Targeting Sobriety in Addiction Recovery: How to Make a Three Circle Plan


When a sex and love addict comes to the realization that they need help to stay sober, it can be a mystery of what to do next.  By the time you’ve humbled yourself enough to admit you’re powerless, usually you’ve already tried to stop your behavior several times.  This can take the form of forcing yourself not to act out, through white-knuckling, attempting aversion techniques, or even sometimes using self-harm as a deterrent.

But if you’ve been in this cycle of trying to stop on your own, you often find that you can’t help but go back to your addiction. The foundation of addiction is isolation, secrecy, and shame.  You likely deal with feelings of shame by acting out, which cycles back in on itself to create more shame as you wonder why you can’t just stop.

What needs to change?

The first step in true healing for any addict is to get support from other people, such as in a 12 Step or support group.  These groups encourage creating a sobriety plan as part of your recovery. 

I often recommend the three-circle plan as a helpful sobriety tool to identify the behaviors you want to avoid and healthy self-care behaviors to increase.  Not only does this plan provide that, but it also allows you to identify risk factors or warning signs of acting out.


The Three-Circle Plan

The image of a three-circle plan is three concentric circles.  The inner circle is the list of behaviors from which you’re trying to maintain sobriety.  The middle circle is your boundaries list, or a list of the risk factors, warning signs, or triggers that might send you into your inner circle.  The outer circle involves healthy self-care behaviors that you can increase to help you avoid addictive behaviors. 

Inner Circle Behaviors

Your inner circle behaviors, or abstinence list, is the list of activities from which you want to achieve sobriety in your recovery.  These are the behavior checks you’d share at your 12 Step meetings or with your sponsor as a regular way to hold yourself accountable.  For example, if you primarily act out using pornography, you will put “pornography” in this circle.  If you have had several affairs, prohibiting “contact with acting out partners” may be more appropriate. 

If you’re aware of your cycle of addiction, you know that there are some behaviors that inevitably lead to acting out for you.  While these might eventually end up in the middle circle, it may be wise to put them in your inner circle in early recovery and revisit them once you’ve achieved some more solid sobriety. 

There will be some behaviors you are hesitant to put into this inner circle because it means you will have to give them up.  Notice the discomfort you have around those as a form of denial.  Use your support system to help keep you in check on what needs to go in this circle.

Outer Circle Behaviors

I believe it is important to make your list of healthy self-care behaviors early in recovery, so we will turn to the outer circle now.  Outer circle behaviors, or healthy self-care, are required to help you establish and maintain sobriety.  Self-care helps you cope with withdrawal from the addiction and replace acting out with activities that are more healthy and nourishing.  You can become much more sensitive to triggers when you aren’t practicing healthy self-care.

Make a list of activities you can to do take care of yourself.  This can include such activities as therapy, going to your support groups, meeting with your sponsor, and doing 12 Step work.  Focus on a few specific categories: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, relational, and professional self-care.  Recall hobbies or activities that you enjoyed or always wanted to try, but you haven’t been able to because of time spent on acting out.  Think about things you used to love doing as a child and incorporate some of these into your present-day life. 

Choosing to practice healthy self-care will literally help to re-wire your brain to reduce cravings and replace desire to act out with other enjoyable activities.

Middle Circle Behaviors

I save this section for last because the middle circle can be the most complex. Determining what belongs in your middle circle requires observing behaviors to see how your unique cycle of addiction works.  Middle circle behaviors, or your “boundaries list,” are behaviors that are warning signs that you’re slipping back into your addiction.  These can be triggers that happen unexpectedly or behaviors you’re walking into that are risky for you.  Behaviors in your preoccupation/fantasy and ritual areas of cycle of addiction are often middle circle behaviors. 

Ask yourself the question: what sets me up to act out sexually?  Make a list of emotions you experience that can make you more susceptible to cravings.  In AA traditions, the acronym “HALT” is used as a reminder to check for triggers if you’re feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  I often add “bored” to this list as well.  Identify risky behaviors you might need to put some boundaries around, such as using your computer late at night or driving past the strip club you used to frequent.

What triggers do you experience in your daily life?  Common triggers include fights with a spouse, feelings of loneliness, or shame getting stirred up at work. When you find yourself experiencing triggers or engaging in the risky behaviors, it doesn’t carry the same severity of abstinence as the inner circle behaviors.  However, it does require you to take a look at what you’re doing and run in the other direction toward your outer circle behaviors, seeking greater support along the way.

Implementing and Adding to the Three Circles

In general, your goal to maintain sobriety involves moving outward: avoiding the inner circle and directing your attention and focus on the outer circle behaviors.  Notice that the outer circle is so much larger than the other two: this space allows you to put plenty of options in that circle to encourage you to live there as much as possible.

The natural slope of the addiction is to move inward instead of outward.  As you notice yourself engaging in more middle circle behaviors or experiencing more triggers, the natural tendency is to move toward inner circle behaviors as a form of coping or escaping.  However, recognition of this tendency means you now have the opportunity to lean in the other direction, focusing more on the outer circle behaviors as a healthier way to cope.

Continually add to and update this list. As you learn and grow through your recovery, keep adding self-care behaviors or coping strategies that are helpful for you.  You can never have too many outer circle behaviors.  Also, use your slips and relapse as an opportunity to learn more about your risk factors and needed boundaries.  Identify what inner circle behaviors you might need to add and new middle circle behaviors or triggers. 

Additional Resources

For more information about how the three-circle plan is used in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), check out their pamphlet online.


Are you struggling to maintain your sobriety from sex and love addiction? Have you tried to white-knuckle it and force yourself to stop on your own with little to no success? Are you realizing your powerlessness over your addiction? At Restored Hope, I offer specialized counseling services to help you achieve freedom from sex and love addiction. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to learn more and schedule your first appointment.

Step Six: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Six: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Admitting your flaws and character defects to yourself in Step Four and to another person in Step Five seem like a daunting enough task.  But it’s not enough to end with just acknowledging these flaws.  The next step involves the willingness to change those areas.

Hope comes when you realize that you are not alone on your path to change.  Acknowledging God as the source of change in your life can take the pressure off you to be perfect.  Philippians 2:13 says that God will give us both the power and the willingness to do what pleases Him, and so you can invite him in to this process of change and see Him transform your heart.

What is Step Six? 

According to the Green Book of Sex Addicts Anonymous*, character defects are “undesirable traits, attitudes, and beliefs that make our lives unmanageable, cause pain to others, and block our spiritual growth.”  Often these traits were adopted from childhood experiences of survival.  As adults, you have the option to choose healthier ways of coping and relating.

