just slightly ahead.  I looked at a leaf a few steps ahead – and made it to there.   I looked at a crack in the asphalt just ahead.  I thought to myself, you can make it to “there”!  I looked at my watch.  I could make it another 40 seconds.  See how it feels.  With each successive small goal and re-focusing my mind to just stay present to the small task at-hand, I made it the whole 6-miles. 

Recovery is like that.  If one focuses on the whole plan of sobriety and recovery, it can feel hugely overwhelming. If one says to oneself:   I can’t drink for the rest of my life again, ever.  I have to stay sober and not act out.  I am not sure I can do this.  I have all these meetings to attend.  I have to work steps.  I have to get a sponsor.   I have to make phone calls to peers.  I have to…on and on and on…we’d stop before we ever start.  If you are employed and thought about all you would have to do day-in and day-out for your employment, you might not want to show up!  Heck, if you are married, who would stand at the alter thinking ALL that one has to do to stay joined in a committed relationship for the rest of your life?

Just as I began to focus on the present moment at hand, one increment at a time, recovery needs an adjustment in the same measure. “Half-measures avail us nothing.”  Just as I have a vision of my race in January and a weekly plan to get there, recovery vision is necessary, too.  In the paradoxes of recovery, one must focus one step at a time but be guided by an overall vision and goal. 

In the marriage impacted by sex addiction, sometimes one is not sure how they can continue.  How can the betrayed partner trust again?  How can they stay in if they are so unsure?  One might not know if they can do the “whole run”, but changing the focus to smaller short term goals can help break it down and give information that feeds an overall plan one day at a time.

I finished my run this morning.  Bringing my mind to the present gave me presence of mind.  Just for this week I am on task.  Just until the leaf and the crack in the asphalt, I can do this.  What a gift!

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Rewiring Habits in Sex Addiction

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

Remember Mr. Rogers?

He began every one of his ½ hour educational shows with the same ritual.  He would come onto the set through the same door chirping out his usual song “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood, ….”.  All the while, he would go through the same motions of taking off his tweed suit jacket, don his casual work sweater, take off his dress wing-tipped shoes, and put on his casual sneakers.  You knew what was coming.   He started each show the same way.  That ritual set the stage for that day’s show. 

Mr. Rogers was an extraordinary educator.  He knew the importance of structure for children.  Structure helps us make transitions.  Structure helps us make sense of the unknown.  As a marriage and family therapist I help parents develop routines that help children settle, feel safe, and decrease anxiety in the changes that face them as they developmentally move through time. 

As an addiction-credentialed therapist I help individuals and families settle from the chaos of addiction into new rituals to support sobriety.  Addiction is a set of habits “to the bad”, sobriety calls for a set of habits aimed “to the good’.

Good habits to support sobriety include aiming your day towards doing the next right thing at every turn.  Spiritual meditations, prayer, and 12-step meditations can be very helpful to set your brain in the right direction as each day begins. “90-Meetings-in-90-Days” sets the stage for a program of new habits, connects one consistently with a new community aimed in the right direction, and reduces shame by realizing one is not alone in their past deeds or current struggles.  Daily calls to peers are another great habit to support sobriety each day.  Daily check-in with your 12-step sponsor is another important habit for consideration.  Daily habits create a structure which become like threads that weave into a strong tapestry of recovery over time.  Having these elements of recovery in place help for when “the going gets tough” in the passage from addiction to sobriety.  These elements of early sobriety set the foundation for a life-long sobriety plan.

Addiction creates etched pathways that make going to the drug, or process, an automatic in times of high stress.  The job of recovery is to create new habits which circumvent those old etched addictive pathways in the brain.  The goal of recovery is to create new re-wired habits in the brain that keep one safe and stable consistently over time.

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The Labor Days of Sex Addiction

My running partner and I have vacationed on opposing weeks through the last half of summer.  I have missed her.  I have kept my running plan and structure, but running alone is not the same.  I love the time to think and I have continued to run.  I work hard but, as the weeks have continued on, I find myself on the slippery slope of not staying the course.  Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed in the dark to prepare for long Saturday runs.  If there is no one to be accountable to, will it hurt if I run just a little later in the morning?  Not really.  Then as the weeks have passed I have been tempted with a little later start time. What if I just sleep in?  Who would know?  Does it really matter?  I would know when I look in the mirror and see the integrity on my face in the mirror, or not. 

