By Joe Saavedra
Earlier this year, I made the conscious effort to attend my first Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting. I say conscious effort, although it was actually a requirement for one of the courses that I’m taking to be certified as a Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider. I was already very familiar with both Celebrate Recovery (CR) and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), having worked the 12-steps in each of these group recovery settings as part of my personal process of healing. But I’d never tried an SAA group. I think one of the main reasons for my hesitancy was the flexibility in SAA’s definition of sobriety. On SAA’s website, the following statement speaks to this flexibility:
Sex Addicts Anonymous does not have a universal definition of abstinence. Most of us have no desire to stop being sexual altogether. It is not sex, in and of itself, that causes us problems, but the addiction to certain sexual behaviors. In SAA we will be better able to determine what behavior is addictive and what is healthy. However, the fellowship does not dictate to its members what is and isn’t addictive sexual behavior. Instead we have found that it is necessary for each member to define his or her own abstinence.
SAA has helped thousands of individuals since its inception 40 years ago. I can speak nothing but affirmation for its desire to guide hurting individuals through the recovery process. However, the luxury of defining or conceptualizing my own sobriety, when first admitting my powerlessness over problematic compulsive sexual behaviors, was not an option in my mind. At the time, I needed a recovery program that defined sobriety for me in terms of my Judeo-Christian belief system. Thus my connection with the faith-based Celebrate Recovery and my subsequent connection to Sexaholics Anonymous.
Each of these recovery groups challenged and encouraged me to abstain from pornography (all formats), masturbation, and physical sexual encounters with anyone other than my spouse. The motive behind this expectation is justified by Sexaholics Anonymous in the following statement:
The sexaholic has taken himself or herself out of the whole context of what is right or wrong. He or she has lost control, no longer has the power of choice, and is not free to stop. Lust has become an addiction. Our situation is like that of the alcoholic who can no longer tolerate alcohol and must stop drinking altogether but is hooked and cannot stop. So it is with the sexaholic, or sex drunk, who can no longer tolerate lust but cannot stop. Thus, for the sexaholic, any form of sex with one’s self or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive. We also see that lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust.
Kind of harsh, huh? Well, for a guy who rationalized affair, after affair, after affair, and who found himself on the verge of suicide because of problematic compulsive sexual behaviors, this rigorous definition was necessary for my survival (quite literally). Is this type of rigidity necessary for all who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors? My experience as a sex addiction therapist leads me to believe not. And my education-mandated encounter with Sex Addicts Anonymous has confirmed that belief.
Sobriety doesn’t necessarily look the same from addict to addict. However, the following passage from page 37 of the ‘White Book’ of Sexaholics Anonymous’ does a superb job of capturing similarities within the addictive struggle (regardless of recovery setting):
It begins with an overpowering desire for a high, relief, pleasure, or escape.
It provides satisfaction.
It is sought repeatedly and compulsively.
It then takes on a life of its own.
It becomes excessive.
Distress is produced.
Emotional control decreases.
Ability to relate deteriorates.
Ability for daily living is disrupted.
Denial becomes necessary.
It takes priority over everything else.
It becomes the main coping mechanism.
The coping mechanism stops working.
The party is over.
Addicts shift from emotional discomfort, to negative cognition (thought), to compulsive behavior, to demise–all part of what Patrick Carnes and others refer to as the cycle of addiction. If the reader of the above passage had never heard about or attended an SA meeting, the reader would still know what this disease is all about.
So why did I choose to share this personal anecdote juxtaposing Sexaholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous? To let you, the reader, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! We, as humans, are communal creatures wired for connection. One very powerful aspect of the SAA meeting I attended was its strength in numbers. There were 25 people in the meeting. 25! From the sound of their interaction, some of them had been attending this particular meeting and/or working their recovery with one another for over 10 years. In fact, one of the men that I spoke with after the meeting shared that he had 17 years of sobriety from his sexual addiction. And his shame and secrecy from past actions diminished because he was ‘in the room’ pretty much every Saturday morning. He and his fellow brethren learned to trust one another in community – choosing connection over isolation. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
One final thought: Regardless of sexual preference, sexual expression, acting out behaviors, or shame that may be associated with all three, there are fellow humans out there willing and waiting to connect with you in a healthy, relationally intimate, non-sexual way. ‘S’ group meetings are held every single day/night of the week (face-to-face, virtual/online, and via phone). A wonderfully penned article, Which Sex Addiction Program Do You Belong In, outlines the various ‘S’ groups. If you choose not to peruse Morty’s article, I’ve created a short list of recovery group resources (see below) that you can choose from. I hope to see you sometime In the Rooms…
- Sexaholics Anonymous
- Sex Addicts Anonymous
- Sexual Recovery Anonymous
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
- Sex and Porn Addicts Anonymous
- Sexual Compulsives Anonymous
- Celebrate Recovery (Christian)
- Samson Society (Christian)
- Sex and Relationship Healing (online healing community)
- SMART Recovery (12-step alternative)
Joe Saavedra LMFT, SATP is passionate about helping those impacted by sexual integrity issues. He works with both addicts and their partners using individual, couple, and group therapy modalities. He is focused on the relational trauma that partners of sex, porn, and relationship addicts experience, and he compassionately works to guide partners (and addicts) through their isolating and shame-filled experiences. He feels that his role as a therapist is to help reduce this shame and systematically get to the root of the addictive and compulsive behaviors that have led to these intimacy disorder issues.