“Taking some of these measures was like killing off part of me, they were so much against my natural inclinations.” (Sexaholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 167)
The true story of Aron Ralston’s near-death experience in a canyoneering accident was vividly portrayed in the Academy Award nominated film “127 Hours.” The movie depicted Aron’s outdoor adventure, which came to a halt when his fall into a steep crevice loosened a massive rock. As he and the rock fell, it tumbled on his arm, pinning him down. The account of Aron’s struggle to free himself provides a fitting metaphor for sexual addictions recovery. Just as Aron was pinned under an 800-pound boulder, people with sexual addictions find themselves trapped under the weight of an immobilizing force.
With deadly consequences in the balance, how does someone conjure up the necessary strength, endurance, and fighting passion to escape? This question is essential as sexual addicts begin the healing journey.
In the film, when Aron found himself trapped, he turned his efforts toward dislodging the rock. He attempted to chip at it with his knife, angrily pushed against it, and even created a pulley system as another creative attempt. Similar to the addict who implements whichever tricks he can conceive to outsmart his drive to seek out unhealthy sexual experiences, these efforts led only to frustration. So often, the recovery process begins with the addict doing as little as possible, rather than as much as necessary.
As the White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous describes this pattern, “instead of running joyously to heaven, we seem to back away from our hell, one step at a time” (Sexaholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 69). But the denial that drives that mentality gradually diminishes with the increasing recognition that the “rock” of addiction is not budging. As described in the “Big Book” of AA, “half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939, p 58-60).
The sexual addict has many challenging experiences under their “rock”. Being stuck, unsure of the possibility of escape, can lead to an array of uncomfortable emotions such as anger, despair, loneliness, sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness. If this were a scraped knee, the remedy would be obvious and simple. But the circumstance a sexual addict sits in has a hidden and complex solution. The way to freedom from this trap is mysterious and frightening.
When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, Aron gradually realized that his pathway to freedom would be agonizing, requiring the amputation of his arm. The sexual addict faces a similar dilemma; in successful recovery they must submit to the painful removal of a significant part of them. Though it may be difficult for some to understand, a sexual addiction has sentimental value. In fact, for many it has served as a long-term source of comfort, enjoyment, and escape. Though the consequences of this pattern are destructive, the sexual addiction has served a purpose, providing a coping mechanism throughout life’s trials. So, saying goodbye to the addiction is essentially severing a close relationship.
Making Necessary Cuts
Watching Aron begin to slice his arm is excruciating. Skin, muscle, bone; there are no exceptions for his dull, army-knife blade. Anything separating Aron from his freedom must be removed. Similarly, recovering from a sexual addiction requires many uncomfortable “cuts.”
These choices may include personal stretching, such as:
• Walking into treatment
• Disclosing “secret” behaviors
• Acknowledging consequences
Varying behavioral changes may be necessary, such as:
• Implementing skills for resisting temptations
• Choosing to limit access to certain conveniences,
entertainment, or situations
• Practicing new self-care habits
Challenges of relational growth will likely be required, such as:
• Being honest & vulnerable
• Learning how to emotionally connect with others
• Learning how to create safety for a traumatized spouse
• Accepting help and care from others
• Growing in relationship to a Higher Power
Emotional challenges can be expected, such as:
• Learning how to acknowledge, access, and express emotions
rather than numbing
• Looking at underlying issues resulting from painful past
losses or traumas
• Enduring the slowness of the entire process
The recovery process will not look identical for everyone. What will be consistent is the requirement of great sacrifice.
The Frightening Path Ahead
Intimidating, isn’t it? One might wonder, if recovery from sexual addiction is such a massive and life-altering experience, why submit to the process? Aron’s ultimatum of life versus death was clearer than the choices a sexual addict faces. Certainly there is the choice to seek help or remain hidden in the comfort of the shadows, in the companionship of pain and shame. It is a draining, enslaving existence. Still, it is what the addicts knows. And often the fear of walking into the light, uncertain of the responses of others and terrified of facing their inner emotional turmoil, burdens addicts like a ball and chain.
Under the addict’s rock, they are suffering, as they experience deterioration of their relationships, selves, and souls. The prospective of escape is hopeful in theory but actually choosing that path takes a tremendous amount of courage and motivation.
Aron was ready to die under the rock, until he found deeper inspiration. His fighting passion was finally stirred by a powerful love. In what seemed like his last hours, he saw a vision of his future son. In the film, as Aron watched himself playing with this yet unborn boy, he smiled, tears filling his eyes. This potent experience awakened in Aron a hope, determination, and fervor that was previously lacking.
