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What Does Recovery From Sex Addiction Look Like?

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By Stephen Jay Schwartz

01/01/13

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For me, recovery looks like this: no more compulsive behavior, no more secrets. When I was acting out, I'd spend four hours driving the same two-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard, looking for the perfect girl. Four hours, sometimes more. Back and forth, street corner to street corner—that bus stop, this pay phone, that Denny's Restaurant. U-turn, repeat. Now, when I see a prostitute on the street, I drive on by. I do not circle back. That would be "cruising." And cruising is one of the many things in my Inner Circle.

Cruising lights the fuse.

Sex addiction isn't really about sex. It's about a lot of things and it kind of looks like it's about sex, but it isn't. It's about the hole in our lives and how we fill it—with alcohol, with drugs, with sex. It's about avoiding intimacy with the ones you love while making connections with strangers you perceive to be safe. It takes time to turn all that nonsense inside out. It takes time, and help, to right all the wrong.

Stopping the compulsive behavior was difficult but being truly honest was even harder. Looking the addiction in the eye and calling it what it was, instead of making excuses to let it take me down its road. I discovered that a lot of "innocent" things lead to my Inner Circle. Like flirting. If I do anything that resembles flirting, I have to tell my wife. Because flirting is my attempt to make a connection and there's no innocent flirting in my world. There's a line that must be drawn and my past actions show that I'm likely to cross it. I have to tell my wife about these flirtations when they occur because, eventually, she'll find out. She'll find out when I tell her, before the next polygraph test.

Addictions are crafty little devils.

See, as part of my recovery, as part of my new marriage agreement, I have to take that test once a year. It is the tool that makes me accountable and it uncovers everything. There's no gray area in the polygraph test. Before taking it, I inventory all the things I've done in the past year that might be considered slips, or might prove to lead to a slip if it isn't brought to light—like the hour I spent on the Internet, clicking from one pornographic image to the next. Left unchecked, this could lead to a full-on Internet addiction. Or the time I went for a legitimate massage, then waited around hoping the masseuse would do something about my erection. Now my massages must be supervised.

I've known guys who have failed the test. Me, I've passed every one—because I've told my wife everything that needed to be told before taking it. The test confirms that I'm living up to my end of the deal.

The truth is, and you can test me on this, the polygraph saved my marriage. I'm indebted to it. It has made it so that lying is not an option. The last polygraph examiner we used was impressed with what we were doing. He said the test has only recently been recommended by marriage counselors for use in bringing relationships back from the brink. We've been doing it for years.

I'm in recovery. It's different from anyone else's recovery. I have an active, sexual relationship with my wife. Some things we do might be considered pushing the envelope to others in the program—like going to strip clubs, which we do on occasion, because it's fun and a little edgy and sexy and we can share it, together. But I'll never go without her because there are no more secrets—no more shameful, lonely nights cruising the streets. No more masturbating alone, either, because it severs the connection I have with my wife. It sends me into a fantasy world that leads to compulsive behavior, which leads to my Inner Circle. Yet I can masturbate in front of my wife, if it feels right to do so, if it's about us and not me.

Sex is a good thing. Really. It should be explored, providing the exploration is done between consenting adults and no one is abused in the process. When I was picking up prostitutes, I was part of a system that encouraged the abuse of women, and the shame I felt translated as self-abuse. The pay-off—a two-second ejaculation—really wasn't worth what I'd lost, which was my dignity and self-respect.

This is what recovery looks like to me: the end of dangerous, compulsive sexual behavior and a life lived without secrets. Yet I know, as we all do, that addictions are crafty little devils. They wait in the wings until we're sure we're their master, then they return to assume control of our lives. So I know I'm not cured. But I am in recovery and life has never been better.

Stephen Jay Schwartz is the L.A. Times best-selling author of Boulevard and Beat, the dark mystery series featuring sex-addicted LAPD Homicide Detective Hayden Glass which has been optioned for television by producer Ben Silverman. This is his first piece for The Fix.

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