Building Real Intimacy
Featured Guest: Lisa Lackey
My guest today is Lisa Lackey, therapist and co-founder of Inside Out Living, a practice specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction in Chicago. She sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how she fosters a climate of vulnerability and deep listening to help people start the conversations that can repair broken relationships and heal the past. She also explains how she guides couples in their understanding of betrayal trauma and the ways that attachment theory and early childhood experiences shape our connections as adults.
David Condos: Hey, guys. Welcome to this episode of recovery unscripted. I’m David Condos and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. My guest today is Lisa Lackey, therapist, and co-founder of Insight Out Living. A practice specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction in Chicago. She sat down with me at the innovations in recovery conference in San Diego to share how she fosters a climate of vulnerability and deep listening to help people start the conversations. They can repair broken relationships and heal from their past. She also explains how she guides couples in their understanding of betrayal trauma and the ways that attachment theory and early childhood experiences shape our connections as adults. Now, here’s Lisa.
I’m here with Lisa Lackey. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us.
Lisa Lackey: Thank you for having me.
David: Absolutely. Yes. Let’s start off by having you tell us a bit about your personal story and how you got started in the world of trauma and addiction treatment.
Lisa: Well, I come from a family where there are lots of addictive behaviors as far back as four generations. I have worked my own recovery. I happen to be a person that experienced trauma but never knew that it was trauma until my dope. But because it wasn’t anything, sex abuse or those things that you can readily name, but for me, it was more about absence and it was more about emotional unavailability.
David: What was in there?
Lisa: Yes. Mills got made. I was sad and clothing and shelter and love, but because there was so much other stuff going on, my father was an alcoholic. My mother wasn’t in recovery for the impact of living with that. I was often left to figure things out on my own and some of the things I figured out weren’t exactly the way it was. [chuckles]
David: Sure. Yes. You were just coping the best you knew how.
Lisa: Exactly. As I grew older and moved out of my home, went to college and things like that, I was very attracted to drugs, alcohol, partying and finding unavailable men for relationships. Through my own recovery process, I developed a passion to give back what I had received in so many different ways. Then as I grew in the field, I started seeing a lot of clients that were coming in for one thing, but as we looked deeper and did assessments and things like that, they were a lot of people that had sexually compulsive behaviors.
In order to treat that in a way that it deserved to be treated, my husband and I went through the training probably about 15 to 18 years ago with Patrick Carnes and became certified sex addiction therapists.
David: Yes. Yes. I was going to get into that a little bit. You started Insideout with your husband, Steve. What led you to formulate that program there?
Lisa: Well, I could tell you the nice story, [chuckles] or I could tell you the real story. [chuckles]
David: All right it’s up to you. We can get as real as you want.
Lisa: My husband and I met when neither one of us were emotionally healthy and had all kinds of stuff, all kinds of baggage and that baggage got unpacked through our relationship. There were a lot of things that not only do we have to work through individually but as a couple. For me, I needed to work mostly on my issues of older functioning in areas that were not mine too and under functioning in the areas that pertain to me.
My treatment and my husband’s treatment actually brought us to Insight Out Living because we knew that we had done a lot of things that made us look good on the outside but didn’t do the inside work. We kept running into ourselves and I feel like it was not a choice. We both felt like this is the path we’re supposed to be on.
David: Related to that, you also do a seminar series called conversations of the heart?
David: How is that different than Insight Out?
Lisa: It’s a different way to approach things. Everybody’s not going to come into therapy or even know that their might be something useful for them. A lot of times what we’ll do is whether it’s with businesses or retreats, all kinds of things we’ve done it in. But where we actually set up conversation topics and break people off into small groups and have them share their experiences based on that particular topic.
It could be something as simple as what was dinner like in your childhood and what we’re then educating about is how important it is to be connected, how important it is to be vulnerable and how important that is to our healing.
It also helps to reduce shame because once you start to talk, then the other people at the table, like they’re nodding their heads and they maybe didn’t experience the same exact thing, but something similar. Then we have meals. It’s set up where it’s dinner table conversation, but it goes deep and sometimes people will develop an ongoing kind of accountability group.
David: A part of that you said there is deep listening. How would you describe that? Then how do you kind of foster that in that context?
Lisa: This is so funny. I as an adult was diagnosed with add and I have the inattentive type. I’m the one that’s looking out the window. I had to learn really haven’t listened to every place else except for with my clients. With my client, I only have one thing to focus on. Sometimes when we talk about the deep listening, we’re just asking people to mirror back what the other person said because if you know that you have to mirror it back, then you are going to listen more.
Another thing we do is– I saw this years and years ago at a conference in my own recovery where we’ll do sort of a whispering exercise, where you’ll have one person on one side and the other person on the other side and they’re just whispering affirmations in the ears of this person. That’s how interesting it is, it’s how hard it is for people to listen to affirmations about themselves.
