(an excerpt from It’s Not About the Sex, Chapter Twelve)
You’re Not Alone
In my therapy office, clients reveal setbacks all the time, and together
we process these so-called mistakes. So what do you do if you’ve been
in recovery for a while and then go off your plan? The tendency may be
to isolate and keep it a secret, but this will only perpetuate the shame
that goes along with the slip-up. Instead, contact someone you trust as
soon as possible—preferably someone in recovery. They will offer their
version of experience, strength, and hope with you, and immediately you’ll
realize you don’t have to go through it alone. After you get current with
someone who has walked in your shoes, talk about it at a meeting,
or with your therapist or coach. Be as transparent as possible. Every
mistake begins a new chapter in your discovery process. Journal, work
your steps, lean into your healing team, and take direction from those
who have been there.
Breaking your bottom-line behaviors is not a measure of who you
are; it’s a sign that it’s time to establish healthier, more effective sexual
boundaries. When you have a slip, remember that relapse is a part of
recovery from sexual compulsivity. And it’s not the relapse that matters so
much as how you identify it, how quickly you ask for help, and how you
get to know the shadow part of yourself better. Never measure your worth
as a person by the amount of time you have away from your bottom lines.
Measure your worth by your willingness to pursue a healing path
on a daily basis and sustain meaningful connection. Remember, recovery
is about progress, not perfection.
Many years ago, I worked with a group of terrific hospice nurses
who were also talented wound care nurses, and this is what I learned.
Wounds require lots of attention. The bandages and dressing need to be
changed several times a day to keep the wounds clean. They also require
oxygen to properly heal. If you cover a wound with a sealed Band-Aid,
it festers. So healing takes patience, consistency, air, and a touch of love.
Emotional wounds—or slips—require these same elements to mend.
Don’t just cover them up. Get familiar with your wounds and treat them
with care. It takes a healing team to mend your broken heart.
Riding the waves of regret is part of the deal, but when regrets turn
into a way of life, they no longer serve a purpose. Stay out of a self-punitive,
victim mode as you surround yourself with kind, loving energy.
Get a reality check from the wisest people you know, and whatever you
do, don’t hibernate. Stay connected to others.
Consider the following analogy. If you’re driving from New York to
Los Angeles and you get a flat tire in Des Moines, does this mean you
have to go back to New York? Of course not. You get the tire fixed and
keep driving. It’s the same way with sexual compulsivity. If you have a
slip or a full-blown relapse, you have choices. Do you punish yourself,
keep it a secret, and go into shame over it? Or do you learn from it and
I used to be a master at self-punishment when I made a mistake.
Nowadays, I try to see my setbacks as growth opportunities. I examine
parts of myself that need more attention, understanding, and acceptance.
Although I can still fall into shame spirals once in a while, the time
it takes for me to reconnect with my support network afterward has
become more rapid, allowing me to mobilize rather than get stuck.
After a relapse, you can fall into shame and judgment, or you can
learn from your error and move on. Don’t be a victim. Hold yourself
accountable to learn the lessons the mistake provides, and practice self-compassion.
Recovery is not a linear progression. It’s imperfect and
unpredictable. You may stumble and fumble and go off course at times.
But most of all, stay connected, lean into the love, and know that if you
hang in there it will get better.