A disclosure process takes place in the presence of a therapist who is trained to know what to expect and how to guide the process. Ideally, two therapists are present: One to support the partner, and one to support the addict.
Much preparation precedes the discloser event for both the addict and the partner.
The goal is to reveal the addict’s acting out behavior in a way that does not create triggers for either person. The more each therapist knows about the each person, the more effective the disclosure can be in the service of healing.
Generally a person who struggles with an addictive process needs at least 90 days of sobriety to move through the initial healing process. This gives the brain time to develop new neural pathways (habits of thinking and feeling) that serve to undermine the addictive process.
Ideally, addicts will have moved to a place in their recovery where they have stopped justifying their behavior or denying their responsibility for their choices or for the magnitude of the consequences of their choices.
This mean they have experienced a significant amount of shame reduction. That is, they have moved from feeling overwhelming shame (that undermines a healthy sense of self) to being able to experience healthy shame.
Healthy shame alerts us in a more gentle way that our choice may be inappropriate. Unhealthy shame is debilitating and only feeds an addictive process.
Addicts must also have moved to place in their recovery where they are able to perceive their actions from another person’s point of view. They must be able to experience on a feeling level what their partner must have experienced as a result of their choices.
This restoration of a sense of empathy encourages the healing process for both the addict and the partner.
While the addict is working on these specific recovery tasks, the partner has some work to do as well.
The discovery that one’s partners struggles with a sexual addiction is often traumatizing. Partners need time to work through the initial trauma and find support. If they fail to take this time to move through the initial crisis, disclosure can be re-traumatizing. It simply becomes an opening of a festering wound that has not yet had time to begin to heal.
Appropriate disclosure is an important step in the healing process. But it is important that disclosure be done well. A bungled disclosure can set back the healing process or so undermine recover that the addictive process continues unabated for many years to come.
Image by Christian Reusch