Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT
Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at the Meadows
If you are reading this, you probably know the pain of discovering the once hidden, out of control sexual behaviors of someone you love. These discoveries are often what catapult sex addicts into treatment. Following the discovery, there was likely some sort of intervention, and expedient efforts to find help. That process likely took up a lot of your time, attention, and energy until they were finally admitted to treatment. At that point, you may have felt some temporary relief, like you could finally breathe again.
Unfortunately, though, the distraction of getting the addict into treatment is now gone, and you are left with your thoughts, worries, and anxieties over what is to come. You may start to feel alone, isolated, and even resentful that the addict is getting all of the help. You may find it difficult to sit with the knowledge of the discovery because you have so many thoughts and unanswered questions. What should you do?
Take Care of Yourself
Now that the addict is in a safe environment, utilize this time to engage (or re-engage) in your own self-care. In the midst of the chaos of addiction your own physical and emotional care usually takes a big hit. So, utilize the time to reconnect with yourself. This might include engaging in a moderate amount of physical exercise, taking reflective walks, taking a long hot bath, meditating, leisure reading, or engaging in other hobbies that you enjoy.
Give Yourself Some Space
At some point, you may have a desire – sometimes a very strong one – to try to sort things out with the addict. You may think that if they could just answer your questions, then you could make sense of this whole situation, and order in your life could be restored. The truth, however, is that the behaviors that occurred as part of active addiction are irrational. They won’t ever make sense.
Furthermore, the addict engaging in treatment at the inpatient level is in no position to understand and convey the nature of his or her addiction yet either. By giving in to the urge to sort things out right now, you run the risk of increasing your anxiety and feeling more hurt and pain.
At most sex addiction treatment centers, including Gentle Path at the Meadows, patients are highly encouraged to limit their communication with the outside world. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is to help them stay focused and engaged in treatment in order to initiate their healing process as quickly as possible. The other is to prevent any further hurt and damage to their relationships with others. Sex addiction has often already caused a lot of pain, chaos, and turmoil. Although we cannot change that, we can help prevent future damage. So, it’s important for both you and the addict to take advantage of the built-in time away from communication that treatment provides.
In addition to your loved one, you also deserve to be supported through this process. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to build your own support network. Family members are highly encouraged to seek out their own therapist to assist them in navigating through the emotional maze of sex addiction. It would be ideal to choose a therapist that is familiar with sex addiction; however, the most important thing is that you connect with, and feel supported by, your therapist.
Although the inpatient treatment team may reach out to you for collateral information or to coordinate Family Week, their role is to help connect you with more substantial ongoing support rather than serving as your primary support. You may also consider confiding in a few close friends and family members who you trust, and who understand your situation. Additionally, there are also a variety of support groups, both twelve-step and otherwise, that can be helpful as well.
Keep Sight of What’s Important
As you read them, these points may seem obvious, but in the midst of the chaos of addiction, we often lose sight of what’s important. Gentle loving reminders such as these can help bring us back to reality. Shifting the focus from where it has often been (on the addict) can be hard because it slows you down, and often brings up emotions that have been buried for a long time. As you embark on this journey, it is important to be gentle with yourself. Changing and developing new patterns is not easy.
Keep in mind, though, the growth that will result for you and your family member may end up changing your relationship with them and your lives in ways that are far better than you could have hoped!