By Amy Sohler, MPA, MA, LMHC, CDP, MHP
Unity is our most cherished quality. We find a greater personal freedom than any other society knows. In that sense, our society is a benign anarchy. The word 'anarchy' has a bad meaning to most of us… But I think that the gentle Russian prince who so strongly advocated the idea felt that men would voluntarily associate themselves in the common interest.
— Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1957
News stories about sexually addictive behaviors in the armed forces over the past several years seem to be increasing at an alarming number, calling greater attention to the issues arising between the men and women who serve their country for us. A quick Google search using the terms “Sexual Addiction in the Military” brings an abundance of articles published in military publications regarding sexual addiction and the effect it has on military personnel. One such article published in The Army Times states that one in ten civilians may suffer from pornography addiction while the percentage may be as high as twenty percent of military personnel. Source
Gentle Path at The Meadows has a history of treating active duty military members and retirees for sexual compulsive behaviors so they understand the challenges these individuals face. As a Tricare network provider, Gentle Path at The Meadows provides behavioral health and substance abuse inpatient services, with an emphasis on trauma, PTSD, and addictive disease disorders, to active duty military members, retirees and dependents of the TRICARE West Region.
Military personnel and the demands of their service require special consideration in their health care treatment. Through a close relationship with the military, the therapists, nurses, physicians, and administrators at Gentle Path at The Meadows are very familiar with the unique challenges of these individuals. Military members who serve their country are needed back on the job, back doing the vital service that they were trained to do, and Gentle Path at The Meadows specializes in returning these individuals back to duty.
Military personnel thrive in a structured environment with a scheduled day and required tasks. Gentle Path at The Meadows’ inpatient treatment process is a task-centered model that military personnel can relate to. This structured environment also makes sense to an addict because their lives have usually become convoluted and chaotic. The daily regimen of the Gentle Path at The Meadows’ program, created and overseen by the pioneer in the sexual addiction field, Dr. Patrick Carnes, is tailor-made for the treatment of sexual addiction in military personnel.
Dr. Carnes’s research findings reveal that more than 90% of the Gentle Path at The Meadows patients report experiences of severe trauma (Carnes, 2014) and a significant number endorse symptoms of adult post-traumatic stress disorder. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated high rates of trauma exposure among the general American population: 20.4% women and 8.2% men are likely to develop PTSD following exposure to trauma (Kessler, 1995), and the time life prevalence is 8% (APA, 2000). The military, particularly combat veterans appear to be at more risk; studies reveal rates from 31% to 20% of individuals who meet full criteria of PTSD after being deployed to war zones and around 19.1% who develop other mental health problems.
For the past 25 years, The Meadows, the parent program of Gentle Path at The Meadows, has examined how trauma affects psychological and biological processes, and how the damage caused by overwhelming life experiences can be reversed. An important component of the new Gentle Path program is treating both sex addiction and trauma, given the intricate connections between these two. On the one hand, sex addiction treatment that addresses trauma has proven to be more effective and successful than clinical practices that do not take trauma into consideration. And, on the other hand, the rate of recidivism when sex addiction treatment that is not trauma-informed is significantly higher than other modalities of treatment that do not take trauma into consideration.
A direct implication of traumatic situations is the person’s loss of the natural sense of safety, meaning, purpose, and understanding of the world and life experiences. Because the fight or flight response cannot be deactivated, the sense of self, the world, and the future may become unsafe. Re-experiencing the event and avoiding reminders of the situation can be part of the normal adjustment process. However, it can also result in a disorder that alters the person’s cognition, arousal, and reactivity, behavior, and a sense of self.
Sex addiction is often a response to unresolved trauma. Paradoxically, it entails new sources of trauma; there is a proneness to re-victimization that results from the risky behaviors and/or dangerous relationships that are inherent to this disorder. A first goal in trauma-informed treatment for sexual addictions is the establishment of real safety and avoidance of further damage. Breaking through denial and admission of powerlessness are the essence of the First Step at Gentle Path at The Meadows and the beginning of the process, or stabilization that will lead to understanding the connection between trauma and sex addiction and recovering from it.
“Healing does not occur in a vacuum,” says Allan Benham, Executive Director for Gentle Path at The Meadows. “The therapeutic milieu at Gentle Path at The Meadows helps our patients create a new sense of safety and trust within the context of personal connections and safe relationships. Patients learn about resilience, new choices, and renewed skills, values, and ideals. Additionally, they learn to frame their own destiny by participating in a collaborative relationship with the clinicians at the program.”
Gentle Path at The Meadows provides a therapeutic environment in which:
Most importantly, patients are able to grieve the sexually addictive behaviors that once served to soothe them when trauma occurred.
Today Every journey begins with one step. To learn more about the Gentle Path at The Meadows or if you have an immediate need, please contact us or call 855-333-6076.
Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Individuals who suffer from this disorder distance themselves from others through multiple sexual conquests, pornography, compulsive sexual behaviors, and other activities that create a wedge between them and their loved ones, their work, their friends, and anyone else who may find out who they truly are.
At its core, sex addiction is used as the primary or even exclusive method for coping with untreated trauma, unpleasant or disturbing feelings, ideas, conflicts and stresses, to the point where compulsive sex may become almost the only way the individual can relate to or connect with others. Those who suffer from sex addiction tend to organize their world around sex and live in fear that someone will get to know the “real” person inside them—the vulnerable, wounded, fearful person.
Only when a sex addict’s dysfunctional behaviors begin to negatively impact them and their loved ones are they willing to admit they need help combating their issues. Often these individuals will reach out to a professional for help in understanding what they are struggling with. Initially, they may seek out one of the many intensive treatment programs available in order to jump-start the recovery process. These individuals have usually broken through a major portion of the denial that accompanies sexual addiction by the time they seek help.
For sex addicts with a high motivation to change, a short-term, intensive program feeds into that imperative to change with an intensity that parallels the addiction. Treatment programs with a short length of stay—28-30 days—market themselves as a quick fix to develop the skills and tools needed to prevent relapse, or eliminate all sexual acting out behavior. This “quick fix” approach is very appealing to many sex addicts who are anxious to move on with their life. However, when you consider that it likely took years of acting out behaviors in addition to intimacy issues and early attachment problems to get to the breaking point, a short-term or outpatient treatment approach to recovery seems impossible.
Evidence shows that only time heals the scars and shame of sexual addiction. Additionally, a program offering a longer length of stay allows more time to work on underlying core issues and co-occurring disorders which many sexually compulsive individuals often struggle with.
Sexual compulsivity is a treatable problem. Unlike drug or alcohol treatment, the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not lifelong abstinence, but rather a termination of compulsive, unhealthy sexual behavior. Overcoming this disorder involves a period of self-imposed abstinence, requiring a longer treatment process than a typical addiction program might offer.
Gentle Path at The Meadows believes that recovery from sex addiction is different for each patient, and for many, a more intensive level of treatment is needed. For these men, we offer a 45-day minimum length of stay treatment program designed to effectively address the sex addiction and uncover the underlying cause of the dysfunctional behavior. Our experience has shown, over and over again, that individuals who come to us for treatment enter the worst stage of their withdrawal from their sexual addictive behaviors and acting out patterns between the fourteenth and eighteenth day of sobriety. It is during this time that risk of relapse and the desire to return to old behaviors is the highest which inhibits the core treatment process. Our length of stay allows patients to work through the early stages of recovery and progress to meaningful treatment.
Gentle Path at The Meadows’ treatment program was designed specifically to allow adequate time for our patients to experience the full benefit of Dr. Patrick Carnes’ groundbreaking Thirty-Task model which has been empirically validated to be an effective form of treatment for sexually compulsive behavior. Dr. Carnes founded Gentle Path at The Meadows and personally sees each patient during their treatment; another benefit of our length of stay.
Recovery tools can be taught, but reinforcement comes with immersion which is why length of time in treatment usually determines the patient’s success. Individuals who attend, fully engage in, and complete a longer length of stay program, show marked improvement both during and after treatment. They also show an increased ability to bond with their families and the recovery community outside of treatment. The goal of longer-term programs is not to address only the behaviors, but to lead the patients to a change in lifestyle which creates long-term, successful recovery.
Additionally, Gentle Path at The Meadows was specifically designed for men only. We believe that treating sex addicts in a single gender environment allows them to fully engage in treatment. Whereas, in mixed gender programs, both male and female sex addicts may never be removed fully from the object of their desire long enough to fully enter sexual sobriety. This safe setting promotes bonding as patients start to develop the intimacy that has been missing in their lives.
Every journey begins with one step. To learn more about the Gentle Path at The Meadows or if you have an immediate need, please contact us or call 855-333-6076.
So often times when men or women attend 12 step meetings or therapy they are instructed to do the three circle exercise. The three circle process involves drawing 3 circles that represent 3 types of behaviors in an addict’s life.
The outer circle represents healthy behaviors, the middle circle represents behaviors that may lead an addict to pursue addictive behaviors and the inner circle represents behaviors that are absolutely "deal breakers" and would be full on addictive behaviors and would put an addict back into a slip or relapse. Most addicts know to stay away from inner circle behaviors like pornography, affairs, voyeurism, prostitution because they know it will lead to relapse but often times a sex addict will be in denial of how damaging the middle circle behaviors are and they forget that if they engage in the slippery slope behaviors it will often times open the floodgates for the deal breaking behaviors.
