They say that sexual addiction is baffling and may be perhaps the toughest addiction to recover from because of all the triggers in society that may set up a person to succumb to urges and cravings. What I know for sure is sexual addiction recovery starts with total honesty and it is that rigorous honesty that keeps a person living one day at a time and being filled with gratitude. These two elements are essential in breaking the denial and maintaining the foundation for good recovery.
What is equally interesting is that these two life skills are also in the formula for happiness. Marci Shimoff in her book Happy For No Reason found that there were three traits in happy people that were a part of daily functioning.
· Staying in the moment
These three qualities were essential in a person's ability to be happy and make life better. I find these same traits are critical in an addicts recovery. The slogan "One day at a time" keeps sex addicts focused on living in the moment and not ruminating in the past and not fearing about the future. When a sex addict focuses on today they are less likely to become overwhelmed with their sadness about their past or their anxieties about what lies before them. The process of living in the future assists an addict with looking at the present moment which is much more manageable and attainable. It keeps the fear factor down and assists them in realizing that they can only control what happens in the present day.
Having gratitude is a life skill that keeps addicts focused on what is working in one's life. Think about it. Are you more likely to feel better about what is working in your life or what might be your current struggle? Did you know that what you appreciates ....appreciates? In other words, when you focus on what is working in your life you are less likely to get bogged down with what seems to be the insurmountable barriers that will keep you having a negative attitude. Recovering addicts manifest the attitude of gratitude because they know that when they are working on recovery; their life is authentic and transparent. Choosing to live in honesty and gratitude brings about freedom that builds self esteem and confidence. Most addicts remember what it was like to hate their impulses, their behaviors and their addiction so recovery means liberation which increases gratitude. No matter where you are in your recovery right now...are you able to list 50 things that you are grateful for? My speculation would be that you are more likely to list gratitude moments as your recovery grows stronger because you appreciate life more because you can appreciate your own personality strengths and accomplishments.
The third factor in happiness and in recovery is being able to reframe your journey.
Reframing is the life skill that allows you to look at your life and ask yourself how did you become stronger and what did you have to learn from it. It takes you out of the victim role and allows you to feel empowered by the lessons that you have learned. This is imperative for the addict who feels much shame about their sexual behaviors and falls into the "I hate myself” and “I can find nothing redeeming from this horrid, despicable behavior.” Well the truth of the matter is that your addiction has taught you how to change your life and live it more authentically! Recovery is a lifelong process of living and when you use your reframing skill you are able to recognize what life has taught you and how far you have come in becoming a genuine person.
You are only as sick as your secrets and you are choosing to no longer live in the chronic lies, deceit and secrecy of addiction. It frees you up to be the person you were meant to be and when this occurs ... you are much more likely to live up to your potential.
So stand up for yourself and live these three life skills and thank your addiction for teaching you about true recovery. You are going to live an awesome life in recovery because the real you is going to show up!
Carol Juergensen Sheets, LCSW, PCC, CSAT, is currently in private practice in Indianapolis, IN. She speaks nationally on mental health issues and is featured in several local magazines. She currently has an internet radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com/sexhelpwithcarolthecoach and does regular television segments focusing on life skills to improve one’s potential. You can read her blogs at www.carolthecoach.com. To contact Carol about sexual addiction: www.sexhelpwithcarolthecoach.
As part of its ongoing video series, The Meadows presents an 11-part interview with John Bradshaw, world-renowned educator, counselor, motivational speaker, author, and leading figure in the field of mental health.
In the seventh video of his series, Mr. Bradshaw, senior fellow at The Meadows, discusses addiction recovery in personal terms. During his own journey through Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, family-of-origin healing work, cognitive work, and skill building, he learned to set boundaries, say 'no,' and express anger.
"Most importantly, I had to get back to my values," he explains."Because when you're an alcoholic or an addict or emotionally disturbed, you're morally and spiritually bankrupt. You've lost your sense of values.” He adds that full healing in recovery comes only when one begins to lead a truly virtuous life.
Over the years, Mr. Bradshaw has enjoyed a close association with The Meadows, giving insights to staff and patients, speaking at alumni retreats, lecturing to mental health professionals at workshops and seminars, and helping to shape its cutting-edge treatment programs. He also has authored several New York Times best-selling books, including Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.
