What Sex Addiction Is…and Isn’t

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.


What is sex addiction?

First – let us consider what sex addition is NOT:  Sex addition is not defined by sexual desireSex addiction is not defined by the type of sexual act performed.  It isn’t defined by the frequency of sexual activity.

Rather, sex addiction is defined by the addict’s continual sexual urges, cravings, fantasies and behaviors to address non-sexual emotional needs.

Sex addiction is an obsessive relationship to sexual thoughts, fantasies or activities that an individual continues to engage in despite adverse consequences. These thoughts, fantasies or activities occupy a disproportionate amount of “psychic space” (the inner world of the addict that isn’t conscious, but is emotionally powerful enough to overrule thinking).  These thoughts result in an imbalance in the person’s overall functioning in important areas of life, such as work and marriage. Distress, shame and guilt about the behaviors erode the addict’s already weak self-esteem.

Sexual addiction can be thought of as an intimacy disorder.  This means that  manifested as a compulsive cycle of preoccupation, ritualization of sexual behavior, and despair. Central to the disorder is the inability of the individual to adequately bond and attach in intimate relationships. The syndrome is rooted in early attachment failure with primary caregivers and is a maladaptive way to compensate for this early child/parent misattunement. Addiction is a symbolic enactment of deeply entrenched unconscious dysfunctional relationships with self and others.

While the definition of sex addiction has similar features as that of other addictions, sexual compulsion is set apart from other addictions in that sex involves our innermost unconscious wishes, needs, fantasies, fears and conflicts.

Like other addictions, it is relapse-prone.

What are the signs/symptoms of addiction?  

While there currently is no diagnosis of sex addiction in the DSM-IV, clinicians in the sex addiction field have developed general criteria for diagnosing sex addiction. If an individual meets three or more of these criteria, he/she could be considered a sex addict: The sex addict uses sex as a quick fix, or as a form of medication for anxiety, pain, loneliness, stress, or sleep.  Sex addicts often refer to sex as their “pain reliever” or “tension reliever.”   This is what the Association for Sexual Health has to say about a definition for sex addiction.

  • The addict displays increasingly secretive behavior, deception, and withdrawal from those closest to him resulting in severe stress to the relationship and loss of self-esteem for both partners. Sexual addiction is often accompanied by other addictions, such as an addiction to work or chemicals
  • The addict displays increasingly secretive behavior, deception, and withdrawal from those closest to him
  • Recurrent failure (pattern) to resist impulses to engage in extreme acts of lewd sex; frequently engaging in those behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce, or control those behaviors Inordinate amount of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experience
  • Preoccupation with the behavior or preparatory activities
  • Frequently engaging in sexual behavior when expected to fulfill occupational, academic, domestic, or social obligations
  • Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, academic, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the behavior
  • Need to increase the intensity, frequency, number, or risk of behaviors to achieve the desired effect, or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number, or risk
  • Giving up or limiting social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the behavior
  •       Experience of distress, anxiety, restlessness, or violence if unable to engage in the behavior at times relating to SRD (Sexual Rage Disorder)
  •      Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
  •    a need for markedly increased amount or intensity of the behavior to achieve the        desired effect
  •    markedly diminished effect with continued involvement in the behavior at the same level or intensity
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
  • o characteristic psycho-physiological withdrawal syndrome of physiologically described changes and/or psychologically described changes upon discontinuation of the behavior
  • o the same (or a closely related) behavior is engaged in to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control the behavior.
  • The behavior continues despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the behavior
  • Repeatedly and compulsively attempting to escape emotional or physical discomfort by using ritualized, sexualized behaviors such as masturbation, pornography, including obsessive thoughts.

Some individuals try to connect with others through highly impersonal intimate behaviors: empty affairs, frequent visits to prostitutes, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, cybersex, sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation.

