For those stuck in the midst of recurrent pornography use, visits to exotic massage parlors, strip clubs, or one night stands the redundancy can be maddening. Many individuals have made promises to themselves, to others, and to God that this was the last time. They’ll write the date down or pick a ‘special day’ (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) as the marker for a new life. For a time willpower is enough and they keep promises and abstain from the old habits. Life feels lighter and fresh. As mentioned in the first sentence, however, these problems are recurrent. Soon the preoccupation begins and the thoughts and urges are all encompassing. The day is spent thinking about urges, setting up the conditions, and then participating in the behavior the person was so desperate to avoid. This is followed by the all too familiar feelings of shame, despair, and desperation. This is the never ending cycle of addiction.
In his book Out of the Shadows, Patrick Carnes summarizes the addictive cycle in this way:
- Preoccupation: the trance or mood wherein the addicts’ minds are completely engrossed with thoughts of sex. This mental state creates an obsessive search for sexual stimulation.
- Ritualization: the addicts’ own special routines that lead up to the sexual behavior. The ritual intensifies the preoccupation, adding arousal and excitement.
- Compulsive Sexual Behavior: the actual sexual act, which is the end goal of the preoccupation and ritualization. Sexual addicts are unable to control or stop this behavior.
- Despair: the feeling of utter hopelessness addicts have about their behavior and their powerlessness.
Four steps complete the cycle. Ritualization intensifies preoccupation by adding arousal and excitement. Compulsive Sexual Behavior intensifies Ritualization by releasing large amounts of dopamine (pleasure hormone) and training the brain to return to the same process and source for pleasure, comfort, and escape next time the individual feels stress. Despair is the result of the behavior, the lowest step of all. The cyclical nature of the steps begins again as preoccupation rescues the person from their despair.
If this goes on long enough in life, relationships, career, and lifestyle are all effected. The result is a feeling of isolation as the person experiences deep shame and despair about their continual participation in the cycle and failure to stop.
Isolation ends as soon as it’s shared. The first step to ending the never ending cycle is to enter into healthy, supportive relationship. Therapy or group therapy are great options. So are 12 step groups such as SA, SAA, and Celebrate Recovery (CR). Utilized together, these options are even more effective.