Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction

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by Patrick J. Carnes

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Sex is at the core of our identities. And when it becomes a compulsion, it can unravel our lives.Out of the Shadows is the premier work on this disorder, written by a pioneer in its treatment. Revised and updated to include the latest research—and to address the exploding phenomenon of cybersex addiction—this third edition identifies the danger

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Sex is at the core of our identities. And when it becomes a compulsion, it can unravel our lives.Out of the Shadows is the premier work on this disorder, written by a pioneer in its treatment. Revised and updated to include the latest research—and to address the exploding phenomenon of cybersex addiction—this third edition identifies the danger signs, explains the dynamics, and describes the consequences of sexual addiction and dependency. With practical wisdom and spiritual clarity, it points the way out of the shadows of sexual compulsion and back into the light and fullness of life.

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Hazelden Publishing
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A Moment Comes for Every Addict

A moment comes for every addict when the consequences are so great or the pain is so bad that the addict admits life is out of control because of his or her sexual behavior. Some are news-making moments, such as the public censure when a congressman, minister, or professional figure is cited for unacceptable sexual behavior. Millions read the steamy news accounts and, despite their own prurience, make severe judgments about people who are sexual with children, who visit prostitutes, who commit homosexual acts in public toilets, or even who have affairs. A smaller audience - but much larger than most imagine - read each line fearing that the same public exposure could happen to them and judging themselves with the same unforgiving standards the public uses.

Some are dramatic moments:

  • when the squad car pulls into the driveway and you know why they've come

  • when your spouse succeeds in being elected to public office and is forced to resign because a sheriff sting caught you soliciting a minor over the Internet

  • when your spouse announces the end of your marriage because of the latest discovery

Some are secret moments known only to yourself:

  • when you have to tell yet another lie that you almost believe yourself

  • when the money you have spent on the last prostitute equals the amount for the new shoes your child needs

  • when you see a person on the street you had been anonymously sexual with in a rest room

  • when you make business travel decisions not on the basis of company interests, but rather to accommodate the affair that you are having

For most people these moments are followed by resolves "never to do it again." Even as the promises are made, they are rendered hollow by the echoes of the previous vows and resolutions. Many are the addicts who have deeply wished not to be sexual at all, thinking that state to be the only cure for their compulsive feelings, thinking that by giving up their sexuality they would be able to work, to love, and to enjoy themselves like other people. Sexual addiction has been described as "the athlete's foot of the mind." It never goes away. It is always asking to be scratched, promising relief. To scratch, however, is to cause pain and to intensify the itch.

The "itch" is created in part by the rationalizations, lies, and beliefs about themselves carried deep within the sexual addicts. The husband, for example, who visits a prostitute and on his way home feels warm toward his wife and family tells himself that his time in the sauna really helps him to be more sensitive and loving to his family. At one level he knows the fallacy of his thinking, but chooses to ignore it in light of the immediate warm feelings. In contrast with the unfeeling exchanges of massage parlor life, the family does look much better. The cost to the family remains overlooked, however. So it is with the many beliefs, rationalizations, and myths that support addiction.

One of the greatest myths that allows the addict to repeat sexual behaviors is that it does not adversely affect other relationships, especially a marriage. In fact, one of the most common rationales for a married addict is "I do it in order to stay in the marriage." In reality, though, the marriage is often characterized by diminishing intimacy, sensitivity, and sexuality. The corollary myth is that the family does not know about the secret sexual life. Yet, at one level, family members always do know - even the children.

The facts are that, like all other addictions, the sexual addiction is rooted in a complex web of family and marital relationships. This interdependent web is truly a system in which a number of things act together to form one function, like a biological system or even a computer system. The system is governed by definite rules that, in the addict's case, confirm much of what he or she holds to be true in the crazy myths and beliefs which support the addiction. Also, all member parts have a functional relationship; that is, each person affects every other person. Nothing happens in isolation in this or any other system.

While our society is shifting to a more open attitude toward sexual expression, we still view the amount and kind of activity as a matter of personal choice. For the addict, however, there is no choice. No choice. The addiction is in charge. That addicts have no control over their sexual behavior is a very hard concept to accept when the addicts' trails have left broken marriages and parentless children or, worse, victims of sexual crimes. Therefore, there are no neutral responses to sexual compulsivity.

For both the addict and the family members, there is a way out. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon have been a successful path to recovery for millions whose addiction was alcohol. The same process works for sexual addiction, providing a program by which one can live on a daily basis, short-circuiting that awful cycle in which what someone does to relieve pain makes him or her hurt even more. No longer do the sexual addicts and family members need to be alone with their illness. The Steps provide a process through which they can forgive themselves, make amends, and receive support for noncompulsive behavior.

If you are an addict or suspect you are and if you have the courage to face yourself, this book is intended for you. If you are a family member or concerned person, this book will also require courage and honesty, for it is about you as well. For the reader who, for whatever reason, finds it important to read this book, you too will have to struggle with your own beliefs and assumptions as you begin to appreciate our society's role in the addict's pain.

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