Confessions from counseling

I wanted to share with you the value I find in working with a trusted professional counselor as you overcome not only the addiction itself, but more importantly, as you work to unwind the damage done by the tornado of your life that negatively impacted those around you.  If you’re early in your recovery this may not make a lot of sense just yet, but if you can trust me enough to read on and believe that there is something of value in the experiences I’ve had walking this road for 3-1/2 years now, you may find yourself in a better starting point when you work with your own counselor someday.  And if you’re saying to yourself, “There’s no way I’ll ever talk to a counselor!”  Then allow me to begin with the day I turned to the window of my counselor’s office and literally thought to myself, “I wonder how bad it will hurt to jump through that window and run away?”

This event would have been about 3 years ago.  I was sitting in my counselor’s office and he was asking me how I felt.  That was not a question I liked to answer (I write more about it in this blog post on the most uncomfortable question in the world).  In fact, I’d spent most of my life pushing strong emotions into what I liked to call my “lock box”, a virtual pressure cooker just waiting to explode when it could no longer hold its contents back — which inevitably ended up in me acting out.  I didn’t know how to handle emotions let alone talk about them.  So there I sat, in the big comfy chair feeling anything but comfortable as my counselor asked me, “How does that make you feel?”  And then he followed that up with what I considered the dagger question of the day, “Are you afraid that you might cry in my office?  Is that a bad thing?”

I snapped my head to the window and for a few seconds I seriously contemplated what would happen if I just jumped out the window and ran away never to return.  But then my, “I’m not a quitter” attitude kicked in and I turned back to him and we talked about how hard it was for me to talk about my emotions because I was concerned (honest word would have been “afraid”) that if I opened that virtual lock box I wouldn’t be able to hold everything back and I wouldn’t know what would happen next.

Interestingly enough, instead of pushing the issue he asked me, “Had I tried meditation?”  No, I had not.  “Would I be willing to spend twenty minutes a day going on a walk and thinking about nothing but the sounds around me, the colors I see, the smells I hear, etc.” I practically curled up into a ball in complete horror at the thought of taking twenty minutes out of my already crazy, busy day to do “nothing”.  Was he crazy?!

Fortunately, he was not crazy.  Rather, he was an experienced professional.  Someone with years of study and practice, knowledge from hundreds of books, talks, and seminars in his head.  All available to piece together into a form that would help me begin to heal.  Today, three years later, I would trust this man with my life.  He is a friend.  Although we do not do the things that normal friends do, I can still count on him to be objective, to be honest, to be thoughtful, to not give up on me, to tell me candid things that I need to hear but don’t always want to hear.  Even when some of our conversations are difficult, I always walk away feeling better about where I’m headed, that I have a plan for how I can improve, how I can strengthen my defenses, and how I can relate better to my wife, my children, and my friends.  He is my guardian angel and I will forever be in his debt.

Before I close, I want to offer a few words of warning to those that are considering or beginning counseling.  First, feel free to interview a potential counselor.  Ask questions like:

  • How many sex addicts have you worked with?
  • Do you believe that a person can be addicted to pornography?  (If the answer is no, find another counselor)
  • Do you believe in God?  (If that is important to you)
  • What is your specialty?
  • Any other questions you might have…

I like to encourage people to start by asking other recovering addicts who they recommend for counseling.  Not all counselors are for everyone.

Now, having said all of that, just because a counselor makes you feel uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean they aren’t the right one for you.  In fact, it probably takes a good year before you can objectively consider that question any way.  Here’s a great example of a scenario where I could have cut my counselor loose because my impression of him was less than comfortable, but how grateful I am that I stuck it out because I’m twice the man I am today because of his patient, consistent guidance.

At my second or third visit with my counselor, he invited my wife along and asked us several questions together.  I distinctly remember it like it was yesterday.  He asked me, “What is it that you want out of counseling?”  And as my mouth started to say things like, “I just want my wife to feel better, I want her to heal, blah, blah, blah.”  I can remember my brain shouting, “I just want her to have more sex with me!!”  Holy cow, it makes my skin literally crawl to write that down.  I was a full on addict and a world class liar.  He then met with me individually, asked me some questions, and then met with Cassie.  Later that night she shared what he said to her.  It came down to a few things:

  1. Your husband has the intimacy level of a 2 or 3 year old.  He has no idea how to be intimate.  (That was like taking my man card, shooting it, burning it, and stomping on it, I remember being super defensive and REALLY angry at my counselor — how DARE he say that!!)
  2. Your husband is a sex addict.  There is nothing you can do to satisfy his lustful hunger.  If you don’t feel like having sex with him, then don’t.  You cannot fix him.  He must learn to heal himself.  He must overcome his addiction first.
  3. Your husband is lying to you and to himself.  He knows he has a problem but he is unwilling to talk about it and not ready to progress at this point in time.

That was such a HUGE blow to my ego, to my confidence, to my self image, everything!  It actually kind of still stings to write about it.

BUT!!  But, that was also the beginning of the new me.  The first steps on my long road of recovery.  A road with some miraculous ups and some painful downs.  A road that is lined with victories.  A road that has led me to my higher power in a way that I’ve never been able to do before.  I know God better than ever.  He loves me!  I matter to him.  Sex is a gift from Him to us.  When I can use it in an unselfish manner, it is beautiful.  I’m still working on that.  There’s no single book that I’ve found to help me out other than the AA Big Book, the ARP addiction manual, and various books on learning to become unselfish, and truly love another person from your heart, you just have to keep working on it, and asking God to help you improve.

Today I have new friends who lift me up and strengthen me when I am down.  I have hope!  I have a relationship with my wife that is beginning to blossom.  I can feel what real intimacy is like.  It’s still fleeting for me, but I want to feel it now and that’s a huge step for me.  I feel it when my wife smiles at me.  I feel it when I do something nice for her and it makes her happy or feel peace.  I feel it when I spend quality time with my children, my brothers and sisters, and my parents.  I still get overwhelmed sometimes and want to withdraw into myself, but I’m getting stronger and better at it every day.  It’s all a process and it starts one step at a time.

If you think you’re ready for that next step of working with a counselor, reach out to your trusted friends.  Ask them who they would recommend.  Ask a religious leader who they might recommend.  Go to a few counseling offices and setup an appointment to meet with them one on one.  Or read their bios online and see if their background matches what you’re looking for.

Then take that leap of faith.  Just take a chance.  And don’t stop.  Go monthly for at least a year.  Do what they ask you to do — because without homework and practice, you won’t change.  Without change you can’t improve.  It will be difficult at times.  You may even want to jump out of the window.  But then you’ll take a deep breath, turn back to your counselor, and ask them to repeat what they’ve just said.  You’ll write it down in your notebook and you’ll review it later that evening.  You’ll practice what they ask.  And you will change.  You will become a better you.  One day at a time…

My name is Mike

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