READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
Today is both different and not so different. For you, there are no verbal fights just a lot of distance between you and your partner. The two of you have learned to duck and dive major issues with work, busyness at home, activities with the kids, and a lot of impression management with everyone else.
The truth is that you are resentful, empty, bored, a little depressed, and very lonely deep inside. These have been feelings that you have marinated with for a long time. You are not alone during this Christmas season. There are millions of men and women stuck in the same place throughout the world. Your challenge is that you are a recovering sex addict with a monkey mind that tells you any reason is a good reason to act out and what better time than now!
There’s the woman at work that you have befriended. She’s a colleague and you work side by side with her. She is not particularly attractive to you but she is nice and you can tell she is vulnerable. She has told you enough about her struggles and demands of life that you feel buoyed and confident to do a little flirting—not too much, but, enough to trigger a dopamine rush that fills the emptiness. Without realizing it for the past few months, you have relied on the occasional hit of flirtation to take the edge off the disconnect from the emptiness that is growing inside.
Now, you long for a connection inside that you don’t consciously think or talk about. You want to flirt more, not less. You tell yourself the conversations with your female colleague are innocent because there is no sexual content to them. You don’t bring them up with support people and the 12-step meetings that you attend. You certainly don’t tell your partner about them. You notice that you avoid talking to anyone about what is going on inside. The secret adrenaline rush is something you nurse and enjoy. Gradually, it becomes a hit that covers over the loneliness and emptiness, without admitting you are having an emotional affair, and you haven’t even talked about sex!
You realize that the conversations with her are giving you an emotional connection that you have not had with your partner at home for a long time. Then, it happens! After work, she tells you that she took her car to the repair shop and they promised to bring it to her before her work day was over but they just called saying they could not and would make arrangements for her to come by and pick it up. Sheepishly, she asks if you would be willing to drop her off to pick her car up after work. Immediately, you say yes.
For the next 2 hours before work is over, your heart is racing with excitement and optimism. The adrenaline is flowing and it seems like the time is just evaporating quickly. You wonder if she is drawn to you like you are drawn to her. You know she is married and you haven’t heard her say anything about her partner. The recovery side of you sets off an alarm that says “Be careful!” There are warning signs that say “Danger, this is not a good idea!” However, you quickly minimize the warning as your mind craves for more rush and secret titillation. You tell yourself she is not all that attractive, so why are you getting so ramped up? Your mind goes back and forth like a pinball between bumpers thinking “Maybe something can happen” and “Don’t be stupid”.
On the way over to the repair shop, you find yourself going out of the way to compliment her in as many ways you can think without appearing over the top. She tells you she enjoys your friendship and when she gets out of the car, you help her find the keys to her car which the repair shop left at a designated place before closing for the day. Before leaving, she gives you a full-bodied hug and tells you that she really appreciates you helping her out.
On the way home, your mind is full of arousing thoughts. You know that the thoughts are not sustainable with recovery and fidelity with your partner. That’s the reason you don’t tell anyone about them. You garner the thoughts and hang on to them like a teenager who just received his first kiss! Logical sober reasoning gives way to fantasy. Later, after the same routine of clearing the table and putting the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and watching a little TV, your partner retires to bed for the evening. You are left thinking about your thoughts about your colleague. Sitting alone the desire for porn begins to grow and overshadows every thought! You begin to long for connection with your colleague and the desire to masturbate to porn becomes overwhelming.
If this experience is similar to what shows up in your recovery journal, you are not alone! These experiences represent the everyday struggles that face many sex addicts! You are at the edge of acting out. Some would say you already began the journey down the slippery slide of relapse a long time ago! What would you do to stop the slide?
Here are a few considerations.
1. Get radical: At the apex of desiring to masturbate to porn, get out of your chair, pick up your cell phone, and call recovery members for help. It will be inconvenient for you and likely for the one who answers the phone. Yet, if someone were drowning would you watch the person drown thinking that it would be inconvenient to get your clothes wet? Rather, your recovery friend would like to know they supported you saving yourself from a moment of recovery demise! Then put your laptop/phone etc in a place that would make it difficult to act out after the call, like locking it in the trunk of your car and putting the keys on the nightstand on your partner’s side of the bed. What this radical behavior does is break the spell of build-up toward using!
2. Pop the bubble of secrecy: Practice telling on yourself. The last thing you want your 12-step group or therapist to know about you becomes the first thing you say. Unpack the energy around the relationship with the colleague and the desire to masturbate to porn. Tell your sponsor, the 12-step group, and the therapist about the adrenaline rush around both. When you eliminate the secret, you will be able to best see perspective and return to operating from a position of strength and not weakness in managing your junkie worm.
3. Practice playback by identifying the footprints of your addictive cycle: You may need help with this from a seasoned therapist. However, you can train yourself to do this work with a sponsor or other recovery colleague. Wade through each build-up thought, mistaken belief, and disconnect in a life situation that accelerated your addiction cycle. Only then will you be able to thoroughly shift away from intimacy-disabling to healthy intimacy-engaging behavior.
4. Build boundaries that don’t blow people away: The colleague at work is not the devil. Your addiction is not her challenge. Simply avoid the flirtation. Keep the conversation on business only. Utilize the 3-second rule in your head, so that when an adrenaline rush of excitement descends upon your thoughts, you actively change your focus. Be accountable with specific thoughts with recovery support people and not your partner. Be responsible with your partner with clear communication that if you act out you will disclose within 24 hours what you did and how you will address the issue. Sharing that you have been challenged with your recovery is appropriate minus the lurid details. Leave that with your 12-step group and sponsor. Boundaries require follow-through and accountability.
5. Transform the curse into a blessing. Address the unmet emotional need that triggers your desire to act out with “Old Faithful.” You can pinpoint unmet needs by paying attention to feelings and affect. Addicts disconnect from feelings mostly because they never learned to connect with their emotions and address them in a healthy way. Recovery colleagues, dear friends, sponsors, and therapists can help you learn how to parent yourself and fulfill your emotional needs in ways that will change cravings from a curse to be numbed into a blessing of intimate connection.
For most of us who are addicts, the junkie worm never goes away. Paradoxically, the very “worm” that can destroy you can also be that which deepens your relational connection when you take the initiative to transform it from a curse to a blessing of relational connection.