Recently I was talking with a friend in recovery that goes to SAL meetings and another group support meeting. He mentioned that someone in his other group told the entire group that they really shouldn’t label themselves as addicts and that it’s hurtful to their recovery.
My friend and I had this conversation a few days ago but these questions have been stuck in my head ever since:
“Is it a bad thing to admit to my fellows that I’m an addict?”
“Is labeling myself an addict indefinitely damaging to me and possibly others?”
Ironically, the day after our conversation I decided to formally start working on Step 1 again – by “formally” I mean doing reading from the different recovery materials, writing about how the reading applies to where I am today, and thinking about what I can do to work Step 1 in my day to day interactions.
Before I share what I found in my Step 1 study, I can honestly say that I had no agenda, I wasn’t looking for any evidence or proof that what this person had said about labeling or admitting addiction was wrong. I just started reading.
This was one of the first statements I found in the White Book, a book written by addicts for addicts:
“Living inside our illness, we were blind to [the addiction]. In recovery, the addiction begins to lose its hold over us, but it is necessary that we never forget what we really are.” (p. 29, bold added)
Talk about smacking me in the face with a big “DON’T EVER FORGET WHERE YOU’VE BEEN AND WHO YOU REALLY ARE!”
The comment about not calling myself an addict truly sparked some negative feelings in me. I didn’t want it to, but it did.
Is my reading in the White Book fueling that fire of negative emotion, or is it just reminding me what the truth really is about addiction recovery?
Ultimately, I feel it’s inspired this blog post to discuss the big question:
Should I call myself an addict for the rest of my life?
Is it a bad thing to admit I’m an addict? Is it terrible to “label myself” this way? Or does trying to sweep it under the rug, say I’m a “child of God” with some problems, just worsen the problem and push me ever inward?
One of the things that sticks out to me in the reading of Step 1 in the White Book is how an addict is defined:
“…tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal. If someone has experienced these three phenomena in some area of his or her life, that person is generally regarded as being addicted. When we apply the test to ourselves, we identify as being addicted to lust, sex, relationships, or various combinations of these – for starters.” (p. 30)
These three components – tolerance, abstinence, and withdrawal – commonly identify addiction and shouldn’t be overlooked or brushed aside if one is really serious about recovery and healing.
What are signs of tolerance?
“Tolerance refers to the tendency to tolerate more of the drug or activity and get less from its use, hence the need for increasing dosage to maintain or recapture the desired effect.” (The White Book, p. 30)
With sexual addiction, this refers to the need for increased obsessive thinking, interaction, or activity with less and less effect. This means I resort to the drug more and more with less and less satisfaction.
In my research in the White Book, these are some self-imposed questions that helped me see how I’ve been attempting to tolerate more of my drug over the course of my life:
– How has my lust and/or sexual activity escalated over the years?
– How many lines have I crossed that I said I never would?
– What started as just thoughts or fantasies and turned into real actions?
– How did my addiction get worse with the introduction of the internet?
– How did my relationships with others, especially in regard to the physical side of relationships, worsen over time? Was I was really just in the relationship for the “hit” or the “chase,” not for real connection?
– How did I need more and more of my “drug?”
If I answer these questions honestly, tolerance has been at the core of my life since as early as 4 or 5 years old.
Maybe I wasn’t an addict yet, but I was planting the seeds, mixing the ingredients, or baiting the hook as a little boy without even knowing it.
The scariest thing for me, as a father to young boys, is how easily young people can now get access to pornography with the click of a button. And this pornography is not the Swimsuit Issue or JC Penny magazine kind of stuff that was the start of my addiction…
Who’s to say that a young person can’t be roped into the addictive cycle at a much earlier age than some may think?
To me, this escalates the tolerance tendency that much more rapidly.
How is abstinence a sign of addiction?
“Abstinence refers to the phenomenon where the typical addict tries to quit using the addictive agent or activity. Perhaps we should call it attempted abstinence. We swear off – again and again. Something inside tells us we should stop.” (The White Book, pp. 30-31)
Sound familiar? How many of us have stopped a thousand times or told ourselves, “Ok, that was the last time. I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m done for real…”?
These questions help me better see how I’ve practiced the abstinence tendency as an “addict-in-progress”:
– How many times did I say I had to stop?
– How many times did I actually try stopping?
– How many times did I go to an ecclesiastical leader and swear that this was the last time?
– How many times did I ever tell that leader the full history of my acting out?
– How many different leaders did I tell different things to?
– How many times did I cross a line with what I was looking at and say, “Dang, I’ll never go that far again…” only to go right back to that depth, maybe even the next day?
– How often did I “stop” every time I acted out?”
Any interaction with pornography is potentially addictive and destructive. Even an accidental encounter with it as a child.
To try to put a rating on how addicted one is or say that some exposure to pornography may not be addictive at all is absurd based on my experiences.
Would I let my little boys go to a wine testing exhibit or sample different shots of vodka as long as they didn’t drink a full glass of the stuff? I mean, one little drink probably won’t get them addicted, right?
How have I practiced withdrawal as an addict?
“Withdrawal is applied to the symptoms the addict may experience when deprived of the drug or activity…This gives rise to the deception and demand that we’ve got to have sex. But this is no different from the drug addict feeling he’ll die without his fix. It is simply not true; not feeding the hunger doesn’t kill us.” (The White Book, p. 31)
As an addict, once I’ve stopped the feeding of the addiction, it’s going to feel off for a time. It might even be painful.
Without my drug of choice – pornography and lust – I finally begin to feel what’s really going on inside. This adjustment, these new and uncomfortable feelings, takes time to work through, and the support of other addicts in the fellowship is vital to real recovery and healing.
