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What Does Recovery Mean?


By Amy Hansen, LCPC, CSAT, Agape Counseling Ltd.

Recovery from any addiction is a focused program of life change. To recover from sex addiction means freedom from sexual acting-out behaviors and freedom from the compulsions that drive the behavior. It means more satisfying relationships, increased self-efficacy, compassion for self and others, renewed life goals, decreased shame, healthy sexuality, and the ability to experience the most positive things life has to offer.

Recovery from sex addiction is a three to five year process that is accomplished in a structured program, which typically includes individual and group therapy. This structured process helps “reprogram” the addicted brain as the actual physical structure of the brain changes. People don’t want to believe that recovery takes this much time, but it does. There are different recovery venues. Sometimes an individual with sexually compulsive behaviors needs to begin recovery in a specialized treatment center. Others may be able to stop their behaviors and start recovery with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), group therapy, and a 12-step recovery group. This decision is made with the collaboration of a CSAT.

Patrick Carnes, author of Don’t Call it Love and Recovery Zone, identifies six stages that those who succeed in their recovery from sexual addiction go through:

  • Developing stage: This is not really a stage of the recovery process but describes a time where there is a growing consciousness that something needs to be done. The reality of the addiction is starting to become apparent.
  • Crisis/decision stage: This is where a decision is made; a commitment to change begins. This is usually propelled by some type of crisis which can be a realization, or fear, that the behaviors are escalating, or it may be a forced decision because someone discovered the acting out behaviors.
  • Shock stage: This stage is characterized by physical symptoms of withdrawal that are at times unbearable: periodic bouts with despair and hopelessness which become more intense initially, experiences of disorientation, confusion, numbness, and inability to have focus or concentrate, or reacting with angry feelings about limits set by therapists, sponsors, or family members. During this period, it is important for the person with sex addiction to be honest about his/her acting out behaviors. “The biggest struggle in this period is to be honest about the extent and nature of the addiction. With time and support, clarity emerges about the addiction and a stage of profound grieving is entered.”
  • Grief stage: Characterizations of this stage are, “anger and defiance of the shock stage continue; sadness and pain are punctuated with periodic bouts of despair; extraordinary sadness exists about the losses incurred because of the addiction; a profound loss as the addiction ceases to serve as friend, comforter, and high; addicts take general stock of their lives, inventorying now beyond the addiction” (P. Carnes). It is important during this stage for the person with sex addiction to understand that the addiction is more than just behaviors. It involves beliefs, attitudes, and distorted thinking.
  • Repair stage: The goal of this stage is to create life-balance. It is characterized by a new capacity for joy, the deepening of new bonds with others, taking responsibility for themselves in all areas of life, work on completing things (degrees, projects, work, etc.) and on being dependable (being on time, following through, and responding to requests), living less on “the edge” and learning to choose low-key options over high-excitement options.
  • Growth stage: This stage includes profound empathy and compassion for one’s self and for others, trust in personal boundaries, integrity in relationships, feelings of achievement regarding healthy sexuality and a deep abhorrence of old behaviors. Once an individual hits the growth stage, there are no more false starts. At this point, the addiction is seen as a gift because it has given the addict greater perception, compassion, and presence.

These stages are not a checklist where one is completed and the next begins. They are a process. A person recovering from sex addiction may be experiencing more than one stage of recovery at a time or they may need to back up and work on a stage again. It is crucial that a recovery program is tailored to meet the needs of the individual who is sexually addicted. There is hope for anyone who is suffering from sex addiction or anyone whose life is affected by a person with sex addiction.

For more information, please contact Agape Counseling, 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them at