There is a pivot point in Step Six toward rebuilding your life.  Beyond reflecting on past flaws and defects, this step propels you into changing the future.  Changing your character defects can feel risky because they have often served as the scapegoat or excuse for why you feel unloved or rejected.  Without your excuse, you will have to risk pain without a protective shield.  But making that change leads to movement toward trust and authenticity, which are the foundations of true intimacy.

How To Work Step Six

Revisit your fearless moral inventory from Steps Four and Five.

Identify the attitudes, behaviors, traits, and approaches to life that you recognized in your fearless moral inventory.  Pay extra attention to places where you have felt stuck or are being held back by these traits.  Write a list of the distorted beliefs you have about sex or your drug of choice that keep you in your addict mentality rather than in a rational mindset.

Identify where you learned the different character defects.

As mentioned earlier, the ways in which you cope with painful emotions or experiences in your life are shaped by coping strategies picked up in the past, whether healthy or unhealthy.  Acknowledging where you learned these patterns does not exonerate you from blame, but instead acknowledges its origins and gives grace to the part of you that did whatever it took to survive.

Were your character defects something you picked up from your parents?  Were they something you used to survive a painful childhood?  Were you hurt in a way that sent a message such as, “you have to protect yourself,” or “don’t be responsible for anything, you’ll screw it up”?  Is there a history of depression, anxiety, addiction, or mental illness in your family?  Do you see the patterns of these family members reflected in your life?

Acknowledge what purpose these flaws of character served in your life.

You wouldn’t act or think in these ways if they didn’t feel good or serve you in some way.  Maybe your forgetfulness allowed you not take responsibility for mistakes.  Maybe you never had to be on time because your loved ones expected you to flake.  Maybe your lack of commitment in jobs or relationships protected you from responsibility.  Or maybe you didn’t have to make your inner world known and risk rejection because you isolated yourself or avoided relationships.

These coping strategies have served a purpose to protect you from painful emotions, hurt, or fear.  Ask yourself: what are you afraid will happen once these are gone?  Do you fear being rejected?  Unloved?  Abandoned?  Enmeshed with another person?  If you acknowledge the ways you are self-sabotaging in your areas of growth, you no longer will be able to use your character defects as excuses or justifications.  You will need to face the pain connected to these fears.

Acknowledge the areas in which you will feel deprived and not want to release these character defects.

You’ve been working on maintaining your sobriety from quite some time.  And if that weren’t enough, this step asks you to remove other coping mechanisms through giving up your character flaws.  This can be a scary process.  Practicing humility and dependence on God and your support system are crucial at this point.  You need them to move from just understanding these flaws into making a change in your behaviors and attitudes.

List each character defect with the corresponding positive quality that can replace it.

Often the coping strategies we’ve used to survive that have turned into flaws in our adulthood are two sided: they have both a light side and a dark side.  Identify the “light” side of each of your character flaws: see your defects and become aware of how you can use them for good or replace them with more adaptive behaviors or qualities you want to embody.  This could be moving from mistrust to trust, or allowing yourself to be human rather than trying to be superhuman.  Begin to seek opportunities to live out these positive characteristics.

Invite God into the process.

As this step expresses in its phrasing, God is a crucial part of this process.  Invite God through prayer to illuminate the areas where you feel resistant to letting go.  Ask God if He will stay with you despite knowing all your flaws.  Scripture reminds us that God saved us when we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), so He likely knows them already and still chose relationship with you.  If you don’t feel fully willing to let go of these flaws in character, pray and ask God to change your heart.

Invite your sponsor or trusted guide in.

Share this process with your sponsor.  Ask your trusted guide or your friends in recovery if they know of other areas of weakness or character difficulties to which you are still clinging.  They may have faced similar character issues in their personal journeys and have ideas on how to resolve them.  Ask for help and support through this process.


Are you crippled when you look at all your areas of weakness and character flaws?  Do you struggle to see the good in yourself when you’re faced with the hurt your actions have caused?  It is a painful and difficult process to examine yourself and make changes.  At Restored Hope, I believe it’s crucial to walk alongside you in these difficult areas and help you to create lasting change.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule a counseling appointment.




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Step Five: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

You’ve now done the grueling work of self-assessment involved in Step Four.  While Step Four can feel like a battle to work through your character defects, the Fifth Step may be even more challenging.  It involves bringing another person into your story, allowing them to hear the full extent of your wrongs, and being open to receiving their acceptance of you.

In this process, you’ll face your denial by admitting to yourself the extent of your wrongs.  You’ll also be acknowledging God in this step, who knows the full extent of your wrongdoing, beyond what you are aware of yourself at this time.  Rest in the truth that God, knowing all your wrongdoing ahead of time, chose to love you, accept you, and offer you forgiveness despite all of it (Romans 5:8).

Why is the Fifth Step important?

Addiction is driven by shame and isolation.  For women struggling with sex and love addiction, these two categories are intermixed: shame about struggling with what is a “man’s issue” leads women to withdraw from others who may be able to relate to them.  They then feel lonely and hopeless, drawing them back into the false intimacy of the addiction.  Having someone who knows your story gives you a break from the loneliness you’ve experienced in your addiction.

When you share your fearless moral inventory, you’re able to receive community and acceptance in a way you’ve likely never experienced.  Words of encouragement from the listener can change the negative internal monologue you have with yourself and provide new vocabulary to be kind to yourself.  Confessing these wrongs helps you to leave behind the double life of addiction and come out of hiding, releasing the burden of your secrets.  It establishes trust with God, yourself, and others.

It is essential to review your Fourth Step with complete honesty in the presence of another person to experience healing.  Whatever we are holding back can become a stronghold that drives us back into the addictive behavior.  It is important to express every detail, even if it is difficult to do so.

How to Work The Fifth Step

Bring your fearless moral inventory to God.

In order to successfully complete the Fifth Step, you must rely on God as your strength.  This task is too daunting to complete on your own, which is why the Second and Third steps precede it.  We need to be fully honest with ourselves and God to see that he loves us and accepts us, meaning we are lovable and worthy of care.  This offers an extra layer of support in case our trusted individual with whom we share our moral inventory does not respond how we expect or need.  Humans are imperfect, but God is perfect and will be able to provide all the compassion and support you need.

Remind yourself of the truth that God was with you and loved you even when you were in the darkest and deepest moments of your addiction.  If he was with you in those desolate places, he will certainly be with you as you step out in sharing them with someone else.

Release any denial or self-deception that may still linger.