David: Because they were kind of uncomfortable?
Lisa: Yes. For it was a lot of people that we work with. It’s easier to listen to the negative.
David: Wow. Yes. I read I think on your website I read that you describe trauma healing as finally completing an emotional experience that may have only been completed as a physical experience long ago. Could you kind of unpack what that means? What does that mean to you?
Lisa: Yes. For example with sex addiction, a lot of times, not all the time, there has been sexual abuse in the person’s life as children. They’re long out of the physical experience of the abuse, but they still live with the all of feeling emotional and sometimes physically years later because they never got to process that.
It might show up in relationships like maybe somebody being avoided in relationships or somebody having serial relationships and not being able to be with one person long term or it might show up with people mistaking intimacy for intensity.
In a long term relationship, it’s hard for them to be in because it’s not going to constantly be intense. It really is helping them to point back to when this happened and process through probably felt what the traumatic injury was and how to regulate into a place of safety to be able to discern that. That was then, and this is now.
David: You just spoke here at the conference about treating sex addiction through the Attachment and Trauma Lens. To start this part of the conversation off, how do you define sexual addiction? What are some common characteristics you see in your work?
Lisa: If we look at the profile of sex addicts is often, they come from either very rigid families and families that are disconnected or families that are on the opposite end where they’re really enmeshed. I don’t know where one begins and the other ends. Probably, the majority have had some kind of sexual abuse. It doesn’t always have to be physical. Sometimes, it was just being privy to too much information and there’s this shame core of not feeling good.
The people that we work with are mostly very high-functioning, high-earning people that have learned to wear a facade and have been successful with that facade and so it’s challenging to deconstruct.
David: Yes, because sex is a part of most people’s lives, anyway. It seems like it’d be even easier to hide that.
Lisa: Yes. That’s why I said it’s not like you come in with your pupils dilated or stumbling.
David: Yes. You talked a little bit about how this can often stem from things early in life. Could you describe how attachment and bonding experiences from the early stages can affect one’s intimacy later in life and potentially snowball into sex addiction?
Lisa: Well, children come into the world needing to attach to the primary caregiver. It’s needing. It’s not just wanting. The more disrupted that attachment is, the more the child is not feeling safe. Even though cognitively, they can’t pick this up, through mirror neurons, they’re not getting back what they’re putting out.
There’s that still face exercise that you can look at on YouTube where the mom is mimicking the baby. The baby coos, she coos. The baby smiles, she smiles. Opens its eyes, she opens it. Then after a few minutes, the mom goes away. At first, the baby just is looking around and the baby.
Mom doesn’t come back and then that gets more, and to the point where the baby just shuts down. Then the mom comes back. At first, the baby is like, “I don’t know,” but she’s holding the baby and there’s a repair. For so many people, there’s no repair. Kids are also egocentric so whatever’s going on or whatever’s not going on, they think that it’s about them.
David: Then they carry that with them.
Lisa: Carry it with them and compensate.
David: Yes. You touched on the shame core element of this earlier. How do you help patients break that cycle and then increase their social engagement because we have to replace it with some healthy engagement as well?
Lisa: Right. The way that we talk to our clients is we say, “This process, you want to think of a three-leg stool.” One of those legs is the individual therapeutic alliance. One of those is some type of fellowship where their peers that are experiencing something similar to you. Then, that third leg is therapy.” You hear, even before you speak, someone else’s experience, which helps you to understand your experiences. If I can have compassion for that person, then maybe somewhere way down the line, I can begin to have that for me.
David: As part of Insideout, you also offer some couples intensives for sex addiction, specifically. How do you help partners understand these more scientific attachment theory aspects of it? There’s a lot of science behind this, but it can be hard to understand how that plays out.
Lisa: Exactly. Oftentimes, that might be couples doing a timeline. This is after they’ve had disclosure and made a commitment to stay together. We give them markers, long pieces of paper. “Let’s look at your first seven years. Anything that stands up for you, whether you felt like it was a positive experience or something different.” Then they will share it with each other.
They’re not using attachment language, but what they really begin to see is their own stories and each other’s stories and how that impacted their relationship and their coming together.
They’re getting the cycle education without all the cycle babble. Then we’ll have them, sometimes, do a body math of where those feelings were in these particular instances.
David: How does that play out?
Lisa: We’ll just get a long piece of butcher black paper and have them trace an outline of their body. They represent symbolically where those feelings are, what the texture of those feelings are. Then they’re able to connect it all. That’s why it’s so upsetting to me when you walk out of the room.
David: They end up feeling it in a certain way physically.