Other videos in The Meadows' series feature discussions with leading experts in the fields of addiction and trauma, including Dr. Jerry Boriskin and Maureen Canning. To view all the videos in the series, visit www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg.
For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for addictions and trauma, see www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.
Adrianna Irvine will be speaking at The Meadows Free Lecture on March 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm at The Cadogan Hotel, Knightsbridge in London. Ms. Irvine will discuss A Cross Cultural View on Cross Addiction. The presentation will cover the difference between substance addictions and process addictions, including the more recent findings of the likelihood of cross addiction between both categories. It will also briefly cover dual diagnosis with an in-depth look at some the different fellowships within the 12 step programs. Contact Jenna Pastore at 001 815 6412185 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you.
The holiday season can be a time of joyous celebration with our loved ones, a time when we begrudgingly drag ourselves to dreaded events, or a time when feelings of loneliness can be overwhelming. For many of us, some combination of all three is present this time of year. In many cases, the holidays are a time when stressors, triggers for relapse, and old wounds are more abundant.
This season also brings the opportunity to continue or start off the new year in recovery mode. We at The Meadows would like to offer you a 12 Step plan for doing just that. We honor the work that many of you have done to re-engage in your life, leaving old habits behind. We also honor those who continue to struggle with addiction. Below is a 12 Step guide for surviving the holidays in sobriety - "the 12 Steps of Holidays Anonymous," if you will. (Disclaimer: The steps below are loosely based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and are not a replacement for them.)
The 12 Steps of Holidays Anonymous
1. Make sobriety your first priority. Acknowledge the vast amount over which you are powerless (your family situation, the location of events, etc.). Be aware that you are, however, empowered to choose to maintain what you have lovingly worked so hard to achieve. Assess what you want and need for your sobriety and relational engagements with others.
2. Believe that you can be restored to sanity. Plan ahead and have realistic expectations. If your family looks more like The Family Stone than Ozzie and Harriett, ground in reality and be open to the flaws and imperfections of your family system. Detach from expectations and practice acceptance and forgiveness.
3. Turn your care over to a higher power, or at least someone with more experience staying sober during the holiday season. Have a safety plan. Speak with your support network prior to the holidays and share any concerns and plans. Remember that, in previous years, many of your peers in the program have survived and thrived during the holiday season. Some common techniques used in the recovery community include driving yourself to events so you can leave whenever necessary, taking the number to a taxi service if driving yourself is not an option, asking a sober friend to accompany you, or hiring a sober escort. Keep in mind: The impact of bringing someone with you or leaving an event early is small compared to the impact of a relapse on your relationships with your loved ones and self.
4. Make a searching and fearless inventory of yourself, and practice boundaries and grounding. Setting limits is a loving and respectful thing to do for yourself and others. If you have awareness that you are willing and able to participate in a holiday activity for one hour rather than five, set a limit with yourself and share this limit with your loved ones or holiday celebration peers.
5. Admit to God, self, and one other person any concerns and potential triggers you may have going into the holiday season. Remember: Those around you cannot support you unless you are willing to be rigorously honest with yourself and your sober support system, i.e., your sponsor, home group, and therapist.
6. Be entirely ready to remove all defects of character. Remember this is for you only; your willingness to assist family members in identifying and removing their defects of character before they are ready avails no one and is NOT relational.
7. Humbly ask the higher power of your understanding to remove your shortcomings, recognizing that your shortcomings do not subtract from your value. Be respectful of others. If one of your tendencies is to judge others, make a resolution to contain your comments on Uncle Marvin's lovely twinkle-light reindeer sweater (not that there's anything wrong with battery-operated clothing).
8. Make a list. Chaotic, last-minute trips to the mall can be destabilizing and stressful. Honor yourself by not overextending to make others happy. Take a personal inventory of yourself and your finances. This is a self-care technique that can help you turn inward and avoid future resentments. Also, don't forget to include yourself on your gift list. Gifting oneself, in a moderate way, is an act of self-care and acknowledgment.
