(an excerpt from It’s Not About the Sex, Chapter Twelve)
After a slip or relapse, stay out of self-judgment to prevent yourself from
falling into a shame spiral. Process it with a trusted confidant as soon as
possible. Your setback happened for a reason. Were you trying to unwind
some internal pressure? Express pent-up anger? Soothe yourself? Ask
yourself what you were trying to accomplish. Can you find a better way
to achieve it in the future? Explore these possibilities before you move
on to self-forgiveness. By taking a closer look at your behavior, you’ll
prevent a spiritual bypass.
In my workbook, From Now On, I suggest writing a self-forgiveness
letter, and the instructions are as follows. Think about shame you
experienced in the past that won’t seem to go away. Cruel statements,
infidelity, or financial losses, for example.
- A detailed description of what happened.
- How this event haunts you.
- How you choose to accept this experience as a part of your past and
not a part of your present.
- How you would like to say goodbye to it.
- How to be more compassionate with yourself regarding this past
Writing a letter of self-forgiveness helps you grieve and accept
yourself fully. You’ll reduce the power resentment holds over you as
you put these memories down on paper and reflect on how you’ll move
forward with an eye toward empathy. Practice lovingkindness rather
than complaining and blaming. Don’t get caught in the trap of chronic
commiseration. Consider these questions of self-compassion:
- In what ways are you willing to be more compassionate with
- How will you accept yourself unconditionally, warts and all?
- How do you forgive yourself?
- How do you hold back from forgiving yourself?
When applied as a daily practice, forgiveness creates new neural
pathways to override the habit of self-criticism. Stop yourself each
and every time you are unkind, to etch more loving instincts in your
mind. As Dr. Donald Hebb said, “Neurons that fire together, wire
together.” If you complain on a consistent basis, that becomes your
One key feature of purposeful recovery is that you lean into healing
practices such as self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness
on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many recovering sex addicts, both in the
twelve-step rooms and elsewhere, continue to suffer by indulging in self-recrimination and pity. Complaining and misery can become their own compulsion. As long as you reinforce suffering with negative thoughts, recovery will be an uphill battle. But if you make the conscious choice to practice gratitude and forgiveness instead, you’ll feel more emotionally sober. The practice of spiritual healing and loving kindness is a daily effort that requires discipline and patience.