Breaking up with Your Compulsive Past
Just as there is labor with birth, there is labor with death. When you make an active choice to say goodbye to sexual compulsion, the process of letting go is not a single event. It begins when your pain has become intolerable, often referred to as hitting bottom. First you stop the obvious high-risk behaviors, but later on in recovery you might also halt the more subtle behaviors, like keeping secrets from your partner or seeking sexual validation from others.
Grieve these compulsive tendencies as you let go of them to make room for deeper connection and contentment. That’s right: hitting bottom is a type of death. The death of a coping style. The death of a survival strategy. The death of a double life. Afterward comes grief, which opens up emotional space to build a multidimensional recovery. So how do you consciously grieve this loss?
You’ve all heard unhelpful platitudes, like “you’ll get over it,” and “time heals all wounds.” The loss of your compulsion is not something to “get over,” but rather something to learn to live with and understand. In examining the underlying layers of loss that predate your out-of-control sexual behaviors, you may discover what contributes to your compulsivity. Be patient with yourself as you unearth these past experiences.
Trying to get over your losses too quickly can lead to relapse, but exploring the losses safely and productively allows you to integrate rather than hide from them. Accept yourself fully for exactly who you are, and similarly, grieve losses of the past for exactly what they are—pain that accumulated over many years. Here is an excerpt from the interviews in my book:
What made it possible for you to say goodbye to your addiction?
Colin: Using the tools of twelve-step recovery, which meant getting a sponsor, working the steps, making outreach calls, and going to regular meetings. I could not kick the addiction on my own no matter how hard I tried.
Alex: I was just really tired of it… like the STDs and the shame. I got really sick of myself—the behaviors and the feelings were unbearable.
Susan: I needed twelve-step recovery. I needed one-on-one talk therapy. I also went to a trauma group. I lived in a rehab center for fifteen months, and that was the biggest boost out of prostitution for me.
Next month’s blog post will explore the five stages of grief and how they can be applied to the end of compulsive sexual behavior.