My name is David I am a recovering Sex & Love Addict and 46 years old. I am 17 months sober 18 months in recovery. Until 18 months ago I had no idea I was ill I believed I was just bad 20 months ago I tried to take my life as my double life had come crashing down around me and I could not carry on acting out but neither could I stop. To me it seemed that a permanent solution was the only way to keep me from hurting those I loved. My sex addiction was, as I saw it, the major issue because it seemed to have lead me to where I was. Now with sobriety I see Love Addiction as my core issue. I make another my HP assigning them the magical ability to FIX me (my default is the “I am not enough but WE are”, “I am worthless WE are worth everything”) this pattern extended beyond romantic attachments into family, friends and work.
In my romantic relationships my unreasonable expectations were not met and often I would drive the ‘other’ away by making them ‘my everything’ my one reason to be – that is too much for anyone to carry. At the point that this person crashed down from their deified position and I would blame and resent them and spiral off in search of oblivion through my sex addiction.
I guess it would be useful to speak a little about my early life. I cannot say I had a terrible childhood, I did not, I went into treatment believing my family of origin were perfect and that it was me who was wrong, not good enough and a disappointment for look at all the advantages I had been given. This is in essence the problem, this is my default and this was the script I had picked up as a child – David is not enough, it is not safe to be David, David needs to try to be what his father wants him to be then maybe he will be enough. These messages were sometimes subtle sometimes not so subtle. My father is a macho Rugby player I am not, I was a sensitive little boy who hated getting dirty but liked to write poetry my Dad wanted to ‘toughen me up’ but I read it as ‘you are not good enough as you are’. My father did not achieve academically due to dyslexia and he felt a failure as a result, his sporting achievements were unrecognised by his ambitious mother. He was determined not to pass this on to me sadly he did the opposite and appeared to place no value on my academic abilities and push me to be what I was not in other areas – there was no malice in it as he did the best he could with what he had. Every child deserves to feel ‘perfect’ just the way they are and I have never felt that – my response was to strive for my father’s approval (then that of male society) by being ‘a good boy’ – this really didn’t work. I inherited a distorted view of what was normal in terms of a relationships too – my parents were/are ‘desperately in love’ (with the emphasis on desperate) my father is full of grand gestures, he would surely die without my angelic mother etc etc so this Romeo and Juliet, chocolate box, poetic image of a relationship is what I aspired to. The reality is somewhat darker and more sinister. I had failed to see that as children my mother would devote hours to us but each night we had to be fed and ready for bed when my father got home from work because from that moment the only thing that mattered was his mood, his day, his food etc etc – there was no room for anyone else to have needs. My father’s emotions were also over powering, massive, unboundaried, there was no room for any one else to feel anything. If he was depressed you could not be happy as that would be insensitive and if he was happy being sad would ‘ruin’ his happiness. If you displayed any other emotion than the permitted ones the result was a sulking father, a depressed dad and an angry dad. So I learned very young that it was not safe to feel my own feelings, I looked for permission to feel and to be told what I should feel, I learned to absorb the emotions of others and to feel responsible for the emotions of others. Yet the outward image of a ‘chocolate box’ family was preserved. Despite the pressures and cracks I became convinced that my family was perfect, others would tell me they wished they had my dad, if I objected to any behaviour I was reminded how lucky I was and that to feel differently was ungrateful, insulting and shameful. I began to equate sadness with self-pity and above all else ‘self pity’ was shameful. So sadness brought me shame and I learned to displace sadness with rage. So began a life time of masking emotion, changing an unacceptable emotion into a more acceptable one. Anything but feel the feelings – after all my feelings were ‘wrong’ anyway.
I desperately sought my father’s approval but never was this given unequivocally, it was dangled tantalisingly close but never given.
I grew up feeling apart I felt everyone else had the inside track on life and somehow I had missed the induction class. I wanted to fit in, I tried to fit in, I desperately sought to mold myself into acceptability but for the most part I failed. However there were one or two special friends who seemed to see the good in me and upon these individuals I lavished all my hopes and dreams. Surely giving them the unequivocal approval I had so desperately sought would secure theirs in return, yet I was always certain I ‘loved’ them more than they loved me. This was of course true for they were not sick, they did not assign magical qualities to me, they did not look to me to fix them and they were not dependant upon me for their entire sense of self worth. So as I felt less than and determinedly sought to be enough for my friend to love bestowing yet greater and greater power upon them they would retreat and I would panic, for I would be lost and alone without them, and I would cling tighter and in doing so I would make my own fears a reality. I had one friend from childhood who’s pattern was to proclaim friendship privately but deny it in public. We would sleep over at each other’s houses and aged 11 he brought a certain level of sexual activity to our relationship, he was 12. This confused things for me as I began to see sex as a way of fixing things and it blurred the boundaries of friendship, also I stayed in a relationship that was painful. While he was unkind to me publicly we would masturbate together so we must be friends, he also used this to manipulate me knowing I felt shame around the behaviour. While this only carried on into early teenage years the effects have hung around all my life. I would seek to sexualise friendships as a way to hold on to them. I was confused about my sexuality, but read books that said every teenager was confused, however shame became a prominent driving force in , what I now see was, a blossoming addictive cycle. Become love addicted to a friend, assign magical powers, they retreat, I panic and cling, they leave and I then use fantasy and masturbation to hide from the pain until the next person comes along who I seek to enmesh with.