 With risk of a waning running plan, I decided to hook up with another group that runs a little earlier and a little faster than my normal pace.  I had some anxiety to commit to this group.  What if I can’t keep the pace?  Do I really want to go earlier?  I wanted the help to step up my program.  I wanted the accountability.  I made the commitment and I asked for the help I needed to get back with the program.

Recovery can be a little like that.  Recovery is hard work.   Sometime “one day at a time” gets arduous.  Sometimes our program slips.  Are you aware when you get on the slippery slopes towards your program falling apart?  Are you aware of what you need to get back to the basics?  What is needed to step up your plan?  Do you have people identified that can help you get back on track?  Do you ask for help from program peers? 

I had fear connecting with this new run group that plans differently and paces differently than I do.  I found courage to ask for what I needed to join them and then assert my needs on the actual runs.  I found renewed energy in my running and actually was in better shape than I envisioned myself to be.  Even though the pace was quicker, the energy of the group renewed my energy to keep the pace. 

Consistent effort pays off over time.  Is your program in top running shape?  Who can help you with your labor?

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The Murky Waters and Redemption in Sex Addiction Recovery

As I vacationed at the beach this past week, I had the opportunity to see National Geographic Explorer Photo Journalist Brian Skerry give a presentation entitled “Ocean Soul”.  Mr. Skerry drew us into his world of inspiration with a boyhood photo of himself when he was about 6 or 7 years of age.  He shared his boyhood dream when the ocean first captured his imagination.  He proceeded to tell us with words and his poignant images the oceanic world that has captivated his dreams and his life’s work which has spanned the globe with National Geographic Explorations. 

At the end of this dramatic photo story he was asked “Which photo is your favorite?” 

He said that he has two favorites.  One is a photo of his assistant standing on the floor of the sub-arctic ocean region underneath a huge Right whale larger than a school bus (over 45 feet long and weighing  over 70 tons).  It was such an incredible historic photo that the making of the photo became a phenomenon.  His second favorite is that of a shark trapped off the coast of Japan in a commercial fishing net.  The shark had expired in that commercial net.  The positioning of the giant shark looked flayed as if it was a crucifix.  The image was haunting to Mr. Skerry.  He felt both pictures told a story that he hopes his photo journalism can tell with a message he hopes to get out with his work.  He hopes that people will understand the sea can be scary, but it can be a place of wonderment and liberty.  The sea, while at times frightening, can be freeing.  He related his wish to help people understand that we need to do what we can to help life, educate, and effect change.

My thoughts about sex addiction treatment and this very blog contain similar messages that I hope to convey about sex addiction and recovery.  I wish that I could have the photo images of people who struggle with addiction to share in the way Mr. Skerry related his messages of marine life.  I wish that I could show the image of the person who first comes to me scared to venture into the fearful waters of their addictive behaviors.  Sometimes a therapist knows that death stare of a person who has lost their soul to addiction.  Michael Fassbender’s character in the movie “Shame” so poignantly portrayed that vacant death stare, the emptiness of a soul robbed of life in pursuit of gluttony that does not pay off. I have seen that stare walk into my office many times.  

I wish I could also relate the photos of people after they venture into the once-fearful and decidedly murky waters of recovery.  Mr. Skerry described the sea as “liberating”.  This world is a very different world vibrant and teeming with life force.  The sea is not a fearful place but one of freedom for him.  The same could be said for the “Waters of Recovery”.   I wish I could show the joyful faces when one gets on board for the journey of work which gives freedom from the snares of addiction.  When one enters sobriety it can be as fearful as the ocean depths but an attitude of curiosity and open wonderment can help one adjust and acclimate.   The living waters can be redemptive if one has a curiosity to enter the murky depths primed for exploration.  Recovery has its own soulful experience.  Dive in!  I have seen the images of proof in my office. 

For more on Brian Skerrys' inspirations visit: and  

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The Journey of Healing in Sex Addiction

“Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.”