Notes on Sex Addiction from Dorothy’s Presentation to the BDSM Community

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

handcuffs
I recently did a presentation on “Sex Addiction in the BDSM community” for a room-full of kinksters.  You can only imagine the level of addiction that shrouds our “alternative lifestyle” cousins.I’m posting my notes, as they may be of interest.
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What is sex addiction?(Is it addiction or just a bad habit?)First – let us consider what sex addition is NOT:  Sex addition is not defined by sexual desire.  Sex addiction is not defined by the type of sexual act performed.  It isn’t defined by the frequency or the form of sexual activity.  So you’re FORM of sexual expression has nothing to do with sex addiction – unless it does.

Rather, sex addiction is defined by persistent sexual urges, cravings, fantasies and behaviors designed to address non-sexual, emotional needs that the person feels ill-equipped to get met in healthy, related, connected ways.   Sex addiction is a pathological relationship to your own sexuality.

How can it be an addiction?

  • o    When the sex addict is acting-out  – he is experiencing three basic types of neurochemical responses: arousal, satiation, or an increase in fantasy or preoccupation with the object/behavior.
  •  Mood-altering behaviors can create the same central nervous system responses as mood-altering substances, and often the behaviors and substances are used in combination. Behaviors associated with sex addiction trigger neurochemical reactions similar to those produced by many psychoactive drugs. In other words sex addicts become addicted to the neurochemical changes that take place in the body during sexual behavior.  
  • Sex addiction is an obsessive relationship to sexual thoughts, fantasies or activities that an individual continues to engage in despite adverse consequences. These thoughts, fantasies or activities occupy a disproportionate amount of “psychic space” in the person’s mind.  This results in an imbalance in the person’s overall functioning in important areas of life, such as work, intimate connections, friendships and recreational activities.
  • Distress, shame and guilt about the behaviors erode the addict’s already weak self-esteem.
  • Sexual addiction can be thought of as an intimacy disorder Central to the disorder is the inability of the individual to adequately bond, connect and attach in intimate relationships.   Usually because early-life attachments to parental figures seemed dangerous and inconsistent, the person eschews reaching out to others to get emotional needs met and turns within himself.   He comes to replace intimacy with intense sexual pleasure.  He confuses intensity with intimacy.
  • Sex addiction is a narcissistic endeavor with self-centered sexual pleasure as an abiding goal and value that results in the devaluation of other human beings.  People become no more than need-satisfying objects with no needs or wishes of their own.  Others sense this objectification and avoid connection and contact with the addict, thus increasing his alienation and isolation. In desperation, some individuals try to make an illusory connection with others through highly impersonal intimate behaviors: empty affairs, frequent visits to prostitutes, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, cybersex, sexual arousal to objects, etc.
  • Because he has eschewed intimate connections and has withdrawn into himself, the addict lives in alienation and isolation.  Sex addiction is usually a secretive, private affair. LYING  and DECEIT may be part of the deal.

                                                          The Erotic Haze

Every sex addict experiences an immersion in what I have called the “Erotic Haze.”  This is a period of time that may last 4-5 hours or longer.  The body bathes the brain in pleasure-enhancing endorphins.

The unconscious mind overpowers the conscious mind, making it impossible to make rational decisions.  The sex addict fails to account for his own enlightened self-interest or the feelings of others.

Fantasy is the fodder of a person in the “Erotic Haze”. In many cases, sex addicts perform some form of ritualized behavior.  This usually precedes a sexual act. For example, an addict may cruise in a car for hours looking for just the right sex worker.  He gets pleasure from the ritual.

When the sex addict is in this mental state, his needs are what matter most of all.  He feels no anxiety about responding to the needs of another.  There is no fear of closeness, vulnerability or rejection.  To him, nothing feels as if it is a compromise.  All that exists is the pleasure of the sexual fulfillment.  It is the only time in a sex addict’s life that he knows perfect control over the “other,” and this is distinctly unlike what he experienced as a child.

