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The Three Circles

The Three Circles is a tool we use to define our sexual sobriety.  We organize our behaviors according to whether they are addictive, healthy, or somewhere in between.  Often a new member will ask, “What do I put in my circles?  How do I know what behaviors are compulsive for me?”  In the beginning, it is sometimes difficult to determine if a particular behavior is unmanageable.  We may also be unsure which circle a behavior belongs in, or whether it belongs in our circles at all.  Typically, our sponsor helps us with this task.  If you do not feel ready to take the step of choosing a sponsor, ask a sober member of the program to assist you in a preliminary determination of Inner, Middle, and Outer Circle behaviors.

Each of the following characteristics may be an indication of compulsive sexuality:

  1. You are unable to stop the behavior when you want to.
  2. The behavior is something you keep secret.
  3. Revealing your behavior may have negative consequences in your life.
  4. You use these behaviors to numb yourself from difficult feelings or to avoid responsibilities.
  5. Your behavior is devoid of intimacy and respect for yourself and others.

You don’t need to have your circles worked out perfectly.  What is important is that you get them down on paper as soon as possible.  By becoming accountable to a recovery plan, you will become more aware of what it means to be powerless over the addiction.  Many of us did not know how bad it was until we set down concrete limits on our behavior.  It is probably obvious to you that certain sexual behaviors belong in the inner circle.  As you learn more about the program and begin to share your story, other details will become clearer.  For a more in-depth explanation of circles, refer to the Three Circles pamphlet.  The following is a short description:

INNER CIRCLE:  These are compulsive sexual behaviors from which we choose to abstain completely.  We are powerless over these behaviors, and they lead to pain and suffering.  They create a drug-like state that alters our thinking.  They can make us a danger to ourselves or others.

MIDDLE CIRCLE:  These are behaviors that are much less destructive and much lower in intensity.  They do not cause as much unmanageability in our lives.  However, if practiced repeatedly, they can lead us back to the Inner Circle.  Some mem­bers also use the Middle Circle to place behaviors about which they are uncertain.

OUTER CIRCLE:  These are program tools and healthy alternative activities that enhance our lives, our recovery, and our spiritual connection.  While the Inner Circle relates to behaviors that keep us in isolation and fantasy, the Outer Circle refers to behaviors that help keep us engaged with other people and with reality.

Many find that establishing their Three Circles provides a feel­ing of relief.  It’s like a map to help us be clear about where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.  Some find it valuable to write them on a wallet-sized card and to read them each morning or to carry them with us through our day.  Sharing our triumphs and struggles regarding our circles with our sponsor and in meetings helps us to stay abstinent.