Working with someone that has been there before and that can relate to the feelings of withdrawal I’m going through can help take the fear out of the process.
A few questions that can help me assess where I’m at in the withdrawal phase of addiction:
– Am I experiencing higher of highs and lower of lows now that I’m sober?
– How am I doing at reaching out to other fellows in recovery when these feelings come?
– What are the new ways I’m coping with the feelings I’m having through the withdrawal process?
– Are these new ways of coping healthy, or are they switching from one addiction to another?
I’m an addict.
Although I don’t know that I’ll ever print this on a t-shirt and wear it around town or get up at my church meeting and announce it at the pulpit, being an addict is part of who I am.
I’m also a father.
I’m a husband.
I’m a son.
I’m a softball player.
I’m a mountain biker.
I’m a New York Yankees fan.
I’m a sinner (the Yankees fan and sinner don’t necessarily go together 🙂 ).
I’m a sponsor.
I’m a sponsee.
I’m a work in progress.
All of these labels DO define me – they make me ME.
If I want to hide any of them, if I am ashamed to admit these things, what am I really doing?
For me, I’m “lying to myself and believing it” and this is not a healthy pattern at all.
I know too well where that will lead me and it’s not a good place.
Not taking accountability for who I am is not working a real Step 1 at all. And how can I truthfully do any of the other Steps and expect to see any lasting results in recovery if I brush over what I feel is the most important Step of all of them- Step 1?
I look forward to your feedback on the topic.
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54 thoughts on “Am I an Addict for the Rest of My Life?”
I try not to get caught up in semantics…at first saying “addict” really bothered me. But I’ve grown to understand what it means – I don’t mind it anymore. I think of this as, “I am imperfect and will need help for the rest of my life”. If I get hung up on the word “addict” then I lose sight of that…
Amen Manuel. It really is all about semantics. I agree with that and have to let that go. The hard thing for me, the thing that triggers the fear in me which then leads to anger and then to resentment is this – well intentioned, and often non-addict people, who share things like this with men who are at a meeting trying to find help. Hearing stuff like this has been, for me, an invitation to justify my behavior and carry on as if “all is well” simply because I have no idea what I’m dealing with. I’m an ADDICT and can only see through very shaded glasses.
I, unfortunately, put my family through hell because of this thought process. I “arrived,” I “overcame,” and I stopped going to those meetings because I had “better things to do with my time.” And what happened? I was as the dog who went back to his vomit.
I really like your statement: “I am imperfect and will need help for the rest of my life.” In other words, “I admitted that I am powerless over lust – that my life is unmanageable.”
Thanks for the comment.
First off, go Red Sox…
Just kidding, but I really appreciated this post. I think I may have been in the meeting described above. I know that the people who argued both sides of the argument are well intentioned, but I also am an addict, and I don’t think that is bad. Being an addict just means I will always have extra sensitivity to lust, and need to be extra careful, not that I will be acting out all of my life.
Thank you for sharing your experience.
LOL – those Red Sox are in 1st place so I can’t really talk too much trash right now.
I wasn’t at that meeting so I’m not sure what was discussed. I do agree that both sides are well intentioned.
As an addict myself, I think it’d be more helpful if well intentioned non-addicts said less about recovery and direct those they interact with towards other recovering addicts who can help them see more clearly in regard to what they’re dealing with.
Ultimately, I need to surrender the outcome and let this all go.
Thanks again Clark.
Dr. Victor Cline, a respected sexual addiction therapist said “…in my experience as a sexual addiction therapist, any individual who regularly masturbates (sex with self) while using pornography is at risk of becoming, in time, a sexual addict, as well as conditioning himself (or herself) into developing a sexual deviancy and/or disturbing a bonded relationship with a spouse or girlfriend (or boyfriend).”
My first experience with porn was at age 6. Innocent exposure, but I recall the experience vividly. Was I then addicted…no, but my life changed forever. No longer was I innocent in my exposure to porn. I made the choice to go back to it again and again because the experience was euphoric.
At age 10 or so I discovered sex with self…the porn and sex with self seemed rewarding but was always done in secret. I don’t think I could ever pinpoint when I crossed the threshold of addiction, but I feel it was around age 14. By then I was actively involved in the behavior. I did not ever choose to try stopping on my own and no one ever talked to me about the behavior being so dangerous and “addictive” so I kept on with it.
My story is long but not unique.
In time I was “acting out” with girls not recognizing that my choices would lead me down pathways that would jeopardize all future meaningful relationships. When I finally tried to stop the behavior because of the negative consequences, I could not stop; I was willing to risk everything that was meaningful in my life. First, my relationship with God. Second, my relationship with my spouse. Third, my family. And so, out of fear of loss, I hid my behaviors which became even more dangerous and destructive. Adult establishments, more porn and sex with self, then prostitutes.
When I finally came forward and got honest with my wife and others, I refused to identify with being addicted…”A sex addict? (shame, shame) How demeaning and pitiful,” I thought. Because I was not “an addict,” I could do this on my own, or so I told myself. I had some therapy but 12 step meetings, no way, they were for weird people.
I relapsed 3 years later, and I have learned by sad experience: until I was able to acknowledge that I was dealing with an addiction that would destroy me, I would not seek the help that was needed nor do the very hard work of recovery.
Recovery is HARD work and for me it is a lifelong pursuit. The only way I have been able to stay in recovery and live a joyful life is admit that lust is still toxic for me. When I choose to entertain it in any way, my addict will say to me, “You’re ok. You’re past the addiction. You’re sober almost 12 years, a little lust won’t hurt, drink in a little, how can it hurt?…your’re in recovery.”