Eventually aged 19 my wife to be came along, I attached to her instantly, we were friends at first. However it rapidly became clear to me that it was ok to sexualise this friendship, “so this is the answer this will fix me”. So 12 months later we were married we were “blissfully happy”, and indeed there were really happy times, there was intimacy. However it was in my response to any discord that the illness showed its self initially, at any hint of a problem I would react in terror at the perceived prospect of abandonment. I would seek to make things right first with charm but if that failed I would resort to emotional blackmail, threatening to harm myself, to leave or make some other dramatic gesture. At some point I would succeed and my wife would smooth things over and irrespective of how unreasonable I had been or how badly I had behaved everything would be ‘perfect’ again. We were the perfect family, with a perfect home, two perfect daughters – everything looked perfect and woe betide anyone anyone who intimated that I was not. Then one day not long after our ‘perfect’ 10th Wedding Anniversary in Rome my Deified Wife came crashing down from her pedestal. There had been weeks of discomfort as she was unusually distant and uncommunicative. I was frantic and eventually I dramatically packed to leave explaining that clearly I had clearly done something and she obviously no longer loved me. It was a ploy of course though even I was, as usual, convinced that I would carryout the threat. She broke down and revealed that on a business trip she had had a little too much to drink and a man had shown interest, she had kissed him and messed about a little, though they had not had sex. I was devastated my world came crashing down. I am not clear in my mind about the next two years other than to say that I did not truly forgive, though I made dramatic shows of forgiveness, we had massive arguments, things were not good and there was a great deal of drama. I am aware that I felt justified in retreating and holding back on my love but I now see that this behaviour was simply me refusing to be present and I believe ‘fixing’ on the pain and grief. Eventually we decided to make a new start and moved to our dream location a remote island that we had always loved. Our perfect surroundings merely served to emphasise the distance between us and my wife was desperately lonely. Money problems followed as my business in the UK collapsed. My wife began to work for a local millionaire business man, I was still mired in self pity over our financial plight as well as the state of our marriage. The inevitable happened while I was feeling sorry for myself she ended up having an affair with her boss. He didn’t need her but he did want her and that was the complete opposite to me – totally dependent but also avoidant.
Now I had no illusion of my wife having the miraculous ability to fix me but I was unable to leave. She begged forgiveness and I granted it unable to leave. We stayed best friends but I was not present as I got no addictive hit from our relationship my sex addiction came to the fore.
The Internet figured strongly in my sex addiction taking me back to my teenage obsession with men. At first I convinced myself that it was just a natural desire to find out if i was physically inadequate, though I knew this was not the case. I broke one personal moral boundary after another, even though I desperately wanted not to. I would try to control my behaviours vowing to stop every time I broke another moral boundary I would pray for help, delete email accounts, chatroom accounts and set up greater security on my computers. I could stop but I could not stay stopped. Each time the addiction restarted I sunk to lower levels of what I saw as depravity. I would get caught but explain it away, beg forgiveness and emotionally manipulate my wife to accept the unacceptable. After one especially long period of abstinence I was in London on business and randomly took my addiction into the real world going to a Gay Club rationalising that as long as I kept it apart from my family and out of my home (now I was not using computers) it would at least be under control. It was not under control as it progressively delivered less and less return while demanding that I breach more and more of my core moral values leading to greater and greater shame and an ever more urgent need to find oblivion from these feelings. However over the next two years of visiting gay saunas it became increasingly difficult to find oblivion as the shame became too great for the hit to wipe out. I became increasingly unproductive at work as the addiction demanded more and more while delivering less and less. I would loose swathes of time in these places and turn upto business meetings ill prepared using a recent family tragedy as cover.
