Basic Tools for Sexual Sobriety

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Scott Brassart

In an article last week, I wrote about how recovering addicts can stay sober even when they are strongly and unexpectedly triggered. Basically, this is a three-step process: (1) Know what your triggers are; (2) Plan for how to deal with each of those triggers; and (3) Practice your plan.

In that article, I mentioned a few of the tools I use when I am triggered, such as phoning a supportive person in recovery, reaching out to friends to socialize, and engaging in “outer circle” behaviors. In this post, I thought it might be helpful to list a few of the other tools I find useful in my recovery. These include:

  • Bookending: Addicts can arrange to “bookend” potentially triggering events with phone calls to a supportive friend in recovery. During the “before” call, the addict commits to sobriety and discusses plans to avoid relapse. The “after” call provides an opportunity to discuss what happened, what feelings came up, and what the addict might want or need to do differently next time.
  • Gratitude: A great way to combat “stinking thinking” is to create a gratitude list. Writing a ten-item gratitude list nearly always counteracts almost any trigger and halts the addictive cycle.
  • HALT (an acronym for Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, and Tired): As recovering addicts, we must learn to ask ourselves: When is the last time I ate? Did I get enough sleep last night? Is there some conflict in my life that I need to resolve? Would a few minutes spent talking with someone who understands me help me to feel better? More often than not, a catnap, a candy bar, or a five-minute phone conversation will greatly diminish the desire to act out.
  • Rubber Banding: With this, we place a rubber band around our wrist, and whenever we recognize an addictive thought or fantasy, we pull the rubber band and release it so it snaps against our arm – ouch! – as a way to distract ourselves.
  • The Three-Second Rule: As recovering addicts, we cannot control the thoughts we have or the fact that we feel triggered. We can, however, control what we do with those thoughts and feelings. For instance, after spotting an attractive person, we can acknowledge that we are human and it is normal to feel an attraction. However, we need to turn away from the triggering individual within three seconds. Then, without turning back for another look, we should think about the other person as someone’s wife/daughter/sister or father/son/brother, wishing that individual and his or her family all the best.
  • Refocusing: This is a variation of the three-second rule described above. Essentially, after recognizing an addictive thought or fantasy, we give ourselves a maximum of three seconds to turn away from it and focus on something else – the score of last night’s game, what we need from the grocery store, how much we love our spouse, the trouble our kid is having with algebra, etc. Of course, during difficult periods unwanted addictive thoughts may pop into our heads almost constantly; one unwanted fantasy is banished and moments later another arrives. When this occurs, the three-second rule and refocusing can be used repeatedly.

The half-dozen tools listed above are hardly the full arsenal. Other in-the-moment sobriety tools to think about include:

  • Journaling
  • Attending an in-person or an online support group or 12-step meeting
  • Prayer and/or meditation
  • Reading recovery-related literature
  • Written 12-step work
  • 12-step sponsorship

If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available through the free resources website,, Seeking Integrity’s low-cost online workgroups, and Seeking Integrity’s residential treatment center.