As soon as I am willing to take that approach, I will eventually return to the behavior, even after 11 years of honest sobriety.
The only way I can stay safe and stay connected with God is to live my life one day at a time, working recovery because I am still an addict…the compulsion has subsided but I am still an addict. I know I am person of worth and God is still for me… an addict working recovery one day at time.
In recovery I can honestly say I would not turn back the pages nor wish things had were different. I am a man, a son of God, a son of goodly parents, a man of testimony, and man of faith, a husband of an incredible woman, a father whose children know all and still love and respect me, a musician, a leader, a developer, a man who enjoys sports, a dreamer of what can I do next that will be meaningful in this life and the next. I’m a grateful man. I’m willing to help other addicts down this tough path.
And yes, I am still a sexual addict and will be until I’m safely dead.
Thanks Steven! I’m so glad to know you and to have met you over three years ago at the UCAP conference. I feel that your story and example have helped me get on the road of real recovery; I will eternally be grateful for that.
Thank you, your comment gave me so much hope.
I believe my addiction to lust is not who I am. The atonement has made it possible to be healed. I have many labels but an addict is not one of them.
I do not and will not label myself as an addict
Thanks for your perspective David.
What I’m learning is that whether or not I want to call myself an addict really is irrelevant.
Am I emotionally unhealthy? Have I chosen for most of my life to deal with my emotions via sexual addiction in a variety of ways? Yes, yes I have.
Step 1 is about admitting to myself, others, and most importantly the God of my understanding that my life is unmanageable.
This has been my experience.
If I choose to do the same things and say the same things and BE the same things I’ve always done, said and been – that’s insanity and I guess I can label myself whatever I want.
Hi! I don’t see dates on these comments, so I might be replying to a post that is 8 years old and not relevant to your current circumstances anymore. That said, my story seems much the same as yours, and it’s ALWAYS hopeful to hear testimony from those who are on the backside of all of the chaos of disclosure, shame, guilt, depression, and the arduous and daunting healing process that has to happen up-front.
For me, it’s been 2 months since D-day. I have been sober about 3 months, and have been in through church membership council and the start of repentance, individual therapy, started 12-Step program and support group, in addition to flooding my life with “good things” (church music, talks, podcasts, frequent daily prayer, mental exercises to retrain my brain and establish new neural pathways, etc.). Shame is still a constant struggle, especially as I see the state my poor wife is in and the absolute trauma I have caused her. Time will tell if she’ll stay with me, but I’m dedicated to doing anything and everything I can to rebuild trust.
So really, my point here is that I’d love to know more of your wife’s story. I love that you say that you’re living a “joyful life.” That’s what I want. TRUE intimate connection with my wife. The ability to cope in HEALTHY ways with both the high and low emotions of life! Living in recovery, to me, would be that my natural instinct (“disposition”) would be to no longer desire to do evil, but to do good continually. Sure, the temptation will always be there, but knowing my weaknesses, and knowing who I TRULY am, my primary reaction will be to shun the temptation. Has your wife gotten to the point where she understands addiction? Has she opened her heart and trust back up to you in a truly intimate way? I realize everyone’s story and healing journey is different, but I’d love to know how that happened for her. How long did it take? Which of your efforts truly helped her or resonated with her? What has her betrayal trauma been like and how has she been able to get into her own recovery? What sort of state is she in now?
I suppose that couched within this post is a yearning for HOPE, not just for my recovery, but also for (and maybe even especially for) my wife, and for “us.”
(I don’t know if there’s a way to connect from here offline, if that makes a difference.)
When I first started going to meetings I wondered why people introduced themselves as sex and lust addicts. I was just there to get help for my pornography problem. I wondered if that label was real or something made up by a therapist and just spread around the group. There was no way I was a sex or lust addict. But I started to notice something, these guys had much more sobriety and recovery than other members of the group. Maybe there was something to what they were saying. So I started talking with them after the meeting, made some friends, and was introduced to SAL. I started working with a sponsor and reading the White Book. Then I realized something, I really was an addict. The stories and experiences I was reading and hearing were my stories and experiences. When I was finally able to admit that I was a sex and lust addict my recovery really started.
Each time I say “I am a sex addict”, the addiction loses its power over my life. It is the wonderful paradox of surrender. As soon as I forget that about myself, I run a huge risk of falling back into my addiction and giving back that power. I know from painful experiences that I don’t want that to ever happen. So I continue to introduce myself as an addict. I continue to do things only a recovering addict does. It is part of who I am. Like the author said, I have many roles and the combination of them all defines who I am. Do I go around telling everyone I meet I’m an addict? No, but I’m not afraid to admit it. Does it make me part of a group? Absolutely, and it is a wonderful fellowship I’m more grateful for each day
Thanks David. I remember hearing that same introduction once in a meeting. I was like, “Dang, that guy must really have been in a bad place or something…”
But then I listened to him talk and I could tell something was different, he was talking a different recovery language than I was accustomed to. Naturally, he ended his share with “I’ll take another 24.”
I appreciate your perspective and friendship.
I think if we back up for a second, the discussion topic really could turn more towards a conversation about, “how do I measure how well I am doing at surrendering other people’s words, thoughts, and actions?”
Once we are able to heal and move past the labels and titles, we enter a deeper movement towards healing the wounds and unhealthy emotional patterns that are driving us towards the addictive behaviors. This process takes us inward where we focus on self, our own behaviors, and moves us toward true acceptance of self and others and is the path of true surrender.
As long as we continue discussing labels, sobriety vs recovery, etc, we continue to remain at the “addict” or surface level and are missing out on the deeper healing that can bring long-term recovery of self.
