The night I visited my first meeting for family and friends of lust addicts, I heard so many new terms in the space of that hour that, for a second, I wondered if I’d landed on another planet.
None of the words were exactly foreign, but the folks in that meeting used these terms in contexts and combinations that didn’t quite make immediate sense. However, the warmth in that meeting was so different from the disconnection I was experiencing in my marriage at the time—a disconnection that made me feel less like an explorer of an alien world and more like an exile in my own home.
While those of us recovering from the effects of another’s lust addiction share much in common with the loved ones of other types of addicted people, I’ve found that the experience of having a loved one addicted to sexual behaviors and thoughts necessitates its own words to describe the unique aspects of this dynamic.
Here are some of the words and phrases that my sisters and brothers in recovery have taught me.
The term “qualifier” here is a way of referring to the person whose lust addiction has affected your life without your needing to actually name that person or even your relationship to that person. This helps us remove blame-laden language from our discussion of how another’s behavior has affected our lives. Also, because 12-step recovery places such a high value on anonymity, calling our loved one a “qualifier” can help restore autonomy and the dignity of choice to our loved one suffering from this addiction: it’s not our job to tell their story.
Acting Out/Acting In
On the note of anonymity, we can use the term “acting out” to refer to our loved one’s addictive behaviors without having to go into too much detail about what those behaviors have been. While sharing the pain of our situation with others who understand is an important part of our own recovery, we never know who might be upset by hearing too many particulars of another person’s actions.
“Acting in” refers to those times when addicts, particularly lust addicts, withdraw from their loved ones—sometimes out of shame, other times out of wanting to protect their attempts to control and still enjoy their addiction.
Acting out and acting in can cause great pain both to us loved ones and to the addicts themselves.
Perhaps you suspected something was “off” in your relationship with that person but couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. When you found out that this person was addicted to lust, you may have been somewhat relieved to finally have an explanation. Then again, maybe you were completely blindsided.
“D-Day” is short for “discovery date” or “disclosure date.” In other words, this is the date when you first learned of your loved one’s lust addiction.
Because loving someone with this addiction can feel so personal, many of us tend to mark our lives in terms of before D-Day and after. Also, many people recovering from relationships affected by lust addiction experience difficulties like increased anxiety or depression on or around the anniversary of that D-Day.
And many of us may experience multiple D-Days, which is why the next term can be so useful.
“Trickle truth” refers to the lust addict’s behavior of sharing only part of his or her addictive behaviors while still keeping much or most of it a secret. Then, to try to restabilize the relationship later, the addict “trickles” out a little more about the lustful behaviors. Trickle truth can be a source of ever-increasing pain for the addict’s loved one because it creates a progressive destruction of trust.
Sexual Sobriety and Dry Drunk Behaviors
For those of us whose loved ones choose to enter recovery, we may be tempted to think that the relationship will turn around quickly. We assume things will get better now that the addict has stopped acting out and we can all go back to normal.
Lust addiction affects so much of the human person—not just the outward behaviors but also the inner landscape of the heart, thoughts, and ability to connect with true emotional intimacy. For instance, it is widely known that pornography use rewires the human brain to see other humans not as persons to be loved and honored but as objects to be used.
While an alcoholic can put down the drink, the lust addict can never escape his or her own brain.
Thus an addict can be sexually sober in terms of no longer acting out in lustful behaviors but can still manifest objectifying behaviors. This is often when the term “dry drunk behaviors” is used: it describes the objectifying treatment and “acting in” the addict may still use to manage his or her life and relationships. Irritability, depression, isolation, insults, blaming, gaslighting, and more can all be dry drunk behaviors.
“Keep Coming Back!”
My first meeting closed with the slogan, “Keep coming back! It works if you work it, so work it! You’re worth it.”
I have found so much healing in following that slogan. For me, learning these concepts was strangely helpful. At last, I had words to describe the confusing experience I was having with my husband. What I’ve grown to hold as even more precious to me, however, are the people I’ve met in those rooms. These people have taught me not only these words and phrases but also how to focus less on my addict’s behavior and more on my own worth in the eyes of God.
In these rooms, I at last felt honored, understood, and supported, even if I had to learn a new language to do so. I arrived at my first meeting wondering if I’d landed on an alien planet. Before the hour was up, I knew I was home.
Catholic in Recovery has a meeting for the family and friends of lust addicts. Join us for experience, strength, and hope every Tuesday at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific.
Catherine A. Quinn is grateful to be recovering from the effects of lust addiction in loved ones. She writes about both the pain and the healing and hope that are available to those harmed by all aspects of this addiction.