A Letter from Jon

Dear friend

As someone who knows what it feels like to look in the mirror and feel utter shame and humiliation at the person looking back, I congratulate you for having the courage to seek help. As an adult, it is not easy to admit that you have not yet learned how to manage your life. That you are immature. It is hard to accept that you mismanaged your life to the point where you must rely on pornography, masturbation, and/or other sexually-compulsive behavior to achieve emotional fulfillment (albeit temporary). It is painful to know that to accept the reality of your addiction is to accept having lost so much of your life already. Accepting that certain areas of your potential are now beyond reach. For me, this realization was gut-wrenching. Almost to the point where I convinced myself that recovery wasn't even worth the effort. Rebuilding my life...redefining my identity...they would serve no real purpose as 'the damage was already done...and it was too great to overcome.'

Facing the realization that your life is far from what you have thought it to be, to stand here today and say to the world, "I don't like the person that I have become and I am going to do something about it" is admirable. To accept the consequences of the life you have led to this point, and commit yourself to making amends for that past by first building a healthy life is remarkable. Millions — read that again — millions of people have been where you are and have chosen to walk away from a healthy recovery. They've chosen to continue on with their addiction 'just one more time'...or 'just under certain conditions'. They have chosen to hide behind 'recovery' — without actually pursuing change. They have chosen to close their eyes in the face of the intensity of an emotional urge and declare that they are powerless to manage those emotions. You do not have to choose that path. That you may choose to rebuild your life from the ground up...develop a value system that to this point has gone malnourished...develop maturity in your emotions to the point where even the shame of the past can be put into its proper and healthy perspective...my friend, that is worthy of much respect. You may not receive this respect from others early on, but commit to real and permanent change and it will come.

What is recovery?

For some, recovery means admitting that they are an addict, will always be an addict, and committing themselves to a lifetime of recovery. They surrender. Without even being trained in battle, they surrender the fight. They nestle themselves in the comfort and safety of being "in recovery"...and use this as a shield to protect the very compulsive behavior they are professing to want to end. Recovery can be and should be so much more. Your decision to actively participate in this workshop means that you have made the decision to permanently change the course of your life. And while this must be a personal — even selfish — commitment that you are making, do recognize that the consequences of such a transition will play out in the lives of all who know you, and in the lives of those you have not yet met.

By committing yourself to ending the patterns of addiction in your life, you will have the opportunity to develop pride and respect in the choices that you make and the life that you lead. This is an awesome foundation for rebuilding a fulfilling, healthy life. The next several months, if you let them, will provide you with the opportunity to ingrain patterns that will forever eliminate the need for addiction. Whether you believe this to be true at the moment is irrelevant. All that matters is that, when you take an honest look at your life, you come to the conclusion that this is not the life that you want to lead. And that you commit yourself to changing it. The rest will take care of itself.

Nobody Can Understand...

If you're like most struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior, you have a strong belief that you are unique. That no one else thinks the way that you do — or feels the way that you do. The intensity of your sexual desire has convinced you that you are capable of experiencing life on a plain that others just can't understand. That society's rules regarding romantic and/or sexual behavior are guidelines for others to follow, not you. Your behaviors, no matter how strange they may be or how often you may perform them, seem to be a completely natural part of your life. Consciously, you know that if caught, others would see you as perverted or immoral, but you know in your heart that you are not. You're just different. And since you take precautions so that your secrets are never exposed, you convince yourself that there is no harm in continuing for just one more day.

Or, you may be completely ashamed of your compulsive behavior, perhaps even repulsed by it. You know that it is wrong both personally and socially, but for some reason you cannot stop. You continue acting in ways that contradict your values, morals and your sense of right/wrong. You hate yourself for it. You hate others for it. Yet, you continue.

Having to manage your life within the context of sexual and/or romantic compulsions is to live two lives. To society, you must present a life in control (at least early in the addiction process). You most likely present yourself in one of several ways (though certainly not an all-encompassing list):

  • as an "overachiever" — highly motivated, intelligent and successful. Or, believe that you would be successful if ever given the opportunity
  • as a dedicated, caring employee in a career that is somehow involved with public service...one that most likely involves assisting people who come to you with personal comfort needs (seeking emotional, physical comfort, safety and/or guidance in times of need)
  • as a self-perceived "underachiever". Feeling trapped in a lifestyle that is not fulfilling. Easily overwhelmed by everyday life.
  • as one of aloofness — not caring about your role in society and making a point to let society know just how much you don't care

In all scenarios, your thoughts tend to be obsessive and ruminating at times, and you welcome the opportunity to escape the pressure of those thoughts through the compulsive rituals you engage in. Though you may not be aware of it, you or someone with great influence over you, has placed an enormous pressure on your life. This pressure is usually one involving the push for success, severe trauma or some other major event that was never fully resolved. Socially, you fall into one of two categories: you are either completely at ease in social settings (for reasons that we will explore later in the workshop), or you are painfully uncomfortable. Because of the secrecy involved with sexual addiction and the fusion of fantasy into one's real life (after extended periods of addiction), social isolation tends to be the most common. Depending on your behavior and your primary role in society (teacher, pastor, coach, politician, doctor, etc.), you either suffer from a significant amount of guilt and shame, or you are completely indifferent to what you have done. Rarely are their moderations.

