Sexual Health and the Outer Circle

SAA uses the 3 circles as a recovery tool to help members move toward a healthy sexuality. I did my 3 circles toward the end of my treatment, just before family week. I got piece of butcher paper and listed all the things I needed to abstain from and drew a small circle around them. That took about a minute. It was a little harder to list slippery behaviors in the middle circle. I got some suggestions from my peers and finished in about 10 minutes.

The outer circle is where healthy things like exercise, meditation, and meetings go. My therapist said I needed to list more than these three things, but my peers were absolutely no help here. Someone mentioned calling a sponsor, so I added that, but my therapist still wasn’t satisfied. After wracking my brains for over an hour, I couldn’t come up with anything else and my frustration level was through the roof.

Treatment is a humbling experience. I hate not having the right answer and I thought this was a really easy question! Not! It was embarrassing to have to ask for help and then to make matters worse, she wouldn’t tell me what to write! I acted like an ass and eventually she became exasperated with me, at which point I started crying, my least favorite form of emotional display. Although I understood that I needed to do the work to gain the insight, I really was at a complete loss about what to write. She gave me a cd on healthy sexuality, which listed some broad categories along with some specific examples for each category. It was just what I needed to get started.

Even with the cd it took me almost a week to complete my outer circle. I don’t think that’s unusual. We addicts don’t have a clue how to nurture ourselves without resorting to our drug of choice. Come to think of it, normal people aren’t great at this either.

So for the next few posts I’m going to focus on the outer circle. I’ll share my thinking about each category and the activities I’ve come up with that support my recovery. I’ll also upload a worksheet to my account that you can use if you want.

If you’re willing, post a comment and share what’s in your outer circle. It might strike a chord with someone else and make a difference in their lives.

One final thought: when I’m not doing well, all of this outer circle stuff feels like self indulgence. Don’t fall into that trap. I believe I’m being rigorously honest when I look inward and “remember” that I’m a piece of shit who doesn’t deserve anything nice. In that illusion of honesty I’m inclined to punish myself, all the while rationalizing that I’m taking myself in hand and getting serious about recovery. My thinking can get screwy enough that acting out eventually becomes just another form of self-flagellation. No pun intended.

Here are the 12 categories I use in my outer circle:

  1. Spirituality
  2. Passion
  3. Nurturing
  4. Sensuality
  5. Self Image
  6. Self Definition
  7. Comfort
  8. Knowledge
  9. Relationship
  10. Partnership
  11. Non-genital Sex
  12. Genital Sex


  1. I know this post was made some time ago now, but I just found it whilst trying to lay out a 3 circles plan. I wanted to thank you for your sharing of the process and emotions you went through whilst trying to build your outer circle plan, as it provided great encouragement to me, and reminded me I am not alone. I so identify with the feelings you described, and in the absence of a real-world support group (I belong to two online groups) it was like having a close friend offering encouragement. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey.
    I’m the loving wife of an SA who’s been in recovery for nine years. I always appreciate finding new ways to think about recovery. Mary P Jones, from a Room of Mama’s Own, pointed me to this exact page, and I am grateful.

    Wishing you well.

  3. This may sound lame, but it really makes sense to me:
    My first sponsor had me take a piece of paper and imagine a microscopic circle on it. That was my inner circle. Everything else (the rest of the sheet of paper) was my outer circle.

    I sort of think of my outer circle as ANYTHING not in my inner. When I start getting into behaviors that lead to inner circle… well, that’s middle circle. Everything else is healthy.

    Maybe cheesy, but it put some perspective on my life. Almost everything I like to do is healthy. But since you asked, here’s a quick list for me (I carry my top ten in my wallet as a reminder):
    running, snowboarding, any outdoor activity or sport, going out with my wife, playing guitar, listening to music, blogging, going to meetings, calling friends, networking with friends, reading…

    Thanks for sharing your images; I appreciate them for more than just the visualization… I think they add a very personal touch to your blog. Many addiction/recovery blogs start to feel too anonymous to be very real…

  4. You have inspired me to do something similar. And you’re right, it is very difficult. I find it terribly easy to list my inner circle…but the things that are essential for my health, are ellusive. Like you, I feel they are luxuries.

    Great post, and thanks for the photo. It helped to visualize this concept more tangibly.

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