Blog Entries

Sex Addiction and Addiction Interaction

Remember the carnival game “Whac-a-Mole”?  Moles would pop up through a hole and the object of the game was to force individual moles back into their hole with a mallet.  The goal is to make them disappear as fast as possible when they rear their heads.  Addiction interaction is like the “Whac-a-mole” game. 

I had my chemical addiction credentials for over a decade before receiving my Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) credentials.  For years I noticed the phenomenon as one would get sober from alcohol or drugs, other behaviors might begin to creep in as problematic or new focus in an unhealthy, unbalanced, way. I would see clients cease drinking and begin shopping to excess, or beyond one’s means. Men would stop drinking, but with new renewed clarity and focus, begin work to excess. This work drive would become a detriment to family obligations and life balance.  Even more, I would notice within marriages where addiction had been present, one spouse would shop to excess and the other spouse would feel like they were obligated to keep up with the debt forcing unhealthy work escalations in response.

  Sometimes comfort eating would replace the numbing of alcohol.  Often with sex addiction sobriety, we see this interaction begin to take place.  Often, increased food or sugar consumption begins in an attempt to mood regulate.  Food companies have long known about the “trifecta sweet spot” of the right amounts of sugar, salt, and fat to release optimal dopamine hits in the brain. 

In August 2012 the American for Society for Addiction Medicine released a new document defining addiction from a 4-year study involving more than 80 experts in neurology and addiction. They defined addictions as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions most notably an imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry.  This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.  The new definition leaves no doubt that all addictions whether to alcohol, heroin or sex are fundamentally the same. 

So what does this mean for the addict and treatment?  Sometimes people have more than one active addiction.  Sometimes they stop one behavior and another problematic behavior does surface in a compulsive way.  Effective treatment must include assessment and treatment for all active addictions and one must be vigilant for other addictive risks.

CSAT’s are uniquely trained to understand, assess and treat the addiction interaction.  Addiction interaction is like switching tracks, so to speak, to continue to avoid uncomfortable feelings.   These addictive risks include, alcohol, drugs, spending, debting, sex, shopping, e-trading, video gaming, gambling, impression management, even problematic feelings, and codependent relationships. 

Blog Entries

Where in the World is Matt Lauer: Some Thoughts for Addiction and Recovery

"Fortune favors the bold."  – Virgil

This past Thursday on NBC’s The Today Show Matt Lauer visited the Jungfrau Observatory in the Swiss Alps.  In this segment he met up with legendary climbers who reach great heights.  Specifically he focused on three climbers and their motivations, techniques, and focus used to climb the iconic north face of the Eiger Peak (elevation 13,000 feet).  All three men had something to say that reminded me of  the dangers of sex addiction and the sometimes unimaginable quest in reaching the summit of successful recovery. 

First, the story of John Harlen, the first American to climb the steep and craggy north face of the Eiger tells the tale of obsession, motivation, and the quest for redemption.  Four years after solidifying his place in history as the first American to climb the north face, Harlen died taking a more direct route up in 1962.  Sex addiction is a diesease of incresing escalating behaviors.  Some may die in the quest for even greater new heights.  

Forty years later his son, John Harlen III, climbed the same route that his father had perished on.  He said he had to do it and felt it was cathartic to get to know his father.  I am not sure what exactly motivated his son, but I know often in families we consciously or unconsciously follow in family footsteps to understand the things that are not, or cannot be, talked about.  I surmise it gave him a chance, in not physically knowing his father, to know him a little better to literally climb his path.  I wonder if there was an element of re-righting what could not be done in the previous generation – a kind of healing that allows one to close “the undone” in families.

Next, Ueli Steck, was interviewed.  Steck is best known for his speed record in reaching the summit of the Eiger.  Usually a climb that takes greater than three days on average, Steck made the summit in a staggering 2 hours and 47 minutes!  When asked “how did you do this?”  Steck replied “ I didn’t ‘just do it’, it was training, lots and lots of training! “  Steck went on to say if he doesn’t train well and do the tasks he needs to do well, he dies.  And so it is with sex addiction.  If addicts do not train in new tasks of recovery, they are at risk for dying if the disease progresses unchecked. 

Lastly, Dean Potter, an American on the climbing scene, said in his interview “I love the fact I change the worst possible thing to the best possible thing:  dying to flying!”  Well that caught my attention!  As the scene showed him jumping off the mountain in his flying suit, I thought of those who struggle in the diseases of addiction.  Addiction-to-recovery is a dying-to-flying tale.  The tools of recovery offer the addict the opportunity to right a hopeless path.  

All three stories have elements of warning and success in reaching great heights in recovery.  Obsession motivates, obsession gives us quest, but some may die in their quest. Some may die in the addiction if they don’t get their training rituals right in recovery. That training for technique must be the new obsession, if one is to truly be successful.  I have heard Dr. Patrick Carnes say addicts need to do something in the practice in their recovery at least 45 minutes every day.  The men in my early recovery group know if they apply themselves to the techniques of recovery laid out for them, they get better.  They begin to trust successful training begets more success in their recovery and life.   Many I sit with in active addiction process are seeking the next height of escalated dopamine hits from a brain science perspective.  This height is their mountain. Some men I have sat with in their sex addiction have put themselves at great risk for deadly disease, physical danger, or other severe consequences of acting out.  Feelings of worthlessness keep one stuck in the throes of the disease.  If one can enter recovery by taking the plunge, one can create a life of soaring unimaginable heights that Dean Potter demonstrated:  Dying to flying!  That is the true story of addiction and successful recovery.   If you struggle, I hope you trust taking the plunge and creating new positive rituals will bring you to new unimaginable heights.