9. Make direct amends, except when doing so would injure others. Remember that one of the ways to make amends is with living amends. You can do this by maintaining your sobriety, acting within your value system, and being respectful of others. You may believe this is a good time to speak with those you have harmed, but do so with conscious thought. Grandma may prefer to spend her holidays watching the grandchildren unwrap gifts rather than discussing a way you can pay her back for totaling her car.
10. Continue to take personal inventory and, when you are wrong, promptly admit it. Remember HALT (the basics of self-care: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). In times of stress, we become more susceptible to allowing some of our defects of character to leak out. If you act outside of your recovery and value system, make prompt amends to avoid allowing unnecessary feelings of guilt to overtake the celebrations.
11. Seek through prayer and meditation; the holiday season can be busy and, in some cases, stressful. This is not an excuse to skip your morning meditation, meetings, or time with your sponsor. This is a time to hold these commitments even more strongly, or to kick it up a notch. Prearrange your meeting schedule and ensure that connection, sobriety, and self-care remain top priorities. It may come in handy to repeat the Serenity Prayer in your head as Uncle Jack attempts to dominate the season with his thoughts on the current political climate. This allows you to remain connected with your higher power and accomplish relational objectives, all while nodding your head during his share.
12. If you have had a spiritual awakening, try to carry this message: Acts of service can help us to reground, stay connected to our program, and just feel darn good! The holidays can be an important time to practice gratitude and giving. If your holiday plans this year are not what you had hoped for (or even if they are), volunteer to be a sober escort, speak at a meeting, or volunteer to clean up after one. Remember: Whatever your season looks like this year, it’s still a lot better than holidays spent living in addiction.
We at The Meadows wish you a sober, safe, and successful holiday season.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
The Triggering Effect
By Claudia Black, PhD, MSW
Article excerpted from newly released CD Triggers and DVD The Triggering Effect.
Triggers are specific memories, behaviors, thoughts and situations that jeopardize recovery - signals you are entering a stage that brings you closer to a relapse. The process is much like riding a roller coaster that loops over itself. Once the roller coaster car gets to a certain spot in the track, a threshold is met, there is no turning back, and it starts the downward loop.
It is very likely you have heard your husband, wife, partner, mother, father, boss, a friend, attorney or even a judge say, "What were you thinking?" The answer is: you weren't thinking.
The inability to recognize the impact of your behavior, the willingness to risk what is significant in your life, and in this case, the quick lapse into old behaviors in spite of good intentions appear to be connected to brain chemistry. Addiction hijacks the brain. The reward/pleasure center holds captive the thinking center.
The good news is that the brain has plasticity. That means, in treatment and recovery practices, you can learn skills to calm the brain's emotional responses and reactivity area. You can learn to avoid triggers that activate the emotional area, and you can learn to enhance the decision-making area so you can rationally think through decisions, rather than respond impulsively and from such a strong emotional basis. But it takes time for the brain to be rewired, and it gets rewired with the repetition of new skills and new ways of thinking; hence, we strongly urge ongoing involvement in aftercare and other support systems.
Willpower alone is not a defense against relapse. Recovery is achieved, maintained and enjoyed through a series of actions. Learn to identify your triggers and, with each, identify a plan that anticipates and de-escalates the power of the trigger. With that, your reward is another day of sobriety with endless possibilities.
Five common triggers are:
1. Romanticizing the Behaviors
Romanticizing involves a tunnel focus on the positive feelings you associate with the behavior; it involves glamorizing using behaviors and, in the moment, totally forgetting about the negative consequences.
Getting overwhelmed at times is to be expected, but it's very easy to slip into romanticizing without any insight as to how you got there. At that moment, you enter a slippery zone, touching the trigger. While romanticizing is itself a trigger, it often occurs in tandem with an external trigger such as noises, sights, sounds or even tastes. You could be watching a movie and the next thing you know it is depicting the power of alcohol, drugs and sex in a positive way, and you are romanticizing. Or you're listening to the radio and an advertisement for a drug comes on, and you think about your pain pills as the commercial goes on to tell you how much better you'll feel, and off you go. Or you're watching a ball game on TV and can almost smell the popcorn and peanuts, and you see the spectators drinking large cups of beer and everyone is smiling like it's only a good time.
