Jerry J. (Los Angeles)
The sexual recovery plan has been one of the most beneficial tools of the SCA program, and at times, one of the most difficult concepts of the program for me to understand. Before coming to SCA about 3 1/2 years ago, I had been sober in another 12 Step program that measured sobriety by total abstinence from certain substances. There were no gray areas as far as my sobriety was concerned there. Upon entering SCA, I was given the task of determining which of my sexual behaviors were addictive and creating a plan that limited or omitted these behaviors. At the same time, I was encouraged to create a sex life for myself that was healthy and nurturing. What a task! Being encouraged to be sexual again felt like being asked to drink again in moderation.
What helped me was comparing my sexual recovery with Overeaters Anonymous, where recovery didn’t mean eliminating but rather tempering a very necessary human process. Instead, it was meant to create boundaries that eliminated a feeling of shame and created a measurable commitment to the program.
Through the help of a sponsor and by attending a weekly meeting that was in the format of a "plan workshop", I developed a plan that felt to me, at the time, to be one that incorporated these concepts. The meeting stressed the formula referred to by the acronym S A F E, that Patrick Carnes outlines in Out of the Shadows.
1. Secret. Anything that cannot pass public scrutiny will create the shame of double life.
2. Abusive. Anything that is exploitative or harmful to others, or degrades oneself.
3. Feelings. Anything used to avoid or is a source of painful feelings.
4. Empty. Anything empty of a caring, committed relationship.
Now that I had come up with a plan that addressed my addictive behaviors, I was encouraged to list "those acts, people, places and things I wanted to reward myself with and add to my new life of recovery". I was told that once I omitted my compulsive behaviors I would be left with a lot of free time that I had used to act out in the past. As easy as this sounded, I found it difficult not only to think of nurturing caring things to do, but also I found it hard to remember to do these things when I had the time. What I have listed on the right side of my plan are things that I have neglected for a long time while practicing my addiction.
My sex plan has changed in the past few years. What seemed necessary at one point in my sobriety changed after gaining some clarity by working the 12 steps. I also recently bought a computer that required some experimentation and then some restrictions. The toughest part has been for me to come from a place of only having anonymous sex in dark places, to being sexual with people as a result of actually caring for them. A lot of my acting out was by myself (pornography, voyeurism, masturbation), so my plan addresses those areas on the left side of my plan, and encourages me on the right side of my plan to date, be social, and interact with people in a more healthy way. For every restriction on the left side of my plan, there is a positive action on the right. In all honesty, I have found the right side of the plan the most difficult to stick to most of the time.
In retrospect, I think that my plan was a little unrealistic in the beginning, but sobriety is an ongoing process and more is constantly being revealed to me. I keep close contact with my sponsor and go to lots of meetings. This keeps me honest and connected. When I am in a situation that I have to make a sexual decision, I know exactly what my plan says. There are no vague rules. It is clear and concise. It is important for me to always remember that my sex plan has two sides. I measure my sobriety by the left side, but I measure my recovery by the right side.
Doug K (NY)
I was introduced to the concept of a Recovery Plan sson after coming into SCA. However, I did not develop a plan on my own. This, in some way, was to set the tone of how the plan began to work for me. Instead of forging ahead, trying to do it all alone, I waited until I had an interim sponsor who helped me in very concrete, non-judgmental ways to formulate a plan. This helped me break down the isolation that is so familiar to many of us who are sexually compulsive: "You don't have to go it alone!"
My then sponsor explained to me the idea of a recovery plan, with three columns. This seemed an awkward construction to me, but I went with it. I was told to list in the first column, on the left, the people, places, and things that were problematic for me and that I wanted removed from my life. Well, I could have gone on and on with that one, but my sponsor helped me see that it might be helpful for me to narrow these down to a core. So this column mainly came to address sex outside of a committed relationship with my lover, which I was in at the time. Why so narrow? Because the other, specific behaviors all revolved around this issue, and besides, what was making my life unmanageable, and what brought me into the program, was being unfaithful to my lover.
The second (center) column was harder. It asks you to list the times these compulsive behaviors most frequently occur. My sponsor put it as follows: "what are you feeling when you get involved in these activities?" Well, he couldn’t have put his finger on "my" issue any quicker. As an addict, I often have NO CLUE as to what I am feeling. Even after almost two years in program, I must struggle to figure out what feelings I am going through at a given moment. So I put down several of the standard "states of mind" from AA and SCA, especially Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Those four really can get me. Also, when I am feeling somehow constricted or trapped. When I am struggling with those kind of feelings, fenced in, tied down, etc., The program has so often helped to remind me that I have choices, choices that can be made every day anew. I can choose to stay in a relationship. I can choose not to go certain places that trigger me. And yes, there is room for places that trigger in that second column. Often I forget that aspect, because my triggers are usually people and situations, more than particular places.
The third column is like a list of promises or goals I made to myself. It’s hard, as an addict, to ask for good things. We are used to taking whatever comes to us (at least I am) and throwing up our hands, avoiding the responsibility for improving our lives. Well, I am very good at complaining about how my life stinks. So this part of the plan is really important for people like me; it contains things that I want to add to my life in recovery. These can be specific, tangible things, or more "spiritual" things like prayer and meditation, a better self-image. I am so quick to forget this part of my plan, and when I go back and look, I realize that so many of the things I wanted to add to my life in recovery are part of my life now. And others, like "more creative work" are being fulfilled in doing service in SCA. So many gifts have been given to me, especially the clarity of mind that sobriety has given me, that I can actually sometimes work to improve my life. What a thing to be grateful for!
It's always been good for me to look at my plan from time to time and see how it is working for me. It’s been particularly helpful to do that in the Sexual Recovery Plan Workshop, which I have attended several times. In fact, I probably need to visit that meeting again, because as I write this, there has been a change in my life (the ending of my romantic relationship with my lover), which will necessitate changes in my plan.
So, our sexual plan develops and changes to meet our needs over time. Thank goodness, I had a chance to write about it. I have to remind myself to talk to someone else before I change anything on my plan ALONE!