Thanks for you perspective Jimmy. I recognize that “my life is unmanageable” and I need to truly surrender how some things can trigger negative emotions in me.
I feel it’s important for me to talk about recovery based on where I am today and based on my own experience, in hopes that, maybe in a small or insignificant way to some, I will be able to help a newcomer see or hear or read things in a different way than he’s used to seeing, hearing or reading them in other circumstances.
My experience was this way and I’m grateful for the fellows I’ve been able to connect with that opened and continue to open my addict eyes to an entirely new way of working recovery one day at a time.
Thanks for your comment.
I personally define addiction as being related to use and compulsion. Therefore, I believe that if I say to myself and others that “I am an addict” and I define that to mean that I am not healed of the compulsion, then I deny the power I have felt in my recovery.
Because I’ve experienced sexual addiction, I do have a higher predisposition towards potentially acting out sexually compared to someone with no history of sexual addiction. But I personally do not define that as an addiction nor do I believe that someone can be permanently addicted. Memory and temptation are not how I define addiction.
I would consider my addiction to pornography the same way I would consider a scar that no longer hurts or affects my life anymore. When I look at my scar, I definitely remember what it was like when I received it and how it used to hurt constantly, but now those are nothing but memories. Yes I remember exactly how one gains a scar like that and in a way am most likely more predisposed towards getting another scar just like that than most people. But while I associate those memories with pain, I also associate them with feelings of joy and healing and I consider both of those recollections as blessings from a loving Higher Power. It’s led me to ponder why His son, being a perfect resurrected being, kept the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Why would He want to keep the memory of the most painful experience in His life with Him? I like to think it’s the same reason I’ll never forget from whom my healing came and why I’ll never forget it.
I’ll never forget where I’ve been and I’ll never forget who I am. And where I’ve been is NOT who I am. I owe that to my Higher Power and the blessings of 12-step groups, sponsors, and the qualified therapy that He has provided me.
Thanks for your perspective Jon.
Here is another perspective:
12 years ago when I started attending SA and reading the White Book, my emotional pain was 10 out of 10 – I was separated from my wife, living in a new state – in my cousin’s basement – alone – and unemployed due to being fired. I remember reading in the White Book a promise – something like: “we can look forward to a day when the compulsion will be removed, but the temptation will always be there.” I held on to that promise and after one year of total sobriety (and working the steps with a sponsor), I felt the promise come true in my recovery journey. HOWEVER, I learned after receiving a 5 year chip, that I got comfortable and slacked off on my “dailies” – and sure enough, I slipped up and was devastated. Since then there have been some additional slips (some were binges), but the pain always brought me back to recovery.
I have always thought that comparing the disease of addiction to the disease of diabetes was useful in understanding treatment. Diabetes, as I understand, is a chronic disease that must be managed by taking daily diabetes medication (insulin). The painful symptoms of diabetes only occur when a person fails to take his/her medication. What is my recovery medication? My dailies!
I love the phrase: “30 Minutes per Day = 24 Hours of Freedom”. My dailies include – Connecting with God by mentally going thru steps 1-2-3 and saying The Serenity Prayer – and asking Him – “What’s the next Right Thing to do?” It’s called “conscious contact with God”. Then reading recovery literature and writing out some feelings or step work. Then attending 2 meetings a week or anticipating and planning to attend. Calling my sponsor AND one other recovering addict just to say hi and check in.
So although I may always be dealing with the disease of addiction (lust temptation) until I die, I have learned to take my daily recovery medication (see above). When a lust wave hits, or the temptation to take a 2nd look grabs me – I am no longer “compelled” to indulge that lust further. The compulsion has been removed by the medication – and I can enjoy another 24 hours of freedom. I am grateful that this disease of addiction keeps me connected to my Higher Power who has made my weakness into a strength – and to all the amazing men I have met in SA and SAL who have shown me the way. These 12-step groups have become to me a “fellowship of the unashamed”. My love to you all – truly!
Amen Eddie. Thanks for your experience and the comparison of diabetes to our drug of choice.
What I’m learning is that my experience is mine, it helps me see things differently if I let it.
Someone else’s experience is their’s: it may be different than mine and that doesn’t mean it’s wrong – just different.
True sobriety and recovery are things I can watch for as I learn from and connect with others in the “fellowship of the unashamed.”
Thanks again for your insight.
I believe I will always be an addict. The question is will I be an active addict or and addict in recovery?
In work and in sports the more we plan, train and prepare BEFORE our actions the more we win or positively influence the outcome. This holds true in life but I sometimes forget. When I forget I fail or slip.
For me every day the rest of my life I have to do 1 of 5 things every day.
Work the steps
Talk to my sponsor.
These coments and discussions help me so much. When I hear men talk about one year or more sober then slipping I am reminded that recovery is a gift the result of planning and actions. If i get complacent I don’t plan and work on my plan and the outcome is not as good as I want.
Thank all of you for helping my recovery.
Why do you think many debate this topic? What’s wrong with the label of addict in recovery?
I’m glad the comments and discussions are helpful. Keep coming back!
I think we want to be fixed. I think the term addict implies active. For me if someone says they are a drug or alcohol addict they will generally follow with length of sobriety. As a society we generally say congratulations or awesome. But a sex addict is perceived in my opinion as either not a thing or bad in some way. Whether it is a pervert or something worse legally. I believe that sex addiction, particularly related to pornography, is a huge problem and the more we ignore it the more we are not going to fix the problem and help each other. I think that SAL is doing a good job to bring light to the issue in a positive way. This brotherhood is critical to my and our recovery. God Bless.
Thanks Tony. I agree – we want to be fixed, we want to get rid of this, and unfortunately, for me, my choices have programmed my brain to go to these actions as a way to cope with emotional trials.