After completing your fearless moral inventory, sit with a journal and record any reactions, emotions, or experiences you’ve had as a result.  Imagine sitting across from your trusted individual to share your inventory and write down the sensations, thoughts, or feelings you might have in that situation.  Pay special attention to any areas of defensiveness or fear that may be plaguing your mind.  Notice if there are any parts of your story that you are planning to leave unsaid or ignore in the course of the discussion.

Remember that, in order to see the full effects of completing the Fifth Step, it is essential to share the full extent of your knowledge about your character defects.  As you notice areas where you get stuck, explore if you are struggling with self-deception or denial.  Rid yourself of excuses you make to hide or avoid acknowledging the painful parts of your inventory.

Acknowledge (and receive!) the good as well as the bad.

In the course of completing your moral inventory, you were asked to write not only the character defects and wrongs you’ve committed, but also the positive aspects of who you are.  This can be the most difficult part of the process for some, as it directly contrasts messages of shame.  But it is necessary both for you to acknowledge and claim these positive characteristics within yourself and to hear your trusted individual share words of kindness and encouragement.  It can also be helpful to engage with Scriptural truths that remind you of your identity in Christ and the positive aspects of who you are because of God.

Set up 2-3 scheduled sessions with your trusted individual to share your inventory.

Select a person who you can trust to hear your moral inventory and provide encouragement and confidentiality.  This can be a sponsor, a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, or a therapist.  It is generally discouraged to have this individual be a family member, spouse, or individual who has been directly affected by your behaviors – having a neutral audience can help you to feel more comfortable with being completely honest and prevents further harm.  Make sure this person can identify your deepest feelings related to your inventory and reflect them back to you.

Honestly share your fearless moral inventory with your trusted individual.

Outline for this individual each aspect of your inventory of character weaknesses.  When discussing actions, describe what you did, when you did it, and what you were thinking or feeling when doing it. Include information not only about acting out behaviors, but about other areas of your life where these weaknesses have affected you.  Stating these items out loud can help you to break through denial.

Expect fears of rejection to come up in you.  You’ve likely never been this vulnerable with anyone in your life.  It makes sense that this would feel terrifying.  Remind yourself that the person with whom you’re sharing will feel honored by your choice to be genuine with them.

Be open to hearing about your trusted individual’s personal journey and similar actions or feelings they may have experienced.  It helps you to feel a little less alone in your recovery journey.  It also creates support as you feel that your experience is more normal than you initially thought. 

Continue to come back to this step in the future.

Remember that you will continue to discover new aspects of your character, both positive and negative, throughout your lifetime.  Accept the fact that you will continually need to come back to this inventory and have additional conversations with your trusted individuals in the years of recovery to come.  Do not feel the pressure to have 100% of your character defects figured out at this point: offer what you are able, and trust that the rest will come out in the process.


Do you feel consumed by shame in your sex and love addiction and aren’t sure of way out?  Do you feel isolated and alone, withdrawing from your friendships because they can’t understand what you’re going through?  Are you longing to get the burden of keeping a secret off of your chest?  At Restored Hope, I specialize in working with female sex and love addicts and partners of addicts to experience freedom and hope in their recovery journeys.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to schedule your first counseling appointment at my Ann Arbor location.

A Real Couple Talks Sex and Love Addiction with a Marriage Therapist


For couples seeking to heal from sex and love addiction, the process can be exhausting and difficult.  Addicts need to process their own pain, handle their spouse’s trauma, and have patience in the trust-rebuilding process.  Partners of addicts must address the pain of betrayal, decide whether or not to stay in the relationship, and deal with the consequences of whichever decision they make.

A recent podcast I’ve been listening to is Where Should We Begin?, a series of one-time couples sessions with renowned couples therapist Esther Perel.  Imagine my delight when I came across a session with a couple dealing with sex and love addiction.  I immediately thought about how helpful this conversation would be for my couples.

A few disclaimers before I encourage you to listen.  Esther is not a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist.  Early in the podcast, she claims that there is little research support for sex addiction as an addiction similar to drug or alcohol addiction.  In fact, there is indeed a growing body of research indicating that brain changes occur in sex and love addicts similar to those of substance addicts.

Also, this podcast addresses the issues of this particular couple.  As a couple with your own unique story, you may have different struggles in communication or needs for healing.  For example, this particular couple was recommended to include more touch in their interactions, but that may not be appropriate for you if touch makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  Don’t take the advice she gives in this podcast as a “must do” for you in your relationship, but instead seek to apply the general principles to your own relationship.

Finally, this podcast contains strong language and mature themes.

Here are a few thoughts I have for both the addict and the partner.

For the Addict

You need to seek healing for the pain your addiction allows you to avoid.

A pivotal moment in the recording is when the husband admits he feels sad all the time, which the therapist points out as an emotion from childhood.  Taking away the addiction, which provided a way out from feeling pain of past abuse or current circumstance, meant he would feel the pain more deeply.  As an addict, you need to understand what you did was hurtful, and that it was done in an attempt to find healing from the past.

There is a delicate balance between taking responsibility and being consumed by shame.

Addiction is a shame-based disorder.  As a result, the addict’s typical default mode is one of shame and self-blame.  The abuse this addict experienced in his past taught him that he deserves to be punished or harmed because he is bad.  These shaming beliefs make it particularly difficult to feel appropriate guilt and take responsibility because of the pain they create.

It's time to integrate the good and the bad.

One of my favorite phrases with my clients is to remind them that there’s always an “and.”  There are two sides to every situation, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  Those coexist, and don’t need to be divorced from one another.  When the addiction was going strong, the “good” and “bad” selves were kept very separate.  Now you are tasked with integrating these two sides together into an understanding of the self that is realistic and kind.

Your spouse needs to have his or her pain acknowledged and understood, rather than hearing “I’m sorry” all the time.

Self-absorption is the name of the game with the addict.  In order to engage in the addictive behaviors without regret, the addict has to cut off empathy or compassion for their spouse.  In this case, the husband was still focusing inward as he explored his abuse and hadn’t adequately connected with the wife’s pain.  As you seek to rebuild trust in your marriage, you need to step out of your own pain and acknowledge the hurt of your spouse.  Your spouse needs to know you understand how hard it was for them before you can move forward.

For the Partner

It’s normal to be blindsided by the disclosure of addiction.

In the podcast, the wife makes comments like, “I thought I had the perfect marriage” and “I never knew anything was wrong.”  Addicts become adept at hiding their compulsive behaviors and putting on a mask.  If this happened to you, you are not alone.

Because of increasing acceptance of divorce, it is becoming more of a stigma to stay in the relationship and make it work.

Friends, family, even clinical professionals might encourage you to leave the relationship after a spouse’s revelation of sexual addiction.  They might not understand why you’ve chosen to stay if you are able to separate or divorce.  The lack of understanding can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.  While the addict is getting support from therapy or 12 Step groups, the partner also needs significant support.

