Archive for August, 2017

The Joy of Sexual Recovery (Part I)

August 27th, 2017

THE JOY OF SEXual Recovery (re-issued from 2010)

Long-term sexual recovery is quite different than early recovery. At the beginning stages recovery focuses on stopping self-destructive, out-of-control behaviors while long-term recovery welcomes new, life-affirming experiences. Early recovery requires the acknowledgment and recognition of a dangerous problem while long-term recovery can be a time of expansion and resourcefulness. Early recovery sifts through the wreckage of the past while long-term recovery makes room for the exploration of the limitless possibilities for the future.

Although it’s crucial to learn how to stay away from depleting and sometimes self-destructive behaviors of the past, there seems to be a lack of information, support and research for those who have been sexually sober for many years. This two-part article takes a look at this growing population through the lens of coaching, Somatic Experiencing and 12step wisdom—a journey of those who have crossed the threshold beyond early recovery and entered into this uncharted territory.

In recent years there has been a paradigm shift in the healing professions from focusing on what’s going wrong toward what’s going right. Mental health professionals no longer limit their research and clinical work to psychopathology or deficits—positive psychologists led by Martin Seligman, PhD at the University of Pennsylvania now study What Makes Life Worth Living. Time magazine even coined this brand-new field of study The Science of Happiness.

I believe that it’s essential for those in long-term sexual recovery to take a closer look at what’s going right. Because the tone of the 12step rooms in sexual recovery (i.e. SAA, SLAA, SCA, SA, SRA) often follows the disease model of addiction, there becomes a focus on the so-called illness and what’s wrong. Sexual recovery fellowships have smaller participants than more-established groups like AA resulting in less old-timers in the rooms. As a result, sharing often focuses on the trials and tribulations of stopping behaviors rather than building more capacity for healthier patterns of sex and intimacy. Taking the lead from positive psychology, I’m curious what would happen if more shares focused on joy, gratitude, self-compassion and forgiveness.

Another fundamental difference exists between process addictions (i.e. sex, food and money) and chemical addictions because sex, food and money remain an ongoing part of one’s life. Long-term sexual recovery focuses on integrating sex and intimacy as a healthy element, and integration requires a self-exploration of what this means to the individual. The vision that I hold for myself, my clients and my sponsees focuses on living life to its fullest by creating greater capacity for all that life brings our way without a collapse back into old patterns of acting out.

Webster defines joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. This implies that someone knows what one desires, and here lies the initial challenge. The longer someone is in recovery, the clearer they usually become in knowing what they want and desire. Priorities have usually shifted away from the superficial and toward deeper pursuits of meaningful connection. I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on the following: What brings you joy in your life today?

As part of the 12 steps, there are several types of inventories focusing on different parts of you—resentments, character defects, fears, etc. One exercise you may consider for yourself and/or your clients is to complete a joy inventory. Beginning with your earliest joyful memory, list as many experiences that you can remember. You might divide your life into a few separate time periods— childhood, adolescence, young adulthood or whatever works best for you. In addition to listing the specific experiences, you might add what made each experience especially joyful for you.

In his book Overcoming Addictions, Deepak Chopra posits that the absence of joy is the cause and the effect of addiction. A client recently illustrated this theory because he had a lot of difficulty identifying joy in his life before his addiction which took hold when he was 19. During his addiction it seemed like fun, but in retrospect it’s become clear that authentic joy was foreign to him.

In Part Two of this article we’ll explore what I call joy-builders—ways to invite more joy into your life and recovery.