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The Gift of Gratitude in Sex Addiction Recovery

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."   – William Arthur Ward

The marriage impacted by sex addiction is in turmoil for quite some time post-discovery of the addiction.  The betrayal of sex addiction is like no other.  The marriage impacted by addiction is filled with resentment, bitterness, and reactivity.  The addict holds resentment, and even perhaps used those resentments, to fuel the acting-out in the addiction cycle.  In beginning recovery, the partner holds resentments and often feels justified to emotionally brow-beat their sex-addicted partners with reminders of how horrible their actions were.  There is fear their hurts will remain unacknowledged.

In recovery, there are many paradoxes.  Part of recovery includes the process of gratitude.  John Gottman, a prolific researcher of relationship dynamics, notes marriages have certain tolerance limits in the ratio of positive to negative strokes that a marriage can endure.  The climate of a marriage is created by these positive strokes and negative strokes, e.g.  criticisms and compliments.   Twelve-step programs advocate a process of amends and affirmations.  I talk with couples about how they unknowingly place bricks on the emotional wall of hurt between them.  Bricks become placed, and walls built, by criticisms aimed at their partner.  Similarly, those bricks can be removed by amends of apology or affirming the spouse.

When a marriage is in the darkest hours of sex addiction impact, the risk is to stay protected and walled-off.  I am asked in the treatment room by addict and spouse alike “how should I act towards my spouse during this difficult time?”  Expressions of gratitude in early stages of marital repair, are very difficult.  Expressing gratitude is not forgiveness nor is it absolution of behaviors.  Feelings need to be expressed.

Those bricks which keep emotional distance active need to be replaced.  I advocate boundaries to build appropriate walls of emotional safety instead. Gratitude is one tool of many needed in the recovery tool belt to address the systemic dynamics of addiction.  Gratitude is a tool that can serve to keep a couple engaged and help facilitate healing and growth in the marriage.  Expressions of gratitude have the potential to shift the healing process from a vision of fault-finding to a vision of healing.  Focus on gratitude leaves less focus for resentment.  This focus has the potential to make three gifts.  Gratitude is a gift that happens in one’s heart first by letting go of resentments, and when expressed, is a gift to their spouse. This ultimately is a gift to the relationship. 

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Miracle of Recovery

Did you ever see the movie “Evan Almighty”?  Evan was tasked with building an ark in modern times because the flood was coming.  He kept praying for patience, but patience never came.  The situations that allowed him to develop patience kept coming, not the skill or attribute of patience.  Recovery is like that.  The people I sit with in early addiction recovery sometimes sit waiting in abstinence of the acting out for recovery to come….waiting for it to arrive.  It takes some time and “program development” to understand that their consistent work, building the muscle of recovery, if you will, over time to live in the life of recovery.

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle."

–  Phillips Brooks

Did you ever see the movie “Evan Almighty”?  Evan was tasked with building an ark in modern times because the flood was coming.  He kept praying for patience, but patience never came.  The situations that allowed him to develop patience kept coming, not the skill or attribute of patience.  Recovery is like that.  The people I sit with in early addiction recovery sometimes sit waiting in abstinence of the acting out for recovery to come….waiting for it to arrive.  It takes some time and “program development” to understand that their consistent work, building the muscle of recovery, if you will, over time to live in the life of recovery.

Recovery is an inside job of small acts developed over time.  Phillips Brooks quote struck a cord with me.  Sometimes in early recovery we hope for easier situations to deal with and wonder when the collateral damage of our addictive actions and acting out will cease.  Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger within to meet the external tasks.  The miracle is not the work…the miracle is you!

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Sex Addiction, Marriage and The Doghouse

A friend sent me this commercial over the holidays.

As I watched, I was struck by the similarities of the couple in the commercial to the couple that struggles with sex addiction as part of their marriage.  There is the hope and anticipation of the marital relationship.  As the wife is presented the vacuum cleaner for her anniversary gift, shock, anger, and the need to do something with the offending spouse who “tarnishes the hope”, ensues.  What wife, who feels the betrayals of sex addiction, can’t relate to the wish to physically place her husband somewhere for punishment?  The commercial shows her marching him into the doghouse. 

As the scene changes the man finds himself among other “offenders”.  Men who have been sentenced to a shameful place, some with no hope of EVER getting out!  Some have gone mad or given up in the process of hope for ever getting it right.  Some leave or are released from the banal place of punishment, and relapse, only to find themselves relegated again.  The cycle ensues…  What sex addict in the initial throws of crisis doesn’t feel misunderstood or justified as highlighted in the commercial with the statement “Every man feels innocent”.  Addicts often feel miffed by the power of their disease or justified in their resentments to support the acting out. 

