The CHOICE Recovery Model – Overcome Compulsive Behaviours 

So now we have looked at the C and the H of the CHOICE Recovery Model.  We have Challenged Core Beliefs and Have a Vision for the future – now is the time to focus on O - Overcoming Compulsive Behaviours. 

When I first started working in sex addiction recovery and began helping people to overcome porn addiction, I thought the most important thing to do was stop the behaviours. My focus was primarily on identifying triggers, challenging cognitive distortions and establishing relapse prevention strategies.  I now know that whilst all of this is essential in addiction recovery, it is only part of the story. However – stopping – and staying stopped – is still essential.

Stopping compulsive sexual behaviours is best done when you can recognise your own unique cycle of addiction. Below you can see my ‘six phase cycle of addiction’, the goal to beating sex addiction is to be able to personalise the cycle and stop it in its tracks. 

1. Dormant– this is the phase where the addiction is temporarily in remission but underlying issues whether opportunity, trauma or attachment induced, remain unresolved. Life may appear ‘normal’, but it’s simply a matter of time before a trigger occurs. 

2. Trigger– the trigger is an event, an opportunity, a bodily sensation, emotion, or thought process that activates the behaviour. Almost anything may be a trigger but most commonly it will be a sexual opportunity or a negative emotion such as anxiety, anger, depression, sadness, boredom, loneliness or frustration. 

3.Preparation– the preparation phase can vary in length considerably from just a few minutes to turn on a computer, to many weeks of planning an affair. This phase includes practical preparation such as the where, when and how as well as psychological strategies to create the environment where acting out can be tolerated and/or enjoyed. 

4. Acting Out– for some, acting out is a single event such as visiting a sex worker which may last just a few minutes whereas for others it may be a week long binge of pornography use. Some describe it as a highpoint that brings euphoria and relief but for others the accompanying relief is purely about getting the deed over and done with so they can finally begin their descent back to the comfort of the dormant phase. 

5. Regret– depending on the consequences of acting out, the impact on personal values and an addicts commitment to change, the regret phase may be experienced as little more than a momentary ‘ooops’ or weeks of despair, shame and self-loathing. 

6. Reconstitution– during the reconstitution phase an addict is either consciously or unconsciously putting their life back together again. It may be a time for rebuilding self esteem, covering tracks and/or renewing resolutions not to act out again

Personalising the cycle of addiction is not a simple, one-off task, but a process that continues as you learn more and more about yourself and your acting out behaviours.  You'll find a lot more information about the cycle as well as exercises to help to start personalising each phase in Understanding and Treating Sex and Pornography Addiction (Hall, 2018).  Once you know why you are doing what you doing, then it is much, much easier to stop.  That may sound obvious, but the problem with addiction is that acting out becomes so habitual that it's genuinely difficult to understand why, in spite of your best intentions, you've found yourself back in the same old place again. When you can personalise your cycle and make the unconscious, conscious, then you can choose to behave in a different way.  Remember - recovery is about CHOICE - but it's difficult to make good choices until you know why you made the bad ones. 

Next time we’ll look at the 'I' of the CHOICE Recovery Model - Identify Positive Sexuality