What I Learned in my First Year of Sexual Sobriety

Since I've come out as a sex addict, I've heard a lot of responses that are negative or in disbelief: It's not a real thing, it's an excuse for sleeping around, it's cool that I get laid often.
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Amanda Van Slyke
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Since I've come out as a sex addict, I've heard a lot of responses that are negative or in disbelief: It's not a real thing, it's an excuse for sleeping around, it's cool that I get laid often.
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On September 1, I turned one year sober. Depending on who I tell, this means different things to different people. For most people, I just let them assume it means I haven't drank in a year – although I have had the odd glass of wine. 

The truth is, for myself, my partner and close friends, it means I don't act on sexual compulsions that are unhealthy for me, drink alcohol to get intoxicated or have sex that's not emotionally meaningful. But since alcohol and sex often went hand in hand for me in the past, I find it easy letting people associate my sobriety with drinking. This also makes it safe to avoid the stigma of sex addiction – especially as a female.

Since I've come out as a sex addict, I've heard a lot of responses that are negative or in disbelief: It's not a real thing, it's an excuse for sleeping around, it's cool that I get laid often. And that's OK – it's understandable that sex addiction isn't well understood when even anxiety and depression are still stigmatized. 

But what I want people to know is that sex addiction is very similar to drug or alcohol or even food addiction in the way that addicts fill their void – this intense loneliness that hangs over them, the pain from their past and the fear that they're not good enough – with whatever makes them feel whole at the time.

I came to terms with the fact that I had an unhealthy relationship with sex over the last few years, but only fully decided to go into recovery last year after meeting my partner. 

I was already in recovery when we met, but I was white-knuckling my way through, terrified to leave my house after relapsing that summer. 

When we started dating I didn't expect it to go anywhere because we were long distance – but as our relationship progressed, the distance gave me the space I needed to get a sponsor, work on the Sex Addicts Anonymous steps and go to SAA meetings while re-learning how to build emotional intimacy in a romantic relationship.

After nights of panic attacks, worrying that I was a terrible person, that I was going to lose everything and no one would ever love me, I finally arrived at a softer place of self-acceptance. 

There's a lot of denial that goes into dealing with addiction, and the reason the first year is so hard is because for the first time everything bubbles to the surface without the vices you once used to make yourself feel better. 

I finally came to the realization that I am not my addiction and to recover I needed to address my compulsions every day. In SAA we call this surrendering to your higher power, and although I've had trouble defining mine in the past, I now look at it as needing to be my best self in order to carry out my goals in life.

For example, if I want to continue to run my magazine, I need to be present in my life and make healthy choices that align with the values of the publication. If I want to have a healthy relationship and show my partner the respect they deserve, I need to remind myself this every time I have a compulsion to act out. And if I want to feel loved, I have to show myself the same respect and not seek sexual approval from anyone else – even my partner.

Fortunately my partner has been incredibly supportive throughout my recovery process. We've since closed the distance and I've learned how to be present during sex, making it more about an emotional connection than feeling worthy of love. 

I've become more in control of my life, using healthier techniques to feel good about myself like exercise and meditation. I've even written a few articles about sex addiction and was featured in a glossy. 

But for most of that first year, my recovery was very isolating – and aside from writing about it, it was difficult to be open about my sex addiction to anyone else.

So when I finally reached the one-year mark and hosted my sober birthday party with a close group of friends, I felt so grateful that I was able to celebrate the more present, healthier version of myself with the people who are dearest to me. 

This was especially true because for a large part of the time I distanced myself from anyone who I had acted out around in the past. When we did get together we would often be in bars or around large groups of people, and this was very triggering for me. I felt safe from my compulsions when I was alone in my house, but I wasn't sure if I could ever have a normal social life again.

When my sober birthday arrived, I almost didn't go through with celebrating it. But after my partner insisted that it was a big deal and that everyone was showing up to support me, I was so happy to see my friends there. 

We met at a local cafe, and chatted over drinks – some sober, some not – and for the first time I felt accepted as a recovering addict in a social setting that wasn't SAA. 

The fact that I now feel OK being around alcohol and large groups of people with the tools to deal with my compulsions feels really, really good. I've come so far in a year, and even though I still need to work at my recovery every day I'm starting to feel like a part of society again.

Plus, it's pretty cool that I have two birthdays now.