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.

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 Why You’re Attracted to a Particular Genre of Porn

genre of pornSomeone recently asked me on Reddit why they like a certain genre of porn. It’s very complex question and a very common one, but I did my best to answer it in my off-the-cuff response.

 

I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well since it’s a question that also comes up in my work with clients.

 

Here’s my response. Let me know what you think.

Want to Quit Porn? Here are 4 Things You Must Do

quit pornI’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to help people who are wanting to quit pornography but aren’t able to kick it. Of course, I talk almost everyday with men mostly about changing unwanted sexual behavior. But I wanted to learn more about how people were struggling.

 

I’ve had conversations with people all around the world in recent weeks. Men who have told me that they cannot stop masturbating. Men who have shared that they relapse again and again without understanding why. Men who have asked me in desperation for tips, strategies, and tools to stop.

 

I’ve listened. Based on all of my experience, training, and these conversations, here are four things you need to do to quit porn for good.

What I Realized About Sexual Fantasies at Disneyland

sexual fantasiesRecently, I went to Disneyland with my wife and son. One of the many attractions we enjoyed was the Indiana Jones ride. Have you ever been? It’s not one that’s easy to forget. I became anxious before the ride, which I’ll tell you about. And I realized that how I dealt with my anxiety was a helpful metaphor for how sexual fantasies work.

 

The metaphor isn’t perfect, but I’m hoping to show you how sexual fantasies can work. Understanding them can help extremely helpful, especially when healing from porn or sex addiction.

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.

Understanding Addiction, Part 1: The Disease Model

understanding addiction“Why? Why do I keep doing this?” I get this question a lot, especially from new clients who are struggling to comprehend why they keep engaging in an addictive behavior they don’t want to keep doing. They struggle in understanding addiction.

 

I get it. I’ve been there. I wondered the same for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I continued to drink when I felt as ashamed about it as I did. Eventually, I came to understand why I started to drink and why I continued to need to drink.

 

Eventually, I came to understand that I drank to alleviate my own shame and anxieties. Understanding what alcohol was doing for me helped me learn to be more authentic and manage my feelings differently. When I didn’t need alcohol anymore, I spontaneously stopped when I got tired of how much it was taking from me.

 

Maybe you’re trying to understand your drinking, gambling, sexual behaviors, or other addictive behaviors. Really, you’re asking about what you don’t understand about yourself. That’s where looking at a few models of understanding addiction can help.