Finding Help When You’re a Sex Addict: Not So Easy

Admitting that you are a sex addict is not an easy thing to do. There is a lot of shame wrapped up in simply stating this. It is hard to say out loud, even to yourself, let alone to someone else.

When I first sought help I was embarrassed and afraid to admit my problems, not just to my family and friends but to counselors and professionals. It took me about 20 years of acting out with destructive sexual behavior before I sought help, and when I finally did it seemed I had nowhere to turn. The shame I felt became even worse when I realized there was no one within a few hundred miles of where I lived who was trained to offer help for my problem. Things felt hopeless. Even where I live now, there’s not one Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) in the entire state, not a single provider who specializes in my issue.

Finding quality treatment for sex addiction, whether you are the addict or the partner of one, is still extremely difficult in many places. It is not hopeless, though. There are options for those looking for treatment for sex addiction and in some parts of the U.S. help is readily available. For example, there are close to 200 (CSATs) in California.

Ready for Help

When I finally sought help I was at a point where I could no longer pretend that things were okay. My marriage was shattered; because of my behavior I had lost my job and my home too. I was involved in three or four different relationships at the same time. My high came from having multiple sexual partners and lying to them all. This wasn’t about the sex; it was about control and power. But even when my life was falling apart because of my sexual behavior, I didn’t stop. I just kept going deeper into addiction.

When I did look for help I ended up seeing five or six different therapists over the course of a year and I told each what was going on. The closest I got to getting help locally was from an addiction specialist who told me he didn’t know much about sex addiction but he’d be willing to learn as much as he could and work with me.

My experience, I learned, isn’t unusual. Before Timothy Lee became founder and director of New York Pathways, a treatment center for sex addiction in New York City, he was an active sex addict. At the time he lived elsewhere and, like me, struggled to find effective treatment. “I tried to describe what was going on to therapists and some of them would tell me what I was doing was normal,” Lee told me. “The lack of education out there is astounding.” Now Lee is on the other side, helping addicts recover. I had much the same experience Lee did; some male therapists would even insinuate that any guy would want to do what I was doing.

Another therapist near me who prefers to remain anonymous says that although she advertises that she treats sex addiction she has no formal training in treating this type of addiction and she doesn’t screen clients for it. “Sex addiction is not given as much attention in the assessment process as alcohol or drug addiction. I always ask new clients how much alcohol they drink and we explore their relationship with it,” she told me. “I ask about cigarettes. I ask about caffeine. I never ask new clients if they engage in compulsive sexual behavior or have a sexual preoccupation that adversely affects their life.”

In my case, I finally found a counselor who specialized in sex addiction a two-hour drive from my house. She was knowledgeable and it was a relief to have someone validate what was going on. But after a few sessions of listening to the crazy things I was doing, she told me I needed to go to rehab as quickly as I could.

Going Into Rehab

So at that point I needed to figure out where to go into residential treatment — and how to pay for it.  I started by trying an outpatient program in Los Angeles called the Sexual Recovery Institute (SRI), where I attended all-day intensive treatment for two weeks. I didn’t stay at the facility at night, but instead booked myself into a hotel room down the street.

At that point I finally began to feel hopeful. I was around other sex addicts and working with a staff who understood what was going on with me. Up to this point I had never met anyone else who identified as a sex addict.

I’d show up with the others in program at around nine in the morning and we’d spend the day having group and individual therapy sessions. My one-on-one counselor was excellent. It was the first time I’d met with someone who really understood my issues. After my two weeks the staff at SRI pushed me toward inpatient rehab even harder than my therapist had, so a few weeks later I wound up at Keystone, a treatment center in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Even though I ended up in rehab, I’m still glad I tried outpatient at SRI first; the treatment there was very helpful for me. At Keystone, we started our day with a client-run therapy group and then continued to have group therapy run by the staff for the rest of the day. It was unique, for all of us, to be someplace where the staff actually understood what we were dealing with. We all felt shame for who we were and what we had done, but we also felt pride for being there and for trying, at last, to get help.

But while rehabs for sex addiction can be extremely helpful, they also are expensive. There are 10 or 15 facilities in the U.S. that offer inpatient treatment for sex addiction; some of the best-known are The Meadows in Arizona, The Life Healing Center in New Mexico and Pine Grove Gratitude in Mississippi. Many offer private rooms, groups facilitated by experts in sex addiction and around-the-clock therapy. I spoke to Deborah Schiller, program director at Pine Grove Gratitude, who acknowledged that it can be challenging when an insurance company’s policies deem that treatment for sex addiction is not “medically necessary.”

For me, being in rehab isolated me from my addictive behaviors, which was in itself a blessing. The most important aspect of rehab, in fact, for me may have been to simply get me out of what I was doing so I could step back and really see how bad things had become.

The truth is that sexual addiction treatment is still new. There are many people who don’t understand what it’s like to have this problem or how to treat it. Coverage by insurance is spotty at best since sex addiction is not formally acknowledged as an addiction by many. But help is out there, and the treatment that exists does work. One just needs to have the desire to find it.

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