Most recovering sex addicts intuitively know that traveling is a time when they are at increased risk for relapse into one of their old sexually addictive behaviors, such as porn, strip clubs, or hook-ups. On a business trip in a different city, addicts run the risk of getting into a slippery situation without really thinking about it.
The normal daily routine at home supports the addict’s life in recovery. The usual situations and activities elicit conditioned responses which shape the addict’s behavior in the direction of integrity and accountability. These recovery cues are almost totally missing when the addict is in a strange hotel room in another city.
The most risky aspects of travel
Travel brings with it a combination of various kinds of stress and other sorts of pressure which conspire to lower the addict’s resistance. It pays to be aware of these.
On a trip, even among colleagues, friends or family members, the addict has stepped outside of his or her normal role. There is likely to be a disconnection from one’s everyday identity as well as a disconnection from those the addict is closest to. Strange places and different people reflect back a different and/or confusing sense of self. In addition, the addict may experience real loneliness which adds to feelings of insecurity and alienation.
Feeling lonely, isolated, insecure and alienated, the addict may automatically turn to compulsive sexual behaviors as a way to escape.
- Unstructured time
A business trip may be full of structured activity for several hours each day but will undoubtedly leave a lot of unstructured time around the edges, especially during the evening hours.
For many addicts, unstructured time, time with nothing in particular to do is a risk factor for sexual acting out. Simply needing some human connection or some entertainment can lead to familiar activities such as accessing pornography or looking to pick up someone at a bar.
- Work stress
Being at a business meeting or conference can be stressful in itself. The addict may have to make a presentation, give a lecture, or just make a good impression on certain people. And being thrown together with colleagues can bring out a competitiveness between people or a tendency to compare oneself to others.
These things may add another source of self-consciousness and anxiety which in turn can lead to an increased need for release and self-soothing.
- Group pressure and expectations
It may be that one’s colleagues or friends feel that a trip is an opportunity to do things they would not do at home, to “cut loose” and have a wild time. This can involve things like partying, flirting, getting a lap dance, etc. It may be hard for the addict to explain that he or she does not want to go along with this kind of excursion. What is harmless for the addict’s friends may be too risky for the addict.
- Lack of guardrails
Far from home, addicts will have neither their usual recovery routines nor their trusted friends to talk to. There may be a lack of SAA meetings, an awkward time difference etc. which put distance between the addict and his or her normal means of staying on track. There is no reality check to keep the addict from drifting into addictive fantasies and behaviors.
Coping strategies while on a trip
To a recovering sex addict the best ways to build in safeguards should be a no-brainer. But it is a good idea to reiterate them.
- Do some spiritual practice or recovery reading everyday to help stay centered.
- Find a local SAA meeting if there is one or check out the schedules for telephone SAA meetings and attend one every day. Particularly at high risk times of day.
- Make daily “check in” calls to a sponsor, members of the addicts home fellowship, and family members.
- Travel with a colleague or partner, or connect with colleagues or friends at the venue. Find people who are “safe” and make plans to socialize with them, especially during the evening hours.
It is hard to know exactly when it is OK for addicts to travel. Anticipating the possible relapse scenarios beforehand is important. It is also a good idea for addicts to pay attention to their own feelings in these unusual situations and to take note of what is or is not a problem for them. Travel for a sex addict is likely to be a learning experience and it’s one they should share when they get home.
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