Your second life, created within your thoughts and fantasy, is the life for which you feel most comfortable. Often, it is through these thoughts and fantasies that you experience the compulsiveness of your behaviors. It is within these thoughts and fantasies that you are able to feel normal — just as long as they are kept separate from your "other life". Both the energy needed to keep these thoughts and behaviors secret, and the eventual integration of these secrets into the roles you play are cause for unbearable stress. So much stress, in fact, that the idea of being caught can sometimes lead to the ultimate irrational thoughts involving suicide and/or murder.

If you have previously sought treatment and failed, it is because you believe that nobody can truly understand you and that you are simply the way that you are and nothing will change this. To appease the real world — the courts, therapists, loved ones — you will dutifully go through yet another "recovery" effort, but you will never rid yourself of the secret comfort that you find in your continuing sexual/romantic thoughts. You are certain that you will never be able to control these thoughts, and believe that any attempts to do so will fail. If you are sincere about recovery, your initial feelings about attending a structured recovery program (through a treatment center, twelve-step program, etc.) are at first a relief, as you are finally able to share most of the secrets you have been keeping and find both comfort and absolution in a caring support system. Additionally, you are rewarded with your decision by no longer having to take responsibility for your own recovery's success. You find a subtle comfort in saying things like, "I'm in a twelve-step program." "I've been seeing a therapist for three years." "I've tried six different treatment programs." This allows you to excuse yourself for the fact that, internally, you are still engaged in the secret thoughts and/or behaviors that you know to be unhealthy, but that you cannot stop.

To seemingly reinforce your belief that you cannot stop these behaviors, society broadcasts that message with every newscast about repeat sexual offenders. Both the frequent declaration that sexual addicts have the highest rate of recidivism and the mental health professionals who outwardly declare that it is the one addiction that cannot be treated permanently does nothing to encourage sexual addicts to seek treatment. Additionally, the hatred and repulsiveness that society often attaches to word of yet another parolee engaged in yet another horrific sexual crime continues to reinforce the notion (and shame) that "once a sexual addict, always a sexual addict." With society's need to condemn all sexual deviants, your inner belief that you are certainly "not one of them", a primary recovery model that lumps all sexual addicts into the same "diseased" category — what possible chance do you have to ever recover. 100%.

The first thing you need to understand is that they are wrong. As a society and as a business, recovery from sexual addiction has failed. The truth is that recovery from sexual addiction is no more difficult (and for some, easier) than the recovery from any other addiction that is based on a human need. With drugs, simply eliminating the behavior can be considered good enough (to society) for recovery. With addictions involving human needs such as food and physical contact and love, recovery cannot simply involve stopping the behavior. It must include the ability to meet those needs through acceptable societal values. That, in and of itself, makes the recovery process more difficult. But, it also provides the foundation for understanding the values you will need to make a complete recovery and to manage your life successfully. Any recovery attempt that will be judged by how long you can stop performing certain compulsive behaviors will fail. Any recovery attempt that includes a reassessment of the individual's values, a conscious replacement of destructive behavior with that of constructive behavior, that focuses not on recovery, but on rebuilding a life that is both satisfying to the individual and productive to society is a recovery plan that, with the commitment of the one in recovery, will succeed. Every time.

Why you should consider recovery

Whether the characteristics described in the above paragraphs apply to you or not, the question of whether or not you should seek treatment can be boiled down to a single question: Are you currently displaying sexual and/or romantic behaviors that you would like to stop? If the answer is "Yes", then make the elimination of these patterns a priority.

What it will take to recover

Recovery does not have to be a lifelong process. For relatively minor sexual behavior(s), a "recovery program" can last a matter of days, not years. With a self-managing approach developed so that the behavior doesn't reappear or simply shift its focus, such a short recovery plan can have the same permanent effect as a long-term, extensive one. Recovery does not need to go through an exhaustive timeline or specific 12-step program to be successful. Choosing a recovery program is much like choosing a religion: sometimes it is forced upon you, sometimes you can experience different styles, sometimes you come to one and it just feels right. Recovery programs, like religions, have certain rules, rituals, and beliefs that make them different than any other — they are not all the same. Your goal is to find a recovery program that "fits" with your beliefs so that you will make a commitment to recovering.

