Sunday, September 21, 2008

A book review

It’s been a long time since I read an entire book within three days, but Kerry Cohen’s “Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity,” kept calling me back until I devoured every word. In the end, I felt something more than understood, more than kinship. What I felt was connected … to myself.

As the book closed, I sobbed with a hurting heart, but I sobbed for me.

There are few parallels between the writer and myself except for the overriding theme of the book – sexual addiction, and perhaps her love of writing, although even that is different than my own love for the craft. So unlike me, Cohen grew up in a rich family in the Northeast, used drugs, was Jewish, and most of all she was unmarried. Her awareness of her behavior and her battle with it began when she was young. I was middle aged.

Still, it is not the differences that kept me turning page after page of this relatively short work. It is our commonalities and finding myself hidden in the pages, in her words.

She writes about relationships with specific boys, Eli, Leif, Zachary, Toby and others, and then she will have sections like, “Inevitably though, I get distracted. This time the distraction’s name is Matthew …. Next is Kyle … Then Miles. Then Jack. Then Randy. Each one I hope will be something more than sex …” Like me, she sometimes even forgets the names of the men she sleeps with.

Of all the men Cohen writes about sleeping with in this autobiographical piece, only one was married. Very few, if any of the men I have encountered along my journey of addiction have been single. But just like the author, I was selfishly driven by acceptance, the need for one person to want me (my substitute for love) more than he wanted his wife. I craved love and acceptance, was obsessed with getting it. Some days I still am.

Regarding the married man she meets at an artists’ colony, Cohen writes, “I want to be saved from myself, from my hurting. I want a boy like Frank to lift me up like a dead thing and breathe me into life.”

“I lie on my bed … and feel how badly I want Frank with me. How I want his interest in me to mean something, to mean I’m worth something as big as ending his marriage. It’s so selfish, I know. Some time later when I’m married myself, I’ll know just how selfish. After years of tangling your lives, making compromises and concessions, of building a shared life, it’s appalling to imagine someone else, some outside person, dismissing all of this for her own gain. But I don’t think of any of that now. I feel the wanting in my bone marrow. It’s like a nasty virus that won’t die.”

As she wrote of those moments when the addiction takes over, she described herself as being “all body and desperation.” Those moments, for her and for me, are void of any sane thought.

By the way, Cohen never uses the word addiction nor does she ever talk about recovery. This is definitely not a story of how SLAA or some other recovery program saved her life. This is simply the story of Cohen’s journey through years of longing, craving and sacrificing everything good and real in her life for that one little taste of acceptance that could never be found.

After a particularly revealing and rare conversation with her mother, Cohen lays in bed and thinks of her mom. I cry with connection to her words, “I think about her – how, like me, she doesn’t know how to keep love in her life. It pains me to think of her like this, lost and wanting, desperate for love. … I’m like that too, aren’t I? That little girl inside, clawing her way through life, wanting, always wanting, never, ever getting enough to feel filled. It’s so ugly. So profoundly sad and ugly. I don’t want to be like this anymore.”

I also cry when she writes about a particular moment when she realizes with clarity that no matter what she thinks of him, her drug addicted, love avoidant father who had no idea how to parent her other than to buy her things, really just didn’t want her to turn out to be like him.

But it is in the end, when after she has married Michael, and sits through her fears that he will reject her when he knows the truth of her behavior, or worse that she “will do something stupid” that I find the real connection to my own recovery.

One night not long after her wedding she is sitting in a bar watching a band with her friends, when a man in a booth across the bar catches her eye. “I’m back there, the yearning, the hoping,” she writes. But as they reach the door to leave, he makes his move and she has the courage to tell him, “I’m sorry. I’m married.”

As she curls up next to Michael that night, “he slips an arm around my middle and nuzzles his face into my neck. I close my eyes and listen to him breathing. How lovely that sound is. Maybe, I think, I don’t have to be great at this; maybe I just have to be good enough.”

Perfectionism has at times eroded all hopes of my recovery. Cohen’s final sentence was a beautiful example of self-acceptance. Just as I am, the best that I can be, that is enough.

Laying in bed, my body curled against my husband, the longing subsides, the void is filled. I am alive. I am at peace. Even if it’s just for tonight.


Female Sex Addict said...

I read this book about two months ago after seeing it at Barnes and Noble on a trip earlier in the summer. I loved this book and devoured it as well, although I am an avid reader. I really like your insights on this book and I'm glad that you enjoyed it as well. It's funny how when we read a book like this, we almost read it as if we wrote it ourselves. How similar are our stories!!

vicariousrising said...

This kind of reminds me of a phase I went through early in my second year or so of recovery where I was questioning the intimacy of my marriage and whether I had just settled in a drunken induced haze. I started in a rather anxious manner fantasizing about making connections to someone that was something huge and greater than... I don't know what. Maybe the pain of being myself, maybe becoming lifted up from the hole I felt I'd been living in. I wonder now if I had been vulnerable to switching my addiction from alcohol to love and/or sex while I was trying to define who I am. I'm glad I rode out the discomfort and didn't chuck out a perfectly wonderful husband.

It's pretty incredible the author didn't need any professional help or recovery program. It sounds like a great read. Thank you for sharing your review.

Rae said...

Vicarious -- Based on the materials on her website, Cohen herself is a psychotherapist and did go through some recovery herself. She simply didn't make it a part of the book.