How to Learn from Relapses

how to learn from relapses

You don’t need to go all Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind to learn from relapses. Reflecting on your triggers and the events leading to the relapses with safe people is a good place to start.

In addiction recovery, relapses are inevitable. They’re going to happen. Many who are new to recovery struggle with this. We can hope that our recovery happens in a straight line, especially because relapses are often painful.

 

Whenever we learn to do something new, we don’t do it perfectly to begin with. We make mistakes. Our mistakes, though, can teach us how to improve at what we’re learning to do. This is true with any new skill, from learning to ride a bike to—yep, you guessed it—living an addiction-free life.

 

Relapses are par for the course. In fact, if you’re not relapsing, you’re not learning. Here are just a few of my thoughts about how to learn from relapses.

Got Change for a Paradigm? Understanding the Paradigm Effect

paradigm effectOne day when I was in high school, my stepdad walked into the room where I was studying (or maybe I was playing video games—I don’t know). He was wearing a new sweatshirt. “Read it,” he said, beaming.

 

The sweatshirt’s white text stood out against its black color, clearly displaying a simple question: “Do You Have Change for a Paradigm?”

 

Clever, I thought as I laughed. My stepdad was was a thoughtful guy and constantly challenged my thinking, so the sweatshirt was fitting for him. Because of his influence, I was exposed to many ideas that I would not have been otherwise. Did I have change for a paradigm? Well, yes, I liked to think so.

 

Indeed, many of us like to think that we’re open-minded, reflective, and willing to see the world differently. And often, at least consciously and about some things, we are. We can be open to new paradigms, or ways of looking at and organizing our experiences.

 

But we can’t help but use the lens of our unconscious minds to look at and make sense of the world. That’s where something called the paradigm effect can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that can keep us stuck. But how?

He’s Lied for Years about His Secret Life—And Here’s Why

he's lied for years about his secret lifeOne of the most common questions I get from partners of sex and porn addicts is this: How is it possible for their partner to have lied for years about his secret life? Is he a sociopath? How can a man possibly engage in compulsive behaviors (e.g., pornography, escorts, massage parlors, etc.) and then come home to tell his partner that he loves her?

 

If you’ve just discovered your partner’s betrayal with sex addiction or porn addiction, you’re no doubt reeling to make sense of the unimaginable. This behavior and the level of deception involved—it’s unlike anything you’ve ever known.

 

Early in recovery, knowledge can be empowering. Understanding how this deception was possible for your partner can help you know how to keep yourself safe in the short term and rebuild trust, if you choose to stay, in the long term.

The Secret about How People Change

how people changeEver wonder how people change?

 

Right now, at this very moment, millions of people are in therapy hoping to get help changing their lives. What’s always fascinated me, however, is how so few people really understand what they’re buying when they sign up to see a therapist. They don’t really understand how people change—and how they can transform their lives with a therapist’s help.

 

Of course, most people aren’t terribly interested in how products or services they buy actually work. They buy because they want the desired results at the end. For instance, very few people who buy a car care to know how the engine works. They just want a car that will reliably get them around.

 

I’ve long thought, though, that psychotherapy is especially shrouded in mystery when it comes to how it actually works. Therapists, for our part, don’t generally do a great job of explaining how we help people change, especially because clients don’t often ask directly.

 

But they do ask indirectly. “What’s the next step?” one client asks me. “How do I know I’ve gotten to the root of my addiction?” another wonders. “What do you do to help?” an inquiring caller asks. I think that if therapists can answer questions like these, at least in part and without graduate-school-like lecture, we can greatly reduce our clients’ anxiety and confusion.

 

I’ve already described the process of change elsewhere, especially as it relates to addiction and recovery. I’d like to describe below one way to think about the degree to which we experience change as we move through that process. Before we begin, I need to credit Marty Farash, LMFT, who as far as I know created this useful way of thinking about the levels of change.

Recovering from Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction, Boundaries, and More from My Reddit AMA

porn-induced erectile dysfunctionOver the past week, the world has watched as the coronavirus has spread exponentially. Many are either quarantined, self-quarantined, or practicing social distancing, such that our society has ground to a halt.

