Part 2: The Anatomy of a Relapse

Recovery is self-care
Relapse occurs when an addict’s life becomes unbalanced. In obvious crisis situations, such as the death of a loved one or loss of employment, addicts are often (but not always) able to recognize that they need to focus more on recovery. But more often an addict’s life becomes unbalanced slowly over time as things pile up. Typically, a relapse begins with preoccupation, then lapse behavior, and finally full blown relapse.

If you’re experiencing cravings, your life is out of balance and your sobriety is at risk. If you’re feeling resentful because you can’t have what you want, if you’re thinking, “What the hell,” “I deserve it,” or “I’ll only do ______,” those are all signs that your life has become unbalanced. Being preoccupied with sexual thoughts and desires is not a normal state of sobriety. It is a sign that you are not taking care of yourself, which triggers your addictive behaviors. Relapse begins here with obsession and preoccupation. Euphoric recall, fantasy, and impaired thinking are signs that you are no longer on solid recovery ground. You are circling a black hole.

If you are testing or teasing yourself by cruising, contacting old acting out partners “just to see how they’re doing,” scrolling through Craigslist, Your behaviors are close enough to your acting out behaviors that it’s unlikely that you will be able to stop your downward descent. You’re not quite in the zone but you’re feeling a definite sexual buzz. Although you haven’t technically relapsed you’re very, very close to crossing the line. The “sobriety” you have now is uncomfortable at best, both your mind and body are charged with sexual energy. Most likely you no longer want to stop, but you’re fairly certain you’re in control.

These lapse behaviors must be disclosed to your therapist and sponsor. In my opinion the person who is in an intimate relationship with you also has the right to know the the truth. You do not have the right to manipulate a loved one into staying in a dangerous or unhealthy relationship. Beyond being an expression of genuine love for your partner, disclosure at this point is therapeutic for you, the addict. That being said, doing that has been excruciatingly scary and painful. I needed help to have the courage to treat my loved one with respect and honesty and I have not gone on to complete relapse.

You’ve acted out and you’ll need to reset your sobriety date. You may be tempted to change your bottom line or inner circle to “legalize” your behavior. If you’re in SA or SRA you may decide that pornography without masturbation is “legal.” You feel like shit and are ashamed of yourself. You’re overwhelmed with the hopelessness of the whole situation and know that you’re never going to get better. Since you’ve already blown it, it’s almost a relief to give in to the inevitable. You’re going to surpass your old bottom.



  1. Hi there,

    I had to order Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, from the States as it wasnt available from Amazon UK. It took some time to arrive as I live in Europe, but it arrived this morning.

    I have been reading it for the last two hours and have not been able to stop crying. Everything I have read in the first few chapters identifies and explains exactly what I have been going through and experiencing these last four months. Already I understand that I have not been going crazy and the anger, disillusionment and sense of loss I feel is a natural process.

    I am living in a foreign country and it has proved impossible for me to find a therapist who speaks English well enough to counsel me but I have no doubt that this book will help.

    Thanks for the recommendation.


    • Sonia! I just came upon this communication from several years ago. Have u been able to receive treatment for PTSD and SAI-T ?(sex addiction induced trauma) I am concerned for u. U are not alone sister.

  2. Hi Sonia,

    I’m going to reply to your comment in depth in my next post but I didn’t want to leave you hanging. I think your common sense is right on the money. Watching porn and masturbating to control your sexual addiction doesn’t work. I would suggest that your husband AND you switch to a certified sex addiction therapist. You can find a csat at iitap. Google those two words and it’s the first hit. My husband and I traveled almost two hours to see the nearest csat in our area and it has been well worth it.

    In the meantime, Shattered Hearts, edited by Stephanie Carnes is a new book written for the spouse of a sex addict.

  3. Can somebody help me here. My husband revealed his sex addiction to me two and a half months ago. I have been to hell and back listening as he confessed all the different things he had been engaged in starting from the age of 15 (he’s 35 now) and all the time since we’ve been together. It was a shock for me because our sex life has always been crazy.