I too believe it’s a huge problem, one that isn’t addressed enough because, to many people, it’s not a problem at all or they think it’s normal – boys will be boys idea.
I’m hoping that this post and this one (https://salifeline.org/wifes-perspective-addict-label-part-1/) will help keep the conversation going.
Thanks for your comments and thoughts.
For me, I have to look at the brain and how it functions to know if labels like “addict” are appropriate or not. Like Steven C. said, you don’t start out an addict the first time you look at porn or masturbate; but the longer you persist in any habit the stronger the neural pathways for that behavior become.
So, assuming our acting out has become habitual to the point of struggling to stop the behaviors, if we look at the structures created in the brain (strong neural pathways and the increasing tolerances to reward chemicals) in support of the habits of any addiction, and in particular how unhealthy sexual expression warps the brain’s reward systems in pretty dramatic ways, then by those physiological markers alone we have to at least be willing to accept that our brains/we have become addicted and habituated to unhealthy sex.
Here’s the real kicker:
Once those neural pathways are formed they cannot be removed (the brain doesn’t get rid of them, ever) except by brain death (Alzheimer’s, drug/alcohol abuse, etc.). However, they can be overshadowed and choked off by the new habits of the ‘new normal’ of recovery, IF worked on long enough, believed in deeply enough, and pursued with sufficient intent. The brain will basically grow new neural pathways around the old addiction nerve bundles and pathways, effectively giving the brain bigger conduits (habits) that don’t look like addictive behaviors. But the old neural pathways are still there, and should we ever reignite them they take very little energy to be back in full force, and it becomes harder to overgrow again with new recovery habits.
Thanks J.R. That’s great stuff.
I know, for me, I thought in 2010 that I’d “recovered,” that I could go back to my “normal” way of life, that I didn’t need to go to meetings anymore or work this recovery stuff anymore.
Then, by 2013 I’d crossed lines I never thought I’d cross, although that’s weird to say because I’d thought up those scenarios in my fantasy-addicted mind thousands of times.
I realize today that I was never even close to “healed” or “recovered” in 2010. I also realize that the pathways, when re-ignited after a temporary bypass, come back even stronger and more potent.
I’m grateful to have you as a friend in recovery one day at a time.
Same here. One day at a time. One victory at a time. One real connection at a time.
I guess its all perspective on what the word ‘addict’ connotes in one’s mind, and one guys perspective is as respectable as mine, so i hope no one takes this the wrong way.- being an addict and saying I’m one to me connotes the constant need for correction, Grace, and humility. I simply don’t think it is offensive to God, or minimizes his saving Grace to refer to myself as an addict. ( because I know I still am one) It keeps me humble every, single time I say that ‘…and my Grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me’
Amen Cameron. I agree that it’s all about perspective. Unfortunately, for most of my life, my “perspective” was that this was just a bad habit that I would “cure” if I talked to the Bishop enough, once I got married, if my wife gave me what I wanted when I wanted it, if the “chemistry” was right, and the list could go on and on and on…
I have constant need for correction. And as I work my own recovery, I am realizing that more and more. I remember thinking, when I was white-knuckle sober via another recovery meeting, that “Man, once I get this taken care of I’ll be pretty close to perfect…” What a lie I was telling myself!
I hadn’t even THOUGHT of character defects as things that distance me between God and others. Negative emotions weren’t even a topic of conversation, nor did I realize they were the start of all the other things that would happen in my addict cycle.
For me, calling myself an addict, admitting that I’m broken – these are things I choose to be accountable for one day at a time for the rest of my life.
Thanks for your comment!
I am an addict, I will always be an addict. I have come to terms with that and that “addict” is not a dirty word or any different than a habitual sinner. Addict to me means I am today and always will be in the future 100% dependent on a higher power. Anytime I forget this puts me in jeopardy of relapse.
I have found that in my recovery whenever I feel to pull or choose to move away from higher power, leaving me vulnerable, the quickest way to return to strength and hope is to admit my powerlessness and fully recognize my addiction. In my case, I have come to terms with that fact never changing in my life unless God’s will allows for that change. Fighting His will is a pointless exercise in my case.
Thanks John B.
I like the idea that “addict” is not a dirty word and is similar to a habitual sinner (which I am as well and I believe all of us are).
Aren’t we all addicts in some way? We commit the same mistakes, over and over, and continue to do the same things, over and over, thinking we’ll get a different result.
To me, this is why Step 1 is essential – recognizing that my life is unmanageable and that I need God.
I appreciate your comment!
For me, the use of the word ‘Addict’ in describing myself gives me a sort of power back over my addiction. I went to the LDS Church’s addiction recovery meetings for a month or two (after years and years of fruitless effort on my own) before I was ever comfortable with that term, and as soon as I started describing myself as an addict, I felt that I was finally starting to be honest about where I was and where I was headed.
But I digress. I think the original question is “should you keep calling yourself an addict” and on that note I would have to concur with some of the comments above. As long as the pattern of tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal is present in my life, I will be an addict. All signs indicate that this will be a lifelong endeavor.
For me, this topic has a lot to do with shame. Shame: I am bad. Guilt: I did something bad. Shame: I am a mistake. Guilt: I made a mistake.
I don’t equate saying to myself and others “I’m a sex addict” with “I am bad”; more with “I made some mistakes and bad choices that have created a new reality that I must deal with”.
I am not proud of the choices and feel regret and remorse for them; this is a catalyst for positive change for me.
When I think I am bad (shame) and have no hope of redemption, I have little motivation to change.
