I was at a party while visiting my hometown when I heard him say to someone else that he was celibate. As this isn’t something you often hear from an attractive, 26-year-old guy with a job, his lifestyle choice piqued my interest.
I let my guard down after knowing that he wasn’t talking to me to get into my pants, and after hours of discussing everything from what we both did for a living to our tastes in music to what we each thought of our stay in Japan, he asked me if I wanted to move the conversation over to his place.
So I let him take me home. No expectations — except that neither of us were going to get laid that night.
As we talked and cuddled on his couch, he told me about his reason for abstaining from sex — he had gotten out of a bad relationship and had made the decision to become emotionally invested in someone before being physical with them — while I revealed the irony about the two of us meeting: I was a recovering sex addict.
Being in recovery for sex addiction means that in the past, I used sex as a way to cope with the ups and downs of my life just the way a drug addict would, and I’m learning how to be emotionally intimate so that I can have healthy relationships instead of basing them on sex.
So while many women might be like, "Hell no" when a man they meet tells them that that they’re celibate, this was the perfect opportunity for me to care less about a man giving me an orgasm and more about being emotionally intimate with someone.
Because I’m currently attending a recovery program and completing my steps in a larger city which I feel better represents my progressive views, I had no intention of meeting my next partner anytime soon, let alone in the same conservative town I grew up in.
But as I discovered that he doesn’t want kids or marriage — the reason my last relationship failed — and that our values and careers are so aligned, I couldn’t ignore what a great match we were. We spent the night holding hands, kissing passionately, and feeling each other’s bodies, and I discovered just how intimate you can be without having sex.
When I left to go back home a couple days later, my date waited with me for my bus — holding both my hands and kissing me in an A&W like we were teenagers again. Even though my time with him had been amazing, I didn’t expect much to happen afterwards because long distance relationships had never worked out for me before. But the next month we talked every day, throughout the day, and it developed into not only my first proper long distance relationship, but my first healthy relationship in recovery as well.
As I explained what sex addiction means to my new partner over the phone, we agreed that his celibacy was the best thing to happen for my recovery. We would take it as slow as we both needed when we were able to visit each other.
One thing that we often talked about was my experience with alcohol and sex, as most of the times I was having sex I was drinking as well. Not compulsively or a lot, but the fact that I was spoke volumes.
I confessed that most of the times I relapsed — meaning I had sex with someone I didn’t want to have sex with — was when I was drinking to numb my inhibitions. This is a common practice for sex addicts. Then he asked me the question I’ve never had the courage to ask myself: “Do you think you have a drinking problem?”
Growing up in a small town in the north of Canada, drinking was all my friends did. From the time I was 14, I was getting wrecked regularly to pass the time. When I was younger it was just something I did to be a part of the group — but as I got older and saw the social cues on television and in movies about how drinking after a long day or a bad day or during an awkward situation helps you unwind, I was making it more of an emotional crutch than a pastime.
No doubt many addicts also struggle with mental health issues, and I used alcohol as a coping mechanism for things like anxiety and depression. But as I became healthier throughout the years and addressed these issues, I began to drink less until, recently, I stopped completely.
While I’ve never gotten black-out drunk or couldn’t stop drinking after one glass, my problem with alcohol comes with craving a drink when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and the actions that come afterward to make myself feel better: mentally pursuing someone, hitting on someone, physically pursuing someone, sleeping with someone, and often waking up hating myself the next morning.
Because of this, I regularly refrain from going to bars or drinking with friends as someone in early recovery because I battle with the line between fond memories from getting drinks with friends and the outcome. The mark of an addict is when you look at how bad the outcomes were — lost friends, failed relationships, and eradicated self-esteem — and still smile about all the fun you had regardless. That’s why I don’t drink anymore and I’m in a recovery program for sex addiction.
So to answer my partner’s question: No I don’t think I have a drinking problem — I have an intimacy problem. Every addiction is essentially an intimacy disorder, because you’re using whatever vice that compels you to numb the pain of not being able to have healthy relationships — sex, drinking, food, etc.
That’s why it’s easier for me to have sex with someone than it is to have dinner with them, or why it’s easier for me to be in a social setting while drinking than sober. And it was this realization that led me to another: Because I’ve been numbing my fear of intimacy with things like sex and alcohol most of my life, and since this is the first time I’ve fully committed to recovery, by definition I’ve never had sex sober. The sex I’ll have with my partner will be the first time I’ll truly have sober sex.
Being in a long distance relationship has forced me to begin to learn how to be emotionally intimate — because when you’re so far away from each other, literally all you can do is talk. I’m so happy to have found someone who’s understanding and comfortable enough to regularly discuss feelings and support me in my recovery. I’ve come to terms with the fact that being in a relationship doesn’t mean my recovery is over because I’m in a heathy relationship, but that my healthy relationship is due to me continuing to work on my recovery every day.
When my partner and I both feel the time is right to have sex, I know that it’ll be less about me numbing my emotions but about expressing them. And in the slim chance that we break up before then, I know that I’ll be okay because I’m learning to love myself instead of using vices like sex and alcohol to fill the void.
After all, intimacy issues come from being terrified of being alone with yourself and your demons. Once you can fight this battle, being alone with someone else is easy.