What man can’t relate to the man in the commercial “with a file for review” who feels judged or even tricked into leading answers? What man can't relate to the man in the commercial judged by a panel of female energy that sits ready to deny freedom and punish with continued sentencing?  What woman can’t relate the state of anger and delirium:  “Wow, I am married to you”!  What “offended spouse” doesn’t wish for the strength of a panel to sit in judgment of their offending spouse, (man or woman) who has felt the sting of the betrayed feelings of sex addiction?  What man who has struggled with sex addiction can’t relate to that feeling of being punished, relegated, or banished in shame for “the offenses”?  What man who struggles with sex addiction feels like they will never get it right in terms of their relationship?

The man in the commercial states "I don't know what I was thinking, I was stupid”.  Addiction is like a dark passenger that takes over actions and judgment. Actions in an addicted state make no sense to the rational mind.  One man did get out.  The icon of proof was sent back to the other men. The key to get out is elusive, shrouded in mystery, to those who are left to try to understand their offenses and the key for getting out of prison.

As a marriage and family therapist with sex addiction credentials I “fantasize” about the commercial of hope, strength, and recovery for couples affected by the disease of sex addiction.  I wish for a commercial that would highlight the path and resources necessary for full recovery from the condition of sex addiction for addicts and their partners.   Perhaps the video would open with a scene of both spouses looking at the replay of their marriage, working through the hard feelings of hurt and betrayal.  There would be a scene highlighting the importance of recovery groups for the process of healing:  Sexaholics Anonymous ( or Sex Addicts Anonymous ( for the addict’s recovery; S-Anon ( or Al-Anon ( spouses.  A scene would play showing Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous ( for appropriate consideration of either party in the marriage and there would definitely be a scene in the commercial offering the hope of Recovering Couples Anonymous ( meetings. The video would include education about addiction processes and the part all family members play in the family struck by addiction.  Yes, I know this is hard to hear for the long-suffering spouse feeling the initial sting of betrayal. Scenes might play from each partner’s families of origin to discover how they ended up in this marriage for clues of predisposition and healing (not blame).  There would be flashes to play the episodes of individual therapy for each spouse, the flashes of scenes to marital therapy with appropriately-credentialed therapists and family therapy if children are in the marriage. 

When one initially discovers sex addiction or comes to terms with their addiction, one need not feel like they can’t escape the hell.  There is a way out.  There is proof of those who have made it out individually and with their marriages intact.  It isn’t easy, but it is possible.  The key need not remain a mystery hidden to covet or wish for in secrecy. One need not go it alone in continued puzzled isolation or with feelings of hopelessness for ever getting it right.  There are fellowships and specially-credentialed therapists ( to help one reach and stay in the light of day!

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There’s an App for THAT?!!!

Last week I attended the IITAP Symposium (  This is the annual conference offered by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.  One of the feature presenters was Rob Weiss, LCSW, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute (  He presented an educational, informative, and interesting session on the ever-increasing technology that can be used for connecting with sexual content and sexual partners – virtually instantaneously.

In a brilliant demonstration to drive his point home, Mr. Weiss connected his iPhone, live, to the LCD projector.  He demonstrated through two different apps, loaded on his iPhone moments before the presentation, how easy it was to connect to the cyber-sex-world for the possibility of immediate human contact. 

The internet has long been known to those seeking anonymous sexual activity.  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 would argue the newest phenomenon in this triple A threat would be to add an “I” on for Instantaneous

Mr. Weiss demonstrated an app that utilized GPS technology  on the phone  to locate available and willing partners identified by dots on his iPhone screen.  One can specify the maximum  circumference distance area that one would like to search from their current location.  In a shocking reveal, there was someone 652 feet from his phone!!  This anonymous person had uploaded a picture and a request for an anonymous sex partner 40 minutes previously!!  There was another identified person approximately 2000 feet away!

Mr. Weiss demonstrated another app recently created for the smart phone market.  This app is an extension product of an application long known on the internet (those old antiquated days) advertising for extramarital affair connection.   He loaded a fictitious profile on the internet site just before the presentation began.  Checking his e-mail 40 minutes after loading his profile and request for a partner online, he had 6 different e-mail hits!

