Sex Addiction Recovery: Beyond Abstinence

Among the AA set, the term “dry drunk” is frequently used to describe a condition of returning to one’s old alcoholic thinking and behavior without actually having taken a drink.

The underlying premise of most recovery programs, particularly 12 step groups, is that true sobriety is contingent upon spiritual recovery and personal growth, not merely upon a definition of abstinence alone.

Someone who thinks like an addict and acts like an addict, even if he or she isn’t drinking, using, gambling, binging or compulsively sexually acting out, is still an addict.

For sex addicts, a definition of recovery is not so straightforward. Rather than there being a strict protocol, (no more sex) every sex addict must define for him or herself which behaviors cross the line, and when and if certain sexual conditions can be reintroduced healthfully. Even an understanding of “healthful” is not especially clear to everyone; it’s a term that seems transparent on the surface, but isn’t necessarily the same for everyone.

So when sex addicts determine to stop acting out and to “get sober,” who can judge whether they’re being successful? The answer probably begins before the question: it’s no one’s place to judge another’s recovery (taking someone else’s inventory is generally a bad idea). But there are clear indicators that a sex addict may not be actively pursuing his or her sobriety in a way that benefits his or her recovery, or his or her personal well-being. It is up to the addict to make these realizations and to cop to the challenges (and opportunities) these missteps provide.

Signs your sexual sobriety isn’t completely committed

  • Avoidance strategies used in close personal relationships — Sex addicts are people with intimacy disorders. Whether or not they are acting on their addictive behaviors, the fear of being vulnerable and truly emotionally intimate tends to rule their psyches. It can be hard for them to be fully honest. Authentic recovery requires these things, but those who don’t wholly embrace recovery continue to use avoidance and distancing strategies in order to avoid the intimacy that terrifies them so much and that created their addiction in the first place.
  • Avoidance of sex in romantic relationship — Sex in the context of committed relationships can feel a little too intimate, a little too close. And this kind of closeness can feel like overexposure to a sex addict, even a sober one. Sexual anorexia, or the avoidance of sex, can set in under these conditions. Sober sex addicts who fail to examine their “lack of sex drive” may be avoiding the reality that their intimacy disorder is still a problem, one with the power to create dysfunction in their lives.
  • Conflict prone, defensive, passive-aggressive, sarcastic, contemptuous or persistently disengaged in work and/or personal relationships — Again, each of these social strategies is a way to keep people at bay, to avoid intimacy. Being available to intimacy with others means taking the risk of being hurt, something an active sex addict cannot tolerate.
  • Failure to create and maintain definitive bottom-line behaviors — As mentioned above, each sex addict must come to define his or her own bottom-line behaviors. For example, sex addicts who had a problem with compulsive anonymous sex but who leave flirting off their list of bottom lines may be searching for a way to let off some of the steam their urges create. Excessive flirting may provide a bit of the rush that previous acting-out behaviors once did, especially because it was part of the process and contains an unspoken sexual element.

No more white-knuckling through sex addiction recovery

To get better, recovery requires more than a commitment to abstinence from compulsivity; it requires a commitment to well-being. When we commit to well-being as much (or more) as we do to cessation, a different way of living becomes possible. Committing to cessation creates the white-knuckling effect: sobriety without recovery. It isn’t just alcoholics and drug addicts who experience this kind of sobriety; it is anyone who steps through the doors of recovery without bringing his or her whole self.

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One Response to Sex Addiction Recovery: Beyond Abstinence

  1. Avatar
    Nate M June 21, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    Thanks for the concepts you presented. I’m a sex addict in recovery and have been working recovery one day at a time since 2/7/14. I write about my recovery almost daily and love this quote the most:

    “When we commit to well-being as much (or more) as we do to cessation, a different way of living becomes possible. Committing to cessation creates the white-knuckling effect: sobriety without recovery.”

    Instead of focusing on what I CAN’T do, I try to focus on the positive things I can do to live in recovery today: study, surrender, sponsor others, and write, write, write.

    Is your blog active? I hope to communicate more. A discussion group I manage is found here: http://bit.ly/addiction-recovery-discussion

    Talk soon.

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