I’ve heard this quite a bit in other groups:
“Relapse is part of recovery…”
“If I pop a tire, I’m not going to go back to where I started, I’m going to fix the tire and move on.”
My initial questions are these:
Where do these ideas come from?
Who said these things?
Was it an addict trying to justify his behavior?
Was it a clergy or ecclesiastical leader who may have good intentions but doesn’t really have any idea what sexual addiction even is or what the addict is going through?
I ask these questions because I haven’t found anything in any of the recovery materials that I’ve read that mention concepts like these.
In fact, the White Book says that “Without sobriety we have nothing to offer anyone. [This program] offers sexual sobriety, progressive victory over lust, and recovery.” (p. 185)
So how can I be relapsing and still be “in recovery?”
The White Book states, in the Preface, that “This book is for those who want to stop their sexually self-destructive thinking and behavior.” (bold added)
Do I believe the White Book and what it’s trying to teach me? Or am I an exception?
It seems to me that the White Book talks about stopping and staying stopped quite a bit:
“Our situation is like that of the alcoholic who can no longer tolerate alcohol and must stop drinking altogether but is hooked and cannot stop. So it is with the sexaholic, or sex drunk, who can no longer tolerate lust but cannot stop.” (p. 3-4)
“We swear off-again and again. Something inside tells us we should stop. How many times did we say we had to stop? How many times did we actually try stopping? Some of us ‘stopped‘ every time we acted out!” (p. 30-31)
“To stop means we must face the truth about ourselves, and that is like the very threat of death. But unless we do stop and face the truth about ourselves, we remain in death.” (p. 56)
An equation seems to be in place then:
To stop = sobriety > progressive victory over lust > living in recovery
To relapse = no sobriety > continuing to lust > not living in recovery
Rhyll Croshaw, author of “What Can I Do About
Him Me?” and wife of a sexaholic with long-term recovery, shared her thoughts and experience.
This Q & A was originally posted on RhyllRecovery.com. It was also recently posted for the SAL women’s discussion group. Thanks to both Rhyll and the women’s group for sharing this information.
Is relapse an expected part of recovery?
There are those who minimize their behavior by saying they can’t be expected to “just stop” porn and masturbation and other acting out behaviors. In this case, they are giving themselves a pass and want others to let them off the hook. Giving them a pass is enabling.
Relapse is a part of the addiction cycle, not a part of recovery. A relapse occurs when a person is in the addict cycle (preoccupation, ritualization, acting-out, shame and despair). We could replace the word “acting out” with relapsing. The person may have long stretches of white knuckle sobriety, but every relapse does not indicate recovery starting again. . . it indicates a pattern in a cycle.
If the pattern continues to be the same, 3 weeks, 3 months, or even 3 years- THAT is not progressive victory over lust. My husband could be white knuckle sober for 3 years. That is not recovery, it is staying in the addiction cycle. He recognizes now that he was not in recovery, but most of the time was somewhere in the addiction cycle. There can be long periods of time with either shame and preoccupation with not acting-out. In this case, the individual is not in recovery; they are merely white knuckling.
Addictive Actions & Addictive Behaviors
For me, if I’m continuing to relapse, there can never be true clarity in my life. The fog of the addiction is still skewing my perspective.
Addictive actions (relapse) are one thing. But what about the addictive behaviors of anger, rage, resentment, blaming, shaming, minimizing, rationalizing, justifying, isolating, etc.?
If these behaviors are still happening, even if I’m “sober,” I’m not in recovery and need to reassess what’s off or why I’m unable to cope with these persistent negative emotions.
Addictive behaviors are synonymous with emotional un-health. If I’m emotionally unhealthy, I’m not well…
The Addictive Process
Relapse is part of the addictive process, not the recovery process. Here is a summary of the addictive process as outlined on page 37 of the White Book:
– It begins with an overpowering desire for a high, relief,
pleasure, or escape.
– It provides satisfaction.
– It is sought repeatedly and compulsively.
– It then takes on a life of its own.
– It becomes excessive.
– Satisfaction diminishes.
– Distress is produced.
– Emotional control decreases.
– Ability to relate deteriorates.
– Ability for daily living is disrupted.
– Denial becomes necessary.
