Blog Entries

What Can the Tour de France Teach Us About Recovery?

"Habit is stronger than reason."– George Santayana

Each year I love to follow the grueling Tour de France (TDF) cycling race.  Besides watching what, in my mind, is the toughest sport with the fittest athletes in the most trying conditions, the race also serves as travelogue for a very beautiful and diverse country.  As I watch this year I couldn’t help but notice the parallel process between the endurance race and the enduring road of recovery.

Some of the many parallel thoughts I observe:


Surround yourself with a strong team.

While there can only be one winner of the race, the winner does not win the race alone!  To the outside observer it looks like it could be a single rider competing for that yellow jersey.  Each TDF team is composed of 10 members that support one another and compete with an overall goal and strategy.  Recovery is not a solo event.  Similarly you are riding for yourself, but those with strong recovery ride with a strong team of peer support surrounding them.  Riding in the peleton can be stressful. When one has a strong team of support surrounding them, anxiety is reduced and safety is increased.

Follow a program and practice daily.

Being the 21-day approximately 3000-mile race that it is, one just doesn’t go out and ride it. Cyclists are riding exhausting 8-hour days. One gains strength to complete the event with consistent effort over time.  Repeated habits build skill that become autonomic responses with strong endurance.  There are many skills to master with varied terrain.  Life is long, varied, and arduous.  A life of recovery is gained by replacing the bad habits of addiction with new habits of recovery learned in a program or 12-step fellowship.  Consistent practice creates seamless habits that allow success.  Successful cyclists and successful people in recovery know the drill, study the terrain, and use the skills they spend time cultivating in the heightened pace of the (rat) race.  Rest days are important.  Cyclists get a rest day from the heavy fast pace once per week over the 21 days of racing.  That, however, does not mean they do not cycle to stay loose.  On rest days TDF racers spend 1-2 hours per rest day on the bike!  Similarly, successful recovery includes doing something for recovery every day.  In recovery one needs respite from stress, but we practice recovery every day.

If you fall, it is important to get up and continue the ride.

Cycling is a dangerous sport.   There are many trials and tribulations along the route.  This year many of the top contenders had very bad wrecks in the early days of the race.  If one hasn’t broken a bone, one can continue to ride.  Many get up battered, bruised and bandaged, but then continue on towards their goal.  Paulo Coehlo noted in his book The Alchemist: It does not matter if you fall, but what truly matters if you fall down 7 times, be sure to get up 8!  Successful recovery will have moments of falter.  Get back up, dust yourself off, and get back to the basic drills that you learned that keep you safe.  Know, observe, and accept your limits, but don’t stop training.

Enjoy the ride

As in difficult rides and a lifetime of recovery, don’t forget to stay present and enjoy the journey.  No matter how hard it is, look around.  Breathe deep. Stay focused. Enjoy the scenery. Life is a matter of perspective.  Have gratitude for the opportunity to be on the ride.

Blog Entries

Beginning Couples Recovery in Sex Addiction Recovery

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

 Couples recovery is difficult in the aftermath of sexual betrayal.  The repair process can be a long and winding road.   Trust is blown in the marriage impacted by addiction. Fear is at an all time high on the part of both parties. What a betrayed spouse thought was about their marriage, isn’t.   Initially repair feels like an insurmountable mountain to climb.  Anger, rage, fear and feelings of grief on the part of the betrayed spouse run high. For the addict’s part, initially, they feel a whole lot of fear and shame. The betrayed spouse tries to get at the truth and is approaching someone who has been hiding the truth of a somewhat secret and hidden life, sometimes for years. The tools to right the sinking ship are lacking in the beginning days.

The ability to live honestly, truthfully, and with integrity is necessary.  How do you get there from here?

Boundaries are a key element to the repair process.  Betrayed spouses are traumatized by their findings.  They have no reason to trust.  In early repair it is helpful to begin a recovery program.  Couples that do best in the long-run engage in a process of repair that would include individual therapy, group therapy, and a 12-step program, for each person.  Therapy is best delivered by therapists uniquely trained with sex addiction credentials (CSAT’s)  Couples therapy might be contraindicated as a main treatment modality in the very early stages.  Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder.  Individuals need core skills initially.  If repair focus is on the couple in the very beginning, it could serve to escalate behaviors when individuals do not have key skills to operate individually and keep themselves physically and psychically safe. 

You know the saying “fences make good neighbors”?  That is true of boundaries in the marital repair process.  Boundaries are fences that one erects to create safety so that paradoxically partners can move towards each other.  The betrayed spouse has learned there has been a lot that has been hidden.  An addict entering recovery will develop a plan of safety with their program and sponsor.  Eventually, it would be helpful for the addict to begin to communicate what they are doing in early recovery as part of their program. Additionally the betrayed spouse will create their boundaries to help facilitate their own “rules of continued engagement” for safety.  An example would be from the addict side of things:  I have severed all relations with former affair partners, I commit to doing 90 meetings in 90 days, I agree to meet with my sponsor weekly, I make two phone calls to program peers to check in daily.  In communicating this to their betrayed spouse, they are in essence communicating what it is their recovery program and what a contract to sobriety looks like.  From the betrayed spouse side of the house boundaries might be to request non-contact with affair partners, no pornography in the house, or require a test for sexually transmitted diseases. They too can communicate things they are willing to do for their own support programs as well.  My experience is early on, depending on the spouse, being part of a 12-step fellowship can be too overwhelming and sometimes further traumatizing.  I encourage people to not “go it alone” but get plugged in to therapy or a supportive community as soon as possible.   These suggestions are only meant to be examples.  Depending on the acting out behaviors, one’s own need for safety, and the input of a recovery team, each person’s initial boundary plan and boundary needs will look differently.

