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When I was 28 years old, my boyfriend of three years confessed to me that he was a sex addict. Well, not just that he was a sex addict, but that his addiction caused him to cheat on me numerous times with many women — even going as far as to invite one fling over to our (shared) home for sex after I left for work in the morning.
Upon receiving the news, my first thought was how could I be so OBLIVIOUS (this in and of itself could be a small novel), and my second was what am I supposed to do NOW?
In hindsight, I was young, and naive, and all too willing to overlook things that would now raise glaring red flags. As always, it seems, that is the case with hindsight.
The short-term answer was simple. I dumped him and kicked him out of the apartment. The longterm solution was much more difficult.
Much like any other type of addiction, it is not just the sex addict that suffers; the partners, friends, and family of the addict suffer as well. Not just because of the devastating disclosure of the addiction itself, but also because of the stigma associated with the condition. This, of course, is not helped by the fact that the addiction itself still remains to be classified as just that — an addiction under the DSM5.
And, I mean, back in 2011 when it unexpectedly took over my life and relationship, Tiger Woods and Hank Moody were not exactly doing public perception of the condition any favors.
When I first explained the situation to friends, I was met with equal parts sympathy and incredulity in that they could not believe that after all he had done to me he was still making excuses. They felt sorry for me for actually believing him. Yes, he may have (once again in hindsight) been at times a total creep who could make something like this up and successfully sell it to me . . . except this time he didn’t.
I soon learned to include qualifying factors in my retelling of the story, specifically the fact that after numerous rounds of screening interviews he was accepted into one of the premier treatment centers for sex addiction in the country — in an authoritative and (oddly prideful) tone normally reserved for the announcement of being accepted to something like a post-doc fellowship at Harvard.
Yet, even now, years later, I am often reluctant to share the story with new people because the idea of a living, breathing, ACTUAL sex addict seems much less plausible than the fact that I was dating a creep who sold me a bunch of bullshit stories about being an addict when he got caught cheating. Even as I write this from the comfort of my apartment, under the byline of "Anonymous," I find myself struggling to find the most precise and convincing words possible when I say he is a sex addict because I so often still am met with skepticism.
And just to be clear — I am not writing this as a means to defend his actions or justify his behavior. I am writing this because sex addiction is real, and if the addicts are prevented from getting the help that they need because sex addiction is not openly acknowledged as an addiction, the partners, family, and friends also affected by the addiction are not getting the help they need either.
I needed help. And, in the case of being the former partner of a sex addict, solely seeking treatment for herself in the aftermath with no plans to rekindle or repair the relationship with her sex-addicted partner, good help was hard to find.
Unlike the Alcoholics Anonymous-Narcotics Anonymous split, all sex addictions are lumped into the same group. This means in any given meeting for those affected by a sex addict's behavior, you have the partner of a pornography addict sitting next to the partner of a pedophile, sitting next to the partner of the local Peeping Tom/flasher . . . sitting next to me. We all share the same level of betrayal/embarrassment/shame and ANGER, but we are all there for very different reasons. Yet despite their differences, the majority of individuals shared a common thread: They intended to stay with the sex-addicted partner. I did not.
As with any other addiction, when it is time to get clean, addicts need support. In the cases of marriages or long-term relationships, sex addicts and their partners are often encouraged to stay together and work it out. The many books, pamphlets, and other various literature for partners of sex addicts all also echo the same premise.
The first therapist I went to see a mere three days after the breakup listened to me tell my story for almost an hour in silence before encouraging me to do the same thing.
“This is fixable,” she said, tapping her pen on her notebook while going over things I (we) could do to make it work . . . not even taking into consideration the possibility that I may not want to. I was so caught off guard by her response that for a short while I actually believed her. When the shock wore off, it was replaced by outrage. I never went back to see her again.
It was as though the idea of a woman seeking treatment to recover from a relationship with a sex addict on her own, independent of the addict, was something that had not even been considered as a possibility.
I eventually found a good support group, a wonderful therapist, and attempted to work out the rest of my problems by writing furiously on a semi-anonymous blog. I realized that this was something too big for me to handle by myself.
While I may not agree with the message of needing to stay with my partner, I do agree with the necessity of getting treatment and help and support when you need it. Although it was lonely and isolating and at times scary, I continued to navigate the path through treatment on my own.