(originally published July 2010—revised August 2021)
Loss is a natural part of recovery. Because sexual compulsion is actually a misfired attempt to regulate the nervous system, it requires a conscious choice to say goodbye to these stale behaviors. This requires a willingness to say goodbye to this survival strategy and to trust that there is something better on the horizon.
At the same time, it’s helpful to identify and express gratitude. As a by-product of grieving, eventually you can acknowledge that you wouldn’t be who you are today if it wasn’t for everything that happened in your past. This is a significant recognition of deeper acceptance and learning to live more fully in the present.
Borrowed from the twelve-step community are 3 S’s: Service, Spirituality and Self-care. Being of service is an antidote to the self-centeredness of compulsive sex. Because obsessive-compulsive behaviors are self-centered by nature, shifting toward other-centeredness breaks the narcissistic cycle.
Simplify the concept of spirituality by asking yourself the question “What gives your life meaning?” Not easy to answer, but most people will describe elements related to vitality and aliveness. Often spirituality revolves around asking the right questions rather than having the exact answers.
The concept of impeccable self-care might contradict the idea of being of service, yet how can you be there for others if you’re not taking care of yourself? Because many people in recovery had gaps in their parenting, this can be a time of connecting to self in a deeper way by re-parenting yourself through self-awareness, self-compassion, self-acceptance and eventually self-love.
Long-term recovery also requires movement away from isolation toward deeper, meaningful connection–to self, to others as well as a power greater than oneself. Connection to your internal world may involve mindfulness and creativity. Connection to others asks the question “Who are the emotionally-reliable people who have your back unconditionally?”
Because unresolved trauma resides in the body, it’s essential to re-connect with the cues of the body sometimes referred to as the felt sense. Instead of simply asking yourself How do I feel about that? or What thoughts seem to go along with that feeling? ask additional questions such as Where do I sense that in my body? or How does that register physically for me?
Once you’ve become more grounded and embodied, it’s time to celebrate and liberate your true sexual self. Because touch has been sexualized and associated with acting-out experiences, it’s become essential to discover ways to touch and be touched safely. Hugs, cuddling and therapeutic massage are just a few examples of practicing safer touch, and each of these possibilities can be safely re-negotiated to determine how they will promote intimacy rather than perpetuate compulsive patterns. Discuss these details with a professional or trusted confidant to demystify the process and help you gently and consciously begin to discover your sexual and erotic desires.
Shifting toward a future-focused, action-oriented outlook creates a hopeful trajectory. Asking questions such as What matters most to you? What puts a smile on your face? Give shape and voice to your vision of life one year from now. Healing from the past can be a heavy burden to lug around, but it’s also essential to balance out the heavy-duty work with a blank canvas filled with hopes and dreams of the future. Once you’ve established your vision, find an accountability partner to stay on track with your heart’s intentions.
The field of neuroplasticity has discovered that the synaptic connections of the brain expand based on where you place focus and attention. If you over-focus on shame and resentments, your brain will create neural pathways based on this information. If you focus on gratitude and self-compassion, your brain will create pleasurable pathways related to these intentions. The choice is yours.