It is difficult to separate the person from the behavior, but it is important to see them as separate.

Because of the significant betrayal, the perceived narrative about the relationship has been shattered.  The partner begins to distrust her own perceptions not only about the addiction, but also about any positive or good moments in the relationship.  It is important to, as much as possible, see the addict’s behaviors and his identity as separate entities.  The addict’s actions speak to his destructive, addictive behavior, but that does not invalidate the good in him or her.  Similar to what I mentioned earlier for the addict, keep in mind the important of the “and” – good AND bad likely coexist in your spouse.

The addict can’t promise they’ll never act out again.

This is a frightening concept for many couples as they face recovery.  The pain of the discovery leads partners to threaten divorce if the spouse ever acts out again.  But in the course of addiction, there’s a chance of slips or full-on relapses.  The couple has to make a choice that they’ll face the risk together.  As a partner, rebuilt trust doesn’t come from empty promises, but instead from assurance in your spouse’s recovery work and process of setting boundaries.

It is incredibly important to name your needs.

As your spouse seeks rebuild trust in whatever ways they can, they cannot accurately predict what helps you to feel safe and secure in the relationship.  It is a marriage myth that once you are married, you should know everything your partner needs.  Examine why you might be reluctant to share your needs as you look at parts of your story where it wasn’t okay for you to ask for what you needed.  Know that in asking for your needs, you will likely feel vulnerable – this is normal.  Seek to risk in trusting your partner with what you need. 

There is hope to turn this tragedy into a triumph.


Have you gotten to the end of the road with the attempts you’ve made to fix your marriage that’s been ravaged by sex and love addiction?  Do you feel as though you can’t integrate both the good and bad in yourself or in your spouse?  Are you tired of fighting all the time and not getting to any place of understanding or resolution?  At Restored Hope, I offer marriage counseling specific to couples facing sex and love addiction.  Schedule an appointment at my Ann Arbor office at 734.656.8191 or email me to hear more.

Step Three: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

In working through the steps, you’ve come to understand and accept the powerlessness and unmanageability inherent to your addictive behavior, and you’ve realized that relying on your Higher Power (referred to as God) is the foundation of your hope for experiencing healing.

Step Three builds on the work we did in Step Two.  It is subtly different, however, moving from affirming God’s trustworthiness into acting upon that belief.  Steps Two and Three go hand in hand, as you need to have a foundational belief of God’s goodness fostered through spiritual practices in order to choose to submit to God’s will and receive His care.

If you have a background where God has been depicted as a shaming, punishing overseer, it can feel incredibly difficult to submit your life to Him.  If this is part of your story, seek to connect with those aspects of God that contrast with the hurt you’ve experienced.  Affirm those aspects of God as you work this step.

Here are a few things Step Three does not mean.  Turning control over to God doesn’t mean seeing God as a taskmaster who will make you feel guilty and force you to do things you don’t want.  You have free choice, and you can choose to invite God in to help you make choices that are best for you and are in alignment with His love and care.  It doesn’t mean that you have to have a perfect understanding of God.

What does it mean to make this decision?

It means we actively seek out living in a way that honors the desires we have for our lives (our will) through our daily actions, thoughts, and words (our lives), submitting in trust to the wisdom of God.  As Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  Step Three involves learning to care for and nurture yourself in the ways that God longs to offer.  It’s an every day choice to continually decide to turn control over to God.

Working Step Three

Ask for help.

Your ability to trust others reflects on your ability to trust God.  You’ve likely already surpassed the first hurdle of trust by involving a sponsor or other 12 Step group members into your recovery.  You may also involve a spiritual guide in this process.  This could be your sponsor, or it could also be a spiritual director or church leader.  Continue the daily spiritual habits you began in Step Two under the guidance of this spiritual leader.

List faulty beliefs you had about your need to remain independent or do it all on your own.

Your beliefs about your addictive behaviors or about your definition of sobriety have likely been questioned in recovery.  You may have heard others sharing about their deluded thought patterns, and you were shocked to find that you had similar thoughts.  Maybe you thought, “I just need to try harder and then I’ll stay sober,” or “I don’t need any help.”  Name these distorted thoughts and surrender them to God to release their control over your life.

Act “as if.”

Often those faulty beliefs that echoed throughout your mind when you were acting out led you to respond to your addictive behaviors with strategies that didn’t work: minimizing and denial of how bad the addiction was, or “white-knuckling” and forcing yourself not to act out.  Likely these patterns have not worked to end the addiction, but you find yourself returning to them because you don’t know what else to do.

Loosen your grip on these failed strategies.  Instead, act “as if” you believed God was in control of your recovery.  Ask yourself: what would your life look like if you trusted God and believed that it wasn’t all on your shoulders to overcome your addictive behavior?  What would change?  What wouldn’t you be afraid to do anymore?  What would look significantly different than it does right now?  Take steps to begin living that way.

Choose to grieve.

As you try to achieve sobriety on your own, you often experience loss.  You may have lost time, money, relationships, mental health, physical health, or any number of other losses.  Letting go of the addiction itself is another loss: it is as if you are giving up an old friend that helped you to cope or escape from painful life experiences.  While trusting God does involve experiencing greater peace and freedom, that doesn’t mean that your journey will automatically become pain-free – in fact, the opposite is often true.

Write a list of the areas where you’ve experienced loss.  Read it to your sponsor or your spiritual guide.  Talk about what it means to have suffered and experienced pain in your addiction, and what it will feel like to give it up. See your suffering and difficulty in light of your new knowledge that God is experiencing that suffering alongside you.

Engage in greater self-care.

You may view God as punishing, or you may have been deprived of adequate nurture by authority figures in your childhood.  It is important for you to take steps to receive the nurture that God longs to give you.  Prioritize time for self-care activities.  Take on a childlike posture and engage in more time for play.   Seek to have a beginner’s mind in all areas, humbly learning and growing.  Take a walk in nature and pray.  Take quality care of your body and physical health.

Write a prayer in a letter to God expressing what it means to turn your will and life over to Him.

What does it mean to you personally to turn your will over to God?  Your life over to God?  Even if you aren’t ready to turn over 100% of control to God, sit down and write out a letter to Him expressing your desire to do so.  Tell Him the roadblocks that are holding you back from fully committing to surrender all of your will and life.  Read this letter to your spiritual guide or sponsor to receive encouragement and support.

Engage in a regular practice of prayer.

