"If I told somebody I was a recovering alcoholic, people would applaud and celebrate," complains my client. "But I’d get stares and judgment if they knew I am a recovering sex addict!"
Many individual and group clients have either verbally or silently grumbled something to that effect regarding the stigma of sex addiction. They fear the reaction from friends, parents, or church goers. They fear they will be seen as less than.
As their therapist, I see the silver lining in that dark cloud. Ironically, this complaint usually comes about when the clients are doing well in recovery. Attending twelve-step meetings have improved their lives; their relationships are stronger than before; and they have greater focus and energy on tasks.
I often say, there are two types of sex addicts: 1) the addicts active in their addiction and 2) the addicts active in recovery. The former uses their sexual acting out behavior to numb any shame. The latter see with greater clarity the wreckage of their past and projects their shame onto what others might think.
Outside the sex addiction recovery circles, public misconception abounds because of misinformation and fear. Some feel that sex addiction is an excuse for men or women behaving badly. Sex addiction is seen as moral failure. Others jump to the conclusion that sex addicts are pedophiles or rapists. There is a big difference between sex addicts and sex offenders.
Through brain scans, modern science is providing evidence that addiction is real, whether that addiction is from alcohol, recreational drugs, tobacco, or sex. At some point, the substance hijacks the brain. The person loses the ability to choose. Like other addictions, sex addiction exists and causes pain.
In the 1980s, the public perception was that the alcoholic was a moral degenerate and that he or she was choosing to ruin lives. In these few decades, the recovery movement for alcoholics has shined a positive light through education and testimonials.
My hope is that with time and education, recovery from sex addiction will have the same clout as recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous. Films like Thanks for Sharing a few years ago depict with great accuracy the 12 steps group for sex addiction. Also, the growing number of twelve step groups for sex addiction brings hope to me.
With time, my hope is that being active in sex addiction recovery brings honor, recognition and support that it deserves.