My clinical training for treating chemical addictions taught me that the faster a substance reaches the brain, the more addictive the substance.  The Triple Engine Threat that has long been known to fuel estimates for sex addiction to be between 3-6% of the general population, just got faster and more efficient.   Cybersex has been referred to as the crack cocaine of the internet.  I think we can safely say this next generation of smart phones might be the speedball effect!!

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Sex Addiction, Habits and Winning Recovery

"Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."
– Vince Lombardi

The Packers have another super victory after Super Bowl XLV yesterday.  Vince Lombardi, former coach to Green Bay, has many books written about his great strategies for coaching and his winning attitudes.  Lombardi was fierce to find principles that work.  The small successful strategies applied over time led to a monumental and admired career legacy.

I was struck by his quote: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes habit.”  To me, there is a double entendre.  I thought of addiction.  any addiction is a series of bad habits going in the wrong direction—heading towards the wrong goalpost, if you will. Recovery needs new habits, a collection of good choices, redirected towards the right goalpost.  Initially I read the quote as: once one learns to quit a bad habit or addiction, a successful new habit is achieved. I thought about people I see who win in recovery.  The addict that quits bad habits can turn their strategy around. Bad habits need to cease and good choices need to be aimed in the right direction. Quitting those habits of addiction forms a good habit over time with successful, and winning, outcomes. 

Recovery is a season of collected victories with winning habits and attitudes consistently applied over time.  Successful recovery is not to push out the negative, but to invite the light in.  I thought more about Coach Lombardi’s quote:  "Once you learn to quit, it becomes habit."  Now I read it another way completely.  Once one learns to quit, or becomes a quitter, THAT becomes a habit.  Quitters never win.  Winners whether in the Super Bowl, or in recovery, consistently apply winning principles to move in the right direction and never quit. 

Either way one interprets the late Coach Lombardi, it works.  Small successful acts, with movement in the right direction, consistently over time, win the game.  Congratulations Packers!!

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Sex Addiction and Groundhog Day

What Do Sex Addiction and Groundhog Day Have In Common?

Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell?  Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, is stuck reliving the same day over and over.  At first he is anxious and then becomes agitated with the repetition of the same day, over and over, again.  With the pattern of repetition set, he begins to manipulate situations to his advantage. The cycle escalates to the point where he hedonistically lives like there is no tomorrow, without consequences.  He is relegated to live a pattern that he would prefer not to repeat.

I have heard those who struggle with sex addiction describe how much they can identify with a repetition portrayed in the movie of living the same day, over and over, again.  Sex addicts describe a pattern of living hedonistically without care or concern of the consequences and manipulating situations to their advantage. They describe being stuck in a pattern they can’t escape and don’t understand how to get out of to live differently. 

Phil Connors begins to live differently when he makes a conscious decision to change the habit of his life.  When he consciously makes different choices outside the pattern, his life is not doomed to a cycle he’d prefer not to repeat.  Instead of trying to manipulate situations and the people around him, he learns to become present to their needs and offers service to others based on those needs. Until Phil moves beyond his self-centeredness, learns to be authentic, and live with humility; he stays stuck in a pattern he can’t break.

Similarly, addiction gets set up by a series of faulty patterns unconsciously repeated over and over to the point one can’t escape their own Groundhog Day.  Recovery begins by creating new healthy patterns, consciously. 12-Step meetings for Sex Addiction are where sex addicts can learn to break the patterns that have plagued them for so long.  Sex addicts in recovery recognize their powerlessness over the repetition of their day, and break the cycle by doing differently, one day at a time.  Instead of manipulating those around them, they become present to themselves and those to whom they surround themselves in recovery.  Living free from addiction requires humility. Living in recovery, means living authentically. The flip side of the addictive cycle is a cycle of presence, humility, and accountability. Sex addicts must be accountable to themselves, those they surround themselves with, and to their relationships.  Conscious habits break faulty patterns.

Will you live Groundhog Day again tomorrow? 

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Sex Addiction, the Partner’s Mistrust and Recovery

"To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say."  
– Rene Descartes

The betrayal and discovery of sex addiction in a relationship is a betrayal like no other.  As a CSAT, I sit with people who have felt that very unique betrayal.  Sex addicts are great at hiding and living very compartmentalized lives.  Rare is the sex addict that comes forward to proclaim that they have a problem and need to seek help or treatment.  Once the addiction is discovered, there is a dynamic in the relationship that ensues.  Trust is blown.  The partner feels like the only way to be sure that offending behaviors are arrested is to keep tabs on the offending partner.  In shock they feel if they had not discovered, or happened upon evidence of sorts, then they would have never known.  Continuing to seek the evidence results in what is commonly referred to “pain shopping” in recovery circles.  Pain shopping keeps one stirred up internally and as agitated or “crazy” as the addict is with their addiction. Pain shopping is a straight pipeline to enacting the codependency dynamic in the couple impacted by sex addiction.

