Joanna Benfield Sex Addiction Therapist Harley Street, Central London, and Online

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Are You Ready for Therapy?

You may be reading this because you are trying to decide whether you are ready to start the recovery process. This is the point at which you commit to putting your sexually compulsive behaviours behind you. You draw a line in the sand and begin your recovery in earnest. Not everybody will be willing to do this. For some people, giving up the behaviours will seem too difficult. They may decide, ‘I’ll do it next month instead’. Others may feel that they have tried so many times before and failed; they will wonder why this time should be any different. Still others may decide they can go it alone, without the help of a therapist. If this is you, take a few moments to check on your reasoning: are you still in denial about the full extent of the problem and avoiding doing the things that mean that you will truly have to face up to the way in which you have been living your life?

Remember, only you can make the decision about whether you are ready to enter recovery. Many people arrive at this point because their partner has discovered their behaviours. Sometimes, partners, in their state of fear and horror, issue ultimatums. They insist on the sexually-addicted partner going to see a therapist and starting the recovery process. They want proof of change in order for the relationship to continue. As important as your partner’s wishes for you are, entering into recovery just because it is what your partner wants is a sure-fire path to failure. Unless you find the motivation in yourself to live your life differently, you will simply be going through the motions of recovery, rather than doing the real work. I have had many clients come to therapy because their partners have sent them to me to be ‘mended’. There is never a happy outcome. The addict continues in their old ways, lying to their partner and lying to the therapist, but continuing to act out. Sometimes, when they are caught in this lie and really stand to lose everything, the penny drops and they start to want change for themselves. That is when the therapy really starts. If you are intending to go through the motions of therapy in order for your partner to get off your back, then you are continuing in the old addict patterns of lying to them and to yourself. Spend some time reflecting on what you really want for your life, and only start therapy once you believe you are ready to live your life differently, whatever it costs you.

How Do You Decide?

In order to be able to take a decision about whether you want to go ahead with recovery and all the hard work it entails, you will need to be weigh up the costs and benefits of both staying as you are right now and of entering recovery.

Sex addicts - like all addicts - continue with their behaviour because it gives them something that feels good, at least temporarily. It might be the rush of excitement at going to meet a stranger for sex, the sexual arousal of watching porn for hours on end or the sexual relief of a ‘happy ending’ at a massage parlour. The reality is that you are going to be giving up something that you enjoy. The reason you are considering giving it up is probably because this enjoyment is outweighed by the negative consequences of the behaviours, for yourself and those close to you.

Start by noting down the benefits of staying as you are now, continuing with the old sexual behaviours. This involves engaging the familiar ‘addict brain’, the part of you that tells you its ok to just carry on as you are. Sometimes, when people are in recovery they try to shut this piece of their brain down, metaphorically putting their hands over their ears and shouting, ‘I can’t hear you’. Although this might feel like a logical strategy, in reality what it does is make the ‘addict brain’ shout even louder in order to be heard. You may have experienced this when you have tried to give up your behaviours in the past. You try to block out the little voice that says, ‘go on, just one more hit, nobody will know’, and the more you try to ignore it, the more it seems to focus on these thoughts. If you decide to start therapy, we will be using a different approach. Instead of trying to block out the unhelpful thoughts, we will listen to them, acknowledge them, and then learn to move on from them without acting on them. And so, in this exercise, we are acknowledging the part of you that still wants to act out, rather than trying to ignore its existence.

Once you have noted down the benefits of staying the same, turn your attention to the costs. Remind yourself of the harm that the old behaviours do to you and those around you. Our behaviours can have harmful consequences in a whole range of different areas, including our financial situation, relationships, jobs, self-worth and our health. See if you can write down all the harmful consequences of your own addictive behaviour. Be aware that it can be quite a sobering experience, seeing it all written down in black and white. Notice how you feel once you have noted down all the harmful consequences of your out-of-control sexual behaviours. You may feel a sense of shame or find it very upsetting. Alternatively, you may feel angry with yourself for the impact your behaviours has had on your partner.

Now, turn to the benefits of changing and giving up the old behaviours. Take a few moments to think about who you are as a 'sober' person. What do you imagine might happen in your life if you stopped acting out? How would you differ from the former addict? How might sobriety affect your self-worth, your relationships, your finances, your time, for example? Perhaps you are now more honest, where before you lied. Perhaps you are transparent, when in the past you were devious. And perhaps you can now see a glimmer of hope, where in the past there was despair.

And finally, we turn to the costs of changing. It is important that we acknowledge that giving up something that has been a part of our lives for a long time will have a cost to it. If we ignore these costs, they are more likely to derail us later on in the recovery process. If we acknowledge them right now, at the beginning, we can go into the process with our eyes open, taking the decision to begin recovery, even though it will be difficult.

Have a look at all the information that you have written down. How do you feel about what you have written? Do the motivations for change outweigh the ones for staying as you are? Or are the costs of change and of giving up the behaviours too great for you to contemplate? If this is the case, it might be still be useful to work through the ambivalence about change with a sex addiction therapist.

Even if you do decide that you are ready to begin the recovery process, there may be a part of you that feels reticent. After all, I think it is already obvious that it is going to involve a lot of hard work: stopping the old behaviours, completing homework exercises, personal reflection, exploring difficult thoughts and emotions. There may be a part that says, ‘I can’t do all of this’. And that part may want to just slip back into the comfort of the old behaviours instead. This is a very normal reaction. Even if you feel really motivated right now (for instance, if you are entering recovery because your partner has found out about your addiction and is threatening to leave you), you may find that further down the line into recovery, some of these feelings start to surface. It is important that you acknowledge these feelings, rather than just push them to one side and try to ignore them. If you ignore them, they will keep slipping back in and undermine the recovery process. Instead, by accepting them, you can adopt an ‘Even though’ mentality to your recovery. So, you will be able to say to yourself, ‘Even though I want to watch porn this evening, I am choosing to work on my recovery instead’.

If, after contemplating all of this, you feel that you are ready to begin therapy, with all the hard work that it entails, then please do contact me to arrange an initial consultation.

Joanna Benfield
Sex and Porn Addiction Therapist
Treating Sexual Compulsivity
Harley Street, Central London & Online

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