Pray daily in the morning right when you wake up for God to help you achieve another 24 hours of sobriety.  Pray in the evening each day expressing gratitude to God for His assistance to get through the last 24 hours.  Invite God in to decisions in your life through prayer and asking for His guidance.  Pray the Serenity Prayer, which encompasses the learnings from Steps One Through Three: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Seek insight from God and others.

You’ve been in a place of growth through your involvement in 12 Step, learning more about your addictive behaviors and admitting your pride by breaking through denial.  Insights occur throughout the course of recovery, and you become more open to them as you continue to create distance from the addictive behaviors.  The energy you used to spend on your addiction is now free to express itself as emotions and memories.  Through this process, keep a journal or dream log and spend time sharing the insights gained from those interactions with your spiritual guide or with God. 

Accept that surrender is not a one-time thing.

The Third Step is not a one-and-done kind of situation.  Yes, the initial step to surrender is often the most significant.  But surrender to God is a process that will continue throughout your recovery journey in the rest of the steps.  You’ll recognize moments when you try to take back control in some area or another, or you resist the surrender God is calling you to.  Use those moments not to shame yourself, but as an opportunity to return and surrender to God.


Are you afraid to turn over control to anyone other than yourself?  Do you struggle to surrender to a God who seems distant, cold, or judging?  Have you continually tried to overcome your addictive behaviors with little to no success?  I understand how difficult it can be to recover from addictive behaviors, and I know there is hope and freedom that can be found.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to those of you who are trapped in sex and love addiction and desperate for a way out.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or email me to schedule an appointment at my Ann Arbor therapy office.  

Hooked on Porn? How Your Online Sexual Activities Might Hint at Sex and Love Addiction


When was the first time you used the internet?  Are you one of the generation that can still remember the sound of the modem booting up?  Or did you grow up with an iPhone in your pocket and and iPad keeping you entertained from as early as you can remember?

What about the first time you saw a pornographic image online?  Heard stories about internet predators asking to meet teenagers for sex?  Stumbled into an adult chat room or adult site without knowing how you got there?  For those of us who have used the internet at some point in our lives (which I would venture to say is all of us, especially if you’re reading this article now), we’ve likely also been exposed to sexual content that we didn’t bargain for.  Statistics state that 34% of people who use the internet have been accidentally exposed to pornographic images through popups, ads, spam, and other intrusive methods.

But sadly, it isn’t just the internet where explicit sexual images can be found.  All you have to do is turn on cable TV or Netflix and peruse the prestige TV shows to find graphic sexual scenes.  Images that once would have been considered pornographic or inappropriate for TV are now becoming commonplace and even normal.  We’ve become desensitized to sexual content.

34% of people who use the internet have been accidentally exposed to pornographic images through popups, ads, spam, and other intrusive methods.

For younger generations who had the easy accessibility of pornography on the internet, pornographic images and videos provided sex education.  The average age of first exposure to pornography is age 11.  It is easy to get hooked on these videos as a young age, as watching the films releases “feel-good” neurochemicals, such as dopamine, into your brain that are similar to those involved in sexual behavior.

To add fuel to the fire, cultural messages about pornography make it seem as though it is completely acceptable.  Teenagers are often introduced to porn because their friends are watching it.  Pop-up ads, spam emails, search terms, and mistyped URLs can easily lead children into a rabbit hole they didn’t know existed.  Women can be pressured by boyfriends to view porn because that’s how the boys learned about sex.

The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11.

What’s frightening about sexual content on the internet is how insidious its use can be in developing sexual addiction.  Sexual content combined with the trance-like nature of internet usage creates a dopamine rush that requires more and more intensity to get the same "high".  When we look at a statistic that says traffic on pornographic sites is higher than that of YouTube, Amazon, and Twitter combined, it is difficult to deny the potential for addiction.

Women also may struggle uniquely with shame around pornography use.  Although one-third of all visitors to pornographic websites are women, resources for support and help are often targeted toward men, and the cultural stereotype is that all men watch porn.  70 percent of women keep their porn use secret.  Due to the relational nature of adult chat rooms, many women are drawn to connect with others through this online world to fill their desire for intimacy. Similar to a relationship addict, these individuals can form intense relationships online that gives an unhealthy substitute for healthy intimacy.

Sexual content combined with the trance-like nature of internet usage creates a dopamine rush that requires more and more intensity to get the same "high".

Porn creates a fantasy world.   Pictures are edited and sexual acts are performed in a way that highlights certain physical features.  This sexual fantasy does not match up to reality, and it leads to a degradation of female sexuality and an idealization of sex. Pornography can lead an addict into what is referred to as “addict” time, where real time seems to slow down or stop, but actually passes quite quickly as the addict is consumed by pornographic images and becomes out of control.

Guilt and hiding associated with online sexual activities can actually contribute to a more powerful sexual experience, as it heightens adrenaline. This increased adrenaline can lead to more risky sexual behavior. Online sexual activities increase likelihood of affairs or the destruction of a person’s reputation if the online activities are shared publicly.

Although one-third of all visitors to pornographic websites are women, resources for support and help are often targeted toward men. The cultural stereotype is that all men watch porn.

Easy access of both pornography and cybersex through the Internet are opening up addicts to images and activities that they would not have known about previously. This can lead to obsessions with certain sexual images that become “burned-in” to your thought patterns. The Internet has plenty of opportunities to view these images, from the anonymity and ease of its use, marketing campaigns for pornographic sites that use sexual stimuli, trance-like behavior caused by computer use, and the use of denial because Internet activities are not “real.” Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the sex addiction field, describes that intrusive thoughts arise in much the same way as traumatic memories in trauma survivors, which affects the types of sexual behaviors they find arousing.

How can you tell if your online sexual behaviors might indicate sex and love addiction?

  • Do you find yourself losing track of time when you engage in sexual activities online?

  • Are your online sexual activities secret?

  • Do you find yourself idealizing sex or viewing it as the ultimate expression of love after watching pornographic images online?

  • Are you involved in intensely sexualized relationships with people you’ve met online and haven’t interacted with face-to-face?

  • Do fantasies about sexual activity you’ve engaged in online overshadow or affect real face-to-face sexual intimacy?

  • Are you turning to watching pornography compulsively in order to self-soothe, escape, or avoid painful feelings?

  • Have you had interactions with ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, or strangers online that your spouse would be angry to see?

  • Do you feel a rush or “high” when you start engaging in sexual behaviors online?

  • Are you disgusted by the type of pornographic images that excite you?

  • Do you tell yourself, “having sexual chats with people online doesn’t matter because it’s not real”?