The “Erotic Haze” is a totally compelling state, one in which sex addicts are totally preoccupied.  When in the Haze, the person is “dissociated”, meaning he’s checked out from himself and the reality around him.  Dissociation is a state associated with Multiple Personality Disorder and it damages the functional integrity of personality.  It has a de-unifying, disintegrating effect of the person’s identity.

  • Sex addicts have a private life and a public life.  I’ve observed a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” experience in my clients with each side of the personality having different and conflicting values and goals.
  • o Secrecy and deceit are the hallmarks of the Mr. Hyde persona.
  • o Uneasiness, shame, guilt and fear of exposure are the constant companions of Dr. Jekyll.
  •  The sex addict uses sex as a quick fix, or as a form of medication for anxiety, pain,loneliness, stress, sleep deprivation, boredom, feelings of self-loathing, existential emptiness, physical pain, distress over marital conflicts, guilt, worry and depression.  Entrance into a sexual pleasure trance (a/k/a “The Erotic Haze”) is a magic elixir that instantly annihilates many of the emotional experiences that most of us deal with from time to time and that make us human.
  • Sexual addiction is often accompanied by other addictions, such as an addiction
  •  to work, alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • There is Recurrent failure to resist impulses to engage in sexual acting out.  These
  •  recurrent failures to control impulses erode already fragile self esteem.  Shame is
  •  fodder in which sex addiction thrives.
  •  Frequently engaging in sexual behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended (loss of control)
  •  Inordinate amount of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from
  •           sexual experience.
  • ·           Preoccupation with the behavior or ritualistic preparatory activities. (Cruising the
  •           hooker spots in your car).
  •           Frequently engaging in sexual behavior when expected to fulfill occupational,                          academic, domestic, or social obligations.  Students who spend 14 hours looking at internet porn when they should be studying.  A father who misses his kid’s birthday because of sexual pre-occupation or acting out.
  •          Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, academic, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused by the behavior.  (Continuation despite adverse consequences).
  •            Need to increase the intensity, frequency, number, or risk of behaviors to achieve the desired effect, Similar to “tolerance” in the alcoholic. Talk about guy with kiddie porn arrest.
  •           Experience of distress, anxiety, restlessness, or violence if unable to engage in the behavior.
  •       Withdrawal, (as in alcohol and drug addiction) as manifested by either of the following:
  • o    The addict craves his “dopamine” rush and feels imbalanced by the drop in the “pleasure” neuro-chemicals resulting from the cessation of the behavior.  Without the “erotic haze”, the person is faced with the entirety of the unwanted internal states he had eradicated with sex.  He has Problems with dealing adaptively with realistic issues because of lack of higher coping mechanisms.
  • oTHEN the same behavior is engaged in to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.  (Called the addictive cycle). Sexual behavior becomes less about pleasure and more about eliminating the distress of NOT doing the behavior (avoiding withdrawal) (At some point alcoholics stop experiencing the pleasure of drinking and drink just to relieve withdrawal symptoms)
  •  Sex addiction is a narcissistic endeavor with self-centered sexual pleasure as an abiding goal and value that devalues other human beings.  People become no more than need-satisfying objects with no needs or wishes of their own.  Others sense this objectification and avoid connection and contact with the addict, thus increasing his alienation and isolation. In desperation, some individuals try to make an illusory connection with others through highly impersonal intimate behaviors: empty affairs, frequent visits to prostitutes, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, cybersex, sexual arousal to objects, etc.

The Face of Sex Addiction

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation. sex addiction therapy ny See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

neglected+boy

Childhood emotional pain                                     From emotional, sexual, physical abuse or from

neglect and abandonment

Anxiety and Fear                                                    Feelings seem overwhelming and dangerous; panic from trying to stop the pain unsuccessfully; feelings of impotence, unworthiness, shame

Desire for a “quick fix”                                           Desperate need to control feelings

Lack of parental empathy and attention              Impairment in growth; inability to tolerate frustration; impulsive; immediate gratification

Lack of nurturance, guidance, structure              Life-long need to be validated, recognized and approved of; to receive excessive amounts of attention and praise

Chaotic, inconsistent family environment            Child withdraws into himself, determines not to need anyone because closeness is so dangerous (intimacy disorder)

Discovery of a panacea                                        Immediate, effective relief of distressed internal states

Compulsive sexual behavior is a panacea that produces an internal state that is stimulating, arousing, numbing, or fantasy-like; the addict become addicted to this internal state of being.  However, the best highs get less and less over time, as it takes more of the panacea to get the high.

