But can I really change?

As a life and relationship coach in a private practice who specializes in working with clients healing from the devastating effects of compulsive sexual behaviors and betrayal this is a question I hear almost weekly. Betrayers want to know if they are doomed to stay in this cycle of struggle and partners want to know if the behavior can truly ever stop.

My consistent response is: Yes radical change is absolutely possible, but we have to know what we are dealing with to know what we need to do. 

When my wife and I had our third child we faced a new challenge…we ran out of bedrooms in our house. Being the problem solvers that we are, we decided that the only place for the new baby was in our large bedroom closet.

This worked well but it required some adaptation on our part. One morning I had a really early meeting and I had failed to get clothes for the next day before the baby went down for the night.

I figured since I had been in my closet over 100 times at this point, it wouldn’t be that hard to find what I needed even in the dark. With confidence and pride, I walked out of the closet holding a plaid shirt, striped pants, a black belt, and some brown shoes. My wife got a great laugh out of it.  

When we can’t see we can’t change. This is as true for clothes as it is for behaviors. 

Before becoming a coach, I remember my own personal journey and how desperate I was to change. I had just confessed to my wife that I had been hiding a losing battle to pornography and sexual addiction that had eviscerated the trust and health of our marriage.

Luckily, when I started recovery those guiding my process required me to get absolutely transparent about my actions. Getting honest was one thing I didn’t want to do. 

I now believe it’s one thing we have to do. Honesty, openness, transparency, or whatever name we want to give it is always the first step toward transformation and change. Here is why: 

1) Lets Us See the Real Issue

Addiction, compulsivity, & destructive habits live and grow in the background. People do not become addicted to sex, alcohol, food, etc out in the open.

This is true for most people. We hide the parts of ourselves that we think are unacceptable from our family, from our community, and worst we hid them from ourselves. 

One of my first stops in recovery was a men’s intensive that had each person create a Trauma Egg. This is a visual representation of experiences in your life that has been the most difficult or painful, as well as all of your own most harmful behaviors.

We presented this to our small group and I was terrified to share it with others. Amazingly it was the sharing part of the exercise that was most impactful to me.

For the first time, I was able to see the real scope of destruction that my addiction had wrought. It had infected and hurt every single part of my life: spiritual, relational, personal, professional. And this was all happening right under my nose. 

Getting real and transparent let me finally see that I could ignore this issue no longer. 

2) Helps Us Game Plan 

For Father’s day this past year my wife bought me a golf lesson (thankfully I didn’t take it as a statement on the quality of my game). The first thing our instructor had us do was to take 10 practice swings in front of a video camera.

I have been playing golf for many years now and the moment I saw the playback on the monitor I knew I was in a really bad setup position. But I also knew this has been a repetitive weakness in my game.

Luckily for me, the professional golf instructor in the room knew exactly how to fix it. Compulsive or addictive destructive behaviors work the same way. As much as I want to change it can seem nearly impossible to know how without taking a good look at the problem. 

When I got home from my intensive I knew that my addiction would eventually consume everything in my life I loved if I didn’t address it immediately. Because of my transparency, I had a pretty good look at the problem which made addressing it so much more effective.

I went right to work at addressing my biggest threats and vulnerabilities to sobriety. I set boundaries for myself so that I wasn’t constantly fighting temptation.

I attended support groups so that I had partners to call when I got in trouble. And I worked with a professional counselor to deal with the internal wounds that were the source of my deeper struggles. 

3) Brings Longterm Transformation 

Transparency is not a one-time wonder. It is a practice that we should be utilizing regularly. Being transparent allows me to know where I am and what I need to pursue greater health in order to thrive.

I can remember a 12 step meeting I attended where one of the people sharing mentioned that every addict can stop. In fact, addicts are great at stopping.

It is staying stopped that is so tough for an addict. Transparency with myself and others is one of the keys to being able to stay stopped and enjoy true freedom. 

When I am really honest with my support team I get the chance to deal with the challenges of life that would normally derail me. I stay ahead of the crash by knowing my patterns and seeing them as they start rather than after they have done their worst.

My transparency also helps me to take meaningful responsibility for the impact of my actions. To name how my choices hurt myself and others and to deal with that impact is actually the way that I fight shame and relapse.

Transparency requires me to stop pretending that my destructive behavior doesn’t produce any real victims. Because keeping parts of my life in the dark, out of sight, is what allowed my addiction to produce the kind of damage it did.

Now that I am clear about what happens to me, those that I love, and my relationships if I chose to return to those destructive habits I have renewed energy to spend the time healing rather than hurting. 

Transparency isn’t easy and for those of us who have spent a lifetime avoiding the light, it can hurt our eyes when we enter it.

But once we adjust we find there is no way we would rather live. Hiding never made things better. It just delayed my opportunity to live in the kind of freedom I had deserved all along.

Every one of us deserves to be free. Let’s not wait one more second to take that next step

As always, if you have any questions about what we discussed here or in any of our other blog posts, be sure to check out Office Hours and we will be answering those questions!