Take a few moments to think about how you romanticize your addictive behavior. What do you find yourself thinking about? What is the romanticizing covering up? What are you forgetting to take into account?
Addicts have used their behaviors and substances for years to separate from their emotional states. And there is so much to feel - guilt for how your behavior has hurt others, sadness for your losses, anger with yourself, fear of what is in front of you, shame for thinking you are inadequate, not worthy. You can act out in response to every feeling imaginable.
You lessen or get rid of feelings when you own them, talk about them or, in some cases, engage in problem solving. It is when you try to divert, ignore, and numb that you get into trouble. Feelings are a part of the human condition and you can't escape them. Recovery is the ability to tolerate your feelings without the need to medicate or engage in self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors and thoughts.
Recognize the gifts that come with feelings. Feelings are cues and indicators telling you what you need. Loneliness tells you, in your humanness, you need connection; fear can offer you protection, sadness offers growth, guilt is your conscience, offering direction for amends. It is critical for you to have this insight and, more importantly, to start to take ownership of the feelings when you have them.
Coupled with the trigger of feelings is the fact that those feelings are often associated with loss. By the time you get to recovery, you have had multiple losses in your life, often related to childhood, many times due to being raised with abuse, addiction, mental illness, etc. While you may have experienced trauma within your original family, pain of loss may be from a specific situation.
You may have experienced the loss of relationship with your parents or children, the death of friends or family, abortions, or career or work opportunities missed. As an addict, you are likely to have experienced losses related to health issues. Perhaps you have Hepatitis C, HIV, or injuries due to accidents.
It is not that you are suddenly thinking about these losses, but there may be a trigger. Perhaps you are in treatment and you see other people's children come to visit, and you have three kids and you don't even know where they live. Your daughter tells you that your ex-husband has just moved in with someone else. The goal is not to dwell on your losses, to not live in the pain and anguish. This is what happens when you don't acknowledge them and what they mean, triggering you back to your using behavior. With some losses, you can only grieve and ultimately come to find some meaning from your experience; with others, in time, you can attempt to repair damaged relationships.
Resentment is also a feeling, but I think it warrants its own place as a significant trigger. Resentments are like burrs in a saddle blanket; if you do not get rid of them, they fester into an infection. Resentments are often built on assumptions, i.e., "When you don't look at me, I assume you think you are better than me." "When you don't include me in a social gathering, I am assuming you think I am not good enough to be with you and your friends." Resentments are also built on entitlement, which is a form of unrealistic expectations and impatience.
Unrealistic expectations + impatience = resentments.
Move from resentments. When assuming, check it out. Put yourself in someone else's shoes (it may allow expectations to be more realistic). Identify and own the feelings the resentment is covering (often it's a cover for feelings of inadequacy and/or fear). Be willing to live and let live.
5. Slippery people, places or situations
You need to identify specific triggers - the people, places, and situations that are high-risk. Slippery people could be your ex-lover, certain family members, or past using/party buddies. A slippery place might be a bar you used to frequent, a casino, or an area in your community where you cruised - in essence, any place that triggers a positive association about the use of your drug of choice. Slippery situations could be an emotionally charged social gathering, such as a wedding, family event, or vacation.
Medication may be a trigger for which you need to be accountable. While there are situations when medication is needed, you are at high risk to abuse. You need to be proactive in how you are going to cope with this situation, because it is likely that your brain is going to remember a good feeling, saying more is better. Again, there are situations when medications are necessary, but self-diagnosis and/or self-prescribing only create a recipe for disaster.
What are the people, places or situations that are potential triggers? What provides safety for you to not be triggered? What triggers can you avoid? While some decisions around triggers are absolute, others are not necessarily in place for the rest of your life. Know your triggers and plan accordingly. In the face of a trigger, what do you need to do? What do you need to tell yourself? To whom can you reach out for support and/or problem solving?
Today in recovery:
1. Practice staying in the present; don't sit in the past or project into the future.
2. Validate the gifts of recovery for the day - practice gratitude daily.
3. Identify, build and use a support system - you need to stay connected. History and experience have proven time and time again that recovery is not a solitary process and cannot be sustained in isolation.
4. Trust that your Higher Power is on your side.