When Tom and Bernadette came to my office for help for Tom’s addiction to
Internet pornography they were both ready to work on recovery. Having done
some research on addictions they knew that 12-step support groups were crucial
for healthy recovery. However, they didn’t know which groups were needed or
where to begin in finding one.
Initially, they only believed that Tom needed a group. They were surprised when I
told them they each needed to attend a support group and that they both would
eventually need to attend a couples’ group. Once they understood the need and
benefit of each group, they were open to attending the recommended groups.
Support Groups for Addicts
Most people are aware of the need for 12-step support groups for those who
struggle with addictions. Ever since Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) developed the 12-
steps over 80 – years ago, millions of people have benefited from working them as
an integral part of recovery. Other successful support groups have been modeled
after AA, including Narcotics Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous and Overeater’s
Anonymous. In a 12-step support group, an addict can find a safe place to be him
self. He can share his deepest, darkest secret and not be confronted with shame,
humiliation or ridicule from the other group members.
In fact, for most addicts, the 12-step support group is the first place where they
have ever encountered true unconditional love and acceptance. It is also a place
where one can find a strong system of accountability for sobriety. It is in this
environment that a person can begin to experience real healing and recovery.
It takes great humility to attend a 12-step support group, but it is also very
important. By recognizing his helplessness over the addiction and the need
for help, an addict is finally on the path to recovery. Four
groups that I recommend are:
Tom attended a meeting of all four groups to see which one he felt most comfortable
in. He selected a group that had men who were around his age, who were deeply
committed to recovery, and who met at a time that worked with Tom’s schedule. In
this group, Tom found the support and accountability he needed for his recovery.
He found a sponsor who helped him work through the 12-steps. This helped him
take responsibility for his recovery. This resulted in sustained sobriety and true
Support Groups for Spouses
Spouses also need a place where they can surround themselves with other people
who understand what they are going through. It is important for spouses to realize
they are not alone. Many spouses feel deeply hurt and betrayed because of this
addiction. They often feel they will never recover. They feel discouraged and have
little hope for restoring their marriage. They need a group where they can meet
other spouses who have experienced true healing in their personal lives and in their
marriages. I often compare these people to the diet ads often found in magazines
where there is a “before” picture and an “after” picture.
Many of these people can only see themselves as a “before” picture in recovery.
They need to see people who are “after” pictures to can give them great
hope and encouragement in their personal and relationship recovery.
In these groups, spouses also work through a modified 12-step program. While they
may not be addicted to anything, anyone can benefit from working the 12-steps.
They are wisdom for life. Through this process many spouses identify many deep
wounds they carry that are not associated with the addiction. For example, while a
wife is never responsible for her husband’s addictive behaviors, there may be deep
wounds from her family-of-origin that she brought into the marriage that could be
affecting their relationship. This in turn could have an effect on the addiction. By
working on healing her own wounds, a wife can have a positive impact on her
husband’s recovery and on the healing of their marriage.
Attending a recovery group for spouses can be very difficult because of the deep
shame they carry because of the addiction. Fortunately the unconditional love and
acceptance they experience in a support group can help them begin to let go of their
shame and understand their value and dignity in God’s eyes and in the eyes of all the
people who truly love them. This is extremely healing for spouses.
In addition to the groups I recommend above, another I’d recommend is S-Anon.
For Bernadette, attending a support group was a lifesaver. She found a
compassionate group of women who were there to hear her story and could identify
with it because they had similar stories. They offered shoulders to cry on during the
tough times and where there to celebrate during the victories. They were always
available to encourage Bernadette to persevere in her recovery. What was most
valuable to Bernadette was meeting women who had been through the healing
process and had restored their marriages. This gave her the most hope.
Support Groups for Couples
After many months of attending their individual support groups and experiencing
much healing, Tom and Bernadette were ready to take their healing journey to the
next level. In addition to attending their individual support group meetings they
began to attend a group for couples recovering from addiction.
In this group, they met couples whose lives had also been rocked by addiction and
were working on recovery together. Like those diet ads, Tom and Bernadette were
able to meet couples that represented the “after” picture in recovery. Those couples
had experienced much personal and marital healing. They had created new marital
relationships that were truly healthy and fulfilling.
Because there were no secrets in these marriages husbands and wives could be truly
authentic with each other. This resulted in true marital intimacy. They knew each
other thoroughly and felt safe with each other. While none of these couples ever wanted
to have to deal with addiction and recovery, they were grateful for the process because
it resulted in marriages that are actually stronger and healthier than most.
The group I recommend most for this is Recovering Couples Anonymous
While they were a bit nervous about attending this group, Tom and Bernadette
ended up developing life-long friendships there. Meeting other couples in recovery
further helped them realize they were not alone. Now they had friends together
with whom Tom and Bernadette could be truly authentic. Bernadette often jokingly
refers to them as “the best friends they never wanted to have.” She cherishes them.
By attending individual and couples support groups recovering addicts and spouses
can improve other relationships in their lives. Because these groups can help in
letting go of guilt and shame, these people can finally be open and honest about their
recovery with close family and friends. This can deepen the intimacy in those
relationships. Tom and Bernadette came to the point were able to share with their
parents and siblings about their struggle with addiction and recovery. They were
amazed at how loving and compassionate their families were. This even helped
Tom’s brother come out and admit his struggle with pornography. They were then
able to help him get help for his addiction.
Tom and Bernadette continue their healing process by helping others in recovery.
They are now sponsors for members of their individual and couples groups. Most of
all, they are enjoying the healing they have experienced and the healthy intimate
marriage they always wanted.