For love and sex addicts, periods of intense pleasure followed by periods of profound isolation create a circle of suffering that wears down the body, mind and soul.
An overwhelming desire to connect and have intimacy with others exists, alongside a deep fear of closeness. Life is filled with highs and lows; a seemingly unending cycle of seeking love or sex and the experience of an intense emptiness without love and sex.
There are seldom moments of peace. The mind-altering chemicals of romance are either in full swing or there is withdrawal, in the same way one can be in withdrawal from drugs. Indeed, the mind can produce addicting endorphins released during sex or while falling in love.
Often, underneath this roller-coaster ride are painful emotions that the sex or love addict medicates. For sex and love addicts, it is addiction to the high of sex and love, rather than the person that creates the intensity. Therefore, once the intensity is gone from the relationship, the sex or love addict has an easier time leaving his or her partner for a new one.
Feelings such as shame, lack of self-worth, and fears usually are at the core of the sex or love addict’s acting-out behaviors. Unmanageability, chaos and despair mark the sex or love addict’s life, as the behaviors spiral into a vortex. However, these key pieces usually are what cause the sex or love addict to leave behind their denial, and begin to honestly appraise their situation.
Perhaps it’s the loss of a marriage or primary relationship as a result of acting out or maybe it’s the loss of a career. Whatever the case, as the addiction takes over, there is less room in life for healthy relationships and coping skills. The addict is often forced to come to terms with the result of using sex or love addiction to manage underlying upset.
Sex or love addiction often is a coping strategy for dealing with trauma; a way to survive painful circumstances that were intolerable. However, after a period of time, these unhealthy coping mechanisms begin to eat away at the fabric of one’s life, and action must be taken in order to begin to address and heal the wounds that are at the core of the addiction.
One of the first steps to take after acknowledging sex or love addiction can be stepping back from addictive behaviors or relationships. This can often lead to a period of withdrawal or intense discomfort. However, it is crucial to experience this withdrawal, and move forward toward health.
The help of a therapist trained in sex or love addiction at this time can be paramount, as the sex or love addict needs guidance navigating the difficult process of leaving the addiction. Twelve-step meetings and spending time with peers who struggle with the same issues also will be very important.
Withdrawal typically lasts 30 to 90 days, and there are various stages to traverse. Suppressed feelings can arise, and having someone experienced to talk to can make all of the difference.