This phenomenon is called “tolerance”.  Cessation of the panacea, sometimes brings on extreme depression, irritability and boredom, a phenomenon known as “withdrawal”.

With increasing involvement in compulsive sexual behavior, the panacea stops producing a “high” as much as it merely serves to stave off negative feelings and ever-increasing feelings of withdrawal.

In summary, addicts use the panacea (1) because the high feels good, (2) to medicate away pain and anxiety and (3) to avoid withdrawal.

 

Understand Sex Addiction Through a Case Example

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

Steve is a professional musician. A man in his 50’s, he is virile and sensitive.  Steve is sexually compulsive around fetishistic sex.

Early Years

Since his early teens, Steve had masturbated nearly every night before going to sleep. As he matured, his need for masturbation increased until he masturbated five or six times a day. He found that if he did not act on these urges, he would remain “horny” all day, which would make him restless, distracted, and irritable. When asked about his masturbatory fantasies in therapy, he related that they centered on feet, stockings, worshiping at the feet of a dominant woman to whom he would avow love, and visiting professional sex workers to whom he would also confess love.

Young Adulthood

By his mid-twenties, he was routinely acting out on these fantasies. Again, if he did not act out his sexual fantasies, he would become very uncomfortable and would be unable to focus on anything except playing music during the day. When the Internet became available, he started spending numerous hours each day surfing the net, looking for fetishistic images which he would use as visual stimulation for masturbation. Stating that he was never interested in “fucking real women”, he said he was eager to view websites that featured feet, legs, stockings, heels and “femme dommes”.

When he would begin a romantic/sexual relationship with a woman, he would vow to him himself to stop acting out with aberrant sex to devote his attention to the girlfriend. He could, however, never bring himself to tell the “real girlfriend” he loved her. Within a few months after he began a relationship, he would lose sexual interest in his partner and the relationship would fall apart.

At some point, he started using telephone sex services. He would enjoy having elaborate fantasy relationships with the workers and would often “fall in love” with one of them. When he had “maxed out” his credit cards, he applied for new ones and then ran them up their limits. He got behind in the rent, and the power company threatened to cut him off unless he paid his bill. Socially isolated, deeply in debt, and about to lose his job, Steve realized his preoccupation with sex was ruining his life, but he felt powerless to change his behavior. Moreover, he was fighting the urge to visit a dominatrix/transvestite which he felt was a significant increase in the level of deviance he required to achieve sexual satisfaction.

Mid Life

Steve was beginning to sense that pornography and phone sex no longer excited him to the degree they did in the earlier years. He was tired of searching for increased levels of novelty, excitement, and risk that were required to achieve orgasm. At the same time he had met a woman whom he greatly admired, but for whom he had no sexual feelings despite her very real physical attractiveness. Any overtures requiring emotional intimacy would provoke anxiety.
Steve began to examine his relationship patterns. Fearful that he was perpetuating his life-long pattern of not being able to be sexual or to have loving feelings for a real woman, he was concerned that yet another relationship would painfully fall apart. This, combined with persistent job jeopardy and chronic debt, propelled him to sex addiction counseling.

Family Dynamics & Personal History

Steve was the youngest child in the family, with a sister who was five years his senior.

His sister was a bit sadistic, tormenting him with teasing when he began to develop sexually.