What I’m trying to say is that if saying you’re an addict comes from a place of shame it will likely be destructive. If it comes from a place of guilt it will likely be helpful. Research by Brené Brown (I’m a fan) backs this up.
The other part of the equation is that of humility. Recognizing that I need help from others, but can also provide help – has been enormously helpful in gaining better perspective for me.
I can see how I could easily fall into the trap of wanting to be cured from this addiction so I could consider myself strong, worthy, and better than those with this problem.
My truth is that empathy (huge catalyst to connection) is shared between people when they understand they are on even plane. It is not the relationship between the wounded and the healed, but between equals.
Are we not all beggars and all in need of the grace of our higher power? Is it my place to judge someone else’s mistakes and compare them to mine? Do I not need to extend mercy to others if I am to have hope of receiving it myself?
Saying out loud that I am a sex addict keeps me grounded in humility and away from the tendency to try to win my own salvation.
To me, it gets complicated to distinguish the difference between shame and guilt for me, especially when I’m in full-blown addict (behaviors and/or actions). My mind and heart are so clouded by thoughts and feelings.
How do you differentiate?
I agree so much that reminding myself that I am “powerless, that my life is unmanageable” and that I need God to help me keeps me grounded. Reminding myself about where I’ve been by stating my addictive tendencies is only helpful.
Thanks for your feedback Ken. Look forward to your insights on how to differentiate between guilt and shame.
Thanks for this article. I read it because I have been doing research about addicts since I found out about my husband’s double life. I told him that even he is sober, he is still an addict and always will be. You’re either in recovery or you’re not. He became really offended and said I was being extremely disrespectful to anyone who had worked hard to overcome it. How am I supposed to respond to that? How do I get my husband to understand and accept these things? He hasn’t been doing hardly anything besides being sober, and it greatly concerns me.
Thanks for the comment Karin.
A few things sound really familiar to me:
1. That I would get “offended” if my wife called me on what she felt was still off. This is addict behavior on my part. If/When I’m working recovery, I’m able to listen to my wife’s perspective, ask myself where I might be off, and then make amends for my part. If I get defensive, angry, or push back/blame, then I’m going back to the same behaviors I had as an acting-out addict and I’m not in recovery at all, at least in that moment. To me, this is simply the definition of “white knuckle sober.”
2. “Overcome” is a false belief to me. One of my favorite eBooks about recovery is titled, “Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship.” The Battleship is LUST in all it’s forms (porn, masturbation, affairs, checking out other women, never being satisfied with what I have and wanting something more or different). I will never sink that ship – it will always be there. I will never “overcome.” Instead, I am able to create boundaries and learn how to surrender my will to God and rely on His strength and guidance. He can then help me progress through the temptations and come up with solutions that will help lighten the burdens. It’s like the Serenity Prayer states: “…accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
As far as getting your husband to understand and accept these things – you can’t fix him. I’d recommend you read the book “What Can I Do About
HimMe?” This book helped my wife set realistic boundaries in our relationship until I was ready to do my part and take accountability for where I was wrong and how it was affecting my entire family.
Sober is not well, and unfortunately, it may take time before your husband can see and feel this. All you can control is the boundaries you set and then be willing to enforce those boundaries, surrendering the outcome.
I hope this helps. This has been my experience.
Addiction for me is defined by USE. Not just a lack of sobriety or being exposed to porn. It is not a permanent condition. Someone cannot become addicted at first exposure either. Abuse and compulsivity of that drug overtime is what brings about an addiction. The white book even supports this thinking. If addiction is defined by tolerance, abstinence, withdrawal, and toxicity – then you can’t tell me that someone will ‘forever be an addict’ because we all know that tolerance, abstinence, withdrawals, and toxicity ALL change over time and through working recovery. That is why the phrase ‘once an addict always an addict’ is incorrect. I get that the reason some people might say that is to remind themselves that they need to be constantly vigilant so as to not fall back into the addiction. Yes those who have had pornography addictions before, and who have 5+ years of sobriety, have a greater propensity or disposition towards pornography than those who have never actively used it, but that is NOT the same as addiction. It’s a memory. To say that the addiction stays forever goes against all current findings on neuroplasticity. Just because you have the memory of compulsion, doesn’t mean that you ARE compulsive. The saying should be something more like, “Once an addict, always an addict in the past.” Or, It is definitely damaging to recovery to think that you have a lifelong condition that cannot be remedied. Finding comfort from a group of others who are also suffering from an addiction by being able to openly and vulnerably admit that you as well have an addiction is powerful. Empathy is inspiring, motivating, and brings hope and healing, but just because you’ve felt that by being able to admit and confess your addiction with others who are or have been there, doesn’t mean that you can now only find that empathy by continually calling yourself an addict. Addiction nor compulsion have to last forever. Recovery is real. I was addicted to pornography and sexually acting out for decades. Meaning I was a daily user for hours and hours secretly hiding my use from everyone around me. I constantly looked for harder and harder forms, I experienced textbook withdrawal symptoms when I wasn’t acting out. Where am I now? That compulsion and those withdrawal symptoms are gone. I no longer consider myself an addict. Could I regain that compulsion and withdrawals again? Of course! Because my brain knows addiction, I also know the path back to it. But this does not define me, it defines my dedication and vigilance toward living in recovery. Always being open and accountable to God, myself, and others about being triggered. Making conscious choices to do and not do certain things I know would put me in jeopardy. Constantly identifying as an addict is not a requirement for living a life of recovery. Many groups and 12 step cultures and fellowships would have you believe that though. Make living in recovery YOUR choice. Love yourself and define yourself by your goals and by your divine worth.
Thanks for the comment Jon.