As Aron undertook his own amputation, his mission was accompanied by music and the lyrics “if I believe, there is more than this” (Dido Armstrong & A.R. Rahman, 2010). In that moment, there was no doubt that Aron believed there was more to his life than dying under that rock. He found his reason to fight.
The sexual addict must conjure up an intense passion for freedom for healing to occur. They must determine their “why.” This means finding reasons that stir in them a compelling desire to leap from their realm of comfort, embracing the possibility of a better life. This can start with an image of their spouse, their children, or their hero. It may include a yet unfulfilled dream or values that inspire them.
That reason plays a foundational role. The key to Aron’s freedom was found in the visualization of the beautiful life to come. More-so, the love for his future son was a force that was previously untapped. And it was that greater power that energized him to do the seemingly impossible.
There are many strategies a sexual addict can utilize to conjure up their necessary inspiration on a daily basis. The following strategies may be helpful for sexual addicts to use at set times of the day and when undergoing moment to moment temptations or challenges:
• Reading a paragraph from a book, a quote, a scripture passage,
a letter written to themselves, or their list of motivating
reasons to be free
• Listening to a specific song or playlist that grounds them in
their spiritual beliefs, feelings of closeness to family,
their true identity, a future vision, and an uncompromising
• Watching movie clips that arouse motivating values and a
• Praying/meditating to foster feelings of connection with a
Higher Power and a sense of greater purpose
• Viewing pictures of family members
• Holding symbols of recovery
Another excellent way to tap into that greater power and motivation is through the connection with others who are fighting similar battles, whether through groups, retreats, or other experiences. There is something deeply motivating about spending time within a culture or community of others committed to recovery. Powerful too is the experience of making phone calls to tap into the strength of another, connect emotionally, and mutually encouragement one another.
When a person in recovery practices whatever infuses them with the power they need to fight for their freedom, the recovery process is made visible at a level never before witnessed.
The Hope of Freedom
In a TLC interview with Aron Ralston, he described the excruciating experience of cutting off his arm. He then shared, “I was free. It was the happiest moment of my life. There will never be a more powerful experience for me. It was absolutely the greatest feeling, to be given the chance to get out of here. Looking down canyon I knew I had a trip left. But at least I was not going to die right here. And the power of that was astonishing” (TLC, 2005).
In recovery, the same opportunity presents itself. Just as Aron traded his arm for his new life, recovery means trading the old for the new. Losing much, gaining more. The movie ended informing the audience that “Aron’s premonition came true”; he was married and had a son. Then real images of Aron living his life flashed across the screen. Alive. Well. Loved. Armless. If you asked Aron if his current life was worth sacrificing a significant part of him, I believe he would emphatically say it was. Certainly his son would agree.
It is an honorable step of courage to seek help with a sexual addiction. Sadly, there are too many who resort to living a life as a victim to their addiction, holding tightly to the only life they know, however desolate and lonely it may be under their rock. When someone arrives at LifeSTAR, they are no longer isolated as they pursue the new life of recovery. LifeSTAR provides a community of trained experts who have helped many in this area. This team of caring professionals can gently guide people through the painful process, providing many resources and much support to help them take the necessary steps in letting go of the addictive lifestyle.
Joy Waits Ahead
May we all, on this journey to wholeness, be willing to fight with determination, the battles before us, however fear-inducing and difficult they may be, knowing that something better awaits us on the other side.
There will be times when relapse seems like saving grace, but know that in those moments of discomfort, there is relief for those who reach out and push through. May we all invest the time and effort needed to find profound power and inspiration, to fight the battles that matter most to us.
In light of Aron’s endeavor and the one before us, may we remember that “we are the doctor in this soul-surgery, and we perform the operation without any pain-killers. Thank God we’re not alone; those who have gone before us have put themselves under the knife and have come out into the bright sunlight of a new life, emerging to know themselves, others, and God, and the very beauty of life itself. This is our finest odyssey” (Sexaholics Anonymous, 2001, p. 104).
***Some suggestions inspired by Dan Gray’s “Humble Warrior Heart” lecture that is presented in Phase 1 of the LifeSTAR program. For more information, it is recommended that the reader explore the essential First Aid Kit or Survival Kit tools, further explained in the “Toolbox” resource for LifeSTAR and YouthSTAR (LifeSTAR Network, 2007).