Embracing Sex Addiction
The essence of recovery is embracing and growing from our mistakes and missteps rather than avoiding pain and discomfort.
My recovery from sex addiction started when I was 28. I was fortunate to participate in a group my father organized consisting of therapists and clergy. It was during one of these meetings a group member divulged his struggle with sex addiction which prompted me to tell my story, one I had hidden until then. This took place just after joining PCS and may have saved my career. The term sex addiction fit. My behavior felt consuming, my efforts to stop failed, real and potential consequences were not a deterrent, marriage and a loving and compassionate wife did not stop the behavior, and no amount of will power could stop the energy which continued to well up inside of me, leading me to “act out.” I am aware as I write this how inadequate words are to express the churning of guilt, shame, and fear I was experiencing.
I moved into recovery and while the support and therapy helped me stop the behavior it is clear to me now the internal struggle continued to percolate. We had children, immersed ourselves in parenting and building relationships with other families. Business grew at a steady pace, but then exploded as our children reached their teen years. This turned out to be terrible timing, and I began to lose myself in work. It took time, but eventually the stress and disconnect from relationships brought back that which had never fully left and I began acting out again. Thankfully, I eventually summoned the courage to disclose to my wife. Individual and couples therapy resumed, and I reached out for support in ways I had not previously done.
Soon after this Doug Braun-Harvey provided an in-service training for our PCS therapists. I found it resonated with me and began questioning whether labeling myself as a sex addict was a way to hide from some erotic conflict I was uncomfortable facing. His six principles of sexual health proved helpful in my journey. They are:
- Protected from STI’s and unintended pregnancy
- Shared Values
- Mutual Pleasure.
I found these principles began to shift my perspective on my sex addiction and created a different internal dialogue which in turn influenced how I shared with others. I embraced a gentler and more compassionate view of self. Around this time I stumbled upon Dr. Daniel Sumrok’s phrase, “Ritualized Compulsive Comfort Seeking.” Dr. Sumrok believes what we label as addiction is a normal childhood response to adverse childhood experiences. This perspective generated another question, had I simply developed a distorted, intimacy blocking relationship with my sexuality born from challenges in my childhood? The answer was clearly yes, but where did this leave the “sex addict?”
Would I discard the term sex addiction, no. Currently, I find it helpful to embrace myself as an addict. Not as a way of negatively labeling or pathologizing myself, but to respect and honor that which comforted me through the challenges of growing up. This ongoing change toward increased self-compassion is progressively shifting how I view my past and present-day choices. Integrating my addiction recovery, trauma work, and the six principles of sexual health serve to broaden my recovery and support a gentler approach to self. I desire to continue affirming, as an adult, I now have choices and resources I could not grasp as a child. I am striving to develop a relationship with my wife which is safe, consensual, nonexploitive, and mutually fulfilling. Recovery is a becoming; I hope you agree.
Article by Marcus Earle, PhD, LMFT, CSAT, S-PSB