What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Surviving the holidays: tips for the sex and love addict

The holidays are full of triggers but also opportunities.

The holidays are generally thought of as a time for potential relapse of any addiction, and sex addiction is no exception. In working to stay "sober" during this time, people suffering from sexual addiction need to be aware of triggers and to create a guide for themselves to make it through this time without reverting to the destructive patterns of behavior that served as an escape but ultimately an ineffective means for coping.

Why is the holiday season an especially tricky time? We are told relentlessly on television, at the movies, at our workplace and at school that this time of year is the most fun, spiritual, exciting, intimate, etc. In reality, for many people it can trigger an intense need to escape and/or act out because:

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  1. Our actual family experience does not match the ideal family that we are expected to have. Perhaps we don't spend this time with our family or don't want to, or when we do it is painful or brings up old, unhappy memories.
  2. We feel tremendous pressure to create the perfect experience, purchase the perfect gifts, be the perfect host, etc.
  3. We don't have the money this year to buy what we would like to be able to give.
  4. We are invited to parties at work and through family and friends that we are expected to attend even if we don't want to.
  5. There is a tremendous level of increase in unhealthy behaviors - increase in alcohol consumption, sugar consumption, over-eating, partying, drug use, lack of rest and exercise, etc. - and all of this contributes to an environment of excess and acting-out. Additionally, alcohol or drug use can serve as a disinhibitor and make acting-out sexually easier.
  6. For some people, they don't feel a spiritual connection to the holiday or they are of a different religion or spiritual practice. This creates an experience of being an "outsider" and alienation.
  7. There is tremendous pressure to have a "date" or to be part of a "couple," and to have the holidays be highly romantic. Whether someone is part of a couple or not this pressure can be tremendous and can lead to sex addictive or love addictive behavior.
  8. In spite of all of the pressure and expectations we are expected to be relaxed, happy, and "on vacation."
  9. Because the pressure to feel happy and connected to others is so intense, the urge to act-out sexually can be intense as it may serve as a seductive "substitute" for genuine intimacy.

So what's the solution? How does the sex addict avoid relapse during the holidays? The following are a few tips for keeping yourself safe and sober:

  1. Don't isolate. Plan your days and let people know where you are and plan to spend time with the people who support you and a healthy lifestyle. Create structure for yourself so you don't end up with lots of empty time.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Imagine what the trip or party will be like ahead of time based on your past experience not on a fantasy about it and know that is what you will be headed towards if you go. Keep your thinking grounded in reality.
  3. Take extra care of yourself. Keep up your exercise, good eating habits, and get lots of rest. Try to remain conscious about your eating and drinking.
  4. Be creative. Think of simple gifts you can make or afford, or donate time volunteering in someone's name. Volunteer to go with someone who needs you as a gift.
  5. Have a Plan B. When you find yourself somewhere that is triggering or you are in a situation where the opportunity to relapse is in front of you, have an escape plan, like going out to a movie or going for a walk when suddenly finding yourself alone on Christmas eve in front of your computer.
  6. Find new ways to celebrate. Who says the old (triggering) ones were really so great anyway? Feel free to say "no" to things that you know will not be healthy for you or will be triggering.
  7. Get support. Most importantly, get the support you need during this time, either from loved-ones, group meetings, therapy, or friends who know your struggles and can really be there for you. Share your feelings with them and your needs.

Remember, urges will pass. Sometimes it can be helpful to just remind yourself if you are feeling the pull to revert to those old, reliable escapes that those behaviors really never made you happy during and only made you feel terrible afterwards. The urge is like a wave that peaks in intensity but will pass. And afterwards, you will feel one step freer of the destructive patterns that have dragged you down in the past. And one step closer to a richer and truly happier life.

 

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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