What to expect

The question is not so much what to expect, as it should be what to prepare yourself for. Without question, there are certain issues that come with the decision to recover from sex/love addiction that must be addressed, or you will damage your long-term goals for living a healthy, satisfying life. These issues are:

Initial Euphoria

The decision to recover from addiction is often accompanied by an extremely powerful high. Your life suddenly seems, for the first time in a long while, balanced. But, "seems" is the key word. Your life is not yet balanced, and when this high wears off, and you have done nothing significant to replace it, you will be left with not only the previous imbalances, but further damage caused by the shame of a failed recovery attempt. The resolution? A new, firmer commitment to recovery, which brings a renewed high, and a renewed sense of balance. The pattern should be obvious to all who have suffered from this recovery-relapse phenomenon. To prepare for this, welcome the initial euphoria and use its strength to build the foundation for a permanent recovery.

Revealing secrets

It is common for the sincere person in recovery to try to let go of their guilt and shame by telling anyone and everyone they are an "addict" and are now "in recovery"; and then to begin reciting a laundry-list of secrets that they have kept hidden. Ironically, others in recovery perform the same behavior, but for different reasons: self-punishment, as an excuse to avoid responsibility, as a bargaining tool in maintaining a relationship or job, etc. There is a reason the founders of AA included the word "anonymous" in its title. Resist at all cost the temptation to announce to anyone but your closest friends and family your intentions to recover. If you are sincere about recovery, then you are recovering for yourself, not others. There will be a time in each recovery program when you will have the ability to reveal what you have done and to make amends for it, should you desire to do so. Wait until that time has come before doing so. In a good recovery program, you will have regained a sense of balance in your life, and can better deal with the consequences of your revelations. Also, you will be in a better position to make the decisions as to what you should reveal and to whom. This phenomena is revealed in a conversation with one of our counselors talking about her own recovery when she told her fiancée about numerous affairs that she had had but that she was seeking treatment to end this type of behavior. The relationship ended immediately and what could have been an opportunity to gain a life-long friend was lost. Nearly fifteen years later, her only ongoing regrets in recovery were the decisions to reveal to so many people the secrets she had and her inability to get those secrets back.

Suicidal feelings

It is common that, as you begin assessing the consequences of your behavior, overwhelming feelings of remorse, guilt, shame, hopelessness and more will lead to thoughts of taking your own life. Possibly, even the thoughts that you will never recover, or that you have caused so much pain to others that taking your own life is a way of somehow "repaying your debt to society". Expect these feelings. Should these thoughts ever get to the point where you believe that you may act on them, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room. Part of recovery deals with understanding these feelings and they should not be feared. Should you truly have no remorse, guilt, embarrassment or shame over your behaviors, then you stand a poor chance of ever living a healthy, satisfying life.

Incompatible Therapist

Not all therapists are the same when it comes to understanding the sex and love addictions. In his book, He Danced Alone, Jonathan Marsh describes the reaction his therapist provided to him after an initial analysis of what was a sincere and honest account of his behavior over the past twenty years. To summarize, this therapist responded by calling him nothing more than a pervert. His second attempt failed after the initial session because of the therapist's demand that he sign a "no sex, no alcohol, no drug" contract before treating him. It was obvious that, because he had not taken a drink of alcohol in over twelve years, and had never so much as experimented with a drug, this therapist was simply putting him through her program, rather than structuring the program to meet his needs. Sadly, these types of sessions have been retold to us thousands of times over the past ten years and all we can say is, prepare yourself for such a response. If it comes, remember why you are there. That you are making the commitment to recover, and that nothing will stop you from doing so: not poorly trained therapists, not financial problems, not anything. What should you do if this happens to you? If you have the option, get up and walk out of their office and find yourself another therapist. Nobody who specializes in sexual addiction therapy will have such an attitude, and nobody in recovery can succeed in such an environment.


The decision to end a pattern of sexually-compulsive and/or romantically-compulsive behavior is a personal one. No one can force you to stop. The honesty that is needed to explore your own values, the energy required to force change, the commitment necessary to make recovery the top priority in your life and the intelligence you will need to replace that recovery effort with a healthy, satisfying lifestyle must all come from you. Sometimes, medication may be recommended to assist you. Don't automatically dismiss this option. Biologically, your brain has developed patterns for particular levels of chemical release/reception that you simply may not be able to control on your own. In such a situation, medication can be a valuable tool in allowing you to regain control over your thoughts, and to ease the depression that many people experience during recovery. Most often, however, this need for medication should not be permanent, but phased out as the recovery progresses. And, it should not be an automatic treatment option, but one offered only after a complete assessment by an experienced psychiatrist.

From the tens of thousands of people who have successfully recovered from sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior, I assure you that recovery is not only possible, it is inevitable — if your commitment is sincere. Don't let anything or anyone stop you. Ever.

And if there is ever anything that I can do to help you make these changes, don't hesitate to contact me.


Jonathan Marsh
Recovery Nation

slide up button