How to Write Your First Sex (or Porn) Addiction Recovery Plan

How to Write Your First Sex (or Porn) Addiction Recovery Plan

Your recovery plan must be a written document that you create as soon as possible in the recovery process. It is a living document that will get updated and adjusted as you learn more about recovery and your specific challenges.

“If you fail you plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

No plan is real until it’s written down.

Many of the twelve-step communities that work with porn or sex addiction use “the three circles” to help someone new to recovery make a plan for staying sober. More than staying sober, this plan helps you to address the underlying issues that led to the addiction in the first place.

This is my spin on the three circles.

The Red (Center) Circle – Your Definition of Sobriety

Items in the red circle are prohibited. If you do one of the behaviors in the red circle, you reset your sobriety to 0 days.

My colleague and friend Allan Wheatley at Mountain View Counseling says that the battle has been lost if you’re in the red circle.

I like to say this circle is red because it lines up with a traffic light – don’t run red lights.

The most common addictive behaviors listed in the red circle at the beginning of recovery are:

  • No sex outside of marriage or life partnership.
  • No porn
  • No masturbation

Some other behaviors may be included in the red circle out of respect for your committed relationship, whether or not they are addictive by themselves.

  • Slippery slope behaviors (see below)
  • Messaging potential partners for hook-ups
  • Looking up past partners or exes on social media

With the range of value systems in the world about sexual behavior, there may be items that move in and out of the red circle as recovery advances. Some items may be more clearly defined in terms of the boundaries or rules around them, especially for people in recovery who hold permissive sexual values.

It is generally best to err on the conservative side in your definition of sobriety in early recovery. As your recovery advances, you may make changes to your list of behaviors in the red circle after consulting your sponsor or recovery mentor, your recovery group, and your spouse or partner. You can also consult your therapist if you see one.

If you are sharing recovery product with your spouse or partner, it is wise to share your red circle early in the recovery process.

The Yellow (Second) Circle – Commitment to Pro-Relationship Boundaries

As my friend Allan says, this is the circle where the battle is fought.

In the traffic light metaphor, this means caution.

Some of these emotions and situations are unavoidable in the normal course of life. If you are going to stay sober from sexual addiction and stay in recovery, you have to have a plan, boundaries, and support for how you will face them.

If you are sharing recovery product with your spouse or partner, it is wise to inform him or her of the broad strokes of what’s in your yellow circle, but the day-to-day specifics are for you, your sponsor, and possibly your therapist. This is not secrecy, this is for both of your benefits. Oversharing the content of your yellow circle with a spouse or partner experiencing betrayal trauma usually makes his or her betrayal anxiety worse, not better. If you share your red circle and green circle, that should be enough (over time) for the hurt partner to feel safe.

Triggering Emotions

The most common triggering emotions fit into the acronym HALTS BEARS. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Sadness or Shame, Bored, Entitled, Resentful, and Scared or Stressed.

You need to understand your personal window of tolerance and response patterns for each of these emotions. As your recovery advances, you will need to develop a relapse prevention plan for each of these emotions as well.

A common challenge that many addicts face is that low levels of these emotions, say, less than a 7 out of 10, are in the addict’s blind spot. As you grow in recovery, you will need to be aware of your physiological sensations, thoughts, words, and actions, at all levels, 1/10 through 10/10, of these emotions.

Arousal Template

Everyone, with or without out of control sexual behavior, has an arousal template. Arousal templates are not good or bad. They just are.

When out of control sexual behavior is part of your story, your arousal template may shift towards sexual tastes that are dangerous, degrading, or unwelcome by your spouse or partner. Real, authentic recovery will most likely require that you give up sex acts that fall in these categories.

Understanding your arousal template is best done in therapy but may be done in support groups.

Acting Out Ritual

In the double life of addiction, most acting out behavior is hidden and done in secret. Whenever out of control sexual behavior is part of your life, there is a ritual followed for each episode of acting out. To stay sober, you will need to understand and disrupt that ritual.

This is most often the part of the recovery plan that may include filtering, monitoring, or accountability apps such as Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You.

Slippery Slope Behaviors

The most common example of slippery slope behaviors in recovery from porn addiction or sex addiction is second looks, long looks, or lustful looks. This is one of the most common behaviors that partners experiencing betrayal trauma may become hypervigilant for.

Another common slippery slope behavior is “trolling,” “thresholding,” or “fishing.” It’s using social media or other apps to find pictures or videos that aren’t quite pornographic but still sexually stimulating.

Any behavior, place, person, or device that was previously

The Green (Outer) Circle – Commitment to Healthy Life Behaviors

As my friend Allan says, this is the circle where the battle is won.

In the traffic light metaphor, green means go! Game on! These are the positive things you’re going to do instead of acting out.

This circle gets most uniquely tailored to each person in recovery and will most improve your quality of life. This is especially true as you rack up more sobriety and freedom from porn addiction or sex addiction.

If you are sharing recovery product with your spouse or partner, it is wise to share your green circle as soon as possible.

As a starting point, I recommend these five to six items are part of your green circle (the first five of these are inspired by Douglas Weiss of Heart to Heart Counseling Center).

  1. Morning prayer, meditation, or journaling. Some great resources to get started with meditation are Headspace, Calm, or Abide (Judeo Christian). MetaFi is also a good app to help you get a sense of basic journaling. I’ve also written a basic guide to journaling that can help you set a good foundation with old-fashioned pen and paper journaling. In the morning, this is looking at the day ahead, asking God for what you need to stay sober and stay in recovery today.
  2. Reading recovery literature. For porn addiction recovery (or sex addiction recovery), I recommend starting with Facing the Shadow by Patrick Carnes and Unwanted by Jay Stringer.
  3. Attending recovery meetings. This page is a great place to find a few groups that specifically address porn addiction or sex addiction. Of all things I recommend to my clients, this is the hardest one to get clients to do. But groups are the best healer of feelings of shame that go with any addiction to pornography or sex.
  4. Daily check-in calls with accountability partners, sponsors, or recovery mentors. This doesn’t need to be an emotional gusher or a huge time waster. Someone long ago developed the FASTT check-in. Both people on the check-in call share their Feelings of the day (highs and lows, or triggering emotions), recovery Activities completed, Sobriety status, Threats to recovery, and Tools you’re using. The Dobber has a great podcast episode on doing effective FASTT check-ins.
  5. Evening prayer, meditation, or journaling. In the evening, if you stayed sober, you’re thanking God for keeping you sober that day. If you didn’t stay sober, you’re owning up and asking for help to stay sober tomorrow.
  6. Therapy. Not everyone needs therapy to get sober or stay sober. Some do. A good therapist for porn addiction or sex addiction will have specialty training in treating sex addiction and other process addictions and screen for any co-occurring disorder or other mental disorders that may complicate your recovery. If you haven’t started therapy already, it’s never too late to get started.

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