During one therapy session, he relayed an incident wherein he had given his ID bracelet to a girlfriend and his sister confronted him about the missing bracelet at the dinner table which incited fear in him about his projection of his mother’s enmeshed and hysterical reaction. His mother, it seemed, was the stereotypical “Jewish mother.” She was adamant that he not see girls who were not Jewish (and most of his girlfriends were not). When starting treatment, Steve reported that he had a very “loving” relationship with his mother. She would tell him that she loved him “every 10 seconds” and would incur his guilt about abandoning her whenever he made an effort to explore his interest in girls.

Through counseling, Steve began to realize that a fear of engulfment was an underlying factor about his anxiety about true intimacy and was able to connect this to his relationship to a mother who was too insecure to allow him to become his own person. He spent his childhood feeling that he could not retain a sense of himself and still maintain his relationship to mother, whom he put on a pedestal. Unable to risk his mother’s emotionally abandoning him, he cloaked himself in a metaphorical suit of armor of a “false self”, which was a people-pleasing self. Constantly seeking validation from the outside, sexual approval and acceptance from sex workers made him feel real, vital and alive. It defined his identity.

Steve’s love and need for mother represented a conflict for him. At some point, he began to realize how emotionally arbitrary his mother was. He could never trust her telling him that she loved him “every 10 seconds” because she would act differently from one moment to the next, giving Steve mixed messages. What disturbed him most as a child was his mother’s rage attacks, which were unpredictable and could be triggered by almost anything. Inevitably, whenever Steve would make an attempt to appropriately separate from family, his mother would rage about an unrelated event. He described his reaction to this as sometimes feeling “crazy” as a result of his mother’s enmeshment and abandonment patterns.

Steve’s father worked in the hardware store that his father (Steve’s grandfather) had started and had successfully run until he sold it to cover his gambling debts. Steve’s father had intended to save his money, desiring to eventually buy out the hardware store’s current owner or open his own store. After many years, however, he was still working for little more than minimum wage, while the store’s owner would regularly rebuke him for not having his father’s knack for hardware.

Steve’s father was not ready to be a father when Steve was born. Steve understood that his father was planning on leaving his mother but could not bring himself to leave her with two small children. Steve came to blame himself for being responsible for holding his father in a marriage in which he did not want. Later he realized that his father would not have had the guts to leave.

Steve noted that his father never stood up for himself or for his family, and that he never stood up to Steve’s mother. While his mother held Steve up on a pedestal, she, at the same time, demoralized his father with her constant belittling about his failure as a man.

His father died from a heart attack when Steve was 13. He felt nothing about the loss and when he went back to school he never told anyone about it. After a year passed since losing his father, Steve’s mother was hit and killed by a bus after Steve asked her if she could walk the dog as a favor to him. He had wanted to stay home to look at internet porn and masturbate.

Analysis

Extremes of parental deprivation, abuse or indulgence (and inconsistencies of both) have devastating effects on a child, and it is not surprising to find this dynamic in the backgrounds of many sexual compulsives.

Steve had a weak connection to a vulnerable father to whom he felt a guilt-inducing tie for “holding” him to a torturous marriage to a woman who loathed and belittled his manhood. There was no port in the storm for Steve; no sustaining environment where Steve could develop an arsenal of task -orienting coping strategies. Nor did he have any social connections that could have compensated for the lack of balance and consistency required for the development of a solid, adequate sense of self. Like many sexual compulsives, he sexualized his family-of-origin conflicts and developed an internal “split” to abide an unbearable childhood psychic reality.

As an adult, he felt he lived in two worlds – not unlike a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. There was a vacillating connection between fetishistic love objects in his fantasy world where he could express non-threatening love feelings and “real” women who were his companions and intellectual equals, although he held no erotic feelings for them.

Steve could remain alive and vital enough to succeed at a competitive career in the music industry by remaining in a dissociated “erotic haze” which served to regulate the amount of intimacy he could tolerate. The person who is addicted to sex therefore frequently alternates between the isolated and anxious clinging to both the “fantasy” love object with whom he feels safe but dehumanized, demoralized and fraudulent, and the “real” woman with whom he feels emotionally vulnerable, terrified of engulfment and de-erotized.

