Long Term Acceptance
What one has to accept about sex
addiction...and what one doesn't
"Life is difficult. It is a great truth because once we truly see this, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."
M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled
"Will my addiction go away?"
"If it doesn't, does it mean I am a permanent moral failure because I am so sexually driven?"
One of the most difficult things to accept about sex addiction is the long term nature of it. Every person who has an addiction resists the idea that an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or sex lasts for a lifetime. Early in recovery addicts often "test" themselves during a good period of time to see if "the addiction is still there." Their hope is that they are "cured forever." They feel that having an addiction forever is such bad news that they can't accept it. It feels humiliating and discouraging.
Fair enough. It's not a fun thing to believe.
Ironically, the more one accepts the long term presence of an addiction, the less of an overwhelming factor in ones life it will be. Unfortunately the converse is also true...to act as if an addiction is not there is to give it power. And for a sober person to ignore the importance of triggers and of avoiding bottom line behaviors is to invite a return of the addiction to an acute phase.
I think of addiction as similar to a chronic illness that, for some people and in the best of situations, can seem to go into "remission." By this I mean that after significant work (several years?) the constant agitation and urges to act out may seem distant. The "several years" part of this may not sound so good, but the overall relief and peace of mind some people experience is good news.
However, remission doesn't mean a vacation from recovery. Even when a physical illness is in remission there may be important things a person should do to avoid encouraging its reactivation. Good nutrition, exercise, proper rest, and avoidance of stress are often important. For addiction the same is also true. It is important to continue practices learned while becoming sober. Prompt problem solving, avoiding resentments and self pity, following a healthy spiritual course of life, and being open and honest with others continue to be important, as well as the more obvious things like avoiding sexual-overstimulation and unhealthy relationships. Steps 10-12 of the 12 Steps speak of the ongoing nature of recovery.
Remission doesn't mean that the addiction has gone far away. As years go by difficult times occur in everyone's lives. When things feel bad enough, when the pain and anxiety are high enough, and when one is tired enough an addictive urge can blast into conscousness with the familiarity of yesterday's weather. The factors that put an addiction in place are severe enough that an addiction never goes away.
Many people will never come close to experiencing sex addiction being "in remission." Nevertheless, to hope that this might happen someday isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, to hope that the addiction will disappear as if it never existed is to set up oneself for disappointment and, ultimately, relapse. If you must dream about the future from time to time, let remission be your hope...not eradication. However, let your real focus be on day-to-day sobriety, happiness, and health.
A Note About the Medical Model vs.
the "Moral Failure" Model
Models aren't perfect. For example, no one has put forth a descriptive model for light that adequately explains it. Sometimes light acts like a wave, sometimes like a particle. Addiction is similar. Different models may explain different aspects of it. But in the case of long term acceptance, the medical model of chronic illness works well.
In fact, a medical model is very important in helping one to move away a "moral-failure" model. A moral-failure model breeds shame and helps keeps the addiction dominant in behavior. It also makes the long term nature of addiction seem like one is doomed to "moral" failure. However, the more one understands addiction, the less shame one tends to have about the addiction. In fact, as stated elsewhere in these pages, sex addiction is not primarily about sex to begin with...it is about attachment and intimacy. Some therapists even refer to it as an intimacy disorder, thus avoiding the moral connotations associated with sexual behavior. Though sex addicts have their share of moral failures in life like everyone else, sex addiction is not primarily about moral failure. It is about human attachment and intimacy.