In Breaking the Cycle: Free Yourself from Sex Addiction, Porn Obsession, and Shame, sex addiction treatment specialist George N. Collins presents a no-nonsense guide to starting and staying on the road to recovery. The book is written primarily for heterosexual men, but its lessons are equally applicable to women and LGBT people.
Speaking from experience
A recovered sex and porn addict, Collins has unusual perspective as a counselor. He presents complicated material in a way that is accessible to both a recovering and a clinical audience, though the recovering audience is clearly his target.
Sex and porn addicts new to recovery are likely to find this book particularly helpful for a trio of reasons. First, Collins presents many useful techniques for recognizing, halting and overcoming sexual addiction. Second, he illustrates his techniques with concrete, real-world stories that sexually addicted readers will easily identify with. Third, each chapter ends with an exercise or exercises designed to help the reader implement the technique he’s just read about.
Understanding the addiction
The book opens with a chapter on identifying problematic sexual behaviors and understanding the consequences of those actions. Basically, Collins walks readers through step one of 12–Step sex-addiction recovery programs. In this material he drops the first of many “truisms” that will resonate for sex and porn addicts—you can’t get enough of what won’t satisfy you—telling readers that if they keep trying to get that “something,” whatever it is that they get over and over while remaining unsatisfied, they’re an addict. It’s a simple concept, but one that is shockingly new to sexually addicted individuals who’ve not yet been exposed to recovery.
Collins then moves into techniques for understanding the basis of sexual addiction, identifying triggers, and developing techniques to intervene with and stop sexual acting out. He begins with the concept of “identifying the voices in your amphitheater,” asking readers to look at the sub-personalities that live in the amphitheater of their mind. The sub-personality he is most concerned with is the one that urges the individual to behave in sexually compulsive ways. Collins’ idea is that the addict can identify that sub-personality, recognize that it is not an essential part of the addict’s life, and converse with it in ways that lessen its power over the addict’s behavior.
Next on Collins’ agenda is recognizing triggers to sexual acting out and developing ways to intervene in the process. His biggest and best suggestion is for addicts to remember that they always have a choice. They don’t have to give in to their addicted sub-personality. Instead, they can say, “What else? What else would I rather be doing?” In this way, addicts realize they have options—everything from mountain climbing to starting a new career to getting into an actual intimate relationship that is far more rewarding than the fake sexual fantasies of addiction.
The most enjoyable parts of the book are when Collins describes his escapades as a therapist intervening in fantasies. In one episode, he has a client pick up a prostitute, then pays the sex-worker to be honest about her life and how she feels about men. In another, he travels with a client to an erotic bookstore, and then loudly discusses how the woman in one bondage image looks like she might have a bad case of hemorrhoids. In both cases, Collins was able to introduce reality into the client’s sexual fantasy, thereby taking away the power of that fantasy.
An incomplete solution
At no point in the book does Collins stress the need for sex addicts to seek professional counseling, nor does he stress the need for or efficacy of 12–Step sexual recovery programs. Instead he seems to believe that sex addicts can read his book, do the exercises, and fully recover. And perhaps some can. Certainly sex addicts will be better off for having read the book, and if they take seriously and do the exercises he suggests, they might be a lot better off. But to think this will work for all readers seems a bit naïve. Nevertheless, in conjunction with professional counseling and/or a 12–Step sexual recovery program, Collins’ clearly described, no nonsense methodologies can absolutely be helpful implements in a sex addict’s recovery tool box.