    He is in therapy with a guy who is telling him it is okay for him to watch porn as long as its with his partner and not hidden. There is nothing wrong with him visiting sex shops, downloading porn etc; watching women in the street as long as it is all open. The therapist has told him that in his opnion masturbation is not a good thing if you have a partner but that, again, it would be okay as long as its with the full knowledge of his partner. My husband confessed many awful things to me, but has never slept with another woman or cheated on me physically with another.

    Since this all started I have been reading a lot about OCDs and sex addiction and many of the experts say that whilst the addict should not try to fight the obsessive thoughts they should not indulge in any of the compulsive behaviours that encourage the acting out; the internet porn etc etc.

    I am of the impression that a sex addict – of my husband’s serious degree – is forever in recovery. Fantasy was his thing and anything that he used to do during his hidden sex addicted life should be avoided. The therapist is telling him otherwise. I feel like I’m going crazy because natural common sense tells me if an alcoholic is constantly offered alcohol he/she may succumb to the temptation to drink again. Well isnt this the same for a recovering sex addict, whose addiction was based on fantasy?

    I seriously need advice. Thank you.

  4. I really can’t speak on drug addiction, but I can speak on sex addiction. There may be some transference to other addictions, but I will leave that for others to determine. Addiction does not happen over night. It is a build up of many things over time, most of which include fantasy and making those fantasies a reality. The road of recovery is also not something that happens quickly. It took time to reach a crisis level in the addiction and it will take time to recover and change the thought process.
    I feel your analysis of relapse provides some very accurate points and adds further understanding to a situation that can be a crisis for so many.

  5. I’m glad you came here too! And I’m glad you shared about your blog and euphoric recall. I’ve wondered about that but wasn’t sure how to ask without being offensive.

    It feels very good to think I might have been helpful. Thanks!

  6. I’m really glad you posted this.

    I saw so much of myself in many of these. Not realizing that some of my behavior is flirting with descent. I am a love addict, and co-sex addict, and so the biggest challenge for me has been letting go of the fantasy.

    Euphoric recall. Someone else mentioned that word to me before. It was Rae, over at “Rae’s Confessions.” I had to think about this for a while, because, I sense that some may consider my blog a sort of “euphoric recall” of my relationship with a sex addict. After pondering this, I realized that that is not my intention at all. Having lived through hell, there is very little of the fantasy left. I am only writing my story in a way that, if you’ve never known the seduction of love addiction, then perhaps you can understand it, after reading my blog. It is also a therapeutic purging experience for me to be able to get all this shit out of me, and to have others support and uplift me.

    I do, though, find myself looking through Craiglist ads & your post seemed to be speaking directly to me. I was shocked to read your post.

    I rationalize, thinking, I’m lonely, living in a new town, I just want to make a new friend & talk. Make a connection. It’s not sex that drives me…it’s intimacy, sharing, and making that connection. It didn’t occur to me until reading this post, that I am indulging in the same maladaptive behavior that got me into such a screwed up relationship to begin with. And exactly like you said, it always, always, when I am feeling out of balance…lonely, anxious, antsy. I never connected the dots before.

    So, thank you, thank you. I am so glad I came to your blog today.


  7. Your first high would certainly be a point of no return of sorts. But are you going to lapse back into addiction after treatment? No. Are you going to crave heroin forever? No.

    When you do crave – it’s a sign that your life is out of balance. Maybe you’ve been gradually cutting corners or maybe something big happened. You’ll either take care of yourself in healthy (recovery) ways or you’ll take care of yourself with heroin.

    Taking care of yourself with heroin is easy and quick. Recovery, on the other hand, is learned behavior, so it’s not as easy. It’s also not as quick. Over time it does get easier and quicker as you change but radical change like that takes tremendous courage and at some level you have to believe not only that it’s possible but also that your life will be better in sobriety.

    Life really is better when you’re sober and that’s true whether you’re a heroin addict, a sex addict, a crack addict, or a whatever addict.

    I wish you the best.

  8. some might say that addiction is highly addictive. after doing heroin once is a point of no return. that youll always be craving heroin even after your treated and released from a treat ment facility. Do you think heroin is the “point of no return” ? and that your going to lapse back into addiction after treatment? share your thoughs on the matter.

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