I teach spouses and partners of sex addicts that one of their duties of recovery is to stop pain shopping for the addict’s behaviors and to focus on themselves. The fine tuning of their radar that starts from the inside out, rather than looking for the evidence on the outside, to inform within.  If one thinks back really did they know something was amiss in their gut, but couldn’t put their finger on it? Often “No, you don’t understand I had NO IDEA this was going on” is the initial first answer. Upon working through the issues in a way that allows an autopsy of life in active addiction, spouses can begin to recognize there was chaos, tensions, unexplained agitations, that didn’t quite fit the situation. The addict threw out a smokescreen to get the partner off the trail of suspicion. Conflict was often high. They didn’t know WHAT was going on, but often they can now look back and see that the relationship was not right.

Once the addiction is discovered it is an opportunity for recovery. Addicts and partners of addicts MUST both enter into fixing their parts of the broken relationship.  If the addict does start a strong program, one will begin to adopt a transparent lifestyle that results in much less chaos and conflict.  Addicts will begin to act with humility rather than avoid relationships for fear of shame and being found out.  They will be engaged in healthy endeavors that support their care like 12-step groups, therapy, and be accountable to others in their recovery circle.

I advocate betrayed partners begin to use that information gleaned.  I teach partners what recovery truly looks like, for the addict as well as themselves.  I teach betrayed partners to look for those things that give information and wisdom without pain shopping. Pain shopping results in a parent-child marital dynamic.  A parent-child dynamic does not work for any marital relationship and is particularly problematic to the relationship impacted by sex addiction.

A person in recovery acts with humility and kindness.  The addict and the partner in recovery take responsibility for how they contribute to the chaos.  Not only do they apologize or acknowledge mistakes, but they DO things differently to not continue the same mistakes.  I teach the offended partner to sit with their gut. Their gut, their body, their sense of impression knows even if they don’t have the hard evidence.  This gives new meaning to “actions speak louder than words”.

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Am I a Sex Addict?

Often I am asked to speak with physicians and other professionals in the community to help them understand more about sex addiction in their clinical practice. A very quick and useful tool to understand if further evaluation is needed is something referred to as PATHOS.  

Physicians and mental health clinicians who have been trained to quickly screen for chemical dependency issues are aware of the  CAGE  Screening tool. (Have you ever tried to Cut back, Are people Annoyed by your use, Have you ever felt Guilty for your use, etc…)

PATHOS is the parallel screening tool to CAGE for Sex Addiction.

Are You:

Preoccupied – Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?

Ashamed – Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?

Treatment – Have you ever sought therapy for sexual behavior you did not like?

Hurt others – Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?

Out of control – Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?

Sad – When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards? 


If you answered YES to 3 of 6 of these it’s highly likely you have a problem and we strongly recommend that you:

Call 770.908.7391 for a free phone consultation to learn more from a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT).

Additional information on Self Testing.

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…Into the Light


Welcome to my website and blog.  This blog started as a vision.  I am proud to finally make it reality.  Similarly, many who struggle in addiction have a vision. The vision is one they can’t quite realize and make reality for themselves.  This blog is an effort to help others actualize the vision they may have for a life free from addiction, free from the chaos that often accompanies addictive process, and help achieve the vision of recovery.  A sober life begins living with intention (and an admittance of powerlessness).

As a Marriage and Family with chemical addiction credentials, I often help people recover from the chains of their substance addictions.  In recent years as I helped people heal from chemical addictions, I would notice internet pornography, excessive masturbation, or other sexual behaviors creeping in as an attempt to self-soothe. I noticed increased presentation of betrayals felt in the marital relationship with discovery of hidden internet use of pornography, chat rooms and emails or texting of sexual nature.

As a therapist I felt helpless to point people in the direction of similar resources that I had referred people to for years in the struggle with their chemical addictions.  I vowed to change that.  This blog is the beginning of that process towards my vision to create resources, answer questions, and create tools to help individuals, couples, and families heal from sex addiction.  The name for this website came to me on a 7-mile run as I trained for a half marathon.  It was a day of intense heat.  I was alone when I would normally have a partner with me to endure the struggle – similar to those in recovery – the power in the group to help endure and support.  As I climbed the hill, fretting about whether I would make it, I began to let my mind wander.  I tried to focus on anything besides how difficult the task was at hand.  I decided to think about the things I wanted to accomplish for resources to help others heal in the struggle with sex addiction.

