Managing Sex Addiction Recovery During the COVID-19 Crisis
This is a Youtube video that James West and Michael Salas collaborated. In this video, there is a discussion about considerations for people who are in recovery for sex addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this video, Michael and James discuss the impact of this time on relationships and personal recovery.
Michael: Hi I’m Michael Salas.
Michael: Hi, this is Michael Salas from Vantage Point Counseling and thank you for tuning in today. I’m here with James West and he works with me in our practice and I’ll just have James kind of share a little bit about himself.
James: I’m a sex therapist at Vantage Point and work with a lot of people in recovery from various addictions or trauma and today we’re going talk about sex addiction.
Michael: So there are a lot of topics out there that relate to sex addiction. One of the things that we’re pretty concerned about is the impact of this pandemic and how it can enhance the tough emotional places that a lot of people are already in, and make people feel even more isolated.
James: What we’re talking about today is specifically isolation, depression and shame as it relates to “How do I cope with the pandemic while I’m in recovery?”
Michael: So in the background of any addiction and especially one that really revolves around a taboo topic such as sex, and also has a lot of other compounding things: like a lot of times—lies, betrayal, and relationship distress. In the background of all of that is almost always a lot of shame, and shame makes us feel very isolated. And so in a time like this where we’re already even more isolated, it can make it even harder to navigate through the shame that you’re experiencing.
James: We’re going through world pandemic right now. There’s so much uncertainty and fear around what to expect next and what’s coming politically, economically, socially even just in our homes–like financially. If you add the vulnerability of feeling ashamed of some out-of-control behavior – like you’re not a master of your own will – it exacerbates the vulnerability that’s already there, and it can make that isolation feel even more isolating than it might for the average person.
Michael: I will say this: I also noticed that there can be an increased level of isolation because of the relationship problems that people are having and those relationship problems can even be more distressing or more conflict-oriented as people are kind of in more stressful situations. They’re also in closer quarters with less time to separate and give each other some space. And so I also noticed that that increases the amount of stress people are experiencing, as well as the amount of shame that people are experiencing.
James: It’s pretty normal to be struggling with all that. Basically addiction or any behavior that feels out of control to you – like you can’t control it – comes from coping. So you’re trying to deal with the difficult feelings: the discomfort. And so that’s kind of how it starts. And when it gets to a point where it kind of feeds back onto itself and it becomes this other thing. Basically it’s maladaptive, so it’s not providing what you need anymore and it really kind of stops providing that relief that you’re craving and really need.
Michael: So much of what people already experienced when they’re early on in their recovery or really at any point in their recovery with any kind of addiction, but especially if it’s sexual addiction, is trying to identify whether or not they are worthy of reconnecting with their loved ones – whether they’re worthy of reconnecting in their relationships. And the situation that we’re in with the pandemic is one that we’re not that we haven’t really been in before and so that naturally will increase levels of stress. And it’s normal to have stress right now. There’s already that backdrop of shame going on and a lot of questioning that goes on about are you worthy of even being part of the family that you’re in. That’s the stress that you’re experiencing from the stuff around you is likely to make you doubt yourself even more. And so that I think it’s really important to specify that that increased level of self-doubt or increased struggle with feelings of isolation are really normal in situations like the one that we’re dealing with, with this COVID.
James: So then the question becomes, “What can you do about it?”
Michael: Yes, yeah.
James: I guess I wanted to say a couple things about how the support that would normally have been in place is largely vacant. The meeting rooms are empty and you can’t meet in person with your therapist right now. When you’re stressed out, it’s normal to get depressed, and then it becomes hard to really advocate for yourself and take action and go find an online meeting, go find a therapist we’ll meet with you online, or just find a therapist if you don’t have one. It’s unrealistic to expect 100% of yourself right now. You are going through a tough time – we all are.
Michael: What I would add to that that can make it tricky and complicated is that you may have a partner who – depending on where you’re at in your recovery journey – is carrying a different level of resentment or anger, or who is struggling in their own kind of way I’m while they’re on their journey. And that can make it feel like you need to do something more than you’re able to do. It can make you start to over function or try to over function.
James: I see it in a lot of my clients right now, and I even see it in myself on some days, where we’re just so tired. You can see the fatigue on our faces, and yet we have so much energy, and we’re just powering through. And so I think like we need to be mindful of how much energy we really have. Because if you spend more energy than you really have then you’re going end up… Like today you might be able to get a lot more done, but then you’re going have to pay for it next week, or maybe even tomorrow. You really won’t have the energy to do the things you want to do.
If your partner’s mad at you, empathy is something that could help. Recognizing that they’re mad and they have the right to be mad, just because they’re feeling mad. I think that by virtue of whatever you’re feeling, you deserve that feeling. And I think there’s also a line where people in recovery, especially from like infidelity issues, are treading a penance sort of thing where I’m trying to rebuild trust by making concessions for my partner. But at the same time, I’m also trying to honor my own boundaries and take care of myself. It’s part of the sacred work of recovery from infidelity or addiction, because basically, addiction is fundamentally a boundaries illness.
You’ve got to find ways to meet in the middle where you’re sticking up for yourself; you’re taking care of yourself. Sometimes it might be important to say something like, “I really need to do this to take care of myself.” Or even, “It’s not okay to talk to me like that,” if you’re really just feeling disrespected. I think that can be okay – you know, in small doses – I think you’ve got to tread carefully usually when it when it comes to rebuilding trust.
Really I think what partners who are angry often need is someone to acknowledge that they’re feeling hurt and that they deserve to feel mad, they deserve to feel hurt, and especially if you’re the one who did something that led to them feeling hurt. You can own that, and sometimes it’s the kind of thing that requires owning: “I know I’ve failed you, and I feel terrible about that. And I see how it’s affecting you and I appreciate you. I love you and I’m sorry.” Sometimes that goes a really long way.
Michael: One of the things that I focus on so much with my clients – and anyone who is around me knows that I focus a lot on it – is shame resilience. In a time like this where we’re becoming progressively isolated because it’s the safest thing to do, shame and isolation really go hand-in-hand. And what we tend to do already with shame is further isolate ourselves. My recommendation that I have for anyone who is dealing with any kind of addiction is learn about shame. Learn about the feeling and identify where you’re starting to question your own value your own worth: where you’re starting to get self-critical. After you have a sense of where you’re really doubting yourself most what I recommend is that you find people in your life you can share that with. Empathy is critical in lowering our levels of shame, and lowering our levels of shame is critical in healing our relationships and also managing any behavior that’s out of control. And so it’s really important to, first of all, identify when you are feeling the highest levels of shame and start to learn how to share that with people in your life.
James: Sharing what you’re going through – whether it’s with like friends, family, a 12-step group or non 12-step meeting – creates a sense of accountability. I’m just kind of thinking of some of the clients I’ve been meeting with, and hearing their stories about how it’s hard to find the structure that they need. The support structure that they had is gone. But having that sort of – building the empathy by sharing the difficult feelings you’re having and what you’re going through with people who can support you – which might not be your partner, because they might not be able to tolerate what you’re going through – but that creates, as I was saying, accountability and a sense of “What am i doing to take care of myself?”
Michael: Thank you for tuning in and listening to us talk a little bit about these difficult emotions in this difficult time. I just want to say, just kind of that reminder that it’s okay to struggle and we will get through it, but that doesn’t make it easy, and that’s okay.
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James: Thanks for watching! Appreciate you guys.