If you care to watch the segment:


Blog Entries

The Big Year – An Allegory Tale of Sex Addiction in Relationships?

Spoiler Alert:  This post is about the recent movie The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. If you want to see it, reading further could ruin it for you.  I thought it was a pretty good movie, however, our American viewing audiences might not agree.  This movie does not have copious amounts of violence, sex, or action other than obsessed men on the hunt in competition to view the most species of birds in one year.  Three disparate men, each facing unique personal and relational challenges, try to outdo each other in the ultimate bird-watching competition.

I watched the plot unfold on how each man’s obsession affected their love lives, familial relationships, and their relationships with each other.  I found my mind wandering to the parallels of those I treat with sex addiction.  Three men obsessed, hunting, searching and driven.  Each has a back story which shapes their quest.  Steve Martin’s character is driven, achieved success, but has not quelled the need to continue to search for fulfillment and drive.  Owen Wilson’s character has reached the title once in his life, but can’t let another man beat him this year.  The El Nino winds have made weather patterns hold promise that he could beat his own record!  He can’t resist the temptation to better his own ultimate peak experience. He fails to make good on promises to his wife and the infertility clinic schedule for the bird viewing obsession.  Jack Black’s character hopes to escape his doldrums of 9-5 existence. He is stuck in the rut of discordant family relations.  He has an unsupportive father who has not realized his own life’s potential.  Jack longs for a life of passion in any form.   The disrespecting father is void of his own life’s passion and ridicules his son for these crazy efforts. The big year could be Jack Black’s big break at the chance to heal all his psychic ills.

Sex addiction is a disease that hides.  Many who struggle with the addiction report a feeling of doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I watched the movie with interest as conquest, compulsion, and secrecy affected the characters' family relationships and their relationships with one another.  Each man in competition with the other tries to hide their true motives from one another.  This act of secrecy shapes their relationships, as well.  We watch secrecy shape their relations with one another and their primary relationships. And so it is with sex addiction.

Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder and leads to a life out of balance.  Steve Martin, restless for more achievement, is transparent to his wife about his goals for The Big Year.  His obsession drives him, yet, his wife can support him because she recognizes the importance to him.  She encourages him to follow his dreams.  His corporate staff is frustrated for the inability to reach him through this obsession.  Steve Martin also appears nurturing to Jack Black’s character, yet hides his true motives from him.  Jack Black, endearing himself to this father figure on his journey, is honest about his intentions for The Big Year and feels betrayed when he finds out Steve Martin has hid the truth about his intentions for The Big Year. Owen Wilson promises to meet his wife and her needs of a baby which involves scheduled infertility treatments.  The obsession for the call of the birds is greater than the biologic clock that ticks away within his wife.  Owen and his wife are single-minded and self-obsessed. They ignore, or fail to recognize, what the passion is within one another. They live in parallel focused environments frustrated for the other’s inability to meet their needs.  A similar dynamic often exists in the sex-addicted marriage. 

Sex addiction is a family of origin disorder.  Jack Black lives in a home enmeshed with his mother and a father who fails to recognize either his wife’s or his son’s emotional processes, let alone his own!  The mom overextends herself to her son’s wishes almost to make up for her husband’s criticism and disengagement. 

Obsession kills relationships.  As Terry Real presented at the recent SASH conference I attended, “The ‘cure’ for addiction and emotional problems is emotional connection. We hide our true selves in addiction fearing we would be unlovable. Intimacy (into-me-you-see intimacy) is the fix for addiction.  Steve Martin, supported in understanding, comes to understand what his obsession is costing him as his first grandchild is born.  He realizes the obsession is keeping him from the ones he loves.  Jack Black’s father meets an-end-of-life-health crisis head on.  Faced with his immortality, the crisis wakes him up to the importance of life.  In this crisis he and his son begin to learn caring and a shared intimacy.  He even goes out with his son on his quest for the elusive Great Gray Owl.  Jack Black in his obsession, but feeling cared for, realizes he neglected to care for his ailing father.  He panics thinking his father might have a heart attack and circles back to find him- a brilliant metaphor.  Not only does he find his father, but he finds his father has found the elusive thing that he seeks – the Great Gray Owl.  Intimacy is created over time by shared experiences.

In the end, Jack Black healed with his dad’s love and respect, is freed up to be truly intimate with others in his life.  His opportunity for love, previously elusive, appears and he is ready to take it. Owen Wilson misses the chance to meet the need of his wife one more time.  She can no longer endure the rejection and they both cannot turn off their respective obsessions or resentments for each other.  Steve Martin and Jack Black, feeling healed in their life and relationships, hope that Owen Wilson can live with the choices he makes and the consequences of his actions.

I sat with a man recently who attempted to reach his father his whole life.  When all was revealed about this father’s obsession and addiction, the father said to his son I do not want to give up what I am doing.  It is a painful realization when one knows they are picked over for the addiction.  Some people choose to remain isolated and die “in their disease”.  Some realize what is important. Some choose the hard work of intimacy and connection.  Steve Martin and Jack Black demonstrated the rewards of a connected life with the decision to live consciously and it was heartwarming.