Why is Recovering From Sex Addiction so incredibly difficult?
When someone has been compulsively self-medicating and self-soothing with pornography or some other form of sexual “acting out”, the brain becomes accustomed to this interaction. Like with any other drug, sex addiction becomes the primary coping mechanism for emotional pain, anxiety, depression, and sadness, and even an elixir that enhances the good things in life.
Neurons that fire together, wire together, and so the brain becomes increasingly dependent upon sexual behaviors to alter brain chemistry. Hundreds of thousands of minutes of getting a “hit” from sexually acting out can wire the brain to respond to sexual cues very effectively. With sex addiction, an ever-increasing frequency and intensity of stimulus can create a high tolerance, or NEED for more compulsive behavior.
Like an end stage alcoholic who can’t get out of bed and ponder his/her prospects for the day without a liter of vodka, the sex addict may need incredible amounts of stimulation to feel “normal.” Unfortunately this new “normal” can desensitize the addict from what would otherwise be wonderful and truly fulfilling intimacy with others. What might seem like a healthy, wonderful sex life, in perhaps a loving committed relationship, likely does not move the arousal needle in the slightest, for the addict. This desensitization, or sex “blindness” can certainly cause shame, and a feeling of being truly defective in the addict.
How does the sex addict acclimate to a more “normal” , or less harmful version of a “sex life” that does not include compulsion?
This is not a small undertaking. Perhaps they cannot resolve the idea of a sex life that includes feelings of love and connection, with the behavior that they have made exclusive use of for purposes of self-medication?
Like a food addict (compulsive overeater), they must develop an entirely new relationship with a very natural human process that is meant to nourish them, but has been mercilessly is killing their spirit, and everything that they love and respect.
Fortunately, there has been a significant amount of research and practical, clinical work in successfully treating sex addicts.
There is a protocol, or a variation of protocols which always seem to include:
Greater self awareness
Better coping skills
Developing a healthy and safe connection with other human beings
A plan or conception for how they would ideally like a healthy sexuality to develop in their life.
An initially less intense, but far more fulfilling sex life.
As you can begin to appreciate, there is an incredible amount of work that can, and must be done in these areas to truly break free from the compulsion.
Of course simply becoming “more mindful” will not be enough, although yes, having the zen like approach of a Jedi Knight will help them along the way.
“Simply try harder.” Nope. It just doesn’t work that way.
There is instead: do it differently, using the wisdom of the collective.
There is: become accountable and receive help.
There is a recognition that this compulsion lives in the mind and must be addressed there as well.
In receiving assistance, the addict will receive what his/her soul has been truly lacking: intimacy and connection.
The goal is not ridding the self of something, but instead it is to gain connection, which better nourishes the spirit, and as a byproduct, creates healthy, fulfilling sexuality.
In the beginning, new positive coping methods will feel painful and counterintuitive; however they will beget changed thinking.
And changed thinking will make healthy behavior that much easier.
This metamorphosis does not take place in a vacuum.
If doing “just this one thing” differently would remove them from a torturous existence awash in the shame cycle, they would have already done that one thing already!
There is no quick fix, because it is not a problem that was constructed over night with little effort.
This is a “Rio grande meet grand canyon problem.”
Not an “oops, I spilled some catchup on my shirt, problem.”
It truly takes village and a lot of effort to rescue the entrenched sex addict.
Volumes could be written on the myriad of ways that addicts become more self aware, more connected and attuned to others, and are better able to cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life hurls at them.
Very often relapse occurs, and the addiction’s engine of shame restarts, hampering recovery once again. This is to say that any protocol for treating sexual addiction must consider relapse as a fundamental driver for recovery.
From an internal family system, or trauma-informed perspective, “someone” within the addict, must come to the helm and develop into that stable, loving care-giver that they can rely upon. Addicts need imperfect people with more success and love to give then they have, to model what sobriety can look like for them.
What get’s people sober from sex addiction?
The answer is not an either/or proposition. It is a “yes, and…”
If addiction might be seen, at its core as maladaptive coping stemming from an intimacy disorder, 12 step recovery and support are indeed a medicine that is very difficult to beat.
Therapy with a certified sex addiction therapist, or at the very least a trauma informed therapist who is well versed in addiction can be invaluable.
EMDR therapy, and/or IFS therapists can begin to process the root causes of addiction.
Rigorously honest, desperately open-minded, and willingly committed self care and acceptance, performed one day at a time, on a psychological, spiritual, and physical plain, is the path to happy destiny.
A life free from shame and compulsion is available to all who not only want it and need it, but those who accept it, claim it, and DO IT.