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Lately I’ve been waking up hating myself. Things I’ve done in the past –- sleeping with men who have girlfriends, having back-to-back dates and not using condoms -– disgust me, yet I can’t stop repeating them. Not without help. Addiction is difficult for anyone, but sex addiction, as the film "Thanks For Sharing" says, is like being addicted to crack while the pipe is still attached to your body.
In my first article on sex addiction for xoJane, I wrote about coming to terms with it last year. I explained that after my first time having sex when I was drunk and 17 and not at all ready, this insatiable sexual hunger awoke inside me and has been following me around ever since. It’s like I’ve been trying to take back the power he took from me that night.
However, I know that my first time wasn’t the sole reason for my sex addiction. I have intimacy issues because I grew up in a house with more yelling than hugs, and I use physical intimacy as a way to feel connected to someone without having to commit to emotional attachment. Before I even had sex I remember doing sit-ups as a stressed out child because it gave me a similar sensation one would get from an orgasm.
I often find myself toeing the line between acting as prey and predator. Sometimes I feel like I’m hunting men to feel in control. And sometimes I let them hunt me to lose control –- knowing full well that they’re using me. I’ve struggled with coming to differentiate between power play and taking advantage of someone who’s vulnerable. Most of the time I just feel like a bad person.
Regardless of the reason for my addiction, I know that pointing fingers isn’t going to help me recover.
I recently traveled to a new city so I could concentrate on myself and my future without any distractions or temptations. By isolating myself where I didn’t know many people, I was able to get some footing on my recovery. I stopped having as much casual sex and drinking as much as I used to. I started eating a lot healthier and exercising regularly. The best part was that I began concentrating on friendships with people who are positive influences in my life.
As I started feeling healthier this year, I began believing that my addiction would go away on its own. Leading up to my relapse, I even believed that maybe I didn’t have a sex addiction in the first place. But after talking to other addicts, I’m learning that recovery is more than simply having self-control –- it means rewiring your habits and how you live your life.
As I began to feel a lot more put-together, I took a job working security at a music festival, where I learned that isolation is simply a bandage solution.
I don’t know why it didn’t click that camping around numerous male security guards for a week straight at a 24-hour rave would probably trigger me –- but it did, and I quickly started spiraling back into my addictive tendencies and the bad habits that surround them. Without going into detail to preserve the privacy of the people I worked with, I had more sex with more people in one week than I feel is healthy for me.
However, I’m glad I relapsed. I realized that avoiding certain jobs or avoiding being around men or avoiding going out isn’t going to help me recover. I need to learn how to be in these situations without acting out from triggers. And the only way I can do that is by going back to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings.
It always amazes me that the more casual sex I have, the lonelier I feel. When I’m in the moment with someone I think that it’ll satisfy my craving for intimacy without actually having to be in a relationship. But then I wake up, I hate myself and I want to have more sex to ease the pain.
I’m not a religious person, which is why going to SAA has been so difficult to wrap my head around. But someone told me that a spiritual sickness needs a spiritual cure –- and that’s what I need to work on starting from now. I need to detox my body from my unhealthy habits and instead feed it what it really needs: A real human connection with someone.
I’ve been so scared that if I didn’t isolate myself I would lose control of my addiction, and I was right -– but it isn’t the end of the world. This just means that I need to actually do the work to apply healthy lifestyle changes when I go out into the world where there are triggers.
I know that when I act out sexually it leads me to lose control in all the other areas of my life as well. I start to feel lonely, which leads me to go out and drink more to numb the pain, which leads me to stop caring about what I eat and to stop exercising. I need to remember this cycle the next time I think having sex with someone just because I’m lonely is a good idea.
Unlike an alcohol or drug addiction, having sex is a normal human need. Just because I have a problem using sex as a crutch for dealing with emotions doesn’t mean I can’t have it at all. A person with any addiction needs to learn the difference between feeding their body and feeding their hunger.
For example, in order to stop consuming so much sugar, I’ve had to remind myself that my health is worth more than the quick fix I get from a chocolate bar. I know that once I have one, I start craving chocolate more. Trying to feed my cravings only creates larger cravings. But when I drink smoothies, it feeds my body with the nutrients it needs, and soon I stop craving sugar because I’m feeding my body rather than my hunger.
In other words, if I really like someone and am attracted to them, then there’s nothing wrong with being intimate with them. But when I’m having sex with someone because someone else I want to be with doesn’t want to be with me, or I’m craving intimacy because I don’t want to sleep alone, that’s when I need to meditate and ask myself if my actions are good for me in the long run.
I know that I’m bound to relapse again. Addiction is a learning process and it’s going to be a long one -– but I’m ready to stop isolating myself and to apply the healthy changes I want to make while going out and enjoying life. I can’t afford to be in denial any longer. If I want to continue on the healthy path I’ve been on this year, I need to work on taking all the steps together. If I don’t, they’ll slowly fall by the wayside when one is out of order.
For those struggling with addiction, I know it’s easy to slip back into old habits because you think that one time isn’t going to be a big deal. We just have to remember how far we’ve come since becoming sober and how much work it’s going to take to climb back up to that point when we fall down. We also have to remember not to beat ourselves up when we do fall down, because this is a lifelong battle and it’s one day at a time.