Attempting to stop your compulsive sexual behavior requires a non-simple truth—the need to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Once you have acknowledged you have a sex addiction, and made the decision to get help, you need to prepare yourself for a period of withdrawal. Like any drug or substance, it’s not going to be easy ride. Going through withdrawal from sex addiction is similar to withdrawal from many other substances such as drugs or alcohol. If you are going to become sober from the behaviors that make up your sex addiction, you can expect there to be both physiological and psychological cravings and urgings that accompany your journey.
This makes a lot of sense as you may notice that you get to a place (say 4-7 days) before the cravings come back with a vengeance. There is not a clear-cut answer to the question of what to expect during withdrawal. Just as everyone’s sex addiction is different, so is everyone’s experience with withdrawal. You may become depressed or have sudden bouts of anxiety. You may experience mental and physical exhaustion, have sharp mood swings, or find yourself thinking irrationally; you may have unexplainable physical pains. You may feel ill, cranky, irritable, want to sleep more or not be able to sleep.
An excellent article on withdrawal points out valuable information on what to expect during your recovery:
♦ The worst of the withdrawal symptoms will occur during the first two weeks of abstinence. Symptoms can be physical, emotional, mental or a combination of all three.
♦ Although highly uncomfortable, it’s important that addicts hang on and get through this period without giving in to the addiction. Regular attendance at 12-step meetings can help, as can therapy and addiction treatment programs.
Often times after abstaining from acting out and then indulging in the behavior again can result in the “abstinence violation effect”. Binging can occur, the addiction may intensify, and the addict winds up feeling worse than before. Withdrawal symptoms can include the following:
♦ Hyperactivity and hypersensitivity
♦ Physical and emotional discomfort
These symptoms can change or go from one extreme to the other. An addict might feel hyperactive one day and not be able to get out of bed the next. It’s not uncommon for those in recovery to feel like they’re going insane. There can be profound sense of loss because the addiction has been the addict’s “best friend.”
Reading through the list of possible outcomes and symptoms of stopping your acting out behavior, one may gather the impression of, well, why bother? Getting to the other side of withdrawal requires a lot of you—patience, self-compassion, and a plan.
Planning your withdrawal
Coming up with a plan to combat the symptoms of sexual addiction withdrawal is of major importance. But what helps to deal with what can feel like an onslaught of ups and downs?
Physically move, as in exercise, playing sports, moving your body from one place to another. When you act out sexually, you are releasing endorphins so it is important to find other, healthier avenues to replicate that. Studies suggest that adding exercise to addiction treatment (which typically means counseling, self-help support groups and/or medication) can strengthen the effects of recovery. In short, you may get a natural high instead of the fantasized version you are chasing.
Creativity not only helps feed the soul, it helps with overcoming an addiction. When you create something—a painting, a musical piece, or woodworking, to name a few—you feel good about yourself.
Most people who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior isolate from others. Perhaps you don’t follow through with friends and instead opt to create the necessary “alone” time to act out. A richer, deeper happiness is rooted in the quality of your relationships. Relationships require time and commitment, so reach out to others. Make plans. Further those connections.