By Forest Benedict
What if the one thing you feared most was the source of your deepest healing? This is the paradox of sex addiction. In shame, sex addicts seek safety in the shadows of isolation. The sad irony is that in doing so, they separate themselves from a profound source of healing: authentic and accepting relationships.
After years of pursuing personal recovery and helping others heal as well, I am convinced that learning to connect with others in a group setting is foundational for long-term recovery. Without the group experience, recovery attempts are destined to fail.
For most, participation in a group sounds scary. Sex addicts tend to have a strong aversion to the concept, even when told that groups are vital. Let me explain one reason sex addicts may be repelled by the idea of recovery groups.
Many of us who struggle with sex addiction learned early in life that other people could not be trusted to meet our needs. Whether this lesson came through neglect, abuse, or trauma, this belief made us vulnerable to sex addiction. When denied the connection we were wired for, we started looking for alternative connections.
In times of stress or distress, all humans reach out for soothing. Since our track record with people was poor, we turned to something non-relational to escape our suffering. For us, sexual feelings quickly became the source of all soothing. At first, it seemed to meet a need but eventually we were overwhelmed by an out-of-control addiction. What was meant to be our solution became our new source of suffering.
With this all too common backstory, our greatest need in recovery is the connection that seems to eternally evade us. As Carl Jung once said, “We are wounded in relationship and we heal through relationship.”
Here are three powerful reasons why groups provide the connection necessary for a lifetime of healing, even though the idea of opening up may be what is most feared:
- We learn to trust. Though we have been hurt by others in our past, groups provide a safe context in which we can learn to trust again. It is in groups that we get to practice connecting with others, possibly for the first time in our life. As we trust the group more fully, we open up more fully. The miracle of recovery occurs when love begins to fill us in a way that lust never could. This transformative experience cannot occur in isolation, so groups are essential.
- Our shame and secrecy diminish. Nothing fuels addiction like secrecy and shame. Active in our addiction, we believe we are innately broken and unworthy of love. Unless we learn to give voice to our inadequacies and hidden transgressions amongst those who support us, our addiction will thrive. Groups provide a safe and confidential setting where we can share our shame-saturated secrets. As frightening as it may be initially, when we allow safe people to see inside of us, our shame is stunted and we develop a sense of belonging. While we once lived shackled by secrets, we experience how living in the truth sets us free.
- We find strength in numbers. When we join a group, we suddenly have a team working for the good of each player. We are stronger together. Groups provide both a cheering section and a lifeline. In times of temptation, there is power in reaching out to fellow group members. I liken this experience to letting someone talk us back from a dangerous ledge. In my personal battle against sexual addiction, having a handful of caring friends that I can call or text in moments of weakness or pain has strengthened my recovery in unimaginable ways.
Replacing Lust with Love
I am both a group leader and a group member. These days I lead three recovery groups and participate in one recovery group per week. Having helped many sex addicts find freedom, I can honestly say that without a group, real recovery is impossible. Sure, someone might achieve sobriety on their own. But in order to recover from an often debilitating and lifelong addiction, a person needs to do more than just let go of lust.
As I shared in a workbook I wrote for past clients, “recovery is a process of letting go of lust and letting love replace it. It means letting go of your attachment to unhealthy coping mechanisms and connecting with what is real. Learning how to connect will likely be the hardest yet most rewarding adventure of your life. Connection truly satisfies what lust never could.”
It is my hope that those seeking long-term freedom from sex addiction will lean into the fear of being seen and take the bold leap of joining a recovery group.
When we come out of hiding, healing can begin.
This post is a copyrighted excerpt from the book Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery.
Forest Benedict, LMFT, SATP, is the author of the highly-acclaimed book Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery. Forest uses online therapy to guide sexually addicted individuals and couples through the Life After Lust recovery program, serving all of California. Forest leads a weekly online drop-in group through Sexandrelationshiphealing.com and does sexual addiction recovery coaching worldwide. He is a writer and blogger, continually creating hopeful and relevant content for those in recovery. Forest is the Program Coordinator of the Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider program at Mid-America Nazarene University, training therapists to do sexual addiction treatment. He is a husband and father who is in recovery. To learn about the resources Forest provides, check out his website at ForestBenedict.com.