Fortuitously just when the sex addiction was failing to deliver I met ‘the one’. Becoming love addicted to someone other than my wife for the first time since our marriage, we had been married 23 years and the last 10 had been devoid of the ‘assignment of magical qualities’ because of the affair for which I resented her but could not leave using the children as the reason but now I see I was simply terrified of being alone. I believed that this other person and indeed alternative lifestyle he represented could fix me but still I could not leave my wife, he assigned ME magical qualities, gave ME the unequivocal approval I had never received from my Dad, made me feel enough, he accepted whatever I had to give demanding nothing in return. It was like giving a machine gun to a monkey – and I was hooked. My wife found out it was heartbreaking to witness the consequences of my actions, she was devastated, confused, my children were devastated, my parents were heartbroken, my community of friends were shocked, I was removed from the religious group I had grown up in and I was the talk of the small town in which I live. I parted from him and vowed never to see him again but I couldn’t stay away irrespective of the cost. I hurt my wife repeatedly and him too but each time he would take me back similarly unable to say no. By this time I am pleased to say that my wife had decided she could not accept my behaviour and we were separated. The inability to stop seeing him or when not seeing him to seek affirmation from other guys lead to my suicide attempt unable to stop but equally unableto carry on acting out, I felt Stopping life was the only solution, I very nearly succeeded. After 5 days in intensive care I was admitted to a psychiatric unit, diagnosed with BiPolar Disorder (which can look a lot like addiction with massive highs and desperate lows). Eventually after 12 weeks I was diagnosed as an addict. Initially I believed recovery was not the only answer and that accepting my homosexuality would fix me so I set about arranging a life once again with him. He accepted my addiction but despite my believing that he was the answer in the first few days of being ‘officially’ together I reverted to my sex addiction cheating on him, he was hurt but forgave me citing years of repressing my sexuality as a reason. History appeared to be repeating its self only this time at a Fast Forward pace. I now saw the writing on the wall; if he was not enough, (he is 12 years my junior, intelligent, articulate and devastatingly handsome) then being gay was not the answer and recovery WAS the only chance I had. I broke all ties with him and entered a 12 Step Addiction Treatment Facility, withdrawal was agonising but helped me see this as a very real illness, take my behaviour outside the realms of morality and recognise that I was ill trying to get well not bad trying to get good. I got a sponsor and have worked the steps ever since. I have been painstaking about this phase of my development, and I am amazed. I am working step 10 and have 3 sponsees. My wife are back together and the relationship displays healthy qualities and we are deeply committed and are working both our own programs (me in SLAA she in CoSA) as well as a joint program in RCA.
My life now 18 months in recovery and 16 months sober from core bottom lines is unrecognisable. It has not been easy withdrawal was agonising but I have not had any contact with my qualifier in 18 months and the best amends I can make to him is to never contact him again and to pray that he too finds recovery and happiness for he deserves it.
I have come to value those feelings of withdrawal as a touchstone telling me when I need to move away from a pattern of behaviour even though it may appear innocuous. Sobriety has grown as I have seen how accessory behaviours have permeated my life and how humbly letting these go simply allows more room for my HP in my life. The less I operate on self will the more influence HP has in my life.
It is not alway comfortable facing reality but it is always rewarding,
Ultimately I see addiction as hiding from myself and reality and recovery as meeting my self. Acceptance and faith seem to be the watchwords of recovery for me.
Anyway this has taken a while to write and my recovery is a work in progress as I am discovering right now around my wife’s illness, she has suddenly started loosing weight and her bowel is obstructed the fear is cancer but we await test results. I am staying present although I still want to run from the pain. But it is about progress not perfection and in writing this I can see how far I have come in the last 18 months.
One additional thing I want to add is about my relationship with my wife. It restarted well as we were both fully aware that we had a choice. I felt that I was able to be without her and she without me. However based on my recovery and the fact that we liked each other we both agreed that 24 years of marriage and friendship were worth something and so we CHOSE to give it a go. The rewards have been immense but it has not been easy. I have had to recognise that at times she will feel insecure. However she has learned to recognise the honesty of recovery and accept that she hid from the truth in the past. In accepting this she has a touchstone that allows her to recognise my sobriety and also when I am struggling. We have boundaries in place it would not be fair to tell her explicitly when I am struggling and what with. However she is aware when I am reaching out more intensely and encourages me to do so and she also sees when I am isolating and encourages me to reach out more. We have a good life, not a perfect one, and I am looking forward to the future as we walk the road of life together but as two separate recovering individuals. Recently my wife said she had never felt as loved as she does now, not because of glamorous romantic displays but because of a quiet openness and acceptance we share.
I hope I have been able to share my strength and hope as well as my experience.
For what it is worth my humble opinion is…..it works IF you work it so Let Go Let God I am certain that he is infinitely better at God stuff than this addict – after all it is in his Job Description and it is not in mine.
David a very grateful recovering sex and love addict