 – Voltaire

The Wizard of Oz has long been a favorite story and metaphor of life for me.  I love the many metaphors contained within the story.  The tornado delivers Dorothy into a "call" she cannot avoid.  All Time Great Support GroupThe yellow brick road is an invitation to the journey of life and discovery of the mettle contained within oneself.  Along the journey Dorothy discovers other seekers who have been stuck in fear or shame for the “things” which they do not perceive to have within themselves.  They have feelings of brokeness, a yearning for courage, and wish for a completeness of self.  There is bonding in that brokeness, support for courage,  the capacity one needs to reach beyond fear, and sustenance for the journey in finding others who struggle.   

The journey of sex addiction recovery is just as odd and rich as the journey to Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz.  The discovery, or revealing of sex addiction long-hidden, touches ones’ life similarly to the destructive winds of an F5 tornado.  The impact is devastating.  Life is in shambles.  Chaos is all around.  A Certified Sex Addiction Credentialed Therapist  (CSAT) can be a guide pointing the way onto the yellow brick road.  12-step groups offer the friends for the journey.  In the hallways of the 12-steps rooms are others who also search for their missing pieces.  Knowing one is not alone, and one need not hide in shame, can be an exhilarating start to the journey.  Reaching the recovery cycle is no small task.  As a therapist who sits with many on the journey:   there is fear, there are trials, there is the need for more courage and a strong vision for what one seeks. One often finds the answer was within them all along if they stick with the process of recovery long enough.  It is possible to go home again and feel the comfort.  “There is no place like home”, and one can be empowered by what was once so feared and devastating.  You can’t get there without answering "the call" and entering the opportunity for transformation.  You don’t have to go it alone.  There is a path out.  I, or someone trained by Patrick Carnes in his prescribed 30-task healing model, can offer a map and guide one to safety.  One can reach beyond the Emerald City and restore oneself to themselves.  If it is a fit, one can go home again empowered and whole.  

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Sex Addiction Recovery and Super Heroes

On this day I had the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee and taking in a bit of CNN as I began my day. Dr. Sanjay Gupta was reporting his experience of giving the commencement address at his alma mater, Michigan University.  I was struck by the main message he wished to convey to these graduates.  His advice:  “Do one thing that you fear every day and become the action hero in your own life.”  Well said. 

That message applies for those working on recovery, as well. Fear is to recovery as Kryptonite was to Superman.  Many in recovery face actions that are fearful, yet, doing that fearful act can bring one to their own aid.  Reaching out to another peer with personal struggle, calling a sponsor for aid with the craziness in one’s own head, making an amends to those whom amends are owed can all be very scary acts indeed.  If you can work through the fear and take action imagine where that might lead you.  The sky is the limit!  

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That First Call for Help

The demand for my services for the treatment of sexual addiction has grown over the past several years. Even with the increased frequency of phone contact, I do not think the pain I sense in the clients first call will ever lose its impact on my heart.  For the person whose life has been plagued by secret shame and finally has the courage to make the call for help, the pain is palpable.  For the spouse who has stumbled upon information of a secret life kept hidden by their partner and now questions the reality of an entire relationship, the level of pain has profound impact on this therapist. 

I have heard Patrick Carnes, PhD. speak about “the calls” we would rather not get in life.  We all have calls we would rather not answer when you think of it.  Yet, within the trials of the call, exists the fertile ground for growth and transformation.  Many times we avoid the calls and ultimately we cannot outrun them.  The fact that transformation is possible is beyond comprehension in those very early moments of discovery or the revealing a secret life of shame. 

As a therapist that sits with that early pain, I wish I could play a video of the future for the person to see. I wish I could show this client their future selves if they would heed the call and do the very hard work they are being called in to discover.  The journey is formidable and seems overwhelming at that moment.  I wish people could know the rewards of an answered call for the invitation into recovery are even greater.

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Entering Into the Pain of Transformational Change

"If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you. The pain of making the necessary sacrifices always hurts more than you think it's going to. I know. It sucks. That being said, doing something seriously creative is one of the most amazing experiences one can have, in this or any other lifetime. If you can pull it off, it's worth it. Even if you don't end up pulling it off, you'll learn many incredible, magical, valuable things. It's NOT doing it when you know you full well you HAD the opportunity- that hurts FAR more than any failure."

– Hugh MacLeod