Do any of the above questions apply to you?  Have you felt worried about how much you use porn?  Are you ashamed of your online sexual activities?   I’d love to help.  Restored Hope is a mental health counseling office serving the Ann Arbor area of Michigan.  I specialize in supporting female sex and love addicts in their journey toward freedom from the trap of their compulsive behaviors.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out our form to hear more about how we can help you.

The Seduction of Fantasy: Why Your Obsession with Romance and Fantasy Could Signal Sex and Love Addiction


Romance stories, books, and movies have been popular for ages.  You only have to look at the list of chickflicks and rom-coms showing in theaters and the romance novel section at Target to see the hold romance has in our psyche.  Even films completely unrelated to romance, like action movies, often have a plot thread involving a romantic or sexual storyline.  The recent surge in popularity of the Fifty Shades of Grey book and movie franchise speaks to the attraction women have toward romance intertwined with sexual intimacy.

Many people find that they enjoy romantic movies or stories occasionally.  However, in some cases it has morphed into a behavior pattern that feels compulsive and out of control, a manifestation of sex and love addiction.  Women (and also at times men) can become overly dependent on romance as a way to escape difficult or painful feelings.  They may begin to read romance novels for hours on end, becoming irritable when they can’t get their “fix.”

The addictive grip of romance can feel similar to love addiction, with one major difference.  Romance addicts tend to be in love with the “chase,” or the pursuit of a romantic partner, according to Marnie Ferree in her book No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction.*  They find the intensity of the beginning stages of the relationship, the romantic gestures, the early expressions of love to be intoxicating.  But once the excitement wears off, they become bored.  Whereas a love addict seeks to find one individual to become completely dependent on and lose themselves in, often the romance addict is more obsessed with the thrill of the chase.

The chase can take place either in actual relationships, or it can be in the form of the emotional high that comes with romance in books, movies, or fantasy.  Romance addiction is a highly fantasy-driven manifestation of sex and love addiction.  The fantasies stem from the early exposure to media depictions of romance and become personalized to the addict.

Romance addiction can begin to intertwine with sexual addiction, as romance novels or films often carry an erotic element.  Similar to what is felt in love addiction, the message portrayed through these novels is that you cannot be happy without a romantic relationship, and if a relationship is difficult, it must not be true love.  Children’s stories beginning to cater to this message as well, as many Disney princess movies center around the development of a romantic relationship.  Even Christian romance novels can carry the same false fantasy of romance that leads into addiction, even without the erotic component.

The fantasy that is coupled with romance addiction can develop into its own addictive qualities that can affect marriages and relationships.  Addicts who are discontent with their current relationship or lack thereof may live in fantasy about the perfect mate, preferring the illusion to reality. This inevitably leads to dissatisfaction in real relationships, as actual relationships cannot measure up to the perfect mate. These fantasies can interfere in a couple’s sex life, as an addict can fantasize about other partners while having sex with his or her spouse.  These behaviors block intimacy with one’s spouse.  They also may lead to emotional affairs, which are just as damaging as sexual affairs.

What are some signs you might be struggling with romance addiction or fantasy addiction?

  • Do you become consumed with reading romance novels or watching romantic movies for hours on end?

  • Is your fantasy life interfering with your daily activities, distracting you, or making you less productive?

  • Do you become irritable when you can’t get your fix from reading or watching romantic materials?

  • Are you constantly dissatisfied in your romantic relationships, as they don’t measure up to what you fantasize about or expected based on depictions of relationships in the media?

  • Do you find yourself daydreaming or fantasizing often about romantic or sexual encounters?

  • Are you more excited by the intensity and thrill of the beginning of a relationship than the commitment that comes afterward?

  • Do you find yourself fantasizing about other partners while being intimate with your spouse?

  • Are you hyper-aware of the attention that you can get from the opposite sex by the way you dress or look?

  • Do you find yourself having obsessive thoughts and fantasies about relationships with people you’ve just met?

  • Is it difficult to stay in the present moment with your children, spouse, or friends because you’re caught up in a fantasy world that feels out of control?


If any of the above statements describes you, or if you’re curious if romance or fantasy addiction is part of your story, we’d love to help.  Restored Hope is a mental health counseling office serving the Ann Arbor area of Michigan.  We specialize in supporting female sex and love addicts in their journey toward freedom from the trap of their compulsive behaviors.  Give us a call today at 734.656.8191 or email us to hear more about how we can help you.




*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Step Two: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Admitting our powerlessness over our addictive behaviors is incredibly important on the road to healing.  But this admission is not a magic fix.  The question soon follows: who, or what, will help us overcome?

You’ve likely had the thought that you could stop your addictive behavior if you just tried harder.  There are a multitude of different strategies we use to try to stop.  This overconfidence and self-reliance ultimately backfire, and it becomes easier than ever to become entrenched in the addictive behavior once more.

A common reminder to addicts from AA is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Achieving sanity involves accepting your need for help and seeking a new path to healing.  Observe the strategies of the others in your 12 Step group – how have they learned to overcome?  You’ll find a solid foundation in a Higher Power that can free them from the weight of this addictive behavior.  For our purposes, we’ll refer to this Higher Power as God.

What if I don’t believe in God?  Or what if I don’t trust Him?

Step Two can be fraught with unease or uncertainty based on your experiences with faith.  You may have had strict religious parents who taught you about a punishing God.  You may have minimal experience with spirituality, but assume it’s not for you based on depictions in media or news.  You may have attended a church and received wounds or pain from church leadership or other Christians, and felt alienated from God as a result.

Add to this the stigma of sexual addiction, and you might find yourself experiencing intense shame in churches.  Maybe religion has been a way for you to beat yourself up for the addiction or make up for the wrongs you’ve done in your addictive behavior.

When this is the case, my encouragement to you is to be open to trying out faith.  As we know from the Stocksdale paradox, finding meaning and purpose for a future without addiction will be the biggest motivator to get you through the pain of withdrawal.  Meaning and purpose are often found in spirituality or relationship with God.  Your openness to explore and curiosity about what spirituality or relationship with God might look like for you are steps toward this mission and purpose for the future.

Working Step Two

Examine your relationship with trust.

Trust isn’t easy, especially if you’ve had your trust betrayed in the past.  I’ve experienced this before when I believed that I had to do everything on my own if I wanted it to be done right.  Another common way you might experience distrust involves hiding information or deceiving those around us.  Deception is a significant part of addiction because it can feel incredibly vulnerable to trust someone with our deepest, darkest secrets.

When you’re asked to trust someone else, what does it feel like?  Do you have difficulty trusting others?  What happens when you need help – do you ask for it, or do you try to make it on your own?  Were you able to trust your parents or caregivers growing up?  Exploring this relationship with trust has direct implications for your relationship with God.  Often if we struggle to trust others or ask for help, we see ourselves responding the same way with God.