As clinicians we do not recommend spouses police their addict spouses behaviors, but they can only trust what they do see.  If they see them working the program as promised, it can be huge for trust building behaviors.  I often say you can’t trust what you don’t see, but you can begin trusting by what you do see.  Do you see your partner (addict or spouse alike) follow through on their actions promised?  (I am not suggesting a disregard suspicious behavior. Policing and obsession of an addict’s behaviors are very different from holding accountability and maintaining safety.)

In early recovery there are a lot of emotions that run high.  The paradox is there is much to be said, but in the raw emotional form, it cannot be heard.  Therapists, sponsors, treatment group peers and 12-step peers (for spouses and addicts alike) can be great initial sounding boards to begin to package “data” and emotions that need to be heard.  Repair happens when spouses can step into one another’s pain appropriately and empathize with their partner.  It is a tall order very early on.

Honesty, heartfelt meaningful communication, and struggle in the human condition with a commitment to a process to strive for the best with others can be very healing.  It is a risky proposition, but relationships of true connection, with struggle, to be open with others – warts and all, are the most meaningful things that life really has to offer. It can feel risky and vulnerable.  Treatment groups and 12-step meetings are a safe place to begin that process before taking it back to our primary relationships. 

Words need to be made into consistent action for trust to be regained. Connection, intimacy, and fidelity to a healing process (with love) really can conquer all. 

Blog Entries

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.

Blog Entries

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!  

Blog Entries

Mastery of Fear and Finding Balance in Recovery

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

– Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi

Do you remember that first time you tried to ride a two-wheel bike?  Do you remember feelings of fear or excitement?  Do you remember being determined or feeling relegated to defeat before even getting the courage to lift your feet from the ground?  As a cyclist I love the feeling of free-wheeling freedom on my bike, but it wasn’t always that way!  I recently taught my daughter to ride her two-wheel bike and I was reminded of how much trust, skill, and the ability to work through fear was involved in gaining the free-wheeling feeling I love so much.

As I taught my daughter to ride her bike, I thought of the parallels of cycling to successful recovery.  First, do you know where you are headed?  Are you aiming for a vision of successful navigation through fear?  Or are you focused on the fear of the task at hand?  One of my favorite books lately is The Art of Racing in the Rain about a race car driver on the Formula One Circuit.  I thought the metaphor in that book was a brilliant metaphor for recovery, cycling, and life in general.  Danny, the character in the book, was a successful racer and a successful navigator in life’s challenges for the simple thought of:  Our focus determines our future.  Similarly, on the bike or in recovery, if we are focused on fear we are not focused on success.  Danny noticed many racers crashed because they focused on “not hitting the wall” rather than the focus to get around the curve safely. Every racer, cyclist and person in recovery has the ability to know they have the skills to keep themselves safe.  Each time I pushed on the bike teaching my daughter, we would look at where her focus was.  Was she focusing on the fear of falling or the fact she can ride and enjoy herself?

As I sit with clients in early recovery I notice many of these same parallels of how one navigates through the fears of letting go of addiction and gaining a mastery of skills necessary for recovery.   It is a big moment indeed when one is about to leave what they know, even if the chains of addiction are “the hell that they know”.  Often one might feel the hell one knows is often better than the hell one doesn’t know.  There is necessity to trust and let go just as one has to lift one’s feet off the ground to place them on the pedals of the bike.  As on the bike, one needs to begin to find a new balance.  I remind my clients to look at their focus in early recovery as I reminded my daughter to focus on successfully riding the bike.  I ask my clients are you focusing on not using?  Or are you focusing on gaining the skills that support the balance of recovery.  In treatment we are building skills of successful recovery. 

One is scared to give up the addiction because it has helped them cope.  As a cyclist one has to know how to ride on different terrains and under different conditions. Successful cyclists know how to keep themselves safe from crashing.   So it is in recovery, as well.  Life throws us many curves, mountains to climb, downhills and slippery wet pavements.  People who maintain sobriety glean the skills necessary to avoid the crash of relapse. 

Soren Kierkegaard , Danish religious philosopher, wrote about “the leap of faith”.  He noticed independence is born of interdependence in that moment a mother teaches her child to walk.  The child doesn’t have the skills to master walking as it begins its first steps, but the gaze of the child is focused on the mother and the mother encourages the belief to the child they can take that next step.  So, too, in successful recovery we build an environment to support recovery.  12-step groups, treatment groups, and therapy offer environments to build skills.  They allow us to meet the people who can believe in us when we don’t even belief we can do it ourselves.  Independence born of interdependence.

I believed my daughter could ride her bike even before she could believe she could.  Her trust, focus, and interdependence on me to hold her up until she could find her own balance was key to her successful mastery of the task at hand.  My clients come to me to see” the gaze” and a belief that “You can do this!” and learn skills to avoid the crash of relapse.  I recommend 12-step groups to further widen their support and belief networks.  I offer treatment groups which are akin to cycling clinics to handle the climbs and hairpin turns of life.  We focus on the vision of recovery because I do believe focus does determine our future.  I love helping others find the free-wheeling freedom from a life of addiction and keeping themselves safe for the journey of life.

Blog Entries

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.