My therapist told me most sex addicts have multiple addictions. Is that true?
I have never met a sex addict addicted only to sex. Typically, three to six addictions interact with one another. Most individuals who come into treatment don't realize this. Often they are in denial about the scope of their destructive behaviors, minimizing and rationalizing their patterns. Often they construct and normalize complex lives, allowing one addiction to flow seamlessly into the other.
Professionals who work 80 or 90 hours a week may feel they have earned a weekend of binge drinking and sex. They tell themselves they are not workaholics, because they can take time off to "relax." Similarly, some individuals who work excessive hours take vacations only to pack every minute with activities: scuba diving all day; a volleyball tournament before dinner; an expensive meal; and clubbing with alcohol, drugs, and sex until 3 a.m. - only to start the cycle over the next morning."I don't have a work addiction. I can relax and take time off," they tell themselves. What they don't realize is that they are addicted to intensity. They look for the high or emotional escape that allows them to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
All addicts are "shame-based," meaning they were given negative messages about themselves. A child can experience abuse that is overt (recognizable abuse that can be verbal, physical, or sexual) or covert (in which the child is not typically aware of the subconscious messages). Covert abuse is typically couched in the expectations that parents have for their children. "If I am a good athlete, my parents will be proud." "If I am homecoming queen, I will be popular."
These children believe they must perform in order to have value. Such intensely goal-oriented thinking teaches - and ultimately allows the children to avoid - feelings of shame. This is when patterns of addiction begin.
This need for external gratification sets up the children to have low internal esteem. They feel they are not enough; they are worthless and unlovable... unless they produce. Winning trophies and awards will bring attention and a sense of value. Before they are aware of it, these people establish patterns that allow emotional escape.
After cheating on his wife, the sex addict feels no guilt or remorse about his betrayals, but stops at the local pizza parlor and eats a whole pie. Still numb, he spends several hours gaming on the computer - yet another way to avoid the emotions that lie below the surface. His patterns satiate his pain and shame.
Food addicts may gain weight so they don't have to be sexual. "I don't need sex," they tell themselves. "I am strong and independent."
The after-work drink with coworkers may turn into a one-night stand. "I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been drunk."
In treatment, individuals look at the interactive patterns in their lives, the seamless processes they unconsciously devise in order to survive painful feelings. The healing process often overwhelms the individual, because the addict often believes his or her own lies: "I don't really have problem with..." In reality, they have spent a lifetime jumping from one addictive behavior to the next on a roller coaster; the costly consequences can impact their livelihood, relationships, health, and finances - and can even bring death.