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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. 

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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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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

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Sex Addiction Creates Rough Seas in a Marriage – SOS! May Day!

On my visit to San Diego, while attending the SASH conference, I took some time to be a tourist when the conference ended.  My husband had a meeting at the same time close by so we made a rendezvous to enjoy some outdoor activities in the area.  My wish for outdoor activities included cycling and sea lion watching.  My husband was up for sea lions, but preferred to add ocean kayaking to the list of fun.  With limited time we compromised by deciding on ocean kayaking that would include a trip by a peninsula that sea lions were known to inhabit. 

This excursion was my first ocean kayaking experience.  My husband has a passion for the water.  While I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean, I am more comfortable on land, but I do love the sea from the distance (or on a fast speed boat!).  We began our trek in the kayak out towards the sea lions off in the distance.  As we ventured out, the Pacific Ocean was quite calm.  The stillness of the water was a real selling point for me to agree to this activity.  I am not the strongest of swimmers and have a healthy fear of water.   After a while my anxious feelings began to settle.  It was even becoming quite enjoyable as we approached the sea lion area.  We were in an alcove of limestone cliffs but were warned not to get close to the shore in that area as the ocean could carry us in pretty quickly and possibly slam us into the rocks.  Occasionally a few swells would come along that would serve to gently rock our kayak in a bobbing fashion.  All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere appeared a guide which cautioned us that some large swells were coming in and to get prepared!  Oh my, this was not in the plan!  I turned to see that I could no longer see the horizon and could only see what felt like a wall of water coming towards us!  We knew that we had to face into the direction of the swell to keep from being toppled.  Thankfully we were able to maneuver properly.  Along came another large swell that prevented us from seeing the horizon. It was so tall if felt as if it would break over top of us.  For me, this was very frightening.  I didn’t panic, but I found myself going through a protocol of water safety “what if” scenarios in my head.  A third very large swell came along.  I thought my husband would better know how to take care of himself than I would if we toppled, but I am sure I could make it, but there was a lot of trepidation!

Being out in San Diego for my professional conference I thought of the couple faced with sex addiction and the parallel to this excursion.  Often we enter marriage with the idea that it will be smooth sailing.  Rough seas are a possibility but they remain out of our minds.  The metaphor of us in the kayak is we are in this together, like it or not, and we are two different people with different skillsets!  When sex addiction is revealed in a marriage, it can produce a panic similar to the large swells we encountered out there on the Pacific Ocean.  At that moment, one cannot see anything except the crisis at hand the way we could only see the wall of water.  It is large.  It is ominous.  It feels like one might not live through it.  There are waves of it coming and waves of it passing, seemingly without warning, and rhyme or reason.  One feels an eminent danger. There is a need to find a way from being toppled without the ability to see the horizon.  Couples faced with sex addiction are forced to come up with safety plans for safe passage through deep, murky and dangerous-feeling waters.  Couples need a plan, a set of safety regulations, and a set of skills to guide them to safety.

A CSAT therapist specifically trained in Sex Addiction can be a helpful guide to teach skills and navigate to safe waters in marriages that find themselves in the swells they feel like they might not survive.

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The Two D-Day’s of Sex Addiction

"To do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in, and scramble through as well as we can." 
– Sydney Smith

D-Day.  The mention of D-Day usually conjures up the invasion of the Normandy Beaches on June 6, 1944, bloody battles that ensued, and ultimately liberation from German occupation during World War II.  In Sex Addiction treatment with addicts, spouses, and couples that I sit with, we sometimes refer to two D-days.  The first D-Day we refer to as “Discovery Day”.  The second D-Day is “Disclosure Day”.

The Discovery Day, in my mind parallels the initial invasion. The D-Day invasion in 1944 involved 5,000 ships carrying men and vehicles across the English Channel, 800 planes that dropped over 13,000 men in parachutes, and 300 planes that dropped bombs on German troops that defended the beaches.  The result was 100,000 Allied troops made it to shore that day.   I wish no disrespect to  those who physically endured the battle of WW II, but in my mind of sitting with couples in sex addiction, there is a metaphorical parallel.  Can you imagine the power of this assault?  When discovery happens for the spouse there is an invasion.  Life, as they knew or thought it to be, changes in an instant.  PTSD from the trauma continues as they lose so much in the transaction of the discovery invasion.  The spouse of the addict loses their way, their orientation to life, and the things they thought that were, aren’t.  They lose the feelings of specialness to their spouse that was felt in the marriage.  It is a betrayal like no other.  For the addict there are casualties, as well.  The addict is often caught by a surprise attack.  They are left to defend the territory of addiction.  They are lost in a world of disorientation from the occupation of the addiction and the shame of being discovered.  It is a difficult labyrinth for both sides of the war at this point.  I have both spouses and addicts contact me in the aftermath of discovery.  I can assure you it is painful and the wounds are severe for both soldiers in the opposing armies.

Scholars of WWII note that D-Day probably referred to Decision Day.  The success of the campaign of 1944 involved pushing the front of the occupied forces back after the initial invasion. The Second D-Day of sex addiction is Disclosure Day.  Disclosure Day has the possibility of the same purpose.   The success in sex addiction treatment also involves pushing the front of addiction back so the occupation of addiction no longer continues.  Disclosure has the potential to create liberation for the addict and possibly the relationship.  It certainly helps to begin pushing the fronts of addiction back so that freedom from living in the occupation of addiction can begin.  Disclosure helps the addict begin to reduce shame, shed long-held secrets which feed a shame spiral that feed addiction, and liberate one to a life of living transparently.  For the spouse, disclosure helps them understand what has been long-held in secret behind the front.  They can decide if they wish to work on the relationship after they hear what the addict has had to say.  Disclosure can lay the foundation for a new foundation of intimacy in a relationship.

Disclosure is not for everyone, but it is highly recommended for most treatment plans. Disclosure is not recommended until sobriety is established to give the addict a chance to gain his bearings, develop a supportive network to deal with shame, and give a full account of acting out from a sober mind.   Disclosure is not just coming clean in confession after the discovery.  Disclosure must be planned and executed as carefully as the Normandy Invasion was planned for.  To haphazardly just rush in could be disastrous for the campaign of winning the war.  Disclosure should be done purposefully with the skill of trained therapists with experience of how to structure disclosure for the maximum chance of success.  Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT’s) are uniquely trained in facilitating disclosure processes. 

Wars rage on when both sides fight for an impossible ideal.  Sometimes when one retreats from an ideal it gives the opposing army a chance to re-evaluate.  For healing with couples and sex addiction treatment, we have to arrest the addiction first.  Everyone must look at how they engaged in the battle previous to discovery.  Addiction has raged for a variety of reasons that must be addressed. Couples need to be helped with how to put down their weapons.   They need help to assess  their wounds, and evaluate the ideals that are worth fighting for.  They need to negotiate openly post-disclosure rather than be on the attack.  Recovery is a process of new skills, new boundaries on the frontier, and new ways of empowering oneself.  It can be very liberating for all.

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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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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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…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).