I’m curious to hear from you when you feel those compulsions and withdrawal symptoms went away and how you got them to just leave and never come back, or if they do come back, how you handle them in a non-addict way.
Or at what point did you deem that you were no longer an addict, that you hit a point of arrival?
And once you decided those things, have you “gone back out there” since?
For me, “living in recovery” is synonymous with being honest, humble and accountable. And for me, sometimes I am living in recovery and sometimes I’m not, but there hasn’t been that arrival or destination.
Because I love myself and because I feel that God loves me, I’m going to chose to never forget where I’ve been and chose to define myself by both my past and where I am right now, in this moment.
I appreciate your perspective.
When I first started attending a 12 step group and several other recovery programs, there seemed to be a progressive clockwork of relapses. For me it was a relapse every 7 days. Then it was every 3 weeks. Then every 3 months etc. How did I know I had reached a point of no (or next to none) compulsion or withdrawals? Probably about when I successfully hit 2 or 3 years of sobriety. Sure I occasionally experience triggers every now and then, but their frequency and affect over me is so so much less powerful than it was when I struggled to even keep 7 days of sobriety under my belt. Is a relapse possible? Of course it is and unfortunately I suffered a relapse just shy of hitting 3 years of sobriety. Did this mean I was back into the dregs of compulsion and addiction though? No it did not. Acting out once for a 30 minute time period after nearly 3 years of solid sobriety is not what I or nearly every sexual addiction therapist would consider “compulsive behavior” or “addiction.”
But again, to be clear we’re talking about compulsion and withdrawals – which I would classify under the spectrum of addiction. The question of “am I living in recovery” is only answered in the affirmative as I continue in honesty, humility, and accountability. I can be sober, but living in recovery or actively working towards repairing those once deeply tracked pathways I had carved into my brain is an entirely different effort.
I too love myself because God loves me. But I choose to define myself in how I am His son and by how He has helped me heal – not by my past behaviors or actions as an addict or the low places I’ve been. I like to think he has the power to heal yes even an addiction to pornography and sex.
Living in recovery has also helped me to understand that “healing” and “cure” are not the same thing. They are not synonymous. Healing is not cure. Healing is a lifelong process of recovery and growth in spite of, maybe because of, enduring physical, emotional, or spiritual assault. It requires time and it requires the Savior. I’ve often prayed for a cure when what I really needed was healing. Healing really only begins when I face that hurt (and in our case our withdrawals, triggers, and compulsion) in it’s full force with faith that He will carry me and then grow through it with all the strength of both my body and my spirit.
Once an compulsive user of pornography and sex for a period of about 10-15 years; now free of that compulsion and daily/weekly withdrawals as long as I continue living recovery—always a son of God.
I have major concerns with your arguments you have laid out. You never addressed the emotional side of why people turn to addiction, which is what recovery is all about. To consider addiction strictly based upon sobriety or the act itself, without acknowledging a massive amount of influence resulting from an inability to manage emotions is to disregard certainly everything the white book preaches, but likewise goes against what all addiction recovery programs and qualified therapists believe as well.
As one fantastic therapist to put it in a 2016 UCAP talk, “addiction is 10% SOBRIETY and 90% pain management.” Coping with life on life terms is a lifelong pursuit, and in my humble opinion has very little to do with acting now.
Cameron, I’m not sure why you would think or assume that I don’t acknowledge the emotional side of why people turn to addiction. Especially when I specifically talk about the empathy and compassion found in group environments. Perhaps you missed my comments outlining the difference between healing and a cure and how healing is a lifelong process of recovery and growth in spite of, maybe because of, enduring physical, emotional, or spiritual assault. But again, these are causes and or side effects of addiction. My history of emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse does not define my addiction, my inability to cope and resulting acting out behavior is what defines my addiction.
Thanks for the conversation guys. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about this discussion of being an addict for the rest of my life.
What I love about the recovery material for SA and AA is they state things really clearly having lots of experience to build from.
In the White Book on page 77 it says this:
“Everything begins with sobriety. Without sobriety, there is no program of recovery. But without reversing the deadly traits that underlie our addiction, there is no positive and lasting sobriety. To recover from a life based on wrong attitudes, self-obsession, separation, false connections, blindness, and spiritual death requires a program of action that includes a fundamental change in attitude, character change, union, the true Connection, self-awareness, and spiritual life. Working the principles of the Steps as a new way of living has made this happen for us.”
Ultimately, if I’m not sober, I’m not spiritually fit and can have minimal if any connection with my Higher Power or others.
But I can be sober and not well due to all my emotional issues, and I’m assuming that I will have many of these emotional issues long after I move on from this life.
Lifelong recovery for me is a day to day practice of emotional sobriety and recovery (and the acting out in all its forms won’t even be in my awareness if I’m focused on surrendering my fear, anger, resentment, control, etc.).
Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
Ultimately, I’m trying to not even care. If a guy thinks he can still act out and claim he’s in “recovery” and is “no longer an addict,” more power to him. His relationships with himself, God, and others will show him where he is.
My opinion doesn’t really matter in his life, and I have too much to worry about in my own life anyway.
Personally, I feel like addiction is in my DNA. So recognizing it and accepting it and turning it over to God as I understand God is all I can do.
Keep working it my friends – it works when I work it!
I read something today in the Big Book that really stuck out to me. It felt like it was another answer on this whole question about “addiction,” the label of “addict” and whether or not I’ll be “addicted” for the rest of my life.
Here’s what it said:
“It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for [lust] is a subtle foe. We are not cured of [lust addiction]. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Everyday is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities.” (lust is substituted for alcohol/alcoholism)
This rings true to me. There will not come a time where the temptation to lust is all of a sudden magically gone for me. Some things I have control of and some things I don’t.