In addition to a lack of self care and the repetitive, impulsive choices that result in damaging consequences to the self, the person enslaved addiction to sex is ill- equipped to value, comfort, soothe, and care for his authentic self. Indeed, he has no authentic self because he has never separated from his family-of-origin. The lack of care and nurturing from a mother who only saw him as a “need-supplying object” for herself is his basic trauma and is acted out sexually as an adult.

With this case in mind, let us pick out specifically what makes for a description of someone addicted to sexual behaviors.

Steve’s Addiction to Sexual Behavior:

  • Solidifies his identity
  • Feels shameful
  • Is illicit, stolen, or exploitive
  • Compromises values
  • Draws on fear for excitement
  • Reenacts childhood traumas
  • Disconnects one from oneself
  • Creates a world of unreality and fantasy
  • Is self-destructive and dangerous
  • Uses conquest or power
  • Serves to medicate and kill pain
  • Is dishonest
  • Requires a double life
  • Is grim and joyless
  • Demands perfection
  • Mistakes intensity for intimacy
  • Requires novelty – intensity always has to be more than the last “hit”
  • Gives way to self-hatred, loneliness and despair.
  • Has no sexual “boundaries”
  • Uses false intimacy as a way to avoid relational pain
  • Preoccupation and ritualizations
  • Is “doing to” someone
  • Is devoid of communication
  • Has no limits
  • Benefits one person
  • Is an uncontrollable energy
  • Is emotionally distant

Use Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Step Out of the Addiction Cycle

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

One Model of the Addiction Cycle
The  Cycle of Sex Addiction
AddictiveCycle
  1. The experience of shame  such as a real or perceived insult to your self esteem, being criticized, depression, emptiness, being bored, being alone and not knowing what to do, a “blame/defense” battle with a partner”, a wife leaving town for three days,  disappointment, a major loss, helplessness or hopelessness.  Almost anything that is experienced as emotional pain.
  2. The emotions become magnified and distorted because you have irrational thoughts/ reactions which lead to an intensification of your feelings.  It is these irrational, distorted thoughts you say to yourself that turn unpleasant feelings into intolerable distress.
  3. Distress fuels both the desire to hide and isolate,  because the feelings are shame-bound, together with the opposing need to form a pseudo-connection.
  4. Sexual fantasies to create a safer, more pleasant world for yourself.
  5. Intense cravings and urges;
  6. Preoccupation with sexual thoughts.
  7. Ritualization — not unlike OCD, the person engages in prescribed behavior, e.g driving through the streets where he used to pick up a prostitute.
  8. Dissociation –you lose awareness of who you are and what you are doing
  9. Entrance into the Erotic Haze.  You know what that is; I don’t have to explain it.
  10. Acting out —  a self-defeating strategy intended to communicate feelings about which you have no words.
  11. Orgasm — more shame, depression, self-hatred.  “I can’t believe I did it again.”
  12. Lapse of time.
  13. The cycle begins again to mask the pain of the humiliation of having done it again.  It’s become the only way you know how to  cope.
My intention for an upcoming article on http://www.sextreatment.com is to enlarge and scrutinize each phase of the sex addiction cycle in order to apply a healthy coping mechanism relevant to that particular phase.   This stops the cycle dead in its track and puts you on your way  back to self-control and sanity. Perhaps you may even follow the site!!
Dorothy Uncharacteristically  Self-Discloses
I had an experience of my own shame/addiction cycle escape just last night.  This after 33 years of recovery.
I very much wanted to attend a particular social event comprised of the people with whom I went through analytic training 15 years ago.  Due to various circumstances, I had not kept touch with the community through the years and the longer I stayed away, irrationally, the more SHAME I felt about staying away and the harder it was for me to get back.
I myself feel the pangs of the isolation of my work and I’ve been finding myself hungry for extra social engagement, for people to talk to about my wacky work, to hear presentations about what other analysts were doing and to present about my own work so as to get some clarity and feedback.
Last night was THE NIGHT.  I screwed my courage to the winds to face whatever unconscious irrational beliefs I had about becoming a member again, walked out the door, got in a cab to midtown, totally prepared to meet and greet.
I ended up getting there an hour-and-a-half late.  First of all, I was preoccupied with something and was late in getting out of the house.  Then the cab driver dropped me off God knows where and I spent time walking around looking for the place. I had gotten lost in Manhattan.  That’s pretty hard to do – they lay it all out for you, never mind I’ve been here for 35 years.  I arrived to discover that the party was over.  All had gone home.
Stunned, I staggered out into the street.  Standing in the street for what seemed to be an interminable period of time, I became AWARE that I was experiencing physiological tinglings associated with being in a high arousal state stemming from the following experiences:  more shame about having screwed up and missed the party, anger at myself for not being more mindful, projected negative appraisal from certain people who expected me to be there (What will they think of me?), disappointment, and feeling like a fool.  And oh, by the way, I hadn’t eaten anything and I was exhausted from overwork.
Then, the virtual impossibility of finding a cab mid-town on a Friday night.  Not only was I lost, I helpless to get home.
We’re human beings and all human beings are subject to having exactly these kinds of feelings.  Most know they’re not dangerous and that feelings come and go.  They let them go to move on to the business of living.
Addicts, however, react to their feelings in such as way that they become exaggerated and seem threatening.
How do they become exaggerated?

