Counseling Affiliates Logo The Recovery Process
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The Recovery Process


Getting help means getting into a recovery process. If you have never gotten help for addiction before, you may wonder, “What is recovery?” Recovery is a literal term: the recovering addict starts to recover some of the things that have been lost to the addiction. If the addiction has been going on for very long, the list is usually fairly long. Among the losses are things like honesty, integrity, trust, peace of mind, self esteem, self love, respect, accountability, responsibility, sanity. Often there are relationships that have been lost or severely damaged: relationships with friends, spouse, children, employment, religious affiliations. Recovery starts a process of slowly but surely regaining some of these lost parts of oneself, and it can include the regaining or improving of some of the affected relationships.

Some things will be impossible to recover; the addiction was ruthless as it progressed. A marriage may be lost forever; a lot of money may be gone for good; a job lost because of the addiction may not be salvageable. But recovery offers a solution to an otherwise hopeless situation in these instances. Recovery allows you to grieve what was irretrievably lost. This means that the ability to feel is recovered. As the recovering addict sits with other recovering addicts or a caring counselor, he or she witnesses the power of grief and is helped to allow the pain to surface where it can begin to heal.

Recovery also offers the opportunity to acquire awareness and life skills that were missed previously in the person's life experience. Thus the recovering person may learn for the first time how to function in a healthy marriage or may gain a self knowledge that was never available previously. Recovering addicts sometimes learn, for example, that they have been depressed for most of their lives. And they often become aware of self-defeating habits like self-centeredness, control, anger, or manipulation. Likewise one may realize that low self esteem has been part of a life long self perception. With the help of a therapist, a 12-step sponsor or others in the recovery process, the recovering addict is able to do personal work and make specific changes that can make life not only sober, but more fulfilling and successful.

So what exactly does the recovery work entail? A very important part is participating in a 12-step recovery program, based on AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Depending on where you live, the available program(s) for sex addiction may be SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous), SA (Sexaholics Anonymous), SCA (Sexual Compulsives Anonymous) or SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). The main recovery program activity is going to meetings which are attended by other recovering addicts. The “Anonymous” in the name means that people don’t give their last names and that what is said in the meetings is expected to be kept confidential. The meetings are led by members with a little time in the program who volunteer for usually one month at a time. The meeting format varies but usually consists of voluntary sharings about a particular recovery subject suggested by the leader, following the rule that there is no crosstalk or responses to the sharings. Meeting attendance is free (a small donation is optional) and members usually attend at least one meeting a week and often several per week. When beginning to participate in a 12-step recovery program, it is advised to start off by attending "90 in 90,"meaning 90 meetings in the first 90 days, or going to a meeting every day for about three months. (If this seems preposterous, just remember how often you were willing to do things for the addiction.)

After a few weeks of attending recovery meetings the newcomer is encouraged to pick out someone of the same gender to be a sponsor. The sponsor will be someone with good recovery who has been in the program for a significant time. The sponsor guides the “sponsee” through the 12 steps, each step requiring the completion of some task relevant to recovery. The sponsor also can be called to help deal with problems and temptations that come along. Once the final step is reached, the sponsee becomes a sponsor for other newcomers.

A central goal of recovery is to maintain sobriety, which is defined as abstaining from inappropriate and addictive sexual behavior. The sponsor helps determine early on what these behaviors are.

To locate 12-step recovery programs, click on the “Free 12-Step Program Help” side button.

Professional Treatment

Many people also include specialized sexual addiction therapy as part of their recovery. The goal of the therapy is to augment the recovery program activities with professionally facilitated intrapsychic work on specific issues embedded in the addictive patterns and behavior. The therapy will include an exploration of the origins of the sexual addiction, usually rooted in some physically or psychologically traumatic experiences and influences that occurred during childhood and which require skilled facilitation in order to resolve. In addition, the therapy assists with the marriage or other partner relationship which always is painfully affected by the addictive behavior. There are three sources for this professional psyhotherapy support: from individual psychotherapists who specialize in working with sexual addiction, in specialized out-patient treatment programs, and in specialized in-patient treatment centers. To locate specialized professional help, click on the “Treatment” side button.

By participating in both a 12-step program and specialized psychotherapy, the recovering addict has the benefit of what each recovery process uniquely has to offer. Neither recovery process is nearly as effective without the other.

Relationship Partners Also Need Help

If there is a spouse or relationship partner it is essential that the partner also participate in a recovery process. Spouses and other relationship partners are often resistant to getting help for themselves, thinking because the addict is the one who has violated the relationship and caused all the problems, that it is therefore the addict who needs the help. This logic is half-way right. There is no question the addict does need help. But the partner needs help just as urgently. The partner needs help to grieve the tremendous losses that have been sustained: loss of the dream, loss of trust, loss of fidelity, loss of a friend, loss of support (from an addict who was gone a lot and who now may have been sent out of the home), often loss of solvency (when huge credit card debt for hidden sexual services is discovered), loss of psychological well being (partners are often anxious and depressed), and often loss of self respect and self identity (partners frequently have compromised their own values in how they have reacted to the addict and sometimes have become so absorbed with the addict and the addict’s problem that they have lost touch with who they are and what they need).

Most of the 12-step programs for sex addicts and love addicts have companion programs designed for their relationship partners: COSA (Codependents of Sex Addicts)—companion program for Sex Addicts Anonymous; S-Anon—companion program for Sexaholics Anonymous; COSLAA (Co-Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous)—companion program for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.* Like the addicts, partners attend meetings, select a sponsor and work the 12 steps. They derive support hearing other partners share about their pain and their recovery, and from sharing their own pain and progress. Gradually they begin to understand how they too have been addicted: addicted to trying to control the addict, to trying to catch the addict, addicted to helping and serving others, to living through others, sometimes to things like food, exercise, shopping, prescription drugs, etc. To locate free 12-step programs designed specifically for partners of sex addicts and partners of love addicts, scroll back up and click on the "Free 12-Step Program Help" side button. When you reach the 12-Step Program page, scroll down till you find programs for partners.

*These "companion" programs are also designed for others in relationships with sex addicts and love addicts, such as adult children, parents, or siblings.

Partners also benefit from their own specialized pspychotherapy process for the same reasons as the addict. They are helped to learn that they did not end up in the relationship by accident, that there were unconscious psychological scars and beliefs from childhood influences that attracted them to this type of person. With both partners in specialized therapy the therapist(s) can be especially helpful in guiding both people through the choppy waters of the healing and recovery. People in the recovery process often describe a “roller coaster” experience with ups and downs punctuated with shocks, setbacks and gradual progress. By utilizing all the experience and support available, it is possible to navigate this process successfully. Sadly, without this support most marriages don’t make it. And both the addict and the partner continue in the cycles of their addictive interactions.

For learning about professional help for partners, scroll back up and click on the "Treatment" side button. You will need to read this section thoroughly as well as the links provided in order to locate comments and suggestions pertinent to partners.

For extensive additional information for partners, click on the “For Partners” side button.

The real bonus of recovery is that you start out with a life in crisis and (if attached to someone) a dysfunctional relationship below the average, and, with the willingness to work a persistent and comprehensive recovery process, you end up with a life of fulfillment and integrity and a relationship that is not only functional but far above the average relationship out there.