What I do have control of is how I react/respond to the potential triggers than can be all around me.
What I don’t have control of is how and when those triggers may appear.
I’m grateful that sobriety and recovery are a day to day, moment to moment practice.
Thanks for all the comments on this important topic.
I want to thank all of you for your comments on this subject. I just had a conversation with my wife today that has caused me to ponder what it means to be an addict. I have been living in sobriety for about 8 years. I have been really healing for maybe a year or two. It’s been a long, hard road. I sometimes find myself thinking something like this, “I would love to shed the addict and live like a normal person.” I have this idea that a “normal” person has it easier than me. A “normal” person can be a little defensive without it triggering their spouse, a “normal” person can watch that movie or show that I won’t, a “normal” person can go to the beach without feeling triggered or fearful. I know that this mindset is wrong. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I just want to forget my past and move forward without the “burden” of my past. A counselor I met with recently seemed to help me justify that false belief. There have been times in my life where admitting that I was an addict brought me peace, that feeling seems to have died in this new desire to shed the title that allowed me to start the true path to recovery.
How do you stay the course? How do you remember the wonder of recovery and healing?
One this I really struggle with is becoming defensive when my wife is triggered by something I say or do that doesn’t seem inherently mean or wrong. It just reminds her. I get sad. I feel hurt. I sometimes just want to convince her that I am a different man, a better man than I was.
Am I alone in this? What do you do to stay open to your spouse when she is triggered?
Last question 😉 I have been sober for awhile. Yet I still act out emotionally in many of the same ways that I did when I was relapsing with pornography. I call this going into addict mode.
I have gone to LDS sponsored 12 step groups for years. I am studying the white book (there is no group in upstate NY). I am seeing a counselor (but he is not a CSAT and doesn’t seem to get my perspective all the way).
What have you done to overcome your negative emotional responses?
Your insights have given me greater hope. Thank you all for being open.
I guess my reluctance about rejecting the term addict is that doing that plays into what has locked me into my vicious cycles in the past. I always went down an out of control spiral to depths of shame I hadn’t seen before. I would feel the shame, but instead of confronting my out of control life, I’d say “man, thats not me, I’m not that guy” and try to bury things and put distance between me and them. The obvious result is that I’d continue the same downward trajectory the next day. You have to take a hard look at your life and accept where you truly are to start doing something about it.
It appears as though the comments really don’t matter or they stopped adding the discussions and just add those comments that fit the narrative being preached? I’ve commented on some of these and yet to see my comments posted. Anyways that won’t stop me from commenting how I feel.
“Half measures avail us nothing.” “It works when I work it” “let go and let God” these are but a few of the comments that are said numerous times in group. Step two “came to believe in a higher power.” Step three “turn my life and will over to God.” Step 7 “humbly asked him to remove all these character defects.”
And then the question is asked “will I always be an addict?” I wonder if the cripple at the pool of Bethesda asked after being healed “will I always be a cripple?” I wonder if the leper asked “will I always be a leper?” I wonder if the possessed man asked “will I always be possessed?” I wonder if any of them after being healed asked “when I introduce myself to others should do say “I am so and so a leper I cannot deny who I really am.”
If I believe in a higher power, if I believe he can do what he says he can, why then do I make an exception when it comes to saying “once an addict always an addict?” Do I believe God only heals a little portion of me or do I believe he heals the whole man? If my God only heals portions and not the whole man I don’t want to believe in that kind of God.
I hear in the white book over and over about accepting how I really am, seeing myself as I really am. I believe I existed prior to coming to earth. I don’t believe I was an addict then. I don’t believe I will always be an addict. I want to see myself as God sees me, does he just see me as an addict or as I really am?
This might not be the popular comment or one people agree with, that is the beauty of recovery and an individual journey. Believe what you want, as for me. I believe I am a son of the living God, I believe in a God who heals the whole man, when my God heals he doesn’t say “I’m healing you, but leaving this small Portion infected so you remember who you really are. If I believe I am a son of God, then maybe I need to change the way I think and see myself as I really am…..HIS!
Our apologies for the slow approval of your comment. Sometimes it takes us a little while to do so. Thank you for adding to the conversation.
The concern you pose regarding identifying as an addict is one we hear frequently. We understand the challenges associated with this disease and for some, labeling themselves as an addict feels counterproductive. But we also have many years of experience working with hundreds of individuals who suffer from unwanted sexual behaviors. Certainly, if we struggle with addiction, that is not fundamentally who we are, but it is a part of our reality and will keep us from being who we really want to be. If you struggle with the idea of identifying as an addict, we might ask you this question – Are you finding long-term positive sobriety in your current state of mind and with your current recovery actions? If so, that is wonderful! If not, we might suggest that a change in paradigm is necessary. Properly diagnosing a disease is critical to getting the correct treatment. A cancer patient cannot receive the proper treatment if they insist they are a diabetic. Sexual addiction, like other diseases, requires a specific treatment plan. In our experience, recovery starts when one is humble enough to admit to themselves and others they are an addict; this helps motivate them to do the sometimes very hard things long-term recovery requires. Once some solid recovery has been achieved, whether we always need to identify as an addict is a personal choice. But just like an alcoholic or drug addict knows they will remain susceptible to their drug of choice, for a sex addict – lust will remain toxic and one must be ever vigilant in abstaining from it, regardless of the number of years of sobriety. So again, we appreciate your perspective. Yet we speak from our own experience that calling it what it is – an addiction – and identifying as an addict has been critical for those in our community who are in long-term recovery.
If you would like to read more about this topic, this is an excellent blog post. The comments are helpful as well. https://salifeline.org/call-it-sexual-addiction/