Intimacy-Focused Step Work

6. Intimacy-Focused Step Work

6.1 Intimacy and the Twelve Steps of SAA

“There is no one correct or SAA-sanctioned way to complete the Twelve Steps. Most of us learned how to work the steps from our sponsors. Many of us have also gained insight from books or adapted methods from other twelve-step programs.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 21)  

It’s common to discover new things each time we work the steps, no matter what our intent or focus may be. Looking at the Twelve Steps of SAA from an intimacy avoidance angle has offered a fresh perspective for members who were already familiar with the steps, and working the steps again using a more customary format has brought insights to those who first worked the steps with an intimacy focus.

“The Steps are an expression of spiritual principles that can be practiced in all aspects of life. Honesty, willingness, courage, humility, forgiveness, responsibility, gratitude, and faith are just some of the names we give to the spiritual principles that gradually come to guide us in our lives.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, pages 60-61)

Whether our goal was to stop acting out or to increase emotional and/or sexual intimacy, applying these spiritual principles helped us gain access to a power greater than ourselves, which often shifted our way of seeing ourselves and others and motivated us to behave differently. For a number of us, working the steps focusing on intimacy avoidance “made it possible to move from a kind of superficial abstinence into deeper sobriety.” (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction)

A traditional first step in SAA usually focuses on the powerlessness and unmanageability of ‘acting out’ behaviors such as “promiscuity, infidelity, compulsive masturbation, prostitution, sexual assault, molestation, and exhibitionism. (Intimacy Avoidance – Another Aspect of Sex Addiction) Some of us, however, wanted to examine our behavior that serves to avoid or block sexual, emotional, or spiritual intimacy with others, ourselves, or our Higher Power.” (An Intimacy and Sexual Avoidance-Focused First Step Guide

A number of us started practicing treating ourselves with care, tenderness, and respect, and letting others nurture us as part of our first step. When we began recovery, we not only needed to admit our powerlessness over our addictive sex-related behavior, but we also needed to receive the help that other recovering sex addicts offered. As we increased our ability to share our emotions courageously and vulnerably with caring people, we developed emotional intimacy with them.

In our Second Step, we may have looked at the insanity of saying we want closeness and intimacy with our loved ones, but acting in ways that prevent or sabotage opportunities to connect emotionally or physically. Also, practicing awareness of what our senses tell us helped a number of us come to believe that a power greater than ourselves exists and might help us be emotionally present in our bodies instead of lost in fantasy. Tuning into ourselves this way increased intimacy with ourselves, and also helped many of us more readily recognize the healing and guidance of our loving Higher Power. We have found that opening ourselves to the richness of the world around us – especially when out in nature – can be a way to experience the spirituality of the Twelve Steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous more fully.

We often recognized the acceptance and support of SAA members as a positive power beyond ourselves, seen by some as evidence of the God of our understanding working through people in recovery, or as a power in and of itself. Trusting that help will be available when we need it, letting that help in, and cultivating intimacy with the God or Higher Power of our experience may have been what we worked on in the Third Step. In emotionally safe SAA meetings or talking with a sponsor or trusted friend in recovery, we began allowing our heart to metaphorically be held in nonjudgmental hands. The intimacy of being known, understood, and supported gave us motivation and power to apply the spiritual principles of recovery to our lives – which helped end our addictive sexual behavior.

The fourth step helped us understand ourselves better. “We may write about the ways in which we have isolated ourselves. If we keep ourselves too busy to have friends, or otherwise avoid intimate contact, we note that. We list the ways we have avoided emotional intimacy with those closest to us. And we list the ways we still avoid it. If we have kept secrets or kept parts of our lives hidden, we record that as well.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 36) We may have explored thoughts and beliefs that were behind our feelings about people and situations in our lives, or examined how our feelings affected our choices. Some tuned into the needs we were trying to meet through our compulsive sexual behavior and/or intimacy avoidance. When we shared our fifth step with our sponsor or trusted individual, our transparency allowed for us to be intimately seen and known in a way that, for many of us, had never happened before recovery. Doing the inventory work brought many of us an increased intimacy and connection with ourselves through self-knowledge and self-love.

Steps six and seven gave us opportunities to build intimacy with the Higher Power of our individual experience and understanding. We may have been shown healthier ways to meet the needs we identified in our inventory, and humbly asked our Higher Power to help us release old ways of thinking and behaving. A large number of us have experienced an increase in closeness and emotional connection in our relationships with others as the result of our Eighth and Ninth Steps. We discovered that learning to enjoy moments of solitude (rather than fearing them) could be seen as an amend to ourselves. Many now use alone-time to connect with ourselves and our Higher Power. We’ve found that nurturing and caring for our body, mind, and spirit increases love for and trust in ourselves. As our intimacy with ourselves grew, we found that reaching out and connecting with others became easier.

Our collective experience has been that regular tenth, eleventh, and twelfth steps can build intimacy with ourselves, others, and our Higher Power. Some members cultivate non-sexual connections by spending time with people and doing activities that allow for conversation and finding out more about the other person. For example, arriving early and offering service in a meeting or staying afterwards for fellowship, or attending retreats and other events gave us opportunities to practice skills like actively listening to others, setting and maintaining boundaries, and sharing honestly from the heart, which can all be a part of carrying the SAA message to newcomers. “With the Twelfth Step we seek to consciously practice these principles in our lives, not only as ways to keep us sexually sober, although that will always remain important, but as lights to guide us in everything we do.” (Sex Addicts Anonymous, page 61) Applying the spiritual principles learned in the program can create emotional safety and help us bond more deeply and intimately with others. For a number of us, practicing non-sexual intimacy established a pattern which was helpful in fostering romantic relationships as we became ready.

6.2 SAA Resources for Intimacy-Focused Step Work