Because of the things we TELL ourselves about them.  I use Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy sometimes to stop myself and get a perspective.  These series of irrational thoughts about our feelings  them seem overwhelming.

Phase 1: Back to me waiting on the street for the elusive cab.  From what seemed like out of the blue, but was really the result of many escalating factors in the cycle, I was at the first phase of the addiction cycle: an experience of an intense, unwanted inner state caused by what I told myself about my feelings.
What are these irrational beliefs/voices?
First, absolutism – inflexible demands I make on myself, characterized by the word “should”.  I should be able to get a cab.  I should be comfortable at all times.  I should not experience frustration or discomfort. My needs should be met.  I should not have arrived late.  I should have been more mindful because I shouldn’t make mistakes.  I shouldn’t be as upset as I am.
Followed by the “musts”.  I absolutely MUST have the approval and goodwill (of everyone in the world, really) but particularly of this group of people. I  MUST not make mistakes around them or appear imperfect.  And if I do, it’s AWFUL.
You can see that these somewhat crazy thoughts heightened my emotional experience and I was in a state of intense distress.  It is this particular distressed state that puts you at the beginning of the addiction cycle.
2.  I wanted to both hide and to connect so as to quell these very unpleasant feelings. The thought crossed my mind that I should go downtown to what used to be my favorite watering hole, connect to a person or two, and down a few shots.
3. I experienced, for the first time in a very long time, a craving for alcohol.
My addiction cycle stopped there.  I became AWARE that I was once again ensnarled in the addiction.  HOWEVER, I was able to implement healthy coping mechanisms to stop the process.  I didn’t have to become swept away by the rest of the cycle which surely would have resulted in relapse.
Here are some things I did:
With the knowledge that I had evolved into phase 3 of the cycle, I was able to apply healthy coping mechanisms to retrieve my sanity.
I was AWARE that I was having cravings.  I remembered that craving is a common experience, even sometimes with long-term recovery.  The experience is normal.  It didn’t mean something was wrong.  I reminded myself that craving is temporary and that, given time, it will run it course and I’ll be feeling like myself again.  How bad is it, really, to feel bad for 10 minutes.
All the urges I’ve ever had have passed.
I reminded myself of the incredible benefits accrued from having lived a sober life and called up the memory of my worst drunk.
With awareness of my changed physiology and enhanced arousal state caused by strong emotions, I quelled and stabilized by body by doing some favorite breathing techniques.  This immediately stabilized my anxiety and returned me to a physiological sound base.
I put my iPod on and became absorbed in listening to classical music.  Music doth have charms to soothe the savage beast and it was also using the coping mechanism of distraction.
I began to dispute the irrational beliefs that were agitating me so.  My adult has a long talking to my child.  Through this process, I was able to gain a larger perspective, another coping mechanism.  So I missed a party.  Big deal.  There’ll be another Fall Party next Fall and there’ll be events during the year.  In all probability, no one even noticed I wasn’t there.
I then used problem solving to dispel anxiety and to alleviate my sense of helplessness.  I walked over a few blocks where I thought I might better able get a cat.  That strategy having failed, I used my cell phone to call a car service.  I also used the cell phone to call a friend and talk it through.
When I got home, I did a bit of housecleaning.  In this way, I sublimated my negative energies into something useful and constructive. Importantly, I engaged in another distracting activity. 
 
