Assessing Risk of Relapse
By: Jessica Hedgepeth, BS
Relapse. It’s an unpleasant word for most sexual addicts—one that conjures up thoughts of pain, disappointment, and defeat. Wide sweeping in its description, a relapse could constitute a wave or a full blown tsunami in the course of one’s recovery. Anxiety swells concerning this undesired event— can we predict it? Or does it sneak upon us like a thief in the night waiting to take away all we worked for?
Good news. You can forecast your susceptibility of relapse—as Dr. Stanton Peele wisely says, “Relapse is not an unfortunate event that happens to you; it is a series of bad choices that you make. “ By looking at your current patterns of behavior, the power to prevent relapse lies in your hands.
In Dr. Kevin Skinner’s book, “Treating Pornography Addiction” he discusses the common characteristic profile of an individual most prone to relapse. Just as meteorologist can look at an approaching storm and predict the weather patterns and precipitation preceding it, sexual addicts who fall into relapse share similar signs and patterns. According to Dr. Skinner, the characteristic profile of an addict prone to relapse is:
• Keeping secrets
• Limited relationship connections
• Chronic conflict: arguing and fighting
• Little to no social interaction—isolation
• Living for intense and extreme experiences
• Leaving treatment prematurely
• Inadequate preparation
• Ignoring emotional issues
Why do these behaviors pose so much risk to an addict in recovery? First and foremost, these actions constitute an individual who is not reaching out to others, but turning inward to battle the brunt of addiction. Reaching out to others provide the connection, comfort, and attachment, that sexual addiction can only dream to collectively counterfeit. As Ed Tronick states, “We thrive in the messiness of human connection, without it, we wither.” Being open, honest, and involved with those around us, provides protection against shriveling back into sexual misbehaviors.
Second, many of these characteristics are emotional in nature—and as we know, sexual addiction is not about sex, it’s about emotional mismanagement. Managing emotions, stress, and conflict is key in recovery because previously, the addict used sexual acting out to numb or temporarily relieve pain. As Dr. Skinner puts it, “Our emotions are internal indicators of how we are doing. When people don’t know how to manage them, they often turn to some form of misbehavior for a quick fix.” Learning to not disregard how we’re feeling or stuff our emotions inside ourselves, allows addicts to relinquish the desire to band-aid problems with sex.
All in all, those in healthy recovery create an opposite profile for themselves than the one listed above. These individuals:
• Remain open and honest with how/when the addiction effects them
• Participate in meaningful relationships
• Confront conflict & stress
• Interact with others in real ways
• Find joy in day to day life
• Commit to treatment & do the work
• Develop awareness of triggers
• Pay attention to how they’re feeling
As one addict said, “I don’t know if I will ever be able to say I have completely overcome this, but I know if I stick to my plan, I can succeed.”