A guy gets caught having sex with unknown men. He’s not gay – sometimes that’s how it works. His boss turns a blind eye, yet he thinks, “I’m really out of control and lucky I’m not going to get fired.”
That’s maybe a turning point. Or when a wife catches her husband in the bathroom busy with porn and himself. Both parties are blindsided. Or a man fantasizes about anonymous sex dating and uses his breaks to study personals ads. Thoughts of sex with strangers consume his time. Or a man’s use of sexual objects on himself, he can’t stop, and they threaten to harm him.
Those are externals. Inside, the secrecy, the shame, the compulsion, are hijacking the man’s relationships and, like termites, eroding his work. Instead of the truck he’s driving, or the surgery he’s scrubbing for, or playing with his kids, his focus diverts into a back alley. He’s terrified of being found out, of the Doomsday loss of his family, his work, his reputation…
One day his obsession pushes him too far. His “worst moments” hit critical mass, and the only way out, his last resort, is to find help. He shows up in my office, and I blindside him again. Instead of adding to the shame that’s kept him from confiding to any human being, I give him hope. If he stays, I tell him, he has a way out.
A Worn Path
There’s a program, I say, a system tested and proven. I know a lot of men like him, husbands, leaders, workers who got lost. He’s hardly alone. Yes, it’s possible to turn off the chaos, to be more than his lowest impulses. But shame is his first hurdle. The next two are time and money. He’s admitted the problem, he’s thinking, so just fix it. But “quick” and “cheap,” for an addiction years in the making, are delusional.
When does he decide to pay the cost? Pretty much when every other choice runs out. When the behavior overwhelms him … the worst moments come faster and with more trouble … the broken lines to family, work, spirituality look permanent … he sees what’s at stake, what the behavior costs him. The only way out is to put time, money and energy in a new direction, he finds the courage to commit to the process, and we start it together.
The “work” combines weekly meetings with me and with a recovery group in a chain of days that bear important markers. In the first 135 days, the goal is 90 consecutive days of abstinence, “freedom,” from the compulsive behavior.
By nine months, shame and obsessive thinking are considerably dialed back. His partner or wife may join a few select couple-strategy sessions. By 14 months, the secretive behavior is all but ended. He can trust again, and be trusted. Those are important. His self-compassion solidifies, and he feels it happening.
“The basic neurology of recovery involves literally re-growing our brains,” Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., explains in the foreword to his very useful book called “A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Principles. “
Carnes in several significant ways is a pioneer in the studies and practices of men permanently leaving sexual compulsions. The re-growing of the brain, Carnes says, opens “new and healthier ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting, eventually building new neural pathways to sustain those behaviors and thought patterns.”
Neurology Meets Therapy
With new behaviors and the physical, neural pathways to make them reflexive, a lost man recovers himself. From craziness, through a significant 12-dimension program of intimacy and positive courtship, he gains sobriety. Going forward, he incorporates tools to maintain intimacy with the people important to him. He begins to form a new vision for his life.
Yes, a vision. He can think again and nurture his resolve to sustain change. Deep and rewarding inner work helps him loosen the issues that have tightened around the original problem. With compassion, he can examine and heal from early life trauma and/or neglect or abuse.
Twenty-four to 32 months into a recovery program, I see his new life and vitality. Shame has been defanged. My client’s outlook turns on a positive sense of self. He has good relationships. As inevitable difficulties come, he knows how to manage.
Commitment and Payoff
In his now-classic workbook, Recovery Zone, which I also draw on, Carnes opens with the bald truth I give here: There is no overnight fix for recovery.
If you’re reading this from a dark corner, or in the pain of knowing someone addicted, the commitment ultimately is to yourself. Therapy is relationship, honesty, life. You can watch years pass or open new means to live. And you can stay with the it.
As Carnes writes, “Becoming sober is not the hardest part. Staying sober is. Making changes in our lives halts the pain. Keeping the changes is what saves our lives.”
Ed Dudding is a certified sex and multiple-addiction therapist (CSAT/CMAT) at Coeur d’Alene Counseling, serving clients in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. For more info visit www.coeurdalenecounseling.com or call (208) 755-7114.
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