“…sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…”

It’s become somewhat fashionable to think of Freud as the misguided Father of psychotherapy. Now that the field has proliferated so many counseling theories—often the most recent being the most in vogue—Freud can take on the air of an irrelevant old pervert who relegated everything to sex. We grant that he gave birth to the profession, but we may think that having launched it, he missed the mark by landing his projectile in the groin.

Was Freud a sex addict? Well… it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that sex addiction counselors might do Freud proud because they would do well to address their clients’ sexual urges, indeed compulsions. After all, to a sex addict a cigar is never a cigar… That’s the whole point. And thus sex addiction counselors discuss “bottom-lines” with their clients: those compulsive, self-destructive behaviors over which the addict finds himself/herself powerless.

But we are short-changing Freud. Identifying the “what” of bottom-line behaviors is important for abstinence, sobriety, and recovery (in that order!), but the “why” of bottom-line behaviors is seldom sufficiently explored in recovery. What we are referring to here is the arousal template.

“Internet porn, strip clubs, and massage parlors” is such a common litany of bottom-line behaviors at Twelve-Step meetings for sex addicts that even within such a minority population (recovering sex addicts, that is—I would propose that hidden sex addicts are not a minority at all) the addict who claims, for example “obesity fetish, latex bondage, or cross-dressing” must wrestle with additional shame in order to “come out” with his/her bottom-lines.

This is where Freud was onto something. A sex addict’s healing journey must include a fearless exploration of his/her arousal templates: those thoughts, sights, smells, ideas, fantasies, etc. that capture the addict’s compulsive yearning. We must go beyond defining and putting away bottom-lines.  We must tease the bottom-lines apart in an environment of utmost psychological safety and support, in order to dismantle the haunting power they hold over sex addicts.

Arousal templates tell a story. When the recovering addict has enough courage to read that story, it is those very things that turn him/her on that hold powerful secrets about his/her earliest wounds—to the psyche, not the groin. Freud understood that. As we know, our main sex organ is the mind. We are turned on by ideas, not things—only the things that represent those ideas.

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