Confessions of a recovering sex addictPosted: October 4, 2012
The note hanging above my desk reads: “Love is the answer.” I look at it every time I get overwhelmed with work, or sucked into Facebook. It helps me to remember why I am on this earth, what drives me and what sustains me. It’s become my mantra.
And yet things weren’t always this way. Five years ago it felt like love was killing me. Love was not the answer; it was the problem.
That’s before I found out that I was a sex and love addict.
I had already recovered from a more obvious addiction in another Twelve Step program (for those unfamiliar with Twelve Step, think Alcoholics Anonymous), but I was still seemingly powerless over aspects of my behavior that I wanted to stop, but couldn’t. Until someone told me about Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), it never occurred to me that “love” could be an addiction.
My first addiction was fantasy. As a young child I began using fantasy to avoid reality and block out emotions that I didn’t want to deal with. Despite coming from a loving family, I often felt lonely and uncomfortable in my own skin. Fantasy gave me constant companions, and a way to live a life in which I could be perfect in every way.
In my teenage years I moved onto relationships with actual men. Unlike the ones in my head however, these boyfriends didn’t seem to stick to the story lines I had invented. My pattern was to carefully place the man on a pedestal, assigning him all kinds of characteristics that he didn’t really have, but which my fantasy man did. Then I’d get upset when the real man acted in ways that didn’t match up to the fantasy.
Not only did I assign imaginary characteristics to him, I did this with myself also. I’d decide what kind of woman my boyfriend would consider perfect, and then I became that woman. If he liked football I became an avid watcher of ESPN, if he was an intellectual I would become a bookworm who “hated” TV, if he was political I would get out my protesting paraphernalia, if he was religious I started going to church. And so on.
Although I could easily spot this kind of behavior when my girlfriends did it, I was utterly oblivious to it in myself. Denial is a strong component of all addiction, and I will be forever grateful to the gentle and loving environment of SLAA for allowing me to see that I was one of those girls.
The work I am doing in SLAA has not only helped me to finally admit to my own patterns of crazy behavior in relationships, it has also given me a place to talk about the most shameful aspects of this problem. Hearing the startling honesty of my fellows, I became aware that other people also used fantasies about rape to get themselves off, had been addicted to porn, or had masturbated in public places. It was also incredibly healing to hear that I was not the only person who suffered from involuntary images of naked children presenting themselves to my consciousness without my invitation.
SLAA has given me tools to put down behaviors I no longer wish to engage in, and had given me a community to support me in developing new healthy behaviors. Though some of my fellows consider fantasy a healthy part of their sex life, I chose to put it down completely. For me, fantasy was a tool I used to create images of my partner and myself that weren’t real. Thus, the “high” I got at the beginning of relationships was not real love, but the dopamine rush caused by the thrill of being desired, getting attention and being in fantasy. It wasn’t love, it was an addiction. The trouble was, once the high wore off, and the Hollywood storyline began to wane, I realized I had no idea who I was dating, and no idea who I was, outside of the fantasy persona I had created. Then I would blame them, or claim that I was unlucky in love.
The reality was that I had no idea what real love was. I didn’t know that love involved accepting a person in all of their humanness, and allowing them to do the same for you.
Though my relationships today can still be messy and painful, I know that they are based on a solid foundation of honesty about who I am and a willingness to accept them for who they are. And today I can say with great confidence that this kind of love really is the answer.
Jennifer is a recovering sex, love and fantasy addict. She lives in New York. For more information about Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous visit www.slaafws.org.