– It takes priority over everything else.
– It becomes the main coping mechanism.
– The coping mechanism stops working.
– The party is over.
“For the sexaholic, the progression is relentless and inevitable. Within any given moment of our lives, however, we were unaware of the extent it had driven us and refused to see where it was leading. Like revelers riding a raft down the river of pleasure, we were unaware of the awesome power of the rapids or the whirlpool ahead.”
The Addiction Denial Statements
One of the best things I was made aware of early on in recovery was what my therapist called “Addiction Denial Statements.” If I’m honest with myself, I’m practicing many of these if I’m still acting out and thinking that “relapse is part of recovery.”
- False Compliance
- All of Nothing Thinking
- Eternal Optimism
- Opportunity vs. Scarcity
Why Stop and Stay Stopped?
Since I can’t say it better than those who have come before me and have found sobriety and recovery in their lives, I’ll quote from the White Book directly. (see page 64-65)
We stop practicing our compulsion in all its forms. We can’t be “sober” in one area while acting out in another. There can be no relief from the obsession of lust while still practicing the acts of lust in any form.
“I can be masturbating to the image of a blank wall, and I’m still resorting to my drug.”
We stop feeding lust. We get rid of all the materials and other triggers under our control. We stop feeding lust through the eyes, the fantasy, and the memory. We stop relishing the language of lust, resentment, and rage. We stop living only and always inside our own heads. One of the fringe benefits of going to a lot of meetings is that it gets us out of ourselves.
As we become aware of other addictions that are part of our lives, we pray for willingness to surrender each one.
There can be no true recovery from addiction if we allow it to persist in any area, whether in our thinking or in our acting out.
What we are really saying when we start meeting with others is, “I have to stop; please help me.”
But we need some demonstration of trust, and hearing the stories of other members, we begin to let our guard down. Before we know it, we’ve crossed that line of doubt, mistrust, and fear, and have put down our drug.
The program doesn’t tell us how to stop-we had done that a thousand and one times-it shows us how to keep from starting again. We had it backwards; before, we always wanted the therapist, spouse, or God to do the stopping for us-to fix us. Now, we stop; and then, in our surrender, the power of God becomes effective in us.
Why Does This Even Matter?
The topic of relapse being part of recovery can be a triggering one to me, and I’ve had to ask myself why.
As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that, for most of my life, I’ve believed this too – that as long as I am “open” about my “little problem” and talk to the appropriate people about what’s going on, I’m fine; repentance is real and I’m “in recovery.”
Unfortunately, this false belief allowed my addictive behaviors and actions to progress to a point where I nearly lost everything most important to me. And I believed the whole time I was acting out that I was a “good person with a little problem.”
The topic of addiction was never addressed, mostly because it wasn’t understood by those I talked to or by me either.
I lied to myself and believed it for a long, long time and it almost destroyed my entire life and the life of my wife and family.
Interestingly, I read a scripture today in Matthew that seemed to really resonate in a way it never had before:
Matthew 7:15-20 (KJV)
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
This passage of scripture reminded me of the statement, “Without sobriety, we have nothing to offer anyone.” Because, if I’m acting out in my addiction, I can’t bring forth good fruit: I’m deliberately rebelling against God’s will.
When I hear that “relapse is part of recovery,” it causes fear, fear that I’ll start believing that again, fear that others will jump on that bang-wagon and believe it too, and fear that it will cause a shift in what recovery really looks like and is.
I realize that this may be one of those things I can’t control, one of those things I need to surrender, but hopefully this context will help others see why the topic is such a tough one for me.
For me, relapse can NEVER be part of recovery.
This is not to say that a slip or relapse means complete failure. The longer I practice recovery in my life, the more I realize that recovery is indeed a practice. It is a choice I make one moment at a time. Each new moment, each new day, I have the opportunity to take it or leave it.
I have to stop and stay stopped and then and only then will the fog of my addiction start to clear. And it may take longer than I’d like for that fog to clear.
“It’s as though at certain stages, our entire system cries out: Stop! You’re killing me! Sexual sobriety opens the door to recovery, where the healing begins. We feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually when sober and when the principles of the Steps are effective in our everyday lives.” (p. 33)
What’s been your experience with sobriety & recovery?