There can be a lot of denial with middle circle behaviors because addicts believe that they can engage in some behaviors that are not good for them yet stay away from "real addictive behaviors." This is a misnomer as invariably, the addict who dabbles in unhealthy behaviors will eventually be drawn to serious addictive relapse or slips. An example of this would be a man who believes that he can look at swimsuit models and not eventually move into hard-core pornography. Or a woman who believes that she can sext or text man and keep her addiction in written form as opposed to move into encounters where sexual activity occur.
These behaviors that one engages in our oftentimes considered denial behaviors. The addict does not recognize nor realize that those behaviors will move him into the actual sexual addiction behaviors that have destroyed his life. The addict fools himself into believing that his middle circle behaviors will not trigger behaviors will take him to the next level.
Some addicts want to believe that they can put substance abuse into their middle circle behaviors. Addicts that use substances like crack, alcohol or sex to "light up" the reward center produce chemicals that create pleasurable feelings. Addicts fool themselves and look for ways to stay in a heightened state of denial so that they can engage in behaviors that will keep the reward center in the brain active and medicate themselves and yet tell themselves that these middle circle behaviors are not really that bad. What we know about addiction is that substance abuse that has been used in conjunction with sex fuses together and that it is imperative to stop both behaviors and keep them in the inner circle as "deal breaker" behaviors. When an addict engages in substance abuse....he will eventually trigger the need to act out sexually.
Working with addicts entails getting them to recognize how important it is for them to value their middle circle behaviors and to create measures that absolutely insulate them from participating in them. Initially sex addicts in recovery understand that these middle circle behaviors are the gateway to moving them into full-blown relapse behavior. As time wanes and the addict begins to miss his addiction he will begin to flirt with behaviors that will absolutely promote his addiction. Although these behaviors seem insignificant, they will actually start an addict back on the journey towards relapse. I worked with a woman who refused to throw away a lipstick that she only used when she was ready to pursue sexual activity. She thought I was ridiculous to expect her to give up the lip stick. When she was in a heightened state of sobriety she realize that this red lipstick represented her acting out behaviors. She was unable to let go of the lipstick almost as if it was a transitional object that kept here attached to her old behaviors .
Men who put filters on their phone and yet find ways to objectify women in bathing suits (usually put in the middle circle) are fooling themselves and are in a heightened state of denial and are one slip away from starting the cycle again.
Don't underestimate your middle circle behaviors. Talk with your sponsor and your 12 step group about grieving the loss of these behaviors and finding supports to prevent them from occurring in your everyday life. If you choose to ignore these middle circle behaviors you will likely not be able to stay in good solid recovery. Eliminating these middle circle behaviors are essential to staying clean, sober and recovered.
Gentle Path at The Meadows is honored to be a sponsor of the 9th Annual International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz. from Feb. 20-22, 2014.
Dr. Patrick Carnes, IITAP founder, is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows and the founder of Gentle Path at The Meadows. Gentle Path at The Meadows is a 27-bed inpatient program on an exclusive and confidential setting for men 18 and older with sexual addiction, relationship addiction and sexual anorexia.
“I am pleased that Gentle Path at The Meadows is a sponsor of the 2014 IITAP Symposium,” said Dr. Patrick Carnes. “The IITAP Symposium offers cutting-edge education to those who treat people with addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors. Having Gentle Path at The Meadows as a sponsor will provide attendees exposure to this highly-regarded treatment program.”
The Gentle Path program is based on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Carnes’ Thirty-Task model which has been empirically validated to be an effective form of treatment for sexually compulsive behavior. Dr. Carnes’ methodology is integrated with The Meadows time-tested model for trauma and addiction treatment to address and treat the complex issues men with sexual addiction face.
“Gentle Path at The Meadows is proud to be a part of the IITAP family and support the educational opportunities and ongoing research into the treatment of individuals with addiction and compulsive sexual behaviors,” said Allan Benham, Executive Director for Gentle Path at The Meadows. “Working with Dr. Carnes and the IITAP team will help us to take sex addiction treatment at Gentle Path at The Meadows to the highest level and truly effect change in our patient’s lives.”
For more information regarding the symposium, visit http://www.iitap.com/events/sex-addiction-workshops/102-symposium.
The Meadows is an industry leader in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. To learn more about The Meadows’ work with trauma and addiction contact an intake coordinator at (866) 856-1279 or visit www.themeadows.com.
For over 35 years, The Meadows has been a leading trauma and addiction treatment center. In that time, they have helped more than 20,000 patients in their inpatient center and 25,000 attendees in national workshops. The Meadows world-class team of Senior Fellows, Psychiatrists, Therapists and Counselors treat the symptoms of addiction and the underlying issues that cause lifelong patterns of self-destructive behavior. The Meadows, with 24-hour nursing and on-site physicians and psychiatrists, is a behavioral health inpatient facility that is licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services and accredited by The Joint Commission.