12 step programs for sex addiction
The popularity of 12-Step groups like AA and NA for drug and alcohol addictions is well-established. In fact, AA’s oft-parodied introduction, “Hi, I’m [insert name, usually “Bob”], and I’m an alcoholic” is so much a part of popular culture now that it’s quoted in parody by people who have never stepped foot inside an AA meeting. Perhaps not as well known is the multitude of other 12-Step meetings that have sprung up in the decades since AA helped make recovery groups a mainstay of addiction treatment. Groups exist for a wide range of struggles, from cluttered homes to overeating to online gaming. There are a number of 12-Step groups for sexual addiction, too. These groups tend to fly under the media radar, perhaps because of the deeply personal nature of this type of problem, but perhaps also because of the complicated (and conflicted) place sex occupies in American culture.
Recovery Meetings for Sex Addicts? Why Bother?
The truth is that 12-Step programs for those dealing with dysfunctional sexual thoughts and behaviors can be just as helpful as any other life-controlling issue. Addictions breed shame and secrecy, and shame and secrecy drive us to isolate ourselves from others. Feeling lonely and disconnected only makes a person more vulnerable to self-medication through his or her addiction, and the vicious cycle continues.
Recovery groups can help break the cycle of addiction by blasting a few powerful myths: “You’re alone”, “No one cares”, and — the big one — “No one else is as screwed up as you.” You aren’t alone anymore once you get plugged into a 12-Step or other recovery fellowship. Twelve Step recovery meetings for sex addicts gather frequently, with meetings taking place every day of the week in some locations. For many, the members of their “homegroup”, or primary meeting, become like extended family (or like the family they never had), providing unconditional love, acceptance, and support through the recovery process and for life in general. Hearing others share honest stories of the dark places their addiction has driven them proves you are not unique in your capacity to screw up. Stories of healing and victory shoot gaping holes in another ugly myth, the one that says “Change is impossible. I’m always going to have this problem.”
A 12-Step group is also a place where you can get back in touch with what you have to offer others. The lie “I have nothing to give” is quick to assert itself in the midst of an addiction, when so many poor choices are made and one’s self-esteem takes a brutal hit in consequence. As you progress in your recovery, the impulse to give back by encouraging and mentoring others emerges naturally in the context of these fellowships. With that comes the confidence that everything you and others have suffered because of your addiction has not been for nothing: “beauty for ashes” is, in fact, a real thing.
Oh, and these recovery meetings? They’re free.
You wouldn’t turn down a free burrito or a grande whatever-your-favorite Starbucks drink is, would you? Point made.
The Twelve Steps and Sexual Addiction
Most recovery groups for sexual addiction follow the 12 Steps popularized by AA, having adapted those steps to suit the problem being addressed. The 12 Steps function as guidelines for overcoming addictive thoughts and behaviors. They chart a course for self-discovery regarding the roots of your addiction and prescribe actions that will strengthen your sobriety. The 12 steps vary from group to group. Below is an example of the Twelve Steps of Sexaholics Anonymous (www.sa.org).
We admitted that we were powerless over lust—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to sexaholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
As you explore your meeting options, you’ll find most groups have a variety of meeting types formats. Sex addiction recovery groups usually meet in person, but online meetings are increasingly becoming an option as well. A closed group is limited to those in recovery only, while an open group also welcomes individuals interested in learning more about sex addiction, such as an addict’s friends or family members. Meetings also are dedicated to specific purposes, such as studying one of the Steps, welcoming newcomers, or listening to a special speaker.
Meeting Options in Austin
So, what 12-Step Groups are available in Austin? There are several to choose from. All groups listed below follow the 12-Step model, but the groups have their differences as well. The key differences seem to center on what habits or behaviors are considered problematic and how sobriety is defined.
Read on for a quick introduction to some of the Austin-area groups.
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
According to the organization’s website, the goal of SAA is to “stop our addictive sexual behavior and help others recover from sexual addiction.” SAA’s emphasis is on problematic behaviors, tending to align with the founder, Patrick Carnes’s philosophy that sex addiction is an illness, much like an eating disorder or substance abuse, as opposed to strictly a moral failing. There is no strict definition of sobriety; rather, individuals compile their own lists of compulsive sexual behaviors they wish to overcome. Members are encouraged to attend regular meetings, get a sponsor, and work through the SAA Twelve Steps.
You can learn more about SAA and find local meetings to attend through the Austin Sex Addicts Anonymous Intergroup website. More information about the SAA program, along with a self-assessment and group literature, are available at saa-recovery.org.
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
In SA, a sexaholic is someone for whom “lust has become an addiction.” SA defines the problem of the sex addict more narrowly than other groups, asserting that, for the sexaholic, sex with anyone or anything other than one’s spouse is “progressively addictive and destructive.” Sobriety is achieved through conquering the lust that motivates compulsive sexual behaviors and, ultimately abstaining from any sexual behavior outside of marriage. In SA, healing is achieved through addressing the physical, mental and spiritual facets of the problem. As with the other groups, meeting attendance, sponsors, working the 12 Steps, and reading other group literature are stressed as key to recovery progress.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
SLAA targets people who “have an addictive compulsion to engage in or avoid sex, love, or emotional attachment.” Painting its brush more broadly than the other groups, SLAA seeks to address the “disease of sex and love addiction” in its various forms, with an emphasis on addressing the physical and emotional components of the addict’s struggle. As with SAA, group members identify their own “bottom-line behaviors”, with sobriety defined as abstaining from the behaviors on that personalized list. Recovery takes place through meetings and sponsors accountability, SLAA literature study, and 12 Step work.
I would be remiss if I did not include one last, sex-addiction related group that meets in Austin, though this is not a recovery group for sex addicts themselves.
S-Anon is a support group for relatives and friends of those suffering from sexual addiction. These meetings provide a place where people experiencing pain as a result of a loved one’s addiction can receive support and encouragement. S-Anon utilizes a 12-Step program to help its members work through their hurt, anger, and confusion and to take responsibility for their own “self-defeating behavior”.
This is not a comprehensive list of groups for sexual addiction, so if you’re seeking a group and those listed above do not seem to align with what you’re looking forward to, hop online and do a little research. If there is a recovery group for sexual addiction that does not meet locally, online meetings are frequently an option.
Taking the Plunge
Let’s face it: recovery is hard. For many, every part of the recovery process is hard. So if you’re feeling some resistance to attending a meeting or committing to a homegroup, you shouldn’t be surprised. Your addiction would love for you to just toe-dip in your recovery, doing the bare minimum that it takes to seem (to others) like you’re making an effort to get better. A 12-Step group threatens the isolation and misplaced self-sufficiency that your sex addiction thrives on. You may not know for sure what doing recovery in community will look like, but that’s okay. You know what doing the same old behaviors looks like, and it doesn’t look like healthy change.
So, take the plunge.