Explore the image you have of God.

What comes to mind when you think of God?  Before I was a Christian, I always imagined a mix between Santa and Zeus – a big man with a thick white beard and white robes sitting on a cloud and looking down on the world.  A.W. Tozer, a noted theologian, says in his book The Knowledge of the Holy* that what comes to mind when we think of God is the most important thing about us. 

How did you imagine God as a child?  What did your family members think or teach about God?  How did that image change or stay the same when you grew into an adult?  What views does your spouse or friends have about God?  Draw a picture of what you imagined God to be like in the past and present.

Identify the roadblocks.

This exploration may lead to a clear idea of what’s standing in the way of trusting God.  Whether it’s based on past failures of trust with loved ones or wrapped up in an image of a distant, accusatory figure, we can see the impacts of early beliefs about God on our present-day spiritual life.

Be patient with yourself as you seek to break down those roadblocks.  Especially if you’ve had destructive views of God in the past, it likely won’t be an easy task to begin to trust Him.  At first, it may be that the only connection you can have with God comes from observing others in the group who have relationship with Him.  Let this be enough for now and seek to be open to experiencing a similar relationship with God as you work this step.

Begin a daily spiritual practice.

Imagine that you’re searching for a dress or suit to buy for an upcoming formal event.  You might look online at a few options, doing some research into styles, colors, and fabrics you like.  When it comes to choosing a size, you might compare the suggested measurements to your own in order to guess how it might fit.  But even if you do the greatest depth of research possible, you won’t truly know how the dress or suit fits until you’re able to try it on.

Similarly, we can approach understanding faith like an intellectual exercise: we read the Bible, debate with others, and try to reason our way into understanding God.  But we can never truly understand the experience of being a Christian until we “try on” the practices of the faith.

Begin attending a church service or Mass.  Seek a daily prayer and meditation time where you read the Bible and journal or pray what’s on your mind.  Practice communion.  Connect with Christian believers through a Bible study or home church.  Get a feel for what the spiritual life could look like for you.

Write a prayer affirming your trust.

When you’ve completed these exercises, you’ll become aware of some areas where it is easy to trust God, and other areas where it is significantly more difficult.  As you begin to think God’s trustworthiness, I encourage you to write a prayer to God both naming the insecurities that you may feel about trusting Him, while also affirming your choice to trust him.  There are several Psalms that provide great examples of this pattern: Psalm 22 and Psalm 31 are a few favorites.

Identify affirmations of truth about your trust in God.

You may notice how often we as humans are directed by our thoughts and emotions, even if those thoughts are distorted or skewed by addicted thought patterns.  Once you’ve made the commitment to seek trusting God, your thoughts can derail this commitment if you aren’t conscious of their impact.

Take time to select a few Bible verses or other affirmations that help remind you that you are able to trust God.  I particularly like Philippians 2:13, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”  Also good are Isaiah 26:4 “Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” and Jeremiah 17:7, ““But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”  Memorizing one of these short Scripture verses can help you to remind yourself of truth when it feels difficult to trust.


Do you have a hard time surrendering to a God that feels shaming and vengeful?  Are you struggling to trust others such that you can’t even imagine trusting God?  Are you feeling hopeless about recovery when you think you have to do it on your own?  At Restored Hope, I understand the battle that comes with a desire for spiritual comfort, coupled with doubt that comes from the addiction itself.  I’d love to meet with you at my Ann Arbor therapy office to talk through what holds you back from trusting God.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to talk more and set up your first appointment.



*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Step One: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we’ll be starting a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over ________________ (alcohol, sexual behaviors, addictive relationships) – that our lives had become unmanageable. 

The First step involves two major concepts: powerlessness and unmanageability.  Powerless is defined by not being able to stop your behavior, or realizing you are held captive by your addiction.  You might be absorbed in another person through a love addiction or feel ruled by sexual obsession in sex addiction.  Only the hit of the sexual relationship brings a lift to your mood, which reveals a dependency on that dopamine rush.  Ultimately, powerlessness means that the efforts you make to stop or control the behaviors are not working.

Unmanageability takes this addictive process a step further.  Your life begins to spin out of control. The damage extends further than you could’ve imagined or anticipated.  Your core values in life are threatened as the addiction tells you it’s the only thing giving you meaning.  You feel crazy and out of control, beginning to see the lasting consequences of your behavior.

In the introduction to this series, we talked about the Stocksdale paradox: the importance of holding out hope for the future while not losing sight of how bad the addiction is in this moment.  Working Step One involves breaking through denial to show you just how the addiction is destroying your life, while also giving you a vision of what’s yet to come.

Know there is hope for the future.

Write a list of affirmations and review them daily.

Messages of shame and pain will abound as you start to work through your first step.  To combat the potential for emotional devastation, remind yourself of truth about who you are and your abilities to cope.  Affirmations help you to reprogram your brain away from the negative and shaming words you use to describe yourself that you’ve been using since childhood.  Write an affirmation down in a place where you can see it often to get you through. 

Approach this process with gentleness.

One thing I love about the book Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps* is that encourages these levels of gentleness with yourself.  Know that this is a process, that it takes time, and use the support that you have through your Twelve Step group and your sponsor to encourage you and help you along the way.

Imagine what your life might look like if you were completely free.

When you’re feeling the weight of your addiction, imagine your life without sexual or relational obsessions.  What would you spend your time doing?  What are things you would pursue that you can’t now because of the time spent on your addictive behaviors?  What are the relationships you could build into?  Become aware of how changing addictive behavior might cause you to look inward, being available to what might happen next within yourself.

Make top lines and bottom lines.

“Top lines” and “bottom lines” are a common way to establish sobriety early in the progrm.  Bottom lines are addictive behaviors from which you want to abstain, while top lines are healthy behaviors you want to be pursuing.  Include any addictive behavior in the bottom lines, taking care not to exclude behaviors so you can find a loophole later.  As they say in Twelve Step, there is no such thing as half-surrender.  Begin the process of abstaining from the addictive behavior defined in your bottom lines, taking it one day at a time.

See the reality of how bad your addiction is.

Take an inventory of addictive behaviors you’ve struggled with, past or present.

Write a list of all the disordered sexual behaviors you find problematic in your life.  If you’ve struggled with any addictive behaviors previously or currently, add those to the list.  As a litmus test, look at any behaviors that you’re trying to hide or cover over.  Are you minimizing, obsessing, fantasizing, or lying in any way?  Where do you feel you lose yourself?  This can be substance based (drug, alcohol, caffeine) or process based (food, sex, gambling).  Pay attention to behaviors where you spend a significant amount of time or money or those that function as an escape or identity, like TV, shopping, or work.