 

With these practices in place, so many who are struggling with pornography are at home, isolated, bored, anxious, and often with access to the internet. I imagined that these circumstances made their struggles even more challenging, and based on the response that I’m getting in my latest Reddit AMA, I was right.

 

I’ve included some excerpts below of answers to questions that have been coming up more often for me in my practice.

 

Help Your Relationship Heal from Porn Addiction

relationship heal from porn addictionI’ve spent some time recently on Reddit answering some questions about porn addiction and porn addiction recovery. Someone asked me how to help her partner heal from his addiction and how they can begin healing their relationship together.

 

One thing I didn’t stress enough in this response was that it’s important, even empowering, for partners to have boundaries. Boundaries can sometimes be difficult for partners, but they’re simply ways of expressing needs. E.g., “I request that you tell me when you have a momentary slip or relapse with pornography or masturbation, because you’ve lied to me before about this.”

 

As I discuss below, boundaries can be a great way of taking care of yourself in the relationship. Boundaries can also help you feel safer when there’s been a betrayal of trust, which is a very common experience for partners.

 

So how can your relationship heal from porn addiction? Let’s dive in.

Here’s What I Wish I’d Said on My Recent Podcast Episode

alcohol treatment familiesIn early May, I was in Phoenix for the annual symposium for therapists who treat individuals struggling with problematic sexual behaviors and their partners. I was presenting on harm reduction at the conference on a panel discussing alternative paths of recovery that may not include 12-step recovery groups. I was thrilled to bring harm reduction to the field of sexual addiction and recovery.

 

While I was there, I spoke further with Jackie Pack, the facilitator of our panel. She invited me onto her podcast Thanks for Sharing to talk more about harm reduction. A couple of weeks ago, Jackie graciously hosted me and we talked about harm reduction, its benefits and rationale, and how it can help those struggling with addictive behavior and those who love them.

 

We covered a lot of ground, but there are some things we didn’t get to or that I wish I’d said more clearly. Here’s the rundown.

How We Grow: The Stages of Change

stages of changeThis month was the 25th anniversary of the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. I loved Nirvana as a teenager (sorry Mom) and still enjoy “Heart-Shaped Box” whenever I hear it over the airwaves. I remember his tragic end after a long bout with heroin use. It had been quite a while since I’d thought about his story.

 

Now, after all these years and working so closely with addictive behaviors and substance use, I felt sad as I read stories like this one about how loved ones tried to help him. They did their best, as we all do, in a difficult situation, and they were listening to the professionals guiding them.

 

Still, they can’t help but wonder today: What might they have done differently? How could they have reached him? How could they have helped? Could his story have ended in another way?

 

Of course, everyone affected by addiction—including those struggling with addictive behaviors and substance use themselves—asks similar questions not in retrospect but every day they live with their using or acting out.

 

Those struggling with substance use or problematic, compulsive sexual behaviors want to understand how they could possibly return to their addictive behavior of choice, sometimes even after a long period of abstinence. “Why do I keep doing this?” they ask. “And how can I change?”

 

Family and friends want to understand helpful ways to support their loved ones. They’re often desperate to help the loved one find healing and become hurt, angry, frustrated, and exhausted trying to understand his or her behavior.

 

A sound understanding of how people change can provide the foundation for answering both of these questions. If we understand the stages of change, we can give ourselves a bit of grace as we struggle with our addictive behavior. And family members can learn how to better support their loved ones and promote their healing.

Contact with the Affair Partner After an Affair Ends

contact with affair partnerShould he have any contact with the affair partner now that the affair is over? Shouldn’t she cut her affair partner out of his life and stop talking to him altogether? How can I get him to stop talking to her?

 

After an affair, the couple is in crisis. They’re struggling to adapt to their new reality now that the affair has been exposed.

 

The hurt partner is reeling from this world-shattering news. She’s often traumatized and angry, while also struggling with the desire to scour phone records, check his phone, and other responses intended to help her feel safe after a massive betrayal.

 

The partner participating in the affair is often remorseful and desperate to save the relationship.

 

In instances like this, it’s a matter of course that the affair is over, that contact with the affair partner will not continue, and that both partners are all in the save the relationship.

 

But this is not always the case.