I owe my life to recovery
Before I joined the programme of Sex Addicts Anonymous, I had lots of misconceptions about sex addiction. In my first meeting, I was afraid to go inside, thinking that there would be a group of strange looking people, in a dim-lit room. I thought that it might be better if I didn’t shake hands with anyone, in case I may catch something.
When I finally went inside, it was nothing like the scary video that I played in my head. The place was nice, and the people looked normal; just like the people I see in the office, the gym, or any other place. Everything I imagined came from stereotypes. How could I possibly not rely on stereotypes, if nobody talks seriously about the issue? The only idea I had of what a sex addict was like came from films and TV shows.
We're all the same
After attending several meetings, I learned that a sex addict is a person just like everyone else. I’ve seen people from all ages, races, religious beliefs, nationalities, social backgrounds, education levels, genders and gender identities.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate, people do, including myself. I used to look down on drug addicts and alcoholics. I thought that they were weak, that they didn’t have the strength to cope with life. Little did I know that I was one of them.
Addicts are like everyone else, with our strengths and our flaws. We cherish the same things, and suffer the same pains. We also have the same moral values, although we can ignore them when we are under the influence of our drug.
What makes us different
I believe that what makes me an addict is my low tolerance for emotional pain. I heard that a lot in the rooms. For some reason, neurological or psychological, our emotional defences aren’t fully developed, so we don’t have the same resilience that most people have. It can be compared to physical resilience: If we place the same weight on different people’s arms, some will hold it, and some will be hurt. The same happens with emotional pain. Some people can cope with it, some people can’t. When we can’t, we seek comfort in sexual behaviours, just like people who suffer a physical pain seek pain killers. Sex is the quickest, cheapest and most available drug there is.
In my case, it started as a neurological cause and then the psychological came along. I am autistic. I see things differently and think differently than most people. Sometimes I say things that are odd, shocking or even (unintentionally) insulting to people, and they distance themselves from me. For that reason, I could never stay close to a person or a group. As soon as I said something wrong, they would slam the door in my face. The only way I would relate to people was in my fantasy world, where everyone liked me. As a child, I lived inside children’s magazines; and as an adult, inside films. If I wanted sex, I would live inside pornography. I had no other choice. Nobody ever explained to me how to connect with people. Ironically, they expected me to learn by myself! It is not surprising that I became more and more isolated from people.
As a result, I never knew how to handle my emotions. Every time life got challenging, I felt emotional pain, and I would run away from it, using sex as an "emotional painkiller" to make it go away, until I got addicted to it. In the programme, I learned a way to deal with that pain, so I don’t have to run anymore.
It's all about shame
When I joined the programme, I was in a very bad place. I had just been found out, and I was feeling a lot of shame, so much that I couldn’t even look at people in the face. I was very afraid of talking in front of others; but as soon as I started listening to other people share their struggles, my barriers came down, and I gained enough confidence to talk. By relating to their experiences, which seemed very similar to mine, I felt something that I haven’t felt before: connection with other people, a sense of belonging. The group welcomed me warmly, listened to my story, and rather than shaming me, they accepted me. After a few meetings, I didn’t feel shame anymore.
One thing about shame is that it requires constant reinforcing, which I received countless times from people who didn’t like what I said or did. Some people are very quick to shame others, and I am very sensitive to that. Sex addiction is powered by shame. The more we suffer it, the more we act out sexually; and the more we act out, the more we suffer shame, because we don’t approve of what we’re doing. It is a vicious cycle, one that can be broken only with acceptance. Only with acceptance recovery is possible.
Acceptance is the the answer
I found acceptance for the first time in the meetings. The group accepted me as I am, with my flaws. No one shamed me for what I’ve done in the past. I found the acceptance, love and compassion that I couldn’t find in the rest of society. I finally found “a safe harbour within which to heal”. If I said something inappropriate and offended someone, someone else would call me in private and let me know; in a caring, compassionate way. I wouldn’t be publicly shamed as I’d be anywhere else. They would even suggest that I made amends with the people I offended. Admitting our wrongs and making amends are one of the pillars of recovery.
While most people can cope with being publicly shamed or humiliated, addicts can’t. We know better than to shame each other. Shaming an addict is like trying to put out a fire with petrol.
If someone tells me privately that I’ve done something wrong and explains why it was wrong, I have the chance to learn and not do it again; but if they publicly shame me instead, they make me feel that I am worthless as a person; and thus I won’t have any incentive to do things the right way. Then I will most certainly do it again to cover the feeling of worthlessness, and they will have to shame me again and again. Shaming simply doesn’t work.
I would like to clarify that by “Acceptance” I mean the acceptance of the person, not the behaviour. None of us accept the addictive/compulsive sexual behaviours that we have, that’s why we are in the programme.
I’d also like to clarify is that I’m not trying to justify my actions, or say that society is to blame for my problem. All I’m saying is that I am working this programme and it’s helping me; but I’m still vulnerable to shame, so I need your help. By being kinder to others, especially the ones who are more fragile, you can help society in at least two ways: by not creating addicts, and by helping the ones who are trying to recover stay in recovery.
To finish, I would like to say that the programme has literally saved my life.
I can live the normal life I always wanted but never had. For the first time, I have a group of friends in recovery who are lovely people. I am free from the shackles of addiction. For the first time, I am alive, and I can feel joy.
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