List all the ways you’ve tried to control or stop the behaviors that haven’t worked.

Understanding your powerlessness to stop your addictive behaviors is one of the first and most important steps to breaking through denial.  Listing these cold hard facts about past combats the lie of denial that tells you that you could only stop if you just tried harder.

List the consequences you’ve experienced as a result of your addictive behaviors.

Unmanageability often shows its true colors as you begin to see the consequences of your acting out.  Identify multiple different areas of consequences: emotional, spiritual, family, financial, legal (risk or actual), physical, mental.  Acknowledge the reality of how addiction has destroyed your life.

Look at the influence of addiction and abuse in your family.

Make a family tree or an outline of all your family members for patterns of addiction, codependency, or avoidant behavior.  Pay attention to your own history of abuse that you experienced both inside and outside your family.  Identify physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual categories of abuse, as well as the length of time and intensity of the abuse.  Notice if there are any family members that you know experienced abuse.

Note that abandonment also can play a role in addictive behavior, and is often more insidious than abuse, as it is less noticeable.  There are no visible bruises that signify neglect, and yet feeling unloved and isolated can drive many into addictive behaviors.  Notice areas of abandonment in physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual realms as well.

Make a sexual history timeline.

Separate your life into time periods of 5 or 10 years at a time and identify different messages and experiences you had around sex and sexuality during those time frames.  Trace your experience of addictive history as it relates to these experiences.

Maintain humility.

It can be easy to feel proud or smug as you go through your First Step and begin to experience the benefits of sobriety.  This is a setup for relapse.  Instead, maintain awareness of your powerlessness and unmanageability throughout the entire process, and surrender to those concepts.

Share your first step at a 12 Step meeting.

Once you’ve compiled this information (often with the help of a sponsor or other Twelve Step group members), completing the first step involves sharing it openly and honestly.  Typically you begin by sharing with your sponsor before sharing with the larger group, and with their help you can edit the information to share what feels safe within the meeting space.


Is your compulsive behavior leading you to feel trapped in an addiction?  Have you tried again and again to stop, just find you fall back into your behaviors at the earliest opportunity?  Are you looking for a way out?  I believe that you can experience freedom from addiction, particularly if you struggle with sex and love addiction.  I offer counseling in my Ann Arbor therapy office – give me a call at 734.656.8191 or send me an email to talk with me today.




*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Getting Ready: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we’ll be starting a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Today’s post will be your getting-started guide, full of ideas for what you need to begin this journey.  Next week we’ll start the process of delving into the First Step.

When a recently self-named addict shows up at their first Twelve Step meeting, they likely bring a sense of hopelessness to their recovery.  They might say things like, “How can anything get better?  I’ve hit rock bottom.  I can’t stop obsessing – it’s like a magnet pulling me back in.”

Other times, the addict might come in with all sorts of denial still at play.  This might look like statements of, “Was it really that bad?  I don’t think I have a problem.  Addict?  I don’t think so.  If I were satisfied in my sex life at home, I wouldn’t have to look elsewhere.”

Being willing to acknowledge an addiction means we have to admit that whatever we struggle with has become our God.  You can see the red flags in the constant obsession over getting our next “fix,” and the irritation that comes when we’re denied it. Addiction shows itself when no matter how hard we try, we can’t eliminate the behavior or substance from our lives.

Do any of these experiences sound familiar to you?  Do you tend to be more hopeless, or struggle more with denial?

We’ve talked about the impact of the Stocksdale paradox on finding a vision for our lives and recovery.  We have to understand how bad our problem is and how much it has affected our life while simultaneously maintaining hope for the future.  Walking through the Twelve Steps requires and challenges you to maintain this while pursuing freedom from addictive behavior.

For most addicts, you much choose to engage in this process.  It can be a difficult choice to make.  It can often feel easier to stay on the path of self-medication and ensuing self-destruction.  But making the choice to come to your own rescue and fight for health and freedom are choices you will not regret.

What do I need before I get started working the steps?

First and most importantly, join a Twelve Step group specific to your addictive behavior to access support from other group members and find a sponsor.  Receiving help is a huge part of admitting powerlessness over your addictive behavior.  Working the Twelve Steps is a grueling and difficult process, and stepping in with a trusted support network at your back will help you to handle the stress of it.  Do continue to get support from pre-existing relationships, but alongside that, look for a specific Twelve Step group for the issue you’re facing.  Work with people who understand how your addiction feels and how to engage the steps in this particular area.

A therapist can be a crucial part of this process, especially as you dive into your family history and history of abuse.  Realizing these painful memories and delving back into your past can be hard, and having the support of a trained professional can help.

Involvement in community and choosing total honesty might be the hardest part of working the Steps for you.  If you’re struggled with addictive behaviors, it likely connects to memories of abuse or wounds from people you cared about.  This makes it difficult to trust new people.  Sex and love addiction, as an intimacy disorder, often also carries with it a fear of true intimacy, which is needed to adequately receive support. 

Ask yourself this question: what is holding me back from working through these Twelve Steps?

Is it fear of what could come as a result?  Resistance to giving up the behavior or substance that you’ve used to self-medicate all these years?  Avoidance of having to be honest and feeling the ensuing guilt? Disdain for the process and assurance that you could just stop if you tried harder?  Hopelessness that you’ll ever get out of addictive patterns?

Pay attention to any pushback you might feel.  Know that you can feel uncertain and still choose to try the process.  You don’t have to be 100% in at first to benefit from a group or meeting with a sponsor.  Take one small step today to begin to move into healing.

Book Recommendations

As a unapologetic book nerd, my first place to go when I’m wanting to learn about a new topic is books.  As we’ll be exploring these Twelve Steps together in the upcoming months, I wanted to point out some resources that have been helpful for me in learning about addiction as well as getting specific help for the Twelve Steps. (These are affiliate links with Amazon, but I would recommend these books even without the affiliate connection.)

No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Addiction by Marnie Ferree

Gentle Path Through the 12 Steps by Patrick Carnes

The Green Book of Sex Addicts Anonymous

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: The Basic Text

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Grab a notebook and pen, one of these texts, and save a link to this blog to get monthly updates on how to engage with each of these steps.  Look for the next one coming your way next week!


Have you felt hopeless about those sexual behaviors that you just can’t seem to stop, no matter how hard you try?  Are you constantly telling yourself it’s not a big deal, just to be faced with another pregnancy scare or getting caught in your lies?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling sessions focused on achieving healing and freedom from compulsive behaviors of sex and love addiction.  Give me a call at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or fill out or form to schedule a free phone consultation