As I passed a place I had twisted my ankle on a previous run, I had website names swimming through my head, trying to find just the right site name to carry my ideas, allow others to find me, and find my ideas.  I became aware I needed to pay attention to the pine cones that caused me to trip previously.  But just as popped into my head, something physically HIT my head.  I turned in anger because I was sure that something was thrown at me.

One doesn’t do endurance sports without an occasional mishap from a passerby. Similar to the addict, I looked for something to blame. There was no one or no vehicle nearby.  I saw a pine cone rolling across the sidewalk and I laughed.  I turned around to pick it up.  It was a perfectly shaped pine cone.  I said to myself….”that’s perfect”, meaning the pine cone…and then I thought, “that’s perfect!”  Yes, the NAME of the website I was thinking was PERFECT!  I ran home in excitement knowing I must investigate if that web domain name was available.  I considered it a God-moment.  Those, too, are necessary in recovery.  The moment of insight when you know you are on the right path and what you must do.

Dr. Patrick Carnes wrote Out of The Shadows.  The name for that book was a God-moment for him.  It was a book he knew he must write.  This blog is an effort to take those who struggle with sex addiction and the relationships that they are attached to out of the shadows of shame, denial, and suffering and bring them into the light. Living a life free of shame and addiction means living transparently.  In addiction we hide in shame.  In healing we live transparently in the light.

I trained for a year with Dr. Patrick Carnes and his daughter Dr. Stefanie Carnes, foremost authorities on the subject of sex addiction, learning the clinical wisdom in treatment of sex addiction.  Dr. Patrick  Carnes has written over 200 clinical articles and 25 books on the subject. In my year of training, while procuring my CSAT credentials, and realizing the dearth of resources, I wanted to understand more about how Dr. Patrick Carnes does what he does!  He offered to take 30 people on a year long mentoring journey to teach us his process.  I applied and was accepted into this mentoring program. I joke he has become my addiction!

This blog and this website begin the reality for creating the resources I envision.  This website is the first step in bringing the ideas in my head, from the depths of internal vision, and out into the light (in the hopes of helping others heal).

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Is Sex Addiction Real?

Since the news reports that surfaced regarding Tiger Woods and speculations about his life, as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), I am often asked:  “Is there really such a thing as sex addiction?”  Yes, in my training and in my observation, there is such a thing as sex addiction.   As a CSAT I sit with many people whose lives have been negatively impacted by unwanted, continued behaviors that they feel powerless to stop with regards to pornography, internet pornography, and/or sexual behaviors.  Their lives, their marriages, their relationships, and the productivity of their lives are impacted in severe and dramatic ways as a result of their sexual-seeking behaviors.

Sex addiction is not about sex.  Sexually directed behaviors become the vehicle to avoid one’s pain in the way an alcoholic might use alcohol to check out from the pain of daily life.  Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder, a relationship disorder, and a family of origin disorder that manifests itself in sexual acting out.

There is a criteria for screening whether or not one has a sex addiction.  To meet the criteria one must struggle with 3 or more of the following:

  1. Loss of control.  There is clear behavior that one spends more time doing what they intend to be doing. 
  2. Compulsive behavior.  There is a pattern of out-of-control behavior over time. 
  3. Efforts to stop.  One has made repeated attempts to stop the problematic behavior and these attempts to stop the behaviors fail.
  4. Loss of time. Significant amounts of time are lost engaging in the problematic behavior or recovering from the behavior.
  5. Preoccupation. One spends time obsessing about the behavior or obsessing because of the behavior.
  6. Inability to fulfill obligations.  The behavior gets in the way or takes priority over work, school, family, friends or other obligations.
  7. Continuation despite negative consequences. The behavior continues even though one knows they are having problems in social, legal, financial or physical realms of their life.
  8. Escalation.  There is a need to make behavior more intense, more frequent, or more risky.
  9. Losses. One has experienced losses, or limiting, of valued parts of life in such things as hobbies, family, relationships, and work.
  10. Withdrawal.  Stopping the behaviors causes considerable distress, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, or physical discomfort.

Source:  Patrick Carnes, PhD,  Don't Call It Love pp 11-12