Calmer, I did some benefit finding.  To counteract shame, I endorsed myself for having a strong intention to do something meaningful and constructive and for taking the actions I did take to make it happen.  I thought about how nice it was to walk around the city streets on a beautiful autumn evening and how fortunate I was to live in the Big Apple.
I also acknowledged gratitude for having been given the skills to know how to escape another encounter with the addiction cycle.
If you’re interested in treatment, contact me at dorothyhayden1231@gmail.com for a free 30-minute consultation. www.sextreatment.com

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Coping with Cravings/Dorothy Hayden, LCSW

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

Cravings occur in response to negative emotions that may not even be available to you in your conscious mind.  The feelings can be repressed long-ago, but the manifestation is an irresistible urge to go back to the sex.
Especially in early sexual recovery, these cravings can create significant distress.  You inability to handle intense cravings will get you right back where you don’t want to be.
Here’s some tips on how to get through with them:
  • Recognize them as a normal part of your recovery process.  Nothing is wrong with you.
  • Remember — this uncomfortable state won’t last forever.  A craving is a sometimes thing.  Given time, they’ll run their course and you’ll be feeling yourself again.  Remember that all (almost all) the urges you’ve ever had have passed.  In life, we all have to sit out a lot of things.
  • Better breathing is your route to calmness and vitality.  Teach yourself a simple breathing technique from the net or, better yet, get a book on “pranyama” – the Yogi’s system of breathing.
  • Get Busy.  Wash the kitchen floor  – by hand.
  • Call a friend and talk it through.
  • Remind yourself of the benefits of sexual recovery.
  • Visualize the most demoralizing occurrence of your acting out.
  • Get perspective.  Really, now.  What’s so AWFUL about feeling uncomfortable for 10 minutes?
  • Remind yourself that a craving does not keep steadily increasing until it – blows the top of your head off!!  It will diminish.
  • Distraction.  When you feel an urge coming on, immediately involve yourself with a non-sexual pleasurable activity.  The more active, the better.  Run around the block.
  • Reflect about what could be driving the urge…an uncomfortable feeling?  A desire to avoid something?
  • Do a visualization called “urge surfing”.  Imagine yourself at the beach.  See yourself as a surfer riding the wave of a craving.  See how the waves (urges) start small, grow in sizes, then break up and dissipate until they make up the foam along the shore line.
The above represents some coping mechanisms for dealing with urges and cravings.  The next post will address healthier coping skills for dealing with the distressful inner states that fuel the impulse to act out.
If you’re interested in treatment, feel free to contact me at dorothyhayden1231@gmail.com for a free 30-minute phone consultation.
 

New Website Offers 35 Articles About Sex Addiction

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I hope you’ll all visit my fab  new website, http://www.sextreatment.com.  So far, it’s gotten rave reviews from visitors.
It contains 12 new articles about exactly how sex addiction therapy is done using a wide range of clinical techniques.
And it includes the articles about sex addiction I’ve written over 15 years – 35 of them!
Good “Resources” page and “Suggested Reading List.”
Hope you find it valuable.
dh
dorothyhayden1231@gmail.com