Crystal was fairly new to recovery from sex and love addiction when she experienced a death of a loved one. Shocked, hurt, and feeling rejected, Crystal immediately went into cycle. She became pre-occupied (this is first part of the relapse cycle) with destructive thoughts that included blaming those close to her (her boyfriend, and family), feeling like she was not good enough as well as undeserving of having any further recovery. She projected her hurt onto others and found herself longing for the attention from men (not her boyfriend) in an attempt to escape her pain and soothe her discomfort.
She went into sabotage mode, and although she continued attending her bi-weekly SLAA meetings, she was distracted and lacked participation. She cancelled her appointment with her therapist, stopped working on her recovery tasks, and stopped reaching out to her recovery support network. She ignored phone calls and emails from friends, family, and her therapist.
She spent hours on social media, stalking old boyfriend's Facebook pages, and flirting with strangers and co-workers (ritual phase). Her work started to suffer as she fantasized about being in a relationship with her male boss.
Her boyfriend, who knew she was in recovery for sex addiction, noticed an increase in her "zoning out" behavior and confronted her. Angry at his questions, she told him he wasn't making her happy anymore and went out for the night. She went to a bar to meet some co-workers, got drunk, and ended up having sexual relations with a colleague (Acting out phase). She woke up at her friend's house feeling hung over, as well as a great sense of shame, guilt and despair (the final stage of Patrick Carnes' relapse cycle is despair).
In Facing The Shadows, Dr. Patrick Carnes (2010) explains that there are 4 parts of a Sex Addiction Cycle: Pre-Occupation, Ritualization, Acting Out, and Despair. Change, especially if it is outside a person's control, often triggers negative core beliefs and the associated thoughts and feelings. Core beliefs, and the associated thoughts and feelings, often relate back to an individual's unresolved past trauma ("Big T or Little t"), including family of origin issues.
If these past issues are left unresolved or ignored, it is common for individuals to go into cycle, beginning with pre-occupation. This was the case with Crystal.
The following are some signs that an individual in recovery is in a relapse cycle: 1. They will decrease or even stop their recovery routine (not attend meetings, group, individual therapy, isolate) 2. They are more defensive, argumentative, manipulative, and blaming of others, especially those close to them 3. They will pick fights with loved ones as a means to "escape" into their world of addiction 4. They will stop following through with daily responsibilities 5. They act more secretive and lie about ritual behavior, and even acting out.
Crystal stopped her recovery routine, began to isolate, and was defensive and argumentative with her boyfriend. She lapsed via going into fantasy world of social media, then picked a fight with her boyfriend to escape, which ended up in her acting out.
The good news is that it is possible to intervene early on in one's cycle in order to prevent them from a full blown relapse. Had Crystal reached out to her sponsor, support network, and therapist, and been honest about her negative core beliefs, thoughts and feelings associated with the death of a loved one, she would likely have stopped her cycle in the pre-occupation phase and moved back into the Recovery Zone (Carnes, 2010). Along with this, if she continued working in therapy, she would have still struggled with her loss, but it likely wouldn't have caused her to go into sabatoge mode.
If she would have been open and honest with her boyfriend early on about the pain that she felt at her loss, he may have been able to offer her the support she needed. This may have helped her stay engaged in their relationship instead of checking out on social media (it is important to note that it is not a spouse's responsibility to keep their addict partner sober).
Although relapse is a part of recovery, one of the goals of treatment is to learn and practice healthy coping skills in order to navigate through challenging triggers, including change in an adaptive way.
Know that if you are struggling with being in a relapse cycle, there is support. You are not alone. Our team at Namaste Center for Healing is here for you. Check out our website for services and resources for various support groups: namasteadvice.com, or call us at 801-272-3500.
And as always, please remember: YOU ARE SO WORTH IT.