From "Failure to Launch" to Recovery?


I started a Journal in the ages 30-39 forum last year. It was mostly my usual over-thinking stuff. Some of it helped but I never consistently put anything into practice and I got lost in thoughts and ideas that I didn't fully understand.

I'm trying to not repeat that pattern again. I've just had a bad, bad relapse - it really affected my mental health and general health and I've been forgetting really important things. I've really taken my eye off the ball in life. Mental obsession has really stopped me from enjoying things that really matter to me. I'm 40 now and I really want to make a more meaningful life for myself.

I thought about calling this thread "From Chronic Relapse to Recovery" but really, I never got recovery started. I had one good attempt in 2011-2012 but it really fell apart badly at the end of 2012. I think the recovery I had was built on shaky foundations (I'm sure I'll write more about this in a later post) and the way that my recovery fell apart meant that basically nothing from it was salvageable. I do miss that recovery though and I always wanted it back. I kept wanting to jump back into recovery where I left off - and this meant that I never got my recovery restarted again in over 10 years!

So I'm really, authentically back at square one now. My life will never be what it would have been if I'd recovered 10 years ago. But my life is still worth something to me. It's been hard to see value in my life, as it is now, where it's so unlikely that I'll achieve what I could have done when I was younger. It's been a journey to get to the point where I value my life enough to make it seem truly worth working on recovery again (more on that later too, I guess). I'm at that point now and I'm trying to stay in that mindset.

I have no idea where to start. I've reconnected with a 12-step group. One that's devoted to my behaviour of becoming obsessed with particular women in a fetishized way with the intent of harming myself emotionally. It's based on the SLAA program and seems very legitimate. I've also told some friends outside of 12-step groups about my problem. I think that's important. In the past, 12-step groups felt like a secret club where I took only the most damaged parts of myself, while presenting another face altogether to the outside world. And even in the 12-step groups, I was very guarded. I like to think I'm past that now.

So I'm going to start by posting here about setting the red, yellow and green lines. I think this is an idea that's common in 12-step groups. Red lines being sexual behaviours I want to avoid because they're compulsive and/or because the consequences are more than I want to take. Green lines being what I consider to be positive sexuality, yellow lines being behaviours that lead me down the road to red line behaviours.

I'm also going to write about how I'm going to stay in the right attitude for recovery, learning from what went wrong for my previous attempts at recovery.

Then I guess I'll write more about my recent relapse and what I've learned from that. It really shook me up but I'm not as panicked this time. I feel very very fortunate that the relapse didn't leave me in a worse place. I do genuinely want to change now.

Here I go again.


Active Member
Welcome and good luck! The positive of your story is that you have done this before, however imperfectly it may seem in retrospect. Which means your addiction is not a thing that cannot be controlled: I know from personal experience that the compulsion feels overwhelmingly strong, but it's not really.

What I've found is that this whole journey is really about developing self-discipline and consists of lots and lots of small changes in living life intentionally, not however the lower parts of your brain feel like living just at this moment. And yes, lots of ups and downs. So I think you're doing the right thing and approaching it from the right perspective. Live one day at at time and when you do fail, pick yourself up and keep going. Never surrender!
So here are my red, yellow and green lines regarding sexual behaviours.

Red lines:
  • spending money on any sexual content or activity
  • contacting anyone about any kink behaviour, paid or unpaid.
  • looking at any pornographic material
  • masturbation - ultimately I'd like to get to the point where I can "mindfully" masturbate without fantasy, based on physical sensations only. But I know I won't be able to do this yet. I'm at too early a stage of recovery.
Yellow lines:
  • Indulging in sexual fantasy. If I find myself fantasising then take action to ground myself and bring myself back to reality. I will learn more about how to do this. I've not put this as a red line because I think I will find my mind automatically going there. If I do find that it happens and I don't immediately try and ground myself then I'll share this with someone and reflect on why. It may be that I wanted to stay in the fantasy, or it may be that I wanted to try to go about my day while denying that I was struggling with the fantasy.
Green lines:
  • I genuinely struggle to know what healthy (ie. non-damaging) sexual behaviour looks like for me. I think I have a lot of issues around sex, aside from the addiction. I feel attracted to people who I think are better than me and that I feel inferior to. My acting out has revolved around a kink relating to feeling inferior. It can become a problem with people that I meet in real life in non-kink settings. I find confidence and intelligence really attractive but I lack confidence. I wouldn't say I'm stupid but my addiction and depression have stopped me from learning how to use my mind. I remember one woman who I was attracted to because she had these qualities. She was really nice to me and I think genuinely cared for me but couldn't love me back for so many reasons (she was a fair bit older than me and happily married, and there were other issues beside that). I think I could have dealt with the fact that she couldn't love me back in the way that I wanted if I hadn't felt so inferior to her - that feeling of inferiority fuelled the addiction. I expected her to be hyper-sensitive to how just being around her triggered my low self-esteem and when she wasn't, I would get really upset. The reason I'm sharing this is that simply finding someone attractive is incredibly complicated for me. So I'm making the decision to avoid anything sexual as much as possible for the time-being and focus on other areas of life. As I work on recovery, I'm hoping that my self-esteem will improve and I can learn to be attracted to people in a way that feels healthier and then I'll start to learn how to be sexual in a way that isn't destructive.
  • Mindful masturbation without fantasy, based on physical sensations only. I will only introduce this when I'm confident that it feels possible.
Some more notes on maintaining the correct attitude to recovery. I'm sure there will be a lot more to add to this as I go on but these are the things I need to remember based on what derailed my earlier attempts at recovery.
  • Humility 1 - remember that I'm at the early stages of recovery. Avoid "grandiose" thinking and setting big goals. Focus on goals relating to self-care, managing my life well and getting my work done on a daily basis. Don't try to run before I can walk.
  • Humility 2 - forget about earlier attempts at recovery. I had a good year of recovery over 10 years ago and since then I've kept wanting to jump into recovery where I left off. But I think this recovery was based on shaky foundations anyway. I'm truly at square one now and I need to remember that and not get ahead of myself.
  • Humility 3 - remember that I will be triggered. Be prepared for this, put things in place to avoid triggers (eg. internet filtering software).
  • Remember to acknowledge difficult feelings, especially difficult feelings that tie into acting out such as low self-esteem. Even more so, feelings related to people I find attractive - feelings like envy and awe.
  • Be aware of when I become defensive. Share this with someone and look at what it is that I'm trying to avoid feeling or becoming aware of. One of the things that derailed my earlier attempts at recovery was that I started to build unhealthy defences against shame and low self-esteem.
  • Responsibility. I don't think I've ever come across a description of responsibility that works for me. I struggle to understand the concept fully but I think I have enough understanding to ask myself whether I'm taking responsibility for my actions and when I'm not.
  • Forgiveness of myself. I just read something useful on forgiveness and will write about it more in another journal entry.
And just a thought about high risk situations such as TV, browsing youtube etc.. I don't think I browse for things to watch looking for ways to get aroused. If I do come across anything arousing in these (eg. a video on youtube about exercise), then I guess I'll remember to move onto watching something else and use grounding techniques to deal with any fantasies that start in my head. If I don't do this right away then I'll share it with someone and reflect on why I didn't do it - did I want to keep watching or stay in the fantasy? Was I refusing to admit I was triggered?

I think my next journal entry will be on forgiveness and then I'll write about my most recent relapse.