Lisa: Yes. Then my chest caved in. It’s the same thing that happens when you leave when we’re in the middle of some important conversation and I lose access to my adult. Without even knowing it, I go back to what things were like then. It also helps partners of sex addicts to understand the behavior wasn’t because something was wrong with them.
David: Right. Yes, because I imagine that’s hard to– you have the disclosure. That’s a huge shock. I’m sure that’s hard to deal with on its own. To get them to figure out that it wasn’t maybe about what they thought it was about.
Lisa: Yes. It also helps the addict to understand the depth of relational trauma and betrayal trauma because this may have not only activated what happened within you all’s relationship, but also what was unresolved in your partner’s past.
David: When you’re dealing with someone who’s experienced betrayal trauma, what are some ways that you go about in helping them heal and rebuild that trust so that they can have a healthy relationship again in the future?
Lisa: From a lot of partners, it’s such a relief for them to understand and to have validated that they experienced and are experiencing trauma.
David: A real medical issue.
Lisa: A real medical– startled easily, recurring nightmares. It really helps them to go, “That’s what’s going on.” It’s almost like they can be more patient with themselves. They’re so much shame because it’s one thing to say, “My partner is an alcoholic.” Another thing to say, “My partner is a sex addict.” They, also, are very isolated. We try to get them into groups with others so, at least, they have a system of support that’s all their own.
David: You’re right. That would be a lot different to bring that up. It’s hard enough to bring up, “I’m the partner of an alcoholic.” I imagine, unless you’re in a group of people who have gone through similar circumstances, it would be hard to find common ground with people who want to talk about, “Your partner has sex addiction.”
Lisa: Right. Then we do a lot of education with them about what sex addiction is and is not. We want to make sure that these partners understand that they get to set boundaries and ask for accountability.
David: And that that’s okay.
Lisa: And that that’s okay. If it’s, sometimes, very terrifying for them to do that– sometimes, women are financially dependent. Sometimes, they have religious beliefs that they would feel even more scorned if they laughed. Really, it’s, “How do you find yourself and have a voice and set up some support so that you can create new expectations from relationships?”
David: Yes. I will wrap up with this last question. You’ve devoted a lot of your time and your effort to this field, to this cause, over the last couple decades, right?
David: Could you end this by summing up why helping people heal from trauma and sex addiction is so important to you?
Lisa: For myself, one of my biggest fears is to die and not have met my potential, because of fear or messages that I’ve internalized that were never true. I have that same passion to help other people with that, and I feel like it’s a mutual exchange, because as I’m helping them they’re helping me. I believe 150% that if we were more vulnerable and transparent, we would be experiencing very different relationships, and a very different world. If you can do that one person at a time, that keeps me getting up and going to work. I said I won’t retire, I’ll expire.
I’ll be in a session and there’s this– I know, I’ll drop the mic.
There’s nothing else to say. I’m gone, but it’s been real.
Host: Yes, that person might need some extra trauma help after that, but yes.
Lisa: That’s right.
Host: Man well, least to say, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for joining us, and for sharing all that with us.
Lisa: Thank you so much.
Host: Thanks again to Lisa for joining us. Now I’m happy to welcome Will Hart from the Life Challenge team. He joins us each month to give us an update from their community, which is the Aftercare Support Network for those who have gone through Foundations treatment programs, and anyone else up for accepting the challenge of living life in recovery. Last month’s challenge was to create half-year resolutions, and now Will’s back to share the new challenge for this month. Welcome, Will.
Will Hart: Thanks for having me.
Host: All right. How’re you doing today?
Will: Pretty good.
Host: Excellent. What have you got for us on this month’s challenge?
Will: This month, thought to keep it pretty simple and it’s just going to be to take a hike, with summer coming to an end pretty quickly, and nice weather going away, figured why not get out there and enjoy it while you still can.
Host: Absolutely, yes. We were just talking, you have some hiking plans yourself?
Will: Yes. This weekend.
Host: I know. I’m a hiker so this is a great thing. I co-sign on that. It’s a great way to get outside and see the world.
Will: Yes, and it’s so easy today to find a good trail around. You can just do a simple google search, get an app like Alltrails. I mean, there’s plenty of ways to find what you’re looking for.
Host: Yes, and wherever you are, there is going to be some kind of option to take advantage of what’s around you.
Will: Yes, absolutely.
Host: Yes, cool. As always, people can share photos, tell you about what they’re doing?
Will: Yes. Just visit us at lcaccepted.com. We got a bragging rights page, easy way to upload, and we’d love to see everything you guys got.
Host: All right. Well thank you again, Will.
Will: Thanks for having me.
Host: This has been the Recovery Unscripted broadcast. Today we’ve heard from Lisa Lackey of Insideout Living, for more on her work visit insideoutrecovery.com. Thank you for listening. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast tab and share Recovery